Saturday, November 24, 2012

Being Thankful

Scott D. Parker

There was a moment on Thursday afternoon, Thanksgiving itself, when all the food was ready, all the folks who were coming to our house were present, the table was set, and, yes, the Houston Texans were already playing on the television. It was that moment of the prayer before the meal. As the head of my household, this duty fell to me.

In that moment, for just a second or three, I was speechless. There is so, so much I have to be thankful for. The most important ones are always true: wife, child, parents, her parents and siblings, extended family, and the health of all of them. I have a job which provides for the three of us. We have food, a house, and more than enough stuff to fill it to keep us entertained. Really, what more is there?

I'm not going to write about writing today. I'm just going to be thankful for all the things in my life. One of the fun ones is writing with this group of people here at Do Some Damage. Thanks, guys and gals, for letting me join in on this continuing experiment.

Friday, November 23, 2012

"Look, behind you! A Three Headed Monkey!"

By Russel D McLean

I love a good story.

 I love to feel involved.

I don’t care about the medium.

Which is why I’m not going to talk books or movies or even comics this week, but I’m going to talk about computer games.

I’m not a hardcore gamer. I have an xbox live account I rarely use. I don’t care much for multiplayer because my skills are laughable. But I like a good game, although it should be noted if the difficulty curve is too steep or I wind up not caring I will just put them down. I don’t play to become a crack shot or to admore the technical capabilities. I play for a more simple reason.

But first, some background: I grew up on the Spectrum computer and would waste hours of my life playing Manic Miner, Dan Dare (one of the most under-rated sideways scrollers of all time) and, yes, the Batman (1989) movie game replete with ludicrous car driving and puzzle solving sections.

 And then I got a PC. And for a while I played Captain Keene and messed with Sim City. All of these games had basic storylines – here’s who you play, here’s their objective – but beyond occasionally looking nice (I did like Keene’s graphics and the evil bouncing balls) they were not much cop in terms of story. You shot things. You jumped around. Or in the case of sim city you occasionally got really bored and sent in a hurricane or alien invasion to liven things up.

But I soon discovered THE SECRET OF MONKEY ISLAND. And the jokes were great. And it was only at the end I realised the gameplay was not really that great. You merely chose the right response from a limited number of them and progressed through the story. The story. “I am Guybrush Threepwood. Mighty Pirate.” Guybrush had a personality (a dorky one). A quest. A path to follow. And a supporting cast. I played because I wanted to know this: What happened next? Does Guyrbush win Elaine’s heart? Does he ever become a mighty pirate? And is that really the second biggest monkey head he’s ever seen? I devoured the game. And its sequel. (and later its threequel). Why? Because the characters were fun (I still love Murray the Demonic skull from #3: “I will roll through the gates of hell…”) and because it was telling a story I cared about. Beyond solving puzzles, I wanted to know what happened next. (We’ll not talk about #4, by the way, which had about three good jokes and rubbish graphics - - the design was always an appeal with the MI games. Luckily Telltale games have recently resurrected the series with a rather successful instalment that also saw the return of Murray!)

 From there, I devoured Sam and Max Hit The Road* (again, Sam and Max were recently resurrected brilliantly by Telltale) and the excellent Grim Fandango. All of these adventure told stories. Stories with beginnings, middles, ends and some sense of character. It was an added bonus that you got to influence them. Of course, back then, there was no voice acting. Merely words on a screen and cheap animation. But it was worth it.

 I’m thinking about these old games because I’ve been letting off steam with some new games lately. I’ve found that First Person Shooters don’t really grab me (CoD: Modern Warfare was fun and then the difficulty level spiked and the story was absolute bollocks when you examined it; it really was aimed at the hardcore FPS geeks) and that the GTA games give you too much freedom. I spend so much time on the side missions that keep insisting on being important that I lose track of the story and stop caring. Especially because the characters are fairly one dimensional anyway. In fact I was getting bored with games again.

And then I played Max Payne 3. The story itself – a washed up ex-cop takes a job as a bodyguard in San Paulo, winds up investigating corruption and killing a lot of bad guys – is nothing new especially for a noir guy like me. But the gameplay was in service to the story. You felt like you were in the middle of Tony Scott’s MAN ON FIRE. Your character were drunk and on painkillers, blowing away bad guys like a machine and knowing that he has no choice in this because this is the only thing he knows how to do. There were attempts at pathos (not great ones, but they were there) and thank God there was some decent voice acting to sell you on the game’s reality. I played through it because I wanted to know What Happens Next. LA Noire did much the same, with a great script that somehow enlivened what should have been very dull gameplay (although it did commit a near unforgiveable narrative error near the end with a jarring POV twist that almost took me completely out of the game)

Two of the best Batman stories I’ve encountered recently were not in comics. They were: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, games I completed because the stories intrigued and delighted me. And by God, Mark Hamill is the second best Joker on screen*. These games had form, substance and sense of involvement that is unique to video games. They had rising action. They had character development, of a sort, and they really sucked me in. Giving me just enough of a feeling of freedom to think I was making a choice, but not offering me so much that I got bored.

But of course this isn’t always the case. GEARS OF WAR 2 promised “an epic story of betrayal and redemption”, and ultimately delivered a cheesefest of immense and sometimes laughable proportions. But, like a good action movie, I stayed for the insanely fun set pieces and ignored the often terrible script and the fantastically flat voice acting. And yes, while I’m currently enjoying the Stephen King indebeted Alan Wake, for a game with a lead character who’s supposed to be a writer, wow that dialogue’s fantastically cliché (and lets not start on the fragments of his novel scattered around the place) - - but its enough to keep me asking, “what happens next?” because that level of interactivity is what lifts games above the clichéd scripts, and explains why so few of them work when transferred to other mediums (Res Evil movies are the worst offenders, but also the Silent Hill films are so ludicrously pedestrian when I used to have to play the games only in the daylight hours I was so scared by them)

Computer games are evolving. They have the potential to tell intriguing stories on a cinematic level, although right now the scripting tends to be somewhere in the level of TV productions in the early nineties; showing sparks of potential but all too often treating the viewer/player with a certain amount of disdain as though they’re worried about people paying attention to what’s happening on screen and have to spell it all out.

But I think a Wire moment is coming. I think that slowly, games are becoming a legitimate and new form of storytelling. But developers have to balance between gameplay, challenge (I’d rather know what happens next than keep dying or failing at a task - - CoD, I’m looking at you) and script. They have to move away from cliché and into something new. They have to appeal to people looking for a good story and bear in mind those who, like me, may not be that interested in the challenge of shooting things and may be looking more to get into the story and the characters, to become part of the world and the narrative unfolding before them.

Will computers games have their Wire moment?

God only knows. But I look forward to finding out**

*The first of course being the masterful performance from the late Heath Ledger in THE DARK KNIGHT

**but never at the expense of spending time with The Literary Critic, of course.***

***I am not contractually or otherwise obligated to say that but just thought I'd throw it out there,

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

TERMINAL DAMAGE for your holidays

This week billions of you have become reacquainted with our TERMINAL DAMAGE collection, first discussed at this very blog.

The book is a collection of linked stories taking place in and around an airport during the holidays. You'll see characters from one story pop up in another story. Writing my own story was fun, and reading those from the others was amazing. Sometimes I forget what good writers I get to hang out here with.

As Erik Arneson said:
TERMINAL DAMAGE is a great collection of short stories. Chances are, you'll enjoy some more than others. Every story is entertaining, but the inter-connected nature of this book is terrific and helps the whole become more than the sum of its parts.

As this is the holiday season and folks are travelling, we wanted to re-share it with you. So for the past few days it's been FREE in the Kindle store. At some point, that free will revert to the 99c here in the states. (In the Britains, I think it's something like seventy-four stones. (I do not completely understand foreign currency.))

You can get the book at

Also, NEEDLE magazine is having a signed giveaway drawing thing thanks to friend-of-the-blog Chris F. Holm. Find out about that here.


Now, something I wanted to share with you folks.

Patrick Rothfuss, fantasy author, is doing some really good stuff year-round helping people out via Heifer International. The church we found after the other church kicked us out for not hating teh gays enough was big into Heifer International. I like what they do.

So, anyhoo, Mr. Rothfuss is doing This Thing that is The Opposite of Black Friday. I think it would be cool if you checked it out.

Ideas for you today:

1. Get some FREE (or cheap) TERMINAL DAMAGE
2. Grab your chance at some signed Chris F. Holm
3. Buy a goat for a village and get cool stuff or get cool stuff and a goat, which is also cool.

Happy Thanksgiving. Unless you're British, where I think they celebrate Boxing Day instead. (I do not completely understand foreign holidays.) Also, a belated Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian friends.

PS: Edge of Black from JT Ellison just came out. More here.

What should I... *trails off, drooling*

My brain is a bit of a scrambled mess right now.

I'm taking a graduate course, which I believe I've mentioned here, and the writing I'm having to do is academic.  Extremely repetitive.  Different.  Not bad, just different.

I have a baby.  He wakes up in the middle of the night.  He cries.  He's ridiculously cute.  I think about him a lot.

Work is busy.  That's why they call it work.

Rutgers is going to the Big Ten.

Basically, there's a lot of static right now.  So I'm not reading.  I'm not writing fiction.  I pick up a comic book every once in a while.  But I haven't felt this out of the loop with the writing world since 2002.

But there is some light ahead.

My class is done in 3 weeks.  I'll have some time to myself.  I'll get to finish Sean Chercover's THE TRINITY GAME, and read Dennis Lehane's LIVE BY NIGHT and our own Jay Stringer's OLD GOLD.

But I'll probably need one more.

So give me a suggestion world.  I'm out of the loop.

What should I read?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Modern Noir - a visual guide

[This is how I spent part of my Sunday, so I hope folks find this useful]

Noir is often considered as a genre, or sub-genre, and is usually associated with crime fiction.  Really though, it is more like a style of fiction, or even a strain of fiction, rather then a sub-genre that doesn't have to be limited to crime fiction.  In recent years a lot of authors have self-identified as noir or even neo-noir (a term that I don't like) writers but even that can be misleading since some of the best noirs weren't written with that goal in mind.

Since it pops up here and there and in unexpected places noir winds up becoming a type of fiction that you have to search for and not always find, which is part of what makes a great noir story so rewarding when it is found.

Noir has been historically resistant to firm definition and any attempt at defining what it is probably says more about the author of said definition then the term itself.  Rather then re-hash what noir is or isn't I instead decided to created a visual guide to modern noir with the only commentary being that I genuinely love all of theses books and I believe them to be noir.

A couple of random notes:

-As much as I love old crime fiction, old pulps, and classic noir my reading preference of late is for noirs from the mid to late 70's on, so that is the focus here. Some great noirs have been published in recent years by small  and unlikely publishers, hopefully this guide points some of them out. Also, I believe that modern noirs sometimes get left out of noir discussions.

-They are in no set order.

-The board is a work in progress and I'll add new covers as I discover them or remember to add them. So check back if you like.

-If you don't see a book here you can read in to it or not. Maybe it means something, maybe not.

-I've written about noir a few times now. I am not an expert, just an enthusiast.

Here's my visual essay, or guide that I created.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Giving thanks

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Happy Thanksgiving week!  (And for you who do not live in America – happy two weeks until December!)

Here at Do Some Damage we talk about all things criminal and writing related.  Our themes are occasionally dark.  Rejection discussions and thoughts on the state of publishing can be disheartening.  As in all jobs, writing has its ups and its downs.  It isn’t always easy.  It isn’t consistently fun. 

However, today, as we in America start this week of Thanksgiving, I want to say how thankful I am for the chance to do what I do.  No matter how frustrated I get or overwhelmed I feel when I am not sure I can do justice to the story I am telling, I am grateful I am a writer.  I am thrilled I get to do a job that I love and that readers are willing to spend time with the characters I create.

More…I am thankful for everyone who has supported my wild notion to follow this career path…my mother, my husband, my father and father-in-law (whom I miss this week and every week), the rest of my family as well as all my friends who have stuck with me throughout the years.  I don’t know what I would do without you.  And you have no idea how grateful I am for the writing community for the support you give me every day.  My fellow Do Some Damage bloggers humble me with their insight, their passion and their commitment to their craft.  Truly, I am blessed.

No one ever knows where life will take them.  You can plan and plot all you like, but life never goes as expected.  If it did, I would not be writing books.  I would not be blogging with this great group of writers.  I would not be who I am today.

So today, to celebrate this week of Thanksgiving, I ask you to share what you are thankful for.  And I want you to know that last, but not least, I am very thankful for all of you.