Saturday, December 15, 2012


Scott D. Parker

I was going to write about my recent first-read of Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist and how, in a 175-year-old book, there are no spoilers. I was going to write how I enjoyed seeing how famous characters like Fagin and the Artful Dodger--characters so famous that they have left the pages of their book and entered into popular culture--first appeared to the world. And I was going to write how I knew about one of the most tragic incidents in the novel--the one involving Nancy--and the knowing made her scenes more tension filled. I was going to, in short, write about reading a classic book.

But I'm not going to do that today. Today, I, like millions in our country and around the world, I'm thinking of 28 lives lost. I'm thinking of the 20 children gone--and in the Christmas season, no less!--and the young ones who have had their innocence ripped away. As a parent myself, the anguish of the parents who lost their children is unfathomable.

Words fail when faced with such a hollow tragedy. When words fail, I fall back on faith. Faith and prayer. Sometimes, the brain doesn't think that's enough. The heart knows differently, even a heart that's broken and crying and hurting for all of us.

Friday, December 14, 2012

(whatever) of the year

Yes, its that time of year. The one when I throw you some idea of what I’ve been loving (and one of what I’ve not) over the last twelve months. The list is by no means exhaustive and of course I’ll soon realise I forgot something or other, but mostly its about the things that stayed with me over the twelve months for whatever reason. I don't know whether I'll be here next week or travelling home for Christmas, so I figured I'd get in ahead of the game with these lists:

You can find my top 3 physical books of the year very soon over atPulp Pusher, but since its getting to that time of year, figured you could use some ideas of what I’ve been enjoying this

Top 3 E-Only Books (or the ones you won’t easily find in bookshops, at least in the UK)

1.         1) The Trinity Game By Sean Chercover – deceptively thriller-like, there’s a lot more going on in this smart, fast-moving thriller from the author of the Ray Dudgeon novels. Mixing faith, crime, the supernatural and the cynical, it reminded me a lot of the underappreciated Elmore Leonard novel, Touch. Chercover’s easy going style pulls you willingly along, and just when you think you’ve worked out what the book’s all about (one way or another) the rug is pulled out from under you.
2.       2) Wolf Tickets by Ray Banks – Quick, nasty, brutal. And that’s just the author. All kidding aside, Wolf Tickets is a punch in the throat that will leave you breathless and staggering. Banks has pulled off dual narratives before (notably in his debut, Saturday’s Child) but here he manages to display a chameleonic capacity for voice that leaves you convinced the book was written by two different, concurrent  narrators. Blasted Heath is putting out some real interesting ebooks, but for my money, their strongest author is Banks – a master of voice and one of the few writers who can convince you as to the reality of his gritty, distinctly British urban wasteland.
3.       3) One Dead Hen – Okay, this is a cheat as ODH was a late 2011 release, but considering I only got into the ebook game in September, I’m counting this one. Royston Blake is back after extended leave and is still as anarchically terrifying as ever. Surreal, yet terrifyingly plausible in its own way, Williams’ Mangel novels remain a funhouse-mirror image of small town Britain as seen through the eyes of a perpetually self-deceiving narrator. Far more intelligent than a surface read might suggest, and often laugh out loud funny, One Dead Hen shows that there’s life in Mangel (and Blake) yet. Which is why I’m very, very excited for the next instalment due in 2013.

Honourable mentions: Old Gold by Jay Stringer, Natural Causes by James Oswald, Loss by Tom Picirilli, RIP Robbie Silva By Tony Black, Fireproof by Gerard Brennan and Hard Bite by Anonymous 9

Top 3 Movies

1.       1) Killing Them Softly – The whole 70s vibe of a movie set in the late noughties (as we promised change and tumbled into depression) combined with the brilliant dialogue that could only be delivered from adapting a novel by George V Higgins boosted this to the top of the years movies for me. It’s a depressing, stylised and unexpectedly brutal movie and provides further proof that for all the mainstream shite he does, when he’s allowed to, Brad Pitt can turn in an amazing performance.
2.       2) Argo – How did Ben Affleck go from being a must-avoid name to a must-see? Like George Clooney before him, Affleck’s affected a career turn around by showing his skill as a director and carefully choosing the projects he takes on as an actor. As both director and actor in Argo, he proves that Gone Baby Gone and The Town were no mere flukes by taking us beyond Boston and into this brilliant period thriller that evokes the beats and style of the era in which it takes place. Throw in a scene stealing pair of performances from John Goodman and Alan Arkin and you have a movie that restores your faith in why the cinema was ever worth going to in the first place.
3.       3) Looper – surprisingly good twisty time-travel movie with Bruce Willis and the increasingly interesting Joseph Gordon Levitt playing two versions of the same character. Yes, it probably doesn’t hold up to too much internal scrutiny and the ending is maybe a little pat, while Levitt’s Willis makeup looks a little strange, but the movie’s got a great vision of a believable future and Levitt’s excellent, world-weary performance outweighs any makeup oddities.
Honourable mentions: The Dark Knight Rises (the script was a little loose, but like Godfather 3 it may not be as good as what preceeded, but was still miles better than most other things out there), Avengers Assemble (which should have been a mess and yet somehow came together in all the right popcorny ways), The Grey (unexpectedly meditative and more than a little depressing in its conclusions – not the film you wanted, but the film you deserved), The Awakening (The film that The Woman in Black wished it could be)

Top 3 TV (as discovered by me - - I’m so far behind that I’m catching up with everything in box sets now)

1.       1) Justified (S2) – the series gets off to an awkward start in the first 20 minutes and then settles down to find its own feet. With the introduction of Mags Bennett, the show finds its voice and proceeds to become one of the best TV shows currently on the box.
2.       2) Braquo (S1) – not quite as solid as Spiral, but it’s like that show’s scrappy little brother, making up for its lack of sophistication with supreme confidence and bravado. Comes at you with attitude to spare and characters you should loathe but become fascinated by, this is a Paris that is a million miles away from the tourist destination of your dreams. The French and crime dramas are such a natural fit, and Braquo is the perfect showcase for the grittier side of Parisian life.
3.       3) Mad Men (S4) It always takes me an episode or two to get the rhythms of a new season of Mad Men, but while it may appear to move at the pace of a lethargic snail, Mad Men isn’t about plot so much as it is character. Wallowing in some of the most fascinating characters ever committed to television, you start to realise that character is plot and that what you’re witnessing isn’t slam-bang multi-act plotting, but a slow burn of cause and effect that slots together just as unexpectedly as real life. But, this being the 60s, far more stylishly.
Honourable mentions: Doctor Who (say what you like, Matt Smith nails the character, although I do think the 45 minute episode constraints are beginning to show with some of the plots), Curb Your Enthusiasm (don’t know how I missed this show until now – Larry David is worryingly empathetic), Game of Thrones (I had issues with the first half of the season, but then found myself utterly engaged by episode four or five – and the season ender dropped my jaw. Hope they can continue the late-found momentum in season 2)

Disappointment of the year:

To Rome, With Love – disappointingly bad effort from Allen. Three unengaging and uninteresting shaggy dog stories replete with Italian (and American) stereotypes and a promising cast on autopilot. I loved Midnight in Paris, with its fairytale qualities and qurky sense of historical reinvention. But this was everything people love to hate about Woody Allen, the kind of thing I like to tell people he never actually does in his movies. I have watched a lot of bad movies this year, but I expected those to be so. This was one I went in wanting to love. And I came out feeling disappointed, searching for any excuse to like something about it. But I failed. Indulgent. Nonsensical. Uninteresting. But Rome looks very pretty.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What Next?

By Jay Stringer

I turned in the first draft of the third Miller book to my agent last week. And that's also the third book of my three book deal.

So what's next? Is a question I've been asking myself all week.

During the writing of the first draft, which was plagued by distraction, illness and a house move, I had many ideas for where to go. A Young Adult crime novel. A Prequel to the events of the Miller trilogy. A follow up, taking place in the same world but focusing on different characters.

I have a list of four or five ideas that I like. Some of them have already had research done, some would be quick to write. But none of them feel right yet. And after writing three books set where I grew up, maybe it would be good for me to write one set where I've lived for that past six years. On my daily walk in to the city I'm looking round, trying to find something that grabs me.

Once I send in that draft though, my mind went on vacation.

I'm taking a couple of weeks to chill out and do no writing at all. I trust my brain, and I trust it to tell me when it's found the strongest idea. But even so, the one question keeps popping up.....

What's Next?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

When Bad Things Happen to Bad Reviews

By Steve Weddle

We've all read books we've hated. We've all wanted that time back. We've all thought about telling the author what we think about the book. We've all Googled county land records to find the author's address and driven to his or her house and sat in the driveway for a half-hour trying to decide what to say when the author answers the door. We've all had to ask our wives to call Tammy over at Ned's Bail Bonds.

But things are getting even weirder. As Kieran Shea pointed out that other day, you can get sued for posting a bad review online.
A judge in Virginia has ordered a woman to change her negative Yelp review about a building contractor after the business won a key legal battle. Jane Perez was slapped with a $750,000 lawsuit by Dietz Development after she publicly logged complaints about construction work the company performed on her home.
The story about the Fairfax woman was in the Washigton Post, Huff Po, the UK's Daily Mail, and a billion other places.

The big sticking point seems to be that her review suggested the contractor who worked on her home had stolen her jewelry. If you're going to accuse someone of a crime that the police say he didn't commit, you're going to have some trouble.

What's interesting about this incident is the stuff on the edges, I think. A judge orders a woman to change her online review. I totally get that in terms of defamation.

And back in September I mentioned this post which seems to fall under the "Authors Behaving Badly" category.

But what responsibility do reviewers have? Legal, sure. Ethical? Moral?

And what happens when courts begin ordering you to alter your post on a review site? Imagine:

A judge in Nebraska has ordered a man to change his negative Amazon review of Dan Brown's THE LOST SYMBOL after Brown's attorneys won a key legal battle. Nick LeBottoms was ordered to remove his criticism of Brown's third Robert Langdon novel after it was revealed that LeBottoms had  read only the first 17 pages.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Steve, that sounds crazy." Because, yeah, strange stuff never happens in publishing.

What happens if authors decide it's no longer fun to blog about bad reviews, to tweet about bad reviews, to comment on bad reviews? What happens if an author can go beyond a simple claim of "material damage" and show that the reviewer really is a sock-puppet for a rival author?

What happens when those authors one-starred by "rival" authors on Amazon file a class action suit against Amazon? Or when a TV-advertising, personal injury lawyer is able to prove your review was false and malicious? Or when you review a book and expose the author behind the pen name? What happens when your review is so well written, so clever and cutting, that it can be proven to have caused substantial mental and financial harm to the author?

Can you imagine being called into court to defend your negative review of The Vampyre's Lament?

Plaintiff's Attorney: You claim in your one-star review that this book was like "eating a turd sandwich." Is that correct?
You: Yeah. I guess I said that.
PA: And how often have you eaten a turd sandwich? Is this a taste with which you are familiar?
You: Uh, it was a joke.
PA: Are you joking now or were you joking then?
You: Uh...
PA: Is BigBallz69 even your real name?

As Norman Chad would say, "Pay the man, Shirley."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Viral Marketing

So, two upcoming movies put their viral marketing skills into play today.

First, there's some weird Kryptonian Countdown thing going on  which probably will lead to the new Man of Steel trailer.  I don't know who has the time to figure these things out, but I caught the link on Twitter well after it had been broken.  To me it just looks like changing shapes, but it appears some Superman fans are excited.

The next and, for me, more effective is the build up to the new Star Trek movie.  Just this week, they released a trailer, and a photo.  The movie looks like all the other superhero, Bond, big bad villain movies that have come out lately.  The one where the bad guy wants revenge and gets himself captured and then blows shit up flick.  Now, a) I love that plot so I'm interested to see how they Star Trek it up and b) LENS FLARES.  But, what interests me more is the whole Benedict Cumberbatch angle. 

You see, JJ Abrams is a master of the mindfuck.  Makes you look up references, doesn't answer questions, gets the fans talking.  And here's what he's doing here.  I'm not the world's biggest Star Trek fan--far from it... but I know who Khan is. 

And that's who Abrams wants you to think Cumberbatch is playing.  There are a ton of hints out there. 

Of course there are rumors it could be about 90 million other Star Trek villains.

But, both of these marketing ploys have people talking.  And it makes me wonder how you could do that for a book.

I mean, books are harder, aren't there?  Unless it's a series, there's rarely built up familiarity.  And there isn't the visual punch.  So, how can viral marketing catch a reader's eye?

What kind of mysteries can you play up?

I believe Dan Brown's website did something like this--with codes and stuff--before THE LOST SYMBOL came out. 

Has anyone ever seen any really good viral marketing for a book?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Golden age of TV theme songs?

I really don't have much of a topic this week. Nothing to say I guess. So this will be a quick post.

For all the talk of this golden age of television that we are in (and all the topics that come with it: writing, acting, directing, themes) one aspect of them doesn't seem to come up. We've seen some really great opening credit/title sequences.The best of them combine great music with visuals that speak to the shows character, tone and themes.

So here's five great TV theme songs from recent years. 

So how about it. Are these great themes? Are we in a golden age of themes? How do these themes stack up against some of the classic openers (Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice come to mind)?
Currently Reading: Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers
Currently Listening: The Civil Wars "Barton Hollow"

Sunday, December 9, 2012

All books are not created equal

By: Joelle Charbonneau

This week, I saw a facebook post that mentioned that there was a difference between writing a book and writing a book that is under contract.  As an unpublished author, I’d heard that writing a book under contract posed different challenges.  But unpublished me didn’t really understand how different those challenges would be.  I mean—the book still has a beginning, middle and end filled with plot and characters.  The mechanics are the same.  Right?


And no.

Now that I have been under contract for a while, I can say that writing a book and writing a book under contract are more different than I ever imagined.  Here are three of the reasons why.

1)      The deadline—As an unpublished author, I approached writing as if it were my job, because that is what I hoped it would one day be.  It wasn’t just a hobby that I tinkered with when I was inspired.  While writing a novel, I wrote ever day until I hit The End.  Then I went back and polished and rewrote the book until it was the best writing I could produce at that time.  By the time I wrote Skating Around the Law, I knew that I could produce a manuscript in about 3-4 months.  Which is probably why it never occurred to me to be concerned with deadlines.  I mean, most established authors I knew publish an average of 1-2 books a year.  With the writing habits I’d established, I figured deadlines would never be an issue. 

HA!  First of all, no matter how quickly you write, a deadline is a source of pride and terror.  Pride that there is a contract proving that an editor wants the book you are writing.  You are getting paid for your writing!  This is now a job.  Terror because you are now getting paid for your writing and it is now a job with an expectation that the book will be done by a specific date.  No matter how disciplined you are at your writing, the first time you have a “must be completed by date” assigned to you stress will descend.  It doesn’t matter how many books you’ve completed or how quickly – THIS book feels different.  You worry that because it feels different to have a deadline, you may not be able to write as quickly as you have in the past.  The writing might suck and your rewrites might take longer.  The feeling that this book might not get done is always there as you sit at the keyboard.   

Deadlines are wonderful because they mark you as a professional writer, but the worry that you might not be professional enough has wrecked havoc with writers through all stages of their career. 

2)      The check—Getting money for a book before the book is written is another wonderful thing.  No matter how small or large the check, receiving the money is tangible proof that someone actually likes your writing.  It’s a huge confidence boost, but cashing the check is also tangible proof of your commitment to approaching your writing as a job.  The knowledge that you have been paid for something someone has never seen can be both wonderful and frightening.  What if they regret sending you that check?  What if they hate the book?  When a completed manuscript sells, the author is confident the editor likes the book.  They wouldn’t have purchased it otherwise.  But writing a book that was put under contract before completion brings with it a whole new host of doubts, which makes sitting at the keyboard and typing with complete abandon trickier than it was before. 

Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this, but the higher the check amount, the higher my anxiety about the contracted project goes up.  Writing a book valued at an advance of $5,000 feels a whole lot different than one valued higher.  The expectations I have of myself rise as the number of zeros increases.  (Note -I have never been paid 6 figures for 1 book, so I’m not talking J.K. Rowling money here, but still!!!!) 

3)      Readers—now that you are under contract, you are no longer writing for yourself.  While every writer hopes that the mythical creatures known as readers will some day purchase their book from a store or download it onto their E-reader, the audience the unpublished author is primarily writing for is an audience of 1 – themselves.  Writing a book under contract means that this book you are writing will be in bookstores and on e-shelves.  Readers will be able to read it.  Suddenly, each word that you type means more than it once did because it doesn’t just belong to you.  It belongs to them.  And that distinction can make all the difference in the world. 

Once I started down the writing path, being paid to write a book that was already under contract was a dream of mine.  To me, knowing that an editor and publisher believed in me enough to buy work sight unseen was a sign that I had earned the right to think of myself as an author.  (It took several manuscripts for me to even admit to friends that I was a writer, so calling myself an author took a bit more doing.)  This year, I have completed and turned in 3 under contract manuscripts.  The mechanics of writing get easier with practice, but the personal pressures that come with contracted books makes them each a very different challenge.  I’m thrilled I’ve been given the chance to learn what writing under deadline feels like and as I write on my current project, I hope that I meet the expectations that have been set for it by both me, my agent and my editor.  And if I’m lucky, once I turn in the last two projects that my editors have requested, I’ll be allowed to do it all over again.  Because no matter how hard writing the next contracted book might be, I wouldn’t give it up for anything.