Saturday, December 22, 2012

Holmes for the Holidays

Scott D. Parker

There is one overriding reason why Sherlock Holmes is so popular 125 years after his first adventure: we love the atmosphere of Victorian England. The sounds of the clip-clop of horseshoes on cobblestones, the sights of men and women dressed in late-Victorian finery, the smell of a crackling fire in a tavern, they all go together and form something special and unique. It’s a nostalgia for a time we’ve never known but, through the works of Arthur Conan Doyle, we can know and come to love.

With all the emotion surrounding Sherlock Holmes and his redoubtable friend, Dr. John Watson, it is no surprise that, of all the adventures, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” is constantly mentioned as a perennial favorite. It is, however, it’s the only Christmas story in the canon.

The editors of Holmes for the Holidays have rectified this omission. Martin Greenberg, Jon L. Lellenberg, and Carol-Lynn Waugh, with the blessing of Dame Jean Conan Doyle, commissioned fourteen authors to try their hand at a Holmes and Watson story set during the last week of December. The results are all quite good.

And how could they not be? Just look at some of the names:
• Anne Perry (famous for her historical novels)
• Loren D. Estleman
• Jon L. Breen
• Bill Crider
• Carole Nelson Douglas (author of the Irene Adler series)
• Edward D. Hoch

As you read these stories, take special note of the historical details about Christmas itself. Remember, these are stories written by authors in the 1990s about the late 1800s. Moreover, the 1880s are forty years after Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” the book credited with changing Christmas to what we know it today. Different authors focus on different aspects of the Christmas season, all with two men who are proper English gentlemen. It’s a telling trait, yet a fun one.

Speaking of Dickens, two of the stories concern themselves with Scrooge, Marley, Tim Cratchit, and a certain set of three ghosts. Loren Estleman’s “The Adventure of the Three Ghosts” concerns itself with Lord Chislehurst, a Member of Parliament, and in need of Holmes’ assistance. You see, three ghosts have visited the Lord, just like his father’s old boss. You see where this is going and the true identity of the Lord? Yeah, he’s the grown-up Tiny Tim who now owns Scrooge old counting firm. In this story, Dickens is real and is the man who “chronicled” the story of Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, and Tiny Tim. Watson’s read the book but Holmes knows nothing about it. In fact, Lord Chislehurst/Tim Cratchit doesn’t like the book. Holmes and Watson take the case and, in their usual élan, solve the case…although the ending is not entirely predictable.

Bill Crider tackles the same material but puts a different spin on the story. In “The Adventure of the Christmas Ghosts,” three ghosts are besetting the grandnephew of Ebenezer Scrooge, Franklin, as well. Holmes suspects foul play—natch—and lands his suspicion on Timothy Cratchit (i.e., Tiny Tim) who still works in the counting house. Crider highlights Holmes’ often eccentric qualities, including his acting ability, in this fun little story also with an ending that’s not entirely expected.

With any anthology, you don’t often have to read the stories in order. I’d recommend reading these two Scrooge stories back-to-back. You’ll get a sense of how the two authors both treat the same subject, how they see the original Christmas Carol tale, and how the perpetrators in each story use similar methods. Estleman’s story references other Holmes stories that’ll be sure to garner a smile as you read it. Crider’s piece is funnier in that, with a wink and a nod, he inserts famous lines that’ll pull a chuckle from somewhere inside you.
“Let us not get our stories out of order,” said Holmes. “Marley first. He died. Is that not correct?”
“Yes [Franklin said]. Marley was dead. There can be no doubt about that.”
Just as I have my Christmas music CDs that I store for eleven months out of the year, I have some favorite anthologies of Christmas stories that share space in the same box, including the Annotated Christmas Carol, Christmas Ghosts, Crime for Christmas, and Christmas Stars. Of all them, Holmes for the Holidays is the one I return to year and year. It evokes certain images, particular Christmastime feelings, that I, as Texan don’t always get to experience. Why not find a copy and make a new tradition of reading these stories in December. You won’t be disappointed.

On a personal note, I'd like to thank all the readers of this blog for all the time they've given to us in 2012. It's always fun to continue a conversation--or start one--about crime fiction (or whatever else is on our minds) and we all look forward to a fun, entertaining, and thought-provoking 2013.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

FREE Goldfish for Christmas

By Jay Stringer

I'm here before you again with a little bit of pimping before I vanish off for the holidays. I have a new ebook out. It's called The Goldfish Heist and Other Stories. It's pretty much a clearing of the vaults of my short fiction up to this point. All of the stories I'm proud of, minus a few stories that other people still have rights on, and it covers a lot of ground. There's humour, noir, violence, mystery, hardboiled fiction and even a Young Adult story ("Mouse's Courage," a story I'm very proud of.)

Originally I'd priced it at 2.99 and that's what I first announced on the twitters. I've had a rethink and decided 1.99 was a fairer price. You're getting a whole chunk of words for that price, and there's something for everyone.

It gets better though. I'm giving it away at Christmas. The price for the book will be 0.00 through the kindle store on the 25th and 26th, so hold off until then and get an even better deal. If you get a kindle as a gift, or are helping someone else set one up, then grab the book while it's free.

There will be another ebook coming out over the next few days. The creative team behind the Sparrow & Crowe comic book (and the podcast audio drama Wormwood) are putting together a collection of spooky, crazy and scary festive tales. They were daft enough to invite me to take part, and the proceeds will be going to a cool charity.

I'll be saying more about this one from the twitters in the coming days, keep an eye out for that. It'll be great to raise as much as possible for this charity over Christmas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Stream of Consciousness on Newtown

By Dave White

I can’t process this.

So many things have happened this year:  Becoming a father, buying a house, going back to grad school.  There’s a ton for me to be happy about as 2012 comes to a close, but this Sandy Hook shooting—something that happened more than 90 minutes from my home is slowing me up.

Usually, at the end of the year, I like to take stock of how I did.  Last year: WITNESS TO DEATH was selling well, my wife was pregnant, and I had successfully taken on a new position at work.  Stock?  Life was good.  This year should be the same, I’m continuing to move forward in life.
But Sandy Hook put a halt to all that.

I’m stuck in the muck, and I have to wonder if everyone else feels the same way. Because this is something that shouldn’t be ALL ABOUT ME.  Or about me at all. But I can’t help looking at Ben and wondering if he’s going to grow up safe.  I can’t help wondering what we, as a nation, are doing.

Tragedies happen.  We’re not going stop them all.

But shouldn’t we try?

When something like this occurs, people want to move on, get past it.  But how quickly?  Do we want to move past this yet?  I can’t put on the news.  This is all that’s in my head. Rolling over it and over it and over it.

Kids being told to close their eyes before they evacuate.

Life goes on.  It always does.  But shouldn’t the pace at which it goes on slow down this time?  We need to think about this.  Process it.

I’m sorry for post this here.  I’m sorry for posting this anywhere.  I’m rambling and I know it.  But I needed to get this down on paper and put it out there.  It’s not right to take stock of the year without taking stock of everything.  And Sandy Hook affected me.

I think it affected all of us.  And I’m not sure where we stand yet.

This is how everyone is feeling, right?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In Defense of My MFA

By Steve Weddle

I've insulted, um, pretty much everything during the past few years here at DSD.

Recently, I said your writing workshop was dumb.

This week I was reading this Lifehacker article: How to Edit Your Own Writing. I believe 100% that you should print out your writing to edit it. I believe 0% that you should read your writing aloud to "see how it sounds." Unless you're recording an audio book. Then you should probably read your book aloud.

Some things will work for you. Some things won't. Do the ones that work for you. Don't do the ones that don't.

At first glance, the "MFA programs are bad" argument seems to require this kind of response. You don't like MFA programs? Then don't sign up for one.

I was having this discussion with Sam Hawken and Hexican when it occurred to me that this is really a different type of argument, isn't it?

If you don't find printing out your novel helpful, then don't do it. Simple.

But if MFA programs are bad, then what to do with the MFA-generated novel? Are MFA programs bad for writing in general? You know, I can't answer that. Not without some dumb list of 10 or 20 things that lean one way or another. You want to argue that literary writing is bad? Or that genre writing is bad? You want to go on about how teen werewolf romances that sell millions are killing reading? Meh. This ain't that column.

This is a column that says why the MFA program was good for me, about why working days in WalMart's automotive shop and spending evenings listening to Dave Smith talk about writing were instrumental.

First and foremost, it gave me a network of writers with whom I've built decades-old relationships. I was in the LSU MFA program in the mid-90's. Geaux Tigers.

I read and wrote alongside playwrights, screenwriters, novelists, and poets. We didn't have an "performance artists" that I know of. There was one freak-show of a dude, but he wasn't officially in the program. He just stood up at open mikes and yelled stuff.

The point, if I have one, is that I have a handful of people I still turn to when I need to chat about reading and writing. We didn't go to war together. We weren't on the same college lacrosse team. (Hahaha. Lacrosse. Hahaha.) But they cared about writing. They said "Hey, you read this Carver story?" They said, "Dude, this paragraph is kinda dumb. I don't think you need it." Before Twitter and Facebook, I had in-person people with whom I could share stories -- in both senses. And these are friends and colleagues I still count on day after day. These are friends who get emails from me at 11 pm on a Tuesday with this as a subject line: "250 Words from 2nite. Do it sux??"

My years at LSU in the MFA program gave me people I can trust, like-minded friends.

Have I made like-minded friends since then? Yes. Nine.

Another thing the MFA program helped with was writing on deadline. You have to have a short story ready every other week or a poem done each week, you've got a good chance to make good writing habits.

Being at a college or university MFA program also provided great access to "real" authors who would stop by and get drunk and give readings.

The idea that MFA professors sit around talking about tweed and cigars doesn't make much sense, either. I don't remember Andrei Codrescu arguing one way or another about Harris Tweed. I don't know whether Rodger Kamenetz likes cigars. I do know that Dave Smith's pool-house/writer's cottage is one of the coolest writer spaces I've ever seen. And Rick Blackwood's talks about sex and violence in fiction and movies was always fun.

I also had the opportunity to teach college classes, which helped me to reconsider some ideas. That also helped pay the bills for years to come.

Are MFA programs for everyone? No. Is college? No. Are these shoes? No.

You can be a writer without an MFA. You can be a writer with an MFA.

You can travel and write. You can research and write. You can live in your mom's basement for your life, watching old movies, and write.

Anyone who says an MFA is for everyone is wrong.

Anyone who says an "MFA novel" is better than a non-MFA novel just because the author has an MFA is wrong.

Having an MFA doesn't make you a better writer.

The experience of an MFA program can be amazing, just like many other experiences.

I wouldn't say everyone should work in WalMart's automotive shop.

I wouldn't say everyone should spend 10 years paying off an MFA degree.

I would say that you should find what works for you and do more of that.

Unless it's reading your stuff aloud. That's just silly.

Koko Gets A Book Deal

Friend of the show Kieran Shea has a deal for his KOKO TAKES A HOLIDAY novel.

Titan acquires dystopian debut.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Favorite music of 2012

I had a couple of post ideas I was tossing around (Are blog dead and should they be; reading to reject vs. reading to accept; an anatomy of a scene) and may still write something on these topics in upcoming weeks. But after the Connecticut school shooting I had a hard time concentrating on those topics. One other topic I thought about doing was my favorite music of 2012. That one seems better for now.

I embedded a bunch of videos from Youtube so you can find the rest of the post after the jump.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Celebrating the good things

By: Joelle Charbonneau

Today is my son’s fifth birthday.  It amazes me to think how fast those years have gone and how much he has changed in that short time.  Each milestone—walking, talking, reading, writing—have been joys to celebrate.  I appreciate each day with him even when I feel like the world’s worst parent.

After the horrific events of this past week, it is easy to cast blame and look for answers.  I have seen calls for more gun control.  I have seen other calls for all teachers to have weapons in schools.  People say God is to blame.  Others say the lack of God in our schools and in many lives is the culprit.  There will be more of those calls to action and pointing of fingers in the weeks and months ahead.  But while the action or inaction our society takes is important, there is something more important we can do.  We can celebrate the good in today.  Celebrate the joys of life both big and small.  Celebrate watching a movie with family or going out to lunch with friends.  Celebrate snow falling or being somewhere in which the weather laughs at the mere thought of snow.  Celebrate birthdays, all of the winter holidays and the New Year.  Not just go through the motions of wrapping presents and baking cookies, but do all of it (even the stuff that makes you want to tear your hair our) with a sense of joy. 

It is easy to yell and scream and cry.  I have shed my share of tears.  But today I will celebrate what life is about.  I will remember that each moment is precious and hold my family close.  I will smile and laugh and say a prayer that the families who were devastated this week will one day find peace.  And that day by day, week by week, year by year they will find a reason to celebrate life again.