Friday, December 28, 2012

Talk about a Resolution (an extra set of fives)

By Russel D McLean

Yes, I managed to miss the big list of five of the year (which were awesome, by the by), so here is my self imposed penance: a little extra post in the midst of the holidays.

In a few days time, it will be Hogmanay. My plans are simple, and involved a goodly amount of wine (and perhaps some whisky). But its got me thinking about some things, notably where I’ve been and where I’m going.

So lets start by looking back at five highlights, or at least important events (for me) of 2012:

1) Back to the USA:

I wasn’t at Bouchercon this year, but I did go to NYC and Toronto to accompany The Literary Critic on the small tour for her US PB release of BETWEEN THE SHEETS. It was strange to see it all from the other side, both the highs and the lows, and I came back with a sense that as much as the author has to work for a tour, so too do the bookstores. You get out as much as you put in, and it was NYC’s Bluestockings Bookshop who really impressed me.

2) Book Number The Third: FATHER CONFESSOR was released in the UK by Five Leaves and took to the digital field as well. The book got a lot of nice notice and I’ve had a lot of support for it via email and social media. After three years in the wilderness, it felt good to be back.

3) The Good Son hits Italy: L’Impicatto hit the shores of Italy with thanks to Revolver. A great cover by a Vertigo Artist and some very nice reactions, at least through what Google Translate tells me.

4) World Tour of Scotland: I hit a lot of places to promote Father Confessor. Some were successful in terms of attendance, others less so. But it was all great fun. I think I did one event too many, of course (At least once, I was befuddled and shattered by my time on the road, and I was saved by the grace and smarts of a fellow author) but by God it was so much fun and I remembered that the fun of events is meeting and entertaining readers. This was one of the most fun tours I’ve done yet, and what I want to do next is get back to the US for another roadtrip tour there like I did in ‘10.

5) More Work: Yes, I still have the day job but ‘12 saw me stretch my repertoire with a few extra writing related jobs that bought in the money. All of these have been great fun and more importantly have helped me to better understand myself as a writer. With thanks to all those who helped me get these gigs; they’ve been great fun and I look forward to doing more!

Looking Forward

My new years resolutions, or at least those I can talk about here:

1) New book: It may have been three years between The Lost Sister and Father Confessor, but I have an early draft of MOTHERS OF THE DISAPPEARED on hand and a possible delivery date. I’ll keep you up to date as we go on but I hope 2013 sees this new novel find a home.

2) More reviews: I have abandoned Crime Scene Scotland for much of the past year, but I really want to start reviewing again. Its a tough gig to do when paying stuff keeps cropping up, but I love reviewing and there’s so many damn good books out there to talk about.

3) No BSP. Or at least very little. One of my pet peeves of 2012 as a reader are the author who spam other authors and twitter/facebook stream with BSP and utter bullshit. More often than not it puts me off, so why would I subject you to it? Of course I’ll let everyone know when things are happening, but I’m not ramming it down anyone’s throat. Ever.

4) New shorts. Its been so long since I’ve written any short stories, I need to get back on the horse. I love shorts. And I loved doing the e-special Death of Ronnie Sweets last year so I really want to get back on the horse.

5) Back to the USA. This may be hard to do (unless someone wants to pay me a buttload of money) but I really want to do Bouchercon this year. I miss my US friends and readers (sometimes and often the same thing).  So somehow, I’m gonna get there. By hook or by crook.

Anyway, those are my public resolutions for this year. I have a few more private ones. But they’ve all been influenced by my experience this last year. I have to say, despite a few bumps, 2012 has been a great year spent with some great people. Lets hope 2013 goes just as well!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Our Favorite Fives of 2012

Joelle Charbonneau's Top 5 Children’s books

Since I have a recently raised to 5-years-old child in my house, most of my reading this year has been aloud and involved books with pictures.  But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t as entertaining for me as they are for my son.  My 5 favorite discoveries of the 2012 are:

1) Goldilocks vs the Three Dinosaurs as retold by: Mo Willems – If you aren’t familiar with Mo Willem, you will be by the end of this list.  This I the newest book by an author who deserves every single starred review he has garnered.  This book is fun to look at.  It is also hysterically funny to read.  In fact, I think I might have enjoyed it more than the tot.  Perhaps we will read it again tonight so I can be sure.

2) Dinos Are Forever (The Adventures of Jo Schmo) by Greg Trine and Frank W Dormer.  – This is a chapter book meant for mid-grade readers about a fourth grade girl who receives a superhero cape in the mail from her uncle and decides to give superheroing a whirl.  With a drooling, side-kick dog and fabulous evil guy laughs (Mwa-ha-ha),  this book has been read several times and no doubt will be read again soon.

3) Froggy Builds a Tree House by: Jonathan London and Frank Remkiewicz – My son loves the entire Froggy series and was thrilled when we bought the paperback of this through his school this year.  Froggy is tons of fun.

4) Can I Play Too? by: Mo Willems – Gerald and Piggie are best friends and all of their adventures are worth reading.  This one came out in 2010, but we just discovered it, much to our delight.  If you have a child in your life, please check out this series and the Pigeon books.  You will be glad you did.

5) The Sandman: The Story of Sanderson Mansnoozie (The Guardians of Childhood) by: William Joyce.  -  Yes, this is one of the books that inspired the Guardians movie.  I haven’t seen the movie, but my son loves both books that are out.  The pictures are lovely and the story is filled with action.  The story is a little dark since it is about guarding children from nightmares, but my son got a bang out of it.

Dave White's Top Five Beers

1. Kane Head High IPA:  Jersey’s own and my favorite IPA.  Hoppy goodness.
2. Carton 077XX Double IPA:  Another Jersey IPA.  More hoppy goodness.
3. Founders Breakfast Stout:  A classic.
4. Schlafly American IPA:  Finally available in NJ!
5. Southern Tier 2X Milk Stout:  Sweet, solid, goodness

Scott D. Parker’s Top Five

Redshirts by John Scalzi – If a book can not only make me cry while reading it but also make me cry when I’m trying to talk about it, that’s a great book in my opinion.

Fatman on Batman podcast – Kevin Smith’s regular podcast devoted solely to the Caped Crusader and interviewing the creative types that have brought him to life. This is the most passionate, entertaining podcast on my iPod and I’ve listened to just about every episode more than once, the Mark Hamill entry a full three times.

Monster by KISS – This 20th studio album by my first, favorite rock band has echoes and homages to all their past decades of sound. They may not have reinvented the rock and roll wheel, but I sure do love their raucous sound and brash style. Looking forward to the tour next year.

The Movie Quatrain – There were 4 movies I circled on the calendar as 2012 dawned that I wanted to see for different reasons. I enjoyed all of them. “John Carter”: to see, on film, the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs come to life was thrilling. “Avengers”: in some ways, the quintessential *comic book* movie and the most fun I had in a theater all year. “The Dark Knight Rises”: A fine, messy, yet poignant way to end the excellent Batman trilogy. “Lincoln”: Seeing our 16th president literally come to life was utterly engrossing.

Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith – This was my big biography for the year and it happened to be my first about Ike. Good, even-handed account of the general’s life, with special comparisons made to President Grant, our other famous war general. Learned a lot I didn’t know about Eisenhower and my respect for him has only increased.

Jay Stringer's List Of Stuff

1) The Duck Tails Theme Tune
2) Raiders Of The Lost Ark
3) Knock Knock
4) Who's there?
5) Pennance By Dan B. O'Shea
6) Do The Struggle by Franz Nicolay

Brian Lindenmuth’s Top Five

I decided to break up this list of recommended things I like in 2012 into six categories: movies, TV, music, comics, print only book, and ebook only.

The two movies I enjoyed the most in 2012 were Argo and The Avengers. Argo was a tense thriller that shows just how solid of a director Ben Affleck has become. Alan Arkin and John Goodman were laugh out loud funny and no one ever had so much fun saying  "argo fuck yourself" as Arkin did here. The Avengers was one of the best movie  experiences I've had. The boy and I saw it in a sold out show and the audience was pulled along for the ride and it was a great collective experience. I don't know if the experience of watching The Avengers will be the same at home but I do recommend both movies.

We've been playing some catch-up with TV shows lately and watched the first two seasons of Justified. It quickly became a favorite. There is a lot to like about Justified though it has its faults too (the biggest being that the other two Marshall's are woefully under developed for two people who are in the main credits). Raylan is a great character and so is Boyd, who walks that fine line so you don't know he's believing the God game or not.  From top to bottom this is a great cast of characters and actors, the writing and dialog are up to Elmore Leonard's standards. The second season is stunning with Mags Bennet standing tall as of the great characters of the medium.

Where the hell did The Alabama Shakes come from and why did they take so long getting here.  Their EP last year was concentrated greatness and the full length this year didn't slacken the pace at all.  Hell of an album.

I'm reading a book right now that is available in print only, Uncle B's Drive-In Fiction which is a collection of six novellas by Jimmy Callaway, Alec Cizak, CJ Edwards, Garnett Elliott, Matthew C Funk, and David James Keaton. So far I've only read the first two novellas in the collection and have high hopes for the others. You should check it out too.

My ebook only pick is Hot Wire by Gary Carson. Carson's first novel was, at times, a little too dense for its own good. Hot Wire is more streamlined and works better. It is a crazy novel that is like Repo Man (without the aliens) told in a New World Order setting.

Scalped by Jason Aaron and R. M. Guéra came to end earlier this year after 60 issues.  I hate to compare to other mediums when this clearly stands so well on its own but sometimes you must when trying to make an introduction. Scalped plays out with the type of quality that one has come to associate with this golden age of TV that we are in. All of the quality and long term story telling possibilities that we've seen played out on the screen play themselves out in a different visual way here. Don't let comics scare you, this is a brilliant.

Steve Weddle's Top Five

1) Favorite Retired Five: George Brett
2) Favorite Liquor Five: Fifth of Jack Daniel's
3) Favorite Movie Five: Five Easy Pieces
4) Favorite Book Five: Slaughterhouse-Five
5) Favorite Lunch at El Caballo: The Number Five

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. 

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. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

You'll Know When You Know

Scott D. Parker

"You'll just know." That's the typical answer when someone asks how they might know if they're in love. You cannot rationally explain the internal feelings, the swirling of emotions, you just can't. Which is why, when it comes to love, you just know.

Same is true for writing projects, too. In November, Steve and I both latched onto the NaNoWriMo gimmick as a means to kickstart our respective projects. By the confines of the WriMo rules, we both failed. That is, we both failed at stringing along 50,000 words in a row. But, as Steve pointed out in his excellent piece on Wednesday, we both won by losing. I had honestly hoped to compile 50,000 words, but I didn't. What I did do is get back on track with writing a novel.

How so? Well, for the month of November and on into December, I've thought about my new book, the characters, the plot, the order of things, how best to say something, etc. It's been constantly churning in my noggin, so much so that most nights, if I haven't already worked on some words, I very much look forward to that quiet time, alone with my thoughts, my index cards and pencils, my corkboard, and my Mac. It's great.

I've been there before. When I was writing my first book, it was all just chugging away like a well-oiled machine. Still, there were those moments when I doubted. Why am I writing? Should I be writing *this* book? Well, I told myself, *I* like it. That is enough. But there was one moment that really solidified my book in my mind.

The book features Harry Truman (fictionally) and a particular type of Japanese submarine that can launch a plane. I had seen photos and drawings of the aircraft, but that was about it. On vacation at the Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas, I went into the gift shop. Lo and behold there was a plastic model of the exact airplane in my book. That was karma. That was the external indicator that I was on the right track.

I haven't had one of those--yet!--for this new book, but I'm happy that I'm just thinking about it. All the time. It's a struggle at times, but I still have my answer to that question about this book.

I just know.

Friday, December 7, 2012


By Russel D McLean

Apologies for the late post today - I was rather caught up in paid writing work! 

About eight or nine years ago, I got a call from my friend John (whom I haven’t seen in ages – hey, buddy, promise I’ll be in touch soon). John was recently out as a gay man and rather enjoying things from what I could tell. Anyway, after all the usual preamble you get with a friendly phone call, John said, “Look, is there something you want to talk about?”

I didn’t have anything I wanted to talk about that I could think of. But he insisted. Like this was something serious. And we played that game people do, where neither of them really wants to say anything in case they’re wrong. It took John to finally say: “I saw the profile.”

The profile in question was on a gay dating website. He sent me the link. And I saw that there – under a pseudonym (oh how I wish I could remember it) was me. I knew it was me and not just someone who looked like me because the profile pic was taken in a bar I frequented at the time. And, in fact, I had a copy of the very same photo. It had been taken on a night out with the English Literature Society of Dundee University. I should add, it wasn’t an incriminating photo, although my eyes were a little glazed. This wasn’t a photo already on the net. This was one you’d have had to scan in.

“Is there something you want to talk about?”

I was confused at first. My sexuality is pretty comfortably heterosexual. And if I did come out, I probably wouldn’t use a gay dating site, just as I never used a straight dating site (which might explain why I spent eight years single). So what was my image doing there? And what were some of these activities I apparently enjoyed? And why did I describe myself as a bear?*

After the conversation got less awkward, when I realised what he was talking about, I explained to John that I hadn’t posted the profile. I had no access to it. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would post an image of me there. But it had to be someone we both knew because there were only a select number of people would have access to those particular photographs.

What nagged at me even more was the fact that whoever had posted it there hadn’t tipped me off to the fact that they had done so. They hadn’t linked to anything personal about me, they hadn’t posted my email address or forwarded messages of interest (maybe the profile got none) or used it in some way to spread rumours about me.

They had just posted the profile.

And let it sit there for over a year until John stumbled over it while looking for a date.**

I still don’t know who did it or why. Was there an end game? Was it a practical joke that never reached a punchline? Was it some weird kind of revenge? Was it someone so shy they thought that posting an image of me would give them more chance at getting a date than posting their own features?

I contacted the site and told them that my image was being used without my consent. Proving this got a little complex and I wound up posting a photograph of myself to my then blog holding a newspaper so that the site’s operators could determine I was who I said I was. The profile was deleted with no further incident. But the site knew very little about the details of who had set up the profile. I was intrigued, however, to learn that it had been dormant for six months, almost as though whoever had set it up had forgotten about it or got bored. Or maybe had been unable to achieve whatever end game they were looking to (I still don’t know what it could have been - - but I was rather proud to learn I’d got a lot of views, at least)

Or perhaps they had achieved their goal. Perhaps it had nothing to do with me, and all they had needed was an image that was not them. Because they didn’t want anyone who knew them to find them or because they somehow thought I might be a more attractive proposition (believe me, the likelihood is that I wasn’t). Maybe they met someone and forgot about the profile. Or maybe…

Or maybe…

I was thinking about this again recently when a writer friend of mine discovered someone trying to set up a facebook account in their name. In this case, the fakester was befriending actual friends of the original but again there seemed no real gameplan, no attempt to spread real malice. It was just someone co-opting someone else’s identity and… well… sitting there, online. Doing nothing.

So why?

Why do it?

The internet is an odd place, where identity is fluid and where you can gain a fresh start merely by tapping in a few letters on a keyboard. You can become someone or something utterly unknown to those who would recognise you in day to day life. You can become someone else. Someone you create. Or, in odd cases like these, someone you co-opt.

For crime writers, it’s a creepy (and inspiring in fictional terms) thing to think that the people we’re talking to may not be the people we’re talking to. What if John had, rather than calling me, private messaged the profile? Would he have worked out that it wasn't me?

And what if the profile wasn't expecting someone who knew their image to get in touch?
I still think about the person who put my picture online.

I still wonder why they did it.

But this isn’t a novel. Its not a movie. Resolutions in life are never near, and the fact is I’ll probably never know who they were, or why they put my picture on their profile. And in some ways its more intriguing that I don't...

*For those not in the know, I discovered it meant a hirsute and usually large man. I don’t mind that at all. If I was on the scene I think I’d be comfortable with that description.

**Let’s quickly point out this was a fairly tame dating site, so it wasn’t like my image was being posted around the seedier corners of the internet – this was men looking for companionship with men and little else.