Saturday, January 19, 2013

When Firsts Fade

Scott D. Parker

Have you ever revisited something from your past and find that it either holds up very well or not at all?

I am never far away from the music of David Bowie. Of all the eras available for listening, my favorite is the latter decade, the years from 1993 to 2003. I’ve written about it extensively here. I consider it a reboot of his career, going back to the beginning with his jazz roots and migrating on through the 1990s and early 2000s, merging and reworking the then-current musical trends. When I’m in a Bowie mood, it is to this music I go. I’ve heard the 1970s stuff enough that I usually skip it (except for the instrumentals on Low and Heroes) and I’ve skipped the 1980s material since, well, 1989. 

Ten years ago, during his Reality Tour, Bowie suffered a heart attack that led the cancellation of the last shows in Europe and he all but dropped from the public’s eye. As the years progressed, more and more I realized that his 2003 album, Reality, was going to be his last. I was content with that. I saw his Reality Tour show in Houston and, despite my town being a “greatest hits town” (the town where every act feels compelled to play the hits vs. bringing out some random album cut), the show was fantastic. 

So imagine the world’s surprise when, on his 66th birthday on 8 January, Bowie releases Where Are We Now?, the new single from his forthcoming album The Next Day. This elegiac, melancholy look back through his own history hearkens back to his somber mood from 1999’s hours. This excitement for all things Bowie has lead me to listen to all eras and, for the first time in years (I hesitate to say decades but it’s nearly that), I’ve started listening to the 1980s albums and have pulled out my two videos from the 1980s tours: Serious Moonlight (1983) and Glass Spider (1987). 

Now, the Serious Moonlight tour was THE tour that introduced me to the performer that is David Bowie. Way back in 1984, I recorded this concert on a cassette…and I still have it (and it still works). Absolutely loved that show that had Bowie just being a rock-star singer even though I was unable to see it live. My first Bowie concert experience was the 1987 Glass Spider show. At the time, in the midst of all the excesses that characterized the 80s, I was over-the-top with the theatricality of this show. Since my first favorite rock act was KISS, having Bowie and his dancers (yes, dancers) romp around the stage was perfect. All rock concerts should be like this.

Or not. I rewatched the Serious Moonlight video this week and it holds up remarkably well. I still know every nuance of the music and tapped my fingers according to all the beats my younger self learned. The Glass Spider tour, on the other hand, was hard to watch. It’s so, so cheesy that it’s difficult to believe Bowie actually came up with it and no one around him told him no. Musically, the songs are pretty good, with the Glass-Spider takes of Loving the Alien and Absolute Beginners being my favorite versions of those songs. But it is so hard to watch now.

There are books, movies, and songs that meant something important to my younger self that now hold little or no interest to my older self now. Surely, I’m not alone in this realization. Is it simply that we move on, experience new things, and those important things are replaced by newer, more important things or is it something else? Can we never go home again?

And have you heard the new song? What do you think of it?

11 Songs

Everyone always makes Top 10 Lists (I go to eleven). Bowie’s hits fill up whole albums. Since I love the 1993-2003 Bowie so much, here at my favorite tracks from that era:

Strangers When We Meet (Outside version)
Don’t Let Me Down and Down
The Hearts Filthy Lesson
Buddha of Suburbia
The Motel (Mike Garson on piano, nuff said. Live version from 2004 splendid)
Hallo Spaceboy
Dead Man Walking
Always Crashing in the Same Car (live version, 2000)
Everyone Says Hi
Fall Dog Bombs the Moon

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Return

By Russel D McLean

Two days ago, I had an odd urge. It had been just under a year since I had updated Crime Scene Scotland, the ongoing review blog that had replaced the crime scene scotland website that ran monthly (ish) for around five years.

But I felt it had been left alone too long. I still get review requests and emails from publicists, but the urge to update was never there. The site was stale, the formula still the same.

But I wanted to do it.

Having just created my own new website (following the mysterious disappearance of my old webmaster, which just goes to show you should always get paperwork from your webmasters in case they vanish - - the old website is still up there, unloved and untouchable by me) I figured that a whole facelift was needed. From getting rid of the old handmade logo to adding new sections (splitting reviews from movies and TV into their own area, adding an "extra" area for book trailers, extracts etc, and of course an actual news section, too) I created a simpler, better looking site (admittedly from a template, but hey, the free site creators these days do everything a guy like me needs without the old ads and clutter you used to get when you created a free site).

Writing reviews has always been the fun part for me. I like to look at books that I love on the site, which means that sometimes they aren't quite what everyone else is reviewing - - its done very much on a "what grabs my fancy" kind of basis rather than "everything that comes through". This helps me maintain the enthusiasm of the site and to look at books from my own point of view rather than simply dredging through books without much substance or thought.

Right now I feel energised about Crime Scene Scotland MkIII. I'm hoping I can maintain the momentum, at least with the news and extras updates (The reviews may be a bit more haphazard) and the return of the classic covers on the front page (there will be a gallery of them, too). I hope you'll go over to take a look. I hope you'll support the site, and more that you enjoy it.

And now, having created the site, I'm off to have a good, stiff drink....

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Stealing Story

By Jay Stringer

I've said this many times -here and during interviews- that most of my influences come from film, comics and music. I came to love prose, but by that point I'd already picked up a lot of lessons from the other forms of storytelling.

I've noticed that whenever I'm writing a book, there are certain lessons -and in some cases certain scenes- that I always think back to. There are beats and tricks I learned from script writers and singers that I take with me into every project. I can see the traces of them in everything I do, even if the most obvious forms of them usually get cut out after the first draft, once I've found the story and don't need the 'tricks' anymore.

I thought I'd mention a few of them.

1. The Trick Beginning.

"What time is it?"

Everyone seems to remember The Usual Suspects as a film with a trick ending. They remember the reveal, and the walk, and talk about it having a great twist. From a storytelling point of view, however, it's actually a film with a trick beginning. Everything about the film is in service of that ending. The trick is pulled a couple of hours before, and everything that follows is designed to distract you from something that's blindingly obvious. If the question of the story is Who is Keyser Soze? the viewer figures it out in minutes. What the script does is show you a character dying, and then very quickly convince you that what you saw was wrong. You spend much of the film asking how did Keaton pull this off? It leaves the real answer to the real question out in pain sight, and turns the story into a mystery by making you ask the wrong questions.

And what's more, it only really has to pull this trick once.

Many mystery stories try and throw you off with a new question every five chapters, or to throw a kitchen sink full of red herrings at you. In my opinion, a strong mystery story really only has to throw you off once, and then spend the rest of it's time essentially playing fair, waiting for you to spot the obvious. I find an honesty and a simplicity in a well told mystery that I don't find in some of the poorer ones. And if you've read some of my crime stories, perhaps you might see echoes of this trick. And am I worried about telling you that I do this? No. That's all part of the fun. Chris Nolan put all of the answers to The Prestige  in the first three or four shots.

2. The Bar Scene

"Now you're gettin' nasty."

There is one scene that I'll write some variation on during the first draft of every book. Or, I have done in every book so far. The scene has also been cut by the time each of them makes it to the final draft, but having them in during the early stages helps me to find things that I need.

It's one of my favourite scenes in all of cinema. Indiana Jones and Renee Belloq in the bar during Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Jones is blind drunk, and angry, and grieving. Belloq is...well....Belloq. If you've seen the film you know the scene I'm talking about, and if you've not seen it then chances are you'll have seen a variation on it.

Jones and Belloq start the film in pretty much the same place. Both are mercenaries. both travel the world desecrating graves and holy sites, both get paid for what they do. As much as the film lures into following Jones, for the first half of the story he's not really a better person than Belloq. He's moody, he uses people, he fails at almost everything and he's clearly acted very badly to Marian in the past (and let's not try and think too much about the age difference between the two, and how old Marian would have been during their previous romance.) Neither of them serve a higher purpose, and neither are working for a government that will tell them the truth.

During the bar scene things shift. For the first time we start to see daylight between the two of them. Belloq plants his loyalties firmly down on one side, Jones on the other, and we now know what their missions are for the rest of the film. The other fun element is that through the whole scene Belloq is both telling the truth and lying. He's right in everything that he says about Jones and himself. They are shadowy reflections of each other, and they have both fallen from the pure faith. The 'villain' of the piece is the one telling the plainest truth. But he's also lying. He's there to kick Jones while he's down, to let him wallow in the belief that Marian is dead and that it's all Jones's fault, while he knows she is alive and well. The whole scene is in service of the plot of the film, it's moving the pieces about and getting the story ready for the home stretch, but it's done through character and dialogue.

3.The Punch-To-The-Gut Ending.

"Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown."

So much of the third or final act of a story is spent resolving the plot. But really, by the final pages, or the final moments of the film, the plot work is essentially done. You've lined everything up and watched it play out. But what about those characters that are dancing around for our approval? I like to make them the final trick of the story, to have their emotions punch us in the gut, then instantly exit the moment.

It's not that the detective has just uncovered a massive conspiracy and witnessed a tragedy, it's that he is powerless to do anything about it, and it's just another day in the system.  The last words of the story are as important as the first, but whereas you may want to fool people with your opening, you want to drop-kick them with the truth at the ending. You want those words to have an impact as they close the book. You want the guy singing about the truth to admit that maybe he told a lie (the Johnny Cash version of Mercy Seat) then boom, exit the song. Or the guy who went on a killing spree, when asked why, will simply say, "I guess there's just a meanness in this world," and the sing ends with you thinking through that blunt and worrying truth (Nebraska).

4. Subtext, Subtext, Subtext. 

If the only thing that's going on in the scene is the thing that the characters claim, then there's a good chances the scene doesn't work. There has to be more at work. There needs to either be something left unsaid on the surface that is running wild between the lines. There has to be the great anger and the lies being exposed in This Land Is Your Land or Born In The USA. The heartbreak lurking beneath the surface in Reno. The real questions being asked by What's He Building? WATCHMEN has to be a completely different book each time you re-read it. A well told Batman story needs to question the morals of it's protagonist and your own support of him. A perfect Daredevil story needs to be slipping in the message that the hero of the hour is a liar and a hypocrite. You have to be halfway through a bouncing Paul Westerberg ditty about missing a dead friend and then release it's sung from the point of view of someone probably having a drug overdose.

And while I'm giving some love to St Paul on the week that THE REPLACEMENTS RETURNED(!!!!!!) Here's a vintage dose of Thunder.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Amazon Reviews: Judging a Book By Its Price, Cover, Etc

By Steve Weddle

As we all know by now, I've had some difficulty reviewing a book at Amazon.

I wasn't allowed to review Chad Rohrbacher's KARMA BACKLASH because we're pals.

But look what you can do with your Amazon Reviewing.

I was allowed to review Emily Bronte's WUTHERING HEIGHTS because I don't know her.

I was also allowed to review these K-Cups for making coffee, even though I dropped the rating by ONE FULL STAR, complaining that coffee pods are not available for Kindle.

You can offer silly reviews of milk, of t-shirts, of banana slicers.

You can offer reviews of books you haven't read.

You can/could praise your own books.

You can/could take a crap on the books of your fellow authors

You can review books based solely on their covers.

You can purchase reviews as if they were colostomy bags.

You can review a book, judging it merely on its typeface.

And, you can review a book based on price alone. Jared Diamond's THE WORLD UNTIL YESTERDAY is $20 for the Kindle edition. Too high? Too low? I don't give a shit. But some folks do. So what do they do? They give the book one star and say something such as: "I didn't read this book because I'm not paying $20 for an ebook. This is outrageous."

Here's my problem with reviewing a book based on price.

The price is listed. On the page. With the book. It says what the price is. We don't need your stupid review, you narcissistic little maniac. You're not making a statement anymore than I make a statement when I refuse to flush the toilet at Eddie's Burgers & Co because the only have those blowdry things and not real paper towels. 

The price is, wait, here you go:

Amazon, and other online retailers, are in a spot right now. The reviews of the wolf shirts and jugs of milk are oh-so-hilarious. But they're not useful.

My thinking is that authors should be allowed to review the work of other authors on Amazon, but should disclose that.

And if you want to review a book you haven't read, you should disclose that.

And if you want to review the price or cover of the book, you should be able to.

If Amazon would revamp its system, I think we'd all be in better shape.

Not long ago, they added the VERIFIED PURCHASE button. What if they added a button that said "Fellow Author"? 

What if they added an option for "Price Review" or "Cover Comment"?

Couldn't they break out reviews a bit? Create some verticals? Drill down a bit and let people place various TYPES of reviews?

Maybe people could review the series of books. Reacher. Thrones. Magic Tree House.

As much as I like standing in a bookstore and talking to a clerk about a book and reading the first chapter while I sit in one of those frumpy chairs and drink a lukewarm tea, I very much like reading the 283 reviews of a book or a drill or an mp3 player.

By lumping every type of review onto one page and then going nuclear to attempt to correct a problem (sock puppets), Amazon is devaluing one of its most precious and least expensive items -- the user-generated review.

Inferno: The Marketing Hyperbole

Dan Brown's new book is coming.

The TITLE OF THE THING has already become a thing.

Fans across the world used their social media accounts to unlock a secret image on containing the name of Brown's next book. Through Facebook and tweeting the hashtag #DanBrownTODAY, viewers helped fill in a live mosaic that slowly revealed the book’s cover. 

Crack the code: Inferno

Read about the code: Flood UK

So that's what is happening. A big publicity push to UNLOCK THE PUZZLE. Turns out the puzzle is the title of the book. And you "unlock" it by giving the publisher and author some free publicity.

Interesting times, folks.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Do You Collect Signed Books?

Short post this week. Let's talk signed books.

I went through the shelves and pulled some of the signed books that Sandra and I have picked up over the years to share.

[All of the images linked to are collected at this Pinterest board.]

I've picked up a couple at store signings. Here's signed copies of The Shotgun Rule by Charlie Huston and Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand.

I've been fortunate enough to win some contests over the years. Here's signed copies of The Six by Stuart Neville and The Lighthouse Keepers by Adrian McKinty.

Bouchercon and other book festivals and conventions are a great place to get signed books from your favorite authors. Here's signed copies of Violent Spring by Gary Phillips and Blood of Paradise by David Corbett.

Some of my favorite signed books are the ones found in unlikely places or in used or remaindered bins. I found this signed copy of Homicide by David Simon at Goodwill; This copy of The Sweet Forever by George Pelecanos at Big Lots; This copy of The Winter of Frankie Machine by Don Winslow remaindered at Borders.

I've picked up a few signed, numbered, limited editions over the years too. Here's signed copies of Frayed by Tom Piccirilli, The Stormwatcher by Graham Joyce, Mad Dogs by Brian Hodge, and Laughin' Boy by Bradley Denton.

Here's some others from our collection. Interrogations by Jon Jordan, The Right Madness by James Crumley, Fleshmarket Close by Ian Rankin, Priest by Ken Bruen. 

It's always nice when an author does something a little extra like this signed copy of Cold Granite by Stuart MacBride.

I like to get signed copies of the Snubnose Press books whenever possible. Here's a signed copy of Choice Cuts by Joe Clifford.

OK, let's talk prized posessions and favorites. I have a few to share: Renderings by James Sallis; Windward Passage by Jim Nisbet; The Plots With Guns anthology (look at all of those signatures).

Final two. The two I prize the most. The first is a signed copy of Giveadamn Brown by Robert Deane Pharr. Pharr is a forgotten writer and this, his final novel, is one of my favorite books by him. Because he's so unknown I don't think there are that many signed books by him out there. Plus I love the personal info on the page too. This was deal at $9.

The second is a signed, first edition hardback of Blaze Starr's memoir. Usually if you see a copy of this book in the store it is the movie tie-in version with Paul Newman on the cover.  These days you don't see the original cover that much so if you see one grab it. For many reasons, including this being  in part a Baltimore book, this is my favorite signed book. I actually met Blaze Starr a few years ago. She was selling jewelry at a kiosk in a mall and was just as charming as can be.

[All of the images linked to are collected at this Pinterest board.]

Do you collect signed books? 
Do you shelf them differently? 
Which of your signed books do you treasure the most?
Dare I ask, What is the most you've paid for a signed book?
Have you turned down buying one but regretted it later?

Currently Reading: Submissions and the new Dennis Lehane.

Currently Listening: O Be Joyful by Shovels and Rope.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Time to say THANKS!

By: Joelle Charbonneau

This week I was asked by my editor if I wanted to included acknowledgements in SKATING UNDER THE WIRE – the fourth of the Rebecca Robbins mysteries.  Including acknowledgements is always optional, but an option I have always taken because while writing a manuscript is often done in solitude, getting a book published is never done alone.  The acknowledgements section is the place where I get to say thank you.

However, the true problem with acknowledgements is that an author never wants to be that person who stands at the academy awards podium and lists everyone from his first English teacher to the woman at Starbucks who serves him coffee.  At least, I don’t.  I never want to be the one who gets dragged off the stage with the music still playing and the audience shaking their heads at how boring the speech was. 

Because of that, I tend to keep my acknowledgements to a page—more or less.  SKATING UNDER THE WIRE was the sixth book for which I have written acknowledgements (which makes me realize now that I need to talk to my YA publisher to see if they would allow me to include one for The Testing).  Some of the same people are mentioned in each one not because I feel like I have to mention them, but because I truly couldn’t do what I do without them.  My family tops that list as does my incredible literary agent.  Both provide very different and yet incredibly necessary support.  (For those who don’t believe I am silly for having a literary agent in this day and age – I can honestly say that my work is always better for my agent’s input and I wouldn’t give that up for the world!)  My editors are always named as are members of my publishing house who have collaborated with me on the project.

After that, I run into the problem of trying to decide who to thank.  The list is endless.  Friends.  Extended family.  People whose named I’ve borrowed for characters.  People who helped me with research or read early versions of the book in order to help me make it better.  Others who reached out during times of emotional upheaval and let me know that they were there.  Every single one is important…as are the people who make my Cinnamon Dolce Lattes at Starbucks!

So with every book I have to make a choice as to who to thank and who to put on the list for inclusion the next time.  Unlike the first set of acknowledgments I wrote – which was for a one book deal –I know for certain there will be a next time. 

However, since next time is still a while down the road, I want to say thank you to all of you who are reading this.  Thank you for reading this blog, for encouraging me with your comments and for being a wonderful support of me and my work.  Writing is often lonely.  There are days where every word you write feels as if it is the worst thing ever written and you are convinced you shouldn’t be writing at all.  There are days where books get published and you feel on top of the world.  And there are all the days in between.  None of it matters without all of you.