Saturday, January 26, 2013

Tools of the Trade, or The Refuse Bin

Scott D. Parker

I am always fascinated by the tools people use to do their jobs. In one of the more interesting perks about my day job as a technical writer for an oil and gas client, I get to learn about the tools and technology they use to find and retrieve various petroleum products. My wife is a silversmith and jewelry artist and I’m always asking her what the various little tools she has and what they do. Some are obvious, some are not, and I enjoy learning.
My father is a woodworker. His dad was a professional carpenter. Sadly, the gene that impels a person to want to work with wood skipped me. I thoroughly enjoy the various projects I do with my dad—last’s year’s deck on our patio, the floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall bookcases in my living room—and sometimes wish I had said missing gene. So it is with joy whenever a project comes up that we need to complete.
The latest one is a little shadow box, two actually, for my son’s class. My wife’s idea, it’s a 14 x 18-in. box about 2 in. deep. The girls in the class get to decorate one and the boys the other with the ultimate goal of both being available for the auction gala later this spring.
Last weekend, my boy and I went to my dad’s woodshop and spent the day building these boxes. We planned, we measured, we cut, we primed, and, finally, we put all the pieces together. Along the way, we nipped and tucked some of the wood, forced it into a certain shape, had to recut a couple of pieces, and realized a mistake we made along the way. The mistake was fixed and we have our boxes. In fact, we were so productive that we made three additional ones and the three members of my family all get one to decorate.
I know you know the obvious metaphor I’m using here: tools for woodworking and tools for writing, each set helping the crafter make a final product. That’s true, but I’m going to go somewhere slightly different.
The pieces of the shadow box were relatively small. The largest piece was the thin backing. When you go to the hardware store, you buy long boards and cut them down to the size. For every cut we made, I watched as my dad handed me the piece we wanted and stored away the remainder to be available for a future project. You just never know what you might need.
It was this action that reminded me of writing. I don’t know about y’all but I keep just about everything I write. On the computer, it’s really simple. I keep snippets, vignettes, and scraps in my documents folder. I also use the SimpleNotes app on my iPad/Pod so I can access on the go. On the paper side, I keep all my Moleskine notebooks and other comp books. Heck, I keep a spiral notebook in my car and jot down things while driving…or at a stop light. Occasionally, I’ll go through them all just seeing what I once wrote on one day. And, every now and then, I get re-inspired and continue something old and make it new again.
Do you keep all of your little tidbit writings? How do you store them? And do you ever go back and re-read or re-use them?

Album of the Week: Vijay Iyer Trio – Accelerando

Taking an echo of the time signature quirks of Dave Brubeck, Iyer’s piano trio (Iyer, piano; Stephen Crump, bass; Marcus Gilmore, drums) offers some incredibly dense but aural rewarding jazz pieces. After years of having music “just on” in the background, I am moving back to where music used to be: you sit and listen and absorb. Accelerando is an album that rewards the listener who listens with concentration and attention. The notes on the album don’t change each time I play it, but the things I take away from each session are often different.

Friday, January 25, 2013

"Negotiaion is over... the sentence is death..."

By Russel D McLean

Russel has been on deadline this week for several things. However, with the movie Dredd about to appear on DVD and Blu-Ray, here are Russel's thoughts on the movie after a special screening in Dundee that he attended several months ago. This post was originally published on Russel's personal blog at

Judge Dredd is hard to pin down. As a comic, its about a totalitarian who is not just above the law, but, well, he is the law. Judge Judy and executioner*, he represents the faceless and implacable kind of justice that terrifies left wingers like me and makes the right wingers smile gently as they experience a kind of euphoria knowing that someone's out there kicking bad arse.

But you know what, I always thought Dredd was a very British kind of joke. He's such a straight and the bad guys he puts away are so bad that he could only be a kind of parody or gentle poke at the square jawed totalitarian American hero. Dredd was the kind of Satire that could only come from the UK and he was dressed as American SF.

Which means that when he's written wrong, he's written very very wrong.

Like when they first tried to move Dredd beyond the pages of the always-slightly-tongue-in-cheek 2000AD and into the world of Hollyweird. Thinking that Dredd is a no-nonsense action hero, they cast Sylvester Stallone in the role and wound up with a bizarre action-comedy-buddy-post-apocalyptic mess that looked very pretty on occasion but ultimately did nothing to make Dredd appeal to a more mainstream audience and also, at the same time, managed to alienate most of the comic book fans, too.

So Dredd moved to movie Limbo.

Until now.

Until Dredd 3D.

I was lucky to witness the screening of this in the company of two Dredd artists - Cam Kennedy and Colin MacNeil - and one Dredd scripter - Al Ewing - here in Dundee. And yes, it was in 3D, something I generally hate.

But I was surprised by Dredd. Because while it isn't perfect, its actually a decent little actioner with a lean plot, a quick eye for detail and a central performance that really, really works.

Karl Urban may not be seven feet tall or have the voice of Clint Easwtood gargling a bag of nails, but he's efficiently, believably tough in a movie that has enough to eschew the more insane aspects of Dredd's future in Mega City One and instead create a stripped down apocalyptic future that feels plausible when seen in the "real world". Because the truth us that as much as talented artists like MacNeil and Kennedy can make us believed in the impossible world of Mega City One, that same insanity cannot ever be physically translated using real actors. No matter how many CGI tricks you use, there comes a point where it just won't feel real. And this was a mistake (other than Sly) made by the earlier movie that tried to go all out in its sci-fi-ness. Here, the movie plays with what feels right. It picks and chooses the aspects of the Dredd-verse its going to play with and, even more impressively, it doesn't try to explain everything.

It just tells the story it wants to.

And that story is this:

Veteran Judge, Dredd (Judges in this future world have all the powers of the police and can immediately dispense justice for criminal transgressions up to and including death) is assigned a rookie Judge by the name of Anderson to look after for the day. Anderson is a borderline candidate who may not have what it takes to be a judge but is blessed with psychic powers that mean she can read people's minds.

Taking a call to a massive 300 storey tower block where three men are found dead, suspected of involvement with a new drug called Slo-Mo, Dredd and Anderson soon find themselves trapped in the tower block at the mercy of a crazed gang lord called Ma. The film focusses on Dredd and Anderson's attempts to survive within the sealed-off block that is completely controlled by this insane criminal.

And that's about it.

There's no attempts at sublety or deep themes. Its just a straight up action movie with the effects of the drug Slo-Mo providing some spectacular uses for 3D. This is the first time 3D has worked for me in a movie because they tie it in nicely to the use of the drug, and really pay attention to making their effects work.

Its also great to see some really painful action. Its kind of a Die-Hard in the future feel here, and Dredd even gets to bleed quite painfully a few times.

Dredd is a pulpy fun time at the movies. There is no depth to the story, and nor is there any desire for there to be. It sets its world up, sends its characters into danger and watches them fight to get back out. Its unapologetic, its not chasing the "family" market and it has a great lead in Urban who somehow manages to give a convincing performance while never once taking that helmet off. But then, Urban is a very natural and slightly chameleonic screen presence. I got chills seeing him channel "Bones" in the Star Trek reboot and he couldn't be more different than that here, again.

The film itself cherry picks the Dredd it wants. It ditches the satire (not completely, but for the most part) and the overly comedic stuff, opting to play as straight as the set up allows. And that's a good choice. All that uniquely British comics satire would never have translated to the big screen, so the film-makers wisely decide to reinterpret the material in a way that does work for them. Like a book adpatation, Dredd is not as faithful as some rabid fans might expect, but then movie-making is its own beast, and I am one who believes that movie adpatations should always carve out their own existence from the source material. Which Dredd(3D) does.

If you hate action movies or don't like the idea of Judge Dredd even just a little, then nothing here will change your mind. But if you're looking for a pulp dystopian action movie that does exactly what it says on the tin and does it well, then you'll have a good time with Dredd.

*apologies to the makers of Hot Fuzz for nicking their joke

Thursday, January 24, 2013


By Jay Stringer

A light one this week. I'm chasing a deadline, and the deadline is getting away. I just wanted to bring a couple of things to your attention.

I guested on the Fuzzy Typewriter Podcast at the weekend. I joined the usual motley crew of Paul Montgomery and Dave Accampo to discuss John Constantine, Hellblazer, and some dude named Constanteeeeeen. It was a fun chat, and if you like comics it's worth a listen.

My second novel comes out from Thomas & Mercer in two months. I've not yet started bombarding you with news about it, but to help get ready I decided to make my two ebooks free at the weekend. For saturday and sunday you can pickup either The Goldfish Heist or Faithless Street for precisely zero of your pennies or cents. (Everything that is in Faithless Street is also included in the much larger collection Goldfish Heist, so you may not want both.)

And one last thing. You all know that the greatest Rock and Roll band to ever exist were The Replacements, right? You did? Good. Slim Dunlap -the lead guitarist during the bands more sober years- suffered a stroke last year. By all accounts he still has his wit, charm and general all-round greatness, but physically he's not doing well and health insurance is...let's face it.....crap. The Replacements have released an EP through New West Records to raise some funds, and limited edition copies are on auction now for another day. If you love(d) the band and have some spare cash, take a look. If you're one of the strange people who don't think they're the greatest thing to ever thing the thing since the thing was created, then other artists like Craig Finn, Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams will be having releases come out through the same system in the coming weeks and months. And Frank Black of Black Francis fame. And Tommy Keene of Tommy Keene fame. And Lucero of Lucero fame.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Character Evolution

Guest Post from Jim Winter

I am a middle-aged college student. That probably means nothing to you unless you read my blog and listen to me bitch about the profs sucking up all my primo writing time. But one of the classes I’m taking this semester is physical anthropology, which is the study of evolution. And it’s of evolution I wish to speak today.

Yeah, that was a long-winded way to get to character evolution, but here we are. Specifically, how do series characters evolve before we ever see them in their debut books. For Nick Kepler, it was a long, drawn-out process. The first anyone saw of him was in the original Plots WithGuns where he’s doing a sort of back-and-forth describing why he’s walking along a deserted stretch of highway at 3 AM in a light rain and how he got there. 

That character looks nothing like the one in the outline to Northcoast Shakedown ($2.99 on Amazon, Nook, and Smashwords, not to mention a whole bunch o’ other readers.)  But then he looks nothing like the poor schmuck who is stalked by his client in “Valentine’s Day,” and definitely not the guy who, in a moment of fear, starts boffing his married secretary in Second Hand Goods.

How much of this is the character? And how much is the writer? I’d have to say it’s about 50/50. In the beginning, I had no clue who this guy was. By the time I finished “A Walk in the Rain,” I knew Nick Kepler was, in 2001, 33, played in a bar band that did classic rock covers, and had a friend named Lenny who stole cars for a living. By the end of Second Hand Goods, his life is a lot more complicated.

But I’ve seen this sort of thing before. When Stephen King wrote the first story about Salem’s Lot, there was nothing about the Marsten House or any clue that there was anything more special about the place except for a bizarre spot in the woods where some evil stuff took place around the time Nathaniel Greene was cracking British skulls in that part of New England. One novel and a bad miniseries later, we get a vampire novel that has as much in common with Twilight as the Rolling Stones have in common with the Spice Girls.

A lot of times, the short stories authors create are little more than rough drafts of a character they opted to share with the public. Sometimes the author gets lucky, as I have, and can keep the storyline consistent. Other times, you have to accept the fact that the author had no clue what he or she was doing.

Amazon | Nook | Smashwords

Jim Winter programs web sites by day, attends college and writes nasty tales by night. Born in Cleveland, he lives in Cincinnati with his wife Nita and stepson AJ.  Find out what he is up to at

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

So, Where DO You Get Your Ideas From?

Writers hate this question, and I'm not really sure why.

It's a hard question, and that probably has something to do with it.  It asks a writer to go deep into his or her thought process and try to trace the seeds of a story--No wait.  That's not right.  Because, the problem with the question is, it's not specific.

If you really think about it, writers have no problem talking about where they got an idea for a specific novel.  Look at Patti Abbott's blog posts "How I Came to Write this Novel/Story," that's generally the same damn thing. 

But still, where did you get the idea for this novel, is a deep question.  It's what we in the education business call a "higher level thinking" question.  Because the idea for a novel can't be traced to one place.  It comes from several places, personal experience, education, watching the news, and observing your surroundings....

But, an aspiring writer might want to know this stuff.  And I think it's something we should talk about more openly.  At least after your novel/story is published, so as not to spoil things.  I think writers can learn from each other, and fans can be enlightened by this conversation.  It teaches us process, it teaches us a different way to look at our own writing.

Writers, I implore you, when this question comes up, talk about it.  Don't shy away from it.  I think it can lead to interesting conversations.

So... um... where do you get your ideas from?  Or at least your latest idea?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mind Over Matter

(This post does have a connection to writing.)

Brian was born with a heart defect.  He had open heart surgery at the age 1 for the first time; in total, he had three surgeries as a child.

As a result, he didn't play a lot of conventional sports.  But he did bowl on a league.

Canada doesn't have duckpin bowling.  Apparently, there's some controversy surrounding the origin of the sport, but many maintain duckpin bowling was born in Baltimore.  In other words, duckpin bowling is big in Maryland, and Brian grew up playing duckpin bowling.

We've recently taking up bowling.  For me, it's something I'd only done a few times since moving here.  For Brian, it's a return to a sport he enjoyed as a kid.  He knows a lot more about it than I do.  And his average is a lot higher than mine.

Sunday mornings, we get up early and head to a neighboring town, where they have games for $1.50 per person per game from 9 to noon.  It's a great deal.  It's a great family activity.  It's especially reasonable, since we have our own shoes.  We've been doing this for a few months now.

Last week, I had a sinus infection and laryngitis, and wasn't able to go, so I was looking forward to getting back there this weekend.  Just Brian and I were going, and we'll bowl the solid three hours and eat breakfast there.

This week, we left after game #2 was finished.


Well, the lane we were put on was beside the start of the ten pin lanes.  That doesn't bother me.  But apparently, it bothered the two guys beside us, who decided to have a chat with me about the people on the right having the right of way and that I shouldn't be bowling when they're bowling.


Brian told me that's league etiquette, because you play lanes side by side.  You don't move into someone's peripheral vision when they're about the release; you wait until they've let go of the ball.  Which is fine.  Except Sunday morning isn't league hours, and I'm not even playing the same sport as them.  And.... the two of them were using two lanes, and they wanted me to wait even if the person two lanes over from me was going up to bowl.

Which is a load of BS ridiculousness if I've ever heard it, because there are 28 lanes at that bowling alley.  If we were all to wait for the people to our right, no matter how many lanes over from us they are, nobody would ever be bowling.

Up until now, for me, it's really been about the mental discipline.  You have to focus.  And if the people in the lane beside you have kids who are running around like crazy and making noise, you can't throw a hissy fit about it.  You go on with your game.  Duckpin bowling isn't easy (many people think it is, mistakenly) but a lot of people play it with their kids because of the small balls.  And on many days (including today... at a different bowling alley) I've had kids on my right, and my left, running about.  We've had kids come and try to take our balls (because we're so nerdy we own our own duckpin bowling balls) and have had to stop them.  Oh whaaaa.  Big flippin' deal.  None of them have ever diminished my enjoyment of getting out of the house and playing a sport I enjoy, which has the added bonus of letting me spend half my time watching my husband's ass.

So these guys this morning... they were the first people to wreck my time bowling.  I wasn't dancing around like a freak or in their lane.  I was in my own lane.  Not playing ten pin bowling, and not league bowling.  Not running around like a mad woman, or a mad duck.  So screw them.

But we left, and ultimately went to a different bowling alley, because they continued to make comments and be ignorant.  I'm sorry, but when you start all the way back by the chairs before doing your run and slide, and that location happens to be on the other side of a concrete support beam from where I am in my own freaking lane, how am I supposed to know you're "going" then?

Yeah, these guys got to me.  And I could block out the kids, and the music and the noise and everything else.  But not them being assholes.  Nobody in duckpins, since we started this in November, has ever acted in such a juvenile manner.  And I know some of the people we're bowling beside are duckpin league bowlers.  We bought our balls on eBay.  They bought theirs from a Pro Shop.

I have to say that, as much as these guys pissed me off, it wasn't because they asked me to wait for them.  The thing is, I actually tried.  Like I said, when they start so far back on the other side of a concrete beam, well, how am I always supposed to know?  And I admit that I bowl largely with tunnel vision, because you focus on yourself.  You have to tune out the distractions.  But what got to me was the continuous comments.  They were rude and critical.  I'm not there on a Sunday morning for that, from people I don't even know, who I'm not preventing from bowling.

However, I can't help but feel I failed a little today.  It would have been better if I'd been able to stick it out, and mess with them all morning long.  And (if it wasn't for the fact that something came up at the last minute and we left after a phone call) maybe I would have done that.

Brian and I talked about it after, and I said these guys are a great example for writers.

WTH?  What did you just say, Sandra?  How on earth are these guys an example for writers?

Writers need to focus on their own lane and tune out everything around them.  It's called mental discipline.  And nothing frosts my cupcakes more than writers who start talking about muse BS and inspiration and writer's block.  Not even two asses at the bowling alley.

Writing is work.  At times it's incredibly enjoyable work.  At times, it's painstaking and frustrating.  But it is work.  There are things you have to know, like when to use a comma and when not to use 20,000 exclamation marks.  How to organize information, what makes a run-on sentence, or why something else is a fragment.  You take the information, and put it together.

When people talk about the muse, what they really mean is that they think they have some silly mystical gift, because they've been "chosen" to have this ability to channel some story.  They have invisible rabbit ears on their head and are tuning in to the next tale that's being transmitted cosmically so that they can type it out and take credit for it.

What a load of hooey.  Whenever someone tells me they aren't writing because they've lost their muse, I have to bite my tongue to keep from telling them that's the stupidest load of crap ever, stop making excuses and get off their lazy ass and do their job.

Yeah, there are things that can happen in a person's life that are big enough to distract them from anything - divorce, illness, death of a family member.  I'm not talking about people who're taking a break because of a life crisis.

I'm talking about people who say they aren't writing because they just don't feel inspired.

As an author, I know it's bull.  As an editor, I don't want to work with anyone who takes that line, because when I give you a deadline, I expect you to do your job.  And unless you have a legitimate life crisis delaying you, I'm not going to accept a lack of muse excuse.

I assure you, if you tell me you've lost your muse, I won't be amused.

(I absolutely guarantee it would be just as effective if the person standing behind you had no gun as long as his name is Chuck Wendig.)

Next week, I'll be back, bowling duckpins.  And I'll be doing my job - tuning out the world around me to focus on my game - no matter what assholes are beside me.

And that's the same mental discipline I'll take back to my writing.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

This book sucks!

by: Joelle Charbonneau

At some point in the creation process, everyone has doubts.  Everyone believes that what they are working on has no validity.  They are certain that what they have written, or composed or painted well and truly sucks.

Maybe it does.

Maybe it doesn’t.

That’s not really the point.  The point is that everyone – NY Times Best Selling author to first time novelist – has these feelings.  At some point in the process the excitement of the bright and shiny new story loses its luster.  The adrenaline rush fades and what is left in its place isn’t fun and fabulous and filled with joy.  It’s work.

That’s right, sports fans.  Creating something new takes work.  And during that process there will come a point where the work looks dull and lifeless and it takes supreme effort to make yourself sit down at the computer and face the next page.  You want to metaphorically wad what you have up in a ball and throw it in the trash.  You think you are the worst writer in the world and that the story you are telling would be better served if someone else did it.  You think maybe…just maybe…this isn’t the story you are supposed to be telling and you start imagining new story ideas.  What if….  How about….

Yep…this is the point in our tale where a large number of writers abandon ship.  They feel the punch of delight that comes with a fresh new idea…one that hasn’t reach the point where it feels like work and doesn’t suck and they begin again.  However, I warn all of you who stand at this precipice –don’t do it!  Because the bright and shiny always fades and doubts will always creep in. 

Creating something from nothing is hard.  It’s never perfect and it is at those miserably unhappy “this book sucks” moments that you prove whether or not you really and truly have the courage to be an author.  On those days when sitting down at the computer feels akin to having a root canal you have a choice—to give into the worries or to face the fear, and get to work.  Courage is required to finish what you start.  Courage is necessary to allow the story to be told before you pass judgment.  Courage is part of what makes an artist of any kind.

For me the “this book sucks” moment always happens between pages 100-150.  I think I’m not doing the story justice.  I believe I have jumped the shark or taken a turn for the unbelievable.  I’m certain I should never have attempted to be an author in the first place.  In my relatively short career as an author, I have written almost fourteen novels.  Four will never see the light of day.  (Trust me, this is for the best!)  There are nine that are either published or under contract and in the process of going through the publishing process.  One…well…who knows what will happen to it.  The point is, in every novel, I came to a crossroads where I wanted to throw up my hands and walk away.  But I didn’t.  I chose to sit down, gag the inner critic and work.

Today, I am at page 120 of my manuscript.  Wow, does it suck.  Or maybe it doesn’t.  I desperately want this book to be great so it is hard to be objective.  So instead of worrying that it isn’t strong enough or evocative enough or….well, you get the point…I am going to open the document and work.  I will fill the pages.  I will get to The End.  Because I refuse to give up.  I want to be able to call myself an author.  And this is what an author does.