Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Name In The Newspaper

By Jay Stringer

Last week Dave called for writers to talk more keenly about where we get our ideas from.

Well, I'll step up to the plate. My book Runaway Town comes out in just under two months. If you read any of my interviews or blogs around the time of the first book Old Gold you'll know I have a few things to say about the West Midlands. Part of my self imposed mission statement for the Miller series is to open up the region to fresh eyes, and to look at the social issues that are eating away at the towns and people I love.

I read a lot of the local newspapers, even from hundreds of miles away in Scotland, and daily I see things that would seem too unrealistic for me to put into a novel. Part of the job, when you're writing books like these, is often to make reality seem more realistic. These news stories -of peoples lives and deaths, of things that have been taken from them or gifted to them- give me little sparks of character to pepper my stories. But they don't give me the issues. It takes something a little bigger to give me that.

I was back in the Midlands visiting family over Christmas and I saw a news headline that turned my stomach. Army take-up highest in UK, it declared. The story opened;

Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Stoke...fill the top 3 places of the 'league table' of the UK's 134 Army and Forces recruitment offices.
Old Gold and Runaway Town take place mostly in Wolverhampton. Stoke is a forty minute drive to the north and Birmingham features in the third book (title redacted.) But more than that, these are the places I know. Long before there were Miller books, these were the places I was seeing that made me want to write books.

The article talks in patriotic terms. It frames the story as a positive fluff piece.

These results are genuinely impressive. More than, for example, Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool or Glasgow.
In times like these it's easy to hide the news behind such sentiment. If you don't have anything nice to say, find a nice way to say something bad. I'm no cosy pacifist, and I've known as many people who've gone into the army to fulfil ambition as for any other reason, but I'm not inclined to be led so easily from the real issues at play here.

You want a clear indication of the places in our countries that are falling the farthest behind? The people under our own flags that we are failing the most? Read the news reports and obituaries of the men and women who die in the armed services. Read the names of the towns, villages and cities that they come from. Count how many times you see a place name that you've not heard of, or a region that you can't place. These names in the papers are the calls for help of everyone being left behind in the modern era. "The current financial climate," or whatever fancy phrase you want to use, may have started to bite all of us, but there are people and places for whom this is old news. They've simply been waiting for everyone else to catch up.

To look at the "genuinely impressive" enlistment figures for Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Stoke, is to look at lists of people who have no other options, and to look at a list of teenagers who have been so let down as to think enlisting to be shot at in foreign countries is the best way to earn a living and see the world.

There are other direct correlations. More recent news stories on that same news site talk about 20% job cuts in the Wolverhampton library staff. We take away the books and wonder why people don't read? Or a story about a hospital being fined thousands of pounds for not completing improvement work that it couldn't afford. Digging a little deeper I find that -as of the month before that initial news story- 11.5 % of 16-24 year olds were claiming unemployment benefit. 11.5%. And this doesn't point to which of the remaining percentage are only kept out of those figures by virtue of being in full-time education and running up un payable debts from the new tuition fees. That's also a percentage that naturally doesn't include the "genuinely impressive," amount of youths who have enlisted. All the slices of the pie are starting to add up to something very unhealthy. When you start to fill doorways with bricks, is it any wonder that more people go through the only remaining opening? And when riots break out, such as the summer before last, we all looked on in surprise. Some people in our own online crime fiction community posted comments that the rioters should be shot. I would ask, haven't we done that already? People with futures don't riot. And, with all due respect to the armed forces and the people in them for different reasons, regions with futures don't lead the 'league tables' for recruitment.

But the juice for the storyteller isn't just that these stories exist. No. It's that the people who should be telling them -the newspapers- instead want to tell us how great this news is. Once you spot such a large disconnect between what's being said and what's actually happening, the stories start to tell themselves.

So the question isn't really, "where do you get your ideas from," it's, "how can you not write?"

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Feed Kate, Feed Your Soul

Now Available:
FEEDING KATE: A Crime Fiction Anthology
featuring wonderful stories, including many from friends and family of DSD.

Edited by Clare Toohey, Laura Benedict, Neliza Drew, and  Laura K. Curtis, this collection grew from the kind hearts of a caring and talented community.

From the Amazon Book Description:

A delicious selection of short fiction cooked up to benefit the Lupus Foundation of America.

It started online when a group of writers and editors learned that a friend, writer and book blogger Sabrina Ogden, needed expensive jaw surgery. So they did what writers and editors are best at doing—they put together a book of killer fiction to benefit Sabrina. After a successful fundraising publication through an indiegogo project, they, along with Sabrina, decided to make FEEDING KATE available to everyone, and keep the fundraising going to benefit The Lupus Foundation of America.

From the Foreword:

“Our guidelines? The stories had to involve food or involve a character named Kate. The result is a broad selection of story genres—from pulp to horror to comedy to crime to young adult—by writers with just as wide a range of voices and publishing experience. Like Sabrina, each piece is unique. One of the surest proofs of her specialness is that nearly three-fourths of the stories in the collection were written especially for her and this project.”


Wax Fruit by Dan O’Shea
Rivka’s Place by Linda Rodriguez
The Hollow Woman by Laura Benedict
Dolores is Dead by Daryl Wood Gerber
Crush by Chad Rohrbacher


The Well by Chris Holm
Gavage by Chuck Wendig
Anniversary by Hilary Davidson


The Jaws of Life by Laura K. Curtis
Down Cumberland Ferry by Ron Earl Phillips
Addictions by Neliza Drew
Reunion by Joelle Charbonneau
Cakewalk by Chad Eagleton
A Hungry Soul by Ellie Anderson
The Rewards by Steve Weddle


Kamikaze Death Burgers at the Ghost Town Café by Thomas Pluck
Roach Coach by Stephen Blackmoore
Young Americans by Josh Stallings
Pizza Face and the Cheeseburger Deathgrip by Kent Gowran


That’s a Sweet Invasion, Craig by Clare Toohey
There’s No Place Like Home by Jenny Gardiner
Simon Sez in The Snickerdoodle Kerfuffle by Johnny Shaw
Just Part of the Job by Holly West

Get your copy here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

When Blurbing Goes Wrong

By Joe Climacus

On Monday, Chuck Wending wrote about "How Not To Ask For Blurbs."

The main piece of advice is to be polite. Or, don't be a jerk.

Which is great when the universe is smiling on you.


What do you do when things don't work out?

If you've asked nicely, but nice doesn't work, then you'll need to stop being nice.


1. You politely asked for a blurb by such-and-such a date. The date comes. The blurb does not. What do you do?

The first thing you should do is to visit that author's social media page. Facebook, Twitter, whatevs. Then copy and paste a list of all that author's friends. Then unfriend the author -- let's call her Jackie Write -- everywhere you can. For the next year, you'll need to pepper your online conversations with left-handed compliments and vague suggestions about that author. Whenever that author has a new book out, you should ALWAYS review it by saying something like "I didn't mind this book, but I do think her writing was much better earlier in her career. Hope the next one returns to form."

2. The blurb comes back, but it is clear that the author did not read your book, but merely restated the information you or your agent had passed on about the genre and plot of your book.

If it's a good blurb, who cares? If Frank Norris wants to write a blurb about how fucking awesome your cover is, then go with it. That's great. If it's a bad blurb, mail the author a jar of fart.

3. The author flat-out refuses to blurb your book, saying that she/he doesn't have the time because she/he is "under contract" for two screenplays, three separate novels, and a Clone Wars voiceover.

Create fake Twitter accounts and Facebook pages claiming to be the author or that author's rep. Then spam as many people as you can with requests for LIKES and pre-orders. Also, create Book Launch events using Facebook messaging so that each time anyone responds, everyone you've tagged gets a notification.

4. The author has written a blurb filled with praise, but your agent tells you that the author has not provided any "jacket-worthy" bon mots."

Email the author back, asking him to rephrase the wording so that it is usable. "I know you want my book to be a success, so allow me offer some suggestions" you might start. A successful author is generally quite receptive to critical suggestions. After all, revision is a key part of the process. And "collaborative editing" is just another word for friendship.

5. The author has provided a great blurb, but your agent/editor has chosen to not use it.

The best thing you can do is to show your strength here. People in publishing love the hands-on approach. One option is to search the internet for suitable images, then type the blurb onto the image, tweeting and sharing on each social media platform people still use. Even LinkedIn.

As Mr. Wendig and many others will tell you, first you should be as polite as you can. But if that doesn't work, don't take any shit from anyone. You wrote your book. If some author didn't like your book, that's his problem, How big a problem is up to you.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Is quality relative to price?

Three recent 99¢ kindle books got me thinking about the fluidity of quality and the relationship between cost and worth. One of the books was really good and brought a fresh take to a long time genre. The second was a flat out great book. The third needed an edit, had some typos, and crappy formatting.

Reviewers are aware of a particular phenomenon, and have to curb it, where you are in a stretch of bad books and then read one that you like. You have to be careful not to overpraise based on the lesser quality of the books that were read before the good one. In other words that perceptions of quality are affected by what came before.

Now the first two books were really great books but I found myself forgiving the third book with dismissals of, "well, it was only 99¢". If I had spent more on the book I'm pretty damn sure I wouldn't have said that.

I'm also not too sure this is a recent thing.  I used to be a member of 4MA and each month folks would check in with their monthly reads. Some of them were voracious readers who primarily frequented the library. And they never disliked a book. I think they never disliked a book because they weren't buying the books.

Privately I've told a story about a hardcover book that I bought and read a couple of years ago and I hated this book so much that I got mad at it. Because the universe works in mysterious ways I was sent the author's next book. I was still so mad at the first book I read that I banished the second book to the garage. I wouldn't even let it in the house.

Only someone who bought a bad book can feel that scorned.  If I had checked it out of the library I'm sure I wouldn't have been so pissed off.

Here's something else to consider.  A reviewer gets a book sent to them and they review it. If they like it they recommend it to their readers. Do reviewers ever take into consideration the disconnect between them getting sent the book but their readers having to purchase it. Should such a thing ever be considered?  What if a reviewer said it was good but I should wait for the paperback.  In other words, as a $26 hardback the story wasn't worth it but as a $13 paperback it is more worth your time. I would say that reviewer is providing a service. With movies we are comfortable saying I'll wait to catch it on Netflix so shouldn't we be as comfortable saying something similar about books.

As a publisher with a stable of emerging writers I have to take this into consideration. I've published some great books but if I price them too high they won't get bought. Finding that balance between what I think and what a reader is willing to do is a constant challenge.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


 by: Joelle Charbonneau

The more I go to events and talk to readers, the more I hear the question “what advice would you give to an aspiring author?”  Yikes!  This question always freaks me out a little because I every writer has a different process and a unique way of coming up with story ideas.  I don’t want to say something that overturns someone’s creative applecart.  I mean…how terrible would that be!?!

However, since the question seems to be frequently asked, I have come up with three pieces of advice that I believe are not only safe, but important to impart to any new writer.

1)      Read.  All writers that I know are readers.  We love stories.  Reading other people’s stories helps fill your creative well and while reading you will also be able to absorb the types of writing techniques that you will be interested in using.

2)      Write every day.  No, I’m not talking about sitting down at the keyboard for hour after hour day after day.   But I do think that those who are interested in becoming serious about their writing need to make writing a habit.  The best athletes and musicians practice every day.  Writers need to do the same.  Set aside fifteen minutes a day and write.  Stretch those muscles and you’ll find they will grow in strength.

3)      Finish what you start.  This is the most important piece of advice I can give.  I cannot stress how important.  If you read this blog, you will find that I’ve said it before and clearly I am saying it again.  FINISH THE BOOK.  When I started writing, I knew nothing about creating a novel. The only thing I did know is that books had a beginning, a middle and an end.  So my goal when writing my first book was to fulfill those three requirements.  I sat my butt in the chair and wrote.  I didn’t worry about making it perfect.  That could come later.  The only way I could ever figure out how to make the story better was to tell it.  The whole thing. 

The importance of finishing what you start cannot be overstressed.  Not only will hitting THE END help you understand where your story is going and how you need to revise in order to better get there –it teaches you that you can get to THE END.  That you can finish a book.  That lesson will be one of the most important you’ll ever learn as an author.  It is a lesson I use each and every day.

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.

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.