Saturday, February 2, 2013

Sherlock and Batman

Scott D. Parker

Comparison can be a terrible thing, you know?

CBS's "Elementary," the modern Sherlock Holmes show for American audiences, still doesn't get a lot of love. Yes, it seems to win its timeslot (don't know; haven't checked, but I watch it every week) and that will ensure its existence. But it seems to suffer by comparison with the other Sherlock Holmes versions out there, especially the modern ones.

Why? Why this particular series and this particular character when other characters don't get that heavy scrutiny?

I love Batman. Back in 1989 when the first Michael Keaton film was released, it was awesome. I had turned my back on the 1960s TV show. That wasn't a true Batman. Then, the 1990s movies pretty much proved the point. Later, with the Christian Bale version and its uber realism, the Keaton films look campy by comparison.

There's room for both interpretations, to be honest. In recent years, as the phrase "The Dark Knight" has stood in for the darker, realism of the Bale Batman, Adam West has started referring to his Batman as "the Bright Knight." His was fun. Keaton's was a direct transplant from the then comics. Bale's was "real." Even Kilmer and Clooney had parts that were, um, "memorable."

The same is true for Sherlock Holmes. The BBC Sherlock is the one for Holmsian geeks. It's a direct retelling of the classic stories as if they were being told in our century. It's an update rather than a different twist. The BBC stayed more in the spirit of the canon than has Elementary. The BBC asks the question "What if Sherlock Holmes's stories took place in the 21st Century?" Elementary asks a different question: What if Sherlock Holmes existed in 21st Century New York? See the distinction? "Took place" vs. "Existed." That's how I see the different versions.

And it makes all the difference for me. I can geek-out with the BBC and catch all the Easter eggs thrown our way, but I can also watch Elementary and be just as entertained and see their own Easter eggs. Bees anyone?

Batman always gets reinvented every generation or so. Just last year, with the Court of Owls story arc, the writer, Scott Snyder, brought something completely fresh and heretofore unknown to the 70-year-plus franchise. Elementary is doing the same thing. So is Downey. So is the BBC.

Sherlock Holmes is an even older franchise and I, for one, am glad to be living in an era where we have two TV versions and a movie version. And I'm looking forward to see what kind of episode CBS puts on after the Super Bowl. I'd love to see Elementary gain some more viewers and ensure its longevity.

Book Signing Event:

For anyone in Houston today, our very own Joelle is going to be at Murder by the Book this afternoon with Dean "Miranda" James. Come on by and say hello to two DSDers.

Friday, February 1, 2013

3D or not 3D

By Russel D McLean

When we went to see Peter Jackson’s Hobbit lately, both myself and the Literary Critic were rather taken with the idea of seeing it in Imax. That huge screen, that incredible sound system. But in the end, we didn’t, not because it wasn’t on, but because it was in 3D. In fact, we had a hell of a job finding a regular screening at a decent time.

And its not the first time this has happened of late.

3D is probably one of those tools that movie creators think are amazing. It allows you create something “immersive”. Except 3D is rarely immersive. And more than that its headache inducing in a lot of people (myself included).

The only 3D film that had my jaw drop was Judge Dredd. Yeah, I never thought that would happen either, but there you go. The Slo-Mo sequences (Slo Mo being the drug that is the movie’s MacGuffin) were great to watch and absolutely stunning. But, yeah, that’s about it. For the most part, 3D is a distraction because the planes of depth feel wrong. For me its more like watching various layers slatted together - - yes there’s a sense of depth, but its artificial and not at all real, more often that not taking you right out of the movie. And, sure, once or twice you shrink back because something comes at the right angle to scare you, but overall, its adding nothing to the movie going experience and if anything makes the world presented on screen seem even more artificial. Although I won’t deny that one day they may overcome the problems of slatted-layers and headache-inducing glasses, I still wonder if theres any point. Do 3D movies tell stories better or do they merely disguise the poorer qualities of the stories being told by blinding the audience with spectacle? You’re so busy thinking, “cool, that meteor just flew past my head” that you’re not thinking, “Hey, that meteor had no business in the story other than flying past my head”

I watched Prometheus in both 3D and 2D. The 2D experience was better. The frights were there, and I wasn’t spending the whole time aware that I was watching a movie (although I concede it wasn’t a great movie; in fact, there was an awful lot wrong with it given the pedigree) so much as I was just allowing myself to sink into the story and the characters.

3D is something that should be used sparingly. Its something that should be used in the service of the story. Its not something merely to be applied because it will look “cool”. That most movies come in a 2D version tells you how superfluous the technology really is. They’re saying, “Hey, the story works even without the 3D”, and its true. Although the 3D serves as a distraction from the fact the story is mince whichever way you see it.

I’m sounding like a curmudgeon here about 3D, but enough is enough. Its not enough to merely make a film in 3D. It has to have a reason for existing as such. It needs to be a damn fine story on its own terms. If you can make a film that makes it worth the headache, I’ll see it. But frankly, all of the efforts so far seem pointless. Yes, even The Hobbit, which worked just damn fine in 2D on the big screen.

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.