Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Surprising Batman

Scott D. Parker
Comics don’t often surprise, but Scott Snyder’s Batman has done it. Twice.
I love comics. They are one of the ways I learned how to read. I learned about good guys and bad guys, how functional certain costumes can be, and what kinds of fun quips heroes can utter while battling their villains. Over years, the writers of these tales have gone big (Crisis on Infinite Earth, Marvel Super-Hero Secret Wars), gone small (Gotham Central), and everywhere in between. I’ve enjoyed quite a lot of it, but there’s always a sameness to these stories. Hey, I’m not complaining: I like this stuff and I dig just about every version of certain characters out there, but you pretty much know that, at the end of any given story arc, the heroes will be ready to do battle again.
So it was with a certain amount of joy that I can report that Scott Snyder, the writer for the newly revamped “Batman” title, has delivered two very strong and surprising stories. In case y’all didn’t know, in late 2011, DC Comics zeroed out all their titles and restarted the DC Universe (except for Batman, Green Lantern, and a few others; don’t get started there, okay?). Taking on the flagship Batman title, Snyder, with artist Greg Capullo, have done something breathtaking: they have introduced something completely new to a 70-year-old franchise. When you think about all the writers and artists who have had a hand in crafting the Dark Knight’s adventures, that’s a tall order.
The first arc, Court of Owls, introduces a heretofore unknown secret society that operates in Gotham City. What’s great about this concept is it enables Snyder to bring in various other characters (Penguin, AKA Oswald Cobblepot) and establish their lineage in this city. As Snyder writes him, Batman prides himself on knowing Gotham City. By extension, we readers think we know Gotham City, too. Sure, it’s gone through as many changes as Batman himself, but we pretty much know what to expect. It is with these dual expectations that Snyder plays so effectively, surprising us as well as the great detective. And, in a great bit of planned serendipity, another new title, All-Star Western, is set in Gotham City of the 1880s, giving background to some of the concepts Batman is wrangling with in the 21st Century. Fantastic story, easily one of my favorite Bat titles I’ve ever read.
The second story arc is good, too, but quite a bit more disturbing. Paying homage to the late 1980s run where the second Robin was killed (“A Death in the Family), the new “Death of the Family” exposes the reader and Batman to the new Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime has had a colorful history in his 70+ years, but, ever since the 1970s—and especially since 1988—he’s gone darker and darker, becoming much more scary and terrifying than just the clown you might know from the 1940s comics or the 1960s TV show or the 1989 movie. To be honest, his modern comic incarnation is scarier than Heath Ledger’s version. To showcase just how wacked Joker is in this new version of the DC Universe, his initial appearance in 2011 has him voluntarily submitting to having his face cut off. Yes, you read that correctly: the Joker had his face cut off.
And then he disappeared for a year (real time as well as comic time). He returns in Snyder’s Death of the Family and he proceeds to wreck havoc across the entire line of Bat titles: Nightwing, Red Robin, Batgirl, etc. And it’s bad. It’s shockingly bad, but gripping reading. This past week, the culmination of this story was published and, I’ll admit, there were a few frames in this issue that had my pulse racing fearful of turning the page because I didn’t want to see what I expected to see.
The beauty of the words and art in Death of the Family is how Snyder and Capullo’s depiction of Batman and the characters that surround him. I really like Capullo’s art, easily my favorite since Jim Lee did Hush a decade ago. Snyder digs deeper and unveils more layers to Bruce Wayne than many others before him. And to say that the implications of the ending of Death of the Famlily are profound is an understatement.
If you have a mind, find these issues (Batman 1-7 for Court; 13-17 for Death). There are many more side-titles you can read to fill in the gaps, but I haven’t read them all so cannot comment on them. Heck, just get all of the Batman issues and read them. You won’t be disappointed. With Snyder being a new name for me and liking what he was doing with Batman, I also picked up the new Swamp Thing, also written by Snyder. I was never a huge fan of that character, but very much am now. Great stuff.
Who out there still reads comics? What are your favorite titles? I’m mainly a DC guy, but I am reading some Marvel Now stuff. Any recommendations there, or beyond the Big Two?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Russel's rules for Redrafting

By Russel D McLean

As with last week, I'm still working on some redrafts. For me the redrafting process starts two or three weeks after finishing a manuscript. I've put it aside. I've thought about what I'd like to achieve with the structure and after the distance of those weeks, I'm ready to start again. To look at the book with fresh eyes and start to shape it the way I want it. This may take three or four attempts, maybe more. Its not a one and done thing, and generally I'll need to do it all over again once my editor and agent take a look. But there are 5 basic rules I always follow once I've vomitted that first (always unreadable) draft onto the page. I've found they help me to create a readable manuscript. They don't help with plot issues that arise, of course, but for this week let's just focus on the writing.

1) Read it out loud.

Ever wondered why some phrases feel right and others feel wrong? Depending on the mood you're aiming for, you want to read out loud the words on the page. See how they feel coming out of your mouth. This works just as well for prose as for dialogue. Of course since I tend to work in first person, I don't see a massive difference between dialogue and prose, but there will be subtle differences all the same.

By the way I know of some writers who read out loud in the nude. The second part is not necessary. Unless of course that's your bag.

2) Long sentence? Cut it down.

Voice is what comes out when you take away all the supposedly writerly bullshit. Long sentences tend to disguise voice (unless they're there for a purpose). Cut the long sentence up. Put in full stops. Make it two or three sentences. See how that feels. Generally you'll find that the three sentences are clearer and more easily understood than that single behemoth.

3) Avoid all filters.

"I felt a sharp pain my leg."
"I heard the owls hooting in the dark"
"I saw the shark burst out of the water in front of me."

If you've done your job right then the reader will always know whose POV we're writing from. This means that constant repeats of "I" become annoying. It also means that every time you say, "I did this" you're putting a barrier between your character's sensation and your reader's experience. You want the reader to be as close as they can be to the reality of what's happening. So quit filtering:

"There was a sharp pain in my leg."
 "The owls hooted in the dark."
"The shark burst out of the water in front of me."

Make everything as immediate as possible. Take out as many filters as you can. Try and put the reader as close to the POV character as you can.

4) Avoid repetition. Don't repeat yourself.

Any two sentences that mean the same thing in the same paragraph get cut. Unless there's a good dramatic reason for it. Same with repeated words or descriptions within a few paragraphs. And the same with information unless we really need to be reminded at that moment of whatever nugget of wisdom you believe may benefit your reader's understanding of the scene.

5) Don't start at the very beginning

I get very bored with properly constructed sentences in fiction. They tend to feel stiff and oddly unnatural. So I cut the beginnings of sentences where I can.

"He stepped into the apartment. There was a light in the bathroom that drew his attention."
"He stepped into the apartment. A light in the bathroom drew his attention."

So there we go, five tips that work for me. Note the second part of that sentence: that work for me. Writing is a hugely personal process and I think anyone who tells you they have the holy grail is lying. I tend to take what I need from other writers and ignore the parts that don't work. But hopefully some of these will help you tighten up your writing when it comes to that all important first pass through a completed manuscript.

In the meantime, I'm off to celebrate Valentine's Day in the traditional McLean manner: redrafting, redrafting, redrafting...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Why Runaway Town?

By Jay Stringer

This post was planned before we had a slight shuffle of the deck here at DSD. But I'd not be myself if I passed up the chance to throw a dedication to both Dave White and Dan O'Shea while writing a post about The Replacements. 

The title to my next book is taken from a song by The Replacements. It's a song that came to have a lot of personal significance to my wife and I (happy Valentines , yo) so it feels right to borrow from it the title for a book I'm very proud of. By why this band? Why do I shout more about them than about just about anything else in the world?

The promise of punk rock had been that any fucker could do it. Learn a few chords -maybe even just one- and take to the stage. By force in necessary. For so long the mainstream of music had become about art students and manufactured bands. And even within the punk that was breaking the mainstream there was a smell of manufacture. The rock and roll product was merely learning to repackage itself, and the art students were starting to wear safety pins. 

The Replacements were one of the bands to truly follow through on the promise of punk rock. A three-piece band formed by Bobby Stinson as nothing more than a basement jamming club to keep his 12-yearo-old brother off the streets and out of trouble. The band featured the unpredictable and troubled Bobby Stinson on guitar, young Tommy Stinson on bass (learning to play it songs by song) and a guitar player named Chris Mars filling in on drums to keep a rhythm while the Stinson boys jammed.  Paul Westerberg soon invited himself along to this club. A dyslexic loner who worked as a janitor at the local school and needed to be drunk to overcome his innate shyness and perform in front of anyone. He had been hiding in the bushes outside the house for days before he worked up the nerve to approach them. 

Anybody could have been The Replacements. They truly were the band from nowhere, the band with no rights and no hopes of producing music. They didn't even dress like musicians. Paul wore plaid, flannel, sensible shoes and he didn't rip his jeans. Bobby seemed to be on a mission to subvert 'cool' as much as he could, wearing unflattering clothes that were usually a size to small, wearing dresses and bin liners, wearing boiler suits. Quiet Chris dressed like any of the quiet Chris's you've ever known. The only one who looked the part was Tommy. There was no effort to fit in to something else, to be anything else. Later on, when record companies started suggesting such things, they started dressing in plaid suits, clown costumes, anything other than what was expected of them. The Replacements simply WERE.. A generation of musicians followed. Some were great, some were terrible. Some acknowledged the influence, some didn't even realise it. One of them -a three piece group from Aberdeen, Washington- took over the world for one brief moment in the early 90's. 

The trick, though, is also that nobody else could have been The Replacements. They were one of a kind. We are drawn to bands not just because of the music they make, but because they are the only people who can make that music. Buried away in human chemistry is the juice that gives each good band that 'thing.' To go back now and listen to Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash is to listen to an album that only those four snot-nosed brats could have made. It shouts it's influences at us, but they combine into something else. Has ever the spirit of the time, has ever the true spirit of street-level punk rock, been so purely captured as on this slab of vinyl. It works because of Tommy's jumping fingers on the bass. It works because of Paul's intelligent trickster vocals. It works because of Bobby's total lack of respect for music when he had a guitar in his hands. It worked because Quiet Chris somehow had to hold all of this together with his drums. Take any one of those things out of the equation and the album doesn't work. 

Calling the album 'punk' may be misleading. That's a word that means different things to different people. For some it's about a staccato rhythm banged out on a guitar that's only half tuned, or a voice carrying a nasal sneer. For some it's about a look, with bright hair and safety pins. For others it's about politics carried along by riffs. But the sound of those early Replacements riffs didn't fit into any of these ideas. It was D..I.Y, pure and simple, and it was a primal street-level roar that could be traced back via Johnny Thunders to Chuck Berry himself. It's a sound that is ageing very well. 

They were a band who never stood still, literally or figuratively. Once they'd captured that sound, there was no fun to be had in repeating the trick. They moved and evolved. Rock And Roll still wanted to sell you a very set version of events, and a very male version of lust and sex. The Replacements set about telling you it was okay to just be yourself.  It was okay to be lonely, it was okay to be fed up or angry. It was okay to be confused at 16.  It was okay to not fit into the simple gender roles of the glossy music magazines. You wanna dress like a boy? Cool. You wanna dress like a girl? Cool. You don't actually know what you wanna be? Cool. You can't articulate your hopes and fears? That's fine. Let's not belong together, whatever you are is the best thing there is. 

I found this intensely appealing a generation later, when all my friends were into Brit-pop, metal or punk. I didn't hear myself in the smug pretension of Blur, or the overcompensating machismo and sideburns of Oasis. The local metal scene talked proudly of being inclusive and open, but to walk into those pubs was to walk into a scene that wasn't being honest with itself. I could identify strongly with punk, but there were just too many cliques for me to feel completely at home. I saw boys and girls having to change who they were in order to fit into a scene, rather than having scenes that fit who they were. Then I heard this band.

Once a band like this 'made it,' that is, once they broke through into the members only club of Rock and Roll, they found another problem; the club had been run by a select group for so long that you needed to become one of them to get anywhere. You needed to play games, kiss ass, be packaged and be nice. Even rebellion was packaged- the false outrage of the Sex Pistols, the predictability of saying something controversial on cue. They just wanted to be themselves. In finding the one thing they wanted -and in fulfilling that promise of punk rock- they found it was the thing they least wanted. Failure became the challenge. Fans like me have often sat around and talked of how the band could have had a hit if they'd played along. Of how they could have broken the 1980's in half if they'd released the original band demo of CAN'T HARDLY WAIT, with Bobby's ripping guitar, rather than wait and put out the one with the horns. Of the MTV airplay they would have gotten if they'd made a 'real' music video for BASTARDS OF YOUNG instead of finding the loophole in the contract that meant they could just film a stereo speaker for four minutes. Of how they could have continued their fun rivalry with R.E.M to the world stage if they'd just played nice. But that would have been a betrayal of the whole message. It would have been rigging the game. 

If you're going to commit your life to anything, be it writing, music, art, film-making or interpretive dance, you should commit to being yourself while doing it. No matter what. There is no point putting in the hard work to get into the exclusive club and then letting them control how you behave. The Replacements were themselves to the bitter end.

The Replacements simply were.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Doing PENANCE and the remembrance of things past

By Dan O'Shea

I finally get the call to the big leagues. The cool kids at Do Some Damage asked me to suit up. So I’m trolling for a topic, and ol’ Papa Benedict, the head Mackerel Snapper goes and announces he’s hanging up his zucchetto. Sweet. I got a novel coming out named PENANCE, it’s got a little Catholic vibe to it, I know the Vatican sit-stand-kneel bob-and–weave. I might as well riff on religion right out of the gate, piss everybody off, maybe start a little scandal. Good for traffic, right?

I got steeped in Catholicism as a kid. Schooled by nuns from kindergarten through eighth grade, schooled by Benedictine monks through high school. Well, Benedictine monks and the U.S. military. It was a Catholic military academy with an honest-to-Jesus, sanctioned-by-the-Pentagon JROTC program. We had an armory full of M14s in the basement. Marksmanship was part of the curriculum. So was Mass. The school motto was Crede De Deo, Luctari Pro Eo – to believe in God and to fight for him. Always confused me. I always figured if there was one guy who could handle his own beefs, it was the almighty. Hell, ask Noah, or better yet, Noah’s neighbors. Ask the good folks of Sodom. Or Gomorrah. (Boy, being from Gomorrah really proves the value of top billing doesn’t it? Denizens of both burgs got the fire and brimstone treatment, but only the Sodomites have been memorialized as the poster children for deviancy.)  At least high school proved to be good training in cognitive dissonance. One period we’d be discussing the Beatitudes, the next a twitchy sergeant who’d done one too many tours in ‘Nam would be telling us how to kill someone with a copy of Sports Illustrated. Little hard on one’s social life, though. It was an all-boys school, so it’s not like you could impress some chick in math class by flexing your frontal lobes, and these were the 1970s. Everybody else was running around with Allman Brothers hair and I had the high-and-tight whitewalls. Although, upon graduation, I was named a brevet second lieutenant in the Illinois National Guard.

You never know what’s going to pay off when, as it turns out.

No, not the National Guard thing. The Catholic thing. See, one day during theology class one of the monks, just out of the blue, turns and asks “Mr. O’Shea, what’s the perfect time to be murdered?” I was leaning toward never, but it seems the answer he was looking for was as you leave confession. With your soul being freshly laundered and pressed, you’d be in a state of grace. It’s like having a lock pick to the Pearly Gates. Not that what was on the other side of the Pearly Gates held that much appeal to me anymore at sixteen. A back bench in the everlasting choir? An eternity praising God? Man, these Jihadists get a harem of virgins and we get Mass until the end of time? I’m thinking Islam might have been an easier sale to a mess of pubescent males already hamstrung in our hopes of getting laid by our unfashionable locks.

But that question stuck with me. Well, not the question so much as the answer. The idea that, in some twisted true believer’s mind, getting murdered on your way out of confession would be a good thing, that ended up being the germ of an idea that got me rolling on my first novel, PENANCE. (Coming April 30 to a book store near you from the good folks at Exhibit A.)

All writers joke about that “where do you get your ideas?” question. I imagine it’s the same for everybody. You read stuff – fiction, history, what have you; you hear stuff; you live through stuff. It all goes into the brain pan, just kinda bubbles around in there until it tastes like a story. Your brain works like that or it doesn’t. It’s not something explicable. Just pay attention I guess, and all that crap in there, stir it up now and again, see what floats to the top.

Anyway, howdy. Guess I’ll be cluttering up these parts on Wednesdays for a bit. Hope I don’t embarrass all these young whippersnappers with my curmudgeonly recollections. Those 1970s I was talking about? Back then, Bruce Jenner was an actual U.S. Olympic hero, on the cover of the Wheaties box, the whole deal. He wasn’t the punch line in a celebrity divorce or step-daddy to litter of big-assed Kardashians.

Been a long, strange trip for everybody, I guess.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tuesday Rounding Up

Authors Behaving Badly:
A book review on Goodreads has led the book's author to respond thusly ->
You did not read the book. If you did you would not writing your nonsense. Everyone agrees with me that perhaps you should seek medical attention. Your remarks were so off base and the damage they cause, are sinful. Please honey get some help. I notice your other reviews and many authors that you gave two and one stars review too did not deserve it and in my mind was criminal. Now with your rebuttal proves my point. The book is a work of art and will stand for all time. The Author William Terry Rutherford 
via Luca Veste

Songs About Dead People from Stephen Blackmoore author of DEAD THINGS

Warren Ellis talking about GUN MACHINE

What to expect when you're expecting . . . to be be published

DEAD LETTERS from Chris F. Holm is getting some nice reviewing

Hilary Davidson's THE NEXT ONE TO FALL is available in paperback as of today

Faced with money problems, crime fiction author has to sell some of her homes, plus her Bentley and Ferrari

Macmillan is settling for $20 million in price-fixing case. Macmillan joins other publishers in settling, none admitting any doing of wrongs.

Crimefactory 12 is out and looks lovely

Catch up on your reading with the FIVE YOU CAN'T MISS series

Not entirely sure what this is, but it appears to be something about writing and agents answering questions

Write fan fic

Dave White is not here. He has moved his blogging duties to basketball

Monday, February 11, 2013

King of Perverts and the Nasty Boys

Uh, Brian. You do know what kind of blog this is right?

Relax, I just want to show you some pictures I took...

I went to the used book store the other day with the daughter and bought this.

I grabbed it because of the dated cover and because it looked like it could be a fun crime fiction book. Two things.

The first is that the first page tells about the characters. You don't see that too often in crime fiction books so that's kind of cool.

The second is that this was a TV show. I have no memory of this show at all. Does anyone remember this show? You can see a preview of the show here (embedding is disabled on this video). I'm sure it's goofy as hell but I'd love to watch this.

Now on to a book.

Poor Dennis. He’s a regular sort of guy who’s recently been dealt a shitty hand by life: he lost his job, his wife hates him and wants a divorce, and it turns out she was also cheating on him as well. Now he’s living on his brother’s couch. Holy fuck, that sucks. Dennis can’t imagine things could get much worse, and that’s why he jumped at the opportunity to take part in a new reality game show: a “sexcathlon” where the first person to achieve 10 increasingly difficult and perverted sexual challenges wins a million dollars and is crowned King of the Perverts. Dennis doesn’t care about the title, he just wants the money, but now he’s not sure he can make it to the end. Enduring a golden shower and following through with an Abe Lincoln are hard enough, but he’s losing his nerve and fears what act of perversion will come next. He’d like to drop out, but his Russian bear of a cameraman, Mongo, has other plans for him and that million dollar prize, and Dennis has to decide which is worse: winning the King of the Perverts, or losing it.
After reading the synopsis I was unsure. It’s simple for a premise like to go awry. So I downloaded a sample to my Kindle and found the tone lighter then I expected. It was also laced with a crude black humor resulting in laugh out moments.

That was enough for me to take a chance on the rest of the book. And I’m glad I did.

Yes, this is a vulgar book and is not for everyone. But it’s also surprisingly warm and winds up as a love story. There is also a biting commentary on the cynicism of reality TV, not the least of which is because it isn't hard to imagine a show like this in real life. One of the sex challenges is down right laugh out loud funny, you wouldn't ever think you would laugh at something like this but clearly Lowe has a great comedic touch.

Feeling adventurous? Give this one a try.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Snow days

By: Joelle Charbonneau

Winter has finally hit!  Snow has fallen in the places where you’d expect to see snow and especially in the Northeast.  To those who are buried in several feet of wintery whiteness, please stay safe and warm. 

The wonderful thing I’ve noticed is that twitter or facebook during this latest snowstorm are filled with posts about people taking advantage of the snowstorm and using the time to read.  Whoo hoo!  With all the gaming systems, television shows, movies and aps floating around, it is wonderful to see that people are excited about the prospect of having time to devote to discovering a new author or curling up with a longtime favorite.

I admit, that as more and more of my time is devoted to writing, I have less and less time to spend reading.  This is seriously unfortunate.  And something I intend to remedy as soon as I get this current manuscript written. 

So whether you have been snowbound or are watching the weather glad or jealous that you aren’t involved in this most recent adventure from Mother Nature, tell me what books should be in my TBR pile when I go on my next post manuscript reading binge?  What have you read that you can’t stop thinking about?  What books made you laugh or cringe?  (And if you’ve written a book that you want all of us here at DSD to know about, this would be a good time to tell us about that, too!)