Saturday, February 23, 2013

Yet Another Slogan for Creative Types...Because We Need Them

Scott D. Parker

We creative type are the weirdest workers, aren't we? Unlike our business brethren who face deadlines with certitude ("I am employed by this company and the boss says to get this project done by this date so I dang well better do it or else I'll be fired"), creative types don't often possess that most compelling of reasons to get something done. We have to be caressed, cajoled, and compelled to do something we tell ourselves we really want to do. Folks with day jobs don't have to be asked how we feel when asked to prepare a quarterly report or given just that precise incentive to hang sheetrock.

Knowing all this, knowing that many of us writers need the extra little push, I ran across an interesting quote this week over at Lifehacker. Attributed to Karen Lamb, the quote goes like this: “A Year from Now You May Wish You Had Started Today” It struck me pretty good on Wednesday morning when I read it. I have since printed it (that would be cajoling) and have applied a couple of blanks to the quote: “A ___ from Now, You May Wish You Had Started ____” In those blanks, I can add "few hours" and  "this morning". You can also add "week/today" and "month/today". It's a good reminder that, instead of feeling guilt that you didn't do something, imagine yourself congratulating yourself for getting up and doing the thing *you said you wanted to do.*

Another pretty obvious thing we writer have to keep in mind is that writing is an activity that builds on itself. Every session that you put words in a string, eventually, they add up to something more than the sum of the parts. This week--the very same day I read the Lamb quote--I was reading an interview with Cassandra Rose Clarke over at SF Signal, my go-to site for all news SF/F related. I ended up reading the interview because Clarke is a fellow Houstonian. Here is her quote in response to a question about works in progress:

Right now I’m in the midst of a writing experiment. I have a major project I’m working on, which takes up most of my attention, but I also have a minor project that I work on for fifteen or twenty minutes a day.  Basically, first thing every morning, I write between 500 and 600 words on this minor project, and then I set it aside. It’s kind of neat to know that I’ll have a book by mid-summer purely through the magic of cumulative effort.

Since we writers who don't have the good fortune to write fiction for a living have to carve out time to do our fun writing, this was yet another compelling argument that every little bit helps us.

On a side note, I ended up downloading the sample of Clarke's new novel, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, late on Wednesday night…and blazed through it. I haven't done that in a long time.  Moving on to the entire book.

What little quotes or sayings do you use to help you get words in a row?

Friday, February 22, 2013


By Russel D McLean

This week I was lucky enough to read an ARC of Lauren Buekes' THE SHINING GIRLS. Its a genre-bending novel that is at once a serial killer thriller, a time travel masterpiece and something altogether a little weirder.

It grabbed my attention straight away.


Because it was taking risks. Because it was doing something very different. And because it was doing it well (although that was a bonus)

I do think that writers can often be pigeonholed into a genre, that they can be associated with one type of fiction and one type only. I think that they can sometimes be afraid to experiment. I think that sometimes their readers can be afraid, too.

Best example of someone always genre shifting is Iain Banks. He has two distinct fan bases, that do occasionally cross over. But it was interesting when tried to blur the two in TRANSITION, because suddenly people seemed not to know what to do, as though he had committed some grievous sin akin to crossing the DNA of a shark with that of a human being*. Really, folks? Because it dared to have elements of various genres, you threw up your hands in despair?

But its an old problem. I remember Banks talking with despair about readers who give up on perfectly good novels because they come across the word "space" and suddenly their brain shuts down.

And I remember some of the reactions to one of Chris Brookmyre's best novels, PANDAEMONIUM: "but there's deeeeemoooons! That's not realistic!" as though abseiling down a cliff-face using your enemy's intestine as a rope was any more so.** I can only wonder what their reaction to the more pure-SF BEDLAM is going to be like...

Sometimes, playing strictly within a genre becomes limiting. I read a lot of good crime novels, but many of them while competent and entertaining (and sometimes even quite brilliant) can suffer from adhering too strictly to a jaded formula or genre boundaries because that's what's expected***. I find it very interesting that John Rickards (aka Sean Cregan) has started rewriting his earlier novels which were published by Penguin, talking on twitter about how they made him pull back from some of the genre hopping elements he tried to put into them.

Variety is key to life.

Now, not every book should be a genre-hopper. I mostly write straight up crime fiction and I'm happy with that, but I hope if I ever should decide to hop about the genre playground, you, my dear readers, will trust me enough to know that this is what the story needs to be and that even if it plays a little outside of your comfort there is a method in my storytelling madness.

Because fiction should be about experimenting, about trying new things, about attempting to cross-pollinate ideas, themes and characters. Fiction is about possibilities. It should never be limiting.

Not even within a genre.

*apologies, I wound up watching DEEP BLUE SEA the other night primarily because as cheesily insane as it is, I can never resist that brilliant Samuel L Jackson chomped by a shark scene

**one of the best and funniest (in a dark way) moments in BE MY ENEMY

***note I said some, not all. Pure genre storytelling can still be very very very powerful and so well done you don't give a toss what genre it is at all

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Take A Moment

We're a family here at Do Some Damage. When one of us has good times, we all have good times. When one of us is hurting, we all hurt. 

There are some things we must each go through that can't be eased by anyone else's words, but it's important to say them all the same. 

We want to send out our thoughts and support to a member of our family, and we hope you can all take a moment to think of people important to you, and to make sure they know it. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Jay Stringer and the Danica Patrick Effect

By Steve Weddle

A couple weeks ago, the lovely and talented Jay Stringer cut through some nonsense to give out writing advice:
1) Sit your butt down and write, and
2) When you're done, just send the damn query.

Jay Stringer is somewhat like Danica Patrick. Or Derek Jeter. Or whatever name will being the good SEO to this post.

See, Jay Stringer's agent is not only one of the best agents out there, but also one of the coolest human beings. (Full disclosure: She also reps some complete dorks, for some reason.)

Add to that the fact that Jay has a great Thomas & Mercer deal for his Eoin Miller books, in addition to numerous stories, including this thing right here.

Danica Patrick is slated for the pole position at Daytona this weekend.

Derek Jeter is coming off a goofy injury to captain the New York Yankees to another disappointing season.

And Jay Stringer is talking with his agent and his editor about all the new novels he's writing that folks will be lining up for.

If you're looking for writing advice and querying advice, you're probably not those people.

If you ask Jeter or Patrick or Stringer for advice, maybe they'll tell you that you just have to do your best work and take your shots. Wayne Gretzky, one of the top thousand hockey players of all time, said that you miss one hundred percent of the shots you don't take. All fine advice, in a sense. Just Do It. Right?

Well, how about an unqualified 'yes and no'?

When you have an agent, a book deal, a pole position, a World Series ring, you may not precisely and exactly recall what it was like when you didn't have those things. I'm not saying those folks haven't earned everything they've gotten. Hell no. I'm saying that they HAVE earned those things. They've worked their butts off. But sometimes there are very specific things a writer without an agent, a driver without a pole, a player without a win needs to know. Success is great, but can distance you somewhat from the time before.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop, starting a story. I'm scribbling away in the notebook, meaning to write a certain type of story. At a table very near to me were two greasy hipsters, showing each other artsy mini-films on their $2,000 Apple laptops. Of course, I'm not judgmental or opinionated, but I could see how someone who had come to the coffee shop to write might have begun contemplating burr grinders in the use of facial reconstruction.

My story changed. Soon enough, the husband and wife in my story were quite angry with each other. The story got away from me. How do I get the story back? Thanks. Love the show. I'll hang up and listen to your answer.

Or how about this.

I'm working on a novel that has taken me, um, many years to write. I have moved it to the front of my brain and have decided to dedicate myself to working only on this novel until it is done. Then and only then will I get to the other nine dozen ideas I've had in the last month. Is that a good idea? Should I work on all these things at once? Should I take breaks while writing a long book to write little stories? What if I lose the momentum? How do I balance all these ideas? If I can't get this high fantasy idea figured out soon, I worry I'll incorporate a dragon-infested castle into my modern day noir novel. You know, maybe that's not a bad idea. Wait, that's a terrible idea. But maybe I should just try it for a while and see where it takes me. But maybe I'll get lost and all these other ideas for this novel will be cast aside. GAK!

These are very personal problems (heh) with my particular writing at this moment. The only thing that will help me figure these things out will be chatting with my lovely bride, other writer pals, or my agent.

Which brings me to the agent query.

Jay's advice was to write your best work and then send out the query. If that agent doesn't like your work, send to another agent.

That makes sense, but let's look at it another way.

I researched many agents years ago. I knew which ones might be a fit for me. I knew which ones sold the types of books I wanted to write.I knew which ones would stick you with the lunch bill.

A couple ways you can go about this. There may be more, of course.

You can create a spreadsheet with agent names and email addresses. You'll need a column for what you sent and when you sent it. You'll need a column for whether the agent responded. This column will be filled with "FORM REJECT," for the most part. You'll need a column for whether they asked to see a partial and when and what the result of that is. Look, I don't know if this is of any help to you, but here's the Agent Query spreadsheet I used. Feel free to take it, modify it, use it.

The problem with that, I think, is the compulsion to barrage agents. That's a temptation worth resisting. When I didn't have an agent, part of me thought that ANY AGENT would be great, a form of validation. I'd be visiting with an old friend and I could say something like, "That's nice, Mike. Glad your kid passed the spelling test. That reminds me of something my agent and I were talking about last week. What? Oh, yeah. My agent. You know. I didn't mention my literary agent? Yeah. She's in New York. Manhattan. Yeah. Oh, thanks. Sure. Well, yeah, it is kind of a big deal." And so on.

You don't want to do that. You don't want to send your query out to 50 agents at a time. When I talked to Real Authors during my pre-agent days, most of them said, "The only thing worse than not having an agent is having the wrong agent." My initial reaction was that they were trying to sound like Oscar Wilde. Turns out, they were right.

The wrong agent can steer your career the wrong direction. The wrong agent can ignore you. The wrong agent can depress the ever-living heck out of you, suggesting you work on projects that will drain your life until you're a quivering little mass of flesh-globs, like the mercury from a broken thermometer.

So, if you're going to query agents, be organized. Find a few who might work for you. Ask around. What helped me most was looking in the books I liked and reading the acknowledgements. Who is the agent for my favorite author? Who is the agent for the books that are like the books I want to write? Check out AgentQuery and the agent forum at AbsoluteWrite. And follow Victoria Strauss on Twitter.

I've blathered on long enough, but I wanted to also mention that following the agent's guidelines for submissions is worth considering. I didn't always do this. I don't suggest that you always do this. If an agent asks for your "First Five Pages" in your novel, you probably don't have to send in your first five pages. Send in the most gripping five. Of course, there's an argument to be made that the first five should be your most gripping. I'm not going to argue against that. All I know is that I had a nice scene later in my book that I used in many queries as my First Five. People liked them, but that wasn't how I opened the book. Honestly, by the time your book reaches the shelves, your first five won't be your first five, anyway.

Jay's correct, of course. Write the best book you can write and then find an agent.

But, from my vantage point, most of us need some tips and advice now and again. I have a few writing books that I go to every so often. I don't follow them blindly. I read a little, then use that to push me forward. Sometimes I'll read the first few pages of a thriller novel just to remind myself that I should be writing. If that schmuck can write, can find the time and energy, why can't I?

So maybe Jeter tells you to just keep your eye on the ball. Maybe Patrick tells you to keep the infield on your left and the wall on your right. And Stringer says to just put your butt in the chair and do it.

Advice from people who have succeeded is great, even if it seems a little removed from where you are right now.

But sometimes you need particular advice from a spouse, friend, agent, or editor.

Sometimes you need someone to tell you to put your damn earbuds in your ears and switch tables.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

It's Good to be Back

By John McFetridge

First of all, thanks to the DSD folks for allowing me to return.

And where was I, you ask? Time traveling.

I spent the last year and a half living in 1970. At least that’s what it feels like. I was writing a novel that takes place mostly in 1970 and I was a little obsessed there for a while. Books, magazines, newspapers, movies, TV shows – everything from 1968 to 1970.

My novel is called Black Rock and it’s about... well, here’s the publisher’s first blurb-like copy:

Montreal 1970. A man known as the “Vampire Killer” has murdered three women and a fourth is missing. Bombs explode in the stock exchange, McGill University and houses in Westmount. Riots break out at the St. Jean Baptiste parade and Sir George Williams University. James Cross and Pierre Laporte are kidnapped and the Canadian army moves onto the streets of Montreal, Constable Edouard Dougherty, the son of a French mother and an English father, a young beat cop working out of Station Ten finds himself almost alone hunting the killer.

Set against the actual Montreal events, including the hunt for a serial killer, Black Rock is not just a police procedural, it’s also a gaze into the Two Solitudes and a coming-of-age story for Constable Eddie Dougherty.


Well, that sure seems Canadian. Maybe too-Canadian, but oh well. You can read the first chapter here.

I find the early 70s a very interesting time. I turned 11 in 1970 so my memories aren’t much for a crime novel, but the research was fun.

One book that really set the stage was Mark Kurlansky’s, 1968. As it says on the flap:

To some, 1968 was the year of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Yet it was also the year of the Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy assassinations; the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago; Prague Spring; the antiwar movement and the Tet Offensive; Black Power; the generation gap; avant-garde theater; the upsurge of the women’s movement; and the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union.


In the bigger context Montreal was just one of many cities in the world with bombs and kidnappings and riots. And murders.

I also spent the last year reading some very good books set decades before they were written that used actual events. A few of the best were Adrian McKinty’s, The Cold Cold Ground and I Hear the Sirens in the Street, David Peace’s, 1972 and Charlie Stella’s, Johnny Porno.

So, it’s good to be back in the here and now but I am thinking about writing another book with Constable Eddie Dougherty set in 1972. I’m not really nostlagic, I don’t think, and I’d never refer to those years as “simpler.” In fact, I think what interests me are the similarities. In the introduction to another good book I read recently, 1973 by Andreas Killen (does every year have a book written about it?), the question is asked: Will the seventies never end? Killen makes the claim that the 70s were, “the incubator for many of the developments that now define our contemporary political and cultural zeitgeist.”

I’m not much for politics, but I’m a sucker for zeitgeist.

A few things that exploded into the mainstream in the 70s were cults and deprogramming, conspiracy theories (Watergate helped there), reality TV (PBS aired An American Family), Roe v. Wade, the Pentagon Papers, the oil crisis and recession, some great movies and novels and TV shows and some very bad fashion.

So, what are some of your favourite books, movies, TV shows or whatevers from the 70s?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Rural noir

I'm a fan or rural noirs, dark crime fiction stories set in rural areas. I'm not the only one. In recent years we've seen a rise in usage of the term, and its other variations: country noir, grit lit, hillbilly noir, southern noir, etc. While the term itself may be new, Give us a Kiss by Daniel Woodrell was labeled as a Country Noir, the roots of this story type go back to the Southern Gothic tradition, and to books from the 30's and 40's (They Don't Dance Much by James Ross is a proto rural noir from 1940).

There's been a number of writings about this genre, story type, and the authors in it, including the recently released Grit Lit: A Rough South Reader.    I don't want to define what it is or isn't, that's for another day. What I did was create a Pinterest Board for rural noirs. That way readers looking for some other titles to read within this story type can get a gentle nudge in the right direction. This is less of a curated list then my noir board. It is also a work in progress so if you don't see something let me know and I'll probably add it. 

What are your favorite rural noirs?

Sunday, February 17, 2013


by: Joelle Charbonneau

Well, it's Sunday.  That means I'm supposed to have a smart, interesting or funny blog post for you to read.  The problem is that I have nothing!  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  I have a deadline looming and the end of a book in sight.  Which is probably why my brain can't come up with a single thing that you might want to read about.  So....while I add pages to my manuscript and get closer to THE END, please feel free to share any thoughts you might have on what you'd like me to blog on in the future?  Is there a question you've been wanting to ask?  Is there a piece of publishing info you want me to discuss?  Do you want me to post pictures of my cat?  If so, let me know and I'll be happy to be smart, funny, and erudite when I'm not on overload.  And in the meantime, please feel free to send caffeine.  Lots of it!

Happy Sunday all!