Saturday, March 9, 2013

Inspiration from Unlikely Sources

Scott D. Parker

A common writerly thing we tell ourselves is that inspiration for a story can come from just about any place and at any time. You know what else can come from those same mysterious places? The desire, the push you might need to get one's butt in a chair and write.

I don't know if y'all ever experience this, but, at times, watching my current favorite TV programs (Castle, Elementary, Grimm, Body of Proof), at some point during the broadcast, two things usually happen. One, the realization that I should probably be writing. I let that one slide, typically, because we can't be a writer and/or writing all the time. Two, I get inspired to go write. I enjoy those shows for their creativity, their structure, and their characters that it can prompt me to take notes about my characters or stories or dash to the keyboard and fire out some pages of my own characters because I enjoy them coming to life as much as I enjoy watching Castle, Beckett, Holmes, or Nick Burkhardt come to life and do their thing.

That kind of inspiration is, I think, typical of all of us writers. What may not be typical is getting inspiration from as unlikely as source as a podcast about Batman. Kevin Smith has, since last year, created a podcast devoted to his love of the Dark Knight. Naming it "Fat Man on Batman," each week (more or less) is an episode devoted to one or another aspect of Batman's history. With this venture being an audio-only podcast, naturally, the only thing we have is the interview itself, the voices of Smith and his guests for that has been the way Smith talks about Batman. His guest list has run out pretty wide, even though it is probably more Batman: The Animated Series heavy.

For any Batman fan out there, I cannot recommend this show enough. It has been the weekly thing that I most look forward to. I download and put on my iPod as quickly as possible. The depth and breadth Smith and his guests take the adventures of Batman is inspiring. It will confirm things you already knew, reassess things you thought in a different way, and make the entire experience of watching and reading Batman fun again.

But that's not all. What comes across in your ears is passion. There is a passion for the material, certainly. How can you even think to have a podcast if you hated something, right? It's become something of a joke now, but many of Smith's interviewees bring the big man to tears. If it's not tears that are forming in Smith's eyes (and voice), then it's awe. All too often, the guests--who have ranged from Mark Hamill, Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and Kevin Conroy (Batman: TAS) to Kyle Higgins, Geoff Johns, and Grant Morrison (comics)--convey their thought process behind a certain episode or issue or way of thinking about Bruce Wayne and his rather odd outlet for his childhood tragedy. Each time, Smith just sits in stunned amazement, comprehending something he thought he knew and seeing it in a new way. The same for us listeners, too.

Just like the old days when you were limited by the number of comics you could put in a box and take with you on vacation and you read those same issues over and over, these podcasts are like that. I've listened to most of them twice, so enjoyable are the conversation and the topics. But each time, I am prompted, nee I'm pushed by an uncompromising force to get to my Mac or pen/paper and *create*. It is the strangest thing. You'd think that I would start writing my own Batman story or jump back to an episode or an issue and re-read. I do that, but not initially. What I end up doing is want to create my own beings and put them through the motions of their lives. I want to bring the passion for my own material that others bring to Batman. I already have the passion for my projects--why else would I be writing them?--but sometimes, this podcast is like icing on the cake. It is a wonderfully unexpected consequence to listening to theses podcasts.

Is there something you do that brings unexpected creativity to your writing?

Thursday, March 7, 2013


By Jay Stringer

As my second book prepares to meet the world later this month, Super Agent and I have just handed the third over to the publisher.

It's a strange feeling. When I set out to follow Eoin Miller for a series of books, I had an end point in mind and thought I could get to it in four books. Russel is a fan of the rule of five, he likes story arcs to have five parts to them, and he plots out accordingly. It'll be fun to see what he does with McNee over the five stages.

I tend to think in fours. Trilogies all became the thing thanks to George Lucas. And they seem to be a logical extension of the principles of three-act storytelling. Some people might point to The Lord Of The Rings, but that wasn't a trilogy, it was a single book published in three volumes. When I sit down to write a three-act story, however, I'm thinking of a second act that is really two separate acts, with the mid-point climax dividing them.

I also apply the rule of four to other mediums. It's very rare that a TV show can hold my interest beyond a fourth year, because by that point I tend to find the writers have exhausted everything they set out to do in the first place, and a film series that goes beyond a fourth film really starts to feel like it's more filler than killer.

With books, too, once the writer gets past a fourth I tend to give her less leeway.

Four acts seems like the right amount to me. That's enough to set something up, run with the emotional consequences, deliver a few knockout blows and then get out before you overstay the welcome.

But that's not the only way to do it. Russel will pull it off, just as there are examples of writers in all the various types storytelling who have pulled it off. My rule of four is not hard and fast; it's more of a personal rule of thumb.

But that makes it all the more surprising to me that I got the end point in three books rather than four. Eoin Miller's original story arc is completed by the final pages of (title of book 3 redacted) and I'm very comfortable with where we leave him. Does that mean there's no scope for a fourth? Well, wait and see. First you good people need to discover which characters make it out of the trilogy alive, and which of them gets eaten by a large genetically engineered dinosaur.

It's also an odd feeling for more personal reasons to be handing the book in. So much has changed since I started writing this character. I was about 25 and moving from the wreckage of a marriage to six months on my parent’s sofa when Eoin Miller started turning into black shapes on the page. As I turn in book 3 I'm a published author, living in a different country, married and stressing over two cats. The three Miller books are milestones in my live over the past seven years. 

Things change.

And things change again- I'm now staring at a blank page again, but this time I'm not starting a story that's part of a series. I don't have pre-established characters and I'm not following through on a story arc that's already in motion. I'm looking for the next story. The next set of milestones. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Writers on Twitter: Reader Email Bag

By Johannes Climacus

This is the week here at Do Some Damage HQ that I finally get around to answering some of your emails. We haven't done this is a while, so let's get right to it.

Paul in Decatur:

I have a 5-year-old son and would like to get him some age-appropriate fiction. Most of what my wife and I have found is just tie-ins with movies and some "learning" books. Any ideas? I'd love to have something of a crime fiction nature. It's fine if there's a good moral, too.

Well, Paul, I can't help you there. See, most children hate books. Especially kids your son's age My guess is that if you're writing us to find out about books for your kid, then the boy is already pretty messed up.

Here's what happens with parents. You spend too much time with your kids. Feeding and dressing and wiping and all that can take hours out of your year.

So, buy your kid a toy gun and knife set. Kids love that. Also, Gears of War. Kids love playing games.

And buy yourself a book or three. Then read those books out-loud to your kid while he's playing cat surgery or whatever. 

It's a win-win.

Here are three books I'd suggest, all out this week:

DONNYBROOK by Frank Bill


THE GOOD COP by Brad Parks

Meredith in Cheyenne:

Who do you think will win Super Bowl XLIV?

I don't speak Roman, so I have no idea which Super Bowl that is. Your email has been sitting around for a bit, so it may have already happened. I'd suggest not-the-Bills for any Super Bowl.

Jake in Biloxi:

What am I supposed to do with Twitter? Is it better than Facebook?

Great questions, Jake. 

If you are a writer, you are supposed to use Twitter kinda like a time-card. See, writers don't "clock in" when they stop by Starbucks to surf the web. So they have to show some accountability. They do this by Tweeting writing updates. For example, you could Tweet, "Just finished 3,250 words in three hours. Phew. Off for a nap now."

You could also use it to tell your fans about the books that your fans have already bought. The idea, I think, is that readers are so inundated with tweets and status updates and emails about books for sale, that a reader may have missed the past few dozen links to interviews and blogs (like DSD) touting new releases. So it's difficult for a writer to know when a reader has been completely saturated.

Before you spend the next day or two tweeting about your own book, be sure to start with something along the lines of "Fair Warning. Blatant self-promotion coming." This will make everything fine. Like saying "I don't mean to sound sexist, but" absolves you of anything sexist that follows.

If you are a reader, Tweet questions to authors throughout your day. This is a great way to interact with authors while they are trying to write. For example, you might ask Dave where his ideas come from.

We looked at other ways to help writers the other week -- here.

I can not answer your second question as I have not yet seen the Facebook movie.

Mindy in Clovis:

I dropped my iPhone in the toilet. Help.

This isn't really a question, dumbass. Still, put the phone in a bag of rice. Seal the bag. You're welcome.

Jake in Biloxi:

You didn't answer my earlier question, but I'm going to ask another anyway. What is the best book about a dead hooker mystery solved by an alcoholic ex-cop with a dark stain in his past?

First, I did answer your earlier question. Read the fucking post, asshole.

Second, EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE by Lawrence Block takes all those ridiculous cliched ideas and turns them into a masterpiece. If you pull out the plot of the book, it does look rather familiar. However, read the book and you'll forget every other book even remotely like it. I give it eight stars.

Interesting write-up on the film (along with Don Winslow's SAVAGES) is here.

Alice in Fresno:

Isn't this bit done by now?

I don't mean to sound rude, but fuck you.

And yeah.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Peddling Porn

by John McFetridge

It’s a question we hear a lot – how much sex is too much in crime fiction? It goes right along with, how much violence is too much?
The answer is always pretty much, “Whatever’s right for you.”
Some people have a high tolerance for violence and some for sex scenes. It’s really just a matter of taste.
Sometimes I wonder how our tastes have been manipulated.
A couple weeks ago in this space I mentioned the book 1973 Nervous Breakdown by Andreas Killen. That year there was a lot of talk about the “suburbinization” of porn, how movies like Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones and Behind the Green Door were finding audiences beyond the ‘trenchcoat crowd.’
But then the FBI (on politically-driven orders from Richard Nixon, apparently) went after theatres showing those movies (starting with Deep Throat) and the resulting Miller v. California ruling Killen claims, “dealt a setback to free speech,” by allowing communities the right to pass laws banning materials that, “appeal to the prurient interest in sex,” and were deemed as lacking, “serious literary, artistis, political or scientific value.”
(don’t worry, I’m not trying to start another “literary” v. “genre” argument, even if the Supreme Court is setting it up ;)
Killen claims that in the fallout from this ruling more “serious” movies with sexual themes such as Last Tango in Paris and Carnal Knowledge had fewer theatres willing to risk showing them so it became too difficult to raise money to make those kinds of movies.
As one filmmaker said at the time, “Violence will be Hollywood’s pornography.”
And sexual themes became the domain of pretty much the opposite of, “serious literary artists,” and almost entirely out to “appeal to the prurient interest in sex.”
A decade later home video came along and really cemented that and here we are.
Of course, it’s a little different with books.
In my own novels there is very little violence. People get shot and killed but it usually happens very quickly, a few words and it’s over. More words are spent on sex scenes because I think they help to develop characters more and, frankly, I like them more.
And I have a bit of a history of peddling porn, so to speak.
Back in the time of Deep Throat I had a newspaper route, the Montreal Gazette, that I delivered before school. One morning I found small pile of magazines and paperbacks spilling out of a garbage bag in the field behind Anyon Street I used as a shortcut.
Men’s magazines. Penthouse, Oui, Gallery, Club. A couple of the paperbacks were hundreds of pages long like, My Secret Life and collections claiming to be “Victorian” and there was a copy of The Story of O and a lot more pulp stuff.
I put the magazines and paperbacks in my newspaper bag and took them home. And a few days later I showed then to some of my friends. And some of those guys wanted to keep the magazines and offered me money for them.
So I sold them. Word got out at my hhigh school and I sold them all (I hung on to My Secret Life longest and today I think maybe I could sell it as a movie – Downton Abbey meets Fifty Shades of Grey).
Then I got called to the vice principal’s office. Mr. Desjardins. Very scary. He sat me down and started telling me how I was starting on a road that could only end badly, how I was ruining my life before it even started, how I was getting involved with serious criminals.
I managed to stammer that I didn’t know any criminals and he said, “Of course you do, the guy who’s selling you the drugs is a criminal.”
I said, “What drugs?”
“The drugs you’re selling!” He may have banged on the desk at that point. I’m pretty sure he was standing up and staring down at me. He may have been seven feet tall.
I said, “I’m not selling drugs,” and Mr. Desjardins said, “Don’t bullshit me.” It was shocking to hear a grown-up swear like that. Then he tried to play nice cop and said, “Look, I know you’re scared and I know when you tell the guy who’s supplying you that don’t want to sell drugs in this school anymore he’ll get mad at you. Maybe he’s already threatened you, I don’t know, but I can help you.”
I really didn’t know what he was talking about so I just sat there looking confused. Not  a new look for me at the time.
He went back to bad cop for a while, telling me how bad it would go, my involvement with drug dealers and serious criminals, until it was sounding kind of exciting and then he offered to help me again, all I had to do was tell him who I was buying the drugs from.
“I’m not buying drugs.”
“Then how can you be selling them?”
“I’m not selling drugs.”
“Then what are you selling?!”
“Porno magazines.”
Mr. Desjardsins said, “What?” and I said, “I found some magazines and books when I was delivering my papers and people wanted them so I sold them.”
“You mean magazines like Playboy?”
“Yes, sir.”
“And that’s all? No drugs?”
“No sir, no drugs.”
“Oh.” He didn’t seem to know what to do then, he sat back down behind his desk and shrugged a little and said, “Do you have any more?” and I said, “No, sir,” and he said, “Okay, well, don’t bring any more to school.”
I said, okay, and then he told me to go back to class.
I guess Mr. Desjardins had never heard of Miller v. California.
And I guess that’s when I first sold sex instead of violence.
And sometimes it seems like things haven’t changed that much. Usually when I got paid for my paper route I stopped at the record store in the mall and bought an album. Around that time one of the albums I bought was Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick and today as I write this I’m listening to, “Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson’s Thick as Brick II.”
But I do wonder sometimes if movies would be the same today had there never been a Miller v. California.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Q&A with Warren Moore

Broken Glass Waltzes is the latest release from Snubnose Press. Here's a quick Q&A with the author, Warren Moore.

1) Give us the background for BGW. It's been floating around for awhile now hasn't it?

It’s your basic twenty-year overnight success story. I wrote it just as the hard rock world was shifting from spandex to flannel, from glam to grunge. I shopped it around with agents for a few years, and had a couple of close calls (including with at least one pretty well known genre press, despite the lack of an agent), but it never quite connected. Meanwhile, I was working as a journalist, then as a dad, and then through the Ph.D. program and the tenure track, so I more or less put it in a drawer, showing it to friends and the occasional student from time to time. But I always thought it deserved better, and when I discovered Snubnose, I figured it was worth a shot. Fortunately, they agreed. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that sometimes grim determination can beat talent, and while I’d like to think I have some of both, there’s a lot to be said for the first.

2) Tell us a little about the book?

I think it’s in the classic noir tradition, with a protagonist on the fringe of polite society (Kenny) who meets the Wrong Girl (Jean). But instead of the diners and dive bars of James M. Cain and Jim Thompson, I dropped it into the world I knew, from playing clubs of various sizes in original and cover bands, and from watching more successful bands on the same stages. Thompson himself said in Savage Night that there are only so many stories, and I think he’s right – because people are who people have been, and they do what people have always done. The settings change; the trappings change, the fashions and music change. But people remain people.

3) Are you a musician? Play(ed) in bands? Some of the scenes are written with what seems like a lot of been there done that experience.

Yeah, I’ve played drums from the time I borrowed other people’s gear when I was in elementary school (and have the hearing loss to prove it.) I’ve been in a variety of bands over the years, some that did covers, but more that did original stuff from metal to alt rock, which meant (as Kenny notes), that it was much harder to find gigs. Basically, I’ve always been in the “low minors”/weekend warrior category, in part from a lack of interest in whatever was popular, in part from a lack of capital (recording is expensive) and in part because there were things I could do better, like school and writing.

The funny thing is that I’m still doing music – I’m in an original 60s-garage-style group called The Berries, and after thirty-odd years of doing this stuff off and on, my first album will be coming out in the next few months! Again, persistence.

4) Who is the ideal reader for BGW?

Someone who likes their music -- and their stories – loud, fast, raw, and powerful.

5) BGW is about 50k words. Are novels too long today?

I think a lot of them are, particularly in the mainstream/literary worlds. The stuff I grew up reading – genre fiction, typically from the 50s and 60s (my dad was a huge sf fan, but he also read a fair amount of hard-boiled stuff) – had an almost punk rock/garage ethos (That’s right, I think in rock and roll terms as well). “Hey don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” Too many writers these days are like bad bands, showing off chops and technique at the expense of the song. Robert Johnson – frequently seen as the father of the blues – never cut a song longer than 3:01. Do you really think you’re bringing so much to the party that you need six or twelve minutes to do your version of “Sweet Home Chicago”? Likewise, Postman Always Rings Twice is less than a hundred pages, and Killer Inside Me isn’t too much longer. Do you really need 100,000 words, or are you just noodling? I think that once you get past 60-70,000 words, you need to be very careful. That’s not an iron law, but it’s a good way of avoiding the literary equivalent of a twenty-minute drum solo (especially for those of us who aren’t Ginger Baker or Neil Peart.)

6) What's next for you? Any more noir novels?

I’ve got one going right now about a guy who hears from an old girlfriend years after their lives have gone in very different directions. I suspect it won’t end well.

7) Read anything great lately?

New stuff: American Death Songs by Jordan Harper. Hit Me by Lawrence Block (He’s a huge influence on me, and a super-nice guy who’s still doing really good work). The Cocktail Waitress by James M. Cain – it turns out the old man had one more good book left in him, but it took Charles Ardai to reconstruct it. Signs of Struggle by my colleague John Carenen.  “Peaches” by Todd Robinson. Old School by Dan O’Shea. Everything I’ve read from Eric Beetner – it just isn’t fair that he should have that many talents. And I know there are folks I’m leaving out – honestly, I think we’re in a really strong period for crime fiction. Older stuff: Savage Night by Thompson. Peter S. Beagle’s collection of shorts, Sleight of Hand. Chaucer’s “Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale” (Come on, I’m a medievalist – gotta plug my man GC, father of 14th-Century Noir.)

8) What will your students make of BGW?

Well, I’m already something of the campus eccentric – the English prof who plays in rock bands and used to do stand-up. And the kids who have heard me at campus readings know that I write some pretty dark stuff. Whether BGW moves me from “cool-but-flaky uncle” to “creepy old perv” remains to be seen, I guess, but on the other hand I’m tenured and just made full professor, so I guess I can let my freak flag fly now. (He said, chortling.)

9) What is noir?

Noir is the heroic romance seen through a prism of cynicism and the recognition that we live in a postlapsarian world. It’s Shane after the frontier is paved over. It’s where even the best people will make wrong decisions that will ultimately leave them doomed – and most people are far from the best. And it’s simultaneously knowing all this, knowing there’s nothing you can do about it, and doing the best you can even though – and maybe because – it’s doomed to failure. Frantic, spiraling doom.

10) Why should DSD readers part with $2.99 for BGW?

Because Dee Snider of Twisted Sister told me it gives an accurate look at life on the bar-band circuit. Because it has good sex scenes. Because one of my best friends told me he wouldn’t let his wife read it. Because my jaded 15-year-old was too shocked to get past page nine. Because it doesn’t ease up. Because I have a desperate need for external validation. Because it’s fast, loud, and dangerous, like rock and roll is supposed to be. Because it will entertain them.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Fly by the seat...

By: Joelle Charbonneau

I have no idea what I’m doing every time I sit down to write.  Okay, technically that statement isn’t completely factual.  I know how to turn on my computer, open my word document and format the manuscript so that my editor, agent and anyone else reading it won’t loose their eyesight from tiny fonts or really wonky margins.  I also had to take a class in high school on how to type—so I’m pretty quick at getting words down on the page.  The problem is, I rarely have a flippin’ clue what those words should be.

Some people outline.  Outlining sounds divine.  I mean, how awesome would it be to sit down, write step by step everything that is going to happen in the novel and then sit down at the keyboard and follow the map you’ve created.  I would love to be able to outline.  So much so that I’ve tried it.  Not just once, but multiple times.  I love the whole process until I hit somewhere between page 50 and page 70 and I realize that nothing that I’m writing really works.  Oh – the first chapter does, but beyond that everything feels forced.  As if I’m herding the story along the path as opposed to it flowing where it is supposed to go. 

Sigh…when that realization hits, I have no choice to go back to where the story stopped feeling fresh and fun and started feeling like a group of ten-year-olds behind forced into a cafeteria line filled with Tofu-Brussels sprout surprise. 

Since I have learned that only chapter one benefits from the wisdom of my planning, I have stopped outlining.  All I know when I start the book is where chapter 1 starts and where it ends.  The rest…well, you got me.  This makes starting a new book feel a lot like walking a tightrope without a net.  You hope you don’t place your foot wrong and go plummeting twenty feet to the ground.  If you do, you cross your fingers that something will catch you at the bottom.

Fun, right?  Actually, yes.  Because while I am terrified with each new book that this will be the story that falls off the tightrope – it never does.  I always get to The End.  Why?  Because long ago, no matter the fear I felt walking that high wire, I refused to look down and forced my feet to take each small step across until I reached the other side.  I got to The End of the book and taught myself that no matter how scary the journey, I will succeed in finding the finish line.  I have written fourteen manuscripts and the most important lesson I learned was that I CAN finish.  That I WILL finish if I keep putting one foot in front of the other.  No matter how confused I am or how certain the story sucks. 

This week, I finished GRADUATION DAY – book 3 of The Testing Trilogy that will debut with THE TESTING from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on June 4th.  This entire series is a departure for me.  Not only is it Young Adult, these are the darkest books I’ve ever written.  I was scared I wasn’t doing the stories justice and that I would never make it to THE END.  But I did.  Tomorrow I will open a new document.  A new book.  I will be excited to begin and terrified that I will never get to the final pages.  But I will because I have taught myself that I can finish what I start.

Whether you outline or you fly by the seat of your proverbial pants…finding out that you can finish a book is the most important lesson an author can learn.  No matter how many books I write, when the story feel sluggish or stilted or I think it just plain sucks, I know that the storm will pass and I will find my way. 

Tomorrow is a new day.  A new book.  A new adventure.  And if I falter on that high wire, know that I can get across no matter how many times I fall.