Sunday, March 31, 2013

The higher you get the farther the fall

By: Joelle Charbonneau

The last couple of days have been a bit surreal.  On Friday, the trailer my publisher created for THE TESTING was revealed on  Um…wow!  (Entertainment Weekly?  I mean, that’s just…yikes.  I don’t even have words to describe how stunned I was to learn that was happening.  In addition to the trailer, the website, went live and the e-book prequel has been released.   I’ve also had bracelets that say THE TESTING delivered to my door as well as a glimpse of all sorts of other cool stuff the PR and Marketing teams are planning for the release on June 4th.

To say I am delighted is an understatement.  To say I am scared is even more of one.

 Every book that publishes brings worry and angst.  Will readers like the book?  Will they hate it?  Will anyone ever want to read anything by me again?  This Tuesday, END ME A TENOR (Glee Club Mystery #2) will hit bookstore selves and I am gnawing my fingernails off as I wait to hear if readers once again connect with my heroine Paige and her colorful supporting cast.

But those nerves don’t compare to the ones that I feel when I think about The Testing launch. 

I am scared. 

I love my publisher.  I love this trilogy of books.  I did my utmost to write the best stories I could and am so fortunate that my editor and everyone at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt believe in this series with such incredible passion.  It is an author’s dream.

But as wonderful as it is, I am scared. 

Getting a book published was my first dream as a writer.  I wanted to see my name on a book.  I wanted to see that book on the shelf of a store or in a library or even more exciting in the hands of a reader sitting on a park bench somewhere.  My second goal as an author was to make a moderate career out of it.  Maybe be able to publish two books a year.  To make a financial contribution to our family with my writing and maybe…just maybe hang around as a midlist author for a while. 

My expectations as an author weren’t huge.  I wanted them to be realistic.  And in many ways they were one important thing –safe. 

Each time a book is read by a reader, authors put a piece of themselves on the line.  And in the age of social media and blogs where everyone says anything they feel, authors (whether they want to or not) are forced to see and face the reaction of those readers.  The more notice a book gets, the more push by the publisher and buzz it receives the more vocal readers are.  And people often forget that their words can bring the highest of highs with their praise or feel like attacks and bring an author down low.

With the release of the trailer of The Testing, I have gotten a small glimpse of what might be coming.  The first comment on was someone who was angry that the author quote on the cover said readers of Hunger Games would like it.  On facebook, I watched my friends post the link to the trailer only to have their friends say that I had clearly ripped off other books and that I probably didn’t deserve to be published.

And the ride is just beginning.

I don’t want anyone to think this post is about wanting sympathy or pats on the back or even a hug.  (Although I like hugs.  I wouldn’t turn one down!)  I am the luckiest girl ever to have this opportunity and to have the full weight of a publishing team behind me.  No, this isn’t about feeling sad or unhappy or wanting people to be nice to me.  (Again…I like when people are nice, but I can take my licks like anyone else and get up to fight again.)  This is a post I needed to write because I have now seen several sides of publishing and am continuing to learn how to deal with the aspects I have seen.

As authors, we often talk about the choices we need to make for our careers.  We discuss whether we want to self-publish, traditionally publish, have an agent, control every aspect of our book or search for channels to aid us in publication.  People discuss how to find readers and promote their titles.  There are lots of discussions about monetary compensation for authors.  How much should a book cost?  How much should an author hope to make?  How much should authors spend on promotion?  What are the best books for editing?  What is the best method to improving our craft?

But something I have realized more and more as the release of The Testing grows closer is that as authors we often forget to talk about the emotional cost that comes with publishing a book.  It’s natural for us to want people to like the work we have done.  Clearly, we did or we wouldn’t have written the story.  But while we want people to like what we have written, there will always be those who do not.  Some will love what we have created.  Others will attack it from every side.  And the higher and bigger the release, the more those attacks will come.

So while an author needs to improve their craft and learn the business, one of the most important things perhaps an author can do is develop a very thick skin and the ability to turn off Google Alerts.  Ego is often a dirty word, but an author needs one every time a book is released.  Rejection is hard at any point in a career.  If this is going to be your career…if this is going to really be mine for the long haul…building armor against the naysayers is perhaps the most important thing that can be done.

I loved writing The Testing.  I love my publisher for believing in it.  I loved watching the trailer…it’s pretty darn cool.  And in the months ahead, I will prepare myself for this interesting and incredibly fortunate turn that my career has taken.  The book could succeed.  The book could fail.  But I will grow the armor I need to appreciate every moment of the ride.

And if I’m really, really lucky, there will be readers who will enjoy it with me.  

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Reading in Youth and Adulthood

Scott D. Parker

It's nice to know that the one subject I wanted to write about this week was given a bit of a lead-in by Russell yesterday. His post on Doctor Who--hardly a crime fiction story--has paved the way for my post on the changing definition of a genre. Today, I'll be talking space opera, but you can easily make this case with crime and mystery fiction.

I've been in a space opera mood recently lead primary by Alan Dean Foster. He was my first favorite SF author, the one that introduced me to literary SF. Granted, the first books I read was Splinter of the Mind's Eye and the Star Trek Logs, but I quickly moved on to his Pip and Flinx adventures that took place in Foster's own universe.

A month or so ago, I started to re-read the first few Pip and Flinx novels and found myself transported by to the time when I first discovered space opera that didn't have the words "Star" and "Wars" in the title. These are great stories, following the teenaged Flinx and his flying snake, Pip, on their adventures. Naturally, the youth that I was latched onto the youth that was Flinx and I was an easy sell. Even now, reading them again, I am  captivated by the breadth of Foster's universe, the little details he drops in and the entire world he has built. More often than not, back then, I wanted to be in that universe. Such is the way of young readers when they find something they crave that can only be found in books.

Moreover, as the years go by and more books are read and you grow up, that yearning starts to diminish and you don't always find that same level of involvement as you do when you are both a young reader (age wise) and a young reader (one who has just learned to read and you realize that there are whole worlds ready for the discovery). Many of us cut our young reading teeth on the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and longed to be a tagalong on their adventure, but how many want to tag along on some with some of the great character of the past decade or so? As good as  the books are, sometimes they don't transport you.

So it was with great interest that I selected Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey as this month's selection for my SF book club. Billed as realistic space opera set entirely in our solar system, but still hundreds of years in the future, I was intrigued by it's promise of a large story told by characters lower in the totem pole. This book did not disappoint. It was splendid. I'm easily going to start the second one just as soon as we have our meeting over the first novel.

What surprised me was the feeling I got while reading the newer novel. It was the adult version of the feeling I go way back when I first started reading SF. But it was an adult feeling, complete with all the years I've lived and the things I've learned. Still, within that prose, I was transported to a universe I'd could see myself living in. And despite what you might think of when you hear "space opera," this novel had real, in-depth characters. Heck, one of them was a cop (there's the crime fiction angle).

It was while reading (listening actually) that I figured out one of the main differences between the type of story Foster told in the 1970s and Corey told in the 2010s. Foster, while having interesting characters, let the plot drive his story and, consequently, drive the reader (in this case, me) to enjoy and want to "be" a part of the story. Corey did the same thing, yet used his characters as that medium, with the side effect of me realizing the world was neat, but the people were neater.

Is that the difference between being an adult reader and a young reader? As a youth, one likely is driven by the plot and wants to rush alongside the protagonists, but, as an adult, one prefers to know what the characters are thinking and why they are taking the actions of the plot?


We here at DSD are very excited at Joelle's new venture. Her YA novel, The Testing, drops in June, but you can get a preview via the book trailer here. And, if you need some words to keep you entertained and enticed, the prequel ebook is here. Oh, and it's FREE.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Madman in a Box

"Have you ever thought what it's like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension? To be exiles?" - An Unearhly Child

Fifty years ago, at the IM Foreman* junkyard on Totter’s Lane, London, a blue box wheezed into existence. Inside that box, a crotchety, white-haired old man** was waiting to whisk us away on a world of adventure.

And now, that white haired old man has become a gangly geek in a bow tie whose thirst for adventure is seemingly unquenchable. He’s been played by at least 11 different actors*** but he remains a man with a sense of justice, a man who abhors hate and prejudice, who delights in the myriad wonders of the universe; at once a man weighted by the horrors of what he has seen and still able to look at things with the wide-eyed wonder of a child.

The Doctor has become a British institution. Even during his years of exile (the show was unofficially cancelled in 1989 after a long, slow attempt to slip it off the schedules quietly by the then-BBC bosses) he remained a cultural force. Virgin Publishing continued the series in novels. Fan made films cropped up on home video from independent producers (with varying degrees of quality and success) and of course no one stopped talking about the mysterious Time Lord from Gallifrey.

But why is the doctor such a success? Why, when he returned to the BBC in 2005, did he manage to once more capture the imagination of a nation?

Why does The Doctor endure?

Part of it is that both The Doctor and the show have changed over the years. Certain elements remain - the TARDIS more and more conscpicuously “disguised” as a 1960’s police box, the sense of chaotic adventure, the viewer’s stand-ins who accompany the doctor on his adventures - and yet the attitude changes with the decades. In the 70s, political and social concerns became a factor as the Doctor tackled ecological problems as often as he did aliens (see The Green Death as a particularly hamfisted example), in the 80s, there was an attempt to darken the show a little, in the 90s, Virgin’s novels attempted to tell more complex and adult stories and in 2000s, the show became an adventure series marked by its fast pace and occasionally anarchic moods.

But the core has always been this (something the Matt Smith era captured perfectly, even coining the very phrase I'm about to use)

There is a madman who travels through and time space in a box. He is always on the side of justice. He is always standing up for the oppressed. And while he makes mistakes, he will always try to be the best person in the room. Because that’s all he knows how to be.

"It is a fact, Jamie, that I do tend to get involved with things." - The War Games

When I first met The Doctor, he was short and he was Scottish. He was, when I first tuned in, tackling his old enemies, The Daleks. Now, I knew the Doctor a little through the old Target novelisations I had picked up in charity bookshops, but seeing him in the flesh gave me a chill. I knew that he changed faces and sometimes personalities, so I did not know this Doctor, but he was instantly recognisable as that madman with a box. In the first twenty five minutes I spent with him, I was taken back to the 1950s where two warring factions of Dalek were about to meet on Eartth. The doctor was trying to protect something he called The Hand of Omega, which was being sought by both Dalek factions. The Daleks could kill people easily with one blast from their weapons. And, as I discovered at the end of that 25 minutes, despite their cumbersome appearance, they could float up stairs.****

I was hooked. I remained hooked for another two years.

And then The Doctor vanished.

He was gone.

No fanfare, no long farewell. He simply never returned.

I was gutted.

Home videos helped me catch up on the doctor’s past adventures. It was a treat for me, to get an old adventure on VHS and watch it all in one go. I discovered what I had missed, then: the lunatic joys of Tom Baker’s tenure in the TARDIS, the occasionally patronising adventurer that was Jon Pertwee, the wide eyed wonder and occasional anger that Peter Davison, the anarchic glee of Patrick Troughton and the severity of William Hartnell (who would soften towards the end of his run, as the BBC realised that what kids warmed to most was the kindly grandfather figure he could represent). Heck, I even enjoyed the Colin Baker years although even as a kid I realised he could got some appalling scripts.

"In all my travelling throughout the universe I have battled against evil, against power mad conspirators. I should have stayed here.” - The Ultimate Foe

As a teenager, I devoured the Virgin New Adventures novels, admiring them because they dared to take the doctor to places he could never go in the TV show. Some of them were bad, but most were brilliant, and I the first novel I ever submitted was to this line right as they lost the rights to the character (but they sent me a nice rejection). It was, looking back on it, an appalling book. But then I was sixteen, and still learning how to write. I’d still like to have another crack at the doctor to this day. He represents the kind of sci-fi I love; sci-fi that engages with its own sense of the absurd. Literally anything can happen on Who, not least because unlike most modern franchises, its “bible” is not set in stone. It was made up on the hoof by writers over the years, many of them working from what they could remember about the show’s past, and some not even worrying about fitting into an established continuity. I think Atlantis is destroyed in at least three different ways throughout the show’s history. But since the 90s, attempts have been made to create some kind of continuity, and this is especially true on the rebooted show. But all the same there’s enough freedom that the stories don’t start to blend into each other. The Star Trek franchise showed some of its limitations in the show Voyager, which tried to break new ground and ended up too often retreading where other shows had been before. With Doctor Who, you can have a fantasy story followed by a historical followed by an epic space opera.

“Change. You. Me. Everything.” - Dimensions in Time.

Still, at 32 (I started watching when I was 8) I count myself a Whovian. I love the show. I still tune in when its back on air, although I know that its no longer the show I once loved. But that’s great because its become the show that a new generation will love. After all, the whole point of the show is change. The actors change. The crew change. The times change.

Looking at the modern show, its easy to see - under Russell T Davis, the show was all about family, about recurring characters, about a sense of being part of something so much more than you were. It was about epic space opera, and big bad guys who wanted to destroy the universe. When Moffat came on board, the show started to look at what it is to grow up, to face change and uncertainty. It took on a more fairy tale quality than it ever had before. But both approaches are valid.

Looking back in time, even during one Doctor’s tenure, the tone could shift markedly. Tom Baker went through a long run of horror stories (The Brain of Morbius, the Pyramids of Mars, the Seeds of Doom) and came out the other side into more SF stories, often with a sly sense of humour, such as The Sun Makers, The Pirate Planet and so forth.

I always had a love of the more horror-themed stories in Baker’s run. And indeed I loved the more horror themed stories in general. Although they also scared me, too. On its first run, I couldn’t watch the final episode of The Curse of Fenric, I was so terrified by the blood sucking heamovores. But then, that was the point. And as an adult, its become one of my favourite stories.

“You were my doctor!” - Timecrash

And that’s the appeal of the show. It is many things to many people. Everyone has “their” doctor. Everyone has a memory of the show, be it the horror of Daleks, the comfort of the doctor, their love (or lust) of a companion, there’s something in that show that will stick in near everyone’s memory, even if its just a memory of Saturday teatimes watching adventures in time and space.

The best of Who is rip-roaring adventure fiction with a suitably eccentric twist. Its also smarter than one might think on first viewing. Whether its trying to fulfill its original remit of historically educating a “modern” audience, or trying to grapple with issues of the day through looking to the future (the much maligned Happiness Patrol is in fact one of the most political Doctor Who stories ever... and I bloody loved the Kandyman, so there!) or even trying to show us that often things are more complex than simple good vs evil (anything with the Ice Warriors, who were decidedly neutral as a race, and indeed the Silurians as well), Who is always belying its roots as “children’s television”. It was never that. It was a family show, something that you could enjoy if you were young, old or in the middle. Its one of the reasons that I think the current run is continuing that trend. While the rise of the fanboy has meant the show has a new kind of audience to appeal to (the kind that remembers details and intensely debates the tiniest of moments in any given episode even when its clear that the moment is of no great importance) at its heart, the show retains the spirit that has enabled it to last so long. Yes, its not always perfect, but then the show never was. It has always had ups and downs, good bits and bad bits, low periods and periods of amazing, intense creativity. But through it all, the show has never pandered to one audience over another or marched to any beat other than the one it hears in its own head.

The Doctor is over 900 years old. The show is turning 50. And believe me, there’s plenty of life in both of them.

Russel’s picks:

12 Doctors. One Story each. Not necessarily the classics.

1st Doctor (William Hartnell): I haven’t seen much Hartnell, but The Daleks remains a classic. It changed the show forever and introduced the Doctor’s most famous foe.

2nd Doctor (Patrick Troughton): I love a lot of Troughton’s stories, if only for his performance, but standout for me is The War Games which a) solidifies some of the mythology of the show and b)is amazingly, astoundingly epic, taking place over 10 episodes and c) is quite affecting at the climax when you see what the Doctor sacrifices. If I didn’t choose this one, though, I would choose The Mind Robber which is brilliantly trippy.

3rd Doctor (Jon Pertwee): The Silurians may have a rubbish T-Rex, but its a great example of why Pertwee’s early stories were great SF - serious, thoughtful, smart and trying to deal with real issues. Its a pity Caroline John’s Liz Shaw was shown the door sharpish for being too strong a character; she really challenged Pertwee’s doc.

4th Doctor (Tom Baker): Bit of a left fielder, perhaps, my choice here. But I will always, always have a soft spot for The Seeds of Doom, largely due in part to the Target novelisation of the story, which formed my earliest impressions of it. When I finally saw the story, I was massively impressed by just how exciting it was, especially for an epic six part story. Sure, at times it seems like the writer had only a passing knowledge of Who and was in fact writing for The Avengers, but the chemistry between Tom Baker’s Doctor and Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith is amazing, and the Krynoid is one of the most terrifying aliens ever, even if it is realised as a bunch of rubbery tentacles by the end of the story (and even if they foolishly choose to give it a voice for one terrible scene).

5th Doctor (Peter Davison) I was never that big on Davidson’s era. It always seemed to take itself too seriously. But Enlightenment is a gem of a story. Big ideas (the immortals), a fairy-tale structure and an almost insane ambition combine to make a story that no other sci-fi show could have told. If you watch only one Davidson, it should be this one.

6th Doctor: (Colin Baker) Poor Colin Baker. They tried, they really tried to do something different. And then they got hit by budget cuts. And then the writing staff forgot how to craft stories. He got shafted, he really did. But still he had one or two ambitious gems in his run, and his take on the Doctor as a vainglorious megalomaniac whose heart was still in the right place was actually very good indeed. Revelation of the Daleks is a continuity heavy story that still remains absolutely excellent, even if it has one of the most rubbish cliffhangers in the show’s history (look, there’s a polystyrene gravestone filled with Karo syrup and... oh, its just too stupid to explain) but it makes the Daleks scary again, has a great line in double acts and Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant remind everyone why they worked so well together. Its a little more violent than earlier eras, but perhaps that’s kind of the point.

7th Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) Since McCoy was my Doctor, I have more fondness for him than some, although I do agree that his first season or so was very bad indeed. However, towards the end he began to develop a take on the Doctor that was very intriguing indeed. I have to go here with The Curse of Fenric, which was the story that terrified me on first viewing and which I later came to realise was a more grown up story about choice and fate. It also featured Nicholas Parsons in what seemed to be celebrity stunt casting but turned out to be a very affecting little turn from the presenter of Just a Minute.

8th Doctor (Paul McGann) Well, he only appeared on TV once in the American TV movie in 1998. The TV movie was meant to be a backdoor pilot, and is something of a muddled mess but Paul McGann’s performance as a slightly Byronic time lord is brilliant. Just ignore the plot and enjoy McGann’s infectious sense of fun.

9th Doctor (Christopher Ecclestone) From a shaky start to a brilliant end, the 9th Doctor was around for one season  but made one hell of an impact. Ecclestone committed to a role that he clearly wasn’t too comfortable with and gives the show an edge thast feels very contemporary. And nowhere is this more evident than in Dalek, where the Doctor finally confronts the beings that killed the Time Lords (or maybe they didn’t; Russell T Davis seems to go back and forth on this a lot). A single Dalek. An angry Doctor. It gives you chills.

10th Doctor (David Tennant) David Tennant took a more traditional approach to the role and his laid back Doctor was, depending on the show, either beautifully eccentric or painfully over the top. But his finest hour came in The Impossible Planet, when he confronts some of the most terrifying scenes in New Who. Seriously, this episode and its follow on, The Satan Pit, are absolutely brilliant moments of television.

11th Doctor (Matt Smith)I really, really like Matt Smith’s take on the character. But for me, it all comes together in The Big Bang, the season 5 closer. Its a brilliant script that ties up a lot of loose ends, and plays about with all the wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff in a very clever fashion. Plus the Doctor wears a Fez.

*its been spelt at least two different ways on the show
**This is one of the standard descriptions of the first Doctor as used in the old Target novelisations of the TV series
***Not counting Peter Cushing’s turn in two theatrcially released movies or the countless fan made films out there
**** This was of course the second episode of Remembrance of The Daleks, and is one of those stories that puts paid to all the talk of Doctor Who being rubbish in the late eighties; its a brilliant story, even now.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Runaway Town -Out Now

By Jay Stringer.

It's that time again. My second novel is out now.

Here's the official blurb thingy;

After narrowly surviving a vicious knife attack, gangland detective Eoin Miller thinks he’s earned a break from hunting down thieves, runaways, and stolen drug money. But when crime boss Veronica Gaines tips him off to a particularly sensitive new case, his Romani blood won’t let him say no. A rapist is targeting immigrant girls, and the half-gypsy Eoin knows all too well just how little help an outsider can expect from the local police. Besides, his client isn’t looking for someone to arrest the bastard. He’s looking for someone to stop him—for good. 

But the deeper Eoin digs, the more tangled he becomes in a web of corruption, racism, and revenge…especially once his troubled past threatens to derail the investigation by raising questions about his own loyalty and family ties. With his life teetering on the brink of disaster, Eoin realizes there is a fine line between justice and punishment. Now it’s up to him to decide just which side he’s on.

It's book two of a trilogy. Does that mean you have to have read the first one? No. Each story stands on it's own two feet in addition to serving the overall story arc. The first Matt Scudder book I read was the fifth one in the series. But be warned that Runaway Town pays no respect at all to the concept of spoilers, and a few things revealed in book one are taken for granted here.

Here's the super suh-weeeet cover;

And here's the links to buy the hot sexy little thing for both the US and the UK.

Here's a link to the (unofficial) soundtrack album on Spotify.

And here's the much more official single to coincide with the release of the book. It's by 8-Bit Ninjas, and it's less than a quid in UK money. In fact, right now you can buy the kindle version of the book AND this song and still come out cheaper than a cup of high-street coffee. Spotify  Itunes Bandcamp.

Do it.

Thank You. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Making gravel

By Dan O'Shea

I’m late, I know. I had a post all set to go about recording the audiobook for PENANCE, but there really wasn’t much to it. Turns out reading 375 pages into a microphone is hard work. Turns out, when you’re doing that reading in a small studio that’s usually booked by indie rock bands, it smells a lot like your college dorm used to. Guess that foam stuff on the walls soaks up the marijuana smell pretty good.

And I couldn’t really think of anything else to talk about. Been having trouble making sense out of things lately. Life’s been a little too chaotic, unfocused, random. I could weigh in on the great issues of the day I suppose, be just another blogger shooting my mouth off on gay marriage or why rape is bad, probably make the same points a few thousand people have already made, but probably less articulately.

Lots going on, most of it personal, most of which I choose not to talk about, but I’m in one of those stretches where life feels like an Asteroids game. (Not that most of you would remember Asteroids. It’s what passed for cutting edge video game technology in my salad days. You were captain of a little triangular space ship. Big chunks of space rocks would float across the screen and you had to maneuver amongst them, blasting them with your laser, which turned them into more numerous, smaller, faster space rocks, and then you had to maneuver amongst them and blast them with your laser, which turned them into more numerous, smaller, faster space rocks, and eventually you’d crash into one of them and die.)

That Asteroids game was kind of addictive. Get into a good groove where you got all space psychic, you’re spinning your little triangle around and bulls-eyeing zipping space pebbles you could swear you hadn’t even SEEN yet, managing impossible cross-screen deflection shoots while simultaneously making an impossible s-turn between converging galactic boulders, so caught up in your mastery of the immediate, in the mad space scramble, that the larger meta issue never strikes you – that it’s just pointless chaos and no matter how good your run, it always ends the same way. Your last video-game life smashed into oblivion by a pretend space boulder. Game over.

It occurs to me that maybe that’s what this writing thing is all about, the meta question. Taking the Asteroids game of life and making sense out of it, finding a gestalt in it, a beginning, a middle, an end. Making stories for people that give them a little of that Asteroids adrenaline rush, that put them in captain’s seat of that tiny space triangle, but that turn those zipping space rocks into something other than all there is, something more than the inevitable end. That turn them into obstacles overcome on the way to some purpose, some goal, some reason that this all makes sense.

I hear that’s what they do with video games now – give them stories. You still get to zip around a shoot shit, I guess. But you’ve got something to accomplish. That’s what I’m told. I wouldn’t know.

I’m still stuck in the Asteroids universe, trying to make sense out of it, but I haven’t got time. Up to my ass in space rocks in the vast indifference of heaven.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sweating the Particulars

By Steve Weddle

First, HAPPY RELEASE DAY to our own Jay Stringer, whose RUNAWAY TOWN hits the stores today. As Amazon won't allow me to review books if I've read them, allow me to say here what a great book this one is. Jay's take on the Midlands region of the UK is fantastic and his treatment of characters -- those who have professional or familial relationships with the protagonist -- could be used as textbook chapters on how to write. This one is one of the rare books I've run across in the past few years that carries as much weight for writers as it does for readers -- and that's saying something. Because RUNAWAY TOWN is a remarkable story about characters you'll carry with you forever. This Eoin Miller series is one of those that ups the stakes with each outing. Each book seems both larger and more personal than the last. Just amazing, honestly.

Now, on to the show:

So, there you are, writing your story, when you're faced with the dilemma.

As they sat in the restaurant, enjoying their fast-food tacos, they saw the killer.

Hmm, that sounds too phony, right?

As they enjoyed their tacos at Burrito Bell, they saw the killer.

Sure, it has (ahem) a sort of ring to it, but will that do?

I mean, we all know we can't NAME THE REAL THING in our fiction, right?

Think of the lawsuits. Or the people reading the story in 2816. Will they know what a Taco Bell is? We have to avoid the particulars.

I was working on a project this weekend, when I had to say that something was mentioned "on Twitter." I'd recently, in the same work, gotten by with saying that a video had been uploaded "to the web." I didn't say "YouTube."

And here all the murky confusion starts.

If you've read a thriller, you know that it is fairly standard procedure to spend pages describing the bits and pieces of your protagonist's watch. Or computer. Or showing that you are able to Google the inner-workings of a jet airplane. Sorry. I meant "web search" the inner workings.

We can't use the names of real things while we're being descriptive, right?

Hollywood has to use the "555" numbers for American telephones.

We have to say that someone is being paid "twice his normal rate" to kill someone instead of being paid $500,000. What if a kill rate is higher in 2187? You need to prepare to be read forever!

In an early draft of an unpublished novel, I had the characters spend quite a good deal of time at a restaurant in Shreveport. The restaurant was called Michone's and was home to my idiot self from midnight to three many days during college. The restaurant no longer exists. Had I kept the name in the story, then that anchors the story to a certain time. The story could not have happened yesterday, as the restaurant has been closed for years.

So, of course, I never should have named the particular restaurant.

Street names? Of course. Name them. But make sure that they are correct. Don't have someone driving down Line Avenue in Shreveport and then hang a left onto Youree, because everyone in northwest Louisiana will know what an idiot you are. I mean, of course you want to use street names, right?

But what about website? Are they too fleeting to mention? If you say that someone was being stalked on Facebook, would you have just MySpaced your novel?

If you have someone murdered at Taco Bell, will you be sued?

If you start a phone number with 739, will Ma Bell shoot you? (Kids, ask your grandparents.)

Be specific.

Use details.

Except when you shouldn't.

I mean, imagine if Jane Austen had mentioned specific card games --Loo or Speculation-- that no one plays anymore. Everyone would laugh at the poor novelist and shun her books as expired tripe.

Historicals and westerns and sci-fi and other genres are governed by their own rules, of course.

You'd want to detail the streets and buildings and names of restaurants if you were writing a book that takes place in 1920, for example. Look at what a good boy I am. I have surfed the web and found a map! You can totally trust me because I know all about 1920s buttons!

Sci-Fi certainly requires that you beep your A09-X Confabulator properly, though "fictional particulars" are something else entirely.

I'll probably just go back and have the people being attacked Taft's ghost at a Taco Bell. I mean, an ex-president's ghost.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Some links of interest

-I've started a new photo blog where I'll be posting pictures, images, books covers, and photographs that I like. Basically whatever interests me. It's called The Cold Blooded Sausage Maker, please follow it if such a thing interests you.

-From 'Trance' to 'Spring Breakers,' Is This the Golden Age of Film Noir?

Disorientation is the key ingredient of contemporary neo-noir. It also manifests in Harmony Korine's neon-caked explosion of excess, "Spring Breakers," which --  depending on your perspective -- celebrates or indicts the hedonistic tendencies of modern youth. Korine certainly doesn't make it easy to determine whether the criminal antics of gangster-pimp-arms-dealer Alien (James Franco) and his entourage of giddy college girls have gone off the path of righteousness or discovered a spectacular new freedom. Atmospherically, "Spring Breakers" is an elegant evocation of noir storytelling, littered with misdeeds with girls and guns at every turn. As with "Trance," it's nearly impossible to figure out whether any given character should elicit viewer's sympathies, but Korine relishes the confusion. 
 -Great review (from one of my favorite blogs) of First Blood by David Morrell which also dips into some of the differences between the book and the film: 

"First Blood comes off like an action-adventure take on Moby-Dick, with Rambo and Teasle acting as both Ahab and the whale for one another."
-Courtesy of Jake Hinkson I've got a new (to me) writer to try: The Godmother of Noir: Elisabeth Sanxay Holding 

If you trace the roots of literary noir back far enough, eventually you’ll run into the unlikely figure of Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. Though in recent years she has been overlooked in the rush to canonize folks such as James M. Cain and Cornell Woolrich, Holding was just as pivotal in the development of noir as a distinct literary genre. Like Cain and Woolrich, she didn’t write about hardnosed good guys very much. Before the term “roman noir” had even been coined, her specialty was isolated and desperate characters with profoundly poor decision-making skills.
 -Craig Clevenger offers up "High Priest of the Godless: A Jim Thompson Primer"

Before there was film noir, there was the roman noir, the dark novel. What Americans of the mid-twentieth century called pulp fiction was simply the contemporary incarnation of the dime novel or penny dreadful of the previous century. The lurid stories behind the lurid covers were considered lowbrow trash and indeed, many of them aspired to be nothing but the same. But one man’s trash is another man’s dark worldview, as evinced by the French embrace of these tales from the godless gutter of the New World.
-The Word You’re Looking For Is Genius—Not Crazy, Genius: The Top 5 Craziest Crime Writers

-Low Winter Sun is coming this summer on AMC. A show about a group of dirty cops.

-Viva Riva!, a Congolese crime movie looks worth checking out.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

So you want to be an author...

By: Joelle Charbonneau

You walk into a bookstore and see lots of fabulous books on shelves.  You walk out of the store with a bag full of books because you love reading. You love the written word.  You can’t get enough.

The first book you read is pretty good.  The second not so hot.  And finally you read one that makes your blood boil until you say – I can write better than that.  So you sit down at the computer and write.  Because hey – you hate your day job and you think that writing a book has to be a really easy way to make money.  After all, you make your own hours.  You control your own destiny.  And books get made into movies all the time.  Cha-ching!  You’ll be rich in no time.


I believe writing is a wonderful career choice.  The process of sitting down and building a story line by line is challenging and incredibly rewarding.  But let me debunk a few myths about the writing life.

Yes – you make your own hours.  That just means that often you are up at 4a.m. to write pages before going to your day job or (like me) you’re up until all hours of the night getting your goals met.  You’ll also find that you’ll need to work every day and that it will be a struggle to take a day off when you are working under contract.  Just because you are technically working for yourself doesn’t mean things are easier.  They’re just—different.

Yes—most writers have a day job.  They aren’t striking it rich with a book deal.  Most first time traditionally published novelists get advances between $3,000-$10,000 a book.  $5,000 is probably the most typical number.  Now that is an advance on your royalties, so if the book sells well you’ll make more, but don’t count on it.  And even if you do make more, royalties start getting paid about 6 months to a year after the book comes out.  (This is different if you self-publish, but those authors I know who have done REALLY well self-publishing and have been on the Kindle best-seller lists have often pulled in around $10,000-$12,000 a year on a book…the more typical number is lower, so that’s not the best way to get rich quick, either.)  Yeah – the old adage of don’t quit your day job is pretty important advice when it comes to being an author.  I’m lucky that I can make my living as an author…but I am also aware that can change at any time.  An author is only as good as their last contract and their last book.  So you have to keep pushing forward and hoping that your work connects with readers or you’ll be out of a job.

Yes – books get made into movies all the time.  But I have heard that the percentage of books that have been optioned and actually made it to screen is somewhere around the 1% mark.  There are lots of stories being told on the page.  Just go to your local bookstore on a Tuesday when new titles are being released and you’ll see how many are there…and that is only the books that store is stocking. Catching the eye of a film producer and actually seeing the book turned into a movie is a lot like catching lightning in a bottle.  If it happens – WHOO HOOO!  But don’t think that’s the norm.

Yes – in many ways more than ever authors control their own publishing destiny.  There are lots of ways to get a book into a reader’s hands.  YAY!  But I think too many writers are far too busy worrying about their publishing options and whether they’ll make a million dollars when they sit down and write.  Because while those are the really cool, often impossibly unattainable aspects of being a novelist, they cannot be controlled.  The only thing you can control in the business of publishing is writing the book, getting to The End and then going back and making it the very best book it can be. 

If you want to be a writer and you are busy thinking of the flexible hours and the potential movie deals – find something else to do because you’re just going to be disappointed.  If you want to write the best book you can—welcome to the club.  Writing isn’t always easy.  It isn’t always fun.  But it is rewarding.  And I can’t imagine doing anything else.