Saturday, April 6, 2013

Carmine Infantino

Scott D. Parker

This week's posts here at Do Some Damage have possessed a downer vibe of late. After Brian dropped a post on rural noir and John wrote a fun post on the movie, "Slapstick," Steve and Jay bounced around the concept of socially aware crime fiction. Russell wrote elegantly about Iain Banks who announced he was battling terminal cancer. We lost a great writer in Roger Ebert on Thursday, and, on the same day, we lost Carmine Infantino.
If you don't know his name, you know his work. He was a penciler at DC Comics in the 1950s and it was his artwork that gave the revamped Flash character his visual energy. Up until 1956, the only Flash character was the golden age one, the dude with the FTD helmet on his head (How, exactly, did that thing stay on? That's him below on the right.) Infantino's new red full body suit with yellow lightening highlights gave the hero an atomic age style, a year before Sputnik began it's red orbit around the Earth.
Because the Flash was a success, Green Lantern was rebooted soon thereafter. Gone was the blond dude with the giant cape and multi-colored costume. In its place was a space cop in fighter pilot Hal Jordan who joined in intergalactic police force called the Green Lantern Corps. (That's not his art below on the GL cover, but you can easily see Infantino's influence.) These space-aged heroes ultimately led to the creation of the Justice League of America, and, in the spirit of competition, Marvel created the Fantastic Four.

Infantino also had a hand in creating the "new look" of Batman and Robin in the mid 1960s. You know what I'm talking about even if you don't know the term. Infantino put the bat symbol on Batman's chest inside the yellow oval. He modernized the utility belt and the length of the cape (shorter, actually). Robin's costume became more detailed, and the villains just a bit more surreal. I know you'll recognize this iconic image of the Dynamic Duo.

As a child of the 1970s when I first started reading comics, I missed all of that, but I caught it in back issues and compilations. For all the good Infantino did for DC Comics in the 1960s and 1970s, it was as the penciller for the comic book adaptation of Star Wars that I, a youngster, first took notice of the man. And, truth be told, I didn't like his visual style of Star Wars. He made Princess Leia's distinctive hair style literally look like sharp cinnamon rolls that, in a pinch, could be detached and hurled at an enemy. His Luke Skywalker ceased being Mark Hamill and became, well, something else. Ironically, it was his energetic art style that gave the droids a life they could never have on the silver screen.

This talk about my dislike of Infantino at the occasion of his passing may seem odd, but it underlines a salient point: as a ten-year old, when I didn't know any of the artists or writers, Infantino was the first comic book artist I could identify by name. I knew his style even if I didn't always appreciate it when drawing the adventurers in the galaxy far, far away. As I grew up and learned more and more about the history of comics, I have come to realize and appreciate his importance in the industry and truly enjoy his earlier work, particularly his work on Batman in the 1960s and those great covers, especially the ones that break the fourth wall.

Like many veteran writers and artist of comic books, Infantino hadn't worked on a book in a while (as far as I know). But he left his indelible mark on the universe of DC Comics, the reverberations of which are still felt today, over fifty-five years since he decided that the Flash needed a makeover.

Thank you, Mr. Infantino, for your work and your influence. We are all grateful.

Friday, April 5, 2013


I had several topics to talk about this week, and not enough time to do them justice. Then, just as I was coming to an idea about what to write about this week, someone told me that Iain Banks was gravely ill. It’s a horrifically sad situation; he has less than a year to live after being diagnosed with cancer. It’s the kind of news that knocks you for six, and it threw my attention off the topics I had thought I would write about.

This isn’t an obituary. Banks is still going. But given his announcement, it made me reflect a little on what Banks has meant to me as a reader, a writer and even in my dayjob as a bookseller.

Banks has long been my touchstone when it comes to modern Scottish fiction. He is one of the few modern Scottish authors of general fiction who managed to be both Scottish and relevant to me. He was the first writer I remember who wrote about computer gaming with gleeful abandon, who seemed to talk about things that made sense in the world I knew. On top of that, he wrote some blisteringly good SF novels (even if I stopped reading them for a while when I stopped reading as much SF; I came back to the Culture fold last year with The Hydrogen Sonata.

There’s also this fact:

Banks made me believe I could write, or at least make a damn fine stab at doing so professionally.

He didn’t do it in a way that he would even be aware of that. But he was the first writer I ever saw talk to an audience. It was the Edinburgh Book Festival way back in the mid to late nineties. To give you an idea of how long ago it was, Shots Mag was still in print and not on the web. In fact (and Shots edtor, Mike Stotter won’t remember this) I was trying to cover the Edinburgh Book Festival for them (for one reason or another I don’t think the article got published) on spec. I remember being bitterly disappointed that James Ellroy didn’t show up. But it was fine, because next on the Agenda before I went to see crime authors like Val McDermid and Chris Brookmyre (rising young talents they were back then) talk, there was Iain Banks. I wasn’t covering Iain. I just wanted to see him talk. After all, one of the first truly “adult” novels I had discovered was Complicity, and I just had to see what  the hell kind of man could have written that book (I loved it, by the way: it was dark, perverse and unlike anything else I had read up until that point in my life)

He had two events, from what I recall. One by himself and one with Ken MacLeod (or maybe I’m getting confused and saw them at two separate ed festivals, but this is how I remember it in the jumbled mess I call a memory). The first event I saw was Iain without-the-M, and what I remember clearly (and he’s said this at several other events, so I know for certain he did say it) is that he talked about how he went to university and decided to study the three courses any writer needs:

Philosophy, because a writer needs ideas to explore.
English, because that seemed a given
Philosophy because a writer needs to know how his characters think.

That made up my mind for me, I remember, and that’s exactly what I went on to study at uni (after a brief flirtation with specialising in an AI course).

I also remember thinking that this writing lark could be good because Banks seemed so damn joyful talking about it. He was enthusiastic, he was bursting with things to talk about. And he was honest. Oh, so honest.

I think when I went to get my book signed, I muttered something about “all the best writers come from Fife,” and then looked away, embarrassed by my own idiocy. Well, I was 17.

Later, seeing him and MacLeod talking, I thought maybe there was some mileage in my plan back then to write both SF and crime: it was possible, I was sure, like Banks, to be a multi-genre author. And I was even more buoyed when Banks talked about people bringing the “silly” back into SF (A-la EE Doc Smith) because at the time that what I wanted to do!

Fast forward a number of years, and Banks was still my Scottish writing touchstone. I preferred some novels to others, but I admired the fact that at least he was always trying something different, never really being a one trick pony. He would swerve from bizarre hallucinatory imagery (the Bridge) to slice-of-life (The Crow Road) to, well, Complicity (my first Banks novel, and one I hold a soft spot for). He would later merge his two personas in Transition and of course he had those blistering SF novels, too, none of which were ever quite the same as the other.

Years later, in my day job as a bookseller, running events for the store I work in, I was hugely pleased to get him to do some events for us. He was always great fun and hugely generous. He also had a fine sense of mischief. The second-to-last event he did, I was running about with a microphone to take questions in a large theatre. He took great delight in making sure that questions came from the audience members who were most difficult for me to get to, ensuring I got my exercise for the evening. I wound up clambering over chairs to get there quicker, which of course only gave him more fuel. He was, in short, hugely entertaining.

I can’t claim to know him well. I have talked to him only as a fan and a bookseller. But I can say that when I have met him, he has always been friendly, approachable and full of humour. As a writer, he’s always seemed to do whatever gave him the most pleasure. He’s been a huge influence on me as a writer, and to think that he is so ill is strange and unsettling.

But he’s not gone yet, and there is one more book to go. On his website he says that his publishers have brought the date forward so that he can see it brought to publication. I know that he won’t read this, but all the same, I felt I had to say something about the affect he’s had on my reading and writing life.

If you haven’t read Banks, I recommend you go out and do so. The best remembered books for me are Complicity, The Crow Road, Espedair Street, The Wasp Factory and on the SF side, Consider Phlebas, Feersum Endjinn, Use of Weapons and Hydrogen Sonata.

Thank you, Iain. For the encouragement you never knew you gave, for the entertainment you gave at your readings/events, and for the years of joyful reading.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


By Jay Stringer

I'm itching to talk about JUSTIFIED, but it would be harsh to do it so soon on the finale, when people may not yet have watched it. I'll tuck that one on the drawer and come back on it later. 

Yesterday Weddle laid down a great question on us. As part of my answer I said we (as a community) don't yet discuss all of these things loudly enough or often enough. So it would be hypocritical if I stepped jauntily on to another topic straight away. I thought I'd post an expanded version of my response from yesterday, and touch maybe on a few of the other great comments to the piece, and keep the question open for another day. 

So first head back and read it.

Interesting question. I can't help but feel that overall the answer is NO. The answer is also NO for much of mainstream society. I don't always feel the criticism of this is handled the right way but I usually agree that the criticism aimed at something valid. 
There is a distinction to be drawn between the fiction and the community. I want to tackle the fiction first.

I'm one of the guys who always goes on about crime fiction being social fiction. And it is. But not all of it is. Some people just want to keep writing the same thing over and over. And even when writing the more social fiction, that doesn't automatically mean you're going to be writing something inclusive. Not all fiction has to reflect all people, and we write about some nasty shit happening to people. Ellen Clair Lamb made a great point yesterday;

It boils down to this, I think: sci-fi and fantasy are by their nature more concerned with ideal alternate universes/societies, while crime fiction tries to look at the darker side of society as it is. Arguing about utopias, and who belongs in them, will always cause more contention than the premise that bad people sometimes do bad things and need to be brought to justice.

I completely agree with the first part of Ellen's point. We could maybe say that Sci-Fi and Fantasy is often about writing the world as we would remake it, and crime fiction is about writing the world as we see it. I would caution though that it can become easy to use this line as an excuse as we write. "Of course I've marginalised some people in my work, I'm writing about a world that marginalises." You are and it does, but if you become aware of this while writing something, it's worth taking a second look at if you're handling it right. 

We can also talk about blind spots. We all have them. We all have things or people or cultures that we miss simply by not being aware. Our work reveals our passions and out strengths, but also reveals our blind spots. Even in talking about this, I probably tend to lean more towards talking about the aspects of sexual and racial identity politics that I'm more aware of, and I'm bound to miss people out. We may not intend to misrepresent or marginalise, but that doesn't mean we don't do it. All we can do is put our hands up, cop to it, and aim to fail better next time. 

I take issue with the way this is often handled on social media and in the other genres. A man who has written a scene or a part that is dismissive to a female character or to another ethnicity doesn't automatically need to have "YOU ARE A MISOGYNIST RACIST IDIOT, PLEASE RETWEET," shouted at him. And yet he does. Some writers have had to quit twitter because of it. We live in a world where it's easier to shout abuse at a stranger in less than 140 characters than it is to attempt to write a novel or a script that tackles large issues. That's just the way of it. Sometimes our blind spots show, and we can be called on that, but it should be handled right. An honest writer just needs to be invited into a conversation about a point of view he or she has been blind to, and then given room to take that on board and to write better next time. 

There are many many writers in crime fiction who should be held up and praised for doing this. Many who deliberately look for the voices that aren't being heard, and choose to tell their tale. They just tend not to be the ones that sell. 

What we maybe don't admit often enough is that there is also a very conservative streak in mainstream crime fiction. Crime and punishment, right and wrong, old fashioned values, that kind of thing. When Chandler wrote about mean streets and dropping crime fiction back into dirty alleys, he didn't mean that we should spend forever writing about those exact streets and alleys. He meant that crime fiction should be alive, fresh, current and real. There are people who argue that Noir and Hardboiled fiction are interchangeable labels for MEN'S FICTION, and to allow the womenfolk to have cosy crime books with cake recipes in them. There is also a hesitancy to read a protagonist that you can't immediately project yourself into. Something that's true of all fiction -but which splits our genre down the middle- is that there are people who want to read books to see new things, and people who want to read books to see their existing world view reflected back.

But things on the page are changing. Doors are opening. I think we'll see a massive shift as 'Young Adult Crime Fiction' blows up huge. (Because it's going to.)  Young Adult fiction deals with the world in ways that is relevant to...young adults. YA took off a long time ago in Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Dystopia. Is there a comment in there about the age of crime fiction readers? Maybe. I don't know. But it does mean that writers and publishers have been thinking in those genres about younger readers in a way that has been slower to come through in crime. It means that the page has been much more reflective of this shift in those genres. None of this is to say that it's all been perfectly handled, but it does mean they've been having the kinds of arguments and conversations that Weddle has been talking about.

Even more than what's written on the page, however, I feel this is an issue about the community. Sci-Fi and Fantasy has been making room for Young Adults in a way that Crime Fiction has yet to do. McFet yesterday commented that this is down to the TV and Movie industries moving into the conventions and festivals. Maybe. Or maybe they've been moving in due to a larger cultural shift, seeing a chance to profit from something that was already happening.Both are probably true.  The comic book industry, for example, has long suffered because it stopped for many years trying to bring in new readers, and it became cold and cliquey. Sci-Fi and Fantasy has always prided itself on -while never being 'cool'- being open to other ideas. Crime Fiction has never much been marketed at the young, so the community hasn't had to make room for them and have the arguments and debates that come with it. 

As someone who has not yet attended a crime fiction convention, but has attended (worked at) comic and sci-fi conventions, I'm going to make an assumption here. I'm going to guess that COSPLAY isn't that big a thing at crime conventions. The community has not had to deal with the idea that young people of all sexes and genders like to dress up as their favourite characters, and that this often leads to a lot of flesh on display. The crime fiction community has therefore not had the open fights that comes from this, of having to explain to men that flesh is not consent, and that a young person showing some skin or dressing as Lara Croft or Vampirella is not an excuse to hassle, grope or flirt.

That also leads onto ideas of identity politics. To make another assumption I don't think young people use crime fiction for self expression and self discovery in the same way they do Sci-Fi or Fantasy. Those communities can become a club where people go to be people and do things that they maybe can't be or do at home, or at work. And with that comes the need for the kinds of discussions you're talking about.

Sci-Fi and Fantasy has had to have those battles, and has become a very pro-active community on these issues (sometimes too much so, but that's better than not at all.)

But crime fiction hasn't had to have them. The community has been able to laugh and say, "yeah, we don't have all our women on covers in the nude, or being attacked by tentacles, or wearing gold bikinis while hefting swords, we rule." But then people do start to point out, "yeah, but all your women are in revealing 1940's ball gowns, or are being strangled on the covers, or are tied to chairs as someone points a knife at them. All of your biting commentary about human trafficking involves very attractive women and incidentally, why is it all so WHITE?"

At the same time, every time we have the conversation when someone claims Noir is male only, we then have people pointing out great women writers in the genre, and that is then followed by the people who point out that we shouldn't be defining these writers by the fact they are women and simply by the fact that they're great. And that discussion is had pretty quickly. So we do have some of these battles. 

So yes, no. We don't discuss them enough. And when we do discuss them, the conversation doesn't get out to enough people. The genre prefers to spend it's time arguing over swearing, violence against animals and the price of ebooks. 

But the young adults are coming. And the change will come with them. 

And here's the challenge. Keep this conversation going. Take it to your own blogs, or to the twitters, or to facebook. Don't just agree and wonder when crime fiction will start discussing inclusion, get out there and discuss it. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Is crime fiction socially aware?

By Steve Weddle

Dave White likes for us to wait a week before we weigh in on the latest internet kerfuffle.

But, as Cheech said, Dave's not here.

The HUGO award nominees were announced and some people weren't happy with the list of names. Too mainstream. Too white. Too manny.

Then there was the April Fool's post from LOCUS, which said that participants at some sci-fi convention would have to wear burqas in order to be politically correct.

LOCUS Magazine came under fire and pulled the post.
An Apology— posted Monday 1 April 2013  We would like to offer our apology for the offensive April Fool’s post that was published on the site today. The April Fool’s pieces were not seen by the Locus HQ staff before being posted — it was an ugly moment this morning when we saw the post already online, and we immediately took steps to remove it. Of course, being after the fact, it was too late, and the offense had already happened.
The author of that post, Lawrence Person, posted the original with some commentary at his own blog.

Folks got to commenting about free speech and being offended.

Others mentioned how this post last year questioning whether Game of Thrones is "too white" was also offensive. And this response. And this.

Which brought us to this post about whether the Hunger Games movie is too not-white.

Which reminded me of posts we've had here about Patrick Rothfuss's calendar being sexist  Also that he hugged a fan.

The sci-fi and fantasy communities (or community, with overlap) seem to have these discussions/kerfuffles rather often.

I mean, I notice them and I tend to not pay too much attention to things that aren't about me.

The crime fiction community has not had the same discussions -- or so it seems.

Of course, we've had our sock puppets and our talks about dirty words in novels. We've had some discussions here and there and sexism and racism and violence.

And while this isn't a competition with the nerds over in that other genre, I wonder if the nerds in the crime fiction community are embracing the conflicts in the same way other genres do.

Occasionally, of course, you'll see an isolated blog post about why crime fiction is so focused on alcoholic men saving kidnapped strippers. In much crime fiction, these women do seem to get into trouble that only a man with a dark secret can solve.

But is the crime fiction community tackling race and misogyny -- and other social problems -- with as much effort as our cousins in the sci-fi and fantasy world?

Has anyone complained that the Edgars or the Anthonys or the Dashiells or the Agathas or the Hitchcocks are too white? Too manny?

Are the swords and lasers crew fighting this for all of us?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Heart of It

by John McFetridge

 Every once in a while I get into conversations about 70s movies – there were a lot of great ones. At the time I mostly liked the disaster movies. Oh, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And Jaws was my favourite for quite a while.

But usually these 70s movie discussions are about the more, let’s say ‘noirish,’ of the decade. Now that I’m so (so, so, so) much older and looking back on those movies I have a different perspective. One movie that I first saw in the 70s when I was a teenager I thought was very funny and somewhat disposable, I have now realized is the one that really had the most to say and said it best.

And that movie is...


Yes, that Paul Newman hockey movie. The one with the Hanson Brothers and that kind of disco song, “Get back to where you started from,” and Michael Ontkean and the striptease.

Slapshot was slapstick in the best possible way.

But it was also about what was really at the heart of the 70s, that weird decade when the world went from the possibility of revolutions and social change in the 60s to the go-go, I-got-mine 80s. There was a power shift in the 70s and Slapshot got to the heart of it. And that heart is what makes it a great movie.

 “The world promised in the 1950s, a world apparently on the verge of realization in 1965 seemed like a cruel joke by 1975. Panic set in... so did the urge to seek revenge.” Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces.

And that’s Slapshot. (though I think Greil is talking about punk music.)

Released in 1977 Slapshot it tells the story of a small-town pro hockey team and its player-coach, Reggie Dunlop played by Paul Newman.

It gets an 87% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, Deadspin says it’s, “The Only Honest Sports Movie,” Bleacher Report has written its, “Five Reasons Why Slapshot is the Greatest Sports Film of All Time,” and ESPN named it the #5 Best Sports Movie of All Time. And yet, from what I can see, the thing that happens in Slapshot that makes it so great, the thing that sets everything in motion and makes it all possible (necessary, really), almost never gets mentioned.

The plant closes down. Thousands of workers are laid off.

It happens in the background – literally. Reggie Dunlop and Ned Braydon are walking by and Ned says, “What’s going to happen to all these guys when the plant shuts down,” and Reggie says, “Aw, they’re not gonna shut it down, they’re just jerking them around, negotiating.” But they’re not negotiating, of course, they don’t negotiate with the workers, it’s as if the citizens of the town have somehow become terrorists.

From there the team is going to fold.

And that’s why the GM (another great performance in a Paul Newman movie by Strother Martin) brings in the Hanson Brothers – they’re cheap. That’s the first thing Paul Newman says when he confronts Martin, “You cheap bastard.” Martin says, “I got a good deal on those boys.” And then he sets out to sell the bus, the massage table and whatever else isn’t nailed down.

The movie is funny, of course, the Hansons hit the ice and it’s hilarious. But underneath all the slapstick and one-liners there’s a very real heart. Being ripped out of the town.

Sure, Reggie Dunlop tries to save the team somehow, maybe someone will buy it and move it to Florida, but the team owner tells him her accountant has advised her that it’s better for her if the team just folds.

Which is probably what the accountants have told the plant’s shareholders. It’s not that they aren’t making money, but they could make even more if...

Another funny part of Slapshot is the French Canadian goalie. His explanation of penalties in the opening scene is one of my all-time favourite movie moments, especially when he says that if you get a penlaty for doing something, “only a stupid English pig with no brain,” would do, you have to, “go to the box, feel shame for two minute and then you go free.” That’s just funny.

But the best scene with the French goalie is when Reggie sends him to try and find out who owns the team. The joke is he doesn’t pronounce the ‘s’ on ‘owns,’ but the real issue in that scene is that the players don’t know who own ("owns, owns") the team. As Reggie Dunlop says, “The corporation owns, the team. What do you care, you get your cheque.”

Likely the guys working in the plant don’t know who owns it, either. The era of the local owner is gone by the 70s, now it’s just, “the corporation.”

In his desperate attempt to save the team, save what he sees as the heart of the city, Reggie sells it out. It stops being about hockey, about honest competition or sport or teamwork and it becomes a circus – no, a sideshow. The players become the classic sideshow freaks, the depression era geek-show ( It’s player-against-player, cheered on by the screaming fans.

“Dave’s a killer.”

“Dave’s a mess.”

Dunlop, of course, fails and the team will fold. Oh, he succeeds personally, he gets a job with a team at a higher level and promises to, “bring up all my guys,” when he gets there. But we know he won’t be able to bring up many guys and we know he’ll fail on the bigger stage. Deep down, Reggie is too nice a guy, not selfish enough. Oh sure, he’s desperate, but that won’t be enough – and that’s what Slapshot is really about and why it’s so good.

The 1970s were the end for guys like Reggie Dunlop and for all the guys who worked in plants like the one in the movie. They lost.

Guys like that always lose.

Oh sure, they won a few battles in the 30s and then they won WWII (I’ve seen Band of Brothers) and they strutted around for a while in the 50s – but it didn’t last.

We can sure see it in the movies – Taxi Driver, Blue Collar, Rocky (I’m told there were more Rocky movies in the 80s but I refuse to believe that), The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, Five Easy Pieces, Vanishing Point, Saturday Night Fever  -- not a single It’s a Wonderful Life in the decade. Until Star Wars. The good guys win in Star Wars. Of course, it’s a fantasy that takes place a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... (and it reinstates a monarchy, doesn’t it?)

It looks to me like the 70s was when ‘divide and conquer’ became the main theme. All those great 70s movies are about loners who lose. All institutions (especially ones in which people have a vote like government and unions) are bad and need to be made small and have as little influence as possible.

Is this what we’re still seeing in so much crime fiction these days? Loners who lose?

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Secret (and still unwritten) History of Rural Noir...

...or, some rambling thoughts on rural noir.

[But first, some business. Yesterday the Spinetingler Awards nominees were announced and today the polls are open. Check out the nominees (Cover, Short Story on the Web, Anthology/Short Story Collection, Novella/Short Novel, Rising Star/Legends, New Voice) and go vote.]

There was a telling moment early on in the first season of The Voice, NBC's singing talent show. It happened fast, was likely missed by most viewers, and was so small that I can't even find it on Youtube. Blake Shelton, who hadn't fully developed his papa bear persona yet, was trying to persuade a contestant that HE was the county guy and because of what she wanted to do she should pick him. Cee-Lo interjected by saying something to the effect of "Now, wait a minute, I'm country too". The entire exchange played out as a light hearted moment, that Cee-Lo of all people could mentor a country singer. But I saw that Blake Shelton, in that moment, had a very narrow view of his chosen genre of music, the themes it might entail, who can perform it, and where they must be from.

That brief exchange represented a few facets of an ongoing struggle in America that involves race. One of my favorite Bill Withers quotes embodies this struggle for recognition and standing in a culture and geography that either doesn't want it or would rather turn a blind eye.

“You gonna tell me the history of the blues? I am the goddam blues. Look at me. Shit. I’m from West Virginia, I’m the first man in my family not to work in the coal mines, my mother scrubbed floors on her knees for a living, and you’re going to tell me about the goddam blues because you read some book written by John Hammond? Kiss my ass.” -- Bill Withers
Cee-Lo wasn't wrong. As a born and bred Georgia boy his southern experience equals Blake Shelton’s; even if his skin color is different.  There's a great line from the Killer Mike song "Untitled" that goes: 

“And I keep a blunt and a Bible and a gun on me/Why? Cause I'm country-bred/Actually, I'm south-er-ern/Something like my brethren/The legendary Andre 3K, Cee Lo, Goodie, and some other men”
The sentiment expressed here is right in line with some of the Redneck-pride anthems that get played on the radio all the time. So why the gulf? Given how intertwined the history of the blues and country music are (its own topic really: the banjo is an instrument of African origins, musically Hank Williams Sr and Muddy Waters are very similar, you take both genres back to a guy like Jimmie Rogers and things get real murky) there shouldn't really be a gulf but there is. Therein of course lies the rub and I don't have an easy answer because there isn't one. 

A lot of country music fans are painfully unaware of the full scope of the genre that they claim to love. Ask a Toby Keith fan about the Calgary country music scene and you'll get blank stares.  Play that same fan a song by The Carolina Chocolate Drops then show them a picture of the band if you really want to blow some minds.

The death of Tom Connors recently didn't even garner a mention on the local country stations top rated morning show. The idea of a New York City based country band, or other sub-genres, or even music from other countries (like the vibrant Australian Aboriginal country music scene) is anathema to the country radio machine and its adherents. But this post isn't really about music but what this lack of understanding and a lack of desire to be open to others represent.

So what does this have to do with rural noir? Maybe nothing. Maybe something.

One of the more popular current TV shows right now is Justified, a show, partially, about the rural white working class in Kentucky; the bread and butter characters of rural noir. In a show filled with great characters one of the fan favorites breaks this mold, Ellstin Limehouse.

Limehouse heads up a clan of black working class folks, with their own holler, trying to carve their own way.  The characters of Justified are largely ignored by a society who doesn't want to see stark Appalachian poverty and the sometimes illegal means to overcome it. But even among this motley crew of working class whites the black characters are even more invisible. In fact, their invisibility is like a shroud of protection because their main currency is information. Just because you forget about them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. And what you say around them when you forget they are there you say at your own peril.

Would it surprise you to learn that Noble's Holler (Limehouse's land) is based on a real place?

The Coe Ridge Colony was founded after The Civil War by freed slaves. After a bloody series of conflicts with surrounding white land owners the residents of Coe Ridge were feared and left the hell alone. Their fight to be left alone on their own land proved to be an ongoing struggle requiring constant vigil, and this is similarly expressed by Elstin Limehouse. Because hostile and armed white men were not welcome at Coe Ridge some white women used it as a refuge (sound familiar fans of Justified?). Coe Ridge would continue on until the mid 20th century, when, getting into the moonshine business would prove to scatter its residents far and wide.

There's a reason why Bill Withers is so upset in the above quote. There's something in his very being that an outsider can never understand.

There's actually a term for these forgotten hill folk, The Afrilachians.

After watching the movie Winter’s Bone my wife and I had a conversation about the thematic similarities between it and The Wire. And when we think of the people in stories being presented by a writer like Daniel Woodrell it is easy to conjure an image. Maybe one like this:

Kentucky in the 30’s and 40’s had a black Appalachian population in some counties as high as 25%. These folks were miners, mountaineers, and railroad workers. Look at these photographs from the 30's through the 50’s and our preconceived notions begin to change. Look at the young man in this first picture and tell me you can't imagine a young Limehouse taking his protection duties very seriously. 

I for one can't wait to read the great Afrilachian novel that encompasses the spirit of Harriett Tubman forcing runaway slaves forward at gunpoint (which actually did happen), to the bloody war for a freedom that never really came as promised, to all the lingering battles that came afterward, to the almost isolationistic clan mentality of wanting to be left alone at all costs, to the moonshine exploits, to the parallels between The Great Migration and The Hillbilly Highway, and everything in between and after.  It’s a damn shame it isn’t written yet.

I'm not advocating a token multiculturalism, sticking a black character in a story. But I am advocating keeping an open mind about narrative possibilities. The writers of Justified were able to use a historical settlement to create one of the more dynamic and complex TV characters in recent years. 

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.