Saturday, May 18, 2013

Detours From the Outline

Scott D. Parker

Today’s entry is a short one and not very earth-shattering. It is dedicated to all you pantsers out there who think that an outline kills your creativity.

As I’ve been documenting for the past couple of weeks, I’m in the process of writing a new tale. This comes after a lengthy time of not writing, naturally resulting in a bit of relearning what I used to know. After crafting an outline structure based on Lester Dent’s master fiction plot, I had a pretty straightforward time filling it out. Next, the only thing left to do with a completed outline was write the story.

I’ll say outright that I’m not yet done with the story and that, in itself, is a thing I wish I could fix. You see, I’d like to write faster, more efficiently, and with better word choices. I chalk that up to muscle soreness. Like an athlete who took a summer off and, upon starting a training regimen, has all his muscles screaming at him, my writing chops are rusty. That’s to be expected and I don’t give myself too much, if any, grief on that account because, after all, I’ve written over 8,000 words on this story, more than I’ve written on a single thing in a long time. I’m happy with my progress.

And I’m also satisfied with all the little detours my imagination is taking off the road map of my outline. The outline itself is tight and I didn’t have the space to flesh out every scene. On the one hand, that slows me down because I have to think up the details as I go along. On the other, I can’t help but think if I fleshed out the outline, I’d streamline the writing more. 

But I’ve again realized that which I knew when I was fictioneering more regularly: the fleshing out is supposed to come during the writing. It’s when the imagination is working and connections are being made that makes writing one of the more enjoyable creative activities you can do. 

More importantly, however: I’m finding myself being pulled to the keyboard. Unlike other months when I was more than content to read, I am wanting to write.

Chalk that up in the win column.

For you outliners out there, do you find you find the threads come together during the outline time or the writing time?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Expand Your Mind

Overheard in a bookstore a few days ago:

“Oh, I don’t want to buy that.”
“Why not, you love Author X.”
“Aye, but its no’ the right character. I don’t know why authors try and change what they’re writing. They should just stick to the one thing.”

Its often been a bugbear of mine about writing - particularly in the modern age - that authors get stuck, pigeonholed, genrefied and branded. That they become known for one thing and one thing only. As good a writer as Rankin is, when people hesitate over his new book because it might not be a Rebus, there’s something wrong, trusting the character over the writer. Or when people refuse to pick up Stuart MacBride’s Halfhead because its “science fiction”.

Are we, as readers, limiting ourselves?

Are writers, as a whole, being limited?

Its an interesting question. In reading recent biographies of Raymond Chandler, what comes up time and again is his desire to write a book that it not a mystery novel (he comes close with The Long Goodbye, but its interesting that he requires Marlowe to write the novel, almost as though he has become so intertwined with the character that he cannot escape him). He loves the form, but he wants to try and escape it, too. To tell other kinds of stories. Tom Hiney’s biography briefly mentions his interest in SF at one point, although his description of the genre does come close to parody, so perhaps its as well we didn’t see that story.

I do think that some writers are being limited by being pigeonholed in genre. One of the reasons Iain Banks remains an interesting writer was that he mixed up genres so much. And got away with it. He is proof that a writer can in the modern world break free of expectations. But he remains the exception rather than the rule.

A writer acquaintance used to try and mix other genres into mystery, but his editors always diluted it down to create something that was less than it could have been. An attempt to create a horror novel was, for example, toned down to become Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” with a hardboiled edge. Because the genre elements that were not generally deemed to mix with crime were considered too much for an audience to cope with. Personally, I’d love to see what they could have done with the full freewheeling use of the horror elements they were looking to use.

I also think that as a reader, its fun to defy your own expectations occasionally, to read something entirely different. And to be surprised by your favourite authors. One of the reasons you loved them in the first place was that you did not know what to expect from them from page to page. But that can’t last forever. If an author doesn’t mix things up, then how can you ever bve surprised and delighted by them again?

One of my favourite crime authors is George Pelecanos. He tends to shy away from series, instead writing sequences. He sticks with characters for two or three books before putting them down. He surprises us - and often himself, I’m sure - by keeping things fresh, even in a limited fashion, but making sure we don’t know what to expect the next time out. Its the same with Don Winslow; except Winslow often changes voice, style and attitude to suite whatever story it is he’s writing. There is nothing predictable about what he does. And that’s why he remains exciting.

Reader expectations are funny things. We get burned a lot by bad experiences in reading, and this can lead to a need for the safe, the middle ground, the predictable. But part of the joy of reading is discovery. Of new authors. New genres. New ideas.

Part of the joy of being a writer, too, is being able to explore new ideas. Being allowed the freedom to communicate different experiences to the reader. I’d always rather see an author try something new than retread the same ground. But then, maybe I’m daft that way. Maybe my view of the world is at odds with everyone elses.

I’ve always said, in regards to my own writing, that the McNee series will not last forever. That it is a sequence and that it does have an end. That is important to me as a reader and a writer. It stops me being trapped, and it stops my reader becoming complacent, looking for the same thing time and again. Of course, then that’s a gamble. Because if McNee really took off (hint: he hasn’t, although he is, I think, kind of a cult*) then would anything else I wrote be looked at with the same affection? Would readers follow me into other places, into other lives?

I would hope so.

But of course, in this business, no one knows anything.

And I guess that’s why I love it.

*that is not a spelling mistake

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Telling The Truth For Fun And Profit

By Jay Stringer

First of all, everyone at DSD sends congratulations out to the big mac daddy of the website, the grand poobah, professor Steve Weddle. He's signed a deal with Tyrus books to publish Country Hardball. Tyrus are a great publisher who get behind new and interesting voices, and Weddle is one of the most supportive people in the crime fiction scene. It's a perfect match.

Now onto today's epic post. 
(Trigger Warning.)

McFet's post on Tuesday set my brain clicking and whirring. I posted a quick reply to the post, but I wanted to return and expand on it. The hamster that operates the wheel is old and fat, so it takes me a few days to process a thought.

John's piece came as a follow on to Adrian McKinty's thoughts from Sunday, of a list of things to ban from crime fiction. It goes without saying, of course, that I'm not taking taking the list at face value as things that Adrian thinks we need to remove from all books, but rather as a good starting point for a conversation. 

I'm not generally a fan of lists of rules, but it's always worth walking the idea around a little and finding out what the root issues are, and then seeing where we agree and disagree. Adrian mentions the DOGME 95 manifesto, where a group of film-makers signed up to a set of rules (or principles) for their projects.

  • Filming must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in. If a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found.
  • The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. Music must not be used unless it occurs within the scene being filmed, i.e., diegetic.
  • The camera must be a hand-held camera. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. The film must not take place where the camera is standing; filming must take place where the action takes place.
  • The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable (if there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
  • Optical work and filters are forbidden.
  • The film must not contain superficial action (murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
  • Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden (that is to say that the film takes place here and now).
  • Genre movies are not acceptable.
  • The film format must be Academy 35 mm.
  • The director must not be credited.
  • One of the inherent problems with lists like this is that they serve more as a checklist of which rules will be creatively broken than which will be adhered to. Possibly the most famous rules we refer to in crime fiction of Elmore Leonard's "ten rules of writing," but each one is written with the nudge-nudge-wink-wink acknowledgement that you can break each and every one of them if your talent allows. 

    The DOGME 95 crew started breaking the rules before the ink was dry, and the original founders of the manifesto have long since left it behind. The list was the fun starting point for a conversation, but was never truly adhered to. It was simply one expression of a good idea.

    So what list does Adrian use to express his idea? For the sake of completion, I'll quote the list, but please do go and read the original post. The idea is to get rid of;

    1. Clever serial killers 
    2. Stupid serial killers 
    3. Child Murderers 
    4. Serial Rapists 
    5. Everything from Scandinavia 
    6. Torture Porn 
    7. Working class stereotypes  
    8. Architects9. Gallery owners 
    10. Books with recipes 
    11. Detectives baffled by basic scientific facts/mathematics  
    12. Detectives who solve crimes with magic or fairy dust (Lizbeth Sallander, the BBC's Sherlock etc.) 
    13. Detectives who solve crimes with cats 
    14. Cops who haven't heard of Ernest Hemingway or other basic elements of contemporary culture (this is an extension of #7 above). 
    15. Super villains.
    Before I start picking at the things I don't agree with, let's take a look at what I do. Well...most of it. That is- I agree with the ideas behind it. If I never read another "clever serial killer" story again, it will be too soon. I hope to never again have to sit through some populist TV show that relies on a bizarre mis-reading of Edgar Allan Poe to explain a serial killer who is more or less a magical plot device. I'm a big fan of cats, but not so much of detectives who solve murders with cats. I tend not to like magical thinking in my fiction -even in my fantasy fiction- and there are a great many stereotypes that make me want to hurl my book, kindle or television out of the window. 

    I share Adrian's feelings on the use of violence in the genre we all write in. I've written many times of the issues I have with crime fiction's treatments of victims, and of the tendency to "crime tourism" and exploitation. I've written at my frustration about how crime fiction still has a tendency to being very white, and to not filling it's own potential to see things from other points of view. 

    I agree with the ideas being expressed by the list, and of McFet's comments about violence against women and children. I strongly agree with the comments about the banality of evil. But I would suggest  that we're really discussing something else. Whenever we discuss tropes and cliches, we're really talking about honesty. Or the lack of it. We're not really saying that we don't want these things to be included in our books, we're saying we want them to be dealt with honestly and with emotional truth.

    I'll focus on a few items from the list to try and make my point a bit clearer.

    1& 2 both deal with serial killers. I hate serial killers in fiction. But in using that phrase we really tend to mean a specific thing; we mean those magical walking plot devices who do crazy things for the sake of moving a story forward. They kill people in ways and for reasons that people tend not to kill people. And they often kill attractive young women, or housewives, or schoolgirls, or other forms of victim that help sell books and films to men. I don't need to labour that point, we all know the kinds of character and tropes that I'm talking about. Season Five of The Wire made the point (somewhat clumsily) that we have a disconnect between how we crave the fictional serial killer but ignore the issues that lead to the serial killing of people. We write about characters who kill a lot of people. Okay, so it's for drugs, or for money, or for gang rivalries or sectarianism, but that simply means we're closer to being honest. But we tiptoe around the truth all to often. 

    Point 4 mentions 'serial rapists.' Once again, we've all seen this handled badly. I have very strong feelings about the way rape is used in fiction. It has a tendency to being a cheap plot device, to being exploitative, and to being a way to degrade and look down on the victims. We often see how the rape is used as a cheap trick to motivate a male protagonist to enact revenge, and some writers feel they're being progressive by using it as a cheap device to motivate a female protagonist to enact revenge. Because revenge is wholesome. (Though I accept it can also be honest)

    I argue that the issue here is not that we put rape in fiction, it's that we don't deal with it the right way.

    I live in a city that has something of a rape problem. It's happening quite often. It's happening in very public places. It happened at the "occupy" campsite in the city centre. It happens ten feet away from one of the busiest roads in town. It happens in car parks. In one appalling case recently it happened on the top floor of a double-decker bus, while passengers were on board. You'd be forgiven for thinking that this is something that is being discussed loudly and is on the front page of every newspaper in town. You'd be wrong. It's hidden away, it's on page four five or six, if it even makes the newspaper at all. When I attempt to discuss the issue in the work canteen I'm greeted by empty stares or strange looks. People don't know it's going on, and they don't want to talk about it. We deal with existence of the crime in a far more secretive and discreet manner than the people who actually commit the crime, and we blame the victims for it. In presenting the fictional version in the way we do, as the fetishist and sensationalised excuse to exploit, we hide away from tackling the issue head on. I agree with the list if we're saying we want to stop this version of the story.

    But I have to add the clause that I think we need a lot more stories that tell the truth of the issue. We need to make it something we can discuss and debate, something that people can see being played out in fiction in a way that faces up to what needs to be tackled. We can present the ugly side of life honestly. We don't want to shut down the discussion of rape in fiction, nor the discussion of serial rapists, but we want to shut down the exploitation of the issue. Carry the responsibility of using the issue, and go about it with some truth. We can talk about the victims, and the emotions, and the hypocrisy. 

    Those are two weighty examples -and neither  of them are issues that Adrian dismissed in his original piece- but they show why I can never sign up to any DOGME 95 style list. Lists are fun conversation pieces, but they oversimplify. I don't want to argue for an end to representations of violence against minorities, women or children in crime fiction, I want to argue for an honest examination of it. 

    For a lighter example, I've often been heard cracking jokes about writers who fill their books with references to certain musicians. I've often criticised the brand of British crime fiction that seems to be one long tribute to the Rolling Stones or Joy Division. If I was going to add to Adrian's list I'd probably add something about crime fiction that relies on music, or books that are named after a song from the 70's or 80's. But that would be an instant cheat; the protagonist of my Eoin Miller trilogy is a moody male who obsesses over music. Okay, so my books mention The Replacements or Frank Turner where Ian Rankin mentions the Stones or John Martyn, but there is no real difference between the two. My second book is named after a song lyric rather than a song title, and I have an ebook out that's named after a Whiskeytown album. But if I was to ask that crime fiction start to broaden out to reflect more styles of music, and to bring in something other than a moody male singer, I think I'd have the ghost of a point. I just wouldn't have a hard-and-fast rule. 

    This also isn't an attempt to be holier-than-thou. My first novel contained a mystery that centered around the body of a dead woman. You could argue, I suppose, that the book also contained a serial killer- though it depends on your definitions. My second novel featured a serial rapist. In both instances I told myself (and readers) that I was using those tropes for the right reasons. It's down to the readers decide whether I've earned the use of those plot elements. The best part of McFet's post on Tuesday touched on this issue. Each of us has done one or more of the things on the list in some way at some point. When we have these conversations (and we need to have them far more often than we do in the crime fiction community) it's often for our own benefit. When we draw up lists, we're really drawing up the ideas that we want to hold ourselves to. And there is the merit. We need to hold ourselves to be the best writers we can be.

    So, after a whole post of saying I don't really agree with lists, I'm going to suggest a list.

    I think everything in Adrian's list, and everything in the DOGME list, and for that matter everything in Elmore Leonard's list, comes back down to honesty. Forget worrying about trope and cliche. Find the honesty in the story. Find the honesty in the emotion. Find the honesty in the character and the issue.

    I've come up with a list. I think it can be applied to all situations, and this is what I will be trying to hold myself to;

    1. Tell the truth.
    2. Listen to the victim.
    3. Entertain.

    Wednesday, May 15, 2013

    Do ebooks create a disconnect?

    By Steve Weddle

    If I see a book on my shelf, I have an easier time remembering whether I've read it than if I see the title on my library list on my Kindle page.

    I hadn't really given that much thought, until Lein Shory sent me this piece about Jason Lanier's new book, WHO OWNS THE FUTURE.

    To me a book is not just a particular file. It’s connected with personhood. Books are really, really hard to write. They represent a kind of a summit of grappling with what one really has to say. And what I’m concerned with is when Silicon Valley looks at books, they often think of them as really differently as just data points that you can mush together. They’re divorcing books from their role in personhood. 
    I’m quite concerned that in the future someone might not know what author they’re reading. You see that with music. You would think in the information age it would be the easiest thing to know what you’re listening to. That you could look up instantly the music upon hearing it so you know what you’re listening to, but in truth it’s hard to get to those services.I was in a cafe this morning where I heard some stuff I was interested in, and nobody could figure out. It was Spotify or one of these … so they knew what stream they were getting, but they didn’t know what music it was. Then it changed to other music, and they didn’t know what that was. And I tried to use one of the services that determines what music you’re listening to, but it was a noisy place and that didn’t work. So what’s supposed to be an open information system serves to obscure the source of the musician. It serves as a closed information system. It actually loses the information.
    So in practice you don’t know who the musician is. And I think that’s what could happen with writers. And this is what we celebrate in Wikipedia is pretending that there’s some absolute truth that can be spoken that people can approximate and that the speaker doesn’t matter. And if we start to see that with books in general – and I say if – if you look at the approach that Google has taken to the Google library project, they do have the tendency to want to move things together. You see the thing decontextualized.
    The whole article is pretty cool and you can read it here.

    And while I don't know that I buy into the whole "personhood" thing, I do dig the beats he's dropping down about how the book and author can become "decontextualized" to a certain extent.

    In non-fiction, as Lanier seems to suggest, we might get more of an "absolute truth" sort of thing, but I wonder whether this is creeping into our fiction reading, as well.

    If I am reading a p-book, I am looking at the cover each time I start to read it. The author's image is on the back somewhere. The top of the page might have the title of the book, the author's name. I'm surrounded by the book.

    If I'm reading the e-book, I'm just looking at a few paragraphs from location 12,614. The name of the author is not right there. When I pick the book up tomorrow, I'm just picking up a blank slate, literally. Then I slide the power switch, and I'm at location 36,882, without ever again glancing against the identity of the author.

    The book, the actual words of the book, are becoming removed from the packaging. I'm not arguing that suddenly you're faced with generic writing. Packaging or not, I could tell Dorthy L. Sayers from Patricia Highsmith, a hawk from a handsaw.

    I suspect audiobooks exhibit more of this dissociation as you're not even reading. You just have these sounds floating around your head as you pedal your basement bicycle at too-damn-early in the morning.

    Maybe the future does have us pulling away from the cult of the author.

    Tuesday, May 14, 2013

    Fighting for Peace is Like...

    Yeah, what George said. Though I have a feeling he used a different word sometimes...

    Maybe something’s in the zeitgeist because as I was writing this post on the weekend my friend, Adrian McKinty, posted about the same things I was going to say and said it a lot better than I can in a post titled, 15Things I’d Like to Ban from Contemporary Crime Fiction.
    One of the biggest problems, as Adrian says, is, “The violence. Especially violence towards women and children...It's almost impossible to read some of this stuff and it makes me wonder how and why these authors ended up writing it.”
    Oh right, of course, we’re all trying to show how awful it is. As if there’s someone reading the books who isn’t sure and needs to be convinced that horrific violence against women and children (and men, there’s plenty of violence against men, too) is terrible. Convinced in great, gory detail. Again and again.
    Are we fighting for peace here by fucking for virginity?
    Another point Adrian brings up is that, “There's an entirely fallacious belief out there that gets repeated all the time (I heard JJ Abrams repeating it on TV not ten minutes ago) that a hero is only as good as the villain is bad. The hero is supposedly 'defined by the villain.' This is utter nonsense.”
    Yes, it’s nonsense. The greatest lesson from the 20th century, I think, and the one we insist on ignoring no matter how many times we see it repeated, is Hannah Arendt’s brilliant insight on, “The Banality of Evil.”
    We see it again and again in the cruelty of real-life serial killers. We saw it again last week in Cleveland. Nothing brilliant, just banal. And evil.
    Adrian proposed the 15 things he’d like to ban, a kind of Dogme 95 for crime writers and it’s certainly worth thinking about.
    I will only add one thing, not something I’d like to ban but something I’d like to see more of, something that gets repeated so often it has become a trite cliche but the older I get the more important it seems.
    Don’t pander. Don’t be afraid to offend. Don’t go for the widest possible audience. Write what’s meaningful to you. Treat it as your only chance to say something you think is really important and needs to be said.
    Last week I had the chance to read the pilot script for a TV show commissioned by a Canadian network about a cop-turned-professor who specializes in serial killers (loosely based on a true story, in fact). Of course, the script had a scene in which a beautiful young woman’s dead body is found in a dumpster and I stopped reading at that point and wondered how many beautiful young women on TV, in the movies and in books have been thrown out like the trash.
    Hell, I’ve written that scene myself.
    And who knows, I may write it again someday and I’ll convince myself – yet again – that it needs to be in the story, that it’s important, that... that I’m not just fucking for virginity.

    Monday, May 13, 2013

    Cross by Ken Bruen - an OG critical piece

    When Cross first came out, was a brand new release, I wrote the below piece. It started off as a regular review and grew into a critical examination and a prediction of where the series was going and how it would end. I dug this out of the archives to share, it is unchanged and presented intact, mistakes and all.


    Quick Take: The endgame for the series has begun.

    If Priest was an examination of violence born of an inability to deal effectively with grief then Cross is a multi-faceted examination of evil. Chief among the questions asked here is whether evil exists and whether it is bred or born. Bruen easily provides an answer to the former; evil does exist. The answer to the latter, more basic philosophical/theological question is harder to answer. Examples of both sides are presented by Bruen and a valid case is made for each side of the argument. The reader may ultimately decide that the answer is both.

    Cross comes across as more plot-driven than the other books of the series and less of a character study. Jack is an active participant in the investigation, which remains for the most part front and center and retains a more linear progression. This is a nice touch and reflects Jack's still relatively new found sobriety. But a less introverted plot certainly doesn't mean that it is any less hard hitting because when Ken Bruen is the one throwing the punches they hurt.

    In a surprising development Bruen dangles the possibility of Jack Taylor going to America in front of us. This prospect certainly raises a lot of 'what if' type questions in the minds of the reader.

    We expect a certain type of ending with a Bruen book - and in particular a Jack Taylor book - and Cross doesn't disappoint. But while the ending of Cross does pack a wallop it’s interesting that it is of a more subtle nature. Upon its arrival it’s no less devastating than the others but instead proves to be quieter in its conviction as it hits close to home.

    Cross is the sixth book in the Jack Taylor series. While with this series it is absolutely imperative to read the books in order Cross is most assuredly a companion novel to Priest. A full working knowledge of Priest is necessary for even the most casual reading of Cross. So with that said, the following portion of the review is going to discuss specific plot points and should only be read by those who have read all the books in the series. You've been warned.

    There are two books left to be published in the series after Cross. Typically when a series is completed you can look back at the whole thing and see how the final events started to take shape in the lead up books. One of the things that I want to try to do here is recognize the writing on the wall while its being written. I want to crack them open and take a closer look at them.

    There is an interesting series of events that take place near the end of Cross that I believe may signify that the endgame has begun. Slowly the end of the series is starting to take shape.

    Cathy is a specter constantly looming over Jack's life and the story itself. She will not make a physical appearance in Cross, but her presence is always deeply felt. The last time we saw her was when she suddenly appeared before Jack in Priest and swore a blood feud. Her highly focused, simmering anger chilled the veins of both Jack and the reader. The completion of her story arc will be a powerful one as certain machinations beyond Jacks control seem to have been set in motion. Cathy is now the Angel of Death and is being set up as executioner.

    Before a death sentence can be carried out one must first stand before his accuser to be judged. Enter Cathy's husband, Jeff. Late in Cross he makes a brief but memorable, late-night appearance on the beach. In their exchange Jeff condemns Jack for his sins and more importantly refers to him and their relationship in the past tense. It’s a quiet, powerful moment as Jack stands before him, judged. Jack's past actions, and one in particular, the death of Serena May, comprise his Jacob Marley's chain. With the final judgment passed Jack only has to wait for his sentence to be carried out.

    The meeting with Jeff is not the only scene in Cross that takes place on the beach. The ocean plays a telling part in the events of Cross, especially near the end. When Stewart and Gail are sitting on the beach he tells her " the sea washed away everything and then was quiet." Since Stewart is there to kill her we can take this literally to mean that her body would be carried away but given the prevalent religious imagery throughout the series we can also take this to mean that the water could wash away ones sins. In other words the ocean is being presented and set-up as a baptismal font. What's interesting about this set-up for the role of the ocean is that there is an earlier scene in Cross when Jack enters a church to light some candles for his dead and he dips his fingers into the holy water font to cross himself and discovers it to be dry. Jack is not yet ready to partake in this ablution.

    This brings us to the climax of Cross, the fight between Jack and Sean on the beach. After they fight Jack takes Sean's body way out into the ocean and uses stones to weigh the body down and keep it under. Since the ocean has already been established as a baptismal font when Jack came spluttering and staggering out of the ocean to collapse on the beach his sins have been washed away. Even the locations of Jack’s injuries from the fight with Sean and from an earlier fight are possessed of a religious significance: head (crown of thorns), hands (nails) & side (spear). THIS ablution washes away his sins and clears the way for his trip to America and the promise of a new start.

    I find the epigraph quote that opens chapter 22 to be interesting. It’s a line from Shakespeare's Measure for Measure: "A thirsty evil; when we drink we die." Which ties in very nicely with Cross because both works deal with the theme of the many faces of temptation and the constant struggle of resisting it. In Jack's case his alcoholism.

    Maybe the epigraph provides a clue for us that there are allusions to Shakespeare in the Jack Taylor books. When Jeff appeared before Jack I found myself being reminded of The Ghost's appearance before Hamlet. There are other allusions to Hamlet buried in Cross.

    More so then any other play of Shakespeare’s Hamlet has an abundance of ear imagery and references to hearing. In Cross it's Jack's ear's that plague him most. He loses his hearing and has to be fitted for a hearing aid.

    Though it’s not discussed as much as the other themes Hamlet inverts the process of revenge. Others before have stated that Hamlet is an indecisive character due to the way that the plot unfolds. By asking a series of questions and examining everything leading up to a decision the expected action is continually post-poned. Cross too inverts the idea of revenge. On one hand Jack finds that he wants to avenge Cody's death but since the person who killed him is Cathy he refuses to take action. Cathy also wants to take revenge on Jack. The problem quickly becomes a Gordian Knot. What the stroke is that cuts the knot remains to be determined. It is yet another sub-plot that will be very interesting to see reach conclusion.

    A prevalent theme in Hamlet is the motif of a country being represented as a body. Jack is in many ways the walking embodiment of old Galway before the economic boom. Jack's aging represents the passing of the old ways to make way for the new. From the very beginning this has been one of the most prevalent themes of the Jack Taylor books.

    One of the most famous questions explored in Hamlet is the contemplation of death and suicide. Death in general is greatly explored in Cross as well and although Jack doesn't contemplate suicide directly on some level he does become resigned to his fate by his unwillingness to go after Cathy as long as he stays in Ireland. This decision one could argue leaves his fate up to chance but it could equally condemn him because he knows that Cathy won’t let up and what she is capable of doing.

    When Jack became involved with Serena May in The Dramatist he discovered first hand the redemptive power of children. She provided him with a lifeline back to humanity. Serena May represented Salvation for Jack. Her death at his hands took away the possibility of Salvation and will seal his fate.

    Since salvation in the afterlife is now denied to Jack due to the death of Serena May he more actively considers America as his door number three option when it is presented. Going to America is a way to side-step his sentence and start fresh. But there is a telling moment that occurs twice in Cross that indicates Jack's willingness to ultimately forsake this option. Twice Jack is invited to sit down and given the choice of chairs. Both times he takes the hardest, most uncomfortable chair. The second time it happens is with Father Jim who says to him "You don't want the easier option" and "But at a guess, you take the hard route most times." This act of taking the hard chair and Father Jim's explicit observation acts as a very subtle foreshadowing that sets up Jacks later choice.

    At the end of Cross Jack has sold his home and, in that moment, is willing to leave it all behind. He has made his peace with this decision and has said good-bye to the city and to others, with one glaring exception though, he hasn't said good-bye to Ridge. He knows that he hasn't said goodbye to her and doesn't plan on doing so. One of the final acts of the book takes place when Jack is literally on the verge of leaving. His phone rings and against his inner judgment he answers it. It’s Ridge calling to tell him that her cancer is malignant. Jack, with a sigh of resignation, sits and talks to her. In the quiet moments that close the book he knows he's not going to America. Jack forsakes his shot at a new life to help his only friend that he has left, Ridge. In the end this decision will condemn him; possibly to death by Cathy's hand but certainly to the hard route that lies ahead.

    From the beginning the trajectory of Jacks story arc marks him as a tragic figure whose downfall has been in the cards since the opening hand was dealt. He is neither a good man nor a bad man; he's too complex a character for such simple designations. But he has done bad things, quite a number of them actually. Redemption is still possible for Jack but it would have to be quite the act of sacrifice that would redeem him. I think that redemption and death are very possible but redemption without death is unlikely.

    The writing is on the wall; Jack, Cathy and Jeff are being positioned for a final explosive confrontation that will be biblical in proportion. This literary triumvirate is headed quickly for a collision. There is now so much raw emotion, anger and sub-text tied up with these characters and their relationships that a palpable dread permeates every interaction. As this dark drama unfolds in the streets of Galway no one is safe and at least one of these characters will probably die. As much as readers love the Jack Taylor series of books a happy ending just wouldn't fit.

    With nothing to suggest this other then a gut feeling my personal opinion is that the final Jack Taylor books will probably unfold in a manner similar to Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano. Whether Jack is Hugh or Geoffrey I honestly couldn't say but regardless how it ends it is shaping up to be one of the great finishes of all time.

    Sunday, May 12, 2013

    My time is almost up!

    by: Joelle Charbonneau

    Well, sports fans.  My time is almost up.

    If you've been following my publishing life in the last year, you probably know what I'm referring to.  The Testing is almost here.  According to the nifty widget that my publisher created, The Testing launches in 22 days.

    Gotta love widgets. Right? And for those of you keeping score, with each minute that ticks away, I find myself getting more and more nervous.  This isn't my first book published.  So, I feel a little silly saying that I am more nervous now than I was when SKATING AROUND THE LAW hit shelves.  Why?  Well, first off, this is a bigger title.  There is more push from my publisher, which also translates to higher expectations.  But beyond that there is one simple fact that makes this release more terrifying than the first - I know more.

    That sounds simple right?  And maybe it is.  But the more I learn about this business, the more I understand that there is more to learn.  Marketing for any product is an inexact science, but in many ways it is even more so for books.  How do readers find the books that they purchase?  Ads?  Blog tours?  Twitter?  Word of mouth?  I've heard people testify to the power of blog tours and others who say they never saw a single sale as a result of a 30 stop tour.  Others swear by the power of Facebook while more say Facebook is only effective if you are posting pictures of cats.  (I have to admit I love a good cat picture as much as the next person!)

    And that's just the marketing of a book.  Turns out I know more about writing a book than I did in 2009 when I sold Skating Around The Law.  In a way, that lack of knowledge then made it easier to write.  I wasn't worried about what readers or my editor or my agent would think about what I was writing.  I wrote for myself....for my family and for the few friends and students that humored me by reading my words.  Now, though I still write for the thrill of seeing where the story takes me, I cannot seem to block out the expectations of those who will some day read my books.  Readers expect the story to be fast paced.  They expect the story to start in action and for the point of view to be clear.  They expect three dimensional characters that intrigue them or make them laugh.  And more than anything, readers expect the story to be worth the time they invest in it.

    Trust me when I say that I am aware that not all books are for all readers and that not all readers will love my books.  In fact, I'd be disappointed if my writing was universally loved.  Personally, I find that the stories that linger with me the longest are the ones that are most polarizing in reader reaction.  But while I am not trying to please everyone, I find myself hoping that I will please a lot of them.  Not exactly the most conducive mindset for writing.

    So each day, I do my very best to ignore the worry about the upcoming release of THE TESTING and the excitement that comes with getting good books news.  (Thanks to everyone who nominated MURDER FOR CHOIR for the Anthony for best paperback original.  You are awesome!)  I do my best to shut out the world, forget everything I've learned over the last several years and just write.  Some days that works better than others.  And as the widget clock gets closer to zero, I find that nerves are making that harder to do.

    But while my time is almost up, my love of writing is still as new and exciting as ever.  And no matter what happens when The Testing releases...I will keep writing and telling stories.  And hopefully, there will be readers who enjoy them.