Friday, May 31, 2013

Her Cheating Heart - - a video reading

I seem to remember that Her Cheating Heart was commissioned by Spinetingler Magazine although I can't remember what the reason was - - it was a special series of stories they were running that had to be around 1k words. Anyway, they asked and I delivered. It was a mood piece, really, and the the running joke behind my writing it was that there is no better soundtrack to murder than country music; all those broken hearts and dead flowers are just too good to waste.

Anyway, I've been meaning to record the story for a while now, so we set up a camera and did a quick and dirty shoot. I won't tell you whose room that is or why they have a Steve McQueen poster festooned with lights. But if this works, I might start thinking about doing more direct to camera pieces. Maybe actual posts and ramblings replete with my face in your monitor.

As of writing this, The Death of Ronnie Sweets (the collection this comes from) is free in Kindle. I think once this post goes live you'll have one more day of free and then its up to 77p or free to borrow for Prime Members (whatever that means). I love the stories in the collection. I love the character of Sam Bryson, who was a fore-runner to J McNee (the protagonist of my first three novels). I hope that you might, too. And I apologise profusely for the pimping.

Anyway, enjoy:


If you want to know more about Sam, check out Thrilling Detective

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Books for Troops

By Steve Weddle

When I was a kid, our bus stop was at a gas station that had a comics spinner. We'd load up on Icees and Thor and X-Men before school each morning. I say "we" as if I had friends, but it was mostly me.

Anyhoo, you don't see comics in spinners so much these days. You see paperbacks. Well, I do. Maybe you do. They have spinners of mass market paperbacks down at the library. Leave one and take one. They have shelves at another library. Leave two, take one. Paperbacks are a great form of entertainment you can just pass along to someone else.

In fact, groups are set up to do just that for our soldiers overseas. Here in the states, we just honored our fallen soldiers with Memorial Day. Other countries have similar days of remembrance. In Australia it's called Anzac Day. In Canada it's Armistice Day. In the UK, I think it's Boxing Day or something like that.

So, now is a great time to talk about helping out our soldiers overseas by sending them books to read. Jason Boog over at GalleyCat posted a link on How to share books with our troops. I'd suggest checking that out and sharing any other book-sharing charities you know about.

(For some reason, the post's title says "books & ebooks," which is some weird distinction. Also, the BooksAMillion folks have selected about a dozen books you're allowed to donate through their program. Would be nice to know how publishers got their books on that list. But those are for other posts.)

So, if you've donated through one of these programs, let us know how it worked out. Or if you use one of these or another program, please share that, too. I think I'll slip in a few Beta Ray Bill Thors as I'm putting a box together.

As the child of a veteran, I can tell you that those fighting for our country love getting stuff from home and love reading. So, have at it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Based on a True Story

You get your inspiration from life or from art.

Sometimes the spark comes from something I read in a novel or something I see in a movie and sometimes the spark comes from a true story.

Writing is what you do with that inspiration, how you make the points you want to make, draw the conclusions you want to draw or just to leave the questions you’d like to leave with the reader.

Nothing new there, writers have been doing that forever. Standard Operating Procedure, as they say.

And yet, once in a while I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea of fictionalizing real people and their personal situations.

The next book I have coming out, Black Rock, is based on three true stories – what we call the October Crisis in Canada, the bombings, armed robberies, kidnapings and murder that went on through the 60s and came to a head in October 1970, the story of a serial killer named Wayne Boden who killed four women between 1969 and 1971 and the murder of a teenaged girl in 1975.

When I started the research, not sure if it would be a book or not, I’d never heard of Boden or his victims. I started with the idea of a murder not getting enough attention because of the huge investigation into the terrorism at the time. I thought that resonated with the world today enough to be relevant. For the murder, I didn’t have a particular one in mind, but I figured with all that police attention on the terrorists there had to be something that wasn’t getting enough attention.

I remembered a murder that took place in 1975. I remembered that one because the victim was a girl my own age, in the same grade I was in but at a different high school. Her name was Sharron Prior. She left her house in the early evening on a Saturday intending to walk a few blocks to a restaurant to meet her friends. Somewhere between her house and the restaurant she disappeared. I remember the searches over the Easter weekend and the story in the paper the next week when her body was found, a small story at the bottom of page five. The front page headline that day was, “Pincers near panicky Saigon.” I delivered that newspaper to about 60 houses that morning.

My intention was to fictionalize that story, move it back a few years and make it the murder that didn’t get enough attention because of the October Crisis.

But that murder is still unsolved. And Sharron Prior’s mother, Yvonne, is still doing everything she can to get it solved. There is still a reward for information.

So, as writers do, I felt that fictionalizing the story was invading peoples’ personal lives.

Would it be too much of an invasion?

Of course, there’s no definitive answer to that question, it’s different for every writer and every situation.

Then as I was researching the October Crisis I discovered Boden and his victims. Again, small stories buried deep in the paper. So, I felt if these murders weren’t getting much media attention it was easy to make the connection they also weren’t getting enough police attention.

I was (and still am, frankly) wondering about still fictionalizing the 1975 murder because it’s still an open case. I’m not sure I believe there is such a thing as “closure,” but I’m certain that an open murder investigation is still an open wound.

So I talked myself into the idea that maybe fictionalizing Sharron Prior’s murder would bring a small bit of attention to it, that it might help.

Ever go a week without a justification? (name the movie)




Monday, May 27, 2013

Next gen book blogging and some Star Trek stuff

Feeling a bit rambly this week. Here's some things on my mind.

-What's next for book bloggers - We've talked here before about blogging dying and should it be. I've been writing online since 2006. I've had my ups and downs and lately I've been feeling it. I find it hard to write anything that resembles a book review. And given the limited time I have I'd rather read the next book then write a review for the one I just finished.  Now I'm more of a book talker. I love talking about books and still do a lot of shorter book related posts on social media.  I admire the ability of the daily and near daily bloggers who have been at it awhile and show no signs of slowing (Jen Forbus and Elizabeth White come to mind).

With all of this circling around me I found this post by Tobias Buckell interesting, "The fate of today's book bloggers":

I’m seeing a lot of book blogs that I used to have bookmarked went and folded up shop. I imagine that was as a result of hitting a certain threshold of either of the two points I relayed, and not seeing a way through. Book bloggers are doing it for the love, they’re not making mad money. They’re enthusiastic spreaders of the word.

So what happens when a lot of that joy fades? Do they continue on momentum? Look to monetize the blog? Focus only on the books that they love, and risk losing the audience and community they created (because they’re interested in artist’s artists, or decrying the lack of originality, while readers who enjoy the books being decried decamp)? Get bitter and throw some bombs, which will certainly create debate and energy, but can also create pushback and enough argumentation that they get tired of the fighting about stuff (unless they’re trollish in nature, in which case they feed off the acid and you’ll always have that)?

From later on in the article:

I think book blogging is new enough that a lot of people are finding their way through some of the same issues I’ve seen over the last 15 years with writers (because, lets face it, blogging *is* writing, some of the lessons are transferrable). Writers have been lucky to have other writers a generation ahead passing knowledge back on down, but bloggers are going through it alone, it’s all new.
I don't know what's next for me but I'm feeling it. I've written hundreds of thousands of words over the years and I'm just fucking burned out.

(See also: Why Blogging is Dead and What's next & Sarcasm and Stars The Lowest Form of Reviewing?)

-Khan the cracker:

We saw the new Star Trek movie last weekend and I liked it a lot. As entertained as I was while watching it I've been almost as equally entertained by the criticism and discussions that followed.  One of the ones I've been the most intrigued by was the charge of Khan being white washed.

A brief side-note (as tends to be customary in Trek discussions) attesting to the level of my Trekiness (or not). I've never self-identified as a Trekkie, I've seen all of the movies, a couple of episodes of TNG, and TOS. The first episode of Enterprise. The entire DS9 series (which I liked). I don't know what that makes me or where I fall on the spectrum but there it is.

Within all of that I certainly know who in the hell Khan is. But what I never knew was that Khan was a Sikh. So when the charge of white-washing was leveled I was intrigued. I also had to wonder how many people knew that. Or does my placement on the Trek fandom spectrum mark me as a rube and everyone else knew this but me.

While watching the movie I felt that Benedict Cumberbatch did a great job in many ways. He certainly held my attention. One guy sitting behind us audibly said "Oh shit" during the Khan reveal, I envied him his ability to come to the movie fresh. Side anecdote. I remember going to the movie as a kid and seeing a teaser trailer for Robocop 2: Crime happening, car drives up, door opens, camera pans up to reveal Robocop. We all lost our shit in the theater. Ah the days of being able to be surprised. (I just went over to Youtube to try and find that teaser and am now wondering if the whole thing is a false memory. I'm clinging to it anyway)

Anyway, as good a job as Cucumberlatch did I found myself intrigued by some other possibilities. Like Naveen Andrews or Ben Kingsly in the role.

-Kirk's kinda death scene. I just wanted to take a moment to say that the death scene was done really well. When Kirk says to Spock "I'm scared", it was a great moment in this Kirk's development. It was a wonderfully acted, human moment that was really touching. 

Which isn't to say that the scene wasn't without its problems. But I thought it very good over all and just wanted to take a moment to say so.

Thoughts on any of this? What's on your mind this week?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Why do you read?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Yesterday, I attended a family graduation party.  I love hanging out with family.  There never seems to be enough opportunities.  During this party, I was lucky to have lots of time to chat with one of my younger cousins.  He admitted to me that he only read books written by me (thanks, Dylan!) or the ones that he was forced to read by teachers in school.  Another cousin mentioned that she couldn’t remember the last book she read.  She then looked at me and said, “I bet you’ve always been a reader and the studious type.”

Well, I have to admit –guilty as charged—about the reading.  Studious isn’t the word I would say always applies to me.  As I was driving home, I started thinking about my love affair with reading.  Because it is a love affair.  There has never been a year where I didn’t read at least 50 books or more.  Sometimes a heck of a lot more.  My mother likes to read now. (Hi, Mom!)  But she wasn’t a huge reader while I was growing up.  My dad was certainly not the sit-down-and-read-a-book type.  He was the go outdoors and work in the yard kind of guy.  So, I found myself asking….why do I read?

My gut answer is—because I can’t imagine not reading. 

That answer seemed strange to me because there are lots of other reason that I read.  I read because it makes me think about the world in different ways and makes me a happier person.  I read because I want to experience the world through eyes that are not my own.  I read because it is part of how I define myself.

The list is endless.  But my first answer stands.  I read because I can’t imagine not reading.  So it was interesting to me to talk to people I love and have so much in common with and find that many of them cannot imagine reading at all.

How about you? Why do you read?  And if your answer is that you aren’t typically a reader – why not?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Personal Touch and a Bookstore's Dexterity

Scott D. Parker

Today, as I was yesterday, I am reveling in all the geeky goodness of Houston’s Comicpalooza, home of comics, artists, movies, video games, anime, and naturally that’s where you’d find Houston’s preeminent mystery bookstore, Murder by the Book.

I’ll admit that, when I saw their name on the dealer list, I was a tad puzzled. What’s a bookstore that primarily deals with mystery fiction doing at a place that primarily focuses on science fiction, fantasy, etc.? Well, they’re doing what they always do: find a way to fit in and adapt to this ever-changing marketplace of books. People start buying ebook? They sell ebooks.

Another example of how they stay above the fray is through author events. They host nearly an author a day in any given month. I think it’s safe to say that for most any mystery author on a book tour, Houston and Murder by the Book is a destination location. You simply must come here. It’s great to have that kind of store in my hometown.

And, as it turns out, McKenna and company played host to the one author I most wanted to see: Alan Dean Foster. He was my first favorite SF author back when I first learned what SF was. He wrote the very first new Star Wars novel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, back in 1978. Little did I know then that he also ghost wrote the novelization of Star Wars. Soon thereafter, I learned that he wrote the adaptations of the Star Trek animated series, listed as Star Trek Logs 1-10 to differentiate them from the James Blish adaptations of the original series. By the late 1970s, with the show off the air and decades away from a DVD, Foster’s books were the only way to experience these stories. The hunt for all ten logs became my first great treasure hunt. I found one in Boise, Idaho, another in Tyler, Texas, and places in between. They were a prized collection back then and remain so to this day.

When it came time to bring one of my logs (I didn’t want to bring all 10) to the con, I settled on Number 3. Not for any of the particular tales, mind you, but rather for the inscription my fourth-grade self inscribed on the front page. My elementary handwriting labeled this book as mine. And Mr. Foster has since put his inscription in this volume, too. He heard my story and wrote a nice addition: “For Scott--Movin’ on from the 4th Grade.”

It’s a personal touch that Foster did for me. I thanked him then and again thank him here. He also signed his book of nonfiction, Predators I Have Known, his recounting of his world travels to six of the seven continents over these past forty years. I look forward to reading it next.

The personal touch is what sets Murder by the Book apart as well. For me and all the patrons that walk into that store, it is literally the bookstore equivalent of the “Cheers” bar: they know your name, your likes, and are quick with a recommendation. Even yesterday, when I realized I missed Foster’s initial signing, McKenna texted me to let me know when he’d next be at the table. The personal touch. It makes all the difference. Thanks McKenna.

P.S., In case y’all outside of Houston missed it, here’s the piece our local CBS affiliate, KHOU, did on Murder by the Book.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Sequelitis (a flashback)

By Russel D McLean

Russel is currently knee-deep in his day job but here's a little bit of a way-back ride for you. This piece originally appeared over at Chuck Wendig's blog where it had a very intro about how Chuck was stashed in a box for the day. You can read it there if you like and while you're there you can check out Chuck's posts. And then you can buy his books. Russel just finished Chuck's new one - THE BLUE BLAZES - and he thought it was excellent. The piece in question was written for the release of The Lost Sister, and it deals with sequels. This has been on Russel's mind lately after watching Iron Man 3 and Star Trek: Into Darkness. But since Russel got caught in this day job madness he'll present some older thoughts to you about sequels that he still pretty much believes in.

A sequel has to achieve a lot of stuff. It has to pull in new readers while pleasing old ones. It has to remain true to established facts while giving something new. It has to stand on its own and yet acknowledge the past.
It has to do something different.

Oh, yes. That’s the one that most people forget. While it’s considered the safe action to rehash old glories – see NATIONAL TREASURE 2, THE MUMMY 2 etc etc – what you wind up doing is boring people. Because while people think they want the same experience, what the really need is that same sense of excitement and unpredictability they got the first time round. It’s just tougher to put that into words than it is to say, “more of the same please”.

Why is THE GODFATHER PART II considered a perfect sequel? It expands upon and gives new life and new perspective on the first movie while still telling its own perfectly logical narrative. You could see GFII on its own, conceivably, and catch up to this world without having seen the original. Sure, some of the grandeur would be lost, but you wouldn’t be so confused as to throw the movie away and then batter your head against a brick wall until your brains dribbled out your ears.


They’re tough.

And not just when it comes to movies.

With THE LOST SISTER – which is a novel, not a movie* – I wanted to tell two stories. First there is the story that stands on its own. The one about the missing girl. Mary Furst, a girl who has no apparent reason to run away, is missing. There are questions about her disappearance, facts that don’t add up. As Our Hero – J McNee – digs into her life, he uncovers some very uncomfortable truths.

That’s my A story. And sure it could have been enough to hold the book by itself. After all, we established our hero in book 1 and if you want, you can keep a series character static. Many people enjoy that kind of thing. Some writers do it wonderfully. Robert B Parker kept Spencer is stasis for decades. Lee Child rarely changes Reacher or gives us any more about him than we need to know.

But I’m not that kind of writer. I need to let my characters change. Be affected by events. So THE LOST SISTER became a chance for me to explore my central character and find more about what makes him tick. I wanted him to confront some of his own choices over the course of the book, to see things in the case that made him question his own ideals and motivations. I wanted there to be something different in his outlook by the end of the book. In short, I wanted to tell a different kind of story with the same characters. Because otherwise… what’s the point? It’s like eating lukewarm leftovers. There’s something in there you recognise, but really it’s not the same.

I also wanted to explore the supporting cast and to see how they reacted in different situations. People I hadn’t expected to see again. Susan Bright, for example, who was supposed to be a throwaway character in THE GOOD SON and became something far more important. And David Burns, local “businessman” who is one of my favourite characters to write for: a man who does bad things for what he believes to be all the right reasons.

THE LOST SISTER changes all of these characters by the end of the book. Not all of them get to “learn” from their experiences, of course. I think we’re all lucky that I’m not God. Because as cruel as He can (allegedly) be, I think I’d be even worse in charge, winding folks up just see how they’d react. But then that’s the job of a writer – wind those characters up and watch them go!

Word so far on THE LOST SISTER – both at home and now in the US – has been positive. I like to think that it’s a good sequel, that it does more than rehash former glories, that it changes things for our characters, that it presents with new challenges and new situations. I’ll tell you what, I had a bloody ball writing it.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Do Better

By Jay Stringer

Today I mostly want to point you in the direction of a great post from Chuck Wendig, which in turn was a response to this thought provoking piece. I don't have much to add to the conversation today, and sometimes it's best not to; anything I add will be repeating what's been said.

A few weeks ago Weddle questioned whether we think about these issues enough in the crime fiction community. I followed it the next day with my own thoughts, which basically boiled down to what Chuck also says; We need to try harder.

So here we are. The conversation is still there to be had and expanded on. It still feels that other genres and communities have these conversations far more than we do in crime fiction. Please take a few moments to read Chuck and Kameron's posts. Agree, disagree, debate, keep the conversation going.


To continue to riff on one particular aspect of the theme, and to build on something I've been blogging about quite a lot lately, I wanted to take a moment to comment on the BBC drama THE FALL. In my post last week I said;

 "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."

But clearly I don't pay attention to what I write, because I've made it two episodes into THE FALL. I should firstly admit that I am only two episodes in. There is the risk in criticising a show part-way through it's run that you are criticising a book halfway through. In doing so, you run the risk of leaping to conclusions. It could be that the second half of the story shows that they are really attacking the tropes they use in the first half. Hell, I try to do that myself in my fiction, So I'll keep my criticism brief and will come back and own up if later episodes show me up.

The show so far has featured a moody male serial killer and and the (female) detective who is working to track him down. At the end of the second episode we are left with the clear notion that he is about to kill another helpless women who is silenced of voice and wide of eye. The camera lingered just enough that we can see the pure fear in the victims eyes. The camera looks down on the victim, but up at the killer. We are clearly shown our place, and the place of the victim.

The second episode then starts by contrasting the female detectives cold and controlling sexual encounter against the killer's toying with the dead body. We see him manipulate, wash, pose and decorate the corpse of the woman in loving detail. The only contribution of that women to the story is to be the subject of a fetish. Later we get a brief scene of someone discovering the corpse, before we then get longer scenes of the forensic examiner looking at the body. We get a more researched and detailed look at the process of examining a dead body than we do of how it feels to find one, or how someone who has never encountered death before can tell if someone is dead simply by touching them. We certainly don't get any time examining the thoughts, feelings or emotions of the victim.

Later on the killer is alone in a room with a fifteen year old girl. The girl steals something from the killer before dancing for him, teasing him, leaning in for a kiss, and then being attacked because of what she had stolen. The meaning here is also clear. She is the seducer, she is the thief. The fact that she is a fifteen year old girl alone in a room with a killer? Doesn't seem important.

Look, maybe I'm judging it too early, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the show will brilliantly spring a trap on us in the next episode and show that the whole point was to use such tropes in order to then expose and attack them. But if that doesn't happen....what's the point? To quote Chuck again, "Do better."

I'll leave you with a transcription of comments made by Alan Moore. If this interview was published online I would link to it. If the recording was commercially available I would point you towards it. It's from an interview he did on BBC radio with Stewart Lee, and I hope he'd forgive me quoting it. When he was asked about why he wanted to write FROM HELL, and how he was frustrated by the film version, he said this;

"There have been innumerable films about Jack the Ripper. And I got a bit sick of the way Jack the Ripper- it's a kind of pornography. And I don't mean that in a good way. It was a pornography of violence. It was the standard set up where you've got the unrealistically attractive Whitechapel prostitute who's obviously got a great wardrobe manager, great skin care specialist, and she's walking home, she's perhaps singing some sort of song, and then she'll turn down an alleyway and you'll see this shadow follow her, the shadow of the top hat, the Gladstone bag. Her footsteps start to get faster and you see the fear in her eyes, and then it's a dead end, she turns round, she starts to scream and you see the raised knife and then it cuts to a policeman saying "oh my gawd." And that's a pornography. That's not exciting. That's just horrible. And when the film came out, inevitably they make it a whodunit. Inevitably the prostitutes are all implausibly attractive again. To a large degree I think that murder, which is a horrible human event, has kind of been turned into a middle class parlour game."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Stringer on the Shortwaves

Go listen to Jay talk about publishing at FuzzyTypewriter

David talks to Jay Stringer and Josh Christie about their experience as published authors and how the process is changing as they speak. Print. Digital. Everything in between.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I like libraries. Libraries are cool

By Steve Weddle

First, since I was here last week, I've signed the deal with Tyrus Books for COUNTRY HARDBALL. Also, they've made a cover. And there's a page. And stuff. Here, lemme get out of the way for a second so you can click this link. COUNTRY HARDBALL


There seems to be a popular conception that, with each day that goes by, more and more people have more and more access to everything on the internet.

This seems goofy.

I live in the country. Not like in a William Faulkner story or anything, but I'm in the country. The town is 15 minutes away and has a population close to 1,000. We can drive 45 minutes to see a movie, if we want. We have access to the internet through one of those little boxes that we pay too much for. Other people don't. Other people near me use the county/state services to get a bus to come near them, then deposit them places in town. Then they have to rely on the bus to come get them.

Whenever people start to talk about how everyone has access to the internet now, I'm reminded of the opening to GATSBY in which the father tells Nick to remember that not everyone has the same advantages he's had.

My mom would drop me off at the library when I was a kid. I was in summer reading clubs every year. I read books. I checked out books. I read books from my parents' shelves. I talked to the librarians about books I wanted to read. I talked to my parents about books. We lived in a papermill town when the papermill shut down, when everything was dying, and I still had access to the world.

When I was growing, libraries were indispensable. They still are.

Not everyone can afford $100 a month for smartphones or internet boxes.

And I'd prefer to live in a world in which everyone -- even those who can't afford Verizon FIOS and $25 hardbacks -- are able to access the internet, the newspapers, and books. Books. Books.

Heck, I was 12 years old and I was reading John Updike. I had no idea what the hell was going on in any of his Rabbit books, but I was reading them. And I read non-fiction about the Boer War. That was some weird stuff, I'll tell you. And, of course, I read all the Harry Harrison and Piers Anthony I could find. All the librarians could find for me. And I read. And read. Just like so many kids did then, and like so many kids still do.

Books and DVDs and internet access and meeting rooms and book clubs and newspaper archives and on and on. I can't imagine a world without libraries. It's super cool that many of us -- especially those reading this -- can access the internet at a whim. But not everyone can. Not everyone has the same advantages you and I have had.

Rita Meade (@ScrewyDecimal) has a great post up knocking down the anti-library argument.

Do yourself a favor and give it a read.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Brief thoughts of Dan Brown hate

I don't have much this week except for a couple of thoughts.
I'm puzzled by some of the Dan Brown hate I've seen recently. Especially from other writers. It seems to me that writers should be open to all sorts of fiction: Fiction from all of the genres; fiction that sells very well and fiction that doesn't; award winners non award winners, lowbrow, highbrow, whatever. And THIS is part of what is meant by read a lot. It also seems to me that you can learn just as much from a badly written novel as a brilliantly written one.

I think criticism of Brown's work is fair, and have linked to some of it in the past, but pointing out the flaws is easy. Reading everything and trying to find something positive, or something to learn from, maybe that's a better challenge.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Summer reading

by: Joelle Charbonneau

First off, I want to say WHOOO HOOO to Steve Weddle's news.  I am so excited that Country Hardball will be published by Tyrus Books.  It couldn't happen to a more awesome person and writer.

Second, THE TESTING launching is just over two weeks.  So if you find me chewing my nails or hiding under the bed--that's why!

Third, the weather has finally taken a turn and spring has arrived...just in time for summer to start.  Trust me when I say I'm not complaining.  As a matter of fact, the less than fabulous spring weather has made it easier for me to stay focused on the work that needed to be done.  I am thrilled to say that I am almost to the end of writing A CHORUS LINEUP and will also soon finish my first round of revisions on GRADUATION DAY.  These two events signal something pretty astonishing for me.  These are the last two WIPs that I have under contract.

I know most writers do not want to go a day without having a book under contract, but I'm pretty stoked to see the light at the end of the contract tunnel.  Oh - don't get me wrong, I've already put together a proposal for the next project that I hope to work on.  But having finished writing the books I had under contract means something very important to me.  Now I will have time to read.

That probably sounds crazy, right?  I'm a writer, so, of course, I read.  Rarely does a day go by that I have not read at least a chapter or two of a book.  But before I started writing, I used to read a book in a day.  I used to curl up in a chair with a story that gripped me and not go to bed until the story had ended.  I miss being able to do that.  So as soon as I am done with this manuscript and the revisions I have to finish, I have promised myself at least a week of doing nothing but reading.

7 days.

7 books.

Since this is a celebration of sorts, I want to make sure that every book I pick up is a fabulous read.  This is where you come in.  I need recommendations.  What books do you think should be on my celebratory to-read list?  Here is a chance to tell me about your favorite author, your favorite book or even something you've written.  The floor is yours.  What books have gripped you that you think will entertain me?

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.