Saturday, June 8, 2013

And Then Write Another

Scott D. Parker

I finally got to “The End” last Sunday. That would be the first completed story in...well, I’m a bit ashamed to admit just how long it’s been. Suffice it to say that I’m a great “Once upon a time” guy, but have been having difficulties getting to “The End.”

But I have now. My ‘little’ short story ballooned into an 18,000-word whatever (novella?). Chances are I’ll review it, trim it down, tighten up the prose, but all that mattered to me was “The End.” Whew. It’s a great feeling, and every writer here knows the feeling. True, it’s not the true exhilaration of typing “The End” on a novel, but it still counts.

In the past when I’ve gotten to “The End,” I’ve sat back on my butt and proudly gazed upon the creation. I even told folks about it, not bragging, just pointing out that I did, indeed, complete a story. It’s a bit like the husband who jabbers on about emptying the dishwasher on Monday...and never gives a thought to who empties the rest of the week.

I was determined not to do that. I printed that story out, put the outline on top of it, and, this past Monday, started the next story. I didn’t even read that 18,000-pager. I’ll get to it later this summer. I was much more interested in starting the next story. I remembered the advice James Patterson gave his own father when the sire showed the son a completed novel: Write another one.

Just like the novella started it’s life from an image I had in my head for awhile, this current story is also something I’ve been toying with for a bit. This time, however, I already had some text. I had to review it, excise out the words that no longer belonged, and forge ahead. It has a completely different tone to it as well as setting. No matter. Ahead I went, breaking the tale down into its constituent parts. As of right now, it sits at 7,200 and I have the last part or two to complete. Either I’m destined to write a bunch of novellas or I’m just too dang wordy. Probably the later.

I’ve been keeping statistics and metrics, too. Since I started this renewed effort, I have written over 22,500 *new* words (don’t forget that the 7,200-word new effort already had some words typed in). My May average was only 420 words out of 13,017. That’s a tad low, but I don’t give myself grief because I’m just getting back into the swing of things. An easily reached goal is, to me, at least 500 words. Of the 23 days in which I have written since 1 May, I’ve only missed the 500-word mark twice. But, the most important thing I’ve got going is 12. That would be the number of consecutive days I’ve written. That includes 15 out of the last 16, and 18 out of the last 20. I count all those tallies as wins in my book.
Sunday will be time to start the next story. It’s a little scary right now thinking I have to write something on Sunday but I don’t know what yet. I think on those days when I story isn’t mapped out, I’ll revert back to the novel I left sitting in my Mac.

Best of all, the flow is coming back, the fingers are moving in sync, and I’m *wanting* to write versus having to write. That’s the best takeaway so far.

Update: I finished this story a little before 9:00am. It helps to get up at 6am every day and write. I needed a bit over 2,200 words to complete this story, which ended up being 9,500 words.  Guess I'm just too wordy. Will work on that. Now, to echo the title of this piece: tomorrow, I start another.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Beat It

I never wrote a plan for THE GOOD SON.

I half-plotted THE LOST SISTER.

FATHER CONFESSOR was another half and half.

But what I found, when it came to redrafting it, was that a timeline was useful, a step by step guide to what needed to happen was essential.

I used to do it for short stories, so why not with novels which are longer, looser and more prone to accidents on the part of the author’s memory?

As I’m writing, I have pinned above my desk several bits of paper. One of them is a character chart – listing ages and relations between the eight central characters in the project. The other is a beat sheet.

A what?

Many years ago, back when Writer’s Digest was full of good information, I read the scriptwriting columns with a religious fervour. J Michael Straczynski’s talk about structure and construct was as good a primer – if not better than – most books about novel writing. In fact, to this day I still say that screenwriting and novel writing should have more in common than most people might imagine (especially if we’re to make any sense of the show don’t tell trope, something that screenwriters have no choice in).

One of the things that stuck with me was Straczynski talking about how he developed scripts for Murder She Wrote and how they adhered to a five act structure. He explained how he’d take a sheet of yellow paper, write down the five acts and then break them into beats so that he had the beats to hit each page of the script and built the script from there.

Now, for the life of me, I can never remember what each act in a five act structure should do, but what I do know is that I like to work in fives. When I deconstructed FATHER CONFESSOR, I found I was doing the same thing, albeit subconsciously, and broke the book down into five story beats (the acts). Each beat could then be broken down again into a series of sub-beats. And this helped me find the structure of the story. 

What I realised was that I was working using a variation (or possibly a carbon copy) of JMS’s beat sheets.
When it came to working on a current project – one that I’ve been working on for years but have never been able to pin down – I threw out everything from old versions of it and started afresh with five story beats. They looked like this (no spoilers)

1      1.  Introducing main characters and conflict
2       2. Character A messes up Character B’s plans
3       3. Character A and Character C are forced into alliance
4      4. Everybody messes up everybody else’s day
        5. There’s a resolution and not many folks are left standing.

Okay, so that bears no resemblance to the real story, but let’s not worry about that. The 5 beats were just really basic strokes that I wanted to get into the narrative. I then needed to break them down further.
2. 1.     Introducing main characters and conflict.
1.1   Character A is trying to get somewhere.
1.2   He meets character B
1.3   Character B professes a hate for character, whom Character A loves.
1.4   Character A swears that he will protect Character C from Character B
1.5   It transpires that Character C is already in danger from B
22.      Character A messes up Character B’s plans

And so forth. I also changed the main wording of each act to be more specific. Now, I’m not sure how many beats JMS used per act but remember that he was writing for television and so had a set time to fill and had to account for advert breaks etc. But I did find that ending each act on a revelation or cliffhanger worked as well in novels as in television and also that the acts naturally spaced themselves as around equal every time.

Of course, being a novelist I’m not so bound by time of format restrictions as I would be on TV, so I could allow beats and acts to be of unequal length if I needed to, which I discovered was a great thing in the editing process where certain things had to be allowed to breath or broken down even further. But by using a variant of that five act television structure (I also include a teaser and an epilogue - - but note I never mark them as such because once you have the structure you can of course start to disguise it so that no one will realise it’s even there, and by the time you’re done no one should know you ever regimented your story in such a way). However, by starting from this five act structure, I have found a way of planning that feels comfortable, allows me to see where I’m going and yet still enables me to (depending on how closely I break down an act) let the novel breathe and take its own form. If you want proof of that, then should the next book ever be published, you should know that the last act is nothing like the way it was originally intended and bears no resemblance to what’s above my desk. And yet without what is pinned up there, I don’t think I’d ever be able to have finished. Or at the very least, when it came to rewriting, I’d have had to work longer, harder and lost more of my hair because I’d have to keep trying to remember the plot’s structure and impose than on the narrative while still keeping the writing fresh and exciting.

I have a feeling that now I’ve rediscovered the joy of beats I’ll be reusing them a lot more often. They’re not full plans, but they help me to structure a narrative and get a sense of its direction, which is sometimes about the most you can hope for unless you’re one of those people who plan out every scene in the Nth detail before even thinking about voice and the business of creating prose and drama.

Of course your mileage may vary and you may want to adapt things to your own ease (if at all), but this method works very well for me and I guess it helps me believe, even for a moment, that I’m actually living one of my earliest writing dreams, of writing screenplays for the small and big screens.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Twelve Gangly Men

By Jay Stringer

Last weekend Matt Smith announced he was leaving the longest running Sci-Fi show in the world after three seasons and untold heroism. It's not bad as a career goes. He has big plans for his future and his directorial debut is getting good reviews. Maybe we'll see him directing OLD GOLD someday, who knows?  I look forward to seeing whatever he does next, but today is more about looking backwards.

"Do you know what I keep in here? Absolutely everything."

A few months back Russel wrote a great piece about his love of the show. I enjoy talking WHO with Russel. We're the same age, and we have a few of the same show-defining memories from the McCoy era. Broadly speaking we agree in our vision of the show and the character, but we also have our own ways of looking at it. Dave White joined in the conversation around the time Smith stepped into the role, and it's also been great fun talking to someone new to the property, someone diving headfirst into the mythology. That healthy mix represents a large part of what is so great about the show. The same and different. New and old. Common ground and alien worlds.

For my part -as the obligatory qualification portion of the post- there were a lot of DOCTOR WHO and STAR TREK fans in my family, especially my Grandfather, my parents and my uncles, so I can remember it from an early age. It was always on, whether I was paying attention or not. My earliest memory is of Davison, but the memory is also tainted by the fact that all of the adults around me didn't like him. Then he seemed to vanish and there was a curly haired shouty man, and I didn't see very much of it. Then there was a short Scotsman with a hat. And he was The Doctor. But where was the blonde guy I remembered from years before? That was when I learned about the whole regeneration thing, and that the shouty man had also been The Doctor. And that someday there would be another one. But MY Doctor was Scottish. And he had a great companion. I'd go so far as to say she was an ACE companion. At that young age, I didn't want to be The doctor, I wanted to be Ace.

And then, just as with Russel's experience, one day he was gone.

That could have been the end of it. Maybe it should have been the end of it. But then in the early 90's a channel on satellite TV started re-running the show in it's entirety (well, as much as was possible for a show that had so many lost episodes) and my Dad spent money we really didn't have on subscribing to the service so that he could sit and watch it every week. And my brother and I would take it in turns to watch with him. That's where my education started in earnest.

Why does any of this matter?

I have no urge to be an elitist in these things. It doesn't matter when you came to the show. Maybe you've been watching since the first broadcast, maybe you've started with the most recent episode. All aboard. All welcome. Part of the spirit of the show is to embrace both change and newcomers. Fandom can get quite cliquey, but as far as I'm concerned if you're any kind of fan of the show you're a Whovian.

But with that said, there is one observation I'd like to make. In the wake of Smith's announcement I've seen quite a lot of comments online saying "well, he was great, but he had some bad scripts." And It strikes me this is something you say maybe if you came onboard with the relaunch, because some more recent fans maybe don't understand that 'twas ever thus. The longer the history you have with the show, the more you realise these things are business as usual.

I think it was Paul Montgomery on the fuzzy Typerwriter podcast who said DOCTOR WHO was like a comic book. And he's right. Its a sprawling 50 year adventure. Continuity is made up on the run, themes come and go, plot lines are planted and forgotten, and writers have good streaks and bad spots. Every actor to take on the role has had to take the rough with the smooth. Each has had some high points, each has had some real lows. If we only judge each Doctor by the strength of the writing then we do them a disservice. If we only judge them by the best-written episodes we give little credit to their acting. We don't judge Matt Smith by those "Eleventh Hour" or "Doctors Wife" moments when the magic has lit up the screen, we judge him by the whole run, and by whether he breathed life into bad scripts.

Something many Whovians like to point out is that Colin Baker's era was ruined by things that were beyond his control. Bad writing, bad producing, bad budgeting, terrible costuming. All of these things are true. And if he had been allowed to to things his way, then he would have lasted a lot longer. But to my mind he also didn't do near enough to elevate the material he had. Sylvester McCoy's era was damaged by many of the same problems. In fact we could argue that he suffered from them even more so. And yet, he dug in, he found the character, and he elevated the material. We can look back on his era now and find some truly great moments. Paul McGann's only moments on screen in the role were in an awful TV movie made as a joint production of American, Canadian and British companies. The script was bad. The story was bad. McGann excelled. He found something in the role that couldn't be buried by any amount of crap being shovelled onto him.

A message to all actors, past present and future, is that your time as The Doctor is what you make it.

So what did Smith make of it?

I'll make a bold statement here. Smith's debut performance was the strongest of any Doctor. None of the previous incarnations have bounded on screen and, within 45 minutes, owned the role so completely. I was ready straight away to declare him once and for all to be my Doctor. But from there he had to take the rough with the smooth. For every "Eleventh Hour" or "The Pandorica Opens" he also had to contend with "The Curse Of The Black Spot."

Christopher Eccleston was perhaps canny is this regard. Although there are weak episodes in that first season, the show stayed on course. He got in, he did a great job, and then he got out again a year later. There was no chance for a diminishing return, and he escaped from having to carry the show through some of the directionless plotting that was to follow.

Something else Eccleston did very well was to play an alien. David Tennant, John Pertwee and Peter Davison played very likeable, decent, human Doctors. They just happened to be aliens with two hearts. Eccleston played a flat-out alien. He looked like us. He sounded like us. Deep down he loved us. But he was also very capable of completely failing to understand us. Patrick Troughton played an alien. Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy both played aliens. Matt Smith realised this, and played to the same idea. My only caveat is that he played an alien with a somewhat human libido. That's my only criticism of him overall.

Season Five (Smith's first season) rivals Season One (Eccleston's) for me as the finest of the modern era. There were a couple of very weak episodes, but Smith was amazing in them. From "The Eleventh Hour" right up until we learned what the 'Pandorica' was, we were treated to a finely plotted and cohesive story. The excitement that I felt each week during that season has never quite been replicated by the two that have followed. The same happened under the previous showrunner.

Russel T Davies had spent a decade trying to get WHO back on screen. By the time the BBC gave him the greenlight, he had years worth of ideas ready to roll. He told his story and gave us a Doctor for the modern age. The season built up to a moral dilemma, with the Doctor having to decide whether it was okay to become a monster for the right reasons. It was a perfect summation of the character. But then the show was a hit, and Davies had to go back to the well to keep producing 12 to 13 episodes a year whether or not he had a story ready to tell. What happens then? Well, you start to make things up on the fly. You throw ideas up in the air and see what lands. Things all get a bit loud and a bit silly. I was ready for the change when Davies announced he was stepping down, and I was thrilled at the choice of writer to replace him.

Steven Moffat had written the best episodes of the Davies era, and his take on the character seemed to sit very well with me. He had a long time to prepare, with over a year between the announcement and the fifth season. It was fun, it was fresh, it was intelligent and it was bloody exciting. Everything built to a finale that was even more epic, moving and intelligent than season one.

But then, as with Davies, he was expected to repeat the trick. And he didn't have a year to prepare. And from there, he, too starts making things up on the fly and seeing what works. Added to this was the problem that he was also running the BBC's other main genre show; SHERLOCK. Moffat was starting to stretch too far, and I do think the show has suffered a little because of it. When he's on form, he's still one of the best writers to have written for WHO in any era, but that form has gotten a little rarer of late.

There's been another problem common to both showrunners.


The problem of the female companion is not new to "Nu-Who." The criticisms and the attempts to change have been as constant as the presence of the TARDIS. For their part, both Moffat and Davies have  introduced us to quirky, interesting and self-reliant female characters. The problem seems to be in keeping them that way. Rose Tyler started off as a wonderfully realised modern character, but during the second season she faded away. Martha Jones had a great first few episodes before it became clear the writers simply didn't know what to do with her. Donna Noble stayed true to herself throughout her run, which is more a testament to the portrayal than the writing, but was then written out via a horrible invasion of her mind and her identity. River Song was fun and interesting at first, but perhaps suffers from "Wolverine Syndrome" in that the more you learn, the less the character works. Amy Pond burst onto the screen at the same time as Matt Smith, but after season 5 she seemed to slowly be relegated to the role of plot device, while her husband Rory grew as a rounded and believable character. The current companion, Clara, has yet to really be given life. The actress is clearly capable, and in the odd moment she sparkles with wit and charm, but the character has yet to be allowed to rise above being a plot device.

Are these issues enough for me to scream misogyny like many fans on the internet seem to like doing? No. I agree with the frustrations, and I want to see a show that is truly inclusive and embraces all comers. But what I see when I look at modern WHO is a show that tries to do the right thing, but then makes clumsy errors. Whilst it's fair to point out the errors, I think we're in danger of picking an easy target sometimes. This show tries. There's a world full of shows that don't. They're not hard to find. There are crime procedurals on primetime TV, and daytime soaps, and medical dramas, that all display far less effort to be inclusive. They objectify, they ridicule, they exclude and ignore. Perhaps that lack of effort is what saves them. They're never seen to fail because they're never seen to try.

I find that we can sometimes see a problem and look at the wrong source. The show's modern format doesn't allow for much development. They have 45 minutes to tell a story. In WHO, that can mean 45 minutes to set up an alien world and culture from scratch, to set up a threat and some goals, to deliver a narrative that gets us from A to B to C and then get out with a satisfying story told. This format affects the writing, it affects the depth of the story and, yes, it affects the ability to develop the supporting cast. Davies perhaps realised this early on, as a lot of the episodes were earthbound (which also helps with budget.) With less time needed to sell the audience on things with which they were already familiar -earth- the writers could focus more on Rose's human reactions to travelling with an alien. The problem is that you can't keep doing the same thing. With a box that can travel through time and space, the show demands that we see that travelling. The fading away that I mentioned of Rose's character came as the show tried to move on and travel, and give the audience new things. Something had to give. Quite a lot of things had to give. Perhaps a solution is to gave a female showrunner for the next era. We may see a different focus and format, or we may see the same problems all over again, but either way it would be a step in the right direction.

Though quite where that female showrunner would come from, when female writers aren't being given the chance to write on the show, would be a fair question and one of the most valid criticisms.

Perhaps some of the criticism comes because we have a sense of ownership. DOCTOR WHO has grown into a British cultural institution in the same way that STAR TREK and SUPERMAN are a part of American culture. There's a sense in which these properties and stories are bigger than any one TV network or publishing company. Generations of families have watched these stories unfold. We all own DOCTOR WHO, in a sense, and that maybe means we hold it to a more personal standard than some primetime BBC2 crime drama that objectifies and victimises the female form. I'd still argue that the double standard is wrong, and that we should be more balanced in where we aim our criticism, but perhaps it's more understandable if it comes from that cultural ownership. It also seems that some (not all) of the people who throw the criticism at WHO are people who will defend a fantasy show that presents women as whores, schemers and people to be sexually assaulted a lot. Again, there's a double standard there that confuses my poor little brain, but I'll save that for another time.

I would love the chance to put my money where my mouth is. I'd love to write for this show. I'd love the chance to soar or fail with a Doctor. Maybe one day people will get to judge my failings as a writer the way we judge Davies and Moffat.

But to bring all of this back to the point of today's post. Matt Smith. Season Five was (overall) fantastic. Season Six was very flawed -and made some big mistakes with key characters- but contained a couple of classic episodes. Season Seven has lacked a cohesive feel, and most of the episodes have felt like they needed ten more minutes, but we've still had great episodes like HIDE. And key to all of them, both as the leading light in the great episodes and the saving grace in the bad ones, has been Matt Smith.

I've loved every minute of his Doctor. He doesn't need to act to the back row, he can act to the camera. He can sell heartbreak and pain with a twitch of his jaw. He can go from anger to joy in a heartbeat, and he can play both the hero and the killer of worlds.

I don't think I can ever have one favourite Doctor. There are too many greats. But Smith has put himself onto that list. Troughton, Baker, Eccleston, Smith. With McCoy coming in somewhere just below that.

Who next?

I'd like to see something different. The Britain of 2013 is a very different place to the Britain of 1963. And though the show has always tried to reflect the times by changing the themes, the tone and the supporting cast, I'd argue the time is right to change The Doctor. I'd like a female Doctor. Or a black Doctor. Or an Asian Doctor. But you know what? Whoever get's it, whatever his or her background, all that matters is that they will be The Doctor. And, for a while at least, for a brief few moments in the first episode, he or she will be my Doctor.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

BEA is kinda weird

So there was this thing last week where you could go to this big convention center and walk around and people would just hand you stuff.


The prevailing image from BEA was a dull, often maroon bedspread covered with 40-50 free books and captioned: "OMG YOU GUYS BEA13 BOOK HAUL #4" or some such. Kinda cool and kinda weird and kinda, well, I dunno.


You can google "BEA haul" and variations thereof to find pages and pages of these. People love free books.

But books weren't the only commodity being photographed.

The ME AND AUTHOR was also a hot commodity. At one point, they all began to look like people standing near the Washington Monument or the Luray Caverns.

Hey, that's Joanie Author. Take my picture next to her. Then take my picture next to the BEA sign out front. Then take my picture next to the Statue of Liberty.

Seems a little odd, this cult of book.

It's great, of course. It's great that people line up to get free books. People seem excited as hell to come home with stacks and stacks of free books. It's like having a Chattanooga Lookouts Promo Cup shot to you in the stands of the ball game. FREE STUFF!!

And many of the books aren't even "out" yet. Of course, if people are walking around with them, then they're kinda out and kinda not out, I guess. #tomcruise

So free books are great when you're handing out print copies to people in Manhattan, but they're devaluing art when they're downloaded for free to a Kindle in Omaha? Weird.

And it's great that people are excited again, at least for the weekend, for print books and free books and meeting authors and having their pictures taken.

Would be even nicer to see this kind of enthusiasm from readers when new $25 hardbacks are released. 

I wonder what the difference is.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Testing Is Now


THE TESTING from our own Joelle Charbonneau launches today. We couldn't be more excited here at DSD HQ, as this sucker is gonna be frickin huge.

Congrats to Joelle. Check out the prequel and then go order your copy.

It’s graduation day for sixteen-year-old Malencia Vale, and the entire Five Lakes Colony (the former Great Lakes) is celebrating. All Cia can think about—hope for—is whether she’ll be chosen for The Testing, a United Commonwealth program that selects the best and brightest new graduates to become possible leaders of the slowly revitalizing post-war civilization. When Cia is chosen, her father finally tells her about his own nightmarish half-memories of The Testing. Armed with his dire warnings (”Cia, trust no one”), she bravely heads off to Tosu City, far away from friends and family, perhaps forever.

Read “The Testing Guide,” an exclusive prequel story to The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau, out on June 4th from Houghton Mifflin.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Jack Vance's contributions to the mystery genre

 or Jack Vance was an Edgar winner too!

A giant of American genre fiction, Jack Vance, has died.

Vance is well known for his science fiction and fantasy works. He arguably invented the dying earth sub-genre and influenced generations of science fantasy writers, without Vance you don't have Gene Wolfe for example. The style of magic he developed in his fiction would be one of the prime influences on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (pdf) (gamers began to refer to it as Vancian Magic).

He was an accomplished musician, a merchant marine, a traveler. You name it and he did it. And did it damn well too.

So Vance's SF/F bonafides are solid. But the man won an Edgar for Best First Novel in 1962 dammit and deserves to be recognized by this community too. That's what I want to briefly focus on today, Jack Vance's contributions to the mystery genre.

Here's a synopsis for The Man in the Cage:

Junketing around the Mediterranean in petty smuggling operations, Noel Hutson liked to think of himself as a gallant adventurer. But in the middle of a North African desert kasbah, with a truckload of contraband, the American feels less and less like a swashbuckling hero. Forced to reload his truck with a very suspicious cargo, he writes to his family asking for help. Noel disappears, and his brother Darrell comes to find him. Darrell's search takes him to the ancient city of Fez, and into the desert- along the way meeting fanatics, beautiful women, and villains. An exciting suspense novel about an American making his way through a restless society of smuggling, murder, and North African politics.

The Man in the Cage is available on the Kindle for $5.99

Thriller was an anthology series of thriller and suspense stories that ran from 1960-1962.  The Man in the Cage was adapted for a season 1 episode of the show. The full episode is embedded below.

In the mid-60's Jack Vance wrote three Ellery Queen novels.

The Four Johns (1964):

The four of them had only two things in common - their name and a love for the ladies. John Boce was a no-account accountant who lusted after food, drink cars, and women. John Thompson was a secretive librarian who liked his books and his women well-stacked. John Viviano was a fashion photographer with a great feel for a body - any body! And John Pilgrim was a poetic bum who had the girls hanging on his every stanza. All of them wanted the same woman, but which one wanted her enough to kill...?

A Room to Die In (1965):  

How could a man have been murdered when he was found alone in his study, a gun in his hand, and the door locked from the inside? It had to be suicide, the police figured, for although there was no suicide note there was a letter proving conclusively that Roland Nelson, over the last several months, was being blackmailed. But to his daughter, Ann, whom he had seen only spasmodically since he had left her mother when Ann was a baby, there were unanswered questions. She was convinced that her father could never have killed himself. Before she found the answers, two people were brutally garroted with a wire, one of them in her own apartment. Could she fins all the answers before the killer silenced her, too?

The Madman Theory (1966)

Madman or murderer? That was the question and it was Police Inspector Omar Collins who had come up with the answer. All he had to go on was: the victim - Earl Genneman, wealthy president of Genneman Labs; the scene- right in the middle of a busy state park; the murder weapon - a shotgun that was still missing; the witnesses - Myron Retwig, Red Kershaw, Bob Vega, and Buck James, all friends or employees of the deceased; the motive - unknown; the suspects - everyone!  Then he got a lukewarm tip from a real cool corpse, and a few clues started to click into place. But it wasn't till the third party turned up that the inspector was sure he was hot on the killer's trail. And by then, Collins knew he had very little time left to stop his madman from murdering again...!

At first it seemed as though only the Madman Theory could explain the brutal shotgun slaying which lay in wait for the friendly group of back-packing hikers. But Inspector Omar Collins, lean, gloomy-eyed, black-haired, was a painstaking man.The more he pursued it, the less he believed in the Madman Theory.

Of his EQ novels Vance said "...Ellery Queen gave me a flat fee of 3000 dollars for each book. Which was then a lot of money! I did have to sign a contract never to reveal I actually wrote the books. Theoretically I never took his name. In a way he took my good proze and did everything to let it pass as his own.". Vance refered to his EQ novels as being "tarted up".

There was at least one other EQ novel that remained unpublished until the manuscripts inclusion in the Vance Integral Edition.  You can read about it here (pdf).

In 1973 Vance wrote Bad Ronald which was adapted into a 1974 made for TV movie.

Vance wrote two novels with recurring character Sheriff Joe Bain, The Fox Valley Murders (1966) and The Pleasant Grove Murders (1967), that are set in a fictitious county in rural northern California. 

In a 1967 New York Times review of The Pleasant Grove Murders Anthony Boucher wrote:

“I like regionalism in American detective stories, and I really enjoy reading about the problems of a rural country sheriff…and I bless John Holbrook Vance for the best job of satisfying these tastes with his wonderful tales of Sheriff Joe Bain…All very sound, real and enjoyable.”

Subterranean Press recently reissued some of Vance's mystery novels. Dangerous Ways collects The Man in the Cage, Bad Ronald, and The Deadly Isles.  The second collection, Desperate Days, collects The Fox Valley Murders, The Pleasant Grove Murders, and The Dark Ocean. Both collections were limited editions but are worth the time to seek out.

Jack Vance's mystery bibliography:

Take My Face (1957), as "Peter Held"
Isle of Peril (1957), as "Alan Wade" (also titled Bird Isle)
The Man In the Cage (1960)
The Four Johns (1964), as "Ellery Queen" (also titled Four Men Called John, UK 1976)
A Room to Die In (1965), as "Ellery Queen"
The Fox Valley Murders (1966)
The Madman Theory (1966), as "Ellery Queen"
The Pleasant Grove Murders (1967)
The Deadly Isles (1969)
Bad Ronald (1973)
The House on Lily Street (1979)

Other links of interest:

New York Times profile from 2009

Guardian obituary

io9 obit

Critical look at Vance and his writing style

Here's an archived piece written by a fan who was invited to visit the Vance's

Here's a brief overview of Jack Vance's SF/F work from 2000 and a more in depth one

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Get ready to launch....(and a giveaway!)

by: Joelle Charbonneau

It's June.  I've been in denial until yesterday that June was coming.  Why?  I had a book to finish
writing and one to revise.  I finished the first and am working on the second.  All the while I have been watching the calendar creep ever closer to this sixth month of the year.  In two days, The Testing will hit shelves.


I'm scared.

I'm excited.

I'm thrilled.

And I'm ready to hurl.

I loved writing this book.  If you go back to almost two years ago, you'll see the blog posts I wrote about the leap of faith I took in writing it.  I mean, I was the girl who wrote wacky mysteries.  My stories contained camels who wear hats and roller skates, and singing and aunts who drive pink convertibles.  But this story idea hit me and wouldn't let go and I count myself lucky that I have an agent who not only encouraged me to write it, but who loved it once it was done.  THE TESTING is dedicated to her for that reason and so many more.

This series of books (the third of which is currently being revised) has been such an amazing challenge to write.  It has made me think harder about my thoughts on the world around me than any other story I've created.  The characters have engaged me.  The world building has challenged me and my editor has pushed me to make THE TESTING and the two books that follow the best they can be.

I hope readers like THE TESTING.  I hope they see in Cia Vale a heroine to cheer for.  I hope....

So much has lead up to this week.  Now that it is here, I am terrified that the faith my publisher has placed in me and in this trilogy won't be merited.  I don't want to disappoint them or you.  But the story has been written.  The VERY shiny book (trust me...the cover is REALLY shiny) is sitting in boxes waiting to be put on the shelves.  And Tuesday is right around the corner.  All I can do is trust that I have done my very best and celebrate the joy I feel when I hold this book in my hands.

To celebrate release week, I am giving away 1 signed copy of THE TESTING.  You also might get a fun TESTING bracelet and some temporary tattoos as week.  Just leave a comment below about why you want the book or what you like about the cover or trailer or say hello.  I can read the comments this week as I hide under my bed:)  I promise that I'll come out from under the bed on Friday evening and pick a winner.  Oh - and make sure you leave your e-mail address so I can contact you if you win!

Finally, before I sign off, I want to say thank you to everyone in my life who has been so supportive of my writing and this trilogy.  My family, my friends (both those in person and on social media), my publishing team (OMG - there is none better!) and all the booksellers, librarians and readers who made this journey with me....Tuesday isn't just a launch day for THE is a celebration of all of you.  There are no words to describe how much you all mean to me.  All I can say is thank you.