Saturday, July 6, 2013


Scott D. Parker

For any project we writers write, there's always that moment when you reach a certain point in your story and momentum takes over. I think there are actually more than one spot. It's at the beginning, of course, when you are all excited about this new tale and you are bursting with enthusiasm. There is also the end one where all the events of the story have built to the big giant conclusion.
But what about the middle ground, that iffy time after the one-quarter or one-third mark when the long slog kicks in? That part is where many writers--this one included--often falter. It's happned to me in the past and it has been my greatest challenge. So far this summer, with this new work ethic, it is a challenge I'm overcoming.
How do I know? Well,  for one, I'm a chronological writer. Once I settle on a story, I write it from beginning to end and I don't jump around. Some authors do that--and, admittedly, it's easier for non-fiction--but I don't. I like to see the little nuances come up as I move forward. It allows me and the story to breathe. As such, if there are scenes I'm looking forward to writing, I have to wait until I get there. In this current story, I'm at one of those points. I have a central conceit in this story and, after actual months of waiting--and about a month of current writing--I'm finally there. And it feels great to be here.
Another way I know I'm on a right track for a story is when I stop wanting to read other people's material in favor of reading my own. Now, in order for me to 'read' my stuff, I need to write it. I write in the mornings so, I tell myself, I can leave the evenings for other reading. But, the deeper I get into my own story, the more I want to read it. So, little by little, I'm actually getting two writing sessions in per day. That tells me something.
The promise of favorite scenes. For nearly a month now of daily work on this book, I've been waiting to get to the scenes I wrote Thursday and Friday. By the time this post goes live, I'll have written the next scene on Saturday morning. It's a nice reward to finally be here, living in the scenes I've only imagined in my head for a long, long time.
Then there's this one and it is a direct result of me keeping statistics on my writing. I'm really loving the current novel, but other influences are spurring me on to write some short stories. But when I look at my analytics and my writing streak, I don't want to break the novel-writing streak (worked on the novel every day since 9 June). There's but one of two ways to overcome that: have more than one writing session a day with one devoted to the novel and another devoted to short stories. Not bad, but then the evening session with the short stories will always have the longing for the novel.
Well, that leaves only one alternative: finish the novel, as soon as possible. That, more than anything, is what is driving me this week. I know I'll have to re-read this thing and, revise/edit, revise/edit, and revise/edit over and over, but I'll be doing that on a *finished manuscript.* And it was the realization that, if I bear down and hyperfocus on the novel for the next month, I can have a completed manuscript by mid-August, just in time for my son's return to school (and the elimination of my wonderful 6am writing time).
So, there it is. Done by August. Given the variances of life, I can settle on Done by Labor Day. Barring something dramatic, I see no reason why that can't be accomplished.
That, my friends, is a great feeling. And a fantastic piece of motivation.

What types of motivation drives y'all?

Friday, July 5, 2013

One in the Eye

By Russel D Mclean

I still can’t say when it will be published (for a number of reasons) but the other day I put to bed the latest draft of the fourth McNee novel. If you don’t know the books, McNee is a private investigator from Dundee, Scotland. When I started writing the books, I remember the author Steven Torres asking if there were any other Scottish PIs. At the time I couldn’t think of any. Today, I still can’t. I sometimes wonder if that’s because the UK is so in thrall to the police procedural (and especially Scotland, where the admittedly excellent Laidlaw series kickstarted the modern movement so hard, we find it hard to escape the Inspector’s long shadow). But when people ask me why I chose to write about a PI, I have to point them towards my influences. So here are the five most influential (to me) PI novels that I have read:

           1) WHEN THE SACRED GINMILL CLOSES by Lawrence Block – It was my dad who introduced me to crime writers, and one of the biggies at the time was Lawrence Block. As Dad said, Block wasn’t just writing about colving crimes, he was writing both about New York and about alcoholism. This particular book changes everything for Matt Scudder. His alcoholism is final properly acknowledged, and the closing of the novel is a stunner. The mystery and crime elements are very well handled, but really this book shows how the PI novel is about so much more than just solving a crime and how the detective can be affected much more deeply than a cop, who is assigned a case rather than actively choosing to pursue it. Block and Scudder were my introduction to PI fiction (as an adult) and I haven’t looked back.

      2)  THE GOODBYE LOOK by Ross MacDonald – You could probably blame Ross MacDonald for the family theme that runs through the McNee novels. MacDonald’s Lew Archer novels were obsessed with family secrets, which is perhaps no surprise given his focus on psychological motivations; who else can affect you more deeply than family? The Goodbye Look was the first MacDonald I read (and it was far from the last), and it blew me away. This one finds Archer employed to discover why a son would be involved in a burglary perpetrated against his own parents. But Archer soon uncovers decades worth of secrets and lies linked to an old kidnapping. MacDonald really added a psychological depth to the pulp template, and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Hammett and Chandler, which is why it was a terrible shame he was so hard to find in the UK for a long time (although Penguin Classics have now re-released the books).

       3)  THE BIG SLEEP by Raymond Chandler – Anyone who says they don’t like or appreciate Chandler is lying or trying to hard to find a reason to disparage him. Yes, Chandler’s plots are often a little unclear (he tended to move from set piece to set piece, each scene more important than its place in the whole) but by God, its all about the writing. And no one has bettered Chandler. He is the reason for all the wisecracking heroes, all the glib humour in crime fiction. And with The Big Sleep he instantly creates a hero who would become something of an archetype. Encoded in every PI (and many cops) following Chandler is the DNA of Philip Marlowe.

It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved, and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars…

      4) The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett – Hammett’s own experiences as private eye served to inform his fiction, and with the Maltese Falcon his hard edged experiences clearly inform the character of Sam Spade. It’s a tough novel on many levels, and its interesting on re-read to see how Hammett doesn’t really let us too deep inside the character’s heads, preferring instead to let their actions do the talking. He’s a tougher read than Chandler in some ways (he’s a lot less warm) but he’s every bit as rewarding. As with Marlowe, Spade would go on to influence generations of PI characters.
5)   Hammett by Joe Gores – this 1975 novel took the tricksy task of blending real life and fiction by making Hammett the central investigator. It’s a brilliant novel from Gores (who would later write the official prequel to the Maltese Falcon, authorised by the Hammett Estate, and one of the few novels of its nature that really invoked the atmosphere of the works on which it was based) and his fictional recreation of a real life figure feels absolutely real. Its become a kind of forgotten gem, and I’m not sure if its still in print, but if you can get a hold of it, you really should: it’s a great novel about crime and crime fiction and works both as a thriller and as a kind of meta-commentary on the history of the genre.

Are there modern writers you should be reading, I hear you ask? Oh, yes, there have been some great eye novels past the 90s, but the books mentioned are the ones that really influenced me before I was published. So if you’re looking for more modern eyes, check out Sean Chercover’s Ray Dudgeon books, Reed Farrell Coleman’s Moe Prager novels, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone novels and Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series. And while I bemoan the lack of Scots eyes, check out an Irish eye in Jen Bruen’s Jack Taylor novels, an ex-con who thinks he’s an eye in Ray Banks’s Cal Innes series and our own Jay Stringer’s brilliant Eoin Miller books.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

High Concept Hilarity

By Jay Stringer

Firstly I should say I have a pet hate. I can't stand it when people criticise something they haven't seen or read. People will declare that "Mr X is a terrible writer," or "Ms Z can't direct," or "That film sucks,"but when you push a little closer you find they haven't read the thing that Mr X has written, or seen the film that Ms Z has made.

I can't stand that. In all honesty, I find it dishonest. I try to make a living from writing, so I feel I owe other creators -especially writers- a certain level of professional respect. So, given how much I dislike that school of criticism, I'm about to tread a fine line.

I have no issues at all with the quality of PACIFIC RIM. I can't have. I haven't seen it. I have no comments that I can make on whether it's a good film, but I do want to talk about the way these films are marketed and the culture of accepting it. If I do start to read like I'm attacking the quality of the film itself, slap me.

Here's a conversation I had with a friend this week;

FRIEND: "Seen the trailer for PACIFIC RIM?"
ME: "Saw one before STAR TREK"
ME: "Really? All I got was that giant robots are fighting giant monsters."
FRIEND: "What more do you need?"

And here, somewhat related to the theme, is a conversation I had with another friend a few years ago when I was complaining about what a bad film TRANSFORMERS 2 was (and I will criticise it, because I paid to go see it);

ME: "I hated it. No structure. No story. No internal logic."
FRIEND: "You paid to see a film about giant robots fighting. Were you expecting a story?"

And so here we are again.

PACIFIC RIM could turn out to be a great film with a gripping story. There are many people whose tastes I trust who will be seeing it, and i might add it to my list if they report back on it being good. The thing is, they will have done a job that the film's marketing team don't seem to feel they need to. They will have convinced me of the films quality.

On the part of the studio and the marketing team themselves, they seem to think that just shouting "GIANT MONSTERS FIGHTING GIANT ROBOTS!!!!!!" is enough. And, you know what? It seems that they're right. Any time I voice an opinion to the contrary I'm starting to get people who think I am the strange one. That second conversation, the one about Transformers 2, does seem to be becoming representative of how we make these decisions. I'm the one who is strange for expecting a story when I pay money to go and see a film that someone was paid thousands to write.

High concept and one line pitches are nothing new. We've all seen them, and all used them.

It's like JAWS but in a JUNGLE. It's a HAUNTED HOUSE movie in SPACE. It's like ALIEN but on a boat. It's like DIE HARD but on a BUS. It's like THE TERMINATOR but with the number TWO after it. It's like your MUM but BETTER.

But am I the only one feeling that we're now getting further and further down this road, and that things like story no longer matter? Am I wrong, and it's always been this way?

And furthermore, when I come out of these films and then moan about the lack of story, I get told that I simply "don't like fun." Have we lowered our expectations so much, that "fun" now means "crap?" (Again, that is aimed at the films I have seen.) This culture of "switching your brain off." I'm pretty sure that if I switch my brain off, doctors will come into the room, shout out the time, and write my name on a certificate. To look at my list of favourite films is to see quite a few films that I would consider 'fun.' RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. BACK TO THE FUTURE. GHOSTBUSTERS. These are fun films. And for each of them there are moments when you need to suspend disbelief, when you have to trust the narrative over trusting external logic. But the films earn those moments. That no longer seems to be a consideration. We've accepted that "fun" means people getting paid thousands and millions to make films, that we then pay a percentage of our weekly wage to go and see, that don't have to make any kind of sense or have any kind of story. I don't find that "fun."

But I'm off topic. I'm not trying to talk about the films themselves so much as the way they are sold to us.

Is my generation to blame? The kids who grew up in the 80's constantly mashing things up. The decade when action figures had exploded, when TV series were now made simply to sell those toys. When we would run around the playground arguing about who would win in a fight between He-Man and Optimus Prime and also testing the theory out with plastic avatars? When we could argue about who would win in a fight between Freddy and Jason, and if the Terminator could take out a Xenomorph? Many of these things were turned into comics that people my age lapped up. And, in turn, some of them have been films. People my age our now writing movies, they are now selling and advertising them. So maybe it's all our fault.

Am I alone in wanting to have someone pitch to me as if they take me seriously? Am I alone in wanting to at least think that the marketing people credit me with a brain and with some interest in story or character? It does seem that the marketing people are right. That this is what "we" are happy with.

So, once again, I have no beef with the quality of PACIFIC RIM. It has a very good Director. It has a strong cast. I believe some of the influences come from Greek myth, and I'm a big fan of those same myths. It has every chance of being a good film. But that also seems to be entirely incidental. The marketing is not interested in whether or not it's a good film with a compelling story. And, it seems, the people I speak to who are excited about it tend to leave that as an afterthought, too. It's just the film about GIANT MONSTERS FIGHTING GIANT ROBOTS. Eh.

PACIFIC RIM has a chance of being a good film. It's by a good Director. It has a good cast. But none of those seem to be the selling points.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Best of 2013: So Far

Astute reader and gentle lover Jedidiah Ayres has picked his favorite books of 2013, so far.

J. David Osborne - So many things to be excited about with this one. Style, tone, content, heart and a willingness to fuck it all up in a single sentence. Osborne uses words sparingly with great efficiency and proficiency - go ahead and read it again. You'll want to.

Cortright McMeel- A short story, really. Not a book, but sold for .99 as an eBook. I read this on the plane on my way to N@B-Denver's memorial to Cort who left us way too soon, and it was a double-edged experience. On the one-hand, I enjoyed seeing my friend come through in his characters, and on the other, I was angered and saddened all over again that there weren't going to be more of these coming.

 More here

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Happiness is a One-Book Deal

By Steve Weddle

So I just got galley pages in for COUNTRY HARDBALL. And the lovely people at Amazon and BN have put up the cover image. Feel free to pre-order a few copies if you haven't already. Makes a great Christmas present.

What's a bit unusual about working with the nice people at Tyrus Books (the delightful Ben LeRoy, et al)  is that we've got an agreement for this book. Just this book. Sure, there's language in the contract about if I write a follow-up and all, but this isn't one of those three-book deals. It's just a deal for this one book. If I write another one, there will be a separate contract. I've sent this book in and I don't owe anyone shit.

In fact, if I don't want to look at the galleys, I can't just email back an "all good" and be done. (In all honesty, the Tyrus/F+W people who work on these things have done a shitload of great work, and there's really nothing left for me to do but thank them.)

I got to thinking about this because I have nine friends (as of this morning) and three of them are writers. Two of them are quite good, but all three are writing under contract for upcoming books. They've signed deals promising books. They've taken money that they'll have to give back if they don't produce the third books by June 2014.

The "Exceptionally Lovely Three-Book Deal" or whatever the code is. So, they owe books. Owe. So off to writing they go.

I'll email one of my friends (I'm talking at this point about a former friend) a question such as "Hey, have you ever worn striped socks? They seem a little namby-pamby, but I'm thinking they're kinda cool. Can you get a jpeg on your phone? Take a look and tell me what you think."

Then the reply will come, stating that my (former) friend is a little tied up right now writing on deadline and can't take a look. Or in the middle of a proposal. Or an outline. (Not sure what that is.) Or some other such nonsense.

You hear about these multi-book deals and then you don't hear much more from the authors until their new books come out and they're back on Twitter or Facebook with some sort of apology that turns into a sale. "Hey, sorry I've been gone for the past year, but I was finishing up the new book. I think you'll like it. Click here to sign up for my newsletter and pre-order a copy."

So, I'm pleased with the one-book thing. I can write whatever I want. Follow-up to COUNTRY HARDBALL? Sure. More cyborg lesbian vampires? More Oscar Martello? A space opera? Sure. No one gives two shits what I write. I'm a free agent. No one give a damn about me now, about what I'm doing.

Seems to be much less pressure. Which is great, considering it has taken me 43 years for my first book to come out. If I can get another one written before I'm 80, I'll be ahead of the game.

Click here to sign up for my newsletter and pre-order a copy.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Moving Mountains in a Shared World

Many say they’d sacrifice themselves for the ultimate truth, but who is prepared to die for a great lie to save the lives of others?

That's the hook for my newest work, and greatest departure from all my works to date... And I can finally share some of the details about this journey.

A few months ago, I received an invitation to participate in the launch of Kindle Worlds. While it's billed (by some) as a fan fiction system that allows writers to earn money for their efforts, it's really more of a shared worlds system. The rights holders (original creators) earn profits from every work published, along with the new writers, and it's publication with permission, so you're not imposing on someone's baby without their consent.

As an author, those things were important to me. When I received the invitation, I really had to debate whether or not this was the right thing for me. Since consents were in place, I felt comfortable considering the option, but what I wasn't sure about was whether or not I had the time and information needed to step into another world. The Foreworld Saga is immensely popular, and the prospect of stepping into that series was daunting.

 However, Foreworld covers a large span of time periods, multiple characters, and story arcs. This gave me the opportunity to take the core elements of Foreworld and bring new characters into the mix. The result is described as follows:
A historical drama of the highest order, S.M. Ruttan’s The Mountain of Mist and Shadow is set in ancient times. The world has not yet turned to Christianity, and the mighty Caesar is still fighting the rising tide of martyrs that have converted to the growing religion. Two allied groups, the Shield-Brethren and Shield-Maidens in the south have unexpectedly reconnected to similar orders in the north. A seer from the north arrives in the south, with artifacts stolen from the Romans -- precious items that may or may not disprove some claims of the Christian martyrs. The Council of Seers has already been shown the bloody future of the peoples they live amongst, and knows that if they do not arm and defend their order, they will soon succumb to the imperial Empire. They split their congregation into two groups and set out on the deadliest of journeys, determined to rebuild their order in hiding, far from the reaches of Caesar, while harbouring the invaluable secret articles the Romans desire. Can they make it to safety before the greatest army in the history of mankind hunts their people down?

I can't even begin to express how nervous I was about stepping outside my genre, outside my contemporary settings, and immersing myself into a popular series. I was concerned that people might not realize at first that this doesn't connect to my prior works, which is why I've used S.M. Ruttan as the author name, but I think the description probably eliminates any confusion.

The result has been a major accomplishment for me - a first: my first #1 ranking on Amazon.

And the very best thing of all? My stepson's had a long-standing interest in The Foreworld Saga, and being connected to it has really upped my cool factor. No ranking in the world can beat impressing him.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

All hail librarians!

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Yesterday, I was at my very first ALA conference.  ALA stands for the American Library Association. And lucky me, the conference this year was in Chicago.  Hurray for the windy city.  (Sorry for the weather, though.  The freak thunderstorms and cool temperatures aren't typical.  Honest!)

While I was on the ALA exhibit floor, I got to see cool authors signing books (I even got to sign books!), browsed booths filled with ARCs and finished copies of kids and adult reading and I got to talk to librarians.  The last should be a no brainer since...well,'s a library conference.  But there is something funny about the way television and movies always characterize librarians.  In those mediums, librarians are often played as meek, quiet, shy and nervous about speaking their mind.

Um--nope!  Not the librarians I talked to.  Oh, I'm sure that lots of them are shy or get nervous in social situations, but when it comes to books they let their personalities shine.  They love books.  Not just in the casual way that some people say they love to read.  These are passionate advocates for the written word.  They love stories of all kinds.  But beyond that they love to tell people about the stories they love.  Connecting readers with stories that will open their minds and imaginations is something that drives them.  How cool is that?

Growing up, I was at my local library at least once a week.  I remember browsing the shelves and checking out my limit of books every time...I think it was 5 (I have now been told the limits for kids is almost limitless!!!).  I also remember my local librarians making suggestions about what I should read next.  Because they took the time to learn about my preferences, I was never disappointed when I read one of their recommendations.  The librarians at my local library were awesome.  The librarians today were just as amazing.  They know books.  They love books and they want the world to love them, too.

Too often, I think kids feel that reading is work.  They think they have to read and remember and be tested.  Those kids can turn into adults who feel adverse to reading for entertainment because of poor reading experiences as children.  And that is so sad.  Because I'm betting if as a child they went to their local library and had a passionate advocate like the ones I met today putting the right book in their hands reading wouldn't feel like work any more.  And the more I think about it, the more I am certain that librarians are a resource our country should celebrate more.  Because if the passion I saw from them this weekend could be transferred to our youth - I firmly believe that anything would be possible.

So to all the librarians I met and those I have yet to have the privilege of saying hello to - Thank you for all you do.  Little by little you are changing the world!