Saturday, August 10, 2013

Lessons Learned For Book #2

Scott D. Parker

Most of y’all know that I passed a major milestone the last day of July: I finally completed my second novel. It took me so long between the first and the second—-seven years—that I never thought I would finish. As the years slogged on, I kept trying to recapture the magic of the time where I managed to do something for the first time. That first time is always something, isn’t it? You don’t really know what you’re doing but you just keep plugging away at the book until you reach The End.

For years, whenever I got stuck, I kept returning to the ways I got that first book finished. I mapped out the entire thing and then wrote it. Since I had success that way, I kept telling myself that that way was the only way.

The years of half completed novels proved otherwise. I finally came to a realization: if you got to The End one way and can’t seem to repeat the feat, create a new way of writing a novel and getting to The End.

Here are the lessons I learned this summer while writing and completing my second novel.


For each abandoned novel laying fallow on my Mac, I had extensive notes and an outline of sorts. I spent hours writing about writing the books and never actually doing the fictioneering. Moreover, I would brain dump on my wife. This always ended in disaster. There would be so much back story that she needed to know that I’d get “that look” that not only told me she lost me but that the story was probably too complicated or not good.

This summer, I told no one the plot of the story. I barely even acknowledged to the people I see everyday that I was writing a book—save the wife and child. Y’all regular readers of Do Some Damage knew more than just about anyone else. I think I had one or two Facebook posts, but that was it. If someone asked what I was writing, I’d say as little as possible. “A mystery.” “A PI story.” “My second novel.” Very rarely did I divulge the elevator pitch.

By keeping walls up, I was able to go at my own pace, think my own thoughts, and not be influenced by any outside forces. In the past, talking too much let out some of the air of my narrative. Those blinder/barriers kept me focused on one thing only: get to The End.


In just about every post this summer I dropped my writing statistics. The science fiction writer, Jamie Todd Rubin, actually spurred me on to this. I read on his blog where he had set up automatic word counting scripts. He showed a screen shot of one of his spreadsheets and I liked it and decided to give it a go. I don’t code, so I entered all my data manually.

There is something very powerful about adding up the daily writing. I was especially surprised when I had a good day and made great progress in the narrative and it ended up clocking in north of two grand. It was like a bonus, and that bonus spurred me on to try and match or top it the next day. It’s one of the reasons why, in the last month of writing, I ended on a 28-day streak of writing more than 1,000 words per day. One day I did it, the next day I repeated it, and so on. Then it became a thing.

My main analytic was consecutive days writing. Just write something every day. Period. I needed and gave myself a minimum of 500 words. Other than one day, I did. But even on that day (10 June), I wrote, so my then tentative 14-day streak remained alive. That day of sub-500 words was Day 15, officially more than two weeks. Writing on that night when I was dead tired put me over the hump of two consecutive weeks of writing.

The metrics I keep are this: date, what written, number of words, cumulative number of words, pace (i.e., 500 words minimum), amount off pace (i.e., if I write more/fewer words, what is the difference), novel accumulation (how many words written the book), and monthly accumulation. The latter two I added later as I wanted to see just how much I was pouring out of me. In my spreadsheet, if I match or exceed my daily pace, I get to highlight the difference in green. I have only one red entry, and the rest are green. I did bump the pace to 600 starting in July. Each day, entering the numbers was my reward. It was a powerful motivator and one I’m still using.


This may come as a shock but I have not read through my novel. Oh, I may have re-read the last paragraph from the day before, but I rarely did that. When I sat down to write, I had the scene more or less complete in my mind and I just wrote it down. I moved forward. I did not look back. I mentioned that to Joelle and she said she likes to edit a book only after it’s done because only then she knows the ending. I like that idea and it’s one that got me through. Yes, there were times when, in a later chapter, I wrote something that I knew contradicted something I’d already written. I made a note about it—mainly to see which version I might like better—but did not go back and fix the earlier section. That is, or will be, for later. Just get the words on the page. Just write. Don’t edit.


One of the things I didn’t do very much of when writing this novel was outlining. Well, not like the first time when I had all the scenes on color-coded notecards. It really surprised me how easily scenes flowed. There was a moment, in the dead middle, where I did map out the next dozen scenes to get me through that mushy part. Once I got past it, however, I just went with the flow so much so that, as soon as I reached the end of the big action sequence, I suddenly realized I had only three scenes left. That, my friends, was an awesome feeling. What lesson is that? It’s okay to keep it fast and loose.


Whatever it is, find it and stick to it. My daily routine of the summer was getting up at 6am, feeding the cat, getting dressed as quietly as possible so as not to wake the wife and boy, fill the cup full of coffee, and start writing. I can usually get an hour or so banged out before I have to go work and usually hit the thousand-word mark. It’s a nice feeling knowing I have achieved my writing goal at the start of the day. Every now and then I have to have a second session to get to a grand, but not usually. The school year will bring changes so I’ll have to see how to adjust.

Those are the main lessons I’ve taken from writing my second novel. And bear this in mind: all of this worked for me. I never would have thought of these things before this summer. What worked for me may not work for you. Find that thing that works for you and keep at it.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Doing a Lost...

By Russel D McLean

I still have one more episode to watch of Supernatural French Drama, The Returned.

I loved it so far. It was a spooky, bizarre and quite brilliant first season for the drama, and I'll be intrigued to see how they wrap it up and what happens when The Returned... returns.

But its been interesting to hear people's reactions to the series. They've been loving it, but have expressed reservations about it "Doing a Lost". In other words, they're scared that it will become such a hit that it will drag on for years without providing any answers and only dragging up questions that can never be answered.

Its a big problem for TV shows. Lost is, of course, the most guilty-as-charged. From what I remember, it was meant to be five seasons and proved such a surprise hit they wanted more. And more. And more. So they started dragging things out, throwing in impossible questions. The initial thrust of the show was based on its mystery, so they started throwing more mysteries at us until they couldn't possibly answer any more. First time round, I gave up midway through the second season, bored of being teased for while episodes about getting an answer and only winding up with more and more questions. I didn't care what was down the hatch or what would happen if a button wasn't pressed because the questions were dangled in front of me without resolution for way, way, way too long.

The X-Files suffered from similar problems, but unlike Lost, at least the show wasn't created during the age of sweeping narrative arcs - it was trying to do something a little different and mostly just lost its way due to the need to outstay its welcome. Its important questions got lost in its own mythology and it wound up offering fifteen different answers to every question in an attempt to keep the viewer hooked (every time Mulder had an answer to what happened to his sister, another possibility was thrown up until the point where - when I think we did have an answer - no one really cared any more). The thing that kept people watching The X Files, by the end, I think, was that it still had a number of stand alone stories that could be accessed by anyone, where Lost was utterly dependant on you watching every episode and yet you still had no idea what was going on.

Sometimes you just have to know when to stop.

Its ironic that I should talk about shows going on too long when I'm a fan of Doctor Who, of course. But then the beauty of Who is that every time its getting a bit slow, or when the lead actor is bored, the show can inject a fresh blood and style in the way that other shows can't. Over the years, Who has been a horror show, a sci-fi show, a historical show, a politically driven fantasy series and so much more. By changing the lead - and yet keeping him the same - they are able to avoid the trap of most shows that just always feel like history repeating.

And of course I loved NYPD Blue, but Blue was never about arcs so much as it was about standalone stories every week with nods to arcs here and there. But it was a show you could tune in to having missed a few weeks and understand. That was the secret to its longevity and the secret to the longevity of a million and one pre-2000 TV shows.

But back to The Returned and the question of how long a narrative arc should be. About four or five seasons usually seems right for a looser arc. Babylon 5 and The Wire are perfect examples of this in two different genres. They set out with an agenda and they carried those agendas through before getting out (although Babylon 5 carried on in spin offs which got increasingly worse, unfortunately). Sometimes even one or two seasons is all you need. I mentioned, last week, Life on Mars, which worked perfectly in two seasons and had no need for any kind of continuation or spin off. Everything you could need was contained in those two short seasons of quality television. Yes, we were left wanting more, but that's as it should be. A show should never be allowed to limp on into infinity, losing its drive, its reason, its very reason for being (although in some cases, a bit of stumbling is allowable - but it works better for non arc-led shows).

I'm looking forward to the last episode of the Returned. I'm looking forward to its second season. But I hope its creators don't fall into the trap of dragging out the central mystery. Viewers don't return to be asked questions. They return because of characters and intrigue. They return for the hope of a satisfying narrative. They return because they trust you to tell them a story.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Re-reading great books and Salinger

By Steve Weddle 

So folks on the recent Bookrageous podcast were all going all "Hey, I love re-reading books. Yeah. I once read this book and then immediately re-read that sucker like four more times" and I'm listening and I'm all like, "The hell?" I have, and I swear on the life of Bill O'Reilly tha that I'm not making this up, seventy-eight hundred and nine books in my TBR pile.

Kevin Smokler was on with that New England beer guy and that nice book lady to talk about Smokler's book about re-reading classics you haven't touched since high school. (Subscribe to the podcast. Seriously. Is great.)

I never read Brave New World or Lord of the Flies or Gatsby or any of those books in high school. They were probably assigned. I've read Gatsby since then, though most of the other high school classics I've shied away from.
The discussion about Gatsby and that book by JDSalinger got to the idea of being able to read for different reasons, with different results. You read about the life of Gatbsy/Gatz and, as a teenager, you're coming at it much differently than you would when you're 40 and have all this nostalgia and regret and despair. Same with Holden Cauliflower.

Maybe the first time you read a book, you're golfing with a five iron and a putter. Then when you come back to the book later -- married, a Kierkegaard scholar, wrinkles perfectly edging your eyes -- you've got a fuller set of clubs and can enjoy more of the course.

Or maybe not.

I've read all the published Salinger. I've read the stories, the novellas, the novel. When I was a grad student at LSU, I made it a project to go back and find everything, even the stories on microfiche down in the basement. I read "Elaine" and "Hapworth" and "Varioni" and all those. I collected them in a folder, three-hole punched, and read and read, looking at how the stories were built, how they held together. I did this because, when I was twelve, I read Catcher and thought, quite properly, what a goddamn great book it was. All those goddamn phonies. And as a grad student, reading through to maybe try to recapture some of that magic I'd found when I first read Salinger, I came across stories that people probably shouldn't read. Not if they want to hold on to that magic. Heck, isn't there that story in the Nine Stories collection in which a guy calls his best friend to say something like, "Hey, Bob, I think my wife's cheating on me." And they talk and talk and the whole thing is completely telegraphed, and at the end, of course Bob is lying in bed the guy's wife the whole time.

Some books, when you go back, you might spoil the fun.

There was this John Wesley Harding album I used to have. It had a song called "The Rent" on it. I lost it in some move, but for years I kept thinking about that song, trying to remember the lines and the music. It built up in my soul, the way these things do. It became its own myth. Eventually I tracked down the song, re-listened, and it was just another song. It was fine. Whatever.

We have these love affairs with books, at least if we're book lovers. We read them at a certain time in our lives, when the house is empty and the sun is just dropping down between the tips of the trees' fingers, and there's just enough whiskey left in the glass that you don't feel like you have to get up and refill it anytime soon, and we just settle in with these characters and it's just so feathery wonderful.

And if you re-read that book, you're liable to think that Seymour Glass was an asshole fondling a little girl's foot and you're frickin' glad he put a bullet through his damn head.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

On being an last

Eva Dolan

First off I have to say what a pleasure it is to be joining the fine folks at Do Some Damage and thank-you to Steve for inviting me over here to witter away.  Since this is my first post I guess I should say a bit about what I'm up to right now...

It's a pretty exciting time for me writing wise.  My debut novel Long Way Home is due out on January 2nd - a sentence I never get bored typing - the proofs are being finalised as we speak and the serious business of promotion is starting.  Suddenly it's all getting real and I'm beginning to consider what it means to be an author rather than a writer, a distinction I wouldn't have fully appreciated a year ago when the book was still a rough manuscript being fired off to my agent.

Old Swan Hotel Harrogate
The turning point came a couple of weeks ago at the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Festival in Harrogate, the industry's unofficial UK AGM, when my publishers Harvill Secker suggested a brief, on-camera interview to be used closer to release.  Just a small thing, nothing to worry about.  But I did worry, of course, I'm a writer, an observer, one of those oddballs who eavesdrop in pubs and cafes, trying to figure out people's stories from the way they turn a spoon between their fingers as their companion talks without drawing breath.

But it's part of the business of writing and I knew I'd better get used to it.  So I had a few drinks, trying to achieve a suitably relaxed state without tipping over into the one where I'd totally lose control of my sweary mouth.  (Not one c-bomb dropped.)  And then before I knew it I was being taken up to a little room in The Old Swan Hotel, with a big camera and a single, vulnerable looking chair parked in front of it.  I sat down and one lovely gent powdered my face before another fixed my microphone, while I considered what an idiot I was not to have prepared for this. 

I knew what the questions were going to be, I knew I was supposed to say clever things, but at that point I was still too close to the book to consider it's context or themes or why anyone should want to read it more than the one next to it on the shelf.  I was going to make a complete fool of myself.

The problem was that I never discussed my work while I was an aspiring author, partly because I'm really superstitious but more because I figured most people weren't interested and if they were it would only lead to a lot of difficult questions about why I wasn't published yet.  I didn't have beta readers, didn't join groups, I didn't even produce a synopsis for Long Way Home.  Reducing those three hundred and sixty carefully crafted pages to a couple of neat sound bites was simply not in my repertoire.

A weird thing happened though.  Once the camera started rolling my nerves melted away, my hands stopped trembling and some part of my brain I didn't know existed took over; I heard myself talking about the book clearly and sensibly.  I sounded like a proper author, damn it.

When I went back down to the bar afterwards I knew that the scariest thing I'd have to do to promote Long Way Home was behind me and nothing that the next few months had in store would faze me.  Okay, that might have been the rum talking, just a little bit, but I feel completely different about the whole promotion thing now.  Actually, I think I'm going to enjoy talking about the book. 

In fact, I'm going to say a little bit right here...

Long Way Home grew out of a conversation I overheard in pub, two men discussing the practices of a local gangmaster.  There was no disgust for how he exploited his workers, no sympathy for what brought those people to a point where they were prepared to graft for terrible money in uncertain circumstances.  The violence used to maintain 'order' was treated like a joke and the people on the receiving end regarded as scum.  It was a conversation which stayed with me, festering away in the back of my mind.

I channelled my fury into a short story, but the form didn't feel big enough to explore the issue, and eventually I realised this was a subject I wanted to get on my soapbox about.  So I scrapped the book I was writing and started a new one.

Long Way Home opens with the murder of a migrant worker, burned alive in a suburban garden shed where he's sleeping rough.  The householders come under immediate suspicion but as the investigation proceeds it becomes clear that the man has made plenty of enemies who would like to see him dead, and the hunt for his killer leads into the murky world of gangmasters, slum landlords and right wing extremists.

I wanted to write a compelling crime novel, and only time will tell if I have, but the real driving force behind the book was a desire to explore a world which most people live very close to without actually experiencing.  It's a frequently harsh world, plagued by corruption and exploitation, where human life is cheap and fortunes rise in line with a person's capacity for brutality, and even though some cities, like Peterborough where the book's set, have dedicated Hate Crime units, the racism these communities fall victim to is often ignored.

There's no denying that Long Way Home is a grim book in many ways, but the story is based in truth and I think it does throw some light on a situation which is just beginning to enter the public consciousness, and because of that I'm actually pretty proud of it.

 (Image stolen from Mel Sherratt. Sorry Mel.)


This week I'm on vacation in Sandra Ruttan country.

I've loaded up my iPad with books by Thomas Pluck, Dana King, Patti Abbott and Sandra herself.

And I'm listening to new music by a band I saw at the recent street festival in my neighbourhood, Juice:

Hope you're having a great summer, too.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Interview with Broken River Books editor J David Osborne

Broken River Books started announcing new titles on Facebook recently. I was already excited to see what they were up to and now I can't wait to read what's coming. I conducted a brief interview with editor J David Osborne.


Brian Lindenmuth: You don't have much of a web presence, other that Facebook, is there a site coming?

J David Osborne: There will be a website for Broken River after all the titles are announced, and we're a little bit closer to launch.

Why did you set up a small press?

When Jeremy Johnson decided to put Swallowdown on hiatus for a bit while he worked on his novel, I offered to take it over for him. I wanted to rebrand it as a crime fiction press. He told me that I could do that if I wanted, but that it was probably a better idea to set up my own. I talked to Cameron Pierce about it and he was nice enough to offer to help me. He's done a great job at Lazy Fascist, and so I'm stealing that model.

How did you think you can add value in the current publishing climate?

I'm going to put out the absolute best crime fiction that I can. Also, I'm going to be taking books that other places might be scared to take risks on. I come from the Bizarro fiction scene. I want the outsiders and the weirdos.

Why become a publisher?

It's quite possibly the only thing that I'm good at. Ever since I was little, I was editing my dad's stories he'd leave up on the computer. Writing, reading, those things are pretty much my life. I'm extremely detail-oriented. I find true joy in the book-birthing process. I love getting the manuscripts in my inbox, I love reading them, I love building relationships and art. Also, I have worked a ton of odd jobs. I've moved furniture, trimmed trees, worked in a home decor store, a tire shop, Eddie Bauer. Now I manage a hot dog restaurant. I like to work for the sake of working, but I'd prefer to put my energies into doing something that I could potentially be the best at. I'm never going to be the best hot dog seller.

Who chose the name?

Cameron Pierce, just out of the blue. I thought, "yeah, that's good."

As a reader, how would you describe your taste in crime fiction?

I love James Sallis to death. Daniel Woodrell and James Ellroy are gods. But really, I'm a sentence guy. I flip for pretty writing. And I don't mean the purple shit, I like it lean. I need characters first, bad stuff second. My biggest goal for Broken River is to put out books that leave a lasting impression. You're not just going to read these books, you're going to live in them, with these human characters, well after you've put them down.

As a publisher, how would you describe your ideal reader's taste in crime fiction?

My ideal reader would be someone who's willing to put in the work. A lot of these books are not what I'd call "beach reading." They all rip along at a serious pace, but they require attention. They do not hold your hand. My ideal reader needs to be someone who does not want the same story over and over again. Some folks do, and I don't blame them. But that's not what you're going to get, here. When a book from Broken River comes in the mail, I want them to sit down with it and take a deep breath.

Will you be publishing in print or E or both?

I'll be doing both. I love my Kindle, but I'm hoping folks get the print versions. Matthew Revert's cover work is a thing to behold.

How will/has this venture affect your own writing?

The books that I'm putting out haven't affected my style as a writer, so far. What they have done is affected how I read. I'm becoming a better reader. My first worry when I started this thing is that I am picky. In my writing every word needs to have a purpose or I'm cutting it out. But I've learned from reading and rereading these titles that my first impulse to cut needs to be curbed ever-so-slightly. I have to let the book breathe and I have to trust that these wildly talented individuals I'm working with know what they're doing.

You just recently announced your first title. Tell us about it.

The first title I'm putting out is THE LEAST OF MY SCARS by Stephen Graham Jones. Jones is maybe one of the best, most prolific writers putting in work today. I've been a fan of his since one of my college classes had his LEDFEATHER on the syllabus. Every book he puts out is different, and powerful. It's kind of difficult to believe, that this is just one guy. SCARS is about a serial killer who is confined to a apartment in an abandoned complex and fed victims by a mobster. The isolation and paranoia slowly dismantle this already unhinged man's psyche. It is a fully realized portrait of insanity. It's a tough book both due to the extreme content and the casual way in which the killer relates his constant urge to do all manner of terrible things to people. It's an extremely evil noir as told by the villain of a slasher film.

You just recently announced your second title. Tell us about it.

The second book is PECKERWOOD by Jedidiah Ayres. Ayres knows crime fiction like no one I've ever met. You can feel the confidence in the way the book is structured. The man can weave a web and he writes about horrible people with a level of empathy that is just totally missing from most contemporary crime fiction. It's amazing to me when you read a book and only realize in hindsight that the characters you were joking around with are actually heels. The novel chronicles the collision of a meth-dealing ex-biker, a crooked cop, and a penny-ante douchebag. While not terribly long, it is epic in scope, and I've heard whispers from the author that there's a sequel in the planning stages. I wish I didn't know that, because waiting for that one is gonna be tough.

What else do you have coming up that you can tell us about?

I've got a couple more books that I haven't announced yet. I'm going to put out the sequel to LOW DOWN DEATH RIGHT EASY and the serial novel I'm writing online, GOD$ FARE NO BETTER, early next year. Also, the thing I'm really excited about, is the anthology I'm assembling. It's called INCOGNITO. The premise is as such: not a single author will be named in the book, and each one will be sworn to secrecy. No one will ever know who has written these stories. I got tired of seeing the "no pay, but exposure" bullshit for anthologies, so I kind of flipped it: a hundred percent of the royalties will go to the authors. What kind of exciting writing can I find when there's no need for an author to worry about his or her name brand? From what I've seen so far, I'm extremely hopeful.

Are you open for subs? If someone's reading this who has a project that might be a good fit for you, how would you prefer them to go about submitting it?

Anyone with a badass book can submit it to Door's open for the time being.

Lastly, what is noir?

Noir is feeling you get when you find out your best friend kills cats and you realize you love him anyway.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Can those who walk in the dark truly be redeemed?

By: Joelle Charbonneau

This week has been interesting to say the least.  A news story broke about three murders that took place in 1967.  The murders were committed by a 15 year-old boy named Jim Wolcott.  He had a trial.  Because of a diagnosis of a mental illness, he was declared not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a mental hospital until it could be proven he was no longer a threat to society.  While at the institution, he received his high school degree and began taking college classes in psychology.  6 years after he began treatment, a new trial was held and he was declared mentally stable.  Since that time, he finished college with a degree in psychology and went onto receive both a masters and doctorate in the subject.  He now teaches at a university where he has received awards for excellence in teaching and has had students who are proud to call him a mentor go on to great things in the psychology and psychiatry fields.

The reason I have paid a great deal of attention to this story is because I attended the university where he currently teaches and took 2 classes from him.  I found him to be an interesting teacher.  He pushed students to think for themselves, especially in the honors class I took my senior year.  He was smart, engaging and was compassionate when I needed to miss his class in order to come home for an emergency in my then boyfriend’s and now husband’s family. 

The story broke this week that he had changed his name after leaving the mental institution all those years ago and that no one until now knew his past history. The mayor of the university town has called for his dismissal.  People around the country have said that he should not be trusted to be in a room with students because he killed in his past or because he could have a mental break as he did over 46 years ago.  The university has stood by him saying that while they were unaware of his past, they know him to be a valued teacher whose students have sung his praises.

Since hearing the news, I’ve thought long and hard about how I feel about this teacher’s past and how it should impact his present.  Reading the story made me feel a ill.  My initial thoughts were “Someone I know killed his family.  He’s now a teacher.  That’s terrible.”  But those knee-jerk reactions have given way to something more important…a strange kind of hope that the justice system we as a society profess to believe in really works.  That a boy with a mental illness can receive treatment and find a way to not only live a good life, but one that has had profound positive effects on thousands of students.

Despite so many advancements in our society, there remains a huge stigma attached to mental illness.   The story that broke about this professor makes him sound sinister because he was once diagnosed with one.  At the same time, it makes it sound as if having a mental illness helped him avoid justice and that he has never had to show remorse over his actions because of his past condition.

I disagree in the slant the reporter took.  Maybe because I have sat and listened to this man lecture and have had conversations with him during office hours or in the hall of the school I attended.  But after much soul searching, I can passionately say that I disagree that he should step down or be made to feel ashamed of the life he has built for himself since that terrible night over 4 decades ago. 

Has he publicly stated that he is remorseful about his crime?  I have no idea and I am not certain that it should make a difference.  Speaking the words “I’m sorry” are easily said and just as easily forgotten.  Living a life pursuing knowledge in the area that caused him to pick up a weapon and kill his family and dedicating his life to advancing that field so that others will not do what he did….that, to me, means so much more than any words.   Every day that he spends helping educate and research that which caused him to take his family’s life is a way of remembering them and making sure that no one does what he once did.

The system worked.   

No one can ever bring back lives that are taken, but there is great good in the determination to find mental health and to promote awareness in everything that he has done since.   Does that negate the horror of what happened in 1967?  No.  Nothing can.  But knowing that he has dedicated his life to a purpose that might save other families the same terrible fate that his suffered…to me that is more justice than most victims ever receive. 

So perhaps I am naïve.  Perhaps it is my hope that people can be redeemed that makes me write this post.  But I stand by Dr. James St. James and am hopeful that since he demonstrated that he found a way out of the darkness that others can, too.