Saturday, August 31, 2013

Just Showing Up + End of Summer Report

Scott D. Parker

I'll admit something: this past week's writing was a struggle. I still managed a thousand words a day, but they were words that I all but had to force out of me. But, here's the thing I learned: they would have stayed inside of me had I not sat down in front of the Mac and wrote.

It goes without saying that the only way to write is to write. Duh. For all the imagineering you do in your head, if you are not writing down words in some form or fashion, you are not writing. Case in point was Tuesday morning. I've settled in on a 5:30am wake up time. That gives me roughly 30 minutes for writing before the rest of the house wakes up. It's not the hour I prefer, but, then again, I also prefer to be awake and alert and healthy. I found that, in nearly two weeks of getting up at 5am, it was catching up with me. Health-wise, I needed the extra time. So, I compromised with myself: wake up at 5:30, get half an hour's worth of writing done. If I hit 1,000, great. If not, I have all day to get to that point.

Tuesday was bad. I was dead tired. It was the day, frankly, where I realized that 5am was too early. The words. Just. Did. Not. Come. Ugh. I clawed and scraped for them, but I got nearly 650 or so. Here's where truth dawned on me. In the past, I would have just shut down. "Oh, the words aren't coming? Well, the book must be crap." Shelve it and move on to the next. That was how I operated up until this summer. And I experienced the same type of progress with this book, too. Excellent pace on the first half, then, the slower middle part (where I am now). I've got 232 pages of this book written, 47,800 words. This time, unlike in the past, I made progress. I put down words and then more words. And the only way I did that was to sit down and do it.

Again, this isn't rocket science nor is it anything new. But, in the Summer of Progress, this Summer of Learning, it was an eye-opener for me. Just get through it. Just show up, and you will make progress. I've already made a good amount of hard-to-see progress. Take this for example. The 47,800 words in this second book have all come in August. That figure beats my June figure (34,000) but not my July pace (73,000). At the 29-day mark of the first book this summer, I had only written 32,560. That's an improvement of just over 15,000 words. It's a combination of factors that have me writing more words. One, I'm simply getting better at typing faster and getting words down. Two, I'm insisting to myself that I write at least 1,000 words per day. Motivation makes Progress. The numbers add up. They start to take hold of you and they propel you forward.

End of Summer Report

What about all those words? When Memorial Day dawned, I made the commitment to write every day. As of this morning, 31 August, I'm up to 97 straight days of writing. In that time, I've written 158,990. By Labor Day, I will have crested the 50,000 word mark in this second book.

My goal for the summer was to write and complete stories. The way I was going to do that was write a story a week. Then, after getting to "the end" on several stories, I was going to tackle a novel again. It didn't work out that way. In fact, it flipped. I completed a novella on 2 June, then another short story seven days later. Then I wrote 93,000 new words on a novel and completed it. I wrote 47,800 on a second novel and expect to complete it within the month. And I will have turned in a short story for an anthology. Not the progress I expected, but I'll take it. In fact, it's been better than I expected.

August Monthly Stats:

    Minimum threshold: 21,700 (700/day for 31 days)
    Total words: 50,901
    Difference: 29,201 words above the minimum
    Average: 1,599/day
    Best day: 2,929 (11 Aug)
    Worst: 1,002 (1 Aug)
    Items worked on: Chapter 1-20 of Book 2; short story for anthology.
    Number of consecutive days writing: 97 day (All summer long!)
        Number of consecutive 1,000-word days: 59

For those of y'all that made summer 2013 goals, did you achieve them?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Eliminate the Unnecessary (or.... Axe those Adverbs)

By Russel D McLean

Last week, talking about Elmore Leonard, one of his ten rules - my favourite - reared its head. You know, the one about not using adverbs.


Why do we hate them?

I think it comes back to the essence of show and don’t tell. Adverbs tell. Used sparingly, of course, they can be effective, but most of the time we use them unneccesarily. Let’s take a basic example:

“Go to hell,” he said, angrily.

“Angrily”. There’s no need for the word to be there. And yet time and again I read books where this happens, where what is obvious from dialogue is unnecesarily reinforced by an adverb. Let’s overlook the fact that “go to hell” is a cliche, and think about why we would use the word angrily.

Its a first draft problem. The use of the adverb is usually a sign that the writer is talking to themselves and not to the reader. For me adverbs become placeholders until I can work out how to make the scene “pop”. But when overused in final or published drafts, they become  the equivalent of a movie director walking on stage and saying, “this is how I mean to convey this moment” because they don’t have faith that the audience will understand their intent. Adverbs kill the moment. They make what is usually already obvious even more so. And they remind us that we are reading. The act of reading - the merging of an author’s words and reader’s imagination - should create an illusion of reality. The more that a writer does to remove the reader from the “reality” of their story, the more likely the reader is not to care.

Make the audience understand. Show them what you mean, Don’t tell them.”

“Okay, smartarse,” I hear you say, “What if you intend for your dialogue to do something other than the obvious?”

“Go to hell,” he said, regretfully.

Okay, okay. I see what you’re talking about. But you still don’t need the adverb.

“Go to hell,” he said. His voice was soft, a whisper, really. There was no punch to his tone, no fire burning behind his eyes.

Yes, it uses more words (and is probably not the finest piece of writing in the world) but it is more of a direct appeal to the reader to use their brains. They are not being directly told what to think. Yes, there are hints and a tone that implies but the reader is less removed than if simply told, “regretfully”.

And yes, I know some people talk about “escapist” fiction as though sometimes we just read to turn off our brains, but its simply not true. Our brains do not turn off. And dumb fiction does not have to be dumbly written.

If you ask me, adverbs (mostly) take away the fun of fiction. When we watch a film, we need to guess what the characters are feeling through gesture and expression. Prose has a shortcut through that process in that it can tell us directly. But by telling us directly it takes away the emotional impact of a dramatic moment. By using, “angrily,”, “sadly”, “madly,” etc etc, we alienate the reader from the reality of the situation. Adverbs distance us from emotion. They provide a barrier between what we want to communicate at an emotional level. They are, in a word, a cheat. We experience the world through sensory impressions. Our brains interpret these. Adverbs bypass those impressions but in doing so lessen the impact on the reader. They are a cheat. And not a good one.

All of which is not to say that they should be avoided completely. Fiction is not a precise art, and sometimes cheating is the only thing to do. But what really annoys me is when adverbs are overused. Yes, all fiction should skip the occasional corner and occasionally adverbs can provide a nice and simple escape from a moment that never ends, but when used all the time they render prose and action soulless.

So, he said. empathetically, avoid the adverb. Use it judiciously. Use it correctly. Just don’t use it in a place where you can appeal directly to the reader’s emotions. Don’t use it as a stand in. Trust your readers. Make them work just a little. Bring them closer to your world. And if you do have to use them; use them wisely. Use them well.

Next week marks the beginning of a series of 11 geeky geeky blogs by Russel leading up to a certain fiftieth anniversary. Just to warn you...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

On being an aspiring writer

By Steve Weddle

We've started a giveaway for COUNTRY HARDBALL in which you can get a signed ARC two months before the book is published. People have been awfully nice about getting the word out, and I appreciate that. I'd hug you if I could and/or if I didn't totally skeeve about touching you disgusting people.

Pre-order as many copies as you like. Makes the perfect holiday/birthday/graduation/retirement present.

Also, I'm scheduled to chat with Alec Cizak for the KMSU Weekly Reader program. Cizak is the guy behind the wonderful Pulp Modern, by the way. Find out about his Manifesto Destination here.


Aspiring Writer.

We've seen the term, up there in Twitter IDs and Facebook Abouts. Some of us have laughed, "Ha. Don't aspire. Just write, silly."

Most writers are aspiring. Inspiring. Perspiring. Tiring. Etc. Some of that. All of that?

Some authors aspire to certain things.

For example, I've seen writers tweet about how they aspire to a better stage position at a conference. Better signing tables at conventions. A panel with JK Rowling instead of @author_dan261. I suppose that's a certain type of aspiration. Aspiring to the best table, signing booth, parking spot at BookFabCon2013. Those authors want to be seen as more important, I guess. It makes a great deal of difference to them what other folks think, how they're seen. Respect. They have a thing they wrote and they want it to sell. They aspire to be a Staff Pick at Warehouse Books Inc and so forth. Great. That's one kind of aspiring writer. You aspire to get an agent. Then a deal. Then good reviews. Then on all the lists. Then on the best panels. Movie deals. Cocaine with that guy who made those 1980s movies. Awards. 

Others aspire to write better sentences. To push themselves to tighter plots, a greater understanding of the human condition. A cleaner line, perhaps. They aspire to write better. Maybe they want more challenges. Maybe they've nailed the thriller and want to aspire to something literary. Maybe they've sold millions of book in sci-fi or chick lit and they aspire to be "taken seriously" as an artist.

If you're a writer who is aspiring, I figure that's a good thing, right? You want more? You want to push yourself? 

Have you ever noticed that the New York Times Book Review Podcast refers to authors in a couple of different ways? If you listen to them talk about a Big Six (or five) best-selling author, then they'll say -- "Coming in at the third spot is Marc Mahonor." If the author is second on the list and happens to be self-published (GASP!), then they will say, "a writer named Marc Mahonor." It's weird. Maybe some authors aspire to be referred to as just their names, as opposed to "a writer named" something or other.

Other authors aspire to do something with their notoriety. Anton Strout, for example, has this promotion to, sure, help sell books, but also to help the Worldbuilders charity. He and his publisher are donating a dollar (each) for every pre-order. (Up to $1,500.)

We can aspire to be better at our craft, but also at all the other stuff we do. The not-being a dick, the supporting the good causes, the promoting of the good books and authors. 

The more I think about it, the more "aspiring" sounds good. Aspiring writer. Aspiring baseball fan. Aspiring parent and spouse. Steve Weddle, aspiring human. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The New 30

by Eva Dolan

When you think about 'women of a certain age' in crime fiction who comes to mind? Miss Marple, Vera, Jessica Fletcher...I'm struggling here. Because you know what? There just aren't that many of them. 

One of the most impressive books I read last year was Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, an elegant novel about a sixtysomething woman with Alzheimers who is accused of murdering her best friend.  Jennifer was a brilliant surgeon, a fiercely intelligent and spiky character whose identity and memory is being slowly but irrevocably broken apart. Through a fractured narrative we get glimpses of who she was and we see how capable she is of murder. It's an ambitious work, edging into literary fiction, but what really struck me about it was the originality of having an older woman at the heart of things.
And I began to wonder why you don't see that more often in crime fiction. Despite women being the largest consumers of the genre and, judging by their presence at events, a loyal fanbase, they seem to stop being of interest to crime writers once they're too old to make a pretty victim or a - eugh - feisty investigator. They become hard faced senior coppers, the murdered teenager's saggy mother, and when they're pushed into background roles, there and gone in a couple of paragraphs, the language can get distinctly Medieval; do the words 'hag' and 'crone' really still have a place in contemporary fiction? Turns out they do. See also; housecoats and blue rinses.
It's common complaint that as you age you become invisible and right now that is the only way fiction is chiming with real life. But when I look at women of my mother's generation I see a lot of highly capable professionals, well put together and worldly; children of the sixties who broke free from the constraints their own mothers were bound by.  
These are women we should be writing about. In the crime genre they're the women we're writing for and they deserve books which reflect their experience and intelligence rather than being treated as pieces of ugly plot furniture. Two authors who've done just that are the late A.S.A Harrison and Louise Doughty. Both stories could have been hung around women in their twenties or thirties - they suffer and enact the same betrayals after all - but these books share a heightened sense of jeopardy because their heroines are mature women with more to loose.

The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison has been touted as this years Gone Girl but it's actually a far more interesting book. Both deal with the implosion of a marriage, both are structured around a 'him' and 'her' narrative, but that's where the similarities end. Jodi is in her forties, a therapist who believes in accepting peoples flaws, which is why she turns a blind eye to her property developer partner's serial adultery. Until he falls in love with a much younger woman who wants commitment. At first Jodi responds with serene passivity, believing this affair is as meaningless as all the others. But from the very beginning we know she will become a killer and as Harrison describes the meticulous rituals of Jodi's life and the play acting of a perfect marriage, we feel this threat drawing ever closer, and know that eventually she will have to accept her new status as the spurned woman and act accordingly. Even if that means murder.

Louise Doughty's Apple Tree Yard centres on woman who we meet in the dock at The Old Bailey, on trial for a crime which appears to result from an affair she's had with an unnamed man. Yvonne is an intriguing heroine, a highly respected geneticist, married with two grown up children, and at fifty-two she is the woman who seems to prove that you can 'have it all.' The affair begins as a moment of feverish impetuosity, a meeting of eyes, a dash to privacy, then intense secret meetings followed by lonely, late night self-doubt, but despite everything she stands to lose she can't stop, and the spiral of temptation and destruction is laid out in a first person narrative, which swings between clinical and febrile, speeding the reader along to the final, nerve-shredding court scene where all illusions will be stripped away.  
While a handful of books don't make a trend the authors I've mentioned prove that it's possible to craft compelling crime narratives around women in their forties, fifties and sixties and - for the mercenary minded out there - do so with real commercial success. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Celebrations in the Ossuary

Guest Post:

David Cranmer on Celebrations in the Ossuary & Other Poems

Many thanks to the Do Some Damage crew for allowing me to say a few words about Kyle J. Knapp's posthumous poetry collection, Celebrations in the Ossuary. Kyle was my nephew who died in a horrific house fire this past June. Our family can never fully recover, but through his words we may find a plateau where we can smile more than we grieve. What follows is my afterword to Celebrations:

BEAT to a PULP books published Kyle Knapp’s Pluvial Gardens in July 2012. The eclectic, one-of-a-kind collection touched on nature, death, pop culture, and relationships, interwoven with Greek mythology. A bold, new voice quietly entered the scene, painting what one intuitive reviewer noted as a “impressionistic dreamscape.”

Soon after Pluvial, Kyle began working on Celebrations in the Ossuary. He was so prolific—often writing a poem a day—that he had finished it on October 21, 2012, and at his untimely death on June 18, 2013, he had finished enough for a third book and part of a fourth.

Kyle and I had discussed the direction of his poetry following Pluvial’s release, and my only suggestion for him was to turn inward and address some of the themes of his life. I knew he had conquered drugs and was in an ongoing fight battling alcoholism. However, it wasn’t until after his passing that I started to analyze his work and realize to what extraordinary depth he had mined his soul to lay naked such raw-nerve pieces as “To Drink in the Early Hours” and “Edward and Dedalus.” He also warmly opens up his world to reverentially speak of friends he had said goodbye to in “The Greatest Loss” and “We Lived Alone,” and he continued to touch on the beauty surrounding him with “The Perfect Day.”

Kyle J. Knapp
For Celebrations, I made only minor corrections to Kyle’s text. Though he always gave me full editorial control, I didn’t feel the need because these verses were resplendent. Kyle often sent a revision telling me to discard what came before, and, more often than not, the revision was from a perfectionist raising his own personal bar with some seemingly slight change. Not much has been altered from Kyle’s original work, aside from a few spelling and punctuation corrections and the omission of one word after discussing it with his mother. Celebrations is very much the book Kyle wanted published right down to the title, number of poems, artwork, and theme.

On a personal note, I miss Kyle dearly and long to banter with him about Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, Vladimir Nabokov, or any number of other authors and books we had discovered and shared. The memories of moments spent in his home along Fall Creek discussing our mutual reading passions are what I’ll cherish most, and, I will do my best not to be sad when I recall these memories, because, as Kyle says in these very pages,

“Those days will come again,

They were eternal, after all …”

Monday, August 26, 2013

Best crime flicks of the aughts (2000-2009)

Short post this week. I'm also seriously considering doing a list over at Spinetingler of favorite crime flick broken up by decades from the 70's top the aughts, so keep an eye out for that if such a thing floats your boat.

I threw this out as a discussion topic on Facebook.  Here are the tabulated results from all of the responses.

3) (tie) Kill Bill, Memento, Old Boy,The Cooler

2) (tie)  Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, No Country for Old Men, Sexy Beast

1) The Departed

Single vote titles: In Bruges, Gone Baby Gone, Salton Sea, Felon, Insomnia, Narc, Memories of Murder, Spartan, Animal Kingdom, ONCE, Blow, The Ice Harvest, The Good Thief, Snatch, Chopper, A History of Violence, The Dark Knight, Kick-Ass, Sin City, Running Scared, Lucky Number Slevin, Smokin' Aces, Dark Country, Miami Vice,Eastern Promises, Tell No One.

What was the best crime flick of the aughts?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

We're all in this together

By: Joelle Charbonneau

Years ago, I was sitting around with lots of other writers and a few of their family members.  None of us had yet to publish.  Most of us didn’t have agents, yet, and not because we hadn’t tried.  We had.  We tried.  We were rejected and we tried again and again.  Yeah – we were a group that didn’t know when to call it quits. 

While chatting, one of the non-writers asked if it was difficult to be friends with other writers since we were in competition with each other.  The question baffled me.  Competition?  What competition?

On the surface, I suppose I can see where some people might think there is competition between writers.  After all, there are only so many books traditionally published each season.  And even if you are self-published, there are only so many books bought every day/month/year by readers.  So, I suppose when you look at it that way, a writer has to work hard to get noticed by readers or perhaps land that traditional publishing spot.  Some people might view that as a type of competition.

But it’s not. 

All writers are different.  We work at different paces.  We have different voices.  And the stories we tell are uniquely ours. 

Add to that the fact that readers and editors buy books based on their personal taste.  So the editor that loves my orphaned-zombie-post-apocalyptic-romance is probably not going to like your hard-boiled historical noir mystery.   A marketing team who gets behind your roman gladiators on a satellite revolving around earth novel is probably going to be less enthusiastic with my hat wearing camel in small town Illinois.

When we feel as if we are in competition with our fellow writers we do ourselves a disservice because really—we are all in this together.  Sharing information about the business is good.  Offering a helping hand to read a few pages or point someone in the direction of an agent or editor is worthwhile.  Talking sales numbers and advance amounts isn’t gauche—it’s helpful in offering perspective on the industry we are all a part of. 

This is a tough business.  During my time writing I have experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and just about everything in between.  I’ve had agents tell me my books have no value in the fiction market and to throw my manuscripts away.  Yikes!  I’ve had multiple publishing houses offer on some of my work.  Yippee!  And mostly there are days where I am alone with my thoughts in front of the computer hoping that I know what to type next.    But whether I’m experiencing a high, a low or one of the normal days, I feel less alone because I know other writers are out there going through the same things I am. 

Being an author isn’t about competing with other writers.  If you are in a competition it is with yourself to tell the best story you can.   The rest of us are all cheering for you and hoping that your story will set the world on fire.  So I guess the whole point of this post is to say—Writing is a solitary experience, but that doesn’t mean you have to feel like you are in this alone.