Saturday, September 14, 2013

Giving Up

Scott D. Parker

I made a decision this week: I'm giving up.

Ever since school began, I thought that I could do it. Sure, it would take some extra effort, but the effort was worth it, right? If I wanted to be a writer, I would have to do it. But, as the days dragged on, I realized it was too hard. I didn't have it in me. That was that. Time to admit defeat.

Five o'clock in the morning is a dang early time to write.

Most of y'all know that I spent all summer writing at 6am. With my boy returning to school, I needed to do one of two thing: write at 5am or write at night. Since I had spent so many weeks writing in the morning, I decided to give morning writing another shot. The first week was fine. Sure, I yawned more than normal, but that's no bit deal. The only thing I needed to do was to remember to get to bed at 11pm.

That proved more difficult than normal. I'm still a night person. After a few weeks, however, that proved easier to do. I was tired. A lot of the time. I found myself dozing when I was supposed to be doing the day job or helping my boy with homework. That was unacceptable. Something had to give.

I started by waking up at 5:15, then 5:30. Soon it migrated to 5:45 with the promise that I'd finish the 1,000 words later in the day. "Later" became night. Night writing. That's when I wrote my 2006 novel so I wasn't unused to it. But I just didn't want to do it. I liked writing the morning.

But I like my health and well-being better. I could feel myself teetering on the edge of getting sick. As much as I want to be a writer and as much as I have the impression that I'm behind in my career, getting sick doing it isn't they way to go.

So, I going to write at night. Weekends will still be my 6am writing time. Holidays, too. We'll see how this goes.

Do y'all ever alter your writing time to match real life?

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Doctor A Week: Patrick Troughton: The Invasion

Russel D McLean

11 weeks. 11 Doctors. 11 stories. Right up to the fiftieth anniversary, Russel will be reviewing one story a week for each Doctor. He will try and relate each story to a larger picture and how it relates to each period. He will occasionally make fun of them. But he will try and show you what a varied and brilliant history the show has. As well as overcoming his own prejducies about certain periods in the shows history. Each review will have spoilers and will assume a certain level of knowledge about the story in question.

For those who get upset at the Cybermen being “defeated with love” in the new series, you probably shouldn’t watch The Invasion. Later episodes show the cybermen being defeated with strong emotions (the sight of a terrified cyberman running through the sewers is brilliantly effective), and the “emotion gun” is a bit of a silly idea but somehow it all makes sense in context.

And that’s kind of the secret to watching 60s Who - taking everything in context. After all, there’s a lot that we would find very silly now. There is always padding. Always. But in the case of this eight parter, things move surprisingly fast. In fact, the pace is perfectly timed, and while one would imagine there isn’t much that can be done with the normally dull cybermen over the case of eight episodes, here they still feel fresh enough to retain the fear factor. And the fact is that they are actually not present for several episodes, allowing their more human agents to really get some development (in a 1960s kind of way).

Patrick Troughton’s run on the show sets the template for the later eras and the show we would come to know. His Doctor is markedly different to WIlliam Hartnell’s. The phrase “cosmic hobo” is thrown around a lot regarding Troughton’s doc, but its definitely appropriate. He has something of Charlie Chaplin about him in the scruffy appearance and the small frame. He’s a clown on the surface, but beneath all of that there lurks a very sharp intellect. He often plays the coward or the idiot to throw his adversaries off guard.

This serves Troughton particularly well in this episode as he plays against a 1960s swinging London backdrop. The Invasion served as a forerunner to the looming-on-the-horizon Jon Pertwee years that would see the show switch not only to colour but also a mostly-earth setting. The Invasion was one of the first stories (after The Web of Fear) to reinforce the idea that these things could happen right on the doorstep. That infamous shot of the Cybermen walking across London bridge really is spectacular to see and its very clear that this story was made with a great deal of love and attention to detail.

Ah, yes, the Swinging Sixties. A time when men were men and women were silly little things to be patronised rather a lot (but at least they wore short skirts). The Brigadier gets all the sexism this time around, and while Zoe is a brilliant mathematician, she still gets all girly and has to be looked after a lot. The one time any woman does show some initiative - going down into the sewers against the brig’s orders, for example - she manages to simply mess things up even more than they were already. But then that's pretty par for the course, and nothing compared to what we were about to see in a few years with the character of Jo Grant (who was later rounded out in 2010's Sarah Jane Adventures series, making me wish we'd seen more of her assertive side during the 1970s era).

Returning to the villains, for a moment, impressive as they are, the Cybermen are only a small part of the story. For the first four episodes, we are trying to figure out who they are, seeing only their human contact, the wealthy industrialist who has decided to assist them in their plans. He’s a chilling villain, and his impact only goes to show how the Cybermen - like the Daleks - are best used as seasoning. The Cybermen in this story are mostly mute, mostly terrifying. They lurk in the dark and when they emerge, they have the power to terrify (although as always, their near-superhuman strength seems to vary according to whether a character needs to escape or not to keep the plot moving on).

The Invasion is one of the “lost” stories. In the late seventies, the BBC junked a load of old programs including several episodes of Who. Entire stories were lost. Some partial episodes remained of some serials. And The Invasion is one of those partials. Back in the good old days of VHS, Nicholas Courtney (Who plays Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, a man introduced previously in the Invasion and returning here prior to becoming a series regular in the Pertwee years) linked the missing episodes, but he couldn’t hope to match the missing episodes as lovely as his narration was. With the Soundtracks still in existence, the BBC have therefore animated the missing episodes. Its an odd move but works very well indeed. The animation is stylised, but fits in well with the look of the filmed episodes (its a shame that the missing episodes were mostly Cyberman-less because the animators had a great cyberdesign going).  Its an imperfect solution, but manages to achieve its goal of making the story flow nicely. And if I’m honest, those early scenes with a London under siege are achieved quite brilliantly, with a real air of menace in the angular, stylised animation.

The Invasion is one of the few Cybermen stories that really makes them terrifying. In the 80s, the Cybermen would start to show signs of greed, egotism, pride and anger that belied the whole “stripped of emotion” ideal (and let’s not talk about the tummy on the Cybercontroller in 1985’s Attack of the Cybermen - - maybe he was pregnant with Cyberbabies) but here they are still robotic and merciless. Yes, the metal effect of their suits is a little silly but that’s more to do with the time of their production. Taken as a whole, The Invasion is a brilliant, chilling Cyber Story that showcases Troughton’s take on the Doctor as an unpredictable and alien presence. With the humans every bit as corrupt as their cyber counterparts, this would the the Cybermen’s last real stab at greatness before they would be become the familiar tinpot soldiers, skulking around the galaxy (to quote, from memory, the fourth Doctor).

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Blade of Dishonor

By Thomas Pluck
Guest Post

I like action movies. Or I used to. A lot of the newer ones don't have the feel of the "classics," which for me began with First Blood. Based on the novel by David Morrell, it tells the tale of a Vietnam Vet trying to get home when a sheriff inadvertently starts a war with him. It is a character-driven novel, as most action tales are. What defines us better than our actions? It's difficult to be an unreliable narrator when you have little internal monologue. You can mask the motives for your actions, but as Andrew Vachss says, "behavior is the truth."

Look at Parker, the hardboiled favorite. From paragraph one, he's moving, like a shark. Someone offers him a ride, and Parker tells him to go to hell. On the way to a meet, someone blocks his way, Parker chops his throat and kills him. We know him from what he does; his job defines him.

Action defines character.
Thomas Pluck

That doesn't mean that without action you don't have character, but there is no reason to eschew action if you enjoy character-driven novels. And that was my mantra when writing BLADE OF DISHONOR, an action thriller hatched from an idea created with David Cranmer of Beat to a Pulp.

An MMA fighter. A treasured sword. And a ninja clan that had to have it. That is what we began with. What I ended up with was a young fighter named Reeves whose temper ended his career and sent him to war. When he comes home, he finds the last of his family, his grandfather, barely hanging on in a town devastated by the recession, and his old enemy in charge of things.

Grandpa Butch is a World War II vet who runs a pawn shop and Army surplus store. Reeves grew up in that iron playground, but there was one toy he couldn't touch: a Japanese sword that Butch brought home from the war, and would never talk about.

I did some research about Japanese swords after World War 2. Everyone knows a vet who has one, usually an officer's sword. But the most treasured Japanese blade of all, the Honjo Masamune, went missing in 1945. It was forged by Japan's most revered swordsmith, Masamune, and was passed down by the Tokugawa clan to the reigning shogun. But after the fires went out in Tokyo, a soldier took it home. And it has never been seen since.

That was a story I couldn't resist. I began the story in Minnesota, because I know the area and the people, and adventures need space to roam around in. A little more reading and I learned that the Devil's Brigade, the 1st Special Service Force, trained not far from there. They are the Nazi hunter commandos that Tarantino based Inglorious Basterds on, and their real stories have never been told. They would sent scouts into camps of SS soldiers on the Vosges line and slit the throats of every tenth man. And leave a sticker on his helmet that read "Das Dicke Ende Kommt Noch!" … the worst is yet to come.

If I'd made that up, it would be dismissed as hyperbole. And you're damn right the Devils are in the book. To me, a good thriller doesn't just make your heart race, you learn something. Hidden parts of history, or disturbing actions by terrorists or governments. Or in this book's case, all three. Did you know about Unit 731? You will.

You need big characters to make through big events. So I wrote big. Butch Sloane, the wheelchair-bound WW2 vet, based on my great-uncles who fought in the war. 'Rage Cage' Reeves, a hot-headed smartmouth based on all the MMA fighters I've sparred and slugged it out with at the gym. Tara, the hot-rodding ambulance driver, based on a number of fiery women in my life. And Miyamoto, the last samurai of a secretive brotherhood, fighting his sworn enemy: the yakuza assassins of the Black Dragon society, which pulp fanatics might recognize from novels set in the '30s, when Japan invaded China.

So when I say this book is about an MMA fighter caught in a battle between ninja and samurai over a stolen Japanese sword… I mean it's a character-driven novel.

The Complete Omnibus edition for Amazon Kindle
Omnibus for Kindle UK
Trade Paperback: Createspace
Available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at your local bookstore through IndieBound soon!

Or try Part 1 for 99 cents FREE TODAY:

Part 1: The War Comes Home (US)

Part 1: The War Comes Home (UK)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Crooked Beat by Nick Quantrill

Across three books Nick Quantrill's Joe Geraghty series has put the city of Hull firmly on Britain's crime map, delving into the area's recession blighted streets and the pockets of tentative regeneration, the kind of places where a private investigator can operate more successfully than the police.  

The Crooked Beat sees Geraghty jobless and drifting, carrying the burden of his wife's death along with the cumulative weight of spent chances and broken personal connections.  All he has left now is his family and they're about to be put under the cosh.
Geraghty's brother Niall, in need of cash to get their father's pub up and running again, has unwisely involved himself in a cigarettes smuggling operation, taking a few quid to store a consignment until they can be picked up, but when the lock-up is broken into and the cigarettes stolen the debt falls on Niall and he's incapable of paying up or tracking down the theives.  And this isn't the kind of situation where the rightful owner will shrug and walk away.  It falls to Geraghty to get them back.
While he's on the trail another job comes in.  A local accountant, who he's worked for in the past, asks Geraghty to do some delving into his wife's movements; standard marital business Geraghty figures.  The wife is the head of a literacy charity, seemingly the height of respectability but her past is anything but and links to some unsavoury characters begin to emerge, making Geraghty wonder if there might be more to the case than simple mistrust.
The search for the stolen cigarettes takes Geraghty from Hull's bustling port to its seamy underbelly; decrepit terraces housing just as derelict people, seedy bars offering even seedier extras, run by small time gangsters all dancing to the tune of a the city's Mr Big, Frank Salford, a man who Geraghty has tangled with before, and whose business has already touched the Geraghty family with terrible consequences.  As he gradually uncovers the scale of the smuggling operation it becomes clear that the only way out of the mess Niall has got them into is to take the full burden on himself.
The British P.I. walks a very different beat to his American counterparts, the crimes are smaller, the guns and femme fatales thinner on the ground, but these limitations have led to a school of writing which is more character driven, less reliant on the old cliches and ultimately very satisfying.  While Quantrill's Hull may lack the glamour of Los Angeles or New York it embodies the post-industrial decline common to many northern British cities, largely forgotten by politicians and left in the hands of gangster-businessmen.  It's fertile ground for crime fiction and Quantrill has drilled deep into it across the Joe Geraghty trilogy, establishing himself as a major talent in the Brit Grit school.
The Crooked Beat is a highly accomplished novel, written in terse prose which perfectly reflects the grubby brutality driving the plot and the character of Joe Geraghty, a good man caught up in bad business.  This is a world where a victimless crime quickly snowballs into extreme violence, where nobody can be trusted, especially the police, and even the oldest bonds can be broken in a moment.   I was hugely impressed with this book and the assured manner of Quantrill's writing.  Whatever comes next for him I think he's going to be a name to watch.

(You can read an interview with Nick here.)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Small Press Roulette

Karen Lillis, a.k.a. Karen the Small Press Librarian

Always on the look-out for wacky ways to discover new books, I was pleased to run across this --

Choose your basic genre and I'll send you a small press item from my pop up indie press bookstand, SMALL PRESS PITTSBURGH, that I think you would like. This is like a grab bag, but many shipments will contain ONE book, with some small extras thrown in.

You say whether you want to drop $4 or $10 and what basic genre you like, and they'll send you some hand-selected reading material. Kinda cool idea, it seems to me.

Especially been thinking about it since this weekend when folks were talking about Oyster, a new service that allows you to check out books on our phone. You know, like using Overdrive on your device to get ebooks from the public library. Only this new service will allow you to pay $10 per month for a limited selection. More here.

And more about Small Press Roulette is here.

Monday, September 9, 2013

How should Breaking Bad end? (spoiler-free)

So last nights episode of Breaking Bad had the most spectacular cliffhanger I've seen in a long time, and possibly ever. We know with cold certainty that the end game has begun but it is unclear what it will be. This is frustrating in the best way possible. I don't know how Breaking Bad will end and, perhaps more interestingly, I don't know how I want it to end.

Here's one thing I've come back to more than once over the years. There is a part of me that wants Walt to take a bullet to the brain. Here's why. Walt's story exists in a world of criminals. As he confronts guys like Tuco, Declan, Uncle Jack with logic, reason, and business acumen I can't help but feel that they wouldn't have been willing to put up with his bullshit and would have just put him down hard at the first whiff of it. Of course he's the main chain character so Tuco in season one can't just do this but still we did see a bit of this last night so maybe we're meant to think about this.


How do you think Breaking Bad will end? (spoilers allowed in the comments)

If Breaking Bad sticks the ending will it become The Greatest Show Ever?

Anything Breaking Bad related you want to talk about?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The next step...

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Labor Day has passed.  School has started.  And in the publishing universe, editors, agents, and publishing professionals are back in the office and ready to do business.  When I first started writing, I didn't understand that publishing has several periods during the year where lots of the people in the industry are on vacation.  August is one of those periods.  Yep...the month of August is basically a wash if you're looking to acquire an agent or are on submission to editors.  Not to say that no business gets done.  Of course it does.  But it goes at a slower pace.  And when it comes to submissions and acquisitions--well, it's harder to get a book past the editorial board if large portions of the editorial board are enjoying some well-earned downtime.

However, now that September has rolled around, publishing is firing on all cylinders.  That means, if you have a project to query - now is the time.

With that in mind, here are a few rules of thumb when it comes to the query game.  Most of these are going to sound so obvious they are silly--but you'd be amazed at what agents and editors see in their query box.  You can separate your query from many of the others by following a few simple rules.

1)  Make sure you query an agent or editor by name.  Do not use "Dear Editor or Dear Agent".  Industry professionals are more inclined to read your query with interest if they believe you haven't pulled their name from the world wide web hat.  Equally as important - make sure you spell their name correctly.  Oh - and use Ms. and Mr. properly.  While some might be amused at your assumption that they have had a sex change, most will consider it a knock against your attention to detail.

2) Make it short.  One page or less.  Agents and editors receive hundreds of queries every week.  Make it easier on them to find the information they need by keeping your query uncluttered and to the point.

3) Tell what your book is about.  Yep...this is one of those points that will probably make you giggle.  I mean, the whole point of a query letter is to tell the agent or editor about your book.  Yet, I can't tell you how often I've heard an industry professional say they have read a query and haven't a clue what the story was about.  Think backjacket copy.  Have someone else read it and see if they understand what the book is about.  If an industry professional doesn't understand what the story is, they aren't going to ask to read it.

4) Follow directions.  Each agent or editor has specific submission requirements.  Please follow them. The agent or editor has these requirements in place for a reason.  Whether you think it is right or wrong, you will be judged on your ability to follow those submission requirements.

5)  Be professional.  Don't try to be cute or snarky or self-depreciating or sarcastic or...yeah--you get my point.  I'm amazed at the number of queries that are submitted with lines like "You'll probably reject this right away, but..."or "I know agents like you love to crush writers so..." or "I've read the authors you represent and I know I'm better than them."  You're just setting yourself up for failure by including those things in your query.  (Yes, people put those in their queries all the time.) This is a business introduction.  You'll do best if you always treat it as such.

6) Keep writing.  Once the queries are sent, get back to work.  This book might not get the results you want.  You may choose to self-publish it and query with another book.  You may choose never to query again.  Regardless of the path you take--keep writing.  Because that's what writers do:)