Saturday, October 19, 2013

Reaching THE END…Again

Scott D. Parker

Well, I did it again.

Now, for someone like me--who wants to write books for sale--to celebrate the ending of another book may seem odd. Well, it might be at this stage in my career, but you have to know where I've been to appreciate where I am now. You see, it took me 2,556 days (from 1 June 2006 to 31 July 2013) to write "The End" on my first and second novels. Between novels two and three, it only took me 72 days. Actually, there was a 73rd day in there, but it was a day in which I didn't write on the novel but finished a short story for publication. Just 72 day and I have another book under my belt. Seriously. Somebody pinch me.

The Stats

Words: 115,000
Pages: 560
Time: 1 August to 12 October 2013
Average words per day: 1,604
Best Day: 4,300 words (the last day)
Worst Day: 1,002 (the first day) Ironic, huh?

This third book is a pseudo sequel to my second. Book 2 features a PI character and what happens to her as she works her first solo case. She works for  a PI firm and her boss is a co-star in Book 2. Book 3, on the other hand, features her boss and the things he has to go through. My lead from Book 2 shows up as do some of the other co-stars from Book 2. I have this idea of writing a series of novels in which different characters take turns leading a mystery story. We'll see how it goes.

Why This One Is Special

This third book of my career is a special, but frustrating accomplishment. It was frustrating because of my lesson learned (see below). Book 3 was special for a few reasons. One, I started it the day after I finished Book 2. I figured the secret of success is constantly working so I didn't want to take a day off. So, I didn't. Two, this book was almost literally written from scratch. With Book 2, I had about 13,000 written from last year. I just added 93,000 more this summer. With Book 3, I had a chapter I removed from Book 2 as a starting point and that was it. I wrote 115,000 new words on a project that I had barely conceived of in January and took out of my second book as a needless subplot.

Believe me, I know how this sounds. "Hey, world, I wrote a book using my imagination from beginning to end." Yes, that's what we're supposed to do. But I had only done it twice before, with years in between. One of the main reasons I jumped into Book 3 with no break is that I wanted to make sure the lovely experience with the second book wasn't a fluke. Apparently, it isn't.

Lessons Learned

In short, know your ending. I'm not necessarily saying know your ending before you start. Sometimes you won't. But somewhere along the way--halfway, three quarters, three fifths, whatever--it would be a good idea to know where and how your book is to end. I thought I knew because it was the event I had foreseen. In reality, my ending was really an epilogue. I needed the ending of the story and I had the devil of a time finding it. In fact, I wanted to be done by 1 October, but I had to find my ending. It took me twelve extra days. That bummed me out a little, but I rolled with it and found my ending.

So, next time I write a book, I will at least be in the ballpark with a possible ending. It will make the writing so much easier.

The Streak

As most of y'all know, I started writing everyday since Memorial Day. When I finished Book 3, it was Day 138. The big question was do I intentionally stop the streak just because or maintain it. I am a monogamous writer. I write and think about only one story at a time (but that's changing, as evidenced by this past week; stay tuned for more on this). When I completed my novel last Saturday morning, I was in a quandary: what to write next? I wanted to return to another PI character, this one set in World War II, but I had no story. I gave myself the rest of Saturday off and I started conceiving the plot of the next story on Sunday. It took me all day to work through the ideas, but I did manage to write the first scene.

Streak intact. And it has been all week long. The one streak I did break was my 1,000 words/day streak that I had maintained since July 4. But, for me, the writing streak is more important. This new story is a tad on the slow side--I've only written 4,000 words in a week--but progress is being made. Sometimes the sophomore effort can be the most difficult.

So, there you have it. Another novel completed, another "THE END" typed. The beauty of this type of business is that I'm already looking forward to doing it again.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Doctor A Week: Sylvester McCoy: The Curse of Fenric

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.

Its de-rigeur among certain Who fans to hate on McCoy. To view him as the silly Doctor, the little man who played the spoons, who had daft adventures and who ultimately killed the franchise. If the evidence was based only on McCoy’s first season, then this would be true. His early stories had some occasional promise but were hampered by cheap budgets and a production team struggling to find a way forward.

This all changed somewhere around Remembrance of the Daleks, a dark and brilliant adventure that saw the Doctor return to Totter’s Lane, where his story began, and face off against the Daleks in 1950’s England. This was adult Who, suddenly. There were explorations of racism and fascism. There were deadly serious scenes and a real sense of death. More importantly, the Daleks could climb stairs (people made a huge fuss of this when it happened in the Ecclestone era, but McCoy got there first!).

And from then on, aside from odd mis-steps such as, say, Silver Nemesis, Doctor Who began to get its groove back. McCoy was allowed to stop clowning around and darken up his appearance. He became more sombre, more removed, more alien. His odd appearance, with those thick eyebrows, became inscrutable.

He became more than just another Time Lord. He was a manipulator. On the side of the angels, but often employing darker tactics. And nowhere is this more apparent than in Curse of Fenric.

Curse of Fenric is the story that scared me most as a child. With the rotting Vampires (more properly called Heamovores) descended from cursed Vikings, its deep themes of faith and corruption, and that eerie soundtrack, it became too much for me and I couldn’t get through the last two episodes. But now it has become one of my favourite Who stories. Beyond the very real and visceral horror aspects, its a layered and gripping four episdes of Who that shows the McCoy era at its finest.

The Doctor has brought his young companion Ace to an army camp in 1944, where Doctor Judson - who lost the use of his legs several years ago - is working on a code-breaking machine that will make Enigma seem like a child’s toy. But the base commander - the strained-looking, almost-certainly-mad Commander Millington - has other plans for the machine. He is looking to create a trap for Britain’s Russian allies by having them steal the machine and decode one message that will cause the machine to unleash a deadly toxin. A toxin that is peculiar to the area near the army camp. A toxin that is decidedly not natural.

Add into this the sudden resurrection of long dead vikings (now blood sucking heamovores), a Russian platoon tasked with stealing the code machine and an ancient evil named Fenric who may have met the Doctor once before, and you could have an overcomplicated mess. Luckily, the script, for the most part, zooms along nicely, and the period setting really does the story justice.

The Doctor is the darkest he’s ever been, manipulating his companion to insane degrees, utilising her own fears and doubts to his own ends. The affection and Ace have for each other has never been clearer, but this is a Doctor who knows the bigger picture, and who has to difficult moral choices. The McCoy of only a few years ago would never have been up to the task. But having settled into the role, he really does sell the part convincingly. No one is sure which side he’ll jump to or what his gameplan is.

The cast is mostly admirable, with the exception of smaller parts (the squaddie Ace seduces with her ludicrous monologue is terrible, a throwback to the UNIT extras of the Pertwee years) and the evacuees, Phyllis and Jean are either terrible or passable depending on how generous you’re feeling. But the real surprise is Nicholas Parsons as a morally conflicted reverend, who has lost his faith in the midst of war. He can’t reconcile his idea of God with the idea of children being killed by British bombs, and of course, this is his downfall in the end. He wants to have faith but has been looking in all the wrong places.

The scripting is excellent, although some of the dialogue does feel wooden despite the gamest efforts of the cast. This is typical of the later era of Who, when the attempt to find depth in dialogue resulted in words that never quite felt natural; there was a stageyness to the era that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t (Ace’s watch speech is beautiful but never feels quite right coming from her). But in the grand scheme of things, Fenric is cracking telly and while the script sometimes tries too hard, you have to applaud its ambition and the fact that it lives up to it so often.

I still think its a shame that the first era of Who ended right when it was finding its feet again. The show was raring up for the nineties, and while there is an odd finality to McCoy’s speech at the end of Survival, I think it survived everyone when this now very grown up series came to an unexpected end.


- When Ace’s Nitro Nine blows a hole in the crypt wall, the hole is perfectly door shaped. A rather unforgiveable blunder on the part of the design team...

- There’s real horror in Nicholas Parsons death. Nothing is shown on screen, but when the Heamovore’s break down his faith, there’s a sense of horror that pervades the scene. I remember this as the moment I was unable to continue watching as a child.

- Why are Phyllis and Jean the leaders of the Heamovores? Chronologically speaking they are the youngest after all. Maybe its because they speak the language of the times. Or maybe no one really thought about it.

- The music is very effective in this episode. A score of creeping dread.

- As much fun as he is as a villian, Millington is something of an enigma. I think he’s supposed to be morally confused, but mostly he’s just as a mass of unexplained contradictions.

- The chess motif is excellent, underpinning all the logic games going on in this story.

- When the Doctor finds the thing in which he has faith, he murmurs the names of all those who have travelled in the TARDIS with him. Including Adric. Oh dear, Doc. I know he died, but even you have to admit the smartarse maths genius was one of the most annoying people you ever met.

- The Judson/Nurse Crane dynamic is brilliant. Especially the reversal when Fenric takes over Judson’s body. His relish at gaining revenge on Crane shows us something of Judson inside Fenric.

- “from now on, everything in English” - - after all, the viewers can’t be arsed with all these subtitles.

- Its slightly sad how my memories of the underwater heamovores are undermined by the fact that the glimpse of their hands is clearly someone wearing a badly fitting prosthetic. Ahhh, well.

- And to add all the themes and symbolism everywhere, there are great whacking references to Dracula, too.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Corrosion by Jon Bassoff

By Steve Weddle

A couple years back, Keith Rawson of CrimeFactory included a story of mine in an anthology called THE FIRST SHIFT, which ended up published by New Pulp Press, an indie publishing outfit founded by Jon Bassoff.

And now we have Bassoff's own novel -- under his own name -- CORROSION.

CORROSION falls into a broad category called "psycho noir," a dark novel in which a severely damaged protagonist does terrible things, justifying them to himself and to the reader. The stand-out that comes to mind is Jim Thompson's THE KILLER INSIDE ME, which I also enjoyed.

Where CORROSION separates itself from Thompson's book -- and most others -- is in its dealing with individual identity. What shapes a person -- in the case, a man? How does he define himself? What motivates him? How can he change?

This was an amazing book, one that sucked you right in and let you fall through the darkness. You can feel completely unmoored reading this, but never lost. Adrift, but not unguided.

The rhythm of the writing, the lines and characters, the pacing, all these technical aspects assure you that you're in the hands of a talented writer. About that, there can be no doubt.

CORROSION was a painful, brilliant read and I look for more from Bassoff.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Seth Lynch Interview

Last week I reviewed Seth Lynch's debut novel Salazar and was so impressed with it I just had to know more about the author and his journey to publication.  Seth was kind enough to join me for a bit of a chat about it.

Tell us a little about your book...

Salazar, a WWI vet, turns detective in 1930s Paris. More damaged than competent he's hired to track down a missing stock broker, Gustave Marty, by the mysterious Marie Poncelet. Along the way Salazar meets a childhood sweetheart and they rekindle their relationship. With his new love giving him a reason to live, Salazar finds the case is throwing up people ready to do him and those close to him in. It's either face the danger and find Gustave Marty or risk losing everything.

What drew you to crime and noir specifically?

I've grown into a crime/noir fan during the writing of Salazar. When I started writing, crime was a genre I enjoyed but I was mainly reading anything based in Paris during the inter-war period.

What drew me to writing crime was the scope. The period is still tightly class conscious and
I wanted a character who could mix with the incredibly wealthy and also be able to drink in seedy café's or sleep among the homeless. A detective seemed the most natural character to do this.

I was already thinking about Salazar as a man who would transform his life. The transformation would now be from war veteran with suicidal tendencies to detective.

From that point I dived into the world of crime fiction and the more I read the more I enjoyed it. Which was a good thing as I was running dangerously  low on books written in Paris between the wars.

Salazar feels very fresh, was it important to you to play with genres conventions?

My intention was to write a series featuring the same character. To do that they would need a personality beyond the straight revenge, jealousy, greed motivations of a lot of noir. Also, I'd started thinking about the character of Salazar before I had a story to fit him into. He formed first and the world that best suited him was the hard-boiled cynical demimonde of noir.

There's a lot of love for the classics in there, which writers do you take your inspiration from?

In my late teens it was H G Wells. Then I went through a Henry Miller, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell phase. I was/am also heavily into surrealist literature and three books in particular influenced Salazar: Louis Aragon's Paris Peasant, Phillipe Soupault's Last Nights of Paris, and André Breton's Nadja. Graham Greene sits in their somewhere. Georges Simenon. The most direct influence came from Léo Malet – France's first noir crime writer. The problem with reading Malet is that his humour was similar to mine and, after reading one of his books, I tended to start thinking in his voice. I've gained more control over that now.

Recently I read Two Way Split by Allan Guthrie. About half-way though I had a eureka moment. I realised I'd been forcing things in Salazar and as a result had to do a lot of re-writing. The thing that clicked when reading Guthrie was the naturalness of the voice. For me that means relaxing as I write, to stop thinking about how to write a sentence and start thinking about how I'd say it.

1930's Paris is richly evoked, how much research did you do? 

I'd read histories of Surrealism and biographies of Henry Miller and Hemingway. I then read Gary Corby's Pericles Commission, which is set in Ancient Greece, and I realised that I was also writing an Historical crime novel. That really hadn't occurred to me before, I'd thought of it as a hard-boiled or noir or a detective novel. At that point I jumped into to research mode.

Brassai - Paris street
There are countless memoirs and books covering angles like Black American Jazz Musicians in Paris, The Sewer Workers of Paris. I could lose hours flicking through Brassaï and André Kertész photographs. Even books with no other merit would let me know how much a coffee costs or what the ex-pats were gossiping about. My reading is generally about 4-1 fiction to non-fiction.

 What do you think makes post-War Europe such a perfect setting for noir?

I read an article by Phillipe Soupault, written in the 1950's, where he talked about the atmosphere in the years leading up to the formation of Surrealism (1924). He mentioned that many of his friends from before and during the war had gone on to kill themselves. There was Jacques Vaché who killed himself with a deliberate opium overdose in early 1919. Jacques Rigaut, the Dadaist poet, who declared, in 1919, that he'd kill himself in ten years. He shot himself through the heart in 1929. You could say there were a lot of walking dead in that decade after the war. It wasn't only suicide: my great-grandfather was gassed at The Somme in 1916, his lungs finally packed up in 1929. My gran was born in 1919, after he'd been killed but before he died.

Otto Dix - Die Skatspieler
Then there were amputees begging for food because they gone to war, lost a limb, and could no longer return to their previous occupations. Think of Otto Dix's painting of the card playing invalids. Being conscripted to fight then having to beg for food is about as noir as you can get.

Added to the mix is the political ferment – fascists in Italy and Germany, Communists in Russia, all represented on the streets of Paris. The government was at times inept or corrupt, the police force rife with corruption. France during most of the '30s was one step away from civil war.

Plotter or pantser?

Pantser. My fist draft is normally a 60-70,000 word synopsis which I try to write as quickly as possible. I normally have a good idea of the theme and will do some background reading before I start. I'll spend the rest of the year re-writing, editing and doing further research. I've been promising myself that the next time I'll be a planner.

How does it feel to have the book out there finally?

Fab. I feel like it's a vilification for all the hours spent writing. Also, I've had some good feedback and it encourages me to keep going when there are a million and one reasons to stop. I also got to join the CWA which was an ambition while writing Salazar.

What's coming up next from you?

Salazar #2, A Dead American in Paris,  is nearly done and I scribbled out a first draft of Salazar #3 to work on next year. I'm also drawing to the close on The Doorbell Maker's Daughter. It's set 50 or so years in the future. A detective is hired to track down a rich industrialist's daughter. He calls on a few of her friends who give him an address in Bristol. He finds the daughter living with her boyfriend, unaware of any reason why her father would think she was missing. That night she's murdered. The father denies ever hiring the detective who's now the number 1 and only murder suspect.

Salazar is available now on Kindle at for UK & US readers.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Journey

“Like The Sopranos, Mad Men, and other cable series that have defined the new golden age of TV drama, Breaking Bad distinguished itself with a large, grand arc of moral complexity and a protagonist inside of whom a man and a monster were at war… We didn’t stick with Walter White and Don Draper and Tony Soprano  because they were guys who in real life we wouldn’t want to spend five minutes with; we were in it for their struggle.”

-- Mark Harris, Entertainment Weekly.

Is he right? Do we stick with these guys because we’re involved in their struggle? Are we hoping that the man defeats the monster? Or do we just get vicarious thrills out of watching the monster? (now that I think about it, when was the last time the man defeated the monster?)

One of my Facebook friends asked this the other day, “Am I a knuckle-dragging savage if I think that Breaking Bad just tells a story, not weaves commentaries on present-day America? Or are all these weighty social issues what make it a great show?”

I think we’re all pretty quick to say that it just has to be a good story. In fact, I think most of us will say anything that tries to be more than a good story is likely going to fail at being a story. But maybe in trying to avoid “weighty social issues,” we do as much of a disservice to the story as if we spend too much time on those issues.

Maybe I’m thinking about this stuff because as I drove back and forth to Albany on the I-90 a few weeks ago I passed a lot of small towns in upstate New York and I couldn’t help but wonder; is that Bedford Falls or is it Potterville?

Because what would It’s a Wonderful Life be if the monster won?

Why I Wrote Pale Horses by Nate Southard

Pale Horses (paperback|kindle) is out today. This is one hell of a book folks. I invited Nate to tell us a bit about it. But first, here's the synopsis:

Most days, Sheriff Hal Kendrick can remember his wife’s name, but what frightens him are the days he can’t. When a local woman is found dead, naked and dumped on the banks of the Ohio River, Sheriff Kendrick is determined to solve the crime before Alzheimer’s disease destroys his ability to reason. No matter the cost, he will leave his county better than he found it, but murder is only the beginning, a spark that ignites a firestorm of violence, betrayal, and deceit.

Most mornings, former marine Korey Hunt can remember the previous night. Other times, he only remembers darkness. When a body is found on his family’s property, Korey wants to believe he’s incapable of murder. Deep down, however, killing is all he knows.

Death rides a Pale Horse, and no one in its path escapes unscathed.


My grandmother couldn’t find her purse.

I realize this isn’t the way you normally start explaining why you wrote a crime novel, but I do think it’s important.  See, the thing that made my grandmother’s inability to find her purse so distressing was that it was right beside her.  She’d placed it there a few moments before.  When she started freaking out about not knowing where it was, we thought maybe she was just strung out on anxiety.  My grandfather was in the hospital after a major heart attack, after all.

The next day, however, my grandmother couldn’t find her dentures.  Eventually, my brother found them in the refrigerator.  That afternoon, my grandmother went in to visit her husband and didn’t recognize him.  That was the wakeup call the family needed.  Doctors visits followed, and soon it was all but certain…my grandmother had Alzheimer’s.

If you’ve never experienced a loved one’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, it’s hard to understand.  I really don’t know how to describe the complete awfulness of it.  My grandmother, who had long been the kindest person I’ve ever known, changed quickly.  She went from forgetting things to thinking we were part of a terrible organization out to get her.  I remember her telling my grandfather, “You’re one of them, and I don’t trust you.”  Then she closed her eyes, and she never opened them again.  She lived for a few more years, first by being fed at the kitchen table and later by being fed through a tube.  She could still speak for at least the first year.  She never opened her eyes, though.  Not once that I recall.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying I wrote Pale Horses, a novel I consider not only my first crime story but also the best thing I’ve ever written, because I wanted to write about Alzheimer’s disease.  Normally, I focus on the horror genre.  It’s what I know, and it’s what I’m comfortable writing.  With Pale Horses, I thought I could confront this disease in a different way.  Because Alzheimer’s and what it does to a person is horrifying enough.  The idea that you want to continue living your life but that something is destroying you a moment at a time is the worst thing I can think of, and I wanted to create a story that reflected that.

There are other things in Pale Horses, of course.  You’ll see some post-traumatic stress disorder.  You’ll see meth and dead bodies and a version of southeastern Indiana that’s much worse than anything I ever experienced.  There’s a particularly creepy part of the story involving an old VHS tape full of Christina Ricci footage.

What I’m saying is…Pale Horses is a dark ride.  At times, it’s a fun ride, but it’s really dark.  It lives in the shadows where the crime and horror genres meet.  My hope is that it will crawl under your skin, that you’ll remember it long after you close the book.

So Pales Horses has arrived.  I hope you pick it up, and I hope you enjoy it.  Most of all, I hope it latches onto you and refuses to let go.  Some things should do that.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The state of bookstores

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Yesterday, I was honored to take part in the Iowa City Book Festival.  The Festival takes place in the heart of Iowa City near - you guessed it - The University Of Iowa.  Which meant I got a wonderful glimpse of the college atmosphere (including very little sleep due to the partying of a bunch of aspiring orthodontists who brought their bar hopping into the hallway of the 6th floor) in addition to the privilege of reading and discussing THE TESTING in the brand new Teen Center of the Iowa City Public Library.  I also got to be on a panel called Bookstore Blues.

Perhaps it should seem odd that the panel consisted of all authors.  And maybe the tone of the title suggested that bookstores were in a sorry place in this economic climate.  Yet, the conversation was lively and the booksellers and readers in the room were more than ready to jump in and make the panel less of formal discussion and more of an exchange of ideas.  I had a blast.  Really.  And from today's panel adventure, I have decided several things:

1)  Saying bookstores are a dying business isn't just premature, it is just plain wrong.  Did bookstores take a few knocks from the big chains and and even bigger knock by the almighty Amazon?  Yep.  But the book world love books.  They love connecting readers and books.  They love their jobs and while a bunch of bookstores folded in the struggle, a lot have sprung up to take their place.  Booksellers want to sell books and they are determined to find a way to make their business thrive.

2)  Amazon is great for many things including delivering all sorts of stuff - books, clothes, etc.... to people who live in rural areas and don't get to browse at a bookstore all that often.  Panelist John Adams lives on a farm far away from the nearest bookstore, which means he has less distractions to write, but fewer options for a book fix or for other things that he needs, but doesn't have the ability to get easily.  He likened the Amazon business model to Rockefeller in it's desire to put the rest of the book world out of business and hates it.  Still, he likes the convenience so he shops and gets free shipping to his remote location.  A dilemma?  Perhaps.  And one that many might face.  In fact, I have to admit that very few people in the room actually speak of Amazon in favorable terms....even those who love their Kindle and admit to shopping Amazon frequently.  What does that mean?  I haven't a clue, but it was interesting.

3)  Teen are one of the great hopes of booksellers.  Why?  Because teens and younger readers aren't interested in downloading whatever suggestion Amazon gives them.  And they don't really want to read on screens.  In fact, the teens in the room today said they hate reading books on a device.  They want to read a paper book and they find those books through friend recommendations or book talks given by their school librarians or the booksellers who host book fairs.  When asked to explain why reading a book was the preferred method when teens were known for loving all things technology, one teen explained that she does homework on the computer, texts her friends on her phone and does everything else from music management and social media on various screens.  For her, a real book is a way to step away from all those thing and just lose herself in a story without having to worry about what else is happening in the world.  The other teens agreed and even said they had a harder time retaining the story if they read on a device.  Huh....

4)  E-books aren't going anywhere.  They are here to stay.  But after hearing the teens and looking at the e-book grown over the last year, it is safe to say they aren't going to fully replace the book.  E-books are great.  They are a wonderful package for some readers to consume stories.  For others, the paper book will always be king.  No way to read is wrong.  Just as no way to buy books is wrong.  Those who shop Amazon will continue to do so, but there are lots of other book buyers out there who like their local bookstores and will buy there.  As long as bookstores continue to be active in reaching those buyers everyone can thrive.

5)  Amazon isn't always the cheapest book around.  Yep...this was a point I made and it's true.  My mother noticed this when The Testing came out.  Amazon had it discounted as expected, but Barnes and Noble had the book listed for even cheaper.  And they also have free shipping with a $25 purchase.  Huzzah!  And no in the room we had booksellers from Barnes and Noble and the local Prairie Lights Indie Store and they will tell you that they aren't interested in fighting each other for customers.  In fact, they celebrate each other's successes now.  Why?  Because booksellers love books and want to get books in the hands of readers.  End of story.

So, those were my take-aways from the panel today.  Are there challenges ahead for the bookselling world.  Yep!  But all businesses have their ups and downs.  And from the chat today, it sounds like there are lots of ways for bookstores to go up from here.