Saturday, November 2, 2013

Reflections on a Number and a NaNoWriMo Tidbit

Scott D. Parker

October 2013 is now in the books and I'll share some stats with you.

Here are October's numbers:

  •     Minimum threshold: 1,000/day while completing the novel (on 12 October); 500/day for next story so this metric is a non-issue this month
  •     Total words: 30,967
  •     Average: 999/day
  •     Best day: 4,300 (12 October; finished novel)
  •     Worst: 529 (29 October)
  •     Items worked on: Chapters 37-48 of Book 2 to The End; sections 1-11 of next novella
  •     Number of consecutive days writing: 157 days (since Memorial Day)
  •     Milestone: passed 250,000 words for the year on 31 October

It's that last number that surprised me when my spreadsheet* did the math. A quarter of a million new words. Then I did more math. May through October is 6 months. That's a quarter million words in six months. Extrapolating that out, you get the obvious: a half million words a year. It boggles the mind.

And that's the tidbit for you NaNoWriMo participants this year. Just. Keep. Going. Come December 1st, don't stop. Keep writing. Soon, your 50,000 words will be a 100,000, and then 150,000, and so on. Writing is a cumulative thing. It all adds up and, before you know it, you will have lots of completed things. Which is the point of all of this, right? To reach The End and then reach readers. But, to get to readers, you have to get to The End.

Keep going. Keep writing. Keep going.

*I have started keeping a spreadsheet of my daily writing. I have found it to be invaluable in my writing progress.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Doctor A Week: Paul McGann: Doctor Who The Movie

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.

Poor Paul McGann. One story, and then unceremoniously dumped as the Doctor was once again sentenced to years in the doldrums before his eventual resurrection in the form of Christopher Ecclestone (Every planet has a North). His one and only outing makes choosing this week’s story relatively easy, as McGann only had one spot as the Doctor when the Americans attempted to bring the show back in 1996 after it had been off air following McCoy’s final story in 1988.

There were a lot of concerns about the revamped show. The rumour mill had it being completely revamped, including a subplot where Rassilon accompanied the Doctor on a search for his own father. Luckily for all concerned, what we actually got was a revamped TARDIS and an increased effects budget.

Oh, yes, and a script that would prove a little divisive, mostly because it just wasn’t strong enough (but also because, shock, gasp, the Doctor dared kiss a human being).

There’s a lot to like in McGann’s only outing. The TARDIS looks spectacular for a start, and its great to have Sylvester McCoy appearing - if only for a few moments - to hand over the baton. The regeneration scene is fine (well, after the unceremonious shooting of McCoy), and Grace and Chang Lee make for interesting companions (Chang Lee in particular gets a nice moral ambiguity seeing as how, for most of the show, he’s working with The Master after falling for the resurrected Time Lord’s frankly terrible lies). And while Eric Roberts isn’t exactly the Master we’ve come to know, he’s got a nice line in threatening physical presence with just a touch of camp (“I always drezzzz for the occasion”).

The problems come from the fact that much of the 90 minute running time feels rushed. The opening sequence which is all tell and don’t show looks like it was done at the last second (and never mind the terrible Dalek voices) and it feels like we’re missing a lot of logical steps, especially at the end where there’s a lot of mumbled rubbish about treating the TARDIS like resetting an alarm clock (That’s all well and good, but you can’t reset an alarm clock without knowing which buttons to press and what time to set it to, so how does Grace manage this?). On top of this there’s the question of why the Master spits venom, and exactly how the miraculous resurrection of Chang Lee and Grace occurs.

But on the whole, the production is pulled off with a lot of verve and some style, especially for the mid nineties. The great side by side moment of the regeneration with someone watching Frankenstein in the morgue is very well handled, although it is then followed by the whole Doctor Jesus moment in the mysteriously abandoned wing of this well funded San Francisco hospital. Paul McGann makes us believe even the silliest moments of the movie with his wide eyed performance (he would have been spectacular in the role had he continued; a more innocent Doctor, perhaps, but suitably alien) and that TARDIS interior is absolutely beautiful.

The story itself is nonsense. The Master mysteriously escapes from a locked box while his remains are being transported by the Doctor to Gallifrey, and then he somehow takes over a human body (conveniently changing its DNA, hence the whole malarkey about the TARDIS responding to humans but not to anyone possessed by the Master) and proceeds to try and take the Doctor’s body so he can be a full time lord again. In order to do this he opens the eye of Harmony (now located at the heart of the TARDIS) and sets about sucking the whole of reality into a black hole. As usual he hasn’t thought this through. If reality is sucked into the hole, then there would be nothing left at all, including the Master and all his new regenerations. Its the kind of loose, melodramatic plotting that would become a feature of the show again during the later Davis years: big threat, unravels when examined too closely.

Anyway, its all breathless fun for the most part They overdo Doctor Jesus at the start (something Davis would return to in the Tennant years) but once McGann gets into Grace’s ex-boyfriend’s new shoes he’s perfect. There is of course the whole matter of the Doctor kissing Grace which caused a storm at the time but seems very very innocent, now. Grace herself is good, although her romantic attraction to the Doctor is again overplayed and weakens an otherwise very strong character who couldn’t be more different to the traditional image of a “companion” for the Doctor as perceived at the time. Its also nice that she makes the decision not to travel with him at the end.

But none of its strong enough. The movie was supposed to be a backdoor pilot for a full series. But the serious plot holes and inconsistencies weakened the project. Its a shame, because no matter what else you think about the movie, you can’t deny that for ninety minutes, Paul McGann was the Doctor. A performance so strong that it made this one off project an official part of Doctor Who continuity.


- It is a bit of an anti-climactic regeneration for a Doctor who had been so dark and manipulative as McCoy. Although I like the fact that its not the bullets that kill him, but someone trying to save his life.

- Chang Lee tries to steal the doc’s belongings, gets involved with gangs and hangs out with the Master. Yet he’s still a decent guy at heart. There’s a nice moral complexity to him (moral complexity for a mainstream nineties TV show, of course) that makes him rather endearing.

- Lots and lot of fanwank about jelly babies and so forth. Although I do like him finding Baker’s scarf in a Doctor’s locker for no apparent reason.

- “Half human on my mother’s side”. Once again an example of how every creative teams gets to just make stuff up. Although it could be a joke. Its never mentioned again.

- The cops are rubbish in this version of San Francisco. Even though the Doctor takes the cops gun and threatens to shoot himself if the cop doesn’t give him the bike, he has plenty of time to subdue the Doctor and Grace after they drop the gun and spend ages faffing about on the bike.

- Okay, I still laugh at the police bike going into the TARDIS and then turning round to come out again. Its an obvious joke but very funny. Although why don’t the cop’s brakes work? That is a question that has bothered me for years.

- “Think alarm clock”. Really, don’t think. Because none of the climax has any kind of dramatic or narrative sense. Lots of sound and fury signifying nothing and probably the weakest part of the movie.

- That said, love McGann’s Clockwork Orange headgear.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Steve Weddle & Country Hardball - Part Two

By Jay Stringer

Earlier we dropped part one of a pretty lengthy-wise interview with Steve Weddle. Here's part two. 

Country Hardball, out now. 

Country Hardball is a searing portrait of an America most people would rather forget, where life is cheap, grudges never die, and dinner is always in the microwave. Steve Weddle’s poignant, powerful prose brings it to life in all of its desperate passion and hopeless aggression. Once I started reading, there was no way I could look away.”
—Hilary Davidson, author of Evil in All its Disguises

Steve Weddle & Country Hardball; The DSD interview. Part Two.

-Do you think ‘voice’ is something writers should be conscious of?
I think writers can be conscious of voice, and I think that's a problem. Writing a story and thinking about voice is like crossing a canyon on a tightrope and looking down. You can get too conscious of that, and it can be crippling. I'd try to read what I'd done the day before to proof along and also to get back into the voice, to remember whose story I was telling. If I thought too much about it, I had to stop. I'd get to where I was writing a parody of myself and it was no good.
-How did Indy know to close his eyes when they opened the Ark?
Indy who? Is this from a comic book?
-Well, thanks for asking me to talk at length about RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, and how its climax works because it serves the characters emotional arc rather than the plot, and how everything that is great in fiction is influenced by this film (even the things that were written before it came out.) But, honestly, we're here to talk about you. You mentioned people who need to have their stories told. Is that where you find yourself now, looking to tell the stories that aren't being told?
I think what I so often find myself concerned with is the emotional arc of my characters' lives, while the plot is the thing that gets them there. Like this movie I was watching the other day about some old man with a whip trying to get a box away from the Nazis. What was more important, it seemed to me, was how the characters were developing, how being faced with adversity forced them to search for this thing they'd lost, and the thing wasn't just a MacGuffin box.

In the stories I want to tell, the writer and reader get invested in the characters, in the world. If I'm going to do justice to the characters and make something worth the reader's time, I'm going to develop the storyline, of course, but I'm going to work to understand the characters, to see how their choices create them, how they impact the world around them. As a writer, it's up to me to thoroughly understand a character, to see both sides of the coin. If I can do that, then I can delve deeply, hopefully digging in the right place.
- You're with TYRUS BOOKS. It's a real sign of quality writing to see their logo on a book. How's it feel to have Country Hardball join that family?
It's pretty cool, isn't it? Many years ago, I started paying close attention to Bleak House Books, which was Ben LeRoy and Alison Janssen (now Dasho). They had all kinds of great authors and wonderful books and clever ideas. They had the Evidence Collection, which put in a rap sheet and fingerprints for the author. I have one of Neil Smith's books like that. And they had a signature collection. And a subscription plan, too.
So I got together what money I could and sent off for some collection they were offering. I think it was three books from the signature collection for $50. Something like that. I got a huge box of books back with a note (pictured) from Alison -- someone I didn't know at all at the time -- that said they'd run out of some of the books and she'd pulled copies from her shelf and had to substitute some hardbacks even though I'd only paid for paperbacks. I thought that was amazingly nice. You know, personal and thoughtful and all. I know now that it was perfect Alison. Fast-forward years and years and my agent is texting me from a conference where she's talking to Ben LeRoy about Country Hardball. Ben is doing Tyrus Books now and Alison has taken a job with Amazon at that point.

Though we'd talked to other people about publishing Country Hardball, we knew Tyrus was the perfect fit -- personal and thoughtful, just as Alison had shown years ago. I have all those Bleak House books, along with the subsequent Tyrus titles, on a shelf in my library. Inside one of the Nathan Singer books is the note from Alison. 

How does it feel? It feels like it's the way it was supposed to happen, you know? It feels perfect and great. It feels, I don't know, it just feels all of it. Every bit of awesome.
-Okay. So Country Hardball is out right stinking now. Why the hell should people buy the book?
I'm told the print version is in stores, too. I think people who like a good read should buy the book. I've worked hard in trying to tell the stories of these people, from the teenage boy just trying to understand the world to middle-aged people who understand it too well. I'm not saying this is the one book you should buy this year. The Shining Girls is a great read, for example. But if people think they might be interested in reading about the working class in rural America, about people who just need that one push to do bad things, about people who keep pushing back trying to not do those bad things, about the brutality we level against each other from credit card debt and workplace furloughs to attacks of cancer and assault, this is a book they should consider. Especially if they want to read about people trying to fight against the bullshit in this world.

-What are you working on next?

If you've gotten to the end of Country Hardball, then you know that Mabel Murphy is abducted by aliens during a Los Angeles Lakers game. I'm working on the backstory to those aliens and why they are forced to share umbrellas.

Oh, Country Hardball? Sorry. Yeah. Well, in that book, Roy Alison is looking for answers about what happened to his grandfather. I've had to go back to 1933 Arkansas to find out. The next book follows some of the characters from Country Hardball into the next year, but also flashes back to 1933 and 1955. It's a difficult, layered story, but the first one took me 42 years, so I figure I've got time.

What are you working on, Mr. Stringer?

-Lost City, the third book in the Eoin Miller Trilogy (three books...I'm told that's how a trilogy works) comes out in January, and I would be mighty grateful if people would read it. Buy it first, then read it. As for the next project? I'm cooking it now. It's set in Glasgow, a move away from my usual stomping ground, and it's something akin to an episode of The Rockford Files if made by the Coen Brothers. 

I know i vanished from DSD without much of a word; I'd like to thank everyone who worked with me on the site over the years, and all the readers who came back to read my ramblings week after week. I'd also like to say that I haven't left completely, I just needed to focus on other things for awhile. I'm sure I'll be back to stink the place up at some point. 

Goodbye Van Helsing. Hello Sherlock Holmes.

Since it's Halloween it only seems right we talk horror. Back when I was an excessively-kohl'd teenaged Goth horror was all I read, the melodramatic Victorian classics and splatter-heavy 20th century masters, so when I came to start writing that was the genre I went for and it was only a chance comment by an early reader, who suggested my style was more suited to crime, which diverted me away from it.

The switch was surprisingly painless, after all what's horror but crime with a supernatural agent?

Poltergeists become stalkers, succubi evolve into femme fatales, and as a template for rampaging madmen with daddy-issues you don't have to look much further than Frankenstein's monster. The timing of this change was significant as well I think. Once you're too old to believe in ghosts and vampires you're beginning to see the real horror in the world and, as a writer, this is far more powerful material to terrify your readers with. Edwards originally conceived his bestselling psychological thriller The Magpies as a horror, but without the supernatural elements,  "Because I wanted to write a horror novel in which the ‘monsters’ are ordinary people. When I came to publish it I decided to market it as a psychological thriller for commercial reasons. However, the narrative arc of The Magpies is more like a horror novel, because in horror, the worst thing you can imagine happening is what actually happens. There’s no escape, no neat resolution." Steve Mosby, another writer who started out in horror, the genres have much in common, "But the fundamental differences are intent – horror sets out to disturb and scare, whereas that’s often more a side-effect in crime – and resolution. Crime tends to restore order to chaos, whereas horror has every right to leave you there. In those terms, I use the furniture of crime, but still lean more towards horror for the latter two. I want an emotional, visceral reaction from a reader far more than I want them to enjoy solving a puzzle." 

When horror is in your reading DNA it's tough to shake off as a writer. The first couple of books I wrote incorporated elements of it but they gradually faded out as I focused more on 'ordinary monsters' and realised how disturbing the threat from across the street could be.

It was that urge which prompted serving police officer and crime writer Col Bury - who sees his fair share of horrific things on the day job - to move away from horror too, with his collection, The Cops of Manchester. "It’s because horror can be far-fetched and, as we mature, we strive for more realism." ex-cop and former scriptwriter on The Bill Paul Finch started out as horror writer but says, "I had police procedural in my blood. I'd always wanted to return to that form in print, but now flavouring it with the terror, violence and darkness that I'd been experimenting with as a horror writer." The shift has proved enormously successful and his novel Stalkers gives tangible form to those old tales of something watching and waiting in the dark, only now they're 'Nice Guys.'

Is crime then just a strand of horror? Same impulse, different costume?

We grow up, we still need monsters, but we want them to reflect the world around us, and now the creepy forest has been cut down and all the spooky old mansions are carved up into flats, where are we going to go for them? The hoary old tropes are rich for reimagining, allowing the author to wink at the reader on one page then scare the hell out of them on the next.

Gerard Brennan's novella Wee Rockets, about a group of feral youths on a Belfast housing estate was written as a horror, until his reading group pointed out that it was actually crime. But what are those kids but a gang of malicious imps wreaking havoc with impunity?

The classic haunted house novel gets a makeover in Mo Hayder's latest, Poppet, as she throws her detective Jack Caffrey into a high security psychiatric hospital where a series of violent incidents are filtered through the troubled mind of the patients, making for an occasionally surreal and deeply disturbing read, which would have delighted the original forms Victorian fans. And sent them for the smelling salts.

Think of all the psychological thrillers which centre around stolen children, two hundred years ago they would have been spirited away by fairies, now the motives are darker, less opaque, but still play on the same deep-rooted fears. And readers can't get enough of them, because those fears will never go away.

The stories at the heart of both genres are essentially the same, ancient, campfire narratives of good versus evil, except now good is more interesting because it's never absolute and evil is stripped of its religious underpinnings and measured on the DSM-V scale, creating so many more intriguing deviations.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Steve Weddle & Country Hardball - The DSD Interview.

By Jay Stringer

We pinned our resident evil genius Steve Weddle down to a board and pointed a fricking laser beam at his middle bits. He asked us if we expect him to talk and we said, uh, yeah. He said....okay.

The real reason we pointed a beam of hot light at his third favourite feature was to get him to open up and talk about himself. And his writing. And HIS BOOK. YES. BOOK. You won't find a harder working or more supportive person in the crime fiction community than Steve Weddle. But what's most annoying is that he writes bloody good stuff, too. Country Hardball is the kind of fiction I like to read, and the kind of fiction I wish I'd written.

Here's part one of the epic chat. Part two will follow in a few hours. As soon as I've cleared the content with our lawyers.

Steve Weddle & Country Hardball; The DSD Interview. 

-What's your favourite swear word?

I think I first encountered the word "cockchafer" in a David Lodge book, though it could have been Kinglsley Amis, I suppose. I thought it was a terrific insult, suggesting that perhaps the person in question had undergone only limited training as a prostitue and, therefore, was not terribly good at the profession. Turns out it's a type of bug, like some weird bee. Which makes me love the word even more. I called someone a "cockchafer" a couple weeks back in an Applebee's in Tennessee. True story. It went over about like you'd imagine. 
-They say 'those who can't do, teach'. You've done both. Do you think creative writing can be taught? 
You're confusing writing with speed, I think. You can't teach speed.
What you do if you're working in a creative writing class, I think, is teach various aspects of the writing life. You can look at examples of pacing. You can talk about whether this story of yours has an effective opening. Neil Gaiman said something about how when people tell you that your story didn't work for them, they're right. But when they tell you how to fix it, they're always wrong. To me, that seems something good that can come from a creative writing class. Having others read your work, getting their comments. You don't have to be in a classroom. You can have peer groups. And there are other options. I just finished teaching a seminar online for the smart folks at LitReactor, who seem to have this down to a science.

-Is there any particular quality that makes a good student? Is there any one trait that you can see in them that makes the difference between the ones who will finish a book and take it to the next level and the ones who don't?
I've worked with students writing fiction and reporters writing (presumably) nonfiction.  The trait that marks the successful writer, it seems to me, is curiosity, which is a kind of energy. You can fuel a day of writing the novel because you want to see what happens to these characters. You want to know why a member of the town council voted in a way against the interests of his constituents, so you dig a little deeper. You want to learn about your characters, your setting. I can teach commas and pacing, but I can't teach curiosity. 
-Is that curiosity what fuels your own writing? What is most important to you as you sit and start a story?
I'll start a story with character and action. Sometimes, I'll start with two people talking about A Thing. I'll work through this to get to what's going on and why. I don't recommend my process as an example for anyone, but this is how I usually work. Pen and paper, trying to track along as best I can. Sometimes I'll build around a line of dialogue, sometimes around a piece of action. There's this scene in a Nightwing comic book, of all places. He says to some bad guy, "I know a dozen ways to break your arm. Pick a number." So you can start with that, then write your way along either side to figure out how we got there. You figure it's taking place in a back alley, so you move it to a church and see what happens. You change things up from where you first think of them. You send this tough guy into a scene with a broken-down man and you have things turn, so that the tough guy is at the mercy of the old man. You start with a thing and just keep working through it, wondering "What happens if I do this?" and that's how you start a story. Or, you know, that's how I start a story. Maybe you do things differently.   
-I tend to start with 'which Daredevil story or Alan Moore comic haven't I ripped off yet?' Do you think about genre when you write?
I don't give a damn about genre. And I certainly don't try to paint by numbers or write to formula. Some people do, and when they're done, you can't see the numbers underneath. Some writers can use an outline beautifully, can put that rising action right on the page it's supposed to go when you're writing to such-and-such outline. But if I were to do that, you'd see lines between the 3 block that was supposed to be blue and the 4 block that was supposed to be green. With other writers, you just see a wonderful piece of writing and you can't notice how they got there.
I've worked on writing a real mystery novel. I've read through about what you're supposed to do and not do. And I've read novels where, when I go back later, I can see all these points where they followed the formula. But I didn't notice that when I was reading. I could be a lousy reader, I guess, but I think mostly I don't notice because those writers are good at what they do. If they're writing a YA dystopian novel, then they do these things at these points. I'm not that good at that, I guess.
There's a story in Country Hardball called "This Too Shall Pass" that opens with a couple of teenagers lying down in field, looking up at the stars. When the book was going around a while back, someone pointed that story out as a YA story. I didn't, and don't, think of it like that. It's a story. And there's another story in that book that someone has called a horror story. Again, that doesn't make sense to me. My pal Soren Kierkegaard equated labeling to negating, which makes sense to me.
I don't set out to write a noir story or a horror story or a love story. I just set out to write a good story, the one the characters deserve.

-Okay, but seriously, what label would you give to Country Hardball? (Ducks.) Actually I think you can tell a lot about someone by seeing what book they throw at your head when you get 'em angry.
Yeah, I don't know how that helps. Do you only read Grit Lit? Rural noir? Then you're doing it wrong. If you're looking for a book that's easily categorized, you probably don't want to read Country Hardball. Look, in all honesty, I've read a dozen Inspector Morse books and thoroughly enjoyed them. British mystery. You know what you're getting, like eating at McDonald's. But if you're trying to label Old Gold and you give it the term "British mystery" then you're doing the Morse fans a disservice because Miller is not Morse. Sure, Old Gold is a British mystery, but that's not all it is. And it really isn't that at all, is it?
I think what happens is that people work to label books because it's an easy shorthand to talk about a book you don't really understand or don't care about understanding. I could talk for an hour about Holly West's Diary of Bedlam and tell you all about the characters and the intrigue and the setting and you'd run out the door to grab it. Or I could tell you it's historical fiction and that would make your choice for you. Also, I think it's called Mistress of Fortune now. Bonnie Jo Campbell writes magnificent midwestern noir, which is great unless you only read northeastern noir.

-If you write like me, and I'm meaning in terms of following a character and seeing what happens, that can mean getting a few thousands words into a project before you really know if you have a story. Old Gold was a short story that turned into a novel by accident. So did Country Hardball grow out of a "write and see" approach, or did you sit down and think "I'm going to write this set thing."
I wrote a few Roy Alison stories and my agent -- our agent -- suggested writing a Roy Alison novel. I think the line was "This is so much better than that other stuff you're writing." So I started a novel, but it didn't quite come together. Then I realized that the book was really about the community, about the different people in that area and how their lives intersected. I started working on stories about these connections. So instead of having a character move about the UK midlands, for example, I worked on stories about the place itself and the people there, about how one family can be fighting against  this type of loss while another character sees this little shard of hope in the distance. Eventually, after a great deal of work, these stories came together in what I hope is a book that is coherent in its fragments.
-Something that I really remember about reading the early Alison stories was how strong and clear the voice was, that they felt like the kind of stories you should be writing at the moment.

-Did you notice that as you were writing?

My pal Julie Summerell said something online a few years back about wanting to be better, wanting to do better. Maybe she was talking about a character in a show or a book or just a random fleeting thought. I don't remember the context, but I remember that idea and the line from that Squeeze song that goes "I want to be good/ Is that not enough?"
This concept of always wanting to be good meant that you were doing bad things to begin with, but that you had this hope, still. So you have a character with bad actions, which is the first level. Then you have that second level of desire mixed with regret. Once I started working on this, I had the Roy Alison character.
I wrote "The Ravine" first and then "Purple Hulls," which set Roy up with his grandmother and really opened up the setting for the stories. I did feel, as I was writing these stories, that I was firing on all cylinders, for once. These stories were the best I had in me, you know? When you're in the middle of this type of writing, everything folds into it. At the grocery store, a woman you go to church with tells you how her husband's cancer came back. A TV news story goes on about a local carnival and you remember the elephant that died in your town when you were a kid. All these people who need to have their stories told, everything you run across finds its way into the stories. Everything connects. That's when you know you're writing exactly what you should be writing at the moment.

Check back later for part two. 

And make sure you've ordered Country Hardball

“In COUNTRY HARDBALL, Steve Weddle takes us deep inside a rural Louisiana long since abandoned by the American Dream. His characters carry the weight of their bad luck and sins through a landscape of economic devastation, where bad choices and worse choices seem the only available options. And still they search for something beautiful—love, faith, a moment of grace among the ruins—as they struggle to become better people than they were the day before. Steve Weddle is a powerful, empathetic writer and COUNTRY HARDBALL is a stunning debut. Do not miss it.”
—Sean Chercover, author of The Trinity Game

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Devil’s Candy


The headline for Andrew O’Hehir’s review of the movie, The Counselor is, “Meet the Worst Movie Ever Made.” Of course, not everyone will think the movie is terrible, but the review is worth reading, I think. You can find it here.

The review makes a lot of points about how, “the talented and laurel-bedecked people behind it made exactly the movie they wanted to,” and how no else but artists involved (Cormac McCarthy and Ridley Scott) are to blame.

Over the years my small amount of peripheral involvement in the movie and TV business has given me a lot more respect for the “suit,” -- the producers, network and studio people -- than most popular accounts of the business had me believing they deserved.

And I think a lot of this comes down to what the Salon review referred to as Hollywood’s Devil’s Candy:

“The magical combination of artistic legitimacy, cultural currency and commercial success. Everybody in Hollywood chases it and as in Julie Salamon’s terrific book of that title, about a big-budget failure of another era (Brian De Palma’s film version of “Bonfire of the Vanities”), almost nobody gets hold of it.”

A balance is necessary. We’ve all complained about movies (and books and music and whatever) that have gone off the rails by chasing too much commercial success. For some reason it’s usually regarded as more worthy to go off the rails chasing more artistic legitimacy but the results are usually the same.

Or is that wrong? Is it better to go all out trying to tell exactly the story you want?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Crowd sourcing the favorites: Short story collections & Anthologies

The following are some of my favorite collections and anthologies that were published in 2013. How about you? What are your favorite?

American Death Songs by Jordan Harper

From the California high desert to a Texas prison yard, from Ozarks dive bars to the shadows of Hollywood, these stories burst with gutter grandeur and criminal mythology. Harper burns through prison-tatted flesh to expose his characters’ hardened, scarred but still beating hearts. And he does it with a virtuoso prose style that mixes pulp panache and literary flare into pure nitroglycerin. 

Fish Bites Cop by David James Keaton

Fish Bites Cop! Stories To Bash Authorities is a whole trunk of surprises. A collection of horror, dark crime, pulp, and slipstream lampoonery that gleefully rips on police officers, security guards, organized religion, firefighters, police officers, bounty hunters, dyslexic paramedics with dog complexes, police officers, military, middle management, and even more police officers. Bad Cop movies are usually just bad cop movies. It's time they paid for it. 

The Booked Anthology

Booked. They've traveled the country tirelessly for two years, with stops in Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, Milwaukee, L.A., North Korea, The Dark Side of the Moon, and damn near every Waffle House along the way, all in order to bring you, the listener, over 150 episodes, over 75 authors. They've won awards, covered scoops, scandals, archived hours of authors acting badly. They've broken a few hearts on this journey - their voices can be like Russian Roulette in the headphones of the unsuspecting - but now they've called in their markers to leave their own stain on the literary landscape. And you're holding it in your hands, or your hook, which would probably tear the hell out of lesser books. But not this one. All original stories, multiple genres, never been seen, never been read. It's their way of giving back. Although these authors probably consider it more like theft. The Booked. Anthology. There's a period in the middle because it's that serious to say it out loud.

Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled 2

BEAT to a PULP: Hardboiled 2 follows the blood-soaked trail left behind by the 2011 award-winning collection, edited by David Cranmer and Scott D. Parker, and pumps out another thirteen knuckle-breaking, crime tales. With writers from the 1930s and 40s golden era of pulp (Paul S. Powers and Charles Boeckman) and modern hardboiled masters (Robert J. Randisi and Wayne D. Dundee), this wild bunch is set to blaze a rat-a-tat sweep across the pulp fiction landscape. Keeping the body count high are top-shelf stories from Jedidiah Ayres, Eric Beetner, Jen Conley, Matthew C. Funk, Edward A. Grainger, BV Lawson, Tom Roberts, Kieran Shea, and Jay Stringer.

All Due Respect

In 2010 the online crime fiction journal All Due Respect blasted its way across the internet leaving a trail of blood and mayhem. Written by some of the best up and coming authors on the crime fiction scene, the stories inside this volume will leave you breathless. A few of them may even make you sick to your stomach and then double check all your doors and windows before you go to sleep. These pages are filled with thugs, grifters, dope dealers, and killers who make no apologies about who they are or what they do. All Due Respect is about crime, not the solving of crime, not the bemoaning of crime, just the bad things that bad people do. So pull up a chair, grab a drink, and keep an eye on that guy in the corner as you read All Due Respect.

Steel Heart by Thomas Pluck

Thomas Pluck writes unflinching fiction with heart. Here are ten tales of fierce emotion from the streets, the underbelly, and the house next door.

Kwik Krimes

Entire novels are often written about a single crime, detailing every gruesome, dark detail until the last drop of blood spatters across the page. Yet in this mystery anthology, renowned editor and author Otto Penzler weaves together to heart-stopping effect more than ninety tales of brutality, terror, and unexpected demise, with each story told in a swift one thousand words or less.

These crimes may be fast in both form and fallout, but none lack the dark impulses that too often guide human hands to ill ends. Prepare to be transported into the diabolical schemes of criminal masterminds…into robberies and pranks gone horribly awry…into closets crammed with skeletons…into families bound not by love but wickedness.

Authors include Peter Blauner, Ken Bruen, Rob W. Hart, K. A. Laity, Tasha Alexander, Patricia Abbott, Bruce DeSilva, Chuck Caruso, Gregory Gibson, Joe R. Lansdale, and many more.

The Beautiful That Awaits Us All by Laird Barron

Over the course of two award-winning collections and a critically acclaimed novel, The Croning, Laird Barron has arisen as one of the strongest and most original literary voices in modern horror and the dark fantastic. Melding supernatural horror with hardboiled noir, espionage, and a scientific backbone, Barron’s stories have garnered critical acclaim and have been reprinted in numerous year’s best anthologies and nominated for multiple awards, including the Crawford, International Horror Guild, Shirley Jackson, Theodore Sturgeon, and World Fantasy awards.

Barron returns with his third collection, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All. Collecting interlinking tales of sublime cosmic horror, including “Blackwood’s Baby,” “The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven,” and “The Men from Porlock,” The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All delivers enough spine-chilling horror to satisfy even the most jaded reader.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

In anticipation of NaNoWriMo

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Halloween is approaching.  Because I have a 5 year old, my house is currently focused on all things pumpkin, spooky and costume related.  But as soon as the trick-or-treating is complete and the calendar page turns, November will be here and in the writing community that means one thing:

NaNoWriMo - National Novel Write Month - where you do whatever it takes to write a novel in a month.  Well, technically, it's 50,000 words that you pledge to construct in the month of November, which isn't a full-length novel in many genres, but it is a lot of writing.  Specifically, 1666.6666 words a day.  (Deal with the decimal points as you wish!)

As November approaches, I see lots of blog posts and twitter messages about whether writers will be participating in the 50,000 words in a month adventure.  Some writers do this every year.  From the outside, it looks a lot like the author version of a marathon.  There is prep work (some brainstorm or outline ideas before the month begins), and instructions to the family that they will have less time to do household chores during this time.  There is lots of encouragement from other writers participating.  And there is a badge of honor at the end for those who complete the goal.

NaNoWriMo scares the heck out of me.  Why?  More than once in my writing career I've written over 50,000 words in a month.  In the last 12 months, I have written just shy of 500,000 words.  (This is a loose estimate based on the word counts of the novels I've completed since I don't keep any kind of running tally.  I'm compulsive about writing, not nuts. least not that version of nuts.)    Needless to say, based on past history, I can write 50,000 words in a month.  So, technically, I could complete NaNoWriMo.

But I choose not to because just the idea freaks me out.  Why?  Because I am not certain I can hit 1666/16667 words every day.  And while I know you can make up those words on other days, I would feel as if I had failed with every day that passed where I did not hit that goal.  Those days of failure would eat at me and I would start to stress over making the goal instead of worrying about writing the story.  And that, my friends, would be bad.

NaNoWriMo is a wonderful tool for lots of writers.  The support network on the NaNoWriMo website is fabulous.  Everyone cheers each other on.  But I know me.  And I work best when I set goals for myself that I know I can hit even when my son needs help with school and I have e-mails from readers, my publicist and my editor or agent to answer.  For me, the most important thing is to set goals for myself that are reachable every day and that I am confident I can hit.  I have to keep up the goals that I can use month after month.

Does that mean I think NaNoWriMo is a bad idea?

Heck no!  Setting goals for yourself is wonderful!  Holding yourself accountable for those goals is even more important.  And NaNoWriMo is a great way of doing that for a lot of people.  If you are doing NaNoWriMo this year, I am in awe of your ability to set those goals and make them and I will be cheering you on.  However, if you're like me and feel stressed at the idea of the NaNoWriMo daily word count, don't feel like you can't benefit from the National Novel Writing Month adventure.  You can.  Set a goal you know you can make.  100 words a day.  200.  Whatever number you know you can make.  Then commit to putting your butt in the chair each and every day and hitting that number.  Whether you are planning on writing 50,000 words or 3,000 this month, I hope you use the excitement November brings to make your writing a priority.

On your mark....

Get set....