Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Year of Progress

Scott D. Parker

Thirteen is considered an unlucky number, but the year 2013, at least for me, was anything but unlucky. In 2012, I had a simple goal: write that second book. I failed. Thus, naturally, the goal rolled over in this year of 2013, but there was a mental change that hadn't been there before: I forgave myself for not writing that book in 2012. That may sound strange, but I needed to do that. That simple act wiped the slate clean for 2013.

That was January. For four months, I thought and wrote next to no fiction. Perhaps forgiving led to lethargy. Who knows? In May, however, I decided to write a short story as a means to get back on the writing wagon. It worked. I spent most of the month, off and on, writing and getting my feet wet again. On 28 May, the day after Memorial Day, I asked myself another simple question: how many days in a row can you write? I didn't know.

Now I know: 207 as of last night. I haven't missed a day of writing since 28 May 2013. That, in and of itself, is a definition of progress. A funny thing happened along the way: I ended up writing not one novel but two. Regular readers of this column can look back on my summer postings and see my weekly progress. The thing is, now, at the end of the year, I am amazed and proud of myself. And I think a large majority of the progress I made this year started by forgiving myself for my past failures. It was a barrier that I didn't know existed. But, once it was removed, the flood gates opened.

I now know I can write not one, not two, but three novels. I know I can do this thing about which I talk a lot. It's a positive step forward. Which is why the year 2013 will never be remembered as an unlucky year. It was a very lucky year. There's nothing like writing "The End" on your first novel. There is equally nothing like doing it again on your second.

I write these words not to showcase what happened to me and toot my own horn but also to illustrate a point: if you are a writer who is struggling, like I was for years, please know this: You Can Do It. Believe in yourself, believe in your talent, but acknowledge that the work will be hard and the road long. Forgive yourself for past failures if you have to. Once you get past the barriers that are holding you back, then you can make Progress. Let's all make Progress in 2014.

Once again, on behalf of all of us here at Do Some Damage, I'd like to thank y'all for sharing your time, your thoughts, and your companionship with us. We all truly appreciate it. Have a very merry Christmas and fantastic and safe holiday season.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Five Books

By Russel D McLean

Yes, its the time of year where everyone does their "best of" lists of the year, so I figured I'm one for jumping on bandwagons and therefore give you my top 5 reads of this year (in no particular order and probably missing out one or two that I completely forgot about, but these are in my  brainpan right now):

1) THE CRY - Helen Fitzgerald: Wow. Oh, wow. A devastatingly well written novel about a woman whose child is killed during a holiday and the aftermath of the terrible decision she may or may not have made. Its got a straight from the headlines hook,  but Fitzgerald is such an exceedingly clever author that she never once judges her characters or their decisions, leaving the reader in the uncomfortable position of having to work out who to trust and who not to believe. Its a brilliant and unsettling novel that you absolutely have to read.

2) ONION STREET by Reed Farrel Coleman: Coleman's Moe Prager series is drawing to an end, which is sad news for fans of the conflicted and always intriguing wine-store owning hardboiled eye from Brooklyn. But this book - which skips to Moe's college years - is one of his finest adventures yet; a mix of recent history, character development and brilliant plotting that confirms Coleman's place among the greatest crime writers you might not yet have read. If you haven't read Moe yet, you really need to start. Now.

3) WOUNDED PREY by Sean Lynch. An unexpected entry for me as this one just kind of dropped through the letterbox. But with its Michael Connelly-esque feel and its brilliant understanding of the psychotic nature of its bad guy, this is one of the few serial killer novels I really enjoyed this year. Or indeed, ever (I'm not a big serial killer novel fan, so they have to do a lot to convince me) Lynch has a great future in the genre, and I'm glad to have got in at the ground level.

4) THE HARD BOUNCE by Todd Robinson. Another debut, and one I admittedly read a year or so ago (but it was just released this year - yeah, check the front pages, this one's got a blurb on it from me) - - but its a great read and Robinson has an authentically tough new voice. THE HARD BOUNCE is the kind of novel I love. Full of street level violence and barely any hero cops to be seen. Boo Malone is a brilliant creation and frankly I'm looking forward to whatever Robinson does next.

5) NOS4R2 by Joe Hill. Hill has been on my watchlist for a while. His HEART SHAPED box was a little too constrained by its King-esque conventions (and yes, Hill  is King's son, but I didn't know that, then) but was very readable and great fun. HORNS was brilliantly good fun, although fell apart a little towards the end. Still, an original concept and even more assured writing. But NOS4R2 is brilliant. A sustained (and huge - we all know I usually don't like big novels) and thrilling novel that never quite does what you expect, it starts with a killer whose car takes him to his "inscape"; a place inside his own head he calls Christmasland. Our killer takes children to Christmasland in the belief that he is helping them. To do this he employs the assistance of a strange individual known as GasMask Man. Meanwhile, a girl discovers her own inscape and soon finds herself in the path of this monstrous killer. Nothing happens the way you might expect, and Hill creates an imaginative, epic horror that never once forgets about character or atmosphere. Its all a little surreal but very well conceived, and I admit to shivering more than once. I can't wait to see where Hill goes from here.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Silent City is a fantastic debut from Alex Segura

By Steve Weddle

Alex Segura's SILENT CITY will be sticking with me for a long time. In a way I was reminded a little of our own Dave White’s Jackson Donne, with an edgy Scudder twist, but Pete Fernandez is his own character.

The story opens as his life is falling apart, and things just get better from there. For the reader, at least. Pete doesn’t always fare so well. As a newspaper guy, I can tell you that the insider description of the newspaper was pretty spot on. You get the feel of the workplace and of the bar scene in Miami and the neighborhoods and the people.

From the music he enjoys to his slacker wardrobe, Pete is the kind of guy you can see right there, the sort of character you end up rooting for. Pixies. Talking Heads. What's not to like?

The trio of Pete, Emily, and Mike also works well. These people feel like old friends, the way they play off each other. Segura really puts you there, in the middle of the lives, their day-to-day existence. As Pete's life starts falling apart pieces at a time, you get to this points where you're hoping he won't take that next drink, won't do that next stupid thing.

And then his falling momentum begins to sync up with the plot's momentum, so that you're hurled forward in a story that gets more and more developed with each page.

The is a thrilling read that picks up speed with each page. This book was a fantastic debut in the mystery genre, and I’m ecstatic that Pete Fernandez has his own series.

Looking forward to more from Segura.

Check this out for more Silent City news from Alex Segura.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Matter of Size

Guest post by Eric Beetner

I’m happy with it short. In fact, I prefer it. [Insert penis joke here]

I have another novella out now, my fifth. Thirty one thousand words. That causes it to be slightly ghettoized by the publishing world. Too short to qualify for the moniker “novel”. And we all respect the novel. His little brother novella? Not so much.

But is that changing? Perhaps in this digital age of tablet reading, books on cell phones and less time to read as we go-go-go through life and its many distractions we are at a perfect crossroads for a new renaissance for the short novel.

True story: I talked to a guy at work yesterday who reads on his cell phone. I’d heard about people doing it, but hadn’t actually met anyone who did. He reads on the toilet as an escape from his twin boys. Needless to say, I sold him a book on the spot.

I’ll admit to shying away from any book over five hundred pages. Okay, if I’m really honest, that threshold is really more like four hundred. And three fifty really gives me pause.

My time is limited and I’m impatient. I grew up on TV and now I work in TV so I’m sure I’m a social scientist’s wet dream of an example on how my rotting brain can’t focus on literature anymore. So, okay, what’s the excuse in the pre-TV 1930s when The Postman Always Rings Twice came out? Or let’s go non-crime fiction with The Great Gatsby, Call of The Wild, Of Mice and Men, The Old Man and the Sea. All short books. All under, some way under, the fifty thousand word mark that generally constitutes a full novel, though there is no solid number.

Beyond liking a short, punchy story that doesn’t dwell on the unimportant or stick around to wear out its welcome, I’m a fan of a book being as long as the story needs it to be. If your story is over in 150 pages, then so be it. Why slap a different label on it and treat it as somehow lesser than?

And this is not to say people shouldn’t write longer books. Go ahead. I might not read them until I retire, but I’m glad there is War and Peace for those readers looking for War and Peace.

My new one, White Hot Pistol, was a hell of a lot of fun to write. It’s the kind of short, hardboiled tale I like about an everyman who gets sucked into a vortex of bad luck, lousy options and violent confrontations. My publisher, the new ebook venture Bookxy founded by the Stark Raving Group, is going all in on novellas. That’s all they’re going to publish for now, the thinking being that in this age of new reading technology, people prefer a shorter product for their tighter reading times and smaller devices.

I hope they’re right. I have two more ideas for novellas I want to write for them, all set in the fictional town of Noirville (A cheap gag, I know, but it suited the pulp style) Bookxy is attempting to get ahead of the curve in ebooks by catering to people who read on their phones (not me) and on tablets (very rarely me). One of the first copies of White Hot Pistol I sold was purchased by someone on an airplane. Beyond it being a little creepy that they could even tell that, I think it’s great to give readers the option.

With digital reading, we could see the novella get the boost that Fifty Shades of Grey got – no one can see what you’re reading. You don’t have to try to look smart with a thousand page David Foster Wallace book. No one will know you’re slumming the pulp depths when all they see is your tablet/cell phone/next big thing.

And we all know no one wants to be seen reading anything with my name on the cover. I’d bet people took the dust jacket off Fifty Shades and used it cover some of my books.

If you’d like a taste to see if you’d be embarrassed to read it, the first chapter of White Hot Pistol can be found here

Eric Beetner is the author of The Devil Doesn't Want Me, Dig Two Graves, Stripper Pole At The End Of The World, Split Decision, A Mouth Full Of Blood and co-author (with JB Kohl) of One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. Award-winning short story writer, former musician, sometimes filmmaker, film noir nerd and father of two.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Books that stuck with me

There's a meme that's been making the rounds on Facebook about books that that have stuck with you. Your supposed to make the list without putting a lot of thought into it (ie:  don't make your list cool, or respectable, or whatever). I gave my list but thought I'd save the why for a post.

-Peanuts & Mad Magazine - When I was little we would go my Dad's Aunt and Uncle's house deep in Pennsylvania. Their children were all grown and I would always get their son's room. He had a bookshelf filled with mass market sized Peanuts collections and Mad Magazine collections. Over the course of many visits I devoured all of these books many times over. I came to identify with Charlie Brown and admire the humor of Mad Magazine. I still remember some of those books to this day.

-The Wizard of Oz books - A friends Grandmother had a collection of old beat up Wizard of Oz paperbacks. What started off as just kind of glancing at one of the books quickly became me devouring them all.

These three titles (Peanuts, Mad Magazine, Wizard of OZ) were the first books I consumed en masse.

-The Great Brain books - I can't really say how I came to find The Great Brain books only that I was enamored and obsessed once I did. I knew that there were seven books in the series. And in the pre-internet days it was damn near torture to try and track down these books but it made finding them and reading them so much more enjoyable. To this day I can still recall scenes from these books (the peg leg race, selling candy).

-The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban - I probably came to Hoban's work by way of The Emmett Otter Jugband Christmas special. The Mouse and His Child is a dark, allegorical and philosophical work. Certain ideas expressed in the book have stuck with me ("I've got this nasty sort of a huge lip with a joint in it like an elbow, and I catch my food with it. And the odd thing, you see, is that I don't think that's how I really am. I just can't believe that I'm this muddy thing crawling about in the muck. I don't feel as if I am. I simply can't tell you how I feel inside!"). The other thing that has stuck with me about this book is how high the body count is. Yep, that's right, a children's/YA book with a high body count.

-Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers - This is a book that has an experience tied to it, which accounts for the sticking with me. Walter Dean Myers came to my school in support of this book. I heard him speak, got a copy of the book, and had it signed. I also went home and read it and really enjoyed it too. But to this day whenever I see a copy I remember that experience of meeting the author.

-Watership Down by Richard Adams - I hit a point in school where my reading ability was far ahead of what we were doing in school. And that was frustrating. My oldest brother, who is six years older then me, was the first to really pick up on this (sharing a room helped I'm sure). So he started giving me some of his books to read. He gave me this book about rabbits that was the size of a brick, had a ton of pages and really small print. But once I started reading I couldn't stop, and he knew exactly what it was I needed. After I finished the book he asked me what it was about. I told him. He then asked me "what if it was really about government, and systems of government?" and blew my young impressionable mind. He made me see that a book could be about different things and work on different levels. Upon hearing this I promptly set about reading it again.

-The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck - In the pre-internet days I didn't know what genres were, I read by going through phases. I would go into a phase, read every book on that subject I could find, then move on to the next one. Forexample I went through a Beat Generation phase, a philosophy phase, and a John Steinbeck phase. To this day what I remember about this book is the section about the Congress in the Dark. It's a section that will likely stay with me until I die. 

-On the Road by Jack Kerouac - I came across On the Road at the right age, when I just wanted to get out into the world and was trying to figure out who I was. I actually concocted a plan once where I was going to sneak out and take all the lawn mower gas cans in the neighborhood, steal my aunt's car, use the stolen gas, head west and find myself, my people, and a girl. At the time I felt like I had to (I never did) and it was all Kerouac's fault.

-Lord of the Rings by JRR Somebody - I read and loved The Hobbit but The Lord of the Rings always left me cold. But I had the audio of the BBC's adaptation of LOTR and I listened to it multiple times, and that was how I came to Tolkien. 

-Perdido Street Station by China Mieville - When my daughter was an infant I did all of the late night feedings. I was also so busy that I was only able to read one book that year. And it was Perdido Street Station. I would hold her, lean towards the night light in her room while feeding her, prop up the book, and read just a couple of paragraphs a day. I literally crawled through that book. So it imprinted itself on me in a way that many others haven't.

-The People of Paper by Salvador Placencia - This is a formally inventive novel with a beating heart and both of these aspects have stayed with me.

-Last Call (and The Anubis Gates!) by Tim Powers - One of my favorite novels and my gateway Powers novel. I devour every Tim Powers book but these two I re-read every couple of years. Horrabin the Clown from The Anubis Gates is a horrific figure forever imprinted in my memory.

-Drive by James Sallis - One of my favorite novels of all time. I've read Drive more times, by far, then any other recent novel. I've broken down the chapters into chronological order, I've read the book in chronological order, I' this book a lot. The ending stays with me, some of the moments stay with me, the description of a Ford F-150 has stuck with me. At this rate I'll soon have the damn thing memorized.

-Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane - My favorite Lehane book. There are six words ("I know," he said. And died.) at the end that punch me every time, and I'll never forget.

-Cast of Shadows by Kevin Guilfoile - There's a scene at the end at the Soldiers for Christ/Hands of God Picnic Social where the books antagonist delivers a quiet speech that is one of the most chilling things I've read in a long time. His story ends and his audience sits in stunned silence ("In the quiet around the picnic table, you could hear the water spitting out the end of the pinhole barrel.") and you will too.

-Go With Me by Castle Freeman Jr - This slim book is filled with little moments that have stayed with me and when I think about re-reading a book this often tops the list.

-Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff - The reveal near the end (and at the heart) of this book is so shocking (and so obvious in hindsight) that I raced to finish it and then started it over again.

-Four Corners of Night by Craig Holden - Truly one of my favorite novels. It is filled with moments both small (The two cops having their meal interrupted by an emergency call and pointing to the waitress as they run out so she knows they will pay for their meal next time) and large (the emotional roller coaster of the last third or so). There are charged moments where the fear is palpable and only a friend can held ("Mack! Mack!").

-White Apples by Jonathan Carroll - This book has a couple of memorable scenes that haunt including the barbershop transformation scene and the scene at the zoo where the noble animals sacrifice themselves (guaranteed to bring a lump).

-The God File by Frank Turner Hollon - Another "quiet" book that has really stayed with me over the years. I love the opening.

-The Gift (and Door Number Three) by Patrick O'Leary - The Gift has a haunting opening, then goes way into the past to tell the story of everything that happened before that moment, then delivers emotional body blows with reveals that hammer the the already haunting opening home.

-The Cleanup by Sean Doolittle - Another of my favorite recent crime novels. It is filled with moments that haunt and resonate and stay. For example, here is a scene that is worth taking a closer look at. The protagonist's ex-wife, whom he obviously still has feelings for, has just come to his house to tell him that she is pregnant. She wanted to tell him directly before he found out through others, you see the man that she left him for is another police officer. In tones of quiet restraint that are loaded with subtext he congratulates her. Then she leaves. It’s at this point in the scene that we get to see the strength of Doolittle's game. The protagonist's house is being staked out by two men and they will see her leaving the house then sobbing in her car before driving off. We the reader, through the eyes of these two men, will bear quiet witness to a scene that we weren’t supposed to see. Nobody was supposed to see it and it feels like we are invading her privacy, we also feel dirty because of it. There is also extra weight of subdued menace as the two men decide to follow her instead of continuing to stake out the house.

Here are some comics that have stayed with me or that have scenes that have stayed with me:

-Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
-100 Bullets
-MPD Detective
-Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service

Also, I can't overstate the importance of some non-fiction books that were instrumental in my cultural education in the pre-internet age. Books like: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction; The Encyclopedia of Fantasy; Spin Alternative Record Guide; The Rolling Stone Album Guide (the 1st ed. and the 1992 ed), Leonard Maltin & Ebert movie guides.

I read every line in these books (and others I'm sure) many, many times. These were my bibles. I circled, highlighted, folded in page corners. I learned from them, took recommendations from them, quoted them, and discovered a lot because of them. I made lists and went to the the mall and Record and Tape Traders hoping to expand what I knew and compare my thoughts to them.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

What is success?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

This week something unexpected happened.  I woke up on Thursday to an e-mail from my editor letting me know that THE TESTING would appear as #14 on the 12/22/2013 NY Times YA Extended Best Seller list.  To say I was stunned would be a huge understatement.  I think I turned white and my mother and husband both thought that something was very wrong when I called them.  Yeah – I guess I don’t handle good news very well. 

Since Thursday, I’ve thought a lot about what hitting the list means.  Most people would say that The Times list is a mark of a successful writing career.  


Oh – don’t get me wrong.  I’m thrilled and astonished and still processing the fact that something I wrote hit that list.  But as important and wonderful that is, I don’t consider it to be my achievement alone.  Yes, I wrote the book, but it took an enormous village of people who believed in THE TESTING to help push the boulder up the mountain.  My editor, my agent, the HMH marketing, sales and PR teams, and my family and friends – everyone worked tirelessly to make sure readers learned about The Testing.  This is a group effort and the spot on the Times list belongs just as much to them and to all of you as it does to me.  That doesn’t diminish the accomplishment, but I know there is no way I could have hit this place in my career without enormous support.

Hitting the list is a successful group effort.  And I am so proud that I am a part of the team that did something so cool!  But as I sit behind my computer screen, I find that though the tag line behind my name is different, I am not.  I still measure my own personal success in the same way that I always have.  By getting up in the morning, putting my hands on the keyboard and filling the pages with words.  Each day that I write is a success.  Each day I add pages or edit a story is a success.  Each time a reader picks up one of my books and finds something engaging about my work is a success. 

I don’t know what will happen to my writing career in a year or two or ten.  At this moment, I don’t have a contract for another book.  Who knows…I might never get another one.  Those are things out of my control.  The only thing I can control is sitting in front of my computer screen and writing.  And every day I do that is a success.  Hopefully, you consider every day that you sit down and work to be successful as well.

And most important - thank you.  Thank you to each and every one of you who has read my blog posts and maybe even read my books.  You are part of the reason that I get to write every day and I am more grateful to you than you can ever possibly know.