Saturday, January 18, 2014
Why We Write Books
Scott D. Parker
I had a couple of great things happen this week. First, Joelle Charbonneau landed here in Houston and had an author event at Murder by the Book. As always, it was fantastic to see her and hear her talk about her book, her writing processes, and the path she took to get there. Among my DSD colleagues, we communicate mostly via email, developing friendships along the way. It's rare, so far, that any of us get to meet and see each other in person. I've met Joelle three times now, and each time is better than the last. Makes me wanna meet all the other folks, too.
I got a real treat at the same event. A friend of mine has a daughter who is an avid reader. Turns out, she--and the mom--both love dystopian stories. A last year's Super Bowl party, I told the mom about Joelle's THE TESTING. The mom read the book and loved it. So did the daughter. And, when I let the mom know about the signing, both mother and daughter made the trip across Houston to attend. What made this wonderful to experience was the daughter's reaction. This is the first author she's met and she was really, really excited. Remember when you were twelve and discovered that book, that author, or that genre that just spoke to you? I know I do (Star Wars does make it easier for me despite the fact that it's a movie and I'm talking books). It was just great to see the pure joy of a young person discovering and meeting an author. Helps me remember that, beyond all the talk about the business, the way things are changing, the need to do all the things one does to prepare a book, when you get right down to it, you are touching people's hearts and emotions. That's what makes it all worthwhile.
Album of the Week
Bruce Springsteen's High Hopes. Seriously, was there ever a question? I went ahead and ordered mine via Amazon because of their limited edition extra DVD of the 2013 concert where the band did the entire Born in the USA album live. As to the new material, I really like it. All the songs are definitely Springsteenian. They're an eclectic bunch, the songs. "The Wall" is a return to Vietnam as a source and is truly a heartbreaking song. The title track has always been one of my favorite non-album tracks from the 1990s (along with "Without You," "Back in Your Arms," and "Happy," among others), but the addition of Tom Morello, guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, as lead guitar, brings a much harder edge to the song. It's still light and frolicky, but just more rock and roll. But the true standout, for me, is the new, full-band version of "The Ghost of Tom Joad." Here, Morello shares lead vocals duties with Springsteen, but his blistering lead guitar work throughout and especially the closing minutes is awesome. I'm a big fan of slow beat/fast solo songs and this version has this in spades. I very much look forward to this tour, especially since the E Street Band skipped Texas last year.
Friday, January 17, 2014
A Room of One's Own
Finally, me and the Literary Critic are settled in The Gothic Monstrosity. Our new place is a huge change for both of us. We've both come from our own flats into this shared place, and we're having to get used to changes in routine. But it's working well.
One of the things that has changed most for me is a new writing space. And what I'm finding is that I can actually get more done now that I have a dedicated space. The new office has taken a while to get right. I have a desk with my PC (I still love a desktop for writing - and especially editing - and I hate the current trend towards laptops - -which can, of course, be very useful) and several bookcases which are already overflowing. I have a stereo system and of course an old fashioned 1929 retro phone set up. On the walls are posters for Woody Allen's Shadows and Fog (the French version - - I do like a little pretension) and a print by a Spanish artist depicting a man who could very well be Raymond Chandler getting slugged across the back of the head by the butt of a gun. There's a sofabed (the office doubles as a guest bedroom) for reading on, too. But only when its in sofa form.
|(this photo of the phone was taken at Christmas, hence the advent calendar... things are now much tidier)|
I should point out that the Literary Critic has taken her own space, too. Our living room is larger than we ever expected and she has sealed off a corner specifically devoted to work. Again, like my area, its designed around her need and working habits. It also means she has a far better view than I do.
Its a far cry from the old flat where I wrote in a tiny corner of the bedroom indistinguishable from the rest of the room. I had a desk there and some of the same prints, but somehow, I could never quite get the same head of steam up in there as I can in the new office.
I think part of it is psychological. I work a day job. I go out and do that job and then I come home in the evenings. Coming home to face revisions/first drafts/etc etc is daunting enough but when you're writing right next to the bed you sleep in, well, its easy just to think you'll have a nap for five minutes. It is. That used to be my downfall when I had a day off. I would get up with the best of intentions and wind up having a mid afternoon nap that stretched on far longer than I ever intended it to do. The new office feels like a workspace. Its a place designed specifically to work in. It also has a door halfway up the wall that leads nowhere, but that's a whole other story.
I have said before that I can write anywhere. And that's true. The laptop has come with me to hotels and on on trains and on lunch breaks. But there's only so much writing you can do in that fashion. For editing in particular, I need a space where I can wholeheartedly focus. Its why having a desktop is important to me. Even if it was a corner of the bedroom and close to the temptation of sleep, that little area was the place where I worked. It was the place where my thoughts could focus. Transferring that to a whole room has worked wonders for productivity and motivation.While I advocate that you can write anywhere if the need is strong enough, finding a space that works for you is vital for more in depth and detailed work. I can write a first draft anywhere I like. It might even be quite good. But to polish it up and make it shine the way I want, I need a room of my own. And I think, finally, I might have found it.
Thursday, January 16, 2014
The Devil They Know?
Pick up some Jim Winter right here.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Bryon Quertermous in Conversation with Holly West (Part 2)
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
There’s one of those “Little Free Libraries” on my street and this week I picked up a couple books from a sub-sub genre I’m going to call celebrity-mysteries.
Both books are written by someone known for something other than writing and “with” a writer.
The first one is called Toss and it’s by Boomer Esiason and Lowell Caufiel.
It was published in 1998 and Publisher’s Weekly called it, “passable but undistinguished,” and the Amazon reader reviews range from, “lots better than most people would expect,” to the, “literary equivalent of an interception run back for a touchdown by the other team” (what I believe the kids now call a pick six).
The other book is actually the second in what may be a series by Richard Belzer and Michael Black (actually in this case the credit reads, “with” not “and”).
The first one in the series is called I am Not a Cop and this one is called I Am Not a Psychic. It was published in 2009. Again the reviews are mixed. Publisher’s Weekly takes the middle ground, saying, “Despite a deus ex machina, snappy dialogue and solid pacing makes this a success on its own terms,” and the reader reviews range from five stars to one star.
Toss is a straight ahead, third person narrative with the main character being a rookie quarterback on the New York Stars. Looks okay.
I Am Not a Psychic’s first person narrator is Richard Belzer, star of a hit TV cop show, stand-up comedian and author of, UFOs, JFK and Elvis; Conspiracies You Don’t Have to be Crazy to Believe, so this kind of mixing of fact and fiction is more interesting to me.
This is a sub-genre I haven’t really been familiar with, the celebrity-mystery, but it seems like there’s a lot of potential.
Have you read anything that would fit in this genre that you would recommend?
Are there some celebrity-mysteries you’d like to see?
Monday, January 13, 2014
My Top 10 Noirs By Women of the Last Ten Years (or so)
So what is "female noir" (as it has sometimes been called)? Well, for starters it's no one thing. Some of these books take a look at uniquely female issues, others offer a female take on more universal issues. Some of them, in that great crime fiction way, just put a gun in a female character's hands. Regardless of the approach these books are all worth your time.
Megan Abbott has said female crime writers are often "made to justify their interest in the genre -- to explain it away, or to somehow make it seem like play, or a dalliance". Hopefully in the wake of books like Tampa and Gone Girl this will change.
J David Osborne had a post on Facebook yesterday about crime fiction and some its long standing issues with female characters. This post is, partially, in response to that.
The usual concession needs to be made. My definition of noir may be loose here. But who cares. This isn't about noir, just about helping readers find books.
Out by Natsuo Kirino (1997) - Kirino gets compared sometimes to Jim Thompson. It's been said that Out is "a taut and unforgiving thriller that unfolds as darkly as anything from Jim Thompson, if Jim Thompson was a cold-eyed feminist."
Come Closer (2003) - Dope deserves a mention here also but I've always been partial to Come Closer, which is darker and more complex.
Billie Morgan by Joolz Denby (2004) - No less then Sarah Weinman said that Bille Morgan was "pretty much female noir 101"
The Singer by Cathi Unsworth (2007) - What I appreciate most about Cathi Unsworth is that she sets up a dark story and then follows through with it.
Money Shot by Christa Faust (2008) - Yes, Faust may be more hardboiled then noir but of course Angel Dare deserves a place here.
I-5 by Summer Brenner (2009) -
Bloody Women by Helen Fitzgerald (2009) - Fitzgerald sometimes gets forgotten about in these noir discussions, but when she goes dark, she goes full dark (think an Allan Guthrie novel with ovaries). Often with a dark sense of humor and a twist. Also check out The Devil's Staircase.
Driving Through the Desert by Dona Lynch (2012) - A mournful and elegaic dark night of the soul.
Die, You Bastard! Die! by Jan Kozlowski (2012) - A very grind house/exploitation type story. Yes, its violent. But you want it to be because it totally fits the story.
Megan Abbott - How can I just pick one book? I will confess to liking her later works more then her earlier works, where she, at times, seemed constrained by her influences. But as far as noir written by women goes you can't go wrong with Megan Abbott.