Saturday, February 1, 2014

City Noir - The Soundtrack to an Invisible Movie

Scott D. Parker

A little over three years ago, I happened upon an episode of PBS's "Great Performances" when they showed the debut concert of the LA Philharmonic conducted by the exciting Gustavo Dudamel. The piece that grabbed my attention was the work Dudamel commissioned from John Adams. “City Noir” is that wonderful type of modern classical music: melodic, with rhythms that were born in the 20th Century, and yet different enough that you know you’re not listening to Mozart. I recorded that rebroadcast watched it more than a few times. When the piece was made available on iTunes, I eagerly downloaded it. When the DVD of that concert was released, I snapped it up forthwith.

Needless to say, I fell in love with this piece of music. To hear Adams describe it (his blog; a local radio interview), City Noir is a soundtrack to a movie that doesn't exist. Taking his inspiration from the music from the noir films of the 1940s and 1950s, Adams wove a smorgasbord of sounds and textures the evoke dozens of images. One particular section of the work brings to mind the hero and the girl being chased through the hills and valleys outside of Los Angles. The movie is, of course, black and white in the theater of my mind. I have listened to this piece constantly for years. It was my gateway to modern classical music, a journal that I am very much enjoying.

To borrow a quote from Star Wars, as of last night, the circle is now complete. This weekend, John Adams himself is conducting the Houston Symphony. And the main piece is City Noir. As soon as this event landed on the calendar, I was there. I expected the LA Philharmonic to tour with this music, but hearing our own local symphony play it was even better. Seeing Adams conduct his own work was wonderful. It's not an easy piece to play and our symphony did a great job. I was so used to the one recording that I actually hear nuances I had never heard before. It's one of the reasons why listening to live music is so cool.

Lastly, hearing City Noir in 2009 led me to seek out more modern classical music. The performance last night included Korngold's Violin Concerto in D Major. The soloist was Gil Shaham. Thanks to Adams's piece, I now have a new composer and concerto to add to my growing list. A note about Shaham: I see few live symphony concerts so I can't truly compare, but the sheer bliss Shaham exuded while on stage was palpable. He was all but grinning ear to ear. To see him enjoy the concerto made an already great performance that much better. I will definitely be seeking out his recording of the Korngold concerto.

If you like old film noir movies, seek out and find a recording of City Noir. You will see a movie in your mind.

Friday, January 31, 2014


By Steve Weddle

Jay Stringer and I blog together here and have the same agent. I've never met Jay in person and he's never bought me a drink.
That said, I feel as if I owe him a drink. I've read the entire Eoin Miller trilogy now. Wow. What a way to end things.

While this book stands on its own just fine, the threads that started early in the series really come through here -- and are tied up nicely. Once I got to the end of the book, I realized that everything had fit nicely into place -- even things that I hadn't known were out of place.
The Gaines family surprised me, especially in this one.
Once again, though, Jay Stringer has written a terrific hard-boiled mystery -- but with an amazingly smart social justice theme throughout.
This is a brilliant book about belonging -- about the individual and the family, about fighting for you place in the world, your patch of dirt.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Makin' It

Who remembers this show?


This was the first thing that came to mind when I asked myself the question, what does it mean to have "made it?" Those old 70s TV shows may have been bad, but they do stick with you.

But as usual, I've strayed from the point, so let me get back to it. You may know that my fellow Do Some Damage blogger, Joelle Charbonneau, recently had her latest installment of the Testing Trilogy, Independent Study, debut at #8 on the NY Times Best Seller list.

<Big Round of Applause>

It got me thinking about what it means to have “made it,” at least in terms of one’s writing career. Obviously, this is going to be different for everyone. Joelle herself tackled the subject in a recent DSD post about success:
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 decided to ask a few of my writer friends the same question: "According to your own personal definition, what does it mean to have 'made it' as an author?"

Steve Weddle (author of Country Hardball and editor of Needle Magazine):
I don't know that this means anything. I've heard people talk about it, but most people will say they haven't "made it," whether they've sold zero books or a billion. I think you have "made it" when you're working on something you're really enjoying. When I'm in the middle of telling a story that's resonating, I feel as if I have "made it."

Susanna Calkins (author of A Murder at Rosamund's Gate and From the Charred Remains):
Honestly, I think there's such a shifting definition of "having made it" for me, and I suspect that is the same for most authors. When I compare my writing career to where I was a few years ago, I certainly feel relatively successful. Initially I was just proud to have completed an entire novel; I didn't know if it would ever see the light of day. Now, I have an agent, a publisher, a wonderful editor and a book contract (which has since been extended to four books in my historical mystery series). Seeing my book in the bookstore or in the library makes me feel like "I've made it." It's clear I've crossed some sort of arbitrary threshold from aspiring writer to published author. I feel honored and thrilled by all this. I do not write full-time (because I have a full-time job already), and I'm not certain I could support myself if I did. Honestly, I don't focus on lists and awards, and certainly I don't use them as a measure of my sense of success. There's a lot to this industry that I still don't really understand--in particular, the criteria for awards and lists are not transparent--and it just doesn't seem productive or healthy to connect my sense of accomplishment or self-worth as a writer to these types of measures. Do I want to be a best-seller? Sure. Would it be cool to win an award? Naturally. Can I feel accomplished without such accolades? Absolutely.

Thomas Pluck (author of Blade of Dishonor):
This early in my career, I have met a few milestones- such as completing a novel and having a literary hero give it a glowing review- but the way I drive myself is to keep raising the bar. So I don't think that I've "made it." When I've written all the novels swirling in my head, that will be another milestone, and if they are published to acclaim, that's another. My goal is to make a comfortable, if not opulent living off my writing and have a following of likeminded readers who enjoy the stories I tell.

Making the NY Times bestseller list is a great accomplishment, and having read The Testing, I think Joelle more than deserves it. She has great talent and skill, and puts in the hard work, day after day. I raise my glass to her breaking the top 10, and here's to her next book hitting number one. But I guarantee if you ask her, that despite the elation, she'll be working just as hard tomorrow.
If you think you "made it," will you work just as hard? I'm not so sure if I would. So I recommend moving that goalpost another few yards each time you think you've "made it."

Josh Stallings
(author of All the Wild Children and the Moses McGuire series):
I view "making it" as a never ending spiral staircase of steps. As a younger man I sold a few screen plays and was hired to script doctor couple others, at that point I knew I was a professional screenwriter. But I would have told you I hadn't made it. The movies that did get made weren't things I was greatly proud of. As a novelist I feel I have made it to a certain degree now that my books sales pay for my writing expenses. I will feel I have made another huge step when the writing can support me. As for the craft itself, I don't think I will ever have made it. I always feel I can do better and push myself to do that. One of the things I love about the craft of writing is you can spend a life learning and improving.

Jeri Westerson (author of the medieval noir series featuring Crispin Guest, most recently, Shadow of the Alchemist):
[When asked whether she'd "made it"] I'd have to say a big "no" on that. Most of my readers might disagree but then they don't understand the vagaries of publishing. I think that to them, the book in their hands is a done deal. So on one level, I've "made it" in the sense of getting noticed by a big publisher and having six books published by them. But from where I'm sitting I don't really feel I've made it until every book I write sells through and then some; that I'm offered contracts without a blink from a publisher; and the big one, that I can make a living at it.

Matt Coyle (author of Yesterday's Echo):
I've reached the first step in the process of making it as an author and about the third step in the process of making it as a writer. What does it mean to have "made it?" To be able to quit the day job and make a real living as an author.

Holly West (author of Mistress of Fortune--hey! that's me!):
The simple answer is the same as Matt's answer above--to be able to make a real living as an author. I'd also second what Jeri said--to not worry where my next contract is coming from. But it seems like so very few authors fall into that category these days, does it?

Ultimately, I measure my success in terms of meeting my own personally goals, which means writing consistently, every day, and challenging myself to write more truthfully. I pull punches a lot with my writing, which is a habit I need to dispense with. I want to write things that resonate with people in addition to entertaining them. I want to inspire people the way books inspire me.

Thanks, everyone, for the interesting discussion. But let's not end it here--what does "making it" mean to you?

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Year I Died Seven Times by Eric Beetner

A couple of years ago Emily Nussbaum wrote an article about the cliffhanger and how it is a transaction with the viewer:
Narrowly defined, a cliffhanger is a climax cracked in half: the bomb ticks, the screen goes black. A lady wriggles on train tracks—will anyone save her? Italics on a black screen: “To be continued . . .” More broadly, it’s any strong dose of “What happens next?,” the question that hovers in the black space between episodes. In the digital age, that gap is an accordion: it might be a week or eight months; it may arrive at the end of an episode or as a season finale or in the second before a click on “next.” Cliffhangers are the point when the audience decides to keep buying—when, as the cinema-studies scholar Scott Higgins puts it, “curiosity is converted into a commercial transaction.”
Long before Nussbaum's piece crime writer Mickey Spillane put it even more succinctly:

“The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book.”
There is a lot of talk about hybrid authors, those authors making the most of the fluctuating landscape by trying different release methods for their work. Eric Beetner seems to be making the most of this with a traditionally released title, co-authored titles, titles released through a small e-publisher, a self published limited edition title, a release with a primarily app based publisher, and others. His latest release, The Year I Died Seven Times, utilizes yet another method, it is a serial.

Serial's aren't new to the e-publishing landscape, but The Year I Died Seven Times is tweaking the formula a bit. Typically, in ebook serials, the reader pays an upfront price which covers the entirety of the book, and updates come through when the new sections are available. Beetner, and publisher Beat to a Pulp, are using a pay as you go system which is more akin to a piece of fiction coming out in consecutive issues of a magazine. Playboy released Denis Johnson's novel Nobody Move over four issues, betting that readers would be hooked enough to keep buying them.  Beetner and BtaP are also betting that the reader will be so hooked by the end of each installment that they will pay for the next. (You can get more information on the title, and its release methodology, at Beetner's blog).

I'm all for trying new ways to publish in this changing landscape, and I've bought and read the first installment (more on that below). The only real criticism I have comes when I look at the numbers. There will be seven installments each released at a cost of $1.49. So the total cost of this book (length unknown at this time) will be $10.43. That price point scares me if I'm being honest. I, as a reader, can't help but wonder if a cheaper omnibus release, will be coming out later on, and if so, should I wait for that.

I also find myself wondering if there is a correlation between reading and binge watching a show. Consumers of media seem, increasingly, to want it all now. To spend a weekend watching The Wire for example, and less likely to want the episodes of a show parsed out. I wonder if one of the appeals of reading is that the whole story is available, all at one time, for the reader to consume at their own speed. Which means if the narrative is pulling you along, you can stay up late into the night finishing it. I stated a possible criticism above, now I'll state a possible fear (fear because I'm a fan of Beetner's fiction). That any narrative goodwill or curiosity built up will be dissipated by the time the next installment comes out.

I plan on interviewing Beetner abut this book for an upcoming post here at Do Some Damage if he's game. So if I'm wrong about any of this I'll give him all the space he needs to set me straight.

Now, on to the book. The Year I Died Seven Times is a fast paced story with enough twists and turns to keep the reader engaged until the end. I do want to read the rest and only wish I could have kept going. My only nit to pick is that one of the reveals in the book is based on the first person narrator simply forgetting to tell the readers something about himself until it was convenient for the narrative to do so for maximum effect. It's a cheap trick that writers should avoid in general in my opinion. I think this first installment is worth the price and readers should check it out. All I can do is recommend it and the rest is up to Beetner.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Home again, home again!

By: Joelle Charbonneau

In case you missed it – for the last few weeks, I’ve been on the road promoting book two of The Testing Trilogy, INDEPENDENT STUDY.  And what a crazy couple of weeks it was. 

Did I have fun?

You bet!

Am I tired?

Holy cow, YES!

Would I do it again?

Give me a couple of weeks to catch up on sleep, get my house organized and write – then sign me up!

Tour was filled with all sorts of experiences – from the interesting to the wonderful to the totally bizarre.  I won’t be able to capture all of those experiences, but I’m happy to give you some of the highlights.


First off – no one should ever travel on a plane with me.  Until this past Friday, I managed to avoid any weather delays, which is a miracle.  However, I did have other strange airplane adventures.  My first two flights were delayed due to unusual mechanical issues.  The first was as broken overhead bin compartment – see photo.  A passenger must have been eating her Wheaties, because when she opened the bin to shove her jacket inside, she took the whole door off.  Oops.  And I’m not sure if super human strength or a very large nail caused the flat tire on my second flight but I was impressed at how quickly the mechanics can change an airplane tire.  Go mechanics!   I was also impressed at how fast paramedics can get a patient off of a plane, which was something I witnessed upon landing in Austin.

One thing I did learn during tour was there are amazing people out there called media escorts.  They meet you at the airport, make sure you get to the schools and the bookstore events and your hotel and do it all with a friendly smile and an attitude that makes you feel as if you’ve been friends forever.  Annette, Kristen, Dolores, Gail, Mary Ann and Paul – thanks for making sure I never got lost!  And Kristen – if you’re reading this – I totally need the recipe for those cookies you made.  They were amazing.


So…if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you might be aware of the big, yellow penguins I encountered.  If not…here they are!

The 21C Museum Hotel was by far the most unusual and fun hotel I’ve ever stayed at.  From the penguins and prairie dogs that greeted me at the door….

To the artwork hanging around the hotel…

To the strange body parts in the tile of my hotel room bathroom….

The whole experience was memorable.  And it was even more memorable when I realized that I wasn’t hallucinating when I thought penguins were popping up in places I could swear they hadn’t been before.  Kudos to a hotel staff for a sense of humor which inspired them to move the penguins around….at least I’m assuming it was due to their sense of humor.  It could be their 2014 exercise plan.  I guess I’ll have to go back in 2015 to see if they are still picking up and relocating penguins.


And in between the flights, the hotels and the driving from place to place there were readers.  Sometimes there were 10 people at an event.  Other times there were hundreds.  No matter the number, the enthusiasm for reading touched me deeply and made me so grateful to be a part of this strange and wonderful world of publishing.  I had the opportunity to talk to honors students getting ready to set the world on fire in various math and science related fields.  I chatted with middle school students who thought meeting an author was the coolest experience ever.  And perhaps most memorable was the day I got to discuss my writing journey (from actor and singer to writer and all the rejection in between) with students who would be the first in their family to ever go to college.  The discussion we had about rejection and how important it is to get up after you’ve been pushed down is something that will last with me for the rest of my life.

So will the moment sitting in a Mexican restaurant next to my hotel in Albuquerque with two gentlemen (Robert and Eric) who invited me to sit with them and were surprised when I almost burst into tears when I got the news that INDEPENDENT STUDY hit #8 on The New York Times Best Seller List.

Yes.  If my publisher asks me to tour again, I will say yes.  Gladly.  Because having the chance to make a career out of writing has giving me so many amazing memories and experiences.  Touring gives me a chance to give something back, to say thank you to the booksellers and readers who have embraced my stories and to create new memories that will stay with me forever. 

But since I plan on being home for at least the next few weeks – I want to say thank you to all of you for being here through this journey.  When I started blogging on Do Some Damage, I had no idea where this writing thing would take me.  I had no idea the excitement, the terror, the joy and all the emotions in between I’d feel.  You have all been such an important companion in this adventure.  I can’t wait to see where it will take all of us next!