Friday, February 28, 2014

What is he Building?

Russel D McLean is currently in seclusion somewhere. The neighbours are hearing a lot of banging and scraping and they're wondering,

What is he building in there?*

*actually they're hearing the banging of keyboards as Russel catches up on some final edits and other work... but still...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Beginning with the End

Guest Post by Chris Irvin

The very first scene I wrote for Federales in late 2012 was to be exactly that – the opening scene of the book.  In medias res, I thought, you got this. Sparing you spoilers, the scene sets the tone, gives off a specific (read: dark) vibe. How’d we arrive there? That’s to be the job of backstory and flashbacks. All will be covered and explained in due time. I’m in the action where I need to be. Then I stumbled upon Benjamin Percy’s (author of Red Moon) essay, “Don’t look back: The Problem with Backstory, in Poets & Writers.
The essay argues against the overuse of backstory, especially by beginning writers, and immediately clicked with me. If I had something closely resembling V, why not begin with A as opposed to cramming it and the rest of the alphabet into the span of a few scenes? I went back to the drawing board. Did I still have backstory in the end? Sure, but it wasn’t the back and forth mess I set out to originally create.*
But what writing that ‘first’ scene did for me was pin down the approximate end and help me outline the rest of the story. Gave me a path for where I needed to go. Was it hard? Oh yeah. I’m a plotter by necessity, but rough plotter and I usually leave the end a bit vague to keep myself interested. If I’ve already written the book/story/etc. in my head, it’s difficult for me to duplicate on paper. So much so that the first draft of Federales I gave to my writing group consisted of the beginning and the end, with an explanation to something of the effect, “stuff happens in the middle. I’ll make it work.” It was a grind. But I learned a lot about my writing process along the way.
I began my current WIP novel in a similar way – found where I wanted to go and asked the question, how do I get there? Well, “there” changed as the first 1/3 of the novel took form, but it still gave me a point to aim for.
Every writer’s process is different, but maybe give beginning with the end a shot. It could be the scene(s) that transforms and feeds the rest of the work.

*For those interested in the merits of backstory, check out Eleanor Henderson’s rebuttal of Percy’s essay, “I Wasn’t Born Yesterday: The Beauty of Backstory.”

Christopher Irvin has traded all hope of a good night’s rest for the chance to spend his mornings writing dark and noir fiction. His short stories have appeared in several publications, including ThuglitBeat to a Pulp, and Shotgun Honey. His debut novella, FEDERALES, is due out in March 2014 from One Eye Press. He lives with his wife and son in Boston, Massachusetts. For more, visit

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Return of Short Fiction

A Guest Post by Travis Richardson
Holly West: I remember the first time I met Travis Richardson. It was at a SoCal MWA meeting featuring Stephen Jay Schwartz and Attica Locke in conversation about their debut novels. Back then, I knew very few people in the Southern California writing community, but Travis sure did, and he didn't hesitate to introduce me to a lot of them. Despite his penchant for writing gritty crime fiction, he's one of the friendliest people I've ever met.
His latest novella, Keeping the Record, is about a disgraced former home run king whose rampant steroid use has modified the former All-Star into a testicle shrinking, soprano speaking, bra wearing recluse. Hiding from creditors, he discovers that his single season home run record--the only thing he has left, asterisk be damned--is about to be broken by a second baseman. Determined not to let that happen, he sets off for St. Louis from the East Bay, leaving a trail of destruction and bodies in his wake.

I'm so happy he a
greed to write a post for Do Some Damage today.
Travis Richardson: I am very honored that Holly West has asked me to write a guest post here. If you haven't read Mistress of Fortune, I highly recommend that you do. Holly’s Isabel Wilde is a fascinating and complex character who hustles like nobody’s business in 17th century London. I’m looking forward to more books in the series.

olly: Thank you for that, Travis! This sounds like a meeting of the Mutual Admiration Society. What else would you like to talk about today?

Travis: I read and write both short stories and novels. I was fortunate to be asked to sit on short story panel at the upcoming Left Coast CrimeConference. I love the compactness and power of a good short story. They rarely get the notice of a novel, outside of a few classics like "The Lottery" and “The Most Dangerous Game” or collections of Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allen Poe tales. Perhaps that is understandable since a novel is a commitment of several hours/days unlike the minutes it takes to read a short story. The novel is like a multi-state road trip, whereas a short story is like a drive across town (albeit possibly shady and dangerous)... at least in terms of mileage compared to pages.
Yet I feel like we're in a new renaissance of the short story (and even more so the novella). Jumpa Lahiri and Elizabeth Strout have won Pulitzers for collected works (and several collections have been finalists). Short story websites have multiplied, and ebook and print-on-demand technology has made it easier for small publishers to enter the market with anthologies, giving extra opportunities for writers to put out their work.
Good short stories pack a wallop and get to the point, leaving the fat on the cutting board. Lean but developed characters burst onto the page with desires and obstacles they must overcome to get to a swift conclusion. 
If fiction were music, a good short story would be like a hit song: three to five minutes of perfectly executed (or engineered in today’s pop world) instruments and vocals. Thousands of songs are made every year, but only a few make the charts. Same goes with fiction and the explosion of new material that comes out weekly. Like songs on the radio where a listener has picked a specific station over dozens of others, a reader chooses a website or a magazine with short stories and might read one after another similar to listening to a DJ’s playlist. Each story makes an emotional punch, followed by the next one. Yet in the end, a few stories will resonate strong like a song you can’t get out of your head even after hours of random music.
A friend and I recently started a blog, It launched on January 29, Anton Chekhov’s 154th birthday. We are reading and reviewing all of the short story master’s 200+ English translated stories (out of the over 700 he wrote in total). Chekhov began writing out of necessity to take care of his mother and siblings after his father fled town in debt (they paid short story writers back then), and he did it while going through medical school (so what is your excuse for not writing today?). I remember being blown away by his story “The Bet” one summer that started a love not only for his stories, but short stories overall.
Years later I found myself bored with most of the “literary” shorts (Look, another affluent, unhappy couple!) and fascinated with crime fiction. Stories where critical choices have severe consequences. Stories where violence is always an option. Stories with sharp, bloody edges that would leave me wounded afterwards. Stories that I find on Shotgun Honey, Plots With Guns, All Due Respect, Needle (nod to Mr. Weddle) and Thuglit, among other great publications.

I’m hoping the site will help me to not only become more disciplined by writing daily reviews (with the weekends off to catch up) and to study the craft from a lifetime of a single writer’s work, but to see if the doctor/writer still has the power to captivate me as he once did when I was younger. Reading his stories in chronological order, I’ve noticed young Chekhov making observations about his fellow Russians – both the ruling class and the peasants – and poking fun at them, as well as trying different formats. (The Swedish Match is a “murder” mystery.) Although he nails a few poignant moments, I know there will be many more as Chekhov matures.
I think we are in exciting times for shorter, compressed literature, especially in crime fiction. Perhaps it’s not a golden age (silver possibly?), but in a world of short attention spans, digital devices, and Internet word of mouth, I’m hoping that short stories (and fiction in general) will take off again and we can inspire new generations of readers and writers.
Thanks again to Holly for letting me post here today.
Holly: No, thank you, Travis.
You can find out more about Travis Richardson at His latest novella, Keeping The Record from Stark Raving Group is out now

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Fog of Memory


So, I’m writing these historical mysteries now, set in the 1970s and I’m reading a lot of newspapers from the time – newspapers I delivered at the time – and I’m finding a few things that didn’t happen the way I believed they did.

Here’s an example. In October of 1970 in response to a couple of high-profile kidnappings and a murder the Canadian army was in the streets of Montreal. Jeeps, tanks, sandbags, the whole thing. And I remember that during that time my brother took me to the Montreal Forum to see an exhibition game between the Montreal Junior Canadiens and the Soviet national team.


The juniors won the game 6-3 but I remember thinking how different the third period was from the first two. At the end of the second period the Canadiens led 6-1. But the Soviets had the puck for pretty much the whole third period and scored the only two goals.

I remember people joking at the time about how at home the Soviets must have felt with the army in the streets and talking more seriously about what they must have really thought about that. The western world sure looked shaky at the time.

But here’s the thing – that game actually happened in 1969. There was no army in the streets then.

Still, I thought about putting that in Black Rock – could be a cool scene, the young cop taking his little brother to the game. Who’d know it wasn’t the right year? And who’d care, it’s fiction afterall.

But I chose to stick as close as possible to the actual time line of events as they happened. But I don’t think it matters, I think when something is fictionalized it can be as much or as little fictionalized as the author wants.

Here’s something – Stephen King and James Ellroy both wrote about the assassination of JFK. When I finished reading Ellroy’s account I believed that there was a widespread conspiracy involving the mafia and the CIA and Cuban exiles. And when I read King’s version I believed that Oswald acted alone.

So did one of them fictionalize the material too much? Or just enough…

Monday, February 24, 2014

Quick Notes: Sin-Crazed Psycho Killer, Dead Aim, Hyenas, The Last Night of October

Here's another batch of novella reviews:

I've read a couple of the Popcorn line of books and Sin-Crazed is my favorite by far. It's a wicked little psycho-noir that takes place in WWII of all places (is this the first historical psycho-noir?). This is a wild, bloody, violently over the top pulp book that straddles the line between crime and horror. Early on you'll have a sense of where the ending is heading but Smith takes it about ten steps past that point, so even the closest of readers will be surprised. 

A solid Halloween themed ghost story with some genuinely creepy moments. This also has a YA audience potential. My kids are middle-school aged and I'll be making this book available to them (whether they read it is a different story...). A worthy addition to the Halloween canon of books (Dark Harvest, October Dark, others).

Dead Aim and Hyenas by Joe Lansdale

Both of these titles were originally released by Subterranean Press as limited edition hardbacks and are also available as e-books. Both Dead Aim and Hyenas are are Hap & Leonard novellas. Chances are you know about Hap & Leonard and if you do you'll want to go ahead and grab 'em. If you don't, either of these shorter works would serve as a great introduction to these long running series characters.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

You don't deserve a trophy for showing up

by: Joelle Charbonneau

There is this weird trend that I don’t understand – giving kids trophies for just showing up to their sporting event or whatever other activity they’re in.  They show up.  They get a trophy.  For….showing up.  Which really means the parent probably deserves the trophy because they’re the one who brought the kid to the event.

When I was a kid (back in the days of big eighties hair and New Kids On The Block), you didn’t get a trophy for getting dressed in the morning and being dragged to your activity.  You had to earn it.  Oh – don’t get me wrong…at the end of whatever sporting season you would get a certificate signed by your coach saying you were a part of the team, but you didn’t get a trophy.  Trophies were a big deal.  Trophies were earned not because you simply showed up – you practiced hard, you improved and you put that effort into play and won.  The trophy rewarded those efforts and getting that trophy meant something.  Not simply that you had won – because – duh – winning is kind of a huge reward in itself.  NO…the trophy was a reward for all the things that went into the victory.  The practice.  The frustration.  The striving to be better.  The failures (because as we improve there are always failures).   And the ability to pick oneself up after disappointment and get back to work.  

I guess I’m thinking about this participation trophy thing a lot because of the Olympics.  I love the Olympics.  I love the celebration of hard work and dedication and the striving for one’s best even though the odds are stacked against you to win anything.  Showing up – being part of the Olympics is its own reward.  That’s the trophy and for the majority of the athletes that go to the Olympics, the experience and memory of that experience is the only reward they will take away from the Olympic village.  They know that going in.  They know winning a medal only happens for a small number of the athlete’s there.  But that doesn’t stop them.  And when they win a medal – the Olympic version of a trophy – it means more because they had to do more than just show up to receive it.  They had to be their very best.

So, I guess my point is – not everyone deserves a trophy. 

Sorry!  I don’t think it helps build self-esteem.  Kids understand that they won it for doing nothing.  What it does is build an expectation that they simply have to show up in order to be rewarded.  No other effort is required. 

Um...NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!   I’m sorry, but effort is required in life and sometimes the effort isn’t rewarded by a big shiny trophy.  Sometimes the effort and the learning and the accomplishment needs to serve as its own reward.  Because it IS a reward.

This “win a trophy for showing up” attitude isn’t just seen in kids’ sports.  I see it everywhere.  Parents who believe their kids shouldn’t be penalized for not doing their homework on time…after all…they showed up to class.  College kids who complain that they aren’t getting the education they want, but don’t bother to talk to their advisors or to do more than the bare minimum to pass the classes they don’t like.  And writers who feel as if just because they wrote a book they deserve to make a million dollars.

Yeah – you had to know that this was going to swing back around to writing.

When I started writing, I didn’t go into it with the idea that I would be published or that it would become a career.  I wanted to write a story.  So I did.  It was bad, but it was written.  Did I know it was bad when I wrote it?  Of course not!  I was proud of that book.  When people said I should try to have it published I thought, “Yes!  I should.”  And I have the rejections to prove that I tried. 

That book was bad.  I showed up.  I did some work.  But I didn’t deserve the proverbial trophy.  So, I had a choice.  To keep writing or to walk away.   There wasn’t any question in my mind what to do.  I sat down, opened a new book and got to work.  For years, I went to conferences and writer meetings.  I wrote hundreds of thousands of words.  I entered contests and won none of them.  I queried more books and got rejected.  There were no trophies for me.  No positive public acknowledgment of my work.  Not a single one.  But still I showed up.  Because I wanted to be better.  I wanted to push myself to be the best writer I could.  To me…being a writer was a lot like being at the Olympic Games.  I was in the door.  I was competing – not with other writers, but with myself.  And it was that competition – that striving to become better – that was the ultimate goal.

With the rise of self-publishing (and I am in favor of self-publishing so this isn’t about whether or not you should self-publish…those kinds of posts have been written by others way better informed and articulate than I on the subject), the attitude of “I showed up so I should win a trophy” seems to have infiltrated the writing community.  I’ve met dozens of writers who believe that just because they wrote a book they deserve to be published.  They deserve the trophy.   They showed up.  They wrote words.  They want to be published and have hundreds and thousands of readers and they want it now.

This attitude isn’t indicative of all writers.  Not even close.  But, I have seen the “I deserve a trophy” attitude become more and more prevalent in online discussions and in my face to face conversations with other writers.  In those moments, I see people who are so concerned with how fast they can get the trophy that they discount the journey to get it.

The journey is important not just the destination.  It is in the journey that we learn.  We grow.  We become better.  As a writer that journey is about learning the craft and the business and understanding your voice.  The journey is filled with triumphs big and small, terrible failures and low moments where you feel incredibly alone and without skill, and quiet moments of success when you least expect it.    It is that journey not the trophy at the finish line that turns aspiring writers into authors.  The trophy is meaningless without the journey.  But, I would argue the journey has value above measure even when the writer never holds the trophy aloft.   

When I wrote my first novel, I was proud of showing up at my keyboard every day because there was nothing to make me.  There was no reward other than the desire to push myself.  There wasn’t a trophy that I could hold aloft and show to the world.  There was just me and the blank page and the desire to see what I was capable of. 

Are there trophies now?   Well, I guess so because there are books.  Shiny, wonderful books that I am incredibly proud of.  Books that I love and that I wouldn’t trade for anything.  But there’s something they don’t tell you about trophies.  Trophies are acknowledgements of achievements that are in the past.   They are shiny and fun to look at, but those moments are done.  The real question is – what are you going to do in the future?

Admire your trophies or sit down and get to work on a new journey where there is no guarantee of a trophy just for showing up and only the promise of learning during a new adventure?

I’m sitting down to work.  How about you?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Reading Deliberately

Scott D. Parker

Do you ever intentionally slow down your reading pace of a series that is either over (e.g., Ian Fleming's original series of James Bond novels or Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes tales) or has relatively few entries? I do that. I read the Bond novels very slowly, maybe one a year, because I want to savor them and, to be honest, I kind of don't want to reach the end. When I get to that last book, I know that there will be no more Fleming/Bond books. And that will be a sad day.

A modern example of that is the Isaac Bell adventures by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott. I was thinking about this series after reading a review of The Thief by Ron Fortier. I am eager to move forward to the fourth book in this series, but I know that there are only seven (to date) so I read them about once a year. But I'm behind. Intentionally. That way, if I really get in an Isaac Bell mood, I can catch up and read two or three in a row instead of waiting a whole year for the next one.

I'm wondering if I'm alone in this weird thought process?

To bring my ideas about this series to this blog, here is a review I wrote back in 2012 on The Wrecker.

The adventures of Isaac Bell came to me in a rather serendipitous way. On the one hand, I was in a grocery store last year and I saw a book on the shelf and admired the cover. The cover of The Race showed two planes, clearly early 20th Century vintage, engaged in a dogfight over a city. The image got me for numerous reasons, but, since the To Be Read pile is so large, I basically forgot about it. Cut to New Year’s Day 2012 when my cousin, an avid railroad enthusiast, told me about "this series about a detective who operates on railroads." Cool, I said, seeing as how I had created my own railroad detective and didn’t want to copy anyone else, what’s the title? The Chase by Clive Cussler. Well, image my wonder when, upon looking up The Chase, I discovered That Cover I had forgotten about. And, thus, I found my way not only to Clive Cussler (and Justin Scott, his co-author) but also to Detective Isaac Bell.

I read The Chase earlier this year and was completely entertained. The Wrecker maintains the excitement, the intrigue, and the chess-like machinations of the hero and the villain. The hero is Isaac Bell, a detective of the Van Dorn Detective agency. A tall man with blond hair and mustache, he is the imperturbable, stoic hero of many a story you've read before. What sets him apart isn't his good looks, skill with a gun, nor his hand-to-hand ability. It's that Bell actually gets beat up, dirty, and flummoxed throughout both books I've read so far. He's a bit like John McClain from Die Hard. He may win, but it'll exact a price.

The title character of The Wrecker is the villain. That nickname is the moniker given to the man blowing up various railroads of the Southern Pacific railway in the Cascade Mountains, Oregon, all in an attempt to bankrupt the company. The president of the railway hires the Van Dorn Detective Agency to stop it. Set in 1907, what follows is a wonderful cat-and-mouse game between Bell and the Wrecker.

By giving his villain a nickname, Cussler is able to hide the true identity of the Wrecker for more than half the book. Interestingly, once the identity is revealed, Cussler actually fluctuates between the actual name and the nickname. I found that a little odd. What really sets this book apart from your general thriller is the timeframe. The year 1907 is just modern and technological enough where you have the beginnings of automobiles, phones, and planes. At the same time, it's old enough to where railroads and telegraph are the primary means of transportation and communication. What this mix does for a reader in 2012 is build in some interesting tension. If a hero in 2012 needs to travel across the country from Oregon to New York, it's a plane ride of a few hours. Need to contact some allies across the country? Use the cell phone. Detective Bell can't do that. A trip across the continent takes days. At one point, he needs to contact associates in Oregon while he's in Los Angeles. With the telegraph lines cut, there is only one way to communicate information: in person. That means, take the train. All of this builds tension and the excitement increases.

I've only read three Cussler books, two in the last few months. They are so well choreographed that they just sweep you along. The history is always fascinating and the detail is accurate. If you are tired of the modern techno-thriller, try a historical thriller featuring Isaac Bell. Very good read.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Why did you do that in your book?

By Steve Weddle

I wrote a book called Country Hardball. There’s some cussing in there. And some killing. And, um, some more killing. And some thieving. There’s also quite a bit of hope and prayers and people being hella nice to each other.
But there’s this one thing in the book that kinda catches people.
I’ve talked with people about this story. I’ve FB messaged people. I’ve emailed people. I’ve chatted with a couple people on the phone about it.
If you’ve read the book, then you know the story I’m talking about. If you haven’t read the book, I’ll try not to spoil anything for you, because I have faith that one day you’ll read the book.
People who have been hit in the heart by the story ask me why the guy in the story did the terrible thing he did.
“Why did you do that?” they ask me about the story. “That was terrible.”
You see, I know it was a terrible thing the character did. I hate that he did that thing. It honestly saddens me.
But, in that story, the character took all the weight on himself to do this terrible thing – knowing that it was a terrible thing to do.
For him, in his mind, considering his circumstances, this was the right thing to do, no matter how terrible a thing it was.
This wasn’t dying on the cross to save the world from sin. This wasn’t jumping in a lake to save a puppy. This wasn’t getting up at two in the morning to drive two counties over to pick up your kid from a sleepover because the other kids are being complete assholes.
Sacrifices come in so many flavors that I can’t begin to list them all.
And, in the part of Country Hardball where that character does that terrible thing, he makes a sacrifice which is explained.
You don’t have to agree with his action. I don’t agree with his action.
But, for that character in that moment, it was the thing he had to do.
And, for the book, it was the thing that had to be done.
I’ve watched shows on television and I’ve read books in which someone does something that I’d rather they didn’t do. Why did you kiss that woman who isn’t your wife? Why are you having another drink? You can see these characters doing things you don’t agree with and wish they wouldn’t do, but they do it to further the plot.
That’s part of it.
But there’s that other level, that layer where a character does a thing that you don’t like, something you wouldn’t do, and it’s the absolute right thing to do, even though it’s so terrible.
These are some of the darkest moments in fiction, the last third of Apocalypse Now moments.
These moments aren’t gratuitous. They aren’t plot-driven. And they aren’t fun to write.
They’re terrible to write. They’re terrible to read. And they’re absolutely the right choice.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Classically Vulgar

by Holly West
This post originally appeared on my own blog on December 11, 2009. I've updated it here to include a few more amusing terms.
I've collected a lot of great reference books in my research for the Mistress of Fortune series (it's set in 17th century London), but by far my favorite is A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Captain Francis Grose. First published in 1785, it is a collection of slang words from all corners of society.
Here are a few of the entertaining words and expressions found in this volume:
Bum fodder - Toilet paper
Beard splitter - A man given to "wenching"
Captain Queernabs - A shabby, ill-dressed fellow
Cast up one's accounts - To vomit
Dog's soup - Rain water
Fart catcher - A valet or footman, from his walking behind his master or mistress
Flogging Cully - One who hires girls to flog him on the posteriors, in order to procure an erection
Gobble Prick - A lustful woman
Hopper Arsed - One with large, projecting buttocks
Join Giblets - Said of a man and woman who co-habit as husband and wife without being married; also to copulate
Kettle Drums - A woman's breasts
Lazybones - An instrument like a pair of tongs, for old or very fat people, to take something from the ground without stooping
Mantrap - a woman's private parts
Marriage music - The squalling and crying of children
Nunnery - A whorehouse
Poisoned - Pregnant, big with child
Roast meat clothes - Sunday or holiday clothes
Queen Street - A man governed by his wife is said to live in Queen Street
Soul doctor - A parson
Stallion - A man kept by an old lady for "secret services."
Thingumbobs, Whirlygigs, Gingambobs - Testicles
Wap - To copulate
Wool gathering - Said to an absent-minded person, or one in reverie, as in "Your wits are gone a'wool gathering."
One thing that's also interesting about the dictionary is to see how many of the words we still use whose meanings are more or less the same as they were over 200 years ago. Expressions like elbow grease, gift of gab, hodge podge, hush money, quack, ragamuffin, white lie, and ship shape were all used during this time.
Personally, I'd like to see terms like bum fodder, Captain Queernabs, flogging cully, and dog's soup come back into common usage. Let's make that happen.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fire In The Hole

By Jay Stringer

My first Elmore Leonard novel was Rum Punch, which I read in 1997 when it was adapted into Jackie Brown. In all the time since -and through all of the Leonard novels I read- I never found a screen adaptation that bettered the Tarantino film, and none that came anywhere near as close to honouring the author.

Which is why Justified is causing such problems for me.

I was never really a fan of Raylan Givens. I'd not taken to Pronto or Riding The Rap in the way I'd fallen for Rum Punch, Glitz, Freaky Deaky, City Primeval or Cuba Libre. And the short story that took Raylan back to his roots, Fire In The Hole, had never struck me as anything to return to.

That's not to say any of the three tales featuring Givens were bad because Leonard didn't do bad. They just didn't engage me in the way many of his other works did.

So when I first heard that Raylan Givens was coming to the small screen, I wasn't massively sold on the idea. I didn't even watch it for the first few years. I left the first three seasons for a binge all in one go shorty before season four.

It's fair to say that the first seven or eight episodes of the first season didn't do much to win me over, either. They had some charm, some good dialogue, and they were well made, but they didn't feel like they were doing anything to elevate material that hadn't grabbed me in the first place.

Then everyone involved with the show seemed to figure out what was needed, what the core story needed to be, and from episode nine ("Hatless") the show took off. The characters were interesting. The narratives were compulsive. I don't think the production has ever set a real foot in Kentucky, but they managed to create a setting that made this Englishman feel like he was getting to know Harlan County. And, furthermore, they started to tell stories that belonged to that area. They looked at coal mining, local corruption, family feuds, and stories that made the show feel different to any other identikit crime show.

Season two is one of the best uses of a television screen ever, and seasons three and four managed to maintain a level of consistency that place the show in my personal top tier. The fifth season is screening at the moment, and the sixth will be the final bow, bringing the characters to the end of their journey.

And the strange position the show has put me in, is that I feel it has improved on Leonard. Givens is an interesting bundle of anger and contradiction, a man who (to paraphrase one of the characters) is a hero who will run into a burning building, but who will also have started the fire in the first place. A man who seems to need a white hat and a badge to make him feel different to the people he grew up with, the life he ran away from, and who may fall apart if those things are taken from him. We have Boyd Crowder, a man who has been a white supremacist, a religious leader, a vigilante and a drug lord, and who seems to change his ideas to suit his needs. We're never given an answer on just how much Boyd ever believes what he says, and Walton Goggins has created one of the finest characters on television. We have Ava Crowder, who we first meet as an abused wife who has shot her husband, and  Dewey Crowe, a Neo-Nazi who somehow manages to be one of the most likable characters on TV.

Each of these characters was featured in the short story Fire In The Hole, but they each seem to have a life and a depth that they lacked in the source material.

What's the secret, is it the writing? The staff certainly do a good job. Is it the production? I know everyone involved works hard. Is it the acting? I know that the Boyd Crowder of the pilot episode and the Boyd Crowder of the short story share all of the same dialogue, but the character has a life in Walton Goggins that he lacked on the page.

So where does the magic come from? And am I alone in this? Is anyone else finding that the TV adventures of Raylan Givens are somehow an improvement on the master? What other adaptations can you think of that have improved on the source material?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Quick Notes: Street Raised, White Hot Pistol, The First One You Expect, Dead Pig Collector

I've been using my down time at work to read short novels and novellas lately. So I've been able to make a little dent in the old TBR. Here's some quick thoughts on a few of the books I've read lately. 

I read this back when it was originally published a few years ago. This new version has been heavily trimmed from that version. I was a fan then and remain one now. This is a lean and mean book filled with by god actual crime fiction characters (as opposed to mystery characters). The other thing that comes through is a genuine sense of place.

Two side notes - 1) Because I  had read the original version there were a couple of times where I was wondering where a particular scene was and *maybe* there were one or two sections that were cut a little close to the bone. 2) If you are a fan of this novel you should definitely track down a copy of the original. If only to spend more time with these characters (because it was a substantial trimming).

Highly Recommended

White Hot Pistol by Eric Beetner

White Hot Pistol sits squarely in Beetner's wheelhouse, which is out of the pan and in to the fire fiction. There's a lot of action, a lot of moments designed to keep you reading, and a lot of action. There was one of those moments early on where there is no Earthly good reason for the protag to do what he does, except that if he doesn't the story would have ended right then. Once you get past that set up moment you get a slick, action packed, violent, family revenger.

Note - This is the first title from Bookxy, a new line of novellas, and it only available directly from them.   


A modern kind of spiritual cousin to Crimson Orgy by Austin Williams in the way that it shows the reader the seedy side of low/no budget film making. To the extent I have a complaint it is only that I think there is more story there. I think Cesare could pull a reverse Hansen (his label mate) and expand on this later on if he wanted to. But that's not a real complaint, just an observation. While the end does come quick it does pack a punch and it has a great final line.


This is a bout a freelance body disposal guy. Which is a great start of an idea. Dead Pig Collector however is very dry. There is no real suspense, tension, drama, or even story really. It is a dry recitation of how to properly dispose of a body with a last moment attempt to zing the reader. Could be worth a buck for some readers if they know what they are getting in to but Ellis is capable of (and has done) better.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Life Intrusions

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Things get in the way.  We all know this.  No matter what your intensions for getting things accomplished, life happens and all the things you planned to do don't get done.

As someone who works at home, I can tell you it doesn't take much to get the day off track.  And wow did this week get off track.  Between phone calls and music brainstorming sessions with students, support calls with writer friends, several book events, putting together stuff for the Valentine's Day party at my son's kindergarten and getting all of the supplies required to make the craft as well as having a son come down with a stomach bug things this week were crazy.  Not to mention the work being done in my kitchen.

Yikes - the kitchen!!!  That's a whole other distraction.  Banging.  Sawing.  Laughing.  Plastering.

It looked like this about a week and a half ago:

Now it looks less like the set of SAW (my husband's description) and more like this:
Monday there will be tile and later in the week the cabinets will be added and soon it will look like a kitchen again.  Huzzah!

However, as wonderful as the transformation is, having people coming and going in the middle of getting the kid up and ready for school, getting him off the bus, keeping him entertained, getting ready for events and all that jazz...well, it makes it hard to focus on writing the book I'm working on.  Have I gotten pages done.  Yes.  Is it the number of pages that I'd hoped to create this week.

HA! HA! HA! HA!  No.  No, it's not.

And that's okay.  Because I am still moving the story forward.  I am still climbing up the mountain and working to get to the other side.  But life sometimes gets in the way.  And when it does, it is best to just accept that tomorrow, or next week or in three weeks (which is when they assume our kitchen will be completed), life will settle down and do what you can until that time.  In my case, I am plugging along two or three or four pages a day in the middle of dust and hammer noises and no heat.  (Did I mention that to revamp the kitchen there was a day they had to turn off the heat?)  I will accept that I will do my best and celebrate every page even if they aren't as numerous as I'd like.

At least, that is what I tell myself.  Because really - what other choice do I have?  Sometimes life gets in the way.  That's what life is for!

BUT...since I don't have huge word counts or work related milestones to celebrate- I want to know yours.   What awesome things big and small have you accomplished this week?  Tell me what you have written, or worked on, or helped your kids achieve!  I want to celebrate you!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Writing Streak is Over (and Why That's a Good Thing)

Scott D. Parker

Longtime readers of my column (and by longtime, I'm going as far back as early 2013) know that the one simple thing I did to get myself off my non-writing snide was to start writing everyday. I fuddled around most of May 2013 and then, on Memorial Day 2013 (27 May for the literalists), I decided to ask myself a simple question: how many days in a row can I write fiction?

I now have my answer: 255 days. Now, a bit of context.

For much of that streak--May - November--I was producing, on average, 800-1000 words per day. I busted out two novels from mid June to mid October. That was after *not* writing anything for seven years. I gave myself permission to drop the word count down to 500 a day since I had been so productive so consistently for so long.

One thing led to another and I stopped striving for the 500…but I kept the streak going. Even on Christmas Day and New Year's Day, I kept writing. It was slower, it was often messy, but I kept it going.

Along the way, however, I started wondering if the streak itself had become too much of a Thing, if it, perhaps, was getting in the way of the writing. Think about this: I have not, yet, read through those two manuscripts I finished last year. Partly that's a result of my other reading but there's also the obvious thing: the time I had to spend reading the manuscript I was using to write new words. I had begun to consider breaking the streak just because, to reset myself, give me time to read those manuscripts, clean them up, and then look for beta readers.

But I hesitated still. I liked my steak very much. It filled me with lots of pride, even when I was slogging away for a couple hundreds words.

Then, last Friday, between me working my day job all day and then chaperoning a lock-in at church, the writing time slipped away. Poof. Just like that, the streak was over. At first, I was filled with shock and a little sorrow. Then, I took it as a blessing. Without the streak--and without the burden of actually choosing to break it on purpose--I now have time to read those manuscripts (including the other novella I'm nearly done with) with a clear conscience.

I'm still pondering how I will work my various streaks this year. Chances are, I'll start a project and a streak at the same time and continue said streak until said project is completed. That's more logical anyway.

So, a moment of silence for the streak. Thank you for what you did for me. I shall never forget The Streak of 2013.

Oh, and having said all of this and believing it, I then read Chuck Wendig's blog on Thursday.

Crap. I should have kept the steak alive.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Author, in the Publishing House, with the Estate

Note - This article was originally written when Sophie Hannah was announced as the author of a new Poirot novel. The intended publication, for a variety of reasons, never actually published the piece. But now seems like a good time to resurrect it, with a new Marlowe novel written by John Banville due to appear in the next few weeks. Advance word is, of course, mixed. I do think that only a handful of authors – and maybe not even those – would be able to successfully replicate the unique atmosphere of Chandler and Marlowe, but at the same time I think that readers cannot get too upset when their favourite author’s creations are touched upon by others. As with film adaptations, the originals are still there to be devoured and re-read and discovered by new readers that may be brought to them by the fresh and new interpretation.

So let’s jump in the way-back machine and go back to 2013, just a few days after Hannah was announced as the author of the new Poirot novel…

Scroll down the internet comment pages and you’ll come across a number of opinions regarding the recent news that Sophie Hannah has been chosen to write a new Poirot novel, the first time that anyone except Christie has dared to touch the Belgian Detective – in print – aside from Agatha Christie. The majority of these opinions, being that this is the internet after all, are overwhelmingly negative. I can understand that people might be worried. Hannah is a safe pair of hands, but the idea of Poirot being written by someone other than his creator seems, at first glance, counter intuitive. It might seem to some like a mere money grabbing scheme (but then, I always wonder, what author wouldn’t really appreciate something that brings money to them or their estate? Anyone who claims they wouldn’t is merely posturing - - selling out is absolutely not the worst thing that can happen to an author; being ignored is). But the whole idea of a literary estate passing onto another writer is not new. It has been done before – and will be done again – with varying degrees of success. And in the field of crime and thriller fiction, it seems almost mandatory to have your series character continue after your death. Here are but a few examples:

Sherlock Holmes (created by Arthur Conan Doyle) – Holmes has of course entered into the public domain which means that anyone who’s everyone has written a “new adventure” for Holmes, ranging from the bloody terrible to the surprisingly good. He’s appeared in a Doctor Who novel, fighting the ancient creatures of HP Lovecraft’s imagination, and even on the Titanic. There was a raft of “New Sherlock Holmes” which have recently been re-released by Titan books and which are of varying quality depending on the author tackling the subject. But the only “official” new Holmes adventure was written by Anthony Horowitz a few years back. Consensus of House of Silk was that it wasn’t quite Conan Doyle, but was nevertheless a diverting and fun read. Which perhaps shows more than Holmes has outgrown his creator with the passing of time; it’s not Conan Doyle people care about so much as the character at the centre of the novels.

James Bond (created by Ian Fleming) – There were a fair few Bond novels written after Fleming’s death by the likes of John Gardner and even Martin Amis, but they never really achieved the success of the original novels. In recent years, Sebastian Faulks gave the series a shot in the arm but more for the media hoopla surrounding the release of Devil May Care than the actual quality of the book. Jeffery Deaver came along next, and now William Boyd will be tackling 007. But while the books often get a lot of coverage, there’s a sense that its more because of the names being attracted to the series than the quality of the novels. Besides, Bond has become a media creation now, the movies overshadowing the literary works in terms of public knowledge.

Jason Bourne (created by Robert Ludlum) – The amnesiac secret agent was originally created by doorstop thriller writer Ludlum and featured in three novels that were mercifully streamlined for a series of blockbuster movies. After Ludlum’s death, his estate authorised a number of authors to continue his various series, but the most successful has been Eric Van Lustbader’s continuation of Bourne’s adventures that continue to appear regularly to satiate fans eager for more espionage.

Sam Spade (created by Dashiell Hammett) – With a face made of V’s and a tough demeanour, Spade is the most natural equal to Chandler’s Marlowe. Hammett brought a tough style to his fiction gained from his own years as a detective, although he only ever wrote one novel with Sam Spade at the centre. That book was the Maltese Falcon. The man hired to write the prequel a few years ago was Joe Gorres, who had made his name with a book called Hammett that put the creator of Spade as the lead in a brilliantly executed period thriller. He seemed to have the chops, and certainly his effort, titled Spade and Archer was one of the most authentic attempt to recapture the feel of a novelist who had passed on decades earlier. A book that if you haven’t read, you really should seek out.

Mike Hammer (created by Mickey Spillane) – After Spillane’s death, his friend, Max Allan Collins, has continued to rework old books for re-release by a variety of publishers including unpublished Hammer novels. The tough guy private eye lives on, it seems, even after his equally tough creator is gone. Collins seems to have been well place to continue Spillane’s legacy, and the books have been very well received.

Philip Marlowe (created by Raymond Chandler) – Marlowe was the archetype for the wisecracking first person PI, and Chandler imbued him with a unique voice that has brought real pleasure to millions of readers. He died having only written a chapter of The Poodle Springs Novel (later titled just Poodle Springs), starting with the near impossible task of seeing Marlowe married off. The book was finished by acclaimed PI writer Robert B Parker, but it lacked the spark of an original Chandler or even an original Parker and is perhaps best regarded as a curiosity for completists. Parker also wrote an original Marlowe novel (which is perhaps even more obscure), and now Benjamin Black has been tasked with writing a new Marlowe adventure by the Chandler estate.

We can add to this list a number of other strange attempts from other genres, including Emma Tennant’s addition to the world of Jane Eyre (The French Dancer’s Bastard), and PD James’s slightly bizarre attempt to put a murder mystery into Austen with Death Comes to Pemberley. But it’s clear that despite the outrage from certain camps of Christie-ites, the tradition of the posthumous novel – particularly in crime fiction – is one that has been, ironically, alive and kicking for a long time.