Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Streak is (Back) On!

Scott D. Parker

Well, I’m back at it. After I accidentally broke my streak, I frankly took some time off from writing. Yeah, yeah, I know I shouldn’t have, but it’s my choice. No deadlines, no contracts, I’m just writing for the love of writing and, as December edged to January, the love started to fade. Yes, I showed up every day and some days were better than others, but I wanted the break.

I read more, I thought about the story I was stuck on less, and didn’t regret the breakage at all. Yes, the guy I’ll be on 31 December 2014 will curse my past self because 2014 will not be a 365-day writing year, but I’ll get over it. 

A funny thing happened, however. The inner urge to write began to assert itself. I found that I missed the daily writing sessions, even if I wasn’t exporting very many good words each day. What started out in 2013 as an experiment (How many days in a row can I write?) morphed, over time, into a habit. I have the habit of writing in my internal hard drive and I found that I not only wanted to write but needed to as well. It’s a nice feeling to have.

I only started up again on Texas Independence Day (i.e., 2 March) so I’m not that far along, but I’m already aiming at a new number: 256. That’s one day more than my previous writing. If my calculations are correct, sometime on 13 November, I’ll have a new streak in place.

Actually, I already do: 6. And I’m happy with it. You know why?


Thursday, March 6, 2014

News Ketchup

By Steve Weddle

First off, let's catch up with some things, shall we?

Dana King, friend of the blog, has been running a swell series of Q&As with authors. Check it out over at his site: OBAT.

I'm finishing up FEDERALES, a novella by Chris Irvin. I think you'll like it, as it's about a Mexican federal agent, drugs, and politics. Hop on Twitter and tweet:
"Check out #FEDERALES by @chrislirvin #DSD" something along those lines. I'll look for the DSD or Federales hashtags and give out a couple copies of the book by the end of the week. Also, check out Chris's site HouseLeague Fiction for more about the book.

Meanwhile, our own Holly West has her MISTRESS OF FORTUNE book doing well. I read this one a while back and will be posting reviews soon. Let me tell you, this is one surprising book. I wasn't entirely sure I'd enjoy what looked like "palace intrigue" and all, but I trust Holly. Turns out, this book is pretty damn amazing. The history and mystery meld so well that, a few days after I'd finished, I felt as if I were remembering a movie instead of a book. So, if you haven't checked it out, now is a good time to do so. And if you have, now is a good time to leave a review somewhere.

Also, I'm teaching a 4-week short story fundamentals class at LitReactor starting next week.

Steve Weddle is the author of the novel-in-stories Country Hardball—called "downright dazzling" by the New York Times—and editor of the award-winning short fiction magazine Needle: A Magazine of Noir. And in four weeks, he'll teach you how to write compelling, original short fiction (with skills applicable to longer works of fiction, too).
This class will give the opportunity to hone your skills, using your voice and vision as you craft vibrant, original fiction ready for publication.
Through weekly readings, lectures and assignments, this class will delve into character, dialogue, setting, and plot and will provide you with a range of techniques as you continue to craft your own stories.

Sign up here.

So, last week I visited Centenary College of Louisiana, where I had been an undergrad twenty-something years ago. They'd chosen to use COUNTRY HARDBALL in their English classes this year, and I had the opportunity to chat with students in classes from the freshman level to the 300-level about the book.

Some of the students had questions about particular scenes, while some wanted to discuss more theme-oriented topics. I found out, for example, that while Flannery O'Connor and Steve Wedde both rely on southern churches in their books, O'Connor is more interested in religion, while Weddle is more concerned with congregations.
Photo by David Havird

In two days, I spoke with seven classes, one book club, one radio station, one newspaper, and gave a reading at a convocation. It was, you know, kinda awesome. And what it taught me, or what it showed me up close, is that while different individuals read books differently, different groups of people have different expectations. College freshman read a different version of COUNTRY HARDBALL than do people in a book group. Context is key, isn't it? I've read books for book groups and books for college classes. You think about different questions to ask, different topics. I was talking last night about the book and said that I try to write for a reader who is smarter than I am. I don't like to explain things too much, to hand over the meaning of a scene. I writer for readers who read closely, who will a passage more than once if they don't quite get it. I write for people who might read the book more than once, and I want to make sure that the book is layered enough for them every single time.

And, it turns out, I write for college classes, for book groups, for the woman in the cafeteria who only knew me as author and not as former student. I write for all of them, and they all read the book a little differently. All I can do is make sure whatever I write has enough in it for each of them. Because, you know, I am kinda concerned about all the congregations.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Comfort Reading

By Holly West

I didn't have a happy childhood.

It's no one's fault, really. Nothing too terrible happened to me when I was growing up. I was just a depressed kid. Back then, parents (or at least my parents) didn't have the resources available to deal with depression in children the way they do now. And when I think about it, what could they have realistically done? Put me on meds? In therapy? Even now, I'm skeptical about putting kids on psychoactive drugs, and they weren't viable options during my childhood and adolescence anyway. Or maybe they were, I don't know. Like I said, my parents lacked resources.

This isn't to say I didn't have tools to cope with my depression. I did. Those tools were books.

When I was a kid, I did a lot of what I now call "comfort reading." I read constantly; it was the only way I could reliably keep my racing thoughts and anxiety at bay. Plus, I could do it alone in my room, with my door closed. I didn't have to deal with the turmoil that sometimes reverberated through the rest of the house. And I could control the books I read even if I wasn't in charge of anything else in my life. When my parents forbade certain titles, I read them anyway. How were they to know what well-worn paperbacks I had hidden under my mattress?

I read the books I loved over and over again, the way some people overeat. It's impossible to know how many times I've read Three Without Fear by Robert C. Du Soe, the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series by Betty MacDonald, or the Pippi Longstocking books by Astrid Lingren. Later, my favorite authors were Judy Blume, Lois Duncan, and Richard Peck, along with a few other stand-alone novels. Suffice to say, during the 1970s and 80s there was a small selection of books in the El Dorado County Library that bore my name over and over again. In some of them, my name occurred several times in a row with no one checking them out in-between.

The reading was constant, but the reading material didn't vary much. Consequently, as an adult, I find myself woefully inept when it comes to literature. Instead of reading the classics, as some kids do, I preferred to read the same books repeatedly. In high school I think I read one assigned book--Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. Truthfully, I'm not sure how even that one made the cut. One year my class had to read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and my mom told me how much she loved it. She went on to tell me what it was about and I ended up writing my book report based on her account.

I was an A-student in English. No joke.

Funny, but I rarely re-read books any more. I no longer have the patience or the time to do it. Being a writer has forever changed the way I read books anyway--I can never just read something without analyzing the structure of it or thinking about character development or what-have-you. Pleasure reading has unfortunately been a casualty of my writing career, and I'm struggling to get it back.

That said, over the years, I've re-purchased many of the books I loved as a child, and occasionally, I'll get a hankering for some comfort and take one off of the shelf. They didn't fail me back then, and they don't fail me now. Although now, the antidepressants help too.

I'm curious. What kind of reader were you when you were a kid?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fictional Facts: The Open Ended Life Of An Author

By Jay Stringer

So this happened.

After I read it -and played a very small violin- I started to think about what it was saying.

The world is nasty. Writers used to be able to live off writing alone, but since the credit crunch they're all broke. Life aint what it used to be.

You have to admire it. It's a really solid piece of fiction. Really solid. It should win an award.

Much of the piece centers around Rupert Thomson. I want to make it clear here- I'm not mocking him. He's a fine writer with a strong body of work. It's a real shame that he's finding himself at 60 with no safety net or pension. No doubt things haven't worked out as he thought, and nobody should ever feel the right to pour salt on that.

But to the piece as a whole? How much salt you got?

There are many myths involved in writing. Some feel that the work is easy. Some feel that writers sit around all day doing nothing (huh, well.....sometimes.) Some feel that the life of a writer is all plain sailing and laid back doodling. I don't mind those assumptions because they don't affect me. If people want to think this job is easy, fine, let them try it. The grass is always greener on the other side so I don't hold any grudges from anyone who thinks my field is verdant.

Plus, I've done my share of hard jobs. Manual work. Dialler work. Retail. Debt collection. I've done jobs that are physically hard and ones that drain your soul and, compared to them, sod it, writing is easy. So no harm, no foul.

But the assumptions that annoy me are all about the very things this article raises. being an author, it's all about money, it's all about your books selling by the thousand and you making enough from one book deal to keep you comfortable.

These assumptions, I think, are dangerous. These set people up to potentially have a good run of things for a while but then find themselves at 60 without a safety net. I've had well-meaning friends and family who, when I've talked about my next project or impending deals, will crack jokes about me being able to look after them in their old age. And the jokes come from something. They come from assumptions.

And the reason these assumptions annoy me, is because we're guilty of inflating them. Us. The writers. We like to have a little glamour and mystery attached to what we do and so we don't talk about the hours we put in at other jobs. We don't talk about the friendships or relationships that get damaged by devoting our 'spare' time to writing. We don't talk about pensions or savings or mortgages.

Let's take one line from the piece;

"roughly speaking, until 2000, if you wrote a story, made a film or recorded a song, and people paid to buy it, in the form of a book, a DVD or CD, you received a measurable award."

Roughly speaking? Measurable? This quote speaks to the fact that even as he put the words down, the writer knew he couldn't define this argument or back it up.

Writing has always been an uphill financial struggle for most writers. The majority of working musicians have always been pushing the rock up the hill with very little to show for it. Film is an outlier, with huge sums of money always lining the pockets of the headline talent, but that distracts from the many people working on a film for scale, for peanuts or to meet the bare needs of a mortgage. Noticing that life can be difficult for writers based on a few established names hitting hard times, is like noticing that being a musician is tough because Bruce Springsteen has yet to sell a million copies of his latest album.

And the expectation -often from writers- is that once you're "in the club" as a published writer, then you have some universe given right to always earn your money from writing. I saw a lot of this a few years ago when I was railing against the way Alan Moore was being demonised simply for sticking to an ethical line he had drawn in his career. He said he didn't want DC Comics to continue to use characters he had created and writers screamed blue murder, "how dare Alan Moore tell writers they can't earn money." As if that was anywhere near what happened. Writers can earn money writing something else. and you know what? If writing isn't paying all of your bills, flip a burger. Deliver some mail. Work in a shop.

Of all the writers I know, and all the ones I've spoken to over the past decade, the ones who earn all of their money from writing are in a very small minority. And good luck to those that maintain it. They're there through hard work. But the rest of us? We have other jobs.

The article itself compares Rupert Thomson to Elmore Leonard. Leonard worked full time for many years before he could leave the day-job. And in many other ways the article doesn't do Thomson any favours. We're meant to feel sorry for someone who can no longer afford to rent an office in London? For someone who has been forced to commission a builder  to make him an office? Seriously? As I said at the top, we shouldn't crack jokes at the expense of anyone who finds themselves in tough times, but the articles author does Thomson no favours here.

For what it's worth, writing accounts for about a third of my income. I work a day job, full time. Sometimes that's six days a week. I don't go on expensive holidays (the only time I've been abroad in the past ten years was to attend a writers conference.) I write my novels in whatever time I can fit in between the day-job and being sociable with friends and family. I have a very understanding wife. I also can't afford to rent an office, certainly not one in the city. My first two published books were both written on the sofa in the living room. It wasn't until the third book of a three-book deal that I had a writing desk. Two years ago we moved to a new flat (rental) to get a second bedroom that I can use as an office. That spare room, by the way, is roughly the same size as the "garret" mentioned in the article, and I wouldn't be able to pay a builder to make it for me. We are currently saving a deposit for a house, and the switch to a  mortgage over rent might give me some freedom to get away with working less hours at the day job, but it will also bring 30 years worth of a different kind of stress. And I do all this as someone with a learning disability that makes my chosen career the hardest one I could possible have gone for.

And this is in a period of my life when my career has been going well. I'm happy with my sales. I'm happy with the work the publisher did on them. I've made friends off the back of it. I'm optimistic about my next few projects.

I have half a plan to try writing full-time at some point in the next year, dependent on book deals and weather I get something good written. But if that plan goes away? I'll continue to work at a day job. If I go full-time but then the money dries up? I'll go back to having a day job. There is no existential crisis here for the soul of the author.

If you're out there reading this and you're thinking of getting into writing or publishing, ignore the myths. Prepare for long hours. Prepare for challenges in making ends meet. Prepare to strain a few friendships and skip a few breakfasts. Prepare for a job that is built around uncertainty. Prepare for needing a back-up plan and a mortgage, and for the fact that the writing income can go away at any time.

And prepare for the fact that none of those things will stop you- you write because you love it. You write because every word that you put on the page is a victory over all of the demons that tell you to stop.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Quick Notes: The Year I Died Seven Times Book #2, The Guns of Santa Sangre, States of Grace, Lyrics for the Blues

The Year I Died Seven Times Book #2 by Eric Beetner

This is the second installment of the new serial from Beetner. I said that the first installment was "a fast paced story with enough twists and turns to keep the reader engaged until the end", the second installment is more of the same. It's tough to review a serial in its parts as they are being released because the story isn't finished. With that said it was entertaining.

The Guns of Santa Sangre by Eric Red

On one hand there was much to like with this book, I mean what's not to like about werewolves vs. cowboys. It's action scenes crackle with intensity, the cowboys are filled with cowboy toughness, the werewolves are scary creatures. The prose is muscular.

On the other hand, there is Pilar. Pilar is basically the main character as she is the one to leave her besieged town to hire gunfighters to come back and protect them from the invading force. She should be a well rounded character. Except damn near every time she's described it's to describe her beauty or a body part is emphasized ("heavy bosom" is used a couple of times). Then you get a line like this, "As her rump smacked against the saddle leather, the girl scanned the arid piles of wheat and corn on either side of the rows." where she can't even just ride a horse and has to be reduced to her butt. Pilar is also a fan of cowboy dime novels. Great, so she wants to be a gunfighter and wants to pick up the iron and defend her town? Nope, she wants to carry the child of a cowboy, who she doesn't expect to stay around, and will raise on her own. 

Good book with a glaring problem. I'm sure mileage will vary for some readers.

States of Grace by Stephen Graham Jones

States of Grace is a collection of flash length stories. Some of the stories are more impressionistic in nature, some of them really pack an emotional punch ("Bulletproof"), and others are so damn creepy that you'll forever view certain objects differently ("The Piano Thief"). This is a short book that will slay you with a thousand cuts. 

Highly recommended (Though may not be the best place for those new to Jones' fiction to start)

Lyrics for the Blues by Gar Anthony Haywood

Lyrics for the Blues is a short story collection featuring Haywood's series character, LA PI Aaron Gunner. Pros: This is a great introduction to the Gunner character. You get a good feel for Haywood's style, a good sketch of the character, and some cases that raise interesting questions with no easy answers. Cons: This book is formatted terribly.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

This author should die

by: Joelle Charbonneau

I’m an author.  Which means this is perhaps a dangerous subject for me to write about, but it is also one I believe I need to speak to.  So…here goes.

The Internet is a wonderful thing.   It gives us access to information (although not always accurate information) at lightning fast speeds.  It allows us to quickly communicate and send documents with a click of a button.  Social media gives us the ability to with very little effort keep in touch with those we might have otherwise not taken the time to connect with.  What’s not to love?

And yet, the Internet is also a terrible place.  Because it is a world that is explored from the seemingly anonymous and safe place behind the computer screen, many people say things on the Internet that they would never say in real life.  You see evidence every day of this on Facebook, Twitter, and in the comments of every political news article.   Words that would never come out of someone’s mouth if they were having a discussion face to face rear their ugly heads. 


Well, I can only guess.  However, it seems to me that many people feel words typed on a screen and posted on the Internet have less meaning than those said aloud.  And you know what, if that is the case those who believe that are wrong. 

Words have power. 

I believed that long before I became an author.  Words have the power to lift people up, cause great joy, instill fear or inflict injury far greater than many weapons.  And unlike a misplaced comment said at a cocktail party or on the phone, the words on the Internet live on and on and on, which gives them even greater power.  Which is why I wish people would treat them with more care.  The lack of care when attacking other people’s political, religious or social beliefs makes me want to scream.  Especially when I know the people posting and know they would never choose the words they typed if they were speaking face to face. 

The Internet and the screen we sit behind desensitizes people to the power of their words.  And because of that those words do damage.

As an author, I see signs of this desensitization in the reviews that are posted online.  (Yes…this is where the author in me treads dangerous ground.  I know it.  I’m walking it anyway because I believe in what I say.)  Now…don’t get me wrong.  I don’t believe book reviews should be universally wonderful.  What would be the point?  Not all people love all books.  That is as it should be.  Books that I love will be disliked by others.  Good.  We are all different.  We should have different opinions.  Reviews should state what the reader liked and disliked.  Reviews should be critical of the storytelling moments that didn’t click for them and praise the writing that made them read into the early hours of the morning.  That is what reviews are for.  Critical reviews are just as important as wonderful reviews.  Without one, we cannot have the other…at least not in any meaningful way.

But, over the years I’ve seen critical reviews turn personal.  Reviewers not only stating that they hate the book, but make personal attacks on the author.  I have more than one review of THE TESTING that not only hates the story, but goes on to say that they hate me and that they think I should die.  I’ve seen reviews that attack me as a person.  They tell me I was trying to rip off other books.  They suggest I should be hurt or worse because of their beliefs. 

Those reviews are scary.  I stumbled across them in the days before THE TESTING came out.  I haven’t read any reviews on Goodreads or searched out reviews on blogs since.  So there could be worse out there.

Do I believe they really want me dead?  No.  Do I believe they would use those words to my face if they met me at a bookstore or on the street somewhere?  Heck no.  Yet, for whatever reason, they chose to type those words.  They chose to share them with the world and sign their name (or online pseudonym) to them. 


I wish I knew.  Do they get more hits on their blog by publishing implied death threats?  Do they want me to see those words? 

Not long ago, ALLEGIANT by Veronica Roth was published to an enormous print run and great fanfare.  Fans who disliked where the story went in that final installment of the trilogy took to the Internet and blasted the story.  That is fair.  If you don’t like the story, you can criticize the story.  But it went so much farther than that.  Lots of death threats.  Lots of words of hate and feelings of betrayal were spewed directly at the author on social media.  She was told she should drop dead more than once.  Because she wrote a book and they chose to read it.


I’m sorry, but under no circumstances does an author deserve to be told they should die.  Not me.  Not Veronica Roth.  Not anyone.  I don’t care how invested you are in the story or how much you value your time and hate that you feel it was wasted.  Telling an author they deserve to die or making personal attacks on them is just plain wrong.   I don’t care how you justify the words…those words are wrong.

Can you criticize the story?  Yes!  Do it!  Jump up and down on it.  Throw the book against the wall if you’d like.  Heck, I’ve done it.  We all love different things. Different stories speak to different people.   Criticize the story. 

Now, I’ve seen lots of people say that they can’t leave the author out of the review because the author is active on social media or because the author wrote the book and therefore has put themselves out there to be reviewed right alongside their story.   No.  Just no.  I’m sorry, but telling the author that writing a book has invited personal attack is akin to telling a girl that wearing a tight dress to a frat party is asking to be raped. 

Both are wrong.

I am an author.  I hope readers will like my stories, but I respect when they don’t and appreciate opinions that applaud my books just as much as I respect those who tear my books down.

But, I am a person.  And I have a child who will someday search the Internet for posts on his mother and reviews of her work.  And that child will see people’s posts that make threats on my life for writing a book. 

Which is why I am asking - how can that possibly be okay?