Saturday, March 22, 2014

Playing Detective

Scott D. Parker

Okay, raise your hands if you’ve ever lost something? I’m seeing a lot of hands because, come on: everybody loses something sometime. The “fun” thing about losing something is playing detective. I put the word fun in quotes because sometimes, it ain’t really fun losing something you really want to find.

For me, this week, it was my Nook Simple Touch. This is my older Nook--I also have the color Nook HD that I got around Christmas time--that is only an ereader. It uses the e-ink technology which, they say, is easier on the eyes. I wanted to run a couple of reading experiments with it so I went to where I last saw it: in my front living room/library. Odd. It wasn’t there. But I could have sworn it was there next to my reading chair. Nope. Not there. My office can get cluttered so that’s the next logical place I go. I have a lot of horizontal space and I can, as the days go on--remember: I work from home four out of five days--said horizontal space can attract a lot of stuff. I look under the stacks of paper, around my bookcases, and under the table where I keep a couple of long boxes full of comics. My Nook was not there.

There’s that moment when you want to find something and you’ve started looking for it and you’ve looked in the most obvious places when you have a decision to make: do I expend the energy now and keep looking or move on to something else with the calm assurance that the thing will turn up eventually. You know the moment I’m talking about? Sure you do, because we’ve all done it. My decision was simple: find the Nook. It became my calling, my reason for being. No, not really, but I dang well wanted to find it.

Many of us have written about detectives and their methodologies. I became one this week. (I started looking for the Nook last weekend.) I started thinking through my days. Where do I keep my reading material? If you were to pose that question to my wife, she’d reply with “Everywhere.” Yeah, that’s kinda the truth. So I started scouring the house for the usual places: front room, game room, next-to-the-bed table, kitchen. No Nook. The wife did appreciate me picking up my various reading centers along the way, however. Chalk one in the win column.

But she’s also the clear-headed one of the family and she questioned why I wanted it. “You didn’t use it that often.” True, I said, but I’d like to use it again, more thoroughly, and for certain activities. More than that, however, around Monday evening, I just wanted to know where the darn thing was.

It was at this point that my mind’s eye began playing tricks on me. I kept ‘seeing’ the Nook in certain places and it kept not being there. Crap. I looked through various stacks of comics over and over again (remember that definition of insanity?) and no Nook. I started having weird thoughts: perhaps it was in the pocket of a jacket! Not bothering to realize that I rarely leave home with the device, I opened all my jackets. Not there (natch). The wife and boy started wondering why it was so important. “Because I want to find it,” I said.

My detective brain, such as it is, started concocting scenarios. My wife took it to teach me a lesson about having piles of stuff around the house. The arched eyebrow I got when I broached that theory was the only answer I needed. Another idea was the boy took it and hid it. Why? Who knows, but I asked. His reaction was wonderfully straightforward: “Dad, if I knew where it was, I’d go get it for you.” The heart swelled with pride while the non-Nook hole grew ever larger.

The middle of the week saw a revelation: I was missing some comics as well! They are probably with my Nook. I find the comics, I find the Nook. That was a great theory...until one evening when I was on the floor putting on my Crocs...and saw the ‘missing’ stack of comics. They weren’t lost. I had just forgotten where I put them.

Frankly, I tore the house apart looking for the thing. Me being the brilliant detective, I realized that the Nook most likely wasn’t in the house (or the saxophone case; or the boxes of Christmas stuff; or slide in among my books; or in my wife’s office; or in my son’s room). I started to wonder what I was doing the last time I saw it. No clue, but I know I needed to look outside, in the cars. With a cool CSI-type flashlight, I scanned the wife’s car. Nothing. Then I got to my car and looked in the obvious places: hatchback, the racks, the pockets and under the seat. Nothing. No, wait. Was that it?

Viola! It was under the driver’s seat, face down, so the black plastic back of the Nook blended with the black rug. Success! The investigation was over. I had located the mysteriously missing Nook. But why was it under the seat of my car? Oh yeah, now I remember. I had taken it with me on a church lock-in. But then there was a no-electronics rule and I had put it under the seat. The memory of that decision rushed back at me like a movie special effect.

But why had I wanted the Nook in the first place? It actually took me a moment to remember: Oh yeah: to read. I enjoyed the discovery, but also missed the search.

Hmmm, maybe I'll get the family to really hide something next time and then give me clues. Sounds like a fun long as they don't hide something really important. You know, like my Nook.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


To honor the memory of the recent loss of writer AJ Hayes, we announce the first AJ Hayes Memorial Writing Contest.
AJ was a no-nonsense crime writer who flourished in the field of short stories and flash fiction. His goal was to get to the essence of a story without wasting a word. His dedication to the writing community and his stalwart support of other writers is what inspires a contest in his name. AJ would have loved the idea of people writing with him in mind and probably would have been first in line to submit a story.
The rules are this: 
– Flash fiction (under 1000 words)
– Crime fiction, mystery, noir, suspense are all accepted
– AJ loved to write poetry, so that’s good too
A panel of writers and agents will read the stories and award prizes. 1st place $100, 2nd place $50, 3rd place $25.
Winning stories will be published at Do Same Damage and Thrillers, Killers N Chillers and the winning story will appear in print in the next Needle magazine.
One more rule – as many of you may or may not know, AJ was a pen name for Bill Hayes. So your story must feature a character named Bill. Doesn’t have to be the main character, doesn’t even have to appear on screen in the story. But Bill has to be a presence in the tale, just as he was a presence in so many of our lives, whether we met the man in person or not.
The deadline is June 1. Send your completed story in Word format, along with a bio and a memory of AJ if you have one (not a requirement) to
So get to writing, and when the stories are out, tell someone to read them like AJ would have. Go be tireless promoters for our genre and be good to each other. Let AJ Hayes be an inspiration on the page and off.
To fund the prizes we are seeking donations. Any amount will do. Payments can be made via the donation button below.  Anything we receive over the $200 will be donated to Bill’s family.
Donate Button with Credit Cards

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How You Like Those Gatekeepers Now?

By Holly West

Back when I was a young whippersnapper of a writer, I wrote this post for my personal blog: "Don't Bypass the Gatekeepers"

Recently, I revisited the post, thinking that now that I'm published myself, I might have some different views on the subject than I had back in August 2011. But though publishing, particularly self-publishing, has changed/evolved greatly in the past few years, I was surprised to learn that my own views hadn't changed all that much.

Some of my wording, however, made me cringe a little:
"This post isn't about eBooks vs. paper books. It's about why I choose the books I buy and read, and whether or not self-published books will ever make the cut. So far, they haven't."
What a Judgy McJudgerson I was. Especially since at that point, I'd read maybe one self-published book (which I mention in the post).

It might be useful to know where I was on my own path-to-publishing at the time. I'd just completed what I believed was a "query-worthy"draft of Mistress of Fortune and had sent my first tentative queries out. I'd already been rejected by a few potential agents (including my "dream" agent) but I was still hopeful and generally enthusiastic about the process. 

Reading self-published works was something I didn't really do, so as you can imagine, self-publishing my own novel wasn't even a blip on my screen.

But in my defense, the point I was trying to make was valid then, and remains so:
"The gatekeepers aren't just comprised of agents, et al. They're my friends on Twitter who can't stop talking about a particular book. They're book store employees who jabber excitedly about this book or that. I'm a voracious, but slow reader. I need help culling titles. That help comes from the gatekeepers, whoever they might be.
Someone recently posted in group I follow that he was in the process of self-pubbing his debut novel and wanted hints on how to promote it. In the discussion that ensued, the subject of beta readers came up and it turned out he'd never even heard of beta readers. Said it was too late to enlist their help because the book was being uploaded in a few days. Hells bells, people, beta readers are the first line of gatekeepers. Do you think I'd consider buying his book now, even for a paltry 99 cents?"
"I'm not saying people who haven't been traditionally published shouldn't self-publish, not at all. I'm saying that if you do, you'd better make damn sure you've written a novel worth not only my 99 cents but my time. That means at the very least you've had trusted beta readers take a look, hired a professional editor to copy edit (and perhaps even do a developmental edit), and make sure that story sparkles."
Since that post was written, I've read many self-published novels and I can tell you, when an author-turned-publisher treats the process professionally, the result can be outstanding, ranking right up there with any well-regarded traditionally published novel.

Furthermore, though the numbers are disputed, I know more than a few self-published authors who are making good money. They are choosing not to be traditionally published because it's a sound financial decision.

I better understand now that some novels, no matter how good, will never have a place in traditional publishing. Mistress of Fortune, is, in some ways, one of those books. It doesn't fit very well into the mold of traditional publishing (though I did eventually sign with a traditional publisher). 

Toward the end of own my path to publication of Mistress of Fortune, I seriously considered self-publishing. I had it professionally edited with the full intent to go forward with that plan (even if that's not what ended up happening). I know now that I will eventually self-publish something, not because it's a last resort, but because I want to do it. I just haven't written that book yet.

So there you have it. I still believe in the gatekeepers. In fact, even more so, now that I've gone through the publishing process. But unlike before, I embrace self-publishing as a viable--maybe even a preferable--option, provided I'm willing and able to do what it takes to put out a professional, high-quality product.

For those who do choose the self-publishing route (or anything in between), I'd say don't bypass the gatekeepers. Your perception and experience with them might thus far be negative as it pertains to publishing your own work, but remember, you're the one in control now. Depending upon who they are, these so-called gatekeepers can help to elevate your work to the next level, to make it on par or even exceed what traditional publishers are capable of.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


By Jay Stringer

So, I watched the Veronica Mars movie over the weekend. You can hear me talk about it on the Fuzzy Typewriter podcast (link to come). Short version of a long chat- I loved the film, but on it's own terms, as a chance to spend more time with those characters and that world, not as a classic stand-alone film.

It got me thinking, not for the first time, of backstory.

It's something I fought with a lot while writing the Eoin Miller Trilogy. The series is cumulative, each book informs the next, but they all needed to work as stand-alone novels. And where was I going to draw the line? How was I going to balance how to give old information to new readers without alienating existing readers or derailing the story.

I fought with that concept all the way up until the second draft of Lost City when I realised- It doesn't matter.

We make it matter. We stress about it. We put needless time and energy into it. Whenever we're dealing with existing characters -be it a book series, a film sequel, an adaptation- we debate how much we need to reveal, when we need to reveal it. Comic book writers and readers always discuss how much they need to recap old events, and when those characters are translated to film, we've seen a great many of the fail under the weight of backstory.

Veronica Mars is a lot of fun as a film, but it opens with a monologue that tells us what happened during the three seasons of the TV show. By the time the first scene opens, we've already been given a tonne of backstory up front.

You know what? Forget it. Don't worry about it.

Every story that we ever encounter has backstory. Every great film, book, comic or play. Chinatown has an epic backstory, one that is revealed slowly throughout the film and helps us to understand the characters. Story is backstory. It's what has formed our characters and our plot. And part of the art of storytelling is revealing that at the right time, in the right place, through the course of the story.

But for some reason, when we come to returning to old characters -or translating them to a new medium- we forget this. We start to panic. But what if the new viewers or readers don't know the history? That means they won't get it? Of course they will. Just as they do in every story ever told. It doesn't matter if it's a sequel, a reboot or an adaptation; Just tell your story. Tell your best story, and tell it as if this is the first time you've ever told it. Think, if this was the first time I was writing these characters, where would I reveal the past? How little could I get away with revealing? What is it that will inform the present?

Trust yourself and trust your reader, or viewer. We don't need a recap, we just need your "A game."

Monday, March 17, 2014

Six Days by Kelli Owen - review

In the wake of True Detective the prennial women (or lack of) in crime fiction/treatment of women in crime fiction topic arose again. So it was an interesting time to read Kelli Owen's Six Days, a book that, in many respects, messes with a lot of the conventions that surround the idea of the female victim (because it always has to be a woman right?).

In Six Days the protag wakes up in a dark room. She can't see and can't remember how she got there. She then has to explore her environment and go back through the significant events in her life to see if anyone in her life could have done this.

Here, the female victim of a crime is practical, a fighter, she has agency and determination. In other words, hey!, as anyone would be in this situation. She isn't reduced to a blubbering mess [not fully and immediately anyway:)] waiting to be rescued.

The POV also stays tight and with her. Her sensory access (and thus ours) is what she can hear, taste, and touch, smell and the reader will explore every inch of that basement right along with her.

What we get by the end is a character that isn't a blank screen for the other characters in the book to project on to (especially since she gets to tell her own story). But a fully realized character who is also a victim and not just a victim.

Savvy readers will become aware that is also a story that parses out information in a careful manner in order to build to a desired effect or reveal. In that respect Six Days would appeal, additionally, to fans of books like Gone Girl and Before I Go to Sleep. It's also worth noting that Owen comes from the horror community, that Six Days has primarily received coverage in the horror community, and the book is even treated as a horror novel. It isn't. I've seen this type of thing before with other horror authors that write more crime fiction type books. So Six Days is a book that you may not have heard of but is worth your time.

Highly Recommended. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

One size doesn't fit all

By: Joelle Charbonneau

Because of advances in technology, the way we read, buy books and market books has changed.  Writers have more choices when it comes to publishing their books.  You can choose to work with the established brick and mortar system that has been in place for decades or become your own publisher or go with something in between. 

With so many options open to writers, it should come as no surprise that there are even more opinions about how a writer should proceed when it comes to publishing, marketing and just about everything else in the industry.  The effort of reading all of those opinions would be enough to send someone into information overload. 

The crazy thing is – almost everyone has an opinion about how to do it.  Or maybe I should say they have an opinion about how they have chosen to explore publishing.  And just because someone else has had success or failure with a certain avenue doesn’t mean the same will happen for you.  This isn’t like buying a towel or a pair of socks where most sizes fit all.  Publishing is personal.  Which makes sense because your work is personal.  And it would be foolish to believe that all books are the same or that all publishing journeys should follow the same path.

So – with that in mind, here are some of the issues every writer (traditionally published or self published) encounters and the reasons why one size doesn’t fit all.

1)  Yes – agent!  No – agent!   You’ll see arguments for an against the need for a literary agent in this age of the Internet.  And wow – the arguments (especially against) can be very forceful.  Some say having an agent limits your career.  Others say it expands it.  Which is right?  Well, I can only tell you that neither is wrong.  An agent is someone who represents your work to publishers.  So, if you are choosing to self-publish you probably don’t need one.  However if you want to go through the more traditional publishing model – agents are necessary.  They also work hard to sell translation, film and audio rights.  For that effort, they make a percentage of all that you earn. 

2)  Editors are not all created equal.  Do you need an editor – yes!  No matter who you are it is necessary to have another pair of eyes look and help you revise your work.  Why?  Because you know what you intended to say.  A fresh reader will help you understand what you really said and where passages or story points that seem clear to you are confusing to others.  A good editor is worth his or her weight in gold.  However, just because someone calls themselves an editor doesn’t meant that they are the right editor for your project.  If you are hiring an editor to help with your project, ask lots of questions and have a conversation about what you are looking for in an editor.  Ask for samples of the editor’s work and referrals.  Don’t just trust that the right editor for your friend is the correct editor for you.  Also, as a traditionally published author – you often have little say in which editor loves and chooses to offer you a contract on your work.  However, you can ask around about the editor’s style.  If you know the editor is more strongly regarded because of their eye for strong writing voices and not for their editorial input, you can always ask your agent or a trusted reader for opinions on the story before it is put into production.   Editors are important pieces of the publishing puzzle, but it is the author’s name that goes on the cover of the book.  That is the name the reader will remember.  Don’t let them associate that name with poor editing.

3)  Bookmarks and swag – Often the first thing an author does after seeing the cover art for their book is order bookmarks and other swag.  Why?  Is it genuinely effective in helping sell your book to readers?  Does swag effect purchase intent?  Some will say YES!  I know agents that insist their authors have swag or some sort of paper product with their cover on it whenever they go to events or to conferences.  Other agents shrug at that kind of marketing collateral.  No one knows exactly what swag or marketing materials help sell books.  If you love handing out bookmarks – get them!  If you have some extra cash and want to spend it on cool trinkets – have at it.  But remember that NO ONE knows exactly what influences book purchases.  So, if you don’t have the cash or the inclination to get bookmarks or postcards printed – that’s okay, too. 

4)  Blog tours – Here is a tricky one.  Blog tours were the new, fabulous, exciting public relations tools about a decade ago.  Back then, a blog tour appeared to generate sales.  Now?  Again, no one knows.  There are a lot more blogs now.  The audience for those blogs is thinned out amongst them.  And because blog tours are still hugely popular (because – hey – you don’t have to pay for food or hotel or transportation with this kind of tour) not a day passes without dozens and dozens of authors posting about their books on the world wide web.  With so much content out there, and so many books touring the Internet, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd.  If you like blog tours – hooray!  Have at it.  If you hate creating Internet content and don’t want to play – that’s good, too.  Your publisher will certainly have ideas about what they would like you to do, but they aren’t going to make you do a 40 stop tour with original content required for each stop.  Strategic blog tours can still help get the word out, but they are not the end all be all of PR.  Don’t let anyone tell you different.

5) Reviews – Do reviews matter?  Well, they provide validation for some authors and many bookstores or libraries use them to help gauge which books should be ordered for their patrons.  But I know books that get great reviews that never sell well and books that are panned which sell zillions of copies.  Go fig!  Clip the good ones.  Throw away the bad ones.  Or create a bonfire and put both versions on the fire.  Up to you.

6) Social Media -  Twitter.  Facebook.  Tumbler. Instagram. (what is this?  I mean, really!!!!  Someone tell me why it is different than just posting a photo to Twitter.  I’m baffled)  Google Plus (does anyone use it?).  Pinterest.  And more!  There are so many platforms.  Everyone will tell you what the platform is that they have found the most useful.  I know some who love Tumbler.  Others adore Facebook or Pinterest.  Twitter is either hated or beloved.  There is no right or wrong answer here.  Try them out.  See what you like.  Ditch the rest.  Your career doesn’t hinge on being fabulous at all aspects of social media or even any of them. 

7) The Amazon sales ranking – Some would argue it means everything!  Others will say it means nothing.  The truth?  Only the great and powerful wizard behind the curtain knows and he ain’t talking.  Everyone agrees that more goes into the sales number than just…well…sales.  And that’s the only thing everyone agrees on.  The facts and figures aren’t available to tell us what those numbers really mean.  If they are important to you – okay.  If not, no worries.  You’re not alone.

The list of things people will insist an author needs to know or do is almost endless.  Certainly, these are only the tip of the iceberg.  Do this. Do that.  Spend money.  Don’t.  I’ve listened to lots of advice.  I’ve tried lots of it.  You know what I’ve learned?  There is only one thing an author must do to help their career. 

Write the next book.  Because really – that is the only thing you can control.

Happy writing!