Saturday, April 26, 2014

Writing Process (to date)

Scott D. Parker

On Thursday, our humble leader, Steve, posted a little meme about writing processes. Like an old automobile, the process of writing is something about which I enjoy studying and improving. Let’s be honest: when you get right down to it, you sit and put words in a string on some sort of format. Beyond that, however, I want to learn how other writers get to that point.

I’m working on streamlining my own process and analyzing writing data and trends I’ve collected since last year and in the fallow period before that. I’m still tinkering, but it seems like I’m centering in on a best practice.

But, on to the meme.

What Am I Working On?

One never likes to talk too much about works in progress because they might change along the way. Additionally, in my case, some of the things I’m working on might come out under pen names and the point of pen names would prove pointless if we all knew the real authors.

Be that as it may, I’m cursed (blessed?) with varied interests in my reading material and that translates quite naturally into my writing. I love SF, but, to date, have only one idea floating in my head: a good old fashioned space opera yarn. My main character is like a big game hunter in space or, rather, who has traveled the galaxy. I have a PI character I’m working on. I’ve got one tale finished and another one soon to be done. He’s got a few co-stars and I think I’d be able to spin a few tales featuring them as well. There’s a modern PI/thriller/mystery series I’m working on (those would be the books I wrote last year). There’s always my Calvin Carter railroad detective stories, but the next project will likely be a western inspired by a visit to the Hill Country last year. It’s an idea my wife thought up and I like it.

How does My Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?

Funny thing, that question. To be honest, I’m not sure. They are still mysteries or space opera, but I’m hoping that my characters will be the differentiators. I hope readers will enjoy them as much as I do.

Why Do You Write What You Do?

For fun. I’m the first reader, I have to entertain myself. For the challenge. The act of writing is pretty easy. The art of writing is anything but. For the money. That’s a crucial factor, right? That’s why we do this stuff, to a large extent. I want to create characters and stories that readers will latch onto and want more of and buy.

How Does Your Writing Process Work?

I wish I knew the true answer at this stage. I have a really good idea, however: I must have the map (outline) in order to find my way (the story itself). The times I have a good map are the times I can produce good stories at a timely pace. The times I don’t, I struggle. It’s pretty clear to me that knowing where I’m going will allow me to get there faster.

What I’m working on now is codifying and streamlining my imagination process. That’s my overall 2014 goal.

I’d love to know y’all’s processes. Leave a comment or post them on your blog.

Friday, April 25, 2014


By Russel D McLean

Its easy for a writer to get stuck in a rut, to find themselves slinging the same kind of words over and over again. Its easy to feel like you're on repeat, that once you're known for something, that's all folk want from you. And its easy to feel that once you know how to sling words a certain way that's all you can do.

Writing non fiction used to scare the hell out of me. It was a strange proposition and one that seemed too close to the essays that I did in university; assignments with marks and the sense that you passed or failed depending on some rigid sense of style.

(That said, looking over some of my old essays, I'm amazed I got away with slipping lots of Philip K Dick and Bob Dylan quotes into essays on logic)

I always wanted to try it, but never knew how. And my fear kept telling me that I couldn't write non fiction, that I was destined to write fiction all the time. That I wasn't smart enough to do the whole non fic thing. I could review occasionally, but even then, I never felt I was that good at it; that I needed to get better, needed to find a more coherent and consistent approach (although I am still proud of the reviews that were done - and occasionally still are - at Crime Scene Scotland).

But things happen. And one of those things for me was meeting my partner, Lesley McDowell (aka, most of the time on here, the Literary Critic). We have different reading and writing styles and habits, But I think that one of the nice things about living with another writer is that you learn things from each other, and from Lesley I have learned about approaching non fictioin and criticism in ways they never taught you at university, about how voice is still important and that a sense of narrative is absolutely vital. When I did interviews previously, they were always direct scripts of conversations between myself and another writer. The kind of transcript that can be interesting, but is never quite as fascinating as a narrative interview can be (when done well).

I messed about with a few non fiction things here and there for other websites. I did a narrative non fic pie ce about my relationship with the character of Philip Marlowe for Five Leaves publications. And then I did something I would never have concieved of even six months earlier: I pitched an idea for an interview to a national newspaper.

The idea was to talk to Charles Ardai - head of Hard Case Crime - about one of his novelists being, in reality, Michael Crichton and how these new editions were the first time Crichton's name would appear on the cover. I was going to New York anyway and I approached Charles about the idea before even pitching it. I think getting him on board maybe helped sell the idea. I was given a date and a deadline. And a whole new set of worries.

In listening to the tape of my interview with Charles, I realised that I couldn't just do a straight report. I didn't have the space. I had to find something to hook the article around. I had over an hour of recording and 1800 words to use. But then I started to realise something. In fiction writing, I "leave out the parts the readers tend to skip" (following the advice of Elmore Leonard). So why couldn't I do the same here? And while I was at it, why couldn't I find a "theme" to our wide ranging conversation - something that would allow to start with one idea and develop it through the interview. And it came down to the idea of voices. Charles and I talked about the voices of people with "lost manuscripts" and how discovering something new by a favourite author can be like rediscovering an old friend or a reminder of a loved one. There was a beautiful quote from Charles that I used at the end of the article, even though it came somewhat earlier in our talk. I found the narrative of the interview. I treated it like a piece of fiction.

And it worked.

But in writing that - and writing subsequent non fiction pieces - I have found that my approach to fiction writing has changed, too. There are aspects of the narrative non fiction that I think are helping me better understand how to structure fiction. The discipline of a different style of writing is starting to affect the way I understand the kind of writing I have become used to.

I've always talked about how writer should be influenced by all media. As a corollary I should add that writers should always look to stretch themselves by trying different forms and disciplines. By trying new things. No only - in this new world - will you then have extra avenues of publication, but you will also perhaps make yourself even better at the very thing you already know how to do.

At least that's how its working for me right now.

Russel's new book, Mothers of the Disappeared, will be out in the UK on the 30 April and in the US in August.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

My Writing Process

By Steve Weddle

The lovely and talented Clifford Garstang  invited me to participate in this blog tour. He wrote a book called What the Zhang Boys Know, which is loved by many folks.  His work has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Blackbird, Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, and elsewhere, and has received Distinguished Mention in the Best American Series. He won the 2006 Confluence Fiction Prize and the 2007 GSU Review Fiction Prize. He has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Sewanee Writer's Conference.

So, let’s go:

1) What are you working on?

Right now, I’m researching southwest Arkansas in the 1930s. You’ve got a great many things coming together at that time, when the country was taking quite a turn, particularly for the rural folks pummeled by the Great Depression. I’m interested in how this hit people. Tenant farming. Lynchings. Roosevelt’s First Hundred Days. Bonnie and Clyde in Waldo, Arkansas. The Bonus Army. Ax murders. Baseball. Radio. A thousand other things. What a time to read about.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

What a weird question. “Its genre” means that my writing is part of a group, yeah? So how does my writing not fit in with the work it fits in with? Huh. I dunno. I try to deal honestly and sympathetically with the people in my writing, but who wouldn’t say that? If the genre is “rural noir,” then I guess what I do is more noiry? I write the stories only I can write, of course. My voice, whatever the hell that is, a thing peculiar to me. And, believe me, “peculiar” is the right word.

3) Why do you write what you do?

I tried writing other stuff. I wasn’t very good at it. I enjoy this stuff that I’m writing, and people seem to want to read it. I like to work within a world with these fragments I get to piece together.

4) How does your writing process work?

Slowly. Lemme tell ya. Slower than that sweatpantsed guy in front of you at the Golden Corral dessert bar.
I scrawl notes about a thing. I read non-fiction about a place. I kick around ideas about some people. I have faith that it comes together at some point. Always has. I spend a great deal of time working out the people in the writing, jotting down a couple of folks talking to each other, this nasty conflict right at the edge.


I’ve invited some folks to take a shot at these questions the last week of April.

Holly West’s MISTRESS OF FORTUNE was a surprise favorite of mine when I read it a while back. She’s the author of the Mistress of Fortune series, set in late 17th century London and featuring amateur sleuth Isabel Wilde, a mistress to King Charles II who secretly makes her living as a fortuneteller. Holly’s short stories also appear in Feeding Kate: A Crime Fiction Anthology, Needle: A Magazine of Noir and Shotgun Honey Presents: Both Barrels. I figure she’ll post at

Lein Shory and I went through LSU’s MFA program together. He’s working on two amazing novels, which I hope you’ll get to read soon.

Chad Rohrbacher was also in the MFA program with Shory and me. His novel, KARMA BACKLASH, is out from Snubnose Press. His stories have been published in magazines like Crime Factory, Needle Magazine, Big Pulp, Beat to a Pulp, and others. He’s  also contributed to anthologies such as CHIVALRY IS DEAD from May/December Publications, OFF THE RECORD from Guilty Conscience, HEROES & HERETICS from Pulp Empire, and LOST CHILDREN a charity anthology.

PS: I did a talking thing on the radio. It'll be here: WMRA

With a little help from my friends

I’m a firm believer in being thankful. Thankful for what I’ve got and positive about what’s to come. Some days, it’s easier to feel grateful than others - but you try to do your best.

Nothing is done in a vacuum - even something as solitary as writing a novel. That being said, I hate writing acknowledgements or thank-you posts. You always remember someone you’ve missed the second you post, print, whatever. But that’s what I’m doing here, so please humor me.

The idea to write about being grateful popped into my head as I wracked my brain about what to write this week. After a series of tutorials that while (hopefully) helpful, were about potential minefields in publishing, thanking some fellow writers seemed like a perfect palate cleanser.

In terms of writing, I have  a lot of people to thank. I could write a dozen entries thanking everyone that helped one smidge in terms of bringing SILENT CITY into existence, from my wonderful wife, our family and friends, my publisher, beta readers, coworkers, the amazingly welcoming mystery community (I’m looking at you Jon, Ruth, Dan, Kate, Oline, Connie, Ben, Erin and many more), etc. But that might lock in my blog posts for the next year. I mean, I only write at DSD every other week, ya know?

Anyway, I’d like to spotlight some of the great crime/mystery writers who’ve helped me - even if they don’t know they did - over the last few years as I tried to get SILENT CITY off the ground. As far as entertainment value to you, dear reader, I think this will serve dual purposes. I can thank some great writers/friends for being supportive, and you get a list of awesome books to read. Cool?

Steve Weddle: Steve is one of the kindest, most supportive people I’ve ever met. He’s a huge advocate for the writing community, and spends tons of energy making sure he gets the word out on fellow writers. Hell, even before we met in person, he was plugging SILENT CITY almost as much as I was. All that and a great writer. COUNTRY HARDBALL - a novel-in-stories published by Tyrus Books - was one of the best reads for me last year. Please do yourself a favor and read it. Can’t wait for the next one. And hey, he’s the reason I’m blogging here at all.

Chris F. Holm: The esteemed Jon Jordan introduced me to Chris a few years back and I’m really glad that happened. There’s a period with your first novel, even after it’s done, where you’re not really sure if it’s good or not. Chris was one of the first authors who read SILENT CITY and dug it, and that meant the world to me then and now. I’m so stoked for his success, and eager to read his upcoming work. You’re in good hands with his excellent Collector books from Angry Robot, an exhilarating, genre-bending adventure that I burned through in what felt like a few days.

Sara Gran: Sara’s one of those writers you’re supremely jealous of because of her mastery of not only plot and structure, but style and tone. I want to hang out with Claire DeWitt, the star of her last two novels. I want to live in the San Francisco she describes. I love the dreamy, ethereal quality she brings to the genre while still managing to craft a convincing and dangerous mystery. I can’t wait for the next Claire book. Sara’s also been hugely supportive of me and SILENT CITY - not just by blurbing the book, but by being a sounding board and great friend during the lean days before the book was a “real” book and just sat on my computer waiting for a home.

Brad Meltzer: I’ve known Brad for over a decade and we have a lot in common - we’re both Florida boys who love comics and mysteries, for starters. While Brad’s shown a knack for writing an edge-of-your-seat thriller and game-changing comic book, he’s also one of the sweetest people you’ll ever met. The second I mentioned to him, offhand, that I’d written a book he said: “Whatever you need, pal. Just let me know.” He wasn’t kidding. My personal favorite of Brad’s books is BOOK OF FATE, but you’re in good hands with any of them - and there are plenty. Enjoy!

Megan Abbott: She’s the best - I’m not really sure what else to say. I can’t put her books down, she’s exceedingly kind every time I chat with her and she’s been more helpful to me as a no-name author than she ever had to. She’s an amazing writer that elevates anything she touches, and you should read all her books. My personal favorite, though, is QUEENPIN. Cannot wait for THE FEVER this summer.

Kristi Belcamino: I’ve never met Kristi in person, but in this age of social media, she’s proven to be hugely supportive, and we seem to be on similar tracks as writers. So, it’s been great comparing notes and helping each other. We both write on this here website, too. Her first novel, BLESSED ARE THE DEAD hits soon, and it’s an amazing debut. I was honored to get to read it early and even more honored to provide a blurb for it. She’s one to watch.

Greg Rucka: Like Brad, I’ve known Greg a long time. Our paths have crossed at various points during our comic book careers. He’s always, always, always been a supreme professional and friend - kind, caring, honest and true to himself. It’s really something to aspire to, I think. I value every chance I get to see him in person and give him a hug. I love all his books, but really think he turned a corner with ALPHA, his latest novel from Mulholland. If comics are your bag, LAZARUS is one of Greg’s newest and one of my favorites in a long list of favorites.

I could go on all day, mind you, but this’ll do for now. Short version: the mystery/crime community is a warm one and full of great people. I’m lucky to know some of them.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sign My Book, Please

By Holly West

Update 4/28: The winner of the copy of BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS is Ray Garraty. Thanks for playing, everyone!

Comment on this post by Sunday, April 27, to win a copy of Hilary Davidson's new novel, BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS.

I made this video four years ago, long before I got published:

I do blather on a bit so I'll save you the trouble of watching it. Basically, it's about attending book signing events and how much meeting my favorite authors in person inspired me to start writing myself.

Last night, I was reminded how much they still inspire me.

I went out to Mysterious Galaxy Redondo Beach, to see Hilary Davidson speak about and read from her latest novel, BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS. I'm a big fan of Hilary's Lily Moore series, and as soon as I heard about BLOOD, I knew it would go to the top of my reading list as soon as it came out (that is, if I ever finish THE GOLDFINCH. I'm on month three reading that one, folks).

Since I just got it last night, I can't provide a review, but here's the book description:

"Dominique Monaghan just wanted to get even with her two-timing, married boyfriend, a washed-up boxer stuck in a toxic marriage to a dangerously spoiled socialite. However, an elaborate blackmail scheme soon lands her in the middle of an unexpected kidnapping...and attempted murder. But who is actually out to kill whom?
Desmond Edgars, Dominique’s big brother, has looked out for his wayward sister ever since their mother was convicted of murder many years ago, so when he receives a frantic phone call from Dominique in the middle of the night, he drops everything to rush to the rescue. But to find out what has really happened to his sister, the stoic ex-military man must navigate a tangled web of murder and deception, involving a family fortune, a couple of shifty lawyers, and a missing child, while wrestling with his own bloody secrets..."

Sounds good, eh? To be honest, in Hilary's deft hands, it can't help but be good.

Hilary Davidson reads from BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS at Mysterious Galaxy Redondo Beach
Photo by Holly West

Sitting in the audience, listening to Hilary discuss the origins of the book, the themes she explores in it, and how she goes about writing a book, I felt energized. It re-ignited my passion for what I do. It made me want to go straight home and finish plotting my own work-in-progress.

I make no secret of the fact that 99% of the books I read are eBooks. It's not that I prefer eBooks over paper, it's that I mostly read at night, and my eReader allows me to read in bed with out disturbing my husband. If I was single, I might very well read more paper books, who knows?

As a result of my eBook reading, I naturally buy fewer paper books and I also go to fewer book signing events. I still meet many authors at conferences, but it's just not the same as seeing them individually, talking about and reading from their books. Since MISTRESS OF FORTUNE and its sequel are both eBooks, I realize that I've missed out on having this experience myself and to tell you the truth, it makes me a little bit sad.

Hilary Davidson and Holly West
Photo by Travis Richardson
The fact is, before I was published, attending book signing events was an important part of my development as a writer. They fueled my dreams and motivated me to keep on going. Meeting people who'd done it reminded me that it could be done, even if the goal of finishing my own novel seemed very far away at the time.

Now, as a published author, they function in much the same way. The authors I respect most continue to grow as writers and don't sit back and rest once they've achieved one level of success. They push themselves and remind me that I need to push myself. It's not about competition, it's about steady improvement, figuring out where I want to go with my writing and then working to get there. It's about supporting my favorite authors and the bookstores that host them.

And most of all, it's about reading great books. Ultimately, it's always about the books, which is how it should be.

Speaking of great books, let's have a giveaway! I'll send a signed copy of BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS to one commenter selected at random on Sunday, April 27.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Quick thoughts: The Long Lost Dog of It and The Elvis Room

(Sorry for missing last week.)

Long Lost Dog of It by Michael Kazepis

A large cast of characters will take the reader on a tour of the wine dark Greek underbelly. There is a sex show scene that wouldn't have been out of place in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie with Mr. Sophistication as the mc. There's a lot to like here. Characters that you will get to know, situations that take their time to come together, and an explosion of consequences when they do. Good stuff.


The Elvis Room by Stephen Graham Jones

One of Stephen Graham Jones' greatest gifts is to be so enamored to the simplest ideas then weave a story from them. The launching pad for The Elvis Room is that hotels never fully book their rooms, that they always leave at least one room available. The secret, and dare I say real, reason is a frightening tale that goes in some unexpected places. Hell of a ghost story.

Highly Recommended

Hoods, Hot Rods, and Hellcats

I'm still reading this but I'm enjoying the hell out of it so far. If greaser noir from some great short story writers sounds like a winner to you then this collection is only a buck. Thomas Pluck's story "Red Hot" is a stand out so far.

Recommended (so far)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

I'm not Gabriella Giovanni

By Kristi Belcamino

A few weeks ago when I got a sneak peek at the cover for my novel, Blessed are the Dead, featuring a dark-haired woman, I showed it to a good friend who has read the book.

His response, “Huh. I always imagined Gabriella looked just like you.”

Because the woman on my book cover doesn’t look like me. Not really. (See sidebar to the right for the picture of Gabriella on my book cover, sidebar to the left for my picture.)

It isn’t the first time someone who has read Blessed are the Dead has said this. Some people read my book and think I’m the main character.

In a way, I think it is sort of natural for readers (me included) to assign attributes of a book’s character — physical and otherwise — to the character’s creator, the author.

Sure, there are similarities:

Like Gabriella, I’m Italian-American, have longish brown hair, and worked as a crime reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Like my character, I spent several months trying to convince a man who kidnapped and killed girls and women to confess his crimes to me.

But I’m not Gabriella Giovanni.

Proof — she is smarter, wittier, prettier, and a much better reporter than I ever was.

In addition, her life has had more than it’s fair share of tragedies. I have (making the sign of the cross here) led a pretty uneventful life this way and count my blessings every single day that this is the case.

Is it natural for readers to envision the character and the author as the same person? Maybe.

Heck, I’ve even been guilty of this myself.

After reading Jess Lourey’s books featuring spunky, loveable Mira James, I assumed that Jess — like her character, Mira — loved Nut Goodies. Not so much, Jess told me when I met her in person. She is completely indifferent to them, in fact.

Mystery writers might have this happen a lot because many books in our genre are written from a first person perspective, which brings us right into the character’s head. We know their thoughts and feelings first hand.

So, as readers, we tend to do this — we tend to think the author is the character.

But how about as writers? Do we throw ourselves into our characters too much? Or do we let them strike out in a life of their own?

Recently, I read a blog that mentioned this and a great way to test and see if you are putting yourself too much into your main character by looking at Myers Briggs personality traits.

Here is the blog that talks about this:

And a link to descriptions of the sixteen personality types.

I took the test. I took it years before, but wanted to see if I had changed. (I hadn’t.)

I am:

The Protector (INFJ)

Quietly forceful, original, and sensitive. Tend to stick to things until they are done. Extremely intuitive about people, and concerned for their feelings. Well-developed value systems, which they strictly adhere to. Well-respected for their perseverance in doing the right thing. Likely to be individualistic, rather than leading or following.

I looked at the descriptions of the 16 personality types to see which one matched Gabriella the best.
Gabriella is very clearly — based on not only my observations, but what other people have said about her — The Doer (ESTP)

The Doer (ESTP)

Friendly, adaptable, action-oriented. "Doers" who are focused on immediate results. Living in the here-and-now, they're risk-takers who live fast-paced lifestyles. Impatient with long explanations. Extremely loyal to their peers, but not usually respectful of laws and rules if they get in the way of getting things done. Great people skills.

If you look at the letters ESTP (extroverted, sensing, thinking, perceiving) — they are the exact opposite traits of INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling, judging).

So, according to a personality test, my character, Gabriella Giovanni, is the exact opposite of me. Wonder what a psychotherapist would have to say about that?

My question for you: As writers, do you inject too much of yourself in your characters? Do you consciously try to avoid this?

As readers: Do you often assume the character is a thinly veiled portrait of the author?