Saturday, May 10, 2014

Finding the Unexpected


Scott D. Parker

Last week I attended Free Comic Book Day at my local comic shop, The Pop Culture Company. They do this thing right. They brought in beverages, food trucks, raffle giveaways, and their very own Black Canary. The turnout was huge. When my boy and I parked in the lot at 9:30 and walked across the street to IHOP, the line for comics was already forming.

I quickly picked up two free comics--the folks were limiting what everyone could take so more customer could get something--and then made my way out to the bargain bins. There were boxes of trades at 75% off! Comic buyers are a considerate bunch so there was no pushing and shoving. I managed to find a few things that I would probably never buy on my own, but with the discount, I snatched up and didn’t look back.

Cheap Thrills: The Amazing! Thrilling! Astonishing! History of Pulp Fiction by Ron Goulart. This book is worth it for the art alone. Gorgeous. This is an updated version (2007) from Goulart’s 1972 book.

The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino - Now, I’ll admit something here: by the time Infantino left DC and worked for Marvel, specifically Star Wars, I did not like his art for those characters. Later in life, I learned who Infantino was and how big a role he played for DC and got new appreciation for him. This is basically a biography with lots of art.

Superman vs. Muhammad Ali (Deluxe edition) - This is the last (someone check this, please) collaboration between Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams. Adams, the artist, recently commented on how much he likes this book. I never read it back in the day, but I’m going to now...and then get Adams to sign it later this month when he lands in Houston.

All-Star Companion by Roy Thomas - I love how the old Justice Society heroes were operating in World War II. Always have. Might be one of the reasons why I like history so much. This is a compendium of art and articles about the JSA.

The Shadow: 1941 by Dennis O’Neil and Michael Kaluta - Never knew Marvel had The Shadow but I picked this one up because I like the Shadow and wanted to see O’Neil’s take on the famous character. 

Imagine my surprise when I opened the cover and found this inside.

Talk about finding the unexpected. I'm not usually one for autographs, but how cool is that?

In regards to the newer, free stuff, I opted for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy issue and Dark Horse’s Project Black Sky for the cover alone. 

Cybernetic gorillas! I’m there.

What were some of y’all’s find at Free Comic Book Day?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Welcome to the working week

I have to apologize upfront - I’m gonna ramble a bit here.

It makes sense that I’m writing a blog post about having a lot to do at 1am on a Thursday morning - mere hours before this post is supposed to go live. Because, well, it’s true. I have a lot to do - and I love it.

It kind of crept up on me. I guess it became a real thing a few weeks ago, when I got notes from my agent on the manuscript for my second Pete Fernandez book, Down the Darkest Street. I sat down in front of my computer and realized that before I could dive back into the book, I had to clear my deck.

That’s not code for slacking off, or referencing the queue of Mad Men or The Americans episodes I have to watch. I had a lot of writing to do: a short story for a sci-fi anthology with a co-writer/friend, a pitch for a comic mini-series, a script for a comic book (which evolved into two scripts), a horror anthology comic short with the same co-writer plus the ever-looming novel revisions and maybe another Pete Fernandez short story bridging the gap between Silent City and the new one. Maybe.

This is what I’ve always wanted, and I’m extremely grateful it’s happening. But man, is it scary.

The writing in and of itself is difficult. I think writers are by nature insecure and that becomes more acute the more time you spend in the foxhole writing - alone, with only your thoughts to keep you company. It wears on you. And I think it bleeds into other aspects of being a writer - like interacting with people or how people respond to your work. Case in point: I ran into a friend not long ago and he said he read my book and enjoyed it. Innocent enough, right? That’s good, no? Well, my writer brain instantly took that to mean that the guy not only didn’t like my book, but was just being nice. We’re a weird group, writers. After letting my mind overthink it for a bit, I just decided to take the comment at face value. It’s really all I could do.

Anyway, my point is - the writing is hard enough. We all knew that. But when you start to build momentum, and the success or perceived success of one thing leads to other opportunities, it becomes not only about singular challenges, but also about creating balance and picking the things you really want to do that further your “career” as opposed to just saying yes to everything because you’re not sure if those things will continue to pop up if you say no. It’s a valid fear. You may turn something down and never get that request again. But you have to have faith that if you do good work.

I wish this piece was structured like my earlier DSD posts - listicles that give specific advice for how to handle certain situations. Unfortunately, I don’t feel experienced enough to write that blog post now. The truth is, I don’t have those answers yet. I have a lot of great things to work on and I need to not only carve out the time to do them - while having a pretty busy day job, a wife, family and friends - and I have to write them well and in a way that gets me jazzed about doing more. It’s a lot to think about. But these are good things. First world problem things.

This is kind of why we write in the first place. To have opportunities to tell stories and have people experience them. So, even if I’m flying blind and feeling a little overwhelmed and out of my element from time to time, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

My Master List

by Holly West

My husband and I are in darkest Peru today, enjoying the sights at Machu Picchu. As such, I wrote this post well in advance so that you'd have something to read from me while I'm on my little adventure.

I've been plotting a new novel of late. It usually takes me at least a few weeks to get this part of the writing process done, but for me it's the quickest way to do my best work. And plotting, for me, is the most enjoyable part of the process because it allows me to explore ideas and themes that interest me, I get to read great books to find inspiration, and I watch and analyze a whole lot of films.

This particular story is set in 2014 in Venice Beach, California and features a female barkeep who stumbles upon the slain body of her new, annoying, boss in the dumpster behind the bar. I know more about her and the story than that, but that's all I'll say here for now.

Currently, the novel is a classic "whodunit." I've got the whole first act laid out just the way I want it. But in going forward with the plotting of it, I've begun to ask myself whether I really want to write a traditional mystery. MISTRESS OF FORTUNE and its sequel, MISTRESS OF LIES are traditional mysteries, so I feel like I've done that. I'm kind of thinking I want this one to be a different kind of crime story.

One of my favorite writing resources is Alex Sokoloff's SCREENWRITING TIPS FOR AUTHORS. I used it to write MISTRESS OF LIES and, as I've discussed previously, it revolutionized my process, if I might be so bold. I'm using it again in plotting this novel and today, my assignment was to create my "Master List."

The Master List is a list of books and movies that have had an impact on you. That are either in the genre you want to write or that you wish you'd written yourself. Here's what I came up with:

THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt (book)
FAITHFUL PLACE by Tana French (book)
KILLING MR. GRIFFIN by Lois Duncan (book)
DOLORES CLAIBORNE by Stephen King (book and movie)
THE PLAYER by Michael Tolkin (book and movie)
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS by Thomas Harris (book and movie)
WINTER'S BONE by Daniel Woodrell (book and movie)
IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote (book and movie)
DEAD MAN WALKING by Sister Helen Prejean (book and movie)

A few things stand out to me when I look at this list. First of all, none of the stories are traditional mysteries, with the exception of FAITHFUL PLACE, which is both mystery and procedural. Second, many of these stories (THE SECRET HISTORY, KILLING MR. GRIFFIN, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, DOLORES CLAIBORNE, THE PLAYER, and WINTER'S BONE) feature good, albeit flawed, people who are pushed to do unthinkable things--whether by accident, to save themselves, or because of peer pressure or some other influence. Third, several of the books (IN COLD BLOOD, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and DEAD MAN WALKING) are about people who find themselves face-to-face with true evil and yet somehow find something redeeming in it (well, not in the evil, perhaps, but in the perpetrators of it).

Simply by making this list, I've learned something about the sort of stories that appeal to me. It also kind of tells me that perhaps a traditional mystery isn't the direction I want to go in, at least for this particular project.

My question for you, obviously, is what are some of the books and movies on your master list? Do they have anything in common?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Final Bloody Words

The 2014 edition, June 6-8, will be the final Bloody Words convention and, appropriately I guess, the theme is, “Danse Macabre; Historical Mysteries and Dances of the Dead.”

The Guests of Honour will be Michael Jenks and Vicki Delany. As it says on her webpage, Vicki is a, “one woman crime wave,” with a couple of series on the go and standalones, including a ‘Rapid Reads,’ book (such a good idea, I think).


I guess there are just too many good conventions these days.

Still, I hope as many people as possible will come to Toronto for the final Bloody Words and send it off in style. And if you can’t make it to Toronto this summer, Bouchercon will be here in 2017 so I hope to see you then.

And this Thursday, May 8th, there will be a Noir @ the Bar in Toronto (I still think of these as, “Peter Rozovsky Presents Noir @ the Bar”) with a fantastic line-up (and also me):

Noir at the Bar Toronto's photo.

It’s at PJ O’Brien’s Pub, 39 Colborne Street (Yonge and King) and there’s a Facebook page.

Monday, May 5, 2014


If you are like me you have a towering TBR pile. Here are a few of the books from my TBR that I'm in varying stages of progress with:

Chance by Kem Nunn

A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride

Good Sex, Great Prayers by Brandon Tietz

Peacemaker by Marianna De Poerres
Not For Nothing by Stephen Graham Jones
Deep Winter by Samuel W. Gailey
Plaster City by Johnny Shaw
La Frontera by Sam Hawken
Cry Father by Benjamin WhitmerYoung God by Katherine Faw Morris
The Third Rail by Rory Flynn
Layman's Report by Eugene Marten

So how about you? What's on your TBR?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Tales of a Fourth-Grader with a Dorothy Hamill 'Do

I’ve always believed in the difference one person can make in a child's life. Often that one person is a teacher. Take my fourth-grade teacher, for instance.

Let me just say from the get go—fourth-grade was not my best year.

I think the harbinger of doom was my mom insisting I get a Dorothy Hamill haircut that summer so when I walked into Ponderosa Elementary School on that first day, I looked like a little boy. Come to think of it, I looked more like Justin Bieber at 12, than Dorothy Hamill, but at the time Beiber was 20 something years from being born so ... 

For some reason, I don’t remember having any friends that year.

I blame the Justin Bieber/Dorothy Hamill 'Do.

Maybe I did, but right now I can’t recall having a single one. I do remember the boy who was mean to me all year, Jason Something. He teased me mercilessly about my Boy Hair. And I remember Todd Lanam because I was googly eyes about him and told his mother this every chance I could get because she helped out in class. (Todd didn’t want anything to do with me, but his mother was awfully nice!)

But despite this, fourth-grade was the year that introduced me to my most beloved teacher, Mrs. Ward. She was incredibly kind to me and supportive of me. I couldn’t figure out why. Nobody else really liked me (except Mrs. Lanam) but Mrs. Ward was my biggest fan.

Of course, now that I’m an adult I realize she liked me because I was a total book nerd and read every spare second I had. She gave me a gift.

Now, I’ve lived in more than a dozen cities in my life. During those early years, I would cull my belongings to what would fit in my hatchback and hit the road. So, needless to say, I didn’t have a lot of things leftover from my childhood.

But there is one thing I still have to this day. A gift from Mrs. Ward.

You see, Mrs. Ward gave me a kid’s Thesaurus—which, if you are a fourth-grade bookworm who dreams of being a writer one day—is equivalent to the Keys to the Kingdom!

So, yeah, the thesaurus was an AMAZING gift, but it gets even better. Because she wrote on the inside of that thesaurus these words:

Nov. 17, 1977
4th grade
To Kristine:                                       
For reading 16 books in six weeks with a
Total of 2629 pages!!!!
Keep reading Kristine—maybe
someday you’ll be a writer of
children’s books.
Love from,
Mrs. Ward

I’ve already turned in my acknowledgment page for Blessed are the Dead, but my second book (Blessed are the Meek) comes out only a month later. I’m sure my editor is going to be asking for that page and this time, I’m going to thank Mrs. Ward. I’m going to thank the teacher who believed in me and encouraged me to be a writer.

And first, I’m going call that little school district in Paradise, California, where I grew up. I’m going to ask about Mrs. Ward and if there is a way to contact her, I’m going to take a piece of paper and write her a note and tell her just what her words meant to a fourth-grade girl.

Do you have a person in your childhood who encouraged you to follow your dreams?

Do you have a treasured childhood book that you will keep forever?