Saturday, August 2, 2014

Unorthodox Writing

Scott D. Parker

Not a lot to talk about this week. I’m further adjusting to the new job and finding new times to write.

I’ve changed my sleep schedule to get up at 5am to write. It’s one of those things where, on that first morning, I was like “Do I really wanna do this?” That question was trumped by another question: “Does you being tired right now more important than you having already written when you get to work (and later when you have more time with your family)?” Easy answer: no. So, I’m back to writing at 5am.

Moreover, I’m finding new ways to either brainstorm the new book (started today) or write actual fiction during my 5-minute breaks throughout my work day. Yes, it’s not hugely conducive to long-form writing, but knocking out 150 words in five minutes on my iPod Touch is actually positive and moving the story forward. I use PlainText since it’s letters are pretty big and the keyboard is large enough for me.

I’m also working with a dictation app on my Touch. I can speak faster than I can type on the tiny screen, so I will make notes using the software and then get my speech recognition software (just downloaded Dragon 13 this on Thursday) to transcribe my ramblings. I don’t usually bother with punctuation other than periods because I just wanna get thought down on pixels.

It’s nice to know that I can write almost anywhere and in almost any circumstance. How about y’all? Do y’all have some unorthodox writing methods?

Movie of the Week: Guardians of the Galaxy

Okay, so I didn’t know this comic when it was announced and I’ve not read too many of them since last year. But as soon as I saw the first trailer, I was in. The music was key, I’ll admit, but so was the talking raccoon and walking tree.

This film is more than the sum of its parts. It’s got action, charm, humor, and more heart and emotional moments than you’d expect. The opening is not unlike the opening to “UP” in its emotional punch.

I’ll say it again: there needs to be an Academy Award section ofr CGI characters. Gollum in the Lord of the Rings was fantastic, but so were Rocket Raccoon and Groot from Guardians. The emotion they display was unexpected and surprisingly deep. Groot’s expressions throughout the film really drove home the depths of his feelings. Rocket’s arc is also nice to see. And Drax the Destroyer, played by Dave Batista, was another nice surprise. He brought a lot to the role and I’d like to see him in future films.

Oh, yeah, and there were space battles, prison escapes, and fights galore so it ain’t all weepy weepy. But that emotional heart really helps this film a lot.

Just go see it. You’ll have a ton of fun!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Noir at the Ballroom

By Steve Weddle

Thanks to the efforts of Ed Aymar and others, the inaugural DC Noir at the Bar was a fabulous success. People showed. Drinks were gedrunkened. Stories were read. People were met. Book were sold.

The event was held at the Wonderland Ballroom on Kenyon which, as it happens, is rather a steep hike from Dupont Circle.

I read "Purple Hulls," a short from COUNTRY HARDBALL.

Also reading were these talented folks:

Nik Korpon

Ed Aymar

Tara Laskowski

Alan Orloff

Art Taylor

Meredith Cole

Thomas Kauffman

Michael Underwood

Ben Sorenson did a fabulous job videoing the readings, and you can find the complete list here.

Here is Ed Aymar -- aka EA Aymar -- reading a delightful story in which the narrator encourages his mistress to kill herself. Ed is the author of I'LL SLEEP WHEN YOU'RE DEAD, available through Black Opal Books.

And here's the link for my reading of "Purple Hulls." This is the link.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Holy Grail of Holy Grails

A Guest Post by Jeri Westerson

Are we ready to choose wisely? We just can’t get away from the Holy Grail. It’s stuck in our minds in popular culture. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Monty Python and the Holy Grail/Spamalot. The Da Vinci Code.

But what is it exactly? We think of it as the one thing, the cup of Christ, from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper, instituting the sacrament of communion, “this is my blood...” But is it? Was it? Where do these legends clash?

We must go back much further to Celtic legends, the stories in Irish and Welsh lore, and examine what they considered their own holy of holies. In these legends are figures drawn to cauldrons, bowls, vessels, and sacred wells. Water—which was in abundance on the British Isles—was still considered sacred, especially in special ponds, wells, and lakes. Arthur gets his sword Excalibur fixed after he breaks it from the Lady of the Lake, a spirit living in the waters (and there are all sorts of demons and sprites of a watery nature in Celtic mythology). So please keep in mind about these holy vessels before we proceed.

Then there is the legend of Joseph of Aramathea. If you will remember, he was the good Pharisee who went to see Jesus and ask him some theological questions. He was so taken with him that he offered his tomb for Jesus’ hasty Sabbath burial. But before that, it was said that he saved some of Jesus’s sweat and blood in a cup, later said to be the same cup Jesus used at the Last Supper. After the Resurrection, Joseph was instructed by the Apostle Phillip to evangelize the Britons (how he knew they existed is a question for another day), and so Joseph set out on a perilous journey to England. Weary of travel, he stuck his staff onto shore and it immediately sprouted, and by that he knew he had “made it.” He was further clued in by the angel Gabriel directing him to build a church there. Where he stuck his staff was Glastonbury Tor. If you look at it today, you will notice that it isn’t close to water. But in days gone by, it was surrounded by water, and it was known by an even older legendary name; the Isle of Avalon.

Now we’re getting back to King Arthur, because Avalon is a holy island or perhaps a metaphor for Heaven. Tolkien called his Avalon the Grey Havens, the place where an aging Bilbo and worn out Frodo go to end their days, a Middle Earth version of Sun City for Wizarding folk.

Joseph is said to have cast the grail into a pond for safekeeping as he died and the church was built in Glastonbury (the Glastonbury thorn tree, which grows nowhere else, is said to have come from Joseph’s sprouting staff).

Meanwhile, in the twelfth century, Marie de Champagne, the daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, asked her court poet Chretian de Troyes to add to the Arthurian legends that were already well known, and create a love triangle, and thus Lancelot was born. This tale of tragic lovers was a very popular theme in games of courtly love, but Chretian also wrote an epic poem called Perceval le Gallois, a grail keeper. But this was not the grail of Joseph of Aramathea, but a more Celtic “grail,” something not holy but just as wondrous; a silver salver—a big silver plate. Parsifal showed up in later Arthurian stories, depicted as a naïve nobleman’s son on his way to Camelot to become a knight of the Round Table.

In the thirteenth century, the German poet and knight Wolfram von Eschenbach wrote his own epic poem Parzifal, where the “grail” is a precious stone fallen from Heaven. And it is here that the heroic acts of chivalry inspired by true love start to get confused with the tales of Joseph’s Christian grail, the Templar Knights of the Holy Land confused with King Arthur’s knights, and soon everyone assumes that Templars, who are supposed to be guarding a horde of treasure, are also guarding the Holy Grail. Not the silver salver, the stone, the vessel, or a grand bowl, but now the cup of Christ that contained his blood collected while he died on the cross.

So the question is, was there ever such a thing as the Holy Grail? Could there have been now that we know the history of it? Well, that only makes it grand fodder for the many tales told about it...including my own in Cup of Blood, where my disgraced knight turned detective, Crispin Guest, encounters his own Templars who are supposed to be guarding the Holy Grail, which is now missing. Along with his search for the grail, Crispin gets tangled in papal politics, old loves returned, old friends turned rivals, a pesky cutpurse, and murder.

Jeri Westerson involves her detective Crispin Guest with all sorts of relics in her Crispin Guest Medieval Noir series. The latest, Cup of Blood, is available now from Amazon. Read an excerpt, see a series book trailer, and look up her discussion guides on her website

Monday, July 28, 2014

And the Damage Done

By Kevin Lynn Helmick

Do Some Damage; what a great title for a group of crime writers. When Brian offered this Monday slot to me I went looking and was kinda like, whoa, ‘There’s some damn good writers here.’ So with a short notice and super tight deadline, I asked, ‘do ya have a subject, something you want me to write about?’

I crossed my fingers, held my breath and hoped to fuck it wouldn’t be, Amazon vs Hatchette, trad vs self, or any of that kind of bitchy over written bullshit going around. I’m just not into that.

I was a little relieved when he replied, ‘whatever you want, introduce yourself to the group, and your new book.’

A little relieved I say and, a little worried.

Now I have my second least favorite topic, me, and about 48 hours to write it. I don’t really like writing about myself. It’s weird, and boring for me, but I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity either, no way. So here I am, Kevin Helmick, nice to see you all and thanks for stopping by.

Some of the writers and readers here I’m familiar with, and some others I’m just now discovering, which is good. But I thought I’d talk a little about crime fiction, and get around to me and my new novel in a minute.

Good? Good. Stick around, leave some comments. I’d love to hear from you sitting there reading this.

As a writer myself I’ve always felt a little intimidated by “crime novelist.” They seem so sure of themselves, disciplined in structure and plot, like they really know what they’re doing. And all that goddamn research, wow. Most of them are experts on several necessary nuts and bolts aspects of what they do. Some are even historians in almost everything from fashion, to firearms of any given period.

That’s not me. I know a little about a lot, and not a lot on anything. I’m more of a seat of the pants guy, usually. I do the research needed, when I think it’s needed.

My crimes written are petty in scope, but spiritually heavy in consequence. No elaborate heist, (love those) and no complex political theater (don’t like those so much.) Looking back over my work, in my mind I think most of my work is dealing with the damage done, dealing with a shitty hand.

Clovis Point, Sebastian Cross, Heartland Gothic, DrivingAlone, are all the novels I’ve penned so far, and most are “cross road” and “aftermath” stories. Some just “road” stories too, of people in a fix usually of their own doing, running to or away from something.

I tend to migrate more toward “literary” stuff in my reading, but I love a good crime novel. My favorite writers fall in the many sub-genres that crime fiction can create, where the crimes are attributes of the characters and not the whole story. I mean, we all commit crimes throughout our lives, some bigger than others, some against God, some against nature, some against each other, and mostly from selfish motivations whether it be self-defense or self-gain. And some, well, some people are just fuck ups and bad shit happens to them eventually anyway. Not quite as tragic as when it happens to good people who don’t deserve it. Those are usually the crimes you’ll find in my fiction, tragedy by coincidence, or association. Sometimes those can be more horrifying than anything.

Somebody told me once, ‘don’t break more than one law at a time, and you’ll be alright.” If you think about it, and have ever gotten yourself arrested for something, there was probably several other charges that went along with it, or at least led to it. Those can be bargaining chips in court, but best to avoid it altogether if possible. Humor and legal advice aside, that’s pretty good I think, and food for good story line. Shit keeps piling up and soon enough, if in it, you’re gonna sink or get out of it. Either some is going to stick on ya.

There’s a plot for ya.

Me, I like the kind of crime stories that nobody sees coming, not so much urban crime stories. I live near Chicago, so hearing about 80 murders over this last 4th of July weekend only got a, grunt from me. That’s sad but the news tells about it like the damn weather, just people killing people, most of which are accidental. It’s crazy, but it doesn’t have much impact on me anymore. And drug murders too, you can see that coming miles away, and kinda falls short with me too. There are of course exceptions to all. It’s all in how its delivered.

No, the ones that interest me are the ones that creep into Mayberry on an empty box car when no one’s looking. Or, the ones birthed through oppression, depression, or religion, whatever. The ones that strike at the comfortable and seemingly content, the everyday working wives, husbands and families that have some demons boiling and building over years or even generations and finally, somebody just fucking blows somebody else, or everybody else, away, and a town, a family, a son or daughter, is left with the damage done. What are they gonna do now? That shit hangs around. Psychological crimes of the extremely fucking fed up.

There’s a title for ya.

I’m getting a little carried away, but those rural urban tales of transient killers, bodies and bloody messes found in farm houses, abusive husbands finally getting theirs with an axe, are the stories that shook my little Converses’ when I was growing up. Probably has something to do with a rural upbringing and my overly paranoid mother being a child through the depression. But that’s what gets the hair on my neck up.

Dialogue and prose too, I’m an addict for clever, realistic dialogue, and good prose, no matter what the genre, story, plot, action or lack of. None of that shit matters to me if the words just lay there. Even though a lot of crime fiction is written from the school of less is more and that’s good, I still like a nice balance of prose, story and dialogue. And I like characters I can relate to, and language I can understand. That everybody understands, and uses every day.

But as for mine, if I’m known by anybody reading this at all, it’s probably not as a “crime writer.” I’ve written 5 novels and a couple handfuls of short stories. None of which have bought me an island, by the way, and none you could really tag a specific genre on, until now. My new one, The Rain King, out last week, is in fact a crime novel, of a western noir flavor with some supernatural elements thrown in, that at the time helped me get through that mine field of cliché’ that we so often find in the traditional American Western. Ok, Maybe that’s not like, specific, genre, but close. It’s crime and it’s a western.

I had never written a western before, but I wanted to see what I could do with it. It was fun, but really hard. I’m no historian and I’m a lazy bitch for research, and again, those fucking mine fields of cliché. It really sucks to try and move about in a world that’s been so trampled on looking for something new and original. I don’t know if I pulled it off. I did my best. It’s like The Unforgiven, on acid.
I didn’t want it to be just another western, so it took about 3 years. I had given up on it so many times I lost count. I had written 2 books during that same period. Driving Alone, a southern gothic novella which Spinetingler was gracious enough to nominate for the best novella award,(it didn’t win, but still cool) about 8 or 10 short stories that can be found here and there, and Summerfield, another novel, which I’m still working on and don’t want to talk about.

Also, Driving Alone was rereleased earlier this year as part of a collection of my short stories. So I’m pleased with that and will probably make it available again as a stand-alone novella later on.

But I kept coming back to The Rain King now and then and finding things I thought worth pursuing. Also, past a certain point, I hate giving up on a story. I guess I don’t like the idea of it beating me. So I finished it, it’s done, behind me, or ahead of me, depending on how you look at it, and I thought it turned out good, so I’m spending a few weeks promoting it.

It’s poetically odd, dark, a little weird, and I took a lot of chances with style that may not please some of the more grizzled vets of the craft, but I like that about it. Playing it safe bores the shit out of me. I like to think of it as, experimental, very modern. It’s fiction with some real characters in there moving about in an alternate history. I’m not sure at this point what damage I’ve done. It’s been out a week and it’s selling a few, jumping up the amazon ranking (which I have no idea what that means or how it works) and has picked up a couple good reviews so far. That’s always nice to see.

They tell me there’s not a big demand for westerns right now and that’s ok. I assure you it’s not, Lonesome Dove or Dances with Wolves. Those books are terrific, but The Rain King is not that.

I went down a different trail, smashing, crashing and doing all the way. I wasn’t trying to be anybody else. In fact I did everything I could to avoid that. I wrote it for me, for the western lovers. I write for the reader too, but me first. I can’t wait to see what comes out on the page next. I think I’ve written some good stuff on occasion and I hope you’ll check it out and we can communicate through it. I think I can do better and intend to keep at it. I feel like I’m only touching the surface of something really good and deep down there, and that’s enough to keep me coming back to the well.

I’m not going to go on wasting your time here, this plenty long for a guest blog. Thanks for stopping by, thanks Brian for inviting me. Check out, The Rain King, anywhere you like to buy your books. And let me know what you think by sharing, reviewing, or just tell me here.

See ya round.

All the Best

A contemporary Western Noir. The Rain King is the story of, George Washington Parker, a 107 year Comanche Indian, and the way he remembers his turn of the century travels through Oklahoma Territory with Ex-Confederate outlaw, Henry Faro as they pursue a genocidal preacher known as The Rain King. "The American Western redefined a shade darker. The elements of supernatural make it all the more enjoyable, and anything but traditional." Livius Nedin: Booked Podcast.


Kevin Lynn Helmick, grew up in Fort Madison IA, and now lives in The Chain O Lakes region of North East IL.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why I Unfollowed You on Twitter

So, first off let me say it is nothing personal. Here's the deal.
A few years back, I joined Twitter. Setting up the people I followed was FUN. I followed my friends, authors, artists, and musicians I liked. Then I threw in a couple people from the publishing industry because I am a writer.
It was a riot. I got on Twitter and saw what my friends and people I liked were doing.
Soon, I found myself getting emails notifying me that new people were following me on Twitter. In the spirit of camaraderie, I'd follow them back. It was easy, I just hit a button in the email and it took me right to their page and I hit "follow." Easy peasy.
But soon, I was getting so many followers that I was losing track of the Tweets from people I liked so I got a tiny bit more discriminating: Now, if they had the slightest thing in common with me (were writers, were Italian, etc.) I'd follow them back.
Pretty soon, I had followed some 34 billion other people on Twitter and yet only 50 were following me. I didn't get it. The numbers didn't add up. If I followed the people who followed me first, shouldn't I also have some 34 billion followers?
Something was fishy.
But then it struck me: People on Twitter are playing a game. A game that I obviously didn't know the rules to.
I started getting a hint of this when every few weeks I would get an email in my inbox saying "ANNOYING GUY" is following you on Twitter. I figured out that if I kept getting these emails, it meant he kept following me, then unfollowing me and then following me again. What the—?
Then, I started to get it. The game is this: follow someone so they'll follow you. Then, once they follow you, unfollow them.
And if you're totally psycho, like Annoying Guy, keep some diabolical master list of who you want to follow you and then keep following and unfollowing them for eternity. Or until they follow you back.
At first, it didn't make sense. I mean who in the heck would spend that much time and be that organized that they could do something like this? Or possibly there is a computer program, like a spam program, that does it for them? I don't know, what I do know is I think it is totally lame.
I also think it is a colossal waste of time.
And futile.
I'm not going to buy someone's book because they put out a promotional Tweet about it four times a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. In fact, that is pretty much a guarantee that I WON'T buy their book because I'm completely, thoroughly and utterly annoyed by them.
What will make me buy a book? I will buy a book from someone who tweets hilarious or interesting information. 
(For instance, I bought a book by The Bloggess after people tweeted about her and I found her hysterically, falling-down-crying-practically-peeing-your-pants funny.)
But the worst part of this idiotic Twitter game, was that I stopped getting on Twitter as often to avoid being bombarded by 34 billion Tweets from people I didn't know saying things I didn't care about and things I most definitely DIDN'T find to be falling-down-funny. Or informative.
I missed the lyrical Tweets from Johnette of Concrete Blonde or Tweets from my dear friends or some of my journalism cohorts. So, I decided to clean the closet.
It took me about 45 minutes but I basically deleted 33.9 billion of the people I was following. I kept a few, mainly people who I had met in person or who I had some type of relationship with other than on Twitter, say fellow Sister in Crime members, and so on.
Suddenly, I liked Twitter again.
Now, I am very careful about who I follow. I don’t “auto-follow” anyone, but if we have something in common, then, yes I will probably follow you.
But as for the rest of you trying to sell your book or your soul or whatever on Twitter: well, good luck with that.