Sunday, August 31, 2014

Back off! I'm Writing!

by Kristi Belcamino

One thing I’ve learned in my writing journey is if I want to be a writer, I have to guard and protect my writing time and sacrifice other leisure activities.

I have to protect my writing time against outside influences and temptations, such as the desire to grab a latte at a café table overlooking the Mississippi River.

Or maybe my cupboards are bare and I need to stock up on food at the market.

Possibly a friend called and wants to meet for an early lunch.

For me, any one of these appealing distractions are really a step onto a slippery slope to a non-writing day.

This was all fine and good before I had book contracts and deadlines to meet.  Not anymore. A day lost writing means not only fewer words on the page, but a longer time to get back into the story on the next day.

So I must fiercely guard my writing time, which is normally 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday. Anything that needs to be done in my life outside of writing can be done before or after. Otherwise, I’d never have written a book. And without these rules, I would not finish the one I’m going to start next week that is due in December. I got a slight kick in the pants this week, when I saw the book, Blessed Are Those Who Weep, already up on Amazon and Goodreads with an April 7th pub date.

Luckily my career is in journalism, so working on deadline is something I am used to. I don’t believe in writer’s block. Editors screaming at you and the fear of losing your job effectively eliminate writer’s block for life. I’ve learned how to write fast. Every minute counts on deadline. And distractions can be deadly.

In addition to guarding your writing time, choosing to lead a writerly life also involves sacrifice.

For me, the first thing I cut out several years ago was TV watching. I just couldn’t fit it into my day, not if I wanted to read at night, which is something that helps me as a writer. I do believe that studying TV shows can help with writing, but I also believe that studying movies can help more, so I do set aside at least one day during the week to watch movies.

A few years back, before I wrote my first novel, I was an avid reader of blogs. I probably wasted a few hours a day reading blogs about style and European life and food. That was the second thing to go. I love reading blogs, but if I’m going to be a writer, it is something I can’t take the time to do. Now, I have a handful of writerly blogs I read every day and use Feedly to skim the headlines and decide which ones to read each morning.

Time online can be an incredible black hole time suck, especially for someone with the tendency to engage in addictive and compulsive behaviors, so I must limit myself.

I do allow myself to spend a lot of time on Facebook, but because this is a way to keep in touch with my readers, I indulge myself here the most.

And I set aside time on Saturday mornings for another online activity I love: checking out Pinterest. By designating Saturdays for this, I actually look forward to it and enjoy my time looking at cute clothes, animals, and pictures that inspire me creatively.

Those are just a few of the things I do to protect and guard my writing time? What do you, dear readers, do or find works for you?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Writing with an iPod, Part II

Scott D. Parker

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about my new iPod Touch and the new apps that I now could use to help me craft ideas for my stories. I focused on the Index Card app for brainstorming ideas and scenes for stories. It’s a great app and I still use it.

Then I figured out something even more fundamental for writing: actual composing on the iPod. Yes, really.

So, when I’m here at my Mac, I use Scrivener to write fiction. I love this program for its simplicity, ease of use, and its programmability. But there is no iOS version of it. Yes, I always moved a copy of the updated file to Dropbox every time I close a writing session, but there’s no good way to write on *that* file on the fly. It’s only a copy.

What to do?

Well, there is a program and is available on the fly: Google Docs. A little over two weeks ago, it finally dawned on me what I can do: use Google Docs to always have a working copy of the book with me. Scrivener is still the primary, but Google Docs is the wonderful on-the-go solution. Here’s my current, efficient writing schedule for my work week.

I use Scrivener for my 5am writing session. When I am done, I compile the file and copy it to Dropbox. I also copy the current scene/chapter into a Google Docs file. It has *all* the scenes up to that point. There’s a 10,000-word-count limit to Google Docs and my scenes average just under 1,000 words so I have a series of Google Docs files of my book out there. There are three parts now. I’m on Part III.

Here’s where the magic happens. On my iPod Touch, I now carry a working copy of my book in Google Docs. I take a five-minute break every hour at the day job. In that break time, I walk the atrium, basically I do laps, usually around five or so. As soon as I start walking, I have the iPod in my hands, the current Google Docs file open to where I left off that morning. I walk and type *on the iPod* for five minutes. True, I can only get a hundred words or so in five minutes, but I take *seven* breaks per day. That’s about 600-700 new words in little five-minute snippets. The hardest part is when the five minutes are up and I have to return to work.

Let’s do the math. I can get around 600-800 words in the 5 o’clock hour. Then, in my breaks, I can get another 600-700 words written in the working file. That’s over a thousand words per day, which is a personal goal for me. But just under half of that count is written on a little bitty iPod screen with my thumbs.

To close out the day, I copy the material I wrote in Google Docs back into Scrivener and save that updated file. Boom. I’ve just moved the needle forward and moved that much closer to The End. As a bonus, I have my book saved in three places: the Mac (Scrivener), Dropbox (word file of Scrivener export), and Google Docs.

I get some funny looks from colleagues who can’t believe I’m writing on the iPod, but I am. I love this little thing. It’s making my writing days so much more productive.

Does anyone else do this kind of thing? What are the ways y’all write on the fly?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Doing Holly's Bucket List

By Steve Weddle

So, yesterday Holly West posted a list of things she had wanted to do. Getting a novel published was top of the list. And she'd done that. Heck, I read the novel and dug it. Grab MISTRESS here.

OK, so here's her list

Let's see how I've done.

1) Learn a foreign language.

I have a minor in German. Had a minor? How does that work? I had to take a bunch of German in college to go with the BA in English. So I think I took one extra class and ended up with a minor in German. But I don't speak German, nor have I ever used it. So, I guess I had a minor. It is nutzlos now.

2) Learn to play the guitar.

Ugh. What is it with all this learning? Speak another language and play the guitar? Holly wanted to host a telethon in Paris? Goodness, that sounds like so much work. 

I played the guitar, poorly, in college. I own a guitar. I play the banjo, though. I have three banjos. In fact, I just took the drone string off my clawback banjo and can now, uh, I feel like I just lost you. OK. Here's a song Frank Bill sent that's good. It's banjo.

3) Visit Africa.

OK, honestly. Host a telethon in Libya and you're covered. Africa would be a fun trip, especially if you got to shoot giraffes. Like Holly, I don't care much for flying. I mean, you're in this big metal tube sitting next to people who want to talk to you while you know you're falling through the air with people in a little room 10 feet behind you making poopoo or peepee or pornos and the waiters and waitresses are pulling water and ice out of some holding tank that hasn't been cleaned since the first Bush presidency. Here's some Replacements for Jay:

4) Be a graphic/web designer.

I was a graphic designer for a while, back in the 1990s. That was my first pro job in newspapers. It was too much work. Pagemaker and Photoshop and then QuarkXPress and then Illustrator and then Dreamweaver and a handbasket of other programs I now use as often as German. Why is it that Holly wanted everything to be so much work? All this learning? Are all you people like this? Why are you all so busy? Goodness. 

5) Learn how to dress myself stylishly.


Oh, hey, before I forget. I'm teaching a short story class over at LitReactor. If your bucket list contains "Hang out with cool folks and Steve Weddle and learn some fundamentals of short story writing," then you'll want to head over here.

And I swore off Facebook because of the timesuck, but I still have a work account over there which you're not allowed near and a very tiny Earl Withers account you're welcome to harass. Oh, and I've peeled off Twitter for the most part, except for the @SamBelacqua account and a few other accounts I'm in and out of. You know, I'm finding Tumblr to be better suited for my pop in and then run away method. If you need me on Tumblr, I'm under my actual real name over there at, though, as usual, I do keep a fair number of fake/anon accounts around.

Heck, was that on my bucket list? Snag 29 URLs, 14 Twitter accounts, 11 Facebook profiles, and five Tumblrs? If so, then, you know, BAM!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Give it Up

by Holly West

I'm willing to bet that most of us have, if not actual written bucket lists, a running mental tab of items we'd like to accomplish in our lives. For a long time, writing and getting a novel published was at the top of my list. Now that I've done that, I realize that particular goal is kind of never-ending--I'm always writing, trying to better myself.

But there are other items on my list which I've pretty much conceded defeat to. I know that goes against the principles of positive thinking, but let's be honest here--I'm never gonna be a size two or win American Idol. Sometimes you have to give up goals and be okay with it so you can move on to the ones that are actually important to you.

So in that spirit, I thought I'd share a few of the items on my personal list that are unlikely to ever be accomplished.

Realistically, I will never:

1) Learn a foreign language

The closest I will ever come is my rudimentary Spanish skills acquired in high school. Hey, that was enough to get my husband and I by in Peru, so I figure it's enough. Still, I cling to the idea that someday I'll be fluent in Spanish--I'm just not willing to put in the work to make that happen, Rosetta Stone's full immersion learning system be damned.

And speaking of Peru, I have something else to add to this list: Much as I'd love one, I will probably never have a baby goat.

2) Learn to play the guitar

I've wanted to play the guitar since I was a kid. When I left for college, I sold my flute, which I'd played since the fifth grade, so I could buy myself a guitar. I carted that damned thing around all through my twenties, thirties, and into my forties, only giving it away when we moved into our current house three years ago. In all those years, I never learned to play it, or the second one I acquired along the way. Now, the only guitar I own (yes, at one point I had three unplayed guitars) is the one my Grandpa used to play. It's displayed in the entryway of my home.

3) Visit Africa (Except Maybe Egypt)

I've always said I wanted to go on a safari someday. But honestly, I'm not that great a traveler (the picture of me with the goat above notwithstanding). I don't like to fly and I refuse to be away from home longer than ten days because I hate leaving my dog, Stella. Like so many things in my life, I love having traveled, but while I'm actually doing it I'm a little bit anxious and missing home by day three. With so many other locations in the world I'd rather see, I'm officially crossing Africa (and that safari) off the list.

4) Be a graphic/web designer

When I quit my job fifteen years ago, it was with the understanding that I'd work from home as a web designer. While it's true I designed a few websites (to my knowledge, none of those designs survive), I never learned the skill set to do it properly or efficiently. The same goes for graphic design.

But for some reason I've always considered myself the graphic/web designer type. I can't quite give up that ghost. A couple of weeks ago I told my husband I was thinking about taking some design courses online with the goal of eventually earning some extra money. His response: "Who's gonna hire you?"

So.... yeah.

5) Learn how to dress myself stylishly.

Obviously, I know how to dress myself. I just don't know how to dress myself. All those magazine articles about dressing for your body-type (I'm an apple, if it wasn't obvious), using accessories to make a statement, using classic pieces to build your wardrobe.... I'm still clueless. It's not that I don't try, I just lack the fashion gene. It's time I admit that and move on.

Now, my friends, it's your turn. Tell me what Bucket List goals you're ready to give up in order to make room for the important ones?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Gabriella Giovanni Research Trip

By Kristi Belcamino

This year's summer vacation involved a tangential side trip to do research for my third novel in the Gabriella Giovanni mystery series.

The third book in the series, Blessed Are Those Who Weep, comes out April 7th, 2015, so I decided to include a side trip to the Bay Area on our annual family vacation.

With the kids up at their grandparent's house in northern California, my husband and I headed to our old 'hood — Oakland. We rented a little apartment in the Oakland Hills as our home base and began exploring all the areas that appear in my book.

We moved from the Bay Area to Minneapolis in 2004 and in between then and now, I'd written two books based in that area on memory alone so it was fun to actually go visit the spots that are key in my novel: Contra Costa County (suburbs east of Oakland), Oakland, and North Beach in San Francisco.

I also visited a few secret spots I can't reveal since they would be spoilers for my new book.

Here are a few places we visited:

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Perfect Pets for Each One of Us

Scott D. Parker

I had a post already planned about increasing writing efficiency--you’ll get it next week--but our family had a loss yesterday. Our wonderful, beautiful dog, Azula, eighteen years old in July, passed away. What made the death especially wrenching was that we had to decide to do it. We had been managing her pain all summer with medicine, but this past week, she went downhill fast. It was the right thing to do, but it sure as hell hurts a whole lot.

When my wife and I met, I had two cats, she had two dogs, and “this bunch must somehow form a family.” We did, and added a human to the mix as well. The other three animals all passed away naturally here at the house. Basically, they took the decision of when or if to put them down out of our hands. You don’t realize how much of a blessing that is until you are faced with a situation when you have to schedule an appointment, make arrangements, carry the animal to the car, drive to the vet, and go into their offices with everyone knowing why you are there. And if they didn’t, the tears on our faces would have told the story.

The good folks at West Houston Veterinary Medical Associates were so gracious to us. When the time came, our beautiful girl didn’t even need the drug that stopped her heart. She was so tired that the anesthesia was all she needed. One last sigh and she no longer hurt.

We still do, of course, and will for awhile. Everyone thinks that their pet is the best pet in the world. The best thing about a pet is that the animal is the perfect pet for your family. ZuZu was my wife’s second dog and she had her two years before she and I even met. Eighteen years is a good, long life for a dog and, even though this last week has been rough, I wouldn’t trade any of the awesome times I had with her. She was my first frisbee dog and dang if she didn’t *always* beat the frisbee and catch it in midair. She ran so fluidly and gracefully.

For all you pet lovers and animal lovers out there, hug your babies today just a little tighter. They bring so much joy to our lives that they open a special place in our hearts set aside just for pets.

The writing life is a part of our lives and our lives will, on occasion, experience pain. I worked all morning yesterday until noon when I took the rest of the day off to help my wife--man, she was so strong, God bless her--do what we had to do. I had already done most of my fiction writing for the day before noon, but I’ll tell you a little secret we writers know: the act of writing can help you get through pain. Me writing this piece helped me praise our beloved puppy but also reach a nice calmness. Oh, I know I’ll weep in the days to come, but I’ll be smiling much more than crying. In fact, I think I’ll write more about my memories of our dog, Azula. She was such a blessing.

Friday, August 22, 2014

"32 Ways to Write A Story but only One Plot..."

By Russel D McLean

Nobody did small town noir like Jim Thompson. And that's something that screenwriter Dutch Southern and directors Simon and Zeke Hawkins are quick to remind us this dirty, messy and brilliantly atmospheric neo noir set in small town Texas.

Mystery nut Sue (she reads nearly everything from Thompson to Rex Stout and seems to have near perfect recall for every pulp on her shelf) is heading off for college with her boyfriend BJ's best friend, Bobby. BJ ain't too happy about this, despite his cheery, aw-shucks attitude, and what he does is arrange one final weekend for the trio funded by some money he got "by saving", or, as we know from the opening sequence, by stealing bundles of cash from a local hood. Of course none of this goes right and soon the hood knows who stole his money and what he does is get the trio to steal back the money from local gangster, Big Red.

The movie knows its roots. The story is nothing new - but then, as Thompson himself is quoted as saying, there are 32 ways to write a story but only one plot: nothing is as it seems - but what really counts here is atmosphere, and We Gotta Get Out of This Place has that in spades. The three young leads are spectacular. Their connection at the start is perfect, and the way things fall apart for them quickly becomes unsettlingly tense. This in particular evidenced by a woman in front of me at the cinema who was constantly ducking at every violent act. And while the film becomes a little rote towards the end (and perhaps ends with a slightly sunnier note than some noir fans might expect), its reminiscent in its energy of the Coen Brothers debut, Blood Simple. Except with a far more photogenic cast wit. The shots of Texas are spectacular, too, and those windfarms will stay in your mind a long time after you've left the cinema.

Its a shame movies like this get buried beneath the hype of larger movies with bigger budgets and less cohesiveness. I would much rather see more movies like this than a sequel to Olympus Has Fallen or yet another Adam Sandler comedy. Yes, the stakes are personal and relatively low, and no, its not a crowdpleaser - the violence and threats of violence will put many people off - but its solidly made, beautifully shot and absolutely absorbing. The more bad decisions these guys make the more you feel for them. In short, if its playing near you, and you like your noir and your neo-noir, you need to seek it out.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

This Must Be The Place

If you’re reading this, you should know that I’m on vacation.
Not while writing this – that’d be silly - but right this moment, as you're reading.
I’m hopefully on a beach or sitting somewhere comfortable, reading a good book or taking a nap. I haven’t taken a vacation in what feels like years. My wife probably deserves it more than I do.
Anyway, traveling always gets me to thinking about how we, as writers, portray place and setting in our works. Some authors are indelibly tied to cities – Pelecanos and DC, Lehane and Boston, Block and New York, Lippman and Baltimore. The beat goes on. Others, not so much. They jump around. When I started the Pete Fernandez series of books (Silent City is out now!), I knew I wanted to set it in Miami. It’s my hometown, I felt comfortable writing about it and I thought – aside from a few essentials, like Vicki Hendricks’ noir classic Miami Purity – Miami as a setting for modern noir was not well represented. Just my gut feeling at the time. I wanted Miami to be as much of a character in the book as Pete or his supporting cast.
Whether I was successful or not is up to the reader, but these are some of the things I picked up while writing the book – and the lessons learned that I carried into the second.
Keep it real. Do your research. Don’t skimp on details because you don’t have them readily available. Even being a native Miamian didn’t give me a free pass when describing the city. I set scenes in restaurants and bars I’d visited, drove cars down streets I’d driven on and referenced places I knew. All the venues mentioned in Silent City are or were real places in Miami except one – I leave it to you to figure out which one is the poser. But I also wrote about places I wasn't familiar with off the top of my head - and that required research: live visits when possible, historical reading and Internet digging. You have to put in the work to make it feel real.
You gotta feel it. It’s one thing to be accurate about setting – it’s something else to show why a setting was chosen. If your novel is about Anchorage, Alaska, it shouldn’t read like a NY crime noir with the street names changed, and the difference shouldn’t boil down to weather, either. Give the reader a sense of the culture, language, smell, feel and sound of the city or town. Make the reader feel like they’re in the city. For Silent City, it couldn’t just be “Miami was hot.” It had to be about the food, the people, the vibe, the music – it’s a challenge, but one with plenty of reward if done right.
Don’t force it/be authentic. There are limits to my last point. The little cultural and location hat tips have to drive the story. Or, at the very least, add to the story as it moves forward thanks to the plot. Don’t have your main character sip a coffee at this cute coffee shop or browse vinyl at a record store you remember from college just because. Have that happen if the character is going to run into An Important Other Character, though. Then that’s fine. But don’t shoehorn stuff just to prove your location cred. You should be able to do that while telling a good story. Anything that seems like an in-joke, complicated hat tip or forced mention will turn off readers, and that’s the last thing you want.
Make it matter. This ties into nailing the feeling of a place/setting. Why is this book set here? Why here over New York or any other popular crime fiction spot? Why would this story only happen in Miami, for example? As much as your story is personal to you as the writer, make it personal to the place – use the details you’ve peppered the book/story with to show why the setting is irreversibly tied to the narrative you’ve created.
That’s all I’ve got! Chime in below and let me know if you have any tips of your own when it comes to setting.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Whatever of One's Own

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” 
― Virginia WoolfA Room of One's Own

Dear Ms. Woolf,

Thanks for that. But I'm not a woman. I guess maybe you're figuring guys have it easier, like we can just have Jeeves drive us down to the club on the Thames and all, but it doesn't work like that for me.

Also, we don't have room at the house to give me a room of my own to write. I mean, sure, I could take over the guest room, but then people would be looking at all my stuff. And probably touching whatever map I put up on the wall.

And then if I wanted to write while we had company, then what? Tell them to wake up and go downstairs because I need to write? I mean, I guess I could just write at the kitchen table on those days.

I could get a trailer, like Alan Heathcock has. That 1967 Roadrunner the cops used.
But that's got to set you back a few grand, huh? And I'm pretty sure our neighborhood covenants would keep me from that. Still. a trailer or outside shed would be kinda cool. People have writing sheds, which seem like good ideas. They build them up or convert old garden sheds. I know many of you old timers did that, and folks are still at it. Check this out. So, yeah, that would be nice, if we had world enough and time, as that creepy old guy said in that poem.

Anyway, I've carved out my own room, and here's what I do. I carve out the space in my head.

First, I've set aside a specific time day to write. This helps. I write first thing in the morning. Some folks write late at night. Some on their lunch breaks. As we say when some asshole, talentless writer friend gets a big movie deal or six-figure, Big Five deal -- good for them. I mean, that's great. Whatever.

But for me, writing before the day starts is key. I don't have anything left after work. And, this is pretty cool, my body adjusts to this. I fall asleep knowing that the first thing I'm going to do when I get up is write. So my brain starts kicking around ideas in the darkness.I'm not thinking about work or leaky faucets (unless I have to pee, Haha!)

I also carve out room in my ears. I've been listening to David Lynch's Big Dream, which puts me right in the mood. There's the soundtrack to The Red Violin, which is a good backup. I need kinda ambient, background, mostly wordless music. Sets the mood and gets the brain working. They did this study about how kids who listen to music while studying do much better on tests if they can listen to the same music when taking the tests. I mean, it makes sense, as your brain is connecting stuff in ways you can't imagine, all the time. Of course, look who I'm talking to, You know this. Anyway, the music helps put me in that writing zone.

So that's my room for writing. The timing and the music. I figure other people have stuff, like maybe a certain pen or a talisman of some sort on the desk. For me, the room is all in my head. Then again, what isn't?

Steve Weddle

PS -- If you're in the good place, say "hey" to Oscar Wilde and tell him we all think he's awesome and Tom Stoppard has stopped borrowing all his jokes and is doing great stuff. And if you're in the bad place, tell Emily Bronte she sucks and no one reads her shitty book anymore.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The largest and the smallest books in my collection

Just for fun I thought I'd post a picture pairing the largest and the smallest books in my collection.

The dictionary is 1 3/4" x 2" and Anomaly is 15" x 10". That's a huge difference.

How about you? Any big or small books in your collection?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Don't Forget to Exercise

Scott D. Parker

This week at the day job, I was tasked with creating a safety moment for the regular staff meeting. Usually the safety moments are related to the subject of the day job – – oil and gas – – but we in the office have our own specific safety moments. You would think office workers need to focus on safety, but we do. It's a nice cultural mindset that keeps everybody looking out for each other. What I ended up choosing was how to maintain healthy practices while working a nine-hour day in front of the comptuer.

Now no matter how each one of us gets words strung together to make sentences and paragraphs, we are all looking at our work up close. A large majority of us, I think, are probably working on our computers. Eyestrain is a very real and big problem. It can cause dryness, headaches, and after a while, your eyes begin to lose their muscular ability to focus. Which is why it is important to give your eyes a rest every now and then.

One of the more recent discoveries in the scientific community is something called the 20 – 20 – 20 rule. In short it goes something like this: every 20 minutes or so, look at something that is at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. What this does is relax the eye-focusing muscles when they look at something in the distance. Whenever we look at something up close, the muscles used in her eyes to focus work harder and longer.

I've mentioned before that at my day job, I take regular, hourly breaks. During these breaks, I walk the interior atrium circuit as fast as possible. I am now wearing a Fitbit Flex so I am able to track my steps each day. These "laps," as some of my co-workers call them, allow me to reach my 10,000 step goals every day. Why I bring this up is that when I'm not looking at my iPod touch and writing on my current work in progress (yes, I really do that), I am relaxing my eyes by looking down the four stories inside the atrium at the plants or a passing person. Additionally, I step outside at least once a day and gaze off in the distance as far as possible to rest my eyes.

It goes without saying that whether you are a professional writer or an office professional with a day job where yoyu work in front of the computer, another thing that everyone has to do is get up and move. It's too easy to sit in front of our computers and type all day long without a break. For someone with a day job like mine, breaks are ways to realign and refocus on the task at hand. Same is true for full-time writers. Now I know from experience that when something exciting is happening in the my story, I go with the flow and see the scene to the end. But as soon as that exciting scene is finished, I get up and walk around. It's not enough really to just stand. You actually have to stand and move and stretch while you walk. Walk a brisk five minute "lap" or do some other physical activity that will get your blood flowing. I can attest from experience that a short five minute break with fast walking makes me more focused, and more attuned to the task at hand whether that be my day job or the work in progress when I'm writing at home at 5 o'clock in the morning.

The last thing that I do at my day job is that I make sure that I eat snacks regularly throughout the day to maintain a consistent energy level. And I make sure that those snacks are healthy snacks. I've gone from a work–from–home experience to a day job in which I work nine hours a day. As you can imagine, that's a long day, even when I do get every other Friday off. The second week on the job, and I was not eating as healthy as I needed to eat, including having a Dr Pepper in the middle of the afternoon, and boy did I crash hard. I ended up keeping a record of all the food and liquid that I consumed during the day to see what was best for me. My usual regimen of green tea throughout the day is still the best along with nuts and dried fruit. Dark chocolate is my little treat after lunch, I always drink ice water with lime, and around 3 o'clock or so, I down a can of unsweetened coconut juice. That keeps me alert and focused on the task at hand.

What are the things that you do to keep you fully focused and energized throughout the day?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Cover Story

By Russel D McLean

If you don't know, the new McNee book will be out in the UK a little quicker than some of the others have been. This, the fifth and possibly final* book about the dour Dundonian detective has been in many ways one of the most challenging to write, tasked as it is with tying up several loose ends and that massive change that happened at the end of Mothers of the Disappeared.

But here's the cover:

Good, isn't it?

The thing is, a good cover is essential to a book. Whether its an ebook, a big pub book, a small pub book, whatever, a cover is absolutely vital. Just slapping images about with no context isn't good enough. Just using a font you think is "cool" isn't enough. You need to have thought through your design.

So why do I like this cover?

There's the match. The match is important. And the club scene behind. Both work in the context of the story (which you'll learn later) and together, the designer has actually given the readers a little hint about what might be to come. The composition is nice and threatening, too. It gives the atmosphere of the book.

Then there's the text. Positioned nicely. Author's name nice and clear. And the title. The title looks great. What's really nice - - and this is something I didn't notice for a while - - is that the text isn't just distressed, but  that the distress comes from someone's mucky fingerprints. Its a nice detail and works in context of the book's genre.

I've had covers I've been unhappy with. I've had covers I've loved. This one, its one of the latter. I think it does the story inside justice. And I hope, come November, you'll agree with me...

*I always said there would be five books and this wraps up a lot of McNee's story - - but will it be the end completely? Oh you'll just have to wait and see...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Vigilante with a Badge

By Steve Weddle

Fellow Team Decker member Frank Wheeler, Jr. has a new book coming out, the first since The Wowzer wowed readers in 2012. The Wowzer (2012 DSD interview here) is about a rough cop in Arkansas. This is about a rough cop in Nebraska. That's the biggest similarity between that book and this one and, for the most part, the only one.

The Good Life introduces us to Junior, a returning son thrust into his father's shadow. He's intent on cleaning up the area, becoming a vigilante with a badge. He sets in motion a plan that follows what his father taught him: Order is built on bloodshed.

Not only is Junior thrown back into an older life, an order life is thrown back onto Junior when his ex shows up on his doorstep. She was his ex for a reason, just as there are reasons he is an ex-Denver cop. As we work our way through Junior's quest for order in his town, we see all the disorder that brought him back. The Good Life is a compelling, vibrant tale of a troubled man returning home to face troubles he left behind and troubles that have followed him. Small-town violence and big-time troubles keep this book moving along, all the while grounded in the main character -- Junior -- and what he has to live up to, what he has to get away from.

Want more? Here's Frank Wheeler, Jr. reading from the book, which is available next week:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Name Changer

by Holly West

Holly West isn't my real name. Well, it is my real name, but not officially; my legal name is Holly O'Neill. Nearly sixteen years married and I still haven't changed it.

Of course, I know plenty of people who never changed their name when they married and have no plans to. Nothing wrong with that, but I don't fall into that category. I've used my husband's surname since day one and the only reason I've never officially changed it is pure laziness. I'd always intended to change my name legally, I just never got around to it.

As a result, my author name, Holly West, is considered a pen name. People generally know me as Holly West--it's how I introduce myself--but legal documents, my driver's license, my passport, credit cards, et cetera, are all Holly O'Neill. Has it been confusing over the years? Yes--but not as often as you might think. Not enough to take any real action, anyway.

When I was trying to sell Mistress of Fortune, I didn't give it much thought--I figured I could be Holly West as long as I had my marriage certificate to back me up. But when it was time to sign the contracts, I learned that Holly West was considered a pseudonym. For some reason, that bothered me.

And then there's the travel. It's been an issue all along, but recently, my husband and I took a trip to Peru with my mother-in-law. For some reason, no one there could understand that I was my husband's wife. Hotel staff and others kept assuming that his mother, who shares his last name, was married to him. Yes, it was comical, but it was also a little bit inconvenient. I decided that enough was enough. It was time to make Holly West my legal name.

A key question now arose: What to do with "O'Neill?"

Originally, my plan was to ditch my middle name and replace it with O'Neill. No hyphenating for me--I definitely don't want to be known as Holly O'Neill-West. But after living with O'Neill for so long, I didn't want to get rid of it entirely. Using it as a middle name seemed a happy compromise.

After giving it a bit of thought, however, I've decided to keep it simple. I'll be Holly West, with no middle name at all. If my ultimate goal is to prevent confusion, keeping O'Neill as a middle name won't accomplish it, and my current middle name has no bearing on my identity. Why keep it?

Some have argued that I should keep my original family name as a tribute of sorts to where I come from. I can buy that. But the more I ponder it, the more I realize that I know exactly where I come from and who I am. Losing the name will not take that away from me. Plus, my husband and I are our own family and it seems only fitting that we finally share a name. Sure, he could take mine, but we both now use West for professional purposes. There's no reason for either of us to be O'Neill.

As of today, when I present my application and documents to the social security office, I will no longer be Holly O'Neill--I'll finally, officially, be Holly West. I suppose it won't feel real until my driver's license and other documents bear the name, but getting my social security card changed is the first step. I've lived a long, happy life as Holly O'Neill. But now it's time to give Holly West a chance to take the stage.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Street Performers

I’m still on vacation so I thought I’d repost something from 2009 about a trip I took to Dublin.

Street Performers

Do you like them?


You're walking down the street minding your own business and suddenly some guy is in your face juggling a bowling ball, a rubber chicken and a cross-country ski - is that fun?

Well, yes, sometimes it is. I've seen some great buskers. Some of the best musicians I've seen in my life have been playing in the subway or on the sidewalk ignored by almost everyone (and often by me).

This year at the CNE in Toronto we watched a guy try and do a routine that involved laying down on a bed of glass while someone stood on a bed of nails on his chest. I say "try" but actually the routine was good - it was just going on at the same time the planes were practicing for the air show so everyone in the audience kept looking up to the sky.

All this is by way of explanation, of excuse, for how I got myself into a street performer's act in Dublin.

Normally if a busker asked me for help I'd run away. But here I was walking down Grafton street in Dublin with a video camera in my hand and I stopped to watch a guy set up his act. I kept the camera running. The act started. The guy was enthusiastic and funny but the audience was deadpan.

I started to feel for him. I was thinking about that poor guy at the Ex.
The next thing I know the guy on Grafton Street, Figo he calls himself - is standing in front of me asking to borrow my jacket. And to make it worse, he'd already asked another guy who refused. I could see this guy's act slipping away and I felt for him. I've given readings in front of two people, I know what it's like when the audience just isn't interested.

So I hand him my jacket.

And good luck to him, I think.

But the next thing I know, he's pulling me out in front of the audience.

Wait a minute, this isn't what I signed up for. My jacket, okay. I didn't even mind that he was joking how he might set it on fire while he did his trick with the cigarette (he was making it disappear, saying it would only take about five minutes as he smoked it. He also said he didn't actually smoke, that was just for his act - he was up to about thirty acts a day) but there was no way I'd go out there in front of the crowd.

But I do like to see a big crowd when I do a reading.

So maybe this busker and I were sort of in it together. I couldn't very well ruin his act, he's some guy trying to make a living.

The next thing I know I'm handing my video camera to a woman beside me and I'm in front of the crowd.

Maybe I don't like a big crowd for a reading. Maybe that intimiate connection between a writer and a single reader is the way to go.

Or maybe I should dress up in red tights and make cigarettes disappear.

Maybe not.

But Figo made the cigarette disappear and didn't even burn my jacket.

Great, now I can get off stage.

Oh wait, what's this? Now he's blowing up a balloon and saying he's going to swallow it. Good for him, I'll just get my camera back and film that, might even put it up on YouTube, the guy is pretty entertaining and what's this?

Now he wants me to walk around in front of the audience holding the balloon.

Did I mention the Bobby hat?

Then I probably also forgot to mention he's asked me to walk around looking as "butch" as I can.

The really sad thing, now that I see this picture, is that's exactly what I'm trying to do.

Before he swallowed the balloon, though, he put a rubber glove over his head and blew it up.

The rubber glove, I mean, not his head.

But really, he's just getting warmed up.

The big finale involves Figo laying down on a bed of broken glass.

And me standing on his chest.

Now it really feels like that poor guy at the Ex who couldn't get anyone's attention. I can't give up on Figo now.

As he's setting it up he asks me how much I weigh and I think does Ireland use that weird "so many stone" measurement because I have no idea how many stone I am and if I say ____ pounds will anyone get it and then I realize I'm not going to put a number on it, so I just say, "Too much."

He's a good performer, he can work a crowd and Figo goes with that. Makes a bunch of jokes about that good Canadian diet and pats my stomach.

So here I am in front of a big crowd of people showing off my fat stomach.

Figo and I are no longer in this together. I am going to put my full weight (however many freakin' stone it is) on him. Oh yeah, baby.

He gets a kid out of the audience to help me balance.

He tells the audience if they don't each put at least five Euro in his hat he'll go back to his old job of selling drugs to children and the kid who's supposed to help me balance says, "Can I have some."

This is the same kid who, when Figo said not to worry, he wasn't going to burn my jacket yelled, "Burn it."

Now I'm going to stomp on Figo and then punch this smarmy kid in the face.

But I can actually hear the glass crunching as I step on this guy. His face is red and he's tensed up every muscle in his body.

This is actually pretty cool, this guy is really trying to entertain this crowd.
And the kid manages to keep my huge body weight steady for ten seconds, so good on him, too.

Now I'm actually excited to be a part of the act.

The audience does a big countdown from 10 and when they get to, "Zero!!!" I step off.
Figo jumps up to accept the applause and I see chunks of glass stuck to his back.
He's right, I think, that deserves five Euro.

Figo tells me it's only like two bucks.

All in all a pleasant afternoon in Dublin.

Though I can't help but think Peter Rozovsky comes to Ireland and he sees the hurling final, a once in a lifetime exciting game, and I get to stand on a man's chest.

Monday, August 11, 2014

An ode to chapter titles

With all the recent talk of an Amazonian battling a hatchet and a TV writer copying scripts about a stolen flat circle from others I thought I'd keep it light and write about books again (novel concept I know).This isn't the kid of post that will get a lot of views but it is the kind I like to write.

I recently finished a book called Guns by Josh Myers that featured one of my secret (not any more) reading pleasures: chapter titles. It may be silly but I get a kick out of chapter titles and wish more authors took the time to use them. 

What do these little nuggets tell us? Are they random? Are they a clue as to what is coming up in the chapter? Is there anything at all to be divined from them? Maybe it's just me but I love 'em. Here's a couple of favorites that I pulled from the shelves.

Guns by Josh Myers

Spell with a Shell, There's Good Cud; Hate Hand Take the Soul Through Drizzle Ditch; Don't You Spoil the Air with All Your Craziness; Jitterbug (Junior is a); A Stillborn Mouthful; Sleep All Eyes Open; The Sun Rise On Sun Lie Down; Charm Enough to Choke; Eats His Words as They Die in His Mouth; The Streets Be Very Laid Out By Line; I'm a Wastrel; I'm a Sister's Boy; And Make Her Full of Secrets; All Spawn of My Devils Own Strumpet; Air, Light, and Labor Saving Devices; Till At What O'Clock is Ten Clock Strike?; Cry Dixie Hang 'Em High; Slid Away and Hid Himself in the Earth's Face; It Is Today, Couriers Day; And if the 'Sceeters Don't Get Him Then the Gators All Will; They Will Attack and Kill; Attack and Kill They Will; Get Someone Else, Don't Get Me; Panic Red and Barmy-Eyed; Broken as a Bird in Air with Strangers; Best Thing Gone Did Ever Have; Now You Remember, Children, How Blessed are the Pure in Heart; Nursed His Hate-Hand; Hide Your Hair, It's Waving All Lazy and Soft; Like Meadow Grass Under the Flood; Sleep Thee Well Better and Easy; Starry Shake and Awaken All the Guilties; Oh My Savior, Create Me To Die Alone; Think of Them Families' Souls; You're Sending Them to Their Deaths; All This Whole Carcass of Mine; Mercy Alive; All His Loss; All Not Was; Secret like Swans; With Gusto; Will Bleed Amen; Guns

Homeboy by Seth Morgan

Rings 'N' Things; Chinese Rithmetic; Never Bad Enough; The Fix; Black Man's Burden; The Sally; Rooski Business; Front Street; The Troll's; Street Court; Rings Takes a Tumble; Tank Court; Space; Man Down; Iron Butterfly; Space; Dead Heat; Venus De Milwaukee; Whisper Moran; Bon Appetit; Dead Time; Candy Roses; Silent Beeps; Writing On Jailhouse Walls; Arse Artis; Penitentiary Bound; Not Just Any Cap; Fence Parole; The Gray Goose; Punks Out For Revenge; Trick Bunk; Butterfingers; She Sells Seashells; Desperate Measures; Hotshot; Space Cadets; La Mordida; An American Original; Devilstone; Just Another Fat Man; The Stroll; Quarantine; Sunny Deelight; Maintenance Yard; No Pain, No Gain; Them Joneses; Lawyers Are People, Too; Like a Turkey Through The Corn; Sally Go Round the Roses; Jingle Bells; Jacks; Gasoline Shorts; Matter of Time; Z Block; What Fear Really Is; Dasypus Novemcinctus; The Fat Man Has No Clothes; The Kite; The Curse; Jailhouse Rock; Like, A New Career; Don't Look Back

The Death of the Detective by Mark Smith (ebook coming soon from Brash Books)

Bughouse Square; The Deathbed Confession; Pinochle; The Village; The Old Neighborhood; Nymphomania; The Poison Pen; Fathers, Sons, And Mothers; The Loop; Beer; The Magnuson Men; The Dark Mistake; Gangbusters; In Search of Wenzel; Black News; In Search of Rotterdam; The Airport; The Massacre; Catacombs And Beer Gardens; Escape!; Motives; The Death of Scarponi; The Death of the Duesenberg; Cops; Anatomy Lessons; The Detective  Agency; The Gold Coast; Black Angels; Shades And Curtains; The Death of Tanker; In the Grove; Chandler Discovers; The Mayor Speaks; Skid Row; The Death of Fiore; Fishermen; The Madhouse; The Funeral

In Pike by Benjamin Whitmer the technique used is one found more in visual mediums, where the movie title, show title, or episode title is taken from, or worked in to, the piece.

~ You ain’t nearly as big as I expected. ~
~ Iris looks at him like he’s grown a second head. ~
~ It don’t mean I like you. ~
~ Dingy and smoking and a lot smaller than it looked last night. ~
~ Set himself a fire? ~
~ I woke up on the floor two days later, with a headache like I'd smacked with a tire jack. ~
~ Lost in one of the short, cold patches of sleep that sneak up and sap him from behind. ~
~ The bulb of some purple black fruit in his palm. ~
~ Nothing worse than it already is. ~
~ His eyes like gasoline on oil and his thin lips drawn tight. ~
~ These memories contain their own engines. ~
~ She said you were a real hard case. ~
~ They reburied the one and carted the other off in crates. ~
~ I get lucky now and then. ~
~ They meet downtown, like a hammer and an anvil, flattening everything between them in the process. ~
~ Wendy’s eyes fire familiarly in her head. ~
~ Without any of the strangled hatred that turned it all bad. ~
~ Six hundred pounds of grisly fat, with slick infantile faces and girlish pale blue eyes. ~
~ Pike’d already have his .357 out, pistol whipping him until the skin hung off his face in bloody sheets. ~
~ It makes it easier that way. ~
~ Niggertown. ~
~ Her eyes like black nailheads hammered into hard black wood. ~
~ Whatever they’d been doing to the poor bitch, they'd been doing it a long time. ~
~ You can get away from a good upraising. ~
~ Like some kind of apes crawling out of the mud. ~
~ Like I ain’t fi t to eat with normal folks? ~
~ I’m looking for somebody that might convince me of it. ~
~ Not without compensation. ~
~ It makes you want to claw at the sidewalks. ~
~ Smiling a sad smile that twists cruel. ~
~ Like she was made combustible. ~
~ Either you’re a cop or you ain’t. ~
~ Still alive, curled up in the bathtub in his boxers. ~
~ He danced with one of the local girls. ~
~ Two of them hung up on me for mentioning his name in the form of a question. ~
~ He’s got all the equipment of manhood save the parts that matter. ~
~ I am not in the middle. ~
~ It’s all the same shit to me. I don’t believe none of it. ~
~ Th ere, I said it. ~
~ I know what you are, too. ~
~ Use the tongs. ~
~ They ain’t nearly as well hid as they like to think they are. ~
~ Superior fi repower. ~
~ Bogie yells, excited to have found someone lower on the food chain than himself. ~
~ I’ve done things here that created a kind of gravity. ~
~ Did we do something to you, mister? ~
~ I wasn’t exactly devoted. ~
~ Pike leads her eyes to the truck with the barrel of his gun. ~
~ I ain’t feeling bad about killing him. ~
~ You always have a choice. ~
~ The sun sheds her and she shrinks in her chair. ~
~ He knows he ain’t going anywhere. ~
~ Dragging their beer cart in a Sisyphean arc. ~
~ Pike is sad for the dumb thing. ~
~ Th e beating has taken his bowel control. ~
~ It’s a slight miserable thing of a nod, like a halfdead swallow trying to find its wings. ~
~ As though it has to pass through a very dirty windowpane to reach him. ~
~ There are some things AA doesn’t cover. ~
~ That’s various of you. ~
~ As though they’re surfacing from the black depths of an ocean. ~
~ That kind ends up dead every time. ~
~ There are places you can still be what you are. ~
~ I earn twenty-five dollars a day. And expenses. ~
~ Rory folds his hands in front of his face, tries a chuckle. ~
~ Derrick grins the kind of grin that makes his pacemaker work double time. ~
~ I don’t know as I’d follow her. ~
~ Tuning himself up for what’s to come. ~
~ Her lips are bloodstains against the white of her skin. ~
~ Prying her open, exposing her like an oyster. ~
~ Jack puts his hands on hips and stares up at the streetlight for a while. ~
~ The backs of their heads a wall to the world around them. ~
~ Go ahead and pick up a cue stick or something, if you want. ~
~ I’ll wait here. ~
~ It takes two. ~
~ It won’t last long. ~
~ The high hard sun above it all, burning holes into your brain. ~

In ...Go To Helena Handbasket Donna Moore is like a magician telling you the trick while doing it and still fooling you. No one understands the workings of a mystery novel better then Donna Moore and how to send them up.

Prologue: Why the Hell Isn't This Called Chapter 1
The Client, The Case, and a Recipe
Friends in High Places
Product Placement, Irrelevant Filler, and Crime-Solving Cats
Takes a Licking But Keeps on Ticking
Enter the Strong Arm of the Law
I learned Lots of Medical Stuff For This Book And, By George, I'm Going to Include It
If You Go Down to the Woods Tonight...
Let's Call in the Experts
Piling on the Suspects
Messing Up a Crime Scene
Random Acts of Senseless Violence
Turning Up the Heat Under the Protagonist
Tampering With the Evidence
A Pointless Personal Interlude in the Life of the Protagonist, or How to Up That Word Count
When You Run Out of Plot, Just Have Someone Come Through the Door Waving a Gun
It's Just a Scratch

How about you. Do like chapter titles? Have any favorites? Any other secret reading pleasures? If you haven't read any of the books what do the chapter titles tell you?