Saturday, September 13, 2014

Always Be Writing

Scott D. Parker

Back in the day, when mass market paperbacks were first invented, I imagine there were a lot of people who suddenly realized “Wow, I can take the book I’m reading and stick it in my back pocket and carry it around with me.” The portability of a paperback meant that avid readers could always read, in line at the grocery store, the post office, wherever. Same for the boys who fought in World War II. Paperbacks were light and took up relatively little space. It was a good thing.

Fast forward to today’s smartphone and iPods and tablets. For avid readers, being able to carry a literal library of reading material is one of the best things for readers who don’t mind reading on a screen. Now, with all the apps like Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc., we readers never are without a book. Moreover, for those of us with ereaders at home, our progress is synced along the way. Throw in audiobooks and this is truly a golden age for readers.

I’ve been both kinds of person in my lifetime. I used to carry paperbacks in my pocket, I used to read on my Palm Pilot (!), and now I enjoy having my iPod Touch G5 with me all the time. It’s remarkable and nothing new.

What is new is on the writer’s side of things. If you’ve read some recent posts, you’ll know that I have a day job and on five-minute breaks at said job, I pull out my iPod and write a few paragraphs of my story. In fact, I tweeted this week a milestone in that type of writing:

997. The number of words I wrote today on my iPod Touch in seven 5-min. breaks at the day job. Yes, it can be done. #AlwaysBeWriting

I used the hashtag “AlwaysBeWriting.” I’m not a huge hash tagger and others have already used that tag and my subconscious just reminded me. Don’t care. But it made me think of my recent activities as I’m walking around this earth with this little computer in my pocket and I realized something remarkable: I was pulling the iPod out not to read something but to advance my current book.

Was I really? What did I do at Kroger last weekend? Hmm, I wrote a few sentences. What did I do last month when I took the boy to the dentist? Wrote. Standing around the kitchen waiting for the beef to be browned and the water to boil? Wrote. During a commercial break while watching “Face/Off” or “Project Runway?” Discuss which artist was the best and whom to send home. Gotcha, but you see my point.

For me, having this little device has enabled me to always have my active *first draft* manuscript with me. If I have two or five or ten minutes free during the day, I can choose to write and I often do.

Every little sentence gets you closer to The End, even if those sentences are written while waiting in line somewhere you’d never think you could write. That’s what I meant by the hashtag #AlwaysBeWriting.

Am I alone in this new realization? Are y’all always writing?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Blood. Bullets. Beer. Russel.

By Russel D McLean

A quick one this week and then next week back to a longer post (again it will be about New York but maybe not in the way you expect)

The last two weeks have been spent in New York. Well, not two weeks, but rather the last two Fridays (the joy of freelancing is that you can head off somewhere midweek to midweek, which is what we did, although factoring in the 24 hour return journey, we wound up getting back late on the second Friday).

I love New York. I truly do. Looking at my passport I've been back there about five years out of the last six. Its a city that keeps on giving, and what it had to give me this time around was Noir at the Bar.

If you've been keeping an eye on Facebook, you'll have seen that there is now a Noir at the Bar Glasgow page. This was set up by myself and Jay Stringer and I promise you that soon (probably the new year) we will start getting folk together to being you a night that will hopefully equal the one I had in New York.

If you haven't done Noir at the Bar, its a very different kind of author event. More like a poetry slam for hardboiled writers, I guess. You get an allotted time period during which you can read whatever the hell you like. Me, I chose to read a bit from the new book, where Josh Bazell chose to tell a story that started of sounding like he was setting up the reading but wound up being a bit of a clever-clever performance piece. There were veteran authors and some reading their first works. There were novelists, short story writers and all kinds. There were so many variations on crime fiction being read. But what struck me most was how relaxed it all was. Its the first first book event I've done that wasn't about selling books. Did it have an effect on sales? I don't know, but it was a fun way to spend the evening and far more relaxed than most other author events I've done. Probably the flowing beer helped. A lot. That and the raffle draw.

Ahhh, the raffle draw.

The one where each writer drew a ticket after their reading and the winner got one of the prizes donated by the organisers. The one where a certain Scotsman reached in and drew out... his own ticket! (I demanded a redrawing... and luckily it wasn't The Literary Critic's ticket!)

Anyway, my point is that it was a great evening and it was good to see a literary event that was more relaxed, more casual and more accessible in some ways. The lack of emphasis on sales (there was no bookstall) was interesting and I think its the kind of thing that runs on the enthusiasm of the organisers and participants. there are variations on Noir at the Bar throughout the US. Off the top of my head, New York, St Louis, LA, Washington and others have hosted and are hosting therse events. If there's one near you I heartily recommend you try. And, you know, if we ever get Glasgow fully off the ground, I think its gonna be damned good!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Review: Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer

From the woods of Colorado to the dive bars of Denver, Benjamin Whitmer’s CRY FATHER creates a setting, a mood that digs into you like a splinter.

Hiding in a small cabin with his dog, Patterson Wells works professionally at disaster clean-up, travelling across the country following storms to clear debris and get the power back on. In his personal life, though, he can’t seem to do the same. For Patterson, the disaster was the death of his son due to a doctor’s mistake. Not only did this take the life of Patterson’s son, but it also destroyed his relationship with the boy’s mother. Now, she comes calling on Patterson to join her in a suit against the doctor, to put some sort of closure on the tragedy.  But Patterson isn’t interested in clearing the debris of his son. Instead, he lives with his son’s memory, writing the boy letters much like you or I would write a diary.

In the meantime, Patterson’s neighbor is having trouble with his own drug-running son, Junior, a man with his own broken relationships. This novel is about fathers and sons, sure. But it's also about relationships of all kinds, including those we have with ourselves.

Soon enough, Patterson and Junior are pushed together, in a world fueled with drugs and violence.

As Patterson tells it, 
The main problem with cocaine is that you never really have enough of it. Even on a binge, you’ve usually got just enough to keep yourself in nosebleeds and self-hatred.

And that’s this book – the external and internal battles, everyone fighting against everyone, including themselves. This story is rich in darkness, not just in the sense of the violence and drugs and despair, but in the delving down into the souls of the characters, the digging deeper than most novels even consider. You can argue pigments and colors all you like, but I’ll tell you this much: CRY FATHER is not dark because of an absence of light, but dark because it contains so much.

The ending of this novel, as befits a book by Benjamin Whitmer, is as unavoidable as it is surprising.

  • Publisher: Gallery Books (September 16, 2014)

Full disclosure: Ben Whitmer said a nice thing about my novel last year.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

All's Fair in Art and War

by Holly West

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I watched Tim's Vermeer. This documentary follows inventor Tim Jenison in his quest to understand the painting techniques employed by Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, who lived and painted in Holland from 1632-1665. Jenison's theory is that Vermeer used optical devices to achieve photorealism in his paintings.

The Glass of Wine

I must admit: Jenison presents a compelling case. He begins by asserting that Vermeer could not have achieved the shadowing and light effects apparent in his paintings by using his painterly eyes alone--that in fact, the human eye is incapable of registering these details without some assistance. Jenison tests his theory by creating an optical device similar to one that Vermeer might've used and proceeds to paint a picture from a photograph of his grandfather. Jenison has no previous painting experience and yet the results are astounding.

It has long been argued that Vermeer used some sort of optical device in his work. But Jenison was the first to figure out exactly what that device might've been. The comparator, largely forgotten since Vermeer's time, is basically a mirror that shows a subject reflected from across the room. The canvas is visible from the edge of the mirror, and it allows the painter to compare paint color to the image being painted. Little technique is required, just patience, the ability to discern colors from one another and perhaps, a steady hand.

Buoyed by his success, Jenison decides to paint Vermeer's The Music Lesson using his optical device. Being rather detail oriented, he spares no expense in the project: he rents a warehouse and painstakingly re-creates Vermeer's studio. To the extent he can, he only uses materials that would've been available in the 17th century. It took him seven months to finish his version of Vermeer's masterpiece. 

The Music Lesson
I won't reveal his finished painting here, as it amounts to a spoiler, I think. But I will say that you'd be hard-pressed to tell Jenison's version from the original. If you're interested in this subject I suggest that you watch the documentary--it's fascinating.

This brings up some important questions: Did Tim Jenison "cheat" when he created his Vermeer? And if Vermeer used a device similar to the comparator, did he cheat, too? Indeed, is there even such a thing as cheating in the creation of art? If so, where do we draw the line?

As a painter myself, I've used grids, tracings, and other methods to transfer an image to a canvas. None of these methods strike me as cheating, exactly, but shouldn't a true artist be able to just draw/paint what he or she sees? Maybe not.

Cheek to Cheek by Holly West

One could even argue that Jenison cheated because we know he used an optical device. Since we've no proof that Vermeer did, maybe he didn't cheat.

Does it even matter?

If you've seen the documentary (and even if you haven't) I'm very interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter. Because honestly, I can't decide if Jenison cheated or not. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

What do real kids read

School started recently, the community pool is closed, Halloween decorations are being pulled out of storage, and the weather is cooler. That can only mean one thing Summer is over. Our local library had a summer reading program with prizes every year. The kids had to keep a log and they were given free reign over what to choose as long as it was age appropriate. We also wouldn't let them count re-reads.

Our house has thousands of books that are all out in different rooms of the house. Our main method of buying is used books, online, and Kindle (they both prefer reading physical books -- a speculative post for another day?). Other medium's can influence their book reading decisions but reviews and book selling venues don't seem to.

I thought it might be interesting to see what kids pick on their own to read. There are many different spheres of influence that can come into play when buying a book but I don't know how much they come into play with kids. At least with my kids anyway I seem to be their biggest sphere of influence because I'm constantly buying stacks of used books that I think they might like.

So, here's what they read over the summer.

The Girl (12):

Fetching by Kiera Stewart
The Secret Language of Girls by Dovey Coe
Halloween Party by R. L. Stine
Free to Fall by Lauren Miller
Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Hallow City by Ransom Riggs
Driver's Ed by Caroline B. Cooney
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
The Fault in our Stars by John Green

The Boy (13):

Batman Arkham City by Paul Dini
Department Nineteen by Will Hill
Department Nineteen: The Rising by Will Hill
Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo

What did your kids read this summer?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Does your story have a dog?

By Kristi Belcamino

Our family got our first dog this month.

She's perfect.

Her name is Bella! (She was already named.)

She was a rescue dog. She's a little over a year old. She's part Schnauzer and something else. Poodle? (Schnoodle) Yorkie? (Schnorkie) Maltese (Mauzer)?

Bella spent the past two months with my parents in Northern California living a quiet, rural life.

She's spent the last three weeks as a City Dog in our house in Minneapolis. She still hasn't adjusted to city life and barks and growls at all the people who walk by and the frequent stream of sirens.

I keep telling her that now she's a City Dog and she better get used to people and noises, but she is still adjusting.

Getting Bella and talking about her online and seeing how people react to my posts reminds me of a piece of advice I once received from a writing instructor.

The fall I wrote BLESSED ARE THE DEAD, I took a master writing class at the Loft Literary Center here in Minneapolis. The instructor, a published author, told us to add an animal into our story.

In fact, she said that several writers who have taken her class have told her that adding a pet was the best advice she gave them.

Based on this advice, I added a cat—Dusty—to my novel.

What I found was that the cat was an awesome, versatile plot device. I could use the cat to reveal a plethora of traits about my main character, Gabriella Giovanni. I could even use the cat to help show her character arc. Bingo. Great advice.

So, I will share that advice to you—try adding a pet to your manuscript and see where it takes you.