Saturday, November 22, 2014

On Being Professionally Edited

Scott D. Parker

One of the key steps for any author is to have one’s work read by a non-friend or a non-family member. You know, to get the unbiased take on your work.

A fellow author friend of mine highly recommended the editor she uses. My friend said, “Oh, you’ll love her. She’s really good.” On that kind of praise, I called up the editor and we worked out a deal. I dropped off the manuscript for my first novella that I’ll be publishing next year a little over three weeks ago and I met with her yesterday. Now, I’ve known writers who, at the time of letting their manuscripts out into the world or, as in this case, out to a non-relative/friend, balk or have a little worry. Did I have that worry? Not at all. You see, any manuscript can be fixed and made better. I joked leading up to yesterday that I was hoping to land somewhere on the scale of “This is the thing I’ve ever read” down to “Please, just put down the pen and walk away.”

As expected, I was somewhere in that range. We met yesterday at a nice little cafe here in Houston, the Heights to be exact. It was raining but not cold. We met, chit-chatted about things, and general getting-to-know-you stuff. Then we got down to it. I had delivered my novella in hard copy, double-sided. It was 65 pages or so. I got back the very same manuscript, marked up, and a good set of notes, also typewritten. Both were in a nice green folder. In addition, she delivered a list of instances when the various characters appeared and on which page. There was also a word list of various multiple uses of a word (towards and toward, for example; things I missed on my pass) and other things, like time-period accuracies (the yarn takes place in 1940). I got this word list both in alphabetical order as well as page order.

Before I cracked the folder, the editor told me that it was among the cleanest writing she had seen in a long time. Have to admit I enjoyed hearing that. There was a moment there, sitting in that booth, where my pride swelled a little. I mean, who wouldn’t, right? Then I opened the folder and saw the plethora of editorial marks. Whoa. If this was a clean manuscript, what must a unclean one look like.

But that’s her job, right? To edit. To make better. Believe me, I’ve scanned the edits and my manuscript, my book will be so much better for it. I also noticed a lot of check marks. I asked about those. Turns out, those were things she liked, whether it was turns of phrases, pacing, description, or whatever. Happily, there were a lot of check marks.

I got home last night and showed my wife the edits. In all, I had written the draft and then edited it myself (pass 1), my mom and dad edited it and bled all over it (pass 2), and my wife read it (pass 3) and made comments that didn’t appear in either of the first two passes. A fellow author friend of mine had also read it and given a thumbs up on it. Then I got my professional editing pass, number 4. My wife asked me, “So, now that you have that, after you make the changes, what’s next?”

What’s next? Well, I still need to develop a cover. I have a concept for this series. I am going to meet with a friend of mine who is a graphic artist. I will tell him what I’m envisioning and then send him off to work it up for me. Then the formatting of the ebook itself (I’m reading Zen of eBook Formatting by Guido Henkel--great book). Once those steps are done, I’ll have my new company’s website up and running. Then, come January 2015, once all the pieces are in place, the final step will be publication.

And the book will be out there in the world.

Exciting times.

Meanwhile, my own NaNovellaWriMo work is progressing nicely. My original goal was to finish my novella by 30 November. I'll make that, but I might beat that goal. There's an outside change I'll be done by Thanksgiving. 

How are y'all's NaNoWriMo projects coming along?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The four requirements of solid crime fiction

By Steve Weddle

John Hornor Jacobs and I have two things in common. One is that we're both fans of the work of Steven Brust, whose new Vlad Talos novel just came out.

HAWK is, roughly, the eight billionth Vlad novel. If you don't know the series, we're talking about an assassin living among people not-his. This is swords and sorcery. Also, witchcraft, which is kind of a dirty cousin to sorcery and kinda completely different. It's crime fiction, clearly, as we've got killings and gambling and minor wars. But we've also got wars with gods and pouches of gold. And klava, which is kinda like coffee but not.

The first Vlad novel came out in the early 1980s. I found it in the back corner of Waldenbooks in the mall in Shreveport (or maybe Bossier), tucked away in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section of the store, which has always seemed a weird combination, though the Sword and Laser people seem to have embraced it just fine.

So now, 30 years later, I'm still reading the series. Here's why:

1) Heisty Plans. There's that cleverness in here that comes with some of the best Parker books. You see pieces of the plan and want to know how everything comes together. You're intrigued. You keep reading.

2) Stabby Time. Yes, you get some good action in here. Some of the plans made lead to killings, to assassinations. This moves the story along, but it usually also moves to up the stakes. The violence in the books is pretty tame in its telling, by the way. You get the stabbing without having the author showing off in a way that he thinks is being descriptive.

3) Humor. You get some self-deprecating wisecracks without having it go on too long or get to be too annoying. Think about the best parts of Nelson Demille's John Corey. Gallows humor, too. A snarky familiar. Anyway, as a smartass, I can appreciate this and acknowledge that this was a huge draw for the 1980s version of me.

4) A Character You Care About. I've been with Vlad Taltos since 1983, but wouldn't keep coming back if I didn't like the guy. The thing that brings me to the next book -- to the next page, even -- is my craving to find out what is happening to the guy. You're in his head for thousands of pages, after all.

Anyway, if you're looking for what makes good crime fiction, you could do well following a checklist with those four things on it. Brust does, and it's what has drawn me and John Hornor Jacobs and many other folks to the Vlad Taltos books. Like I said, it's one of the two things JHJ and I have in common. (The other thing isn't very interesting.)


PS - You can help get my book banned in Texas.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Life Goes On

by Holly West

Bouchercon 2014 has ended.

It's amazing to me how you can immerse yourself in something, full force, for five days and then, in a flash, it's over, almost like it never happened. Oh, you have the memories of course, and the much needed shot of enthusiasm for your craft, but during Bouchercon, life as you know it stops and then resumes just as suddenly when the conference is done. It's somewhat jolting.

This was my first Bouchercon as a published author. I participated in Author Speed Dating, the New Author's Breakfast, and sat on a historical fiction panel. I played my first game of Bouchercon poker and won $16. I met my fellow Do Some Damage bloggers, Jay Stringer, Alex Segura, and Kristi Belcamino. I watched my friend, Matt Coyle, win an Anthony Award for his debut novel, Yesterday's Echo. I marveled at the fact that six years ago, when I attended my first Bouchercon in Indianapolis, I was a fan with aspirations to be a writer myself. Now I'm published and I'm taking part in the conference the way I'd only previously dreamed of. It's wonderful and weird at the same time.

I'm home now and my life looks like this:

Most of these boxes are filled with books.

My husband and I are moving out of Los Angeles in a few weeks to a house in the Northern California area I grew up in. I'll be living in the same town I went to high school in. We'll have five acres of land (a significant upgrade from the 4250 square foot lot we currently live on). There will be oak trees and manzanita bushes instead of palm trees and bougainvillea. Our property features a set of abandoned train tracks and a seasonal stream (officially termed a drainage channel).

It's a California Gold Rush town, which appeals to the historical fiction writer in me. I pictured PJs Roadhouse, a local bar, while writing my Shotgun Honey story, "Pass the Peanuts." I'm looking forward to writing more stories set in the area because while the characters I'll encounter there might be different than the ones I meet in Venice, they will be characters just the same.
Sutter's Mill in Coloma, CA
It's a considerably more conservative place than I'm used to, which is something I find daunting. I'm a little bit afraid of being the only atheist liberal within one hundred square miles. For the first time in my life, I've considered gun ownership a distinct possibility--not because I'm afraid of people but because there are wild critters about that might require something more than a "shoo" to keep them at bay. Bears and bobcats and mountain lions--oh my! Don't worry, I don't think it will come to that, but our long-haired chihuahua, Stella, will need a rattle snake vaccine.

Overall, I'm looking forward to this move. I'm not so much leaving LA as I am returning to family and friends, which feels wonderful. But I'd be lying if I said I was one hundred percent okay with our decision to abandon the place I've called home for over twenty-five years--my entire adult life. It's not easy.

We've lost two beloved dogs during our time in Los Angeles: Kramer and Stuart. When I packed up their ashes yesterday, it reduced me to tears. I wondered if perhaps this would be the way I'd allow myself to process my conflicted feelings about this move, because so far, the only tears I've shed have been about them. Or maybe the reason I'm not crying all the time is because deep down inside I'm ready for this and I just don't want to admit it to myself. Either way, I realize how tremendously fortunate I am that I have choices in life and people who care about me no matter where I choose to live.

Next week I plan on talking about ebooks versus print, because it turns out I have opinions about it based upon my own experience as an digital-only author. Stay-tuned!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Five recommended crime graphic novels

Over at Spinetingler we'll be doing our annual Best of the Year post (we usually post closer to the end of the calender year). In the lead up to that post I'll be using my time here at Do Some Damage to pull together some recommended reading lists for short story collections and anthologies, non-fiction books, comics, re-issues, and straight up crime fiction.

Southern Bastards by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour

Earl Tubb is an angry old man with a very big stick.

Euless Boss is a high school football coach with no more room in his office for trophies and no more room underneath the bleachers for burying bodies.

And they're just two of the folks you'll meet in Craw County, Alabama, home of Boss BBQ, the state champion Runnin' Rebs and more bastards than you've ever seen.

The Field by Ed Brisson and Simon Roy

An underwear clad amnesiac, an ex-Bible salesman on a meth-induced murder spree, a seedy biker gang on a revenge mission, and a group of cosplayers out to save the world. What more do you need to know?

Dead Body Road by Justin Jordan and Matteo Scalera

Orson Gage is no good man. His wife's death thrusts the only kind of righteousness he's ever known upon him: Revenge! Her murderers must die. All of them! In Dead Boy Road, follow Gage on the dark road he's chosen to travel - a road that looks more and more like a highway to Hell!
The next two books are my favorite graphic novels of the year and are highly recommended. 

The Lonesome Go by Tim Lane

This collection of stories is broadly linked together by the experience of wandering — both literally and figuratively. With compelling verisimilitude, the lives of his characters are depicted by way of rich mixtures of obscure myths and documented facts, dreams and reality, belief and disbelief, throughout a haunted landscape populated by the ghosts of a complex and rich fictional tapestry. You'll witness a young man's dubious quest to discover the myth of the protagonist from an obscure vintage comic strip; encounter sociopathic hobos in boxcars and misled young men whose facial pores sprout worms and who throw up babies into gas station toilets; visit modern "Hoovervilles"; and experience the life and death of an undocumented immigrant bookstore doorman, former boxer, and expert hustler.

Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer

As our story begins, we meet Annie Hannigan, an out-of-control teenager, jitterbugging in the 1930s. Annie dreams of offing her mother, Elsie, whom she blames for abandoning her for a job soon after her husband, a cop, is shot and killed. Now, employed by her husband’s best friend—an over-the-hill and perpetually soused private eye—Elsie finds herself covering up his missteps as she is drawn into a case of a mysterious client, who leads her into a decade-long drama of deception and dual identities sprawling from the Depression era to World War II Hollywood and the jungles of the South Pacific.

Along with three femme fatales, an obsessed daughter, and a loner heroine, Kill My Mother features a fighter turned tap dancer, a small-time thug who dreams of being a hit man, a name-dropping cab driver, a communist liquor store owner, and a hunky movie star with a mind-boggling secret. Culminating in a U.S.O. tour on a war-torn Pacific island, this disparate band of old enemies congregate to settle scores.

What were your favorite graphic novels(crime or otherwise) from 2014?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mystery Conference Newbie

By Kristi Belcamino

Right now I'm at my very first Bouchercon in Long Beach, California.

After I digest everything I'll get back to you on how that went. (I'm writing this post early.)

But I can talk a little bit about some of my thoughts on my very first mystery conference on November 1st of this year - Murder & Mayhem in Milwaukee.


* I was on an author panel. Yeah. Nerve-wracking, but COOL.

* I got to meet several authors in real life who I'd only previously stalked on Twitter and Facebook and they treated me like a peer! Alex Segura (my colleague here on DSD) was by far one of my favorite people to meet. Even nicer in person! Hi, Alex!

* My books were sold in the lobby by a real mystery bookstore.

* I was included in the special after-conference dinner at the Great Lakes Distillery.

* People stopped me and asked me to SIGN my book. People I DIDN'T KNOW!

* And this: But I think it really struck home when I was sitting in the audience watching another panel and a woman stopped by my seat and whispered, "Hi! I love your books!" And then walked on. Who was this woman? I had never met her and SHE LOVED MY BOOKS. I wanted to chase after her and thank her profusely and ask how she had heard about my books and get her name and address ... and so on. But I just smiled and thanked her.

* Another woman stopped by my seat, handed me her card, and said she wanted to feature me on her blog one day! Thanks Bethany!

* A blogger TWEETED some of my responses on the panel. Thanks, Stacey!

* A mystery community reader and photographer asked me to pose for pictures!

* I went to get Bloody Mary's in the lobby with a group of mystery writers who are on my bookshelves.

* I got to go hang out at Crimespree Castle, which—if it isn't already—SHOULD be a rite of initiation for all mystery writers.

Despite all these REAL AUTHOR experiences, I must admit I was too shy to approach and introduce myself to a few authors who also were on panels at the conference. I still feel like such a newbie.

This weekend I'm at Bouchercon, which several people told me was like Murder & Mayhem times 100. So, I'll be back to post on that - or maybe just to post pictures.