Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Year 2014: Measuring Progress and Favorite Things

Scott D. Parker

In a fortnight, 2014 will be history. Seriously. Seems almost like last month I was making resolutions for 2014 and now it’s time to account. The year 2013 was a huge breakthrough with my writing. I basically went from writing barely anything in the seven years before it to writing over 200,000 words spread over one novella, two novels, and a short story. One would think that to make 2014 more productive, I’d need to write more. Well, I define “more” as more completed projects, not necessarily more words. Thus my four completed project this year trumps my three from last year. Progress achieved. And, when I think of the milestones achieved this year—new focus on shorter works; completing a novella in the month of November—I’m darn proud of my progress.

The year 2015 will be yet another milestone: publication. I am working hard on getting my first story ready for the world. When I publish one book next year, it’ll be a triumph. My business plan calls for more than that, but that first one will be sweet.

As for writing, I plan on continuing the pattern I set in November: write more efficiently and productively, and expand the types of books I write. I’m pretty sure I’ll always like a mystery in my stories, but I’ll be branching out in genres to include more westerns (Calvin Carter and more!) and science fiction. It’s going to be an exciting 2015.

The Lists

We all like lists at the end of the year. Here are some of my favorite things of 2014.

The Martian by Andy Weir
Honor Among Thieves (Star Wars) by Timothy Zahn
Face the Music: A Life Exposed by Paul Stanley
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
As You Wish by Cary Elwes

Ace Frehley - Space Invader (love this album!)
Chicago XXXVI “Now”
Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga - Cheek to Cheek
Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes
“Sue (or In a Season of Crime)” by David Bowie (in front of a jazz orchestra!)

Guardians of the Galaxy
Edge of Tomorrow

I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere
Fatman on Batman
The Creative Penn*
Rocking Self Publishing Podcast*
Self Publishing Podcast*
America’s Test Kitchen*
Hollywood Babble-On
Kobo Writing Life Podcast*

*Discovered in 2014

I’ve left off things that I’ll slap my forehead when I remember them, but these are what come to mind.

What are some of your favorite things of 2014?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Ghosting Stories

By Russel D McLean

If, like me, you were only vaguely aware of Zoella (The online name of Zoe Suggs) through TV ads for Youtube (I honestly thought she was an actress showing an example of what could happen, which shows how desperately old and out of touch I've become), chances are that this week you know far more about her than you did before thanks to the storm in a literary teacup that is the revelation she may have had "help" writing her first novel. Or, in plainer language, some people have said she may have used - shock, horror, etc - a ghostwriter.

Ghostwriters, for those not in the know, are not literally ghosts, but the unseen hand in a novel. They typically remain un-named or un-acknowledged and they usually do the majority of work on a book. So, that Katie Price book you thought was all from her hard-typing fingers, it was ghost written. And lest you believe this terrible, immoral (please not the sarcasm here) dishonest practice was a sign of times, its worth noting that "Carolyn Keene", the "author" of the Nancy Drew Mysteries was in fact a cover for a slew of ghost writers creating fiction to the house style, as was "Franklin W Dixon", creator of the Hardy Boys. Personally, I had to sit down and take a very deep breath when I realised that Alfred Hitchcock was not in fact writing those introductions to - or indeed even writing the text of - the Three Investigators mysteries. And, of course, many autobiographies by non writers (sports-folk, actors etc) are ghosted, too. Sometimes for very good reasons: to make an interesting story more readable (and sometimes for bad: to rush out a book to capitalise on five minutes of fame, but there's always a downside to any part of the industry and let's take the good with the bad). So I don't see why there's all this fuss about Suggs's book being ghosted: its not something that thousands of others haven't done before.

Look, my point is this: ghostwriting has always been around in one form or another. Its another form of marketing, and marketing in literature is not some dastardly new invention of greedy capitalist publishers. No, its something that is - as distasteful as this may be to "purists" of a literary bent - absolutely essential to keeping the health in book sales. I would gladly, tomorrow, claim that all my books were written by James Patterson if a) he offered that and b) it meant that my book sales went up by more than three thousand percent.

The issue with ghostwriting, of course, does come down to one of money. Zoella's book - allegedly written in whole or in part by bestselling children's author Siobhan Curram - sold somewhere in the region of  78,109 in its first week alone. Reports (cribbed from this article in the Guardian) estimate that ghostwriters up for the position of working with Zoella/Suggs were offered between £7,000-£8,000 flat fee. Now, in that same report in the Guardian, Andrew Crofts - a professional ghoster - implies that this is a bit of an insulting amount. But the fact is that some writers (such as me) would kill for an amount like that (most of my money is currently brought in doing reviews, editorial reports and so on - the books help, but by God, advances at my level don't come anywhere close to even that) even at a flat fee. And I admit I think that is a bit stingy - to write (allegedly) 80k words in six weeks is a tall order. But in a world where so many writers are asked to work for "exposure", the knowledge that you a) wrote a succesful book and b) got paid a semi-decent amount for it (Having worked in retail full time, I think eight grand for six weeks work is actually not bad) is enticing. I would, if offered, have no real issues with ghosting. I wouldn't think it beneath me. In fact the challenge of being a writer is stretching and disguising your style; experimenting with different voices. But I'm drifting from the point here. And the point is this:

Zoe Suggs is no different from James Patterson, if she did indeed use a ghost (and we're not sure - nor do I think we really need to know - how much impact Curram had on the final product: Suggs refers to her more in mentor terms than stating she wrote the whole book, and that's fine, because Suggs is not a writer by training, but someone starting out and of course at that stage its a good thing to have a mentor who knows the industry etc). Yes, Patterson puts the other author's name on the front of the book, but very few of his readers really care about that: they just see the name Patterson and they buy the book. Yes, many people (and I've been guilty of this) mock Patterson for his conveyer belt of releases, but you cannot deny that they sell and that people read them. And this happens because of marketing. And sometimes it means that they move on to other books, too. I'm still pleased to have seen Patterson recommending Ken Bruen for people to read a few years ago; he wants people to move on from his books and into other authors, too (while still buying his, of course). And that's a pretty admirable thing.

In one of the articles I read, a parent complained that "young girls" were buying Zoe's book and that they were being lied to and that this was a bad thing. So let's go all the way back to the top of this entry and look at The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and The Three Investigators. I read all of these as a kid. I later realised they were ghosted. It didn't change my love for the books themselves. And it didn't stop me reading anything ever again. It didn't change the words. It didn't change the fact I bought the book. And it didn't make me burn the ones I had bought. Yes, ghostwriters go as the unsung of writing, but I don't think its a dishonourable thing to do. In the same way that exec producers in TV don't write all the scripts themselves, I see nothing wrong with someone having a marketable idea and bringing in someone else to write for hire. Do I think they should be paid well for this? Yes. More so, I think, if they are never going to be acknowledged and have to work fast. But given that authors who write under their own name are often paid so little anyway, if all parties are amenable to the idea of ghosting, then I think we really need to stop acting like its the crime of the damn century. If people are buying and enjoying the book, then that's the only result that matters.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What's Your Poison?

by Holly West

Okay, some people might not want to admit to using "performance enhancing drugs" when it comes to their writing. I'm not sure I would if I actually used them. But I think it's an interesting question. The idea of using drugs and/or alcohol to increase creativity and productivity is attractive and if there was a pill or a substance that helped me focus, I'd be tempted to take it.

Full-disclosure: I've never used any drug stronger than pot. Some would probably argue that alcohol is a stronger drug, or perhaps more dangerous, but marijuana effects me terribly so for me, it's stronger. Maybe there is a drug out there that is a magic bullet for creativity but if there is, I'm really too much of a wuss to try it.

I usually do have to have a beverage beside me when I write--usually coffee, tea, or water. And I take an antidepressant every day, so that probably helps me focus and stay motivated.  Anything stronger than these really doesn't work for me, though as I admitted above, my experience only includes pot and alcohol.

Pot makes me just space out and sit there. My mind wanders without me even realizing it. So that's a no go for focus and creativity (though I suppose if I smoked enough of it I wouldn't care if I were productive or not). I drink alcohol, usually wine, on a regular basis and I love the idea of sitting at my computer in the evening with a good glass of red, writing brilliant prose. But more often than not it just makes me want to mess around on Facebook and Twitter. Distraction is a big enough problem for me without adding to the mix.

Maybe there is a point of drunkenness that I'm just not reaching in order to break free of my mental constraints? If there is, I really don't want to go there because alcoholism isn't something I aspire to (I'm close enough already, thank you very much). We all know the stereotype of the alcoholic writer, though in my experience, writers don't drink any more than anyone else, and in a lot of cases, they drink less.

The grim reality is what we all know deep down inside might not want to admit: the only way to buckle down and get the job done is to buckle down and get the job done. Am I right?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Where Now For The Police Procedural?

By Jay Stringer

First up, I'll point you in the direction of the new podcast I'm working on. People who follow me on Facebook will have already heard about it. I'm keeping announcement's pretty low key right now; I'm still figuring out how often I'll be able to do it, what the schedule would be, and a few other details.

I'm also still waiting to see if itunes will approve it for their listings, so while there's still a chance that I might need to re-title it or tweak the format (or even if we go it without itunes) I'm considering this more of a beta testing period.

The basic premise of the show is to give a space for crime writers to talk rubbish. One of the best things about being a crime writer is hanging out with other crime writers and cracking jokes, talking craft, debating politics and trading stories from our past. Readers don't always get to see that side of things, so I'm hoping this podcast could be win/win; something new for readers, and a venue for writers to hang out between the conferences.

Episode one featured Steve Weddle, who I think you may have heard of. We talked a good mix of crass and craft. Episode two had a couple of sound issues, but was a really great chat with Josh Stallings. As with episode one, we covered both the gutter and the brain, but I really enjoyed the chance to trade stories, opinions and ideas with Josh, and I think (keep this a secret, okay?) we got quite deep at times.

That show has been in my thoughts ever since for one main reason-

Josh asked a question during the discussion, where now for procedural writers in the wake of Fergsuon?

I'm not a big reader of police procedural booksa, and I don't write them, either. I think both McFet and I have talked on DSD before about the prevalence cliche of the crusading cop over the idea of someone just doing a job. But there's another cliche, too; the maverick. The cop who keeps breaking the rules, who keeps getting sued or charged or suspended, maybe a cop who has killed someone in the past, but we still come to follow them in the stories because they are our protagonist.

It's nothing new to say there are large communities of people out there who don't trust the police, and many crime writers have been living in that area already for their stories, but the media is now bringing that idea to more and more people, as well as exposing and raising some very important questions about authority, accountability and abuse of power.

So I'm interested. I don't feel I would be a big player in this conversation since it's not my area of crime fiction, but where now for the police procedural? What is the honest approach?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Three recommended non-fiction books

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.

I don't read enough non-fiction books, but I've been trying to do better. Bios on Mike Tyson and Jack Johnson, to histories of Baltimore department stores and rowhomes, and other stuff in between. The 2014 non-fiction releases I would most recommend are:

Hell-Bent One Man's Crusade to Crush the Hawaiian Mob

World-class beaches, fragrant frangipani, swaying palms, and hula girls. Most folks think of Hawaii as a vacation destination. Mob-style executions, drug smuggling, and vicious gang warfare are seldom part of the postcard image. Yet, Hawaii was once home to not only Aloha spirit, but also a ruthless, homegrown mafia underworld. From 1960 to 1980, Hawaiian gangsters grew rich off a robust trade in drugs, gambling, and prostitution that followed in the wake of Hawaii’s tourist boom.
     Thus, by 1980—the year Charles Marsland was elected Honolulu's top prosecutor—the honeymoon island paradise was also plagued by violence, corruption and organized crime. The zeal that Marsland brought to his crusade against the Hawaiian underworld was relentless, self-destructive, and very personal. Five years earlier, Marsland’s son had been gunned down. His efforts to bring his son’s killers to justice—and indeed, eradicate the entire organized criminal element in Hawaii—make for an extraordinary tale that culminates with intense courtroom drama.
     Hawaii Five-O meets Wiseguy in author Jason Ryan’s vigorously reported chronicle of brazen gangsters, brutal murders, and a father’s quest for vengeance—all set against an unlikely backdrop of seductive tropical beauty.

The Neighborhood Outfit: Organized Crime in Chicago Heights

From the slot machine trust of the early 1900s to the prolific Prohibition era bootleggers allied with Al Capone, and for decades beyond, organized crime in Chicago Heights, Illinois, represented a vital component of the Chicago Outfit. Louis Corsino taps interviews, archives, government documents, and his own family's history to tell the story of the Chicago Heights "boys" and their place in the city's Italian American community in the twentieth century. Debunking the popular idea of organized crime as a uniquely Italian enterprise, Corsino delves into the social and cultural forces that contributed to illicit activities. As he shows, discrimination blocked opportunities for Italians' social mobility and the close-knit Italian communities that arose in response to such limits produced a rich supply of social capital Italians used to pursue alternative routes to success that ranged from Italian grocery stores to union organizing to, on occasion, crime.

Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker

Blood Aces was one of my favorite books of the year and is highly recommended. Fans of Las Vegas, organized crime, Texas, crime fiction, and poker...hell, everyone, should read it.

The astonishing story of Benny Binion—a rip-roaring saga of murder, money, and the making of Las Vegas

Benny Binion was many things: a cowboy, a pioneering casino owner, a gangster, a killer, and founder of the hugely successful World Series of Poker.

Blood Aces tells the story of Binion’s crucial role in shaping modern Las Vegas. From a Texas backwater, Binion rose to prominence on a combination of vision, determination, and brutal expediency. His formula was simple: run a good business, cultivate the big boys, kill your enemies, and own the cops.

Through a mix of cold-bloodedness, native intelligence, folksiness, and philanthropy, Binion became one of the most revered figures in the history of gambling, and his showmanship, shrewdness, and violence would come to dominate the Vegas scene.

Veteran journalist Doug J. Swanson uses once-secret government documents and dogged reporting to show how Binion destroyed his rivals and outsmarted his adversaries—including J. Edgar Hoover.

As fast paced as any thriller, Blood Aces tells a story that is unmatched in the annals of American criminal justice, a vital yet untold piece of this country’s history.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

It takes a village of writers

By Kristi Belcamino

About six weeks ago I had a full-on panic when I realized I might not have the first draft of my novel done in time to have my writer's group read it before it was due to the publisher.

Full-on panic.

I don't think I could let confidentially let any of my writing out into the world without letting these keen fellow writers have a look at it first. They make me a better writer. I would dare say that they are the reason I'm a published writer at all. Not only do they help me with my current manuscript, but they also help  me learn and grow as a writer.

I'm so darn lucky.

Five years ago, when I sat down to write my first novel, BLESSED ARE THE DEAD, my youngest was about to start kindergarten. I asked a writer friend at the community pool how she found her writer's group. I'm not from Minnesota and it seemed nearly impossible to find writers who didn't already have a writing group. She told me to take a class at the Loft Literary Center, specifically a master class on the novel.

You had to audition for the popular class and not everyone was allowed in, so that already narrowed the field to other serious writers. So, I took the class with the whole intention of finding a writing group.

It didn't happen right away,

Meanwhile, I found other opportunities to get my manuscript read through groups, such as Sisters in Crime, and through other online networking.

Let's just say during this process I kissed a lot of frogs. It takes true talent to be able to give constructive feedback. I got a lot of feedback that didn't make sense. It wasn't that I disagreed with it, I just really didn't know what they were trying to say. Not everyone is able to spot what is wrong in a novel and then express it in a way that someone else can use that feedback.

I also was briefly in a writer's group with really keen writers but the format just didn't work for me - it was a group that meant frequently to workshop works in progress. I needed a group that would read my entire manuscript in one fell swoop and then critique the work as a whole.

Luckily, I stayed in contact with many of the other writers from my Loft class. Two writers that I particularly admired had mentioned they were in a writing group. One day I was brave enough to ask them to consider me if they ever thought about adding a new member to their group.

Well, about six months later, they said they had an opening.

Thank God for that day.

In this group, called Supergroup, I not only found writers who are a joy to read but also six new friends who I truly care about.

These writers are amazingly talented. They give me stellar writing advice about my own work and I learn by reading and critiquing them.

On Thursday, I was able to give them my first, albeit, shitty, draft of BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO WEEP, and I eagerly await their feedback so I can feel confident about what I send out to my editor.

It wasn't necessarily easy to find my writer's group, but it was totally worth it.

Any thoughts out there on writer's groups?