Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Literary Goldfinger

Scott D. Parker

In the past week, I have listened to two books, one fiction and one non-fiction. The fiction title was Goldfinger by Ian Fleming. I listened to it (again) via Audible. Simon Vance does a splendid job and he becomes the literary Bond in my ears.

I say again because I listened to it for the first time a few years ago and, being between books, I thought I just listen to the first few chapters to get a taste of the Fleming Style. I went through the entire book in a few sittings. The style really moves you along through the book.

Which is interesting considering how tranquil large passages of the book are. If you remember the movie, the whole “jet pack” opening sequence is pure movie magic. In fact, the first four chapters basically deal with the Goldfinger-cheating-at-cards scenario where Bond blackmails Goldfinger into throwing the card game. Then things really get moving with Bond assigned night duty. That is, he mans the radio feed back at the home office. Thrilling stuff, I have to tell you.

Unlike the movie, Bond’s run-in with Goldfinger-as-card-cheat is a coincidence. 007 isn’t even assigned to the case until later in the book. The golf game is included here and it’s takes up nearly an entire chapter. Fleming all but gives a play-by-play of an eighteen hole match, but he does so in a way that makes the game nearly as thrilling as an action-packed fight.

All I’ve just mentioned takes up half the book. Yes, half. No shooting, no real action, just a secret agent doing what secret agents do: watch and learn. It’s probably close to real life, but it’s a surprisingly light “thriller.”

That’s what makes the literary Bond so unlike the cinematic Bond. In the books, he’s a regular person. Granted, he’s an excellent agent and can do his job well, but he’s not superhuman. The killing he has to do affects him, and not just in a ‘straighten the tie’ sort of way. When strapped to Goldfinger’s table (it’s a rotary saw in the book, not a laser like the movie), Bond prays that he has the fortitude to suffer the painful death without talking. He knows he’ll die, but hopes the other agents will use the information Bond gleaned and take down Goldfinger. It’s rare in the movies when you see Bond sweat a situation.

Have y’all read the Fleming books? What are y’all’s favorites?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Let's Talk About Endings

First off: Merry Christmas if you celebrate it. Or Festivus. Or anything. Happy holidays.

I've been thinking about endings a lot. About people's expectations - both in fiction and "true stories." About what's owed to the reader, listener, whatever, and who is responsible for "delivering." 

I was pretty hooked on the podcast Serial, which tried to re-investigate the murder of a Maryland teen and whether or not her ex-boyfriend - serving a life sentence for the crime - was actually guilty. I like to think I'm an avid true crime reader, so the format didn't really strike me as new. Nor is it that new for a podcast - see StartUp, for example. 

I didn't go into the podcast's debut season expecting An Ending, or Big Resolution. Because hey, this is real life and endings aren't tidy or clean. Life is gray and muddy and very rarely features tight plotting. Things get messy. But as the show gained momentum, press, buzz and its very own subreddit thread, it struck me that some listeners - relatively new to true crime narratives and maybe even new to podcasts - were expecting that. They were expecting a final episode that revealed the killer, Murder She Wrote-style. Actually, it felt like they wanted that kind of closure. The final episode came and went. I won't go into detail because I imagine plenty of you are still listening or plan to listen. But, like I said, it got me to thinking about endings.

I had a similar feeling, except this was regarding something fictional, while watching True Detective's first season on HBO. It also started off on a subdued note - in terms of attention - and gained traction as it developed, reaching maximum buzz before the season finale. Who was the Yellow King? Who would survive? Would all the questions be answered? The finale happened, people discussed, and here we are.

Both endings were totally fine, in my view. Good, even. They managed to stick the landing. They were solid conclusions to the stories both Serial Executive Producer Sarah Koenig and True Detective showrunner Nick Pizzolatto set out to tell, or in Koenig's case, investigate. But have we reached a point where a "good" ending isn't good enough? Is there such a thing as a perfect ending - and is it impossible for it to leave anything unresolved? 

I love sloppy endings. I think the grays and what's left unsaid are much more interesting than having everything explained. While I do want to see a character arc and certain things resolved - if you're building a mystery, you better solve it (see season one of The Killing, for example) - I also don't expect Every Single Thing to be crossed off like a shopping list. I'm not that kind of consumer of media. But maybe I'm in the minority? I think that, sometimes, stories just end. You take a journey with characters and it stops. There's no villainous speech, no heroic battle at the precipice of a giant canyon. Sometimes it's a haunting visual or a bit of dialogue that signals this is it for now. 

If I'm taken on an interesting journey and the ending matches the trip or delivers on the promises made, I'm content. I think it's unfair to expect an earth-shattering ending to stories that have not purported to be those kind of stories. Am I wrong?

What say you? 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Holidays

by Holly West

I've got a turkey to brine and stuffing to make, so I'll keep this short. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday--especially my fellow DSDers, many of whom I had the pleasure of meeting in person this year.

And what a year! 2014 was full of ups and downs, but it"s ending on a high note as I celebrate Christmas in a new house and in a new town.

Thanks, all of you, for making my debut author year a memorable one. May your holiday be filled with good love, good food, and most importantly, good books!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dana King and the PI Novel

Last week I posted a 20 question interview done by Holly West with author and friend-of-the-blog, Dana King. It was really interesting. It was also a repeat.

I was supposed to have posted an interview I did with Dana. Or rather, Dana’s response to my one question. What is it with PIs?

So, a week late, here it is:

I’ve read private eye stories since I was old enough to choose my own reading material. Encyclopedia Brown. The Hardy Boys. Sherlock Holmes. Mickey Spillane. In college I moved toward non-fiction for quite a while, until I found myself divorced and no longer a musician. I had a nine-to-five job and time on my hands. The local library featured a Raymond Chandler book—might have been his birthday—and the name rang a bell, so I picked it up.

Then I had to read them all, pretty much one after the other. Moved to Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald, Robert B. Parker, and keep right on going, through Dennis Lehane and Robert Crais and too many others to list. Chicago PI Nick Forte was the first character I created. He’s stayed with me though four novels (including the just-released The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of), a fifth to come, and even made a guest appearance in my other series.

So what is it with PIs?

I hadn’t thought much about it myself, just that they were fun to read and write. My epiphany came on Sunday, October 12, 2008, in Baltimore. Bouchercon Sunday morning. Everybody hung over, Declan Hughes moderating a panel on PI fiction. High-profile panelists, yet all I remember is Hughes, who gave an impassioned and well-reasoned argument against the disrespect that had befallen the PI genre. He asked the audience to remember how the scales fell from our eyes when reading Chandler, Hammett, or Macdonald for the first time, reminding everyone, were it not for Hammett and Chandler, none of us would be here this week.

Not only was the PI novel woefully undervalued, Hughes maintained, when done well, it is the highest form of crime fiction. A first-person PI allows the author to make his own comments in the guise of the detective, who becomes the novelist within the novel. The reader becomes more involved by seeing through the eyes of the PI and having to interpret for himself. Last—far from least--societal commentary runs through PI novels as an integral part. (This is why I take notes at all Bouchercon panels. Bunch of smart people there.)

To use a term Hughes would likely appreciate, I was gobsmacked. In no more than five minutes he’d changed me from a guy who enjoyed writing stories to someone who was proud of his chosen path. He didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know (at some level), yet everything he said felt new. I never thought the same way about writing PI stories again.

Because, of course, he was right.

The archetypical PI story uses a first-person narrator, the ultimate way to characterize. The author need tell the reader nothing. The character does it, in every word on the page: what he notices (or doesn’t), how he describes it, how he responds to events, how he treats people. Everything about the telling of the story informs the reader about that character. He is somewhat unreliable as a narrator by definition—he can only share what he knows, and not necessarily all of that—yet the reader must trust him, as his word is all we have. There is no distance between the reader and the story. You’re in it with him now, for better or worse.

PIs can also look into things the police won’t, or can’t. Cops take whatever cases come to them, with a mandate to close it to the satisfaction of the legal system. This may leave as many questions unanswered as answered. That’s where the PI comes in, to provide some kind of closure. With luck, to make things come out right, or at least as close as he can get it.

The PI is the outsider, not restricted in the same ways a cop is by politics or power. (Fictional detectives, we’re talking about.) Look at the popular crime fighters most likely to leave lasting impressions: Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade, Phillip Marlowe, Lew Archer, Mike Hammer, Spenser, Elvis Cole, Easy Rawlins. PIs, all. Which cops come to mind? Harry Callahan, Columbo, Dave Robicheaux, Popeye Doyle, maybe Steve Carella, and the partnership of Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones. With the exceptions of Columbo and Carella, the best-remembered cops are those who operated outside the system, or bent it to their own purposes.

I’ve heard it said that PI stories are currently in eclipse because Americans aren’t enamored of the outsider since 9/11. They want stories about how the omnipotent government agency or hero—think Jack Bauer—keeps them safe. (Never mind all the talk about how government is too big. Ever hear any of those guys want to cut Defense or Homeland Security?) That seems to be a plausible explanation. If it’s true, then look for PIs to come roaring back, as dissatisfaction over the means with which government keeps us safe continues to grow, and shades of gray move toward the center of consciousness. And conscience.

As for me? Doesn’t matter. I’ll keep reading and writing them as long as I’m able. It’s the big leagues.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Favorite book covers of 2014

(This post has a lot of images)

When they say don't judge a book by its cover we all know the sentiment being conveyed. Readers, writers, and book buyers also know that a good cover may not guarantee a quality read but it can attract. It's a foot in the door. For the past few years I've pulled together my favorite covers for the previous year. So without any further blathering after the jump are my favorite book covers of 2014.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Why ebooks make sense for mystery writers

By Kristi Belcamino

When I was first offered my book deal through HarperCollins' WitnessImpulse imprint, I admit, I didn't know what to think. The offer was ebook first and possibly a paperback print run, as well.

But I soon learned that the strategy behind the imprint is very smart and makes sense.

Apparently, mystery readers are big ebook readers and love to read series as fast as they can.

I get that.

The turnaround for an ebook is crazy fast.

Let me give you an example, by summer, I will have four books published.

Rather than readers waiting a year (which is the most common fast track for paperbacks and hardcovers), they will have four of my books within that same time period.

It's smart for many reasons.

Even if I love a book, a year is a long time to wait for the next one in the series. I do it, but honestly any more than a year wait and I've been sidetracked and had my attention directed elsewhere.

What mystery readers like to do is find a series they like and RIP through the books right away.

This makes sense.

I do the same thing with books, but also with TV series and podcasts.

For instance, when I watched my first Battlestar Galactica episode, I spent every second waiting for the kids to go to bed so I could watch more episodes until I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer.

Same with Sopranos, True Blood, and I can see this is going to happen with the Serial podcast, as well.

The only reason I haven't binged on Serial so far is I'm on deadline so I can make those four books out in one year. But as soon as there is the slightest down time, I'm on it!

So, the idea of getting books into reader's hands as quickly as possible makes perfect sense to me.

PS Just waiting for one of the DSDers to post about SERIAL. Alex? I better catch up before anyone does to avoid spoilers.