Saturday, January 3, 2015

Writing Resolutions: 2015

Scott D. Parker

So, have you broken your resolutions yet? I jest, but not by much. Odds are that, come 1 February, many folks who make resolutions in the drunken stupor at midnight of New Year’s Eve, will falter thirty-one days later.

I don’t usually do that. I make resolutions that are attainable and trackable. A few years ago, it was flossing. Everyone can and should floss, but how do you go from not being in the habit of flossing to doing it every day? Well, you make it a habit by making a streak. You start small: floss every day for the month of January. After 31 days, if you have achieved the streak, you celebrate. Then you do it again in February. You just keep doing it. I didn't break my flossing streak until after I had flossed over 1,000 straight days.

I had a very successful 2014. I completed one tale begun in late 2013, and then I started and completed four other stories. They should all be published here in 2015. My favorite achievement is the 30,000-word novella I conceived of and wrote in the month of November. I took December off, on purpose, because I have an audacious writing goal for 2015: Write fiction every day.

It should be doable, especially since I now write a lot on my iPod. Here’s the key to my success: no minimum word count. True, I’ll aim for at least 500 per day, a number I can usually reach in 15 minutes, but I won’t sweat it if I manage only 250, 200, or less. Now, I’d like to think that I can eke out more than 100, but I’m not making that rule. If I write a sentence, that counts. If I write 1,000 in a day, that doesn’t mean I don’t have to write the next day. Write fiction. Every day.

That’s one of my two professional resolutions for 2015. The other is to get my books published. Again, I’m aiming to publish more than one, but I’m keeping the goal at one book published this year. Since this’ll be my first ever book publication, it’ll be a major professional achievement. I do it once, it’ll be cause for opening a bottle of champagne. I’m hoping to open more than one bottle, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

What are your resolutions, professional or personal, for 2015.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year

By Steve Weddle

Happy New Year.

Here are the top three books I’m looking forward to reading post-holidays.


I don’t know what the heck is brief about a 700-page book, but there you go. Here’s what smart folks thought of the book.

Named a best book of the year by:
The New York Times
Chicago Tribune
The Washington Post
The Boston Globe
The Huffington Post
The Seattle Times
The Houston Chronicle
Publishers Weekly
Library Journal
BuzzFeed Books
Electric Literature 
Kansas City Star
L Magazine 

On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert to ease political tensions in Kingston, seven gunmen stormed the singer’s house, machine guns blazing. The attack wounded Marley, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Little was officially released about the gunmen, but much has been whispered, gossiped and sung about in the streets of West Kingston. Rumors abound regarding the assassins’ fates, and there are suspicions  that the attack was politically motivated.
A Brief History of Seven Killings delves deep into that dangerous and unstable time in Jamaica’s history and beyond. James deftly chronicles the lives of a host of unforgettable characters – gunmen, drug dealers, one-night stands, CIA agents,  even ghosts – over the course of thirty years as they roam the streets of 1970s Kingston, dominate the crack houses of 1980s New York, and ultimately reemerge into the radically altered Jamaica of the 1990s. Along the way, they learn that evil does indeed cast long shadows, that justice and retribution are inextricably linked, and that no one can truly escape his fate.
Gripping and inventive, shocking and irresistible, A Brief History of Seven Killings is a mesmerizing modern classic of power, mystery, and insight. -- Inkwood


I bought this one a couple months back and immediately read the first couple stories, which were amazing. Then I set the book aside because life. Dang, I have to get back to this one.

From Booklist

Intrigued by the life-altering reverberations of hubris, friendship, marriage, class clashes, and betrayal, Lee, herself like a great cat in her stealth, speed, and slashing attacks, takes on academe in several mind-whirling stories, including one set in 1987 in which an act of plagiarism ignites a peculiar, heartrending alliance between a hazy-minded student and her professor, a Polish immigrant accused of being a “Soviet puppet.”  --Donna Seaman

LIKE LIFE by Lorrie Moore

A few months back I read and completely dug BARK, Moore’s newest collection. This one came out all the way back in 1990 when dinosaurs smoked joints with Christopher Walken, I think.

In Like Life’s eight exquisite stories, Lorrie Moore’s characters stumble through their daily existence. These men and women, unsettled and adrift and often frightened, can’t quite understand how they arrived at their present situations. Harry has been reworking a play for years in his apartment near Times Square in New York. Jane is biding her time at a cheese shop in a Midwest mall. Dennis, unhappily divorced, buries himself in self-help books about healthful food and healthy relationships. One prefers to speak on the phone rather than face his friends, another lets the answering machine do all the talking. But whether rejected, afraid to commit, bored, disillusioned or just misunderstood, even the most hard-bitten are not without some abiding trust in love. -- publisher's summary

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Holly's Favorite Books of 2014

by Holly West

2014 was a great year in reading for me, particularly in the last few weeks, when I used reading to ease my stress during our recent move from Southern to Northern California. Even so, I'm always reminded at the end of the year that I don't read nearly as many books as I'd like to. Still, there were a few that stood out for me in 2014 and I'd like to share them with you.

DARE ME by Megan Abbott

This book left me a little bit breathless, much in the same way that GONE GIRL did. If there's anyone who captures the existential angst of teenage girls better than Megan Abbott, I haven't found that author.
CRASHED (Junior Bender #1) by Timothy Hallinan

I have one regret about reading this novel--that I didn't delve into the Junior Bender series earlier. Bender is the perfect blend of a hardened criminal and insightful, loyal, generally good guy. And Hallinan, of course, is a hell of a writer. I can't wait to get started on his other books.

THE BLACK HOUR by Lori Rader-Day

THE BLACK HOUR is a unique mystery--it doesn't follow the format of a traditional who-dun-it and for that reason alone, I enjoyed it. But it's real strength is it's voice. The protagonist, Amelia Emmett, is cynical with good reason, and Rader-Day does a great job infusing her with just enough warmth to make the reader root for her without pitying her. It's a tough balance to achieve, but Rader-Day nails it.


This book was quite different from my usual crime fiction diet, but I thought it was charming. It's a re-imagining of the "Twelve Dancing Princesses" fairytale, set during the Jazz Age in Manhattan. It's fanciful and touching at the same time, even suspenseful at times. Mostly, I loved how it transported me to the raucous speakeasies of 1920s New York City.

THE CUCKOO'S CALLING by Robert Galbraith

This novel pretty much follows the standard P.I. format, so nothing new there. But I enjoyed the mystery and I liked getting to know Cormoran Strike, the bastard son of a famous British music star whose nonetheless had to make his own way despite his illustrious parentage. He's cynical--but not bitter--and he's smart. I'm currently reading the sequel, THE SILKWORM, and I like it even more than this one.

THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt

THE GOLDFINCH is a good reminder that regardless of genre, crime is often at the heart of a really good story. A book that's won the Pulitzer Prize probably doesn't need me to add to it's accolades, but nevertheless I loved it--though not nearly much as I loved Tartt's THE SECRET HISTORY, which is in my top 5 books of all time (so far).


I'm at a bit of a loss when trying to describe this novel--it's atmospheric and magical in a way that makes you want to take up residence in Mr. Penumbra's strange and wonderful bookstore, even when you (and its protagonist, Clay Jannon) realize that there's much more to the store than meets the eye. While it's not exactly a mystery, it's certainly mysterious, and I'm glad this book found its way to the top of my TBR pile.

Well, there you have it, my favorite books of 2014. I wish you all a very Happy New Year and I'll see you on the flip side!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Hardest Step

By Jay Stringer

We've almost done it. We've almost made it through 2014. This year did it's best to drive me nuts, but only a few more hours to go and we're into 2015.

I'm writing this as I take a wee break from edits on a novel. This is the book I wrote earlier this year, and I'm acting on some notes from super agent to try and get it knocked into shape in these last few hours of 2014 so that I can start the next book fresh in January. The new blank page.

What did I get done this year?

Well, my writing year was shortened by a medically-enforced  two month break from the keyboard, but I got done most of what I wanted. I signed a deal for the book I wrote in 2013, and turned around the copy edits on it. I wrote a new book from scratch, currently titled Criminals. I've written the first draft of a comic script for a pitch, and the six issue outline to go with it. I wrote a draft of a secret project I'm working on with Russel. I've started a podcast. I wrote a piece about the Scottish referendum on my own website that had 20k hits in a week, and I wrote a piece about dyslexia for that had a great reception.

I also attended Harrogate for the first time, and followed that up with my Bouchercon debut. Provisionally for 2015 I'm expecting to be at the London Book Fair, Harrogate and Bouchercon again.

I also managed to get more politically active than I had been for a long time. I stood up for something. It went the same way it's always done whenever I've stood up for something politically, but it reminded me of why we do it, and why I need to keep doing it. 

Even through the stresses, hassles and long breaks we manage to throw at ourselves during a year, I managed to get a fair amount done. I seem -and whisper this quietly enough that the neurotic side of my brain can't hear- to have found a groove. I manage to write a book a year. I manage to fit in other projects around that. I manage to get by.

The challenge is to raise my game again.

Here's a random piece of advice, and it's something I wrote back when I announced my first book deal. Writers, especially those of you out there who are only just starting out, maybe making a new years resolution to write a book in 2015. Or those of you who have finished a book and are searching for an agent or a publisher. Or maybe those like myself, who are a few books into this thing we laughingly call a 'career' and still manage to find ways to worry. Everyone, all remember this;

Each step is the hardest step.   

The next thing feels like the toughest. But the thing before felt like the toughest, and you still managed it.

There was a time when writing a book, ONE book, felt like the greatest challenge of my life. Then I wrote one. Then finding an agent looked scary, but I have one of the best. A book deal? Not happening. But it happened. There was a time when writing a book a year felt like something that only other people could do, but I now write a book a year.

The two biggest challenges ahead of me next are to earn all of my income from writing, and to be able to write two books a year. Right now, they both feel big and impossible, but fuck it, I'll get there.

And the same goes for you. Whatever the thing in front of you right now, it's huge. The next step in your career will always be the hardest step. But don't run from that, don't put it off, just embrace it. That's part of writing.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Favorite Crime Fiction Books from 2014

Over the last couple of weeks I've posted a couple of lists: Favorite book covers of 2014, non-fiction books, re-issues, crime graphic novels, and short story collections and anthologies. Yesterday Kristi Belcamino gave her favorite books of 2014. (And I think there may be another list coming tomorrow). Today I've got a selection of most of my favorite crime fiction books (next week will be the final, main favorites book list with some guest contributors).

Angel of the Abyss by Ed Kurtz - I was cruising along the story path that Kurtz was laying out for me when, part way through, something unexpected happened and there was a narrative shift. Now I was paying attention. This might be Kurtz's most accessible work to date. And that's a good thing. 

The Big Ugly by Jake Hinkson - Hinkson has quickly become a must read author for me. I get whatever he publishes pretty soon after publication and get to reading pretty quickly after. In his latest novel Hinkson crafts more of a classic hardboiled novel. The Big Ugly has a bit of a throwback feel to it and is enjoyable as hell from the jump and never lets up.

Black Rock by John McFetridge - McFetridge has long been a favorite and with Black Rock he starts a more traditional series (past novels have been linked by characters). All of McFetridge's strengths are on display here: an interesting exploration of an explosive historical time, great characters, great interactions, and a hell of a story. Looking forward to the next book in the series, A Little More Free. McFetridge is your new favorite crime fiction writer, you just don't know it yet.

Duke City Split by Max Austin - Duke City Split is straight up crime fiction. It has criminals doing criminal things and interacting with other criminals. I love this kind of book, and it doesn't disappoint. There's a lot of fun to be had here. The sequel, Duke City Hit, is already out.

Federales by Chris Irvin - One Eye Press continues to put out enjoyable novellas with their Singles line. Federales gives us a taste of of a larger story, there's action, drama, and the search for redemption packed tight into these pages.

The Fix by Steve Lowe - Boxing and crime stories have a long fruitful history. Criminals, boxers, schemers, old acquaintances (can you trust 'em, will it stop you from getting involved?), grudges that need to be paid back, and much more. Broken River continues to pump out great crime fiction and The Fix is one of my favorites from them this year.

Last of the Independents by Sam Wiebe - Wiebe adds to the canon of great Canadian crime fiction with Last of the Independents. One of the things that I really liked about this novel was how grounded it was. The main character, a PI, was very much a professional trying to run a business. He worked multiple cases at once. And he did not conjure many (if any) of the tropes that can bog down a sub-genre that is many decades old. Never an anachronism, thoroughly modern, Michael Drayton is one to watch.

Third Rail by Rory Flynn - With Eddy Harkness we get a great character: A really good detective, with a past that sees him benched, and a bit of a self-destructive streak. Third Rail is a rip roaring ride that is a lot of fun to read.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Favorite Books of 2014

by Kristi Belcamino

Here is a list of my top 10 favorite books of 2014.* Please share yours in the comments if you like.

* I still have a large stack of books from 2014 I haven't tackled yet, so this list is based on what I've read so far!