Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mixing It Up

Scott D. Parker

I’m always on the lookout for new ways to craft stories and I ran across one this week brand new to me.

Over on Chuck Wendig’s terribleminds site, he posted a piece by Douglas Wynne entitled “Five Things I Learned Writing Red Equinox.” Other than his take on writing who you love (nice twist), he wrote about tension in a book. Specifically, you can’t have too much.

Wynne namedropped Donald Maass and his Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. I’ve heard of that book before and even checked it out of the library a few years ago. I own Maass’s Writing in the 21st Century. Anyway, Wynne zeroes in on the edict of adding tension to every page. Sure, we’ve all heard that one before, but have you ever heard of this:

Now, maybe I didn’t end up with tension on every page, but at one point I shuffled a PDF of the manuscript and went through it in random order, looking at each page out of context, highlighting any tension, and asking, “what on this page makes you want to read the next one?”

It hurt. Nothing makes a manuscript look weaker than robbing it of context and momentum.

It also helped. Any changes that felt contrived, I dropped but the experiment taught me that you really can’t have too much tension or suspense.

Anyone ever done this before? Sounds like a great way to keep the momentum going. I may have to give it a go.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Win fame and money and a pony

By Steve Weddle

Fiction contests are cool like fezzes. Why aren't you busy entering a few?

In case you haven't noticed, the new year just started. Time for some fresh things to do, new ways to spread your fictions.

Here are a few right off the Googles:

Zoetrope (July deadline) -- Ben Fountain judged the last one. He's kind of a big deal, according to the internet. I read a great Karen Russell story the other week from a "Best Of" antho. The story had first run in the Zoetrope mag. That's a swell spot.

And here's a cool way to make millions. Write your story and send it in to a contest. Win the contest, which includes cash money and publication. Then the story gets grabbed up by a "Best Of" antho and you get more cash. As editor of NEEDLE, I've had folks email me to say that once their story from NEEDLE got picked up by an antho, they got a four-digit publication check and emails from agents. I mean, heck, get those stories out there in some good places, folks. Wonderful things can happen.

OK. Where else?

Kenyon Review has a story contest up in February. Literary? Meh, I guess. I don't even know what that means anymore. Hell, there's a damn mess of killing in most of the literary stuff I've been reading lately. Might as well give it a shot.

Let's have a caveat, shall we? Mmmmm. Caveats. See, you should probably check prize money against entry fee. Maybe there's a ratio/formula to handle this, but you want to make sure it's worth entering. If the contest is $20 to enter and the prize is $100, then I'm probably passing on that -- even if they give you a subscription to Eastern Idaho Literary Quarterly in the fee. If it's $10 to enter and the prize is $1,000 and judged by Person You Have Heard Of, then maybe you want to hit that up, I don't know -- I'm not a scientist. Just keep all that in mind.

OK. Another one? Sure.

Glimmer Train has shortshortshort fiction contest up and is currently open to subs.

Here's a solid listing of upcoming short story contests, though most are heavily literary.

Thoughts on contests? Know of some good crime fiction ones coming up?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

I'm Not Charlie (But I Aspire to Be)

by Holly West

I debated whether to post this. These days, I dislike writing about any subject that's controversial because I don't have the time or the inclination to get into debates or arguments. Not that what I'm about to say is an argument, really, or even very controversial. I suppose the real issue is that I really don't feel worthy to comment on the terrible terrorist attack that occurred in the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris that claimed the lives of twelve people. Do I have anything legitimate to say that hasn't already been said?

I've seen the stark black squares on social media declaring Je Suis Charlie. I thought about changing my profile pics to show my sorrow for the victims of the attack.  To voice my support for what they were doing. Because like most people I know, I am gutted when I contemplate what happened to them, simply because they stuck to their convictions and weren't afraid to offend, criticize, or to provide provocative commentary about the society in which we live.

I decided not to change my profile pics because in truth, I'm not Charlie. These people were courageous. I'm not. I prefer to keep silent when perhaps I should speak. I'm too much of a coward to enter the debate, even when it's a subject I feel passionately about.

While I don't necessarily aspire to offend or blaspheme, I do want the courage to voice my opinions, even when they're unpopular or might cause offense. I have strong feelings about religion and politics but I usually keep quiet, even when I'm enraged by the injustice and outright stupidity surrounding our political process. I might not want to create controversial cartoons, but certainly there must be a means for me to provide my own thoughtful commentary in a way that I feel comfortable with.

For a couple of years now, I've had a "don't talk politics" policy on Facebook. I'll probably continue that because really, I can't see the point of arguing politics on Facebook. My plan, instead, is to occasionally write blog posts about topics that I feel strongly about. Instead of declaring Je Suis Charlie, I aspire to be more like Charlie. To write with courage and authenticity without being afraid of who might be offended or argue against my point.

That seems a fitting tribute.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Present of the Book


There’s been a lot of talk about the future of the book. For a while I got interested in it, I was involved in conversations about ebooks and self-publishing and all that but I lost interest. There are a lot of ways to publish books these days and I expect many of them will continue to exist for some time.

And we’ll still talk about the future of the book.

Last year in Canada we had something called the National Forum on the Literary Arts. It was described as, “some 250 members of the Canadian literary community gathered in Montréal for 2 days of meetings and discussions designed to work towards a positive vision for the future of Canadian literature. The event was organized around four themes: creation, publication/production, dissemination and sustainability.”

I’m sure lots of interesting stuff came out of the forum.

A couple of days ago a Canadian writer who attended the event, Pasha Malla (I’ve read his short story collection, The Withdrawal Method, it’s excellent), posted his “27 Thoughts about CanLit.” It’s all very interesting, but what I wanted to focus on here, was his final thought, not about the future of the book, but about the present of the book. He wrote:

The book “…must offer something that other media cannot. Movies will always do a better job of showing-not-telling. The Internet will always allow for greater direct involvement and agency. TV will always make more money. And video games, thankfully, will always provide a better venue for murdering nerds. Despite that we can barely begin to guess what new forms of competition for public attention will arise in this new century, “the future of the book” seems to be the only thing anyone wants to talk about these days. Here’s what I want to know: what’s the present of the book? I’d like to talk about it.”

Are books now really just a cheaper-to-produce version of other media? If (maybe I should say when) the technology advances enough that we authors could sit at our desks and produce a movie or a TV show or a video game instead of a book, would we?

What does that say about the present of the book?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Crime TV round up

It's been a couple of months since I did a crime tv round up. I've watched another group of crime TV shows so it's time for another. I continue to maintain that the best crime fiction shows are not on network TV, and aren't even necessarily American. It doesn't take much effort to find a show that will make you turn your back on the CSI's of the world (a good show that has run its course).

The Republic of Doyle

The Republic of Doyle is a Canadian PI show set in St. John's, Newfoundland. It is available on DVD from Amazon for a very reasonable price. Doyle is an episodic show influenced by classic detective shows like  Magnum PI and The Rockford Files. A couple of years ago NBC tried launching a reboot of Rockford, well, a strong Rockford-esque show was already happening north of the border. The show is light hearted, fast paced, funny, and fun. A totally winning combination.

Peaky Blinders

Peaky Blinders dropped like a damn A bomb when it hit Netflix. That's how good it is. This is like a UK Boardwalk Empire but with a harder edge. It's beautifully shot, has great performances, and a pure crime fiction plot. Trust me, you will love Peaky Blinders. 

Wentworth is an Australian show about a women's prison that is available on Netflix. I've long wondered why networks didn't buy up the broadcast rights to other countries TV shows and put them in the line-up, especially English language shows that wouldn't need any translations or subtitles. Netflix seems to be doing just that and are filling a long unexploited opportunity.

If Peaky Blinders dropped like an A-bomb Wentworth is ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. The obvious comparison for this show is Orange is the New Black but those comparisons are only superficial. This is a harder edged, less funny show. Bea Smith's epic transformation from abused wife to take no shit, baddest bitch on the block is something to behold. It's not just Bea, these women are bad mother fuckers that aren't to be messed with. This show seems to be flying under the radar and doesn't have a lot of people talking about it but holy hell is it worth it.

Broadchurch series one

Broadchurch is on Netflix and I'm glad I finally caught up with it. Broadchurch builds to a stunning conclusion that knocks the wind out all of the characters sails and the reader too. Broadchurch is exactly the kind of noir-ish show that I love because it takes the time to build to something that just leaves you gutted. I'll admit to seeing skeptical about the new series because it came to such a final conclusion but I'll keep an open mind.

Bletchley Circle

Bletchley is available on Netflix also. This is a show with a great concept, four women who were code breakers during the war come together to use their skills to solve a mystery. The first series is kind of brilliant. It structured and paced for maximum effect. My only complaint is that the first series is too much show and if it had a few more episodes to allow the story to unfold, to explore in greater depth some story elements, and to allow some of the moments to resonate more it would have been a perfect season. The second series is good but doesn't have nearly the same amount of power as the first. It tends to coast on its premise and unfold too quickly (each story in s2 has two episodes).


Southcliffe is about as harrowing a show as you are going to find. It's about a man who goes on a shooting spree and the huge impact of the community dealing with the aftermath. This is just a gut wrenching and heart breaking show.


Finally caught Fargo on DVD. Wow. This show lives up to every accolade that has been thrown at it. I was a little nervous about Fargo but it finds a unique place in relationship to the original movie and the greater Coen Brothers universe. It's funny, it's unexpected, it's a totally satisfying 10 hour movie. An amazing show that I can't wait to watch again. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Knee-deep in revisions.

by Kristi Belcamino

I'm at my very favorite part of the writing process - revising.

My editor has looked at BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO WEEP and provided a three-page edit letter with her superb ideas to polish and make this book shine.

Along with implementing her ideas, I'm doing my own rounds of revisions. Here are some of the things I am doing in the next two weeks until the novel is due back on my editor's desk:

* Print the manuscript out in a different font (it's a little ploy to trick the brain into reading it fresh) and re-read.

* Read the entire manuscript out loud to look for clunky or confusing phrasing.

* Check the manuscript chapters against my little index cards to make sure I have the right things happening at the right day.

* Ensure with all my changes that the book still hits those key beats—such as the entry into act one and the midpoint, and so on—at the right places.

* Look for ways to add small details to make each scene come to life.

* Examine each player's character arc to see how the story has affected them.

* Re-read action scenes and slow down to alternate the action, thoughts, dialogue, and description.

* Look at how I start and end each scene. Can I jazz up the beginning and ending of chapters?

* Do most scenes end with a setback?

* When looking at each scene, have I included sight, feeling, sound, smell, taste, emotion, how the light is, what the character wants and possibly micro-obstacles in the scene as much as makes sense?

* Have I searched and destroyed filler words, such as "just" "suddenly" "very" "really" and words that are abused in first-person books, such as "I think" "I remember" "I saw."

* In addition, I'm looking at overdoing some phrases. For instance, I usually don't pay attention to negative comments, but I thought one reviewer had a point that I might possibly have overdone the use of one phrase in my first book when I talked about bile rising into Gabriella Giovanni's throat. This is a case where maybe less would've been more.

That is a brief summary of some of the things I'm doing in this revision process. Please weigh in and tell me what you think. Did I miss some things? What else should I be doing?