Saturday, February 7, 2015

Wading Into War: Cover Reveal

Scott D. Parker

I'll admit something to y'all: this is a bit exciting for me. Well, let me take that back. This is a lot exciting.

When you are in the position of creating cover art for your debut book, two things run through your mind, at least they did for me. One is the knowledge that the cover will be the first cover for a book you've written that the world will see. For better or worse, the reading public will identify you with that cover. I know I do that with the authors I like. When I think of Dennis Lehane, I think of MYSTIC RIVER and the hardback cover art. 

His other covers flow through my mind but only after I see that 2001 novel. The same holds true for movies. This is always the first image I think of regarding Star Wars.

With all of that pressure in mind, my first cover had to be something of which I was proud. More to the point, it had to be the physical embodiment of what I saw in my head. WADING INTO WAR is a period piece, set in 1940. That’s deep in the heart of the pulp era and I wanted a cover that reflected that vibe. Moreover, I wanted cover *art*, a picture that illustrated a scene in the book. Lastly, I wanted to put my own stamp on it, to bring my quirky vision to this project.

So here it is.

Font: With this being a period piece, I wanted the title font and the shape of the letters to give the reader a clue to the contents. I think art deco is a great font and it instantly sprang to mind when I envisioned the cover.

Colors: Most of the old pulp magazine covers blared out of the newsstand with vivid colors. I, on the other hand, wanted a more black-and-white image. I’ll be honest that the style of the Batman Animated Series was my inspiration for the figures. The primary color is yellow, partly for its ability to stand out in a crowded ebook field but also as an homage to the old pulp magazines that had a monocolor cover with art on top of it. The blood is the jump color to let the reader know that dude in the house means business.

Logo: Initially, I wasn’t going to have the logo on the cover. Then, after my last markup to my graphic artist, I realized I had a blank space. Enter the logo. And, frankly, it hearkens back to the things I first read: comics. Again, a deliberate choice.

The Graphic Designer

Speaking of all this, you may wonder if I’m a multi-talented renaissance man who can write as well as design. Wonder no longer: that ain’t me. But I had the perfect solution.

A good friend of mine and former co-worker, Ike, was more than happy to accommodate me. You have already seen his good work with the logo for Quadrant Fiction Studio and now you have evidence of what he can do for a book cover.

When Ike and I worked together at our day job, I used to joke that he was halfway finished with a project before I was even finished telling him what needed to be done. He’s an intuitive artist who can give you exactly what you want but will also guide you into making better decisions. He fully cooperated with me in all my weird ways of trying to describe what I wanted. We no longer work at the same day job and our homes are across Houston from each other so we relied on emails and Skype calls. He never batted an eye, even when I’d ask for a little tweaks multiple times. Ike was nonplussed. In fact, the more this project went on, the more enthusiasm we both showed for this final product.

And it shows. I can think of no better compliment for Ike than this: without him and his willingness to work with me and his excellent ability to create something from nothing, this cover, this work of art that I saw in my head, would not be real. It would still be inside my head.

But it isn’t. It’s out here, for all the world see. Thanks, man, for making a dream a reality.

Friday, February 6, 2015

'Sycophants and Vultures': Former Monroeville Resident Weighs in on the Harper Lee Controversy

Guest Post

A few days ago I saw a Facebook post from a high school friend, Kristi Weldon, about the Harper Lee novel imbroglio. Turned out she had lived in Monroeville for a few years and thus had more insight than most--some interesting details I had not seen elsewhere, as well as an opinion worth hearing.

Lein Shory: How did you end up living in Monroeville? How long were you there?

Kristi Weldon: I did a two-week internship at Vanity Fair Mills over Christmas of 1992. In spring of 1993, they called me about an opening in that department. I accepted the position and moved down when I graduated from Auburn in June 1993. I relocated to NYC in January 1996, as part of a company reorganization then came to Atlanta Metro North with the company in February 1997. (The company was bought by a competitor and no longer exists.) I lived in Monroeville for 2 1/2 years.

LS: How much contact did you have with Harper Lee's sister Miss Alice, who passed away a few months ago?

KW: We went to church together (Dr. Thomas Butts, cited in a Vulture article last year, was our minister at the time) and were both on the board. We saw each other every other Sunday (I commuted to Auburn every other weekend to see my fiancé) as well as at special events, board meetings, and once a month at supper club for a year.  

LS: So what did you think when you read the news that Harper Lee had a new book coming out?

KW: I was appalled because I knew it wasn't her idea.

LS: Do you still have contacts/friends in Monroeville? What do you think is the general sentiment in town about what's going on?

KW: Yes, I still have friends there. I even have friends here who are Monroeville natives and have family there. They are the ones who are sharing these articles which I have every reason to believe to be true.
Citizens not only respected Nelle's (pronounced "Nellie") privacy but also went to lengths to protect her. For example, if you wanted to get a signed copy of TKAM, there was only one way to get it: she signed a relatively small number of hardbacks which could only be purchased through a local gift shop at Christmas. Once they were sold out, that was it until the next year. And nobody--I mean nobody--discussed her or the characters/events which inspired the book. My mom (it's her all time favorite book) went "fishing" when she came to visit me and was completely shut down.

LS: There have been several statements from Lee in the last few days, and her international rights agent has said he's visited with her and she's fully on board with the publication. Has any of this news changed your mind about what's really going on?

KW: I have yet to see a statement actually from Miss Lee. I have seen them from her agents, lawyer, publishers, etc., but I have not seen one directly from her. Every statement I have seen in support of the book release has been from someone who will likely have significant financial gain, not to mention the cache of bringing the book to market. So no, I don't believe it. No one has access to her to get the statements in the first place, just like they haven't had access to get signed copies of her books. Think about that.

They "found" it. If she wanted it released, why didn't she tell anyone where it was?

When a person has a stroke then suddenly has a falling out with the sister she has trusted to protect her interests for her entire life, that's a red flag to me (brain injury). When it's to the extent that they are in different nursing homes (and it's not like there's a plethora of them in a town of 6,000 people), I find that extremely disturbing--especially when the sister she trusted practiced law until age 100. And then there's a lawsuit out of the blue against a not-for-profit museum that's been around for over a decade? It tore me apart to read about this happening in Monroeville. 

Regarding "sound mind and body," if that's the case, why does anyone have a power of attorney for her?

Finally, who am I going to trust--friends and family of 20+ years who have a history of protecting Harper Lee the way she consistently wanted as I experienced firsthand or a sudden slew of press releases from sycophants and vultures?


After a marketing career in the corporate world, Kristi Weldon became a technical writer and served as associate editor for Apparel Industry Magazine. She writes small-town contemporary romance as Kristine Bria and erotica as Kristi Hancock.She just completed her first novel. Award-Winning Contemporary Romance Contemporary Erotica Technical Writing

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Time to start a gang war

By Steve Weddle

In keeping with Holly West's "I posed a question on Facebook" idea,

 here's mine:

What's a good way for a third party to start a war between two crime families?

I've gotten Dashiell Hammett's RED HARVEST, as suggested, and am diving into that.

So, you want to get the two families fighting. You make one think the other one did something. Went to the cops. Cheated. Killed the wrong person. Is about to combine forces with another family or group.

From the Romulans to the Corleones, this has been a big factor in crime fiction.

So you kill a Hatfield and blame a McCoy and let them fight it out. I'm thinking, if you're plotting this out in a story, you would have your protagonist come into conflict with a Hatfield, then have a situation in which he/she kills the Hatfield. Then blame a McCoy, That moves things along nicely. You can raise the stakes after a bit by having the McCoys begin to figure out that your protag is really to blame. Or maybe the Hatfields start to figure that out. More killing!

OK. Red Harvest is a good example of groups going against each other. If you have other examples or suggestions, let's hear them.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Smarty Pants

by Holly West

I posed this question on Facebook a long time ago but now I want to discuss it here:

Is it possible for writers to create characters smarter than themselves?

The obvious answer seems to be yes. Our job is to create characters of all sorts. Meaner, nicer, fatter, thinner. Characters who are more or less self-confident than we are, funnier or more somber, more charming or dull. Characters who practice completely different professions or engage in hobbies we've never put our own hands to. Since we can research or observe things that are different from our own experience and incorporate them into our characters, why wouldn't we be able to create characters smarter than ourselves?

But I'm here to argue that no, it's not possible.

First, let's define "smart." I'm not necessarily referring to characters who are more educated than we are, or characters who have more "street smarts." These things can be acquired and therefore they can be researched or even experienced for oneself--an author is only limited by the resources available to them. It's definitely possible for an author to manufacture a character who is both book smarter and street smarter than him or herself.

For example, I can create a character who has a Ph.D. in Chemistry, teaches at the local university by day, and operates an illicit gambling ring by night. All it takes is some research, some imagination, and some diligent work on my part to write this character, even if I myself only have a bachelor's degree, couldn't tell you jack about Chemistry, and find it difficult to count to 21 at the blackjack table. Doesn't matter.

Note: Yesterday evening, after I'd already written this post, I read this in the introduction to Sue Grafton's recently released short story collection, Kinsey and Me:

What's stimulating about her [Kinsey's] presence in my life is that since she can only know what I know, I have to do a great deal of research and this allows me, in essence, to lead two lives--hers and mine.
In this way, I suppose that our characters can never, under any circumstances, be smarter than us, or know more. But the "smarts" I'm talking about are harder to define. It's the way a person's mind works, the level at which their brain functions. How quick they are to catch on to a concept. My argument is that our characters will always be as limited in their intellectual capacity as we are and there's not a damn thing we can do about it. We can make them Ph.D.s, we can call them geniuses and make them do and say smart things, but they will never be actually smarter than we are. They can know more and do more, but their intellectual capabilities will always be limited by our own.

Knowing this doesn't bother me all that much--in fact it kind of pushes me to explore the boundaries of my own intellect through my characters. And have you ever noticed that your characters are often "dumber" in early drafts than later on, when you're able to re-write them with the smarts they need to be interesting? So many of the characters in my first drafts just don't seem very smart until I finish the story and can go back and make them more clever.

So that's my opinion. Now I'm ready for yours. Is it possible for writers to create characters smarter than themselves?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Replacements Anthology - Title & Submission Details

By Jay Stringer

A couple weeks ago I started blabbing about an anthology of crime stories inspired by the music of The Replacements.

Best band on earth, yadda yadda, go back and read what I had to say if you need to know why I love 'em so much.  I'll quote this bit, though;

In industry terms, The Replacements failed. They didn't get the big hit. They didn't sell a bajillion records. They didn't care if the door opened when they threw themselves at it, as long as it rattled. They sang about the disaffected and the lonely. About losers and rebels. They failed by insisting on being themselves to the bitter end, and is there anything better than that? They just played, drank, laughed, toured and set about waiting to be forgotten.
That last line is important. It takes a lyric from the song Bastards Of Young, and I loved the line so much that I'm making it the title.

Waiting To Be Forgotten: Stories of Crime and Heartbreak inspired by The Replacements.

So what am I looking for in the stories? Well, I don't really want to tell you what the band and their music should mean to you. I'm not telling writers what inspiration they should take. I want stories with heart, with hopes and failures, with crimes and passions and challenges and people who said 'I Will Dare,' regardless of whether they meant it or succeeded. The quote above shows the spirit that I love about the band, and the title gives an idea of where the stories should be headed, but the route ahead is wide open for each writer to chart their own path.

Word count? No minimum. Maximum around three thousand words. 

Who can submit stories? Well, this is where you come in. It wouldn't really be honouring the spirit and legacy of The 'Mats if I started laying down too many rules. I want to see a wide variety of people. Over the past two weeks I've already spoken with writers and artists who want in, and they've not all been crime writers. The three rules are; you've got to be serious about it, you've got to be able to finish what you start, and, you've got to be willing to dare

I want to hear from you. Here, facebook, twitter, even my email address Seek me out, grab me, ask which song titles are available. Fifteen have been taken so far, and not necessarily the ones you'd think. 

And do it soon. We're going to work with writers over deadlines for the stories -we're going to play fair and give people as much time as we can- but I need to hear from you within the next two weeks to know that you're in, and which title you're after. 


Monday, February 2, 2015

The Death of the Detective by Mark Smith

A few years ago I wrote that The Death of the Detective is "one of the great lost novels of any genre" and that "it’s the kind of book you long to find, then treasure when you do, mixing rhapsodic and original prose to create an eloquent and lyrical crime epic, as if Thomas Wolfe had written a crime novel". 

The Death of the Detective by Mark Smith is out in a reasonably priced e-book today from Brash Books.

You know you love a book when you own multiple editions
This is the kind of large, messy, imperfect, swing-for-the-fences type book you don't see too often in crime fiction. And I love it. It doesn't settle with being only one thing, it wants to be everything.

Smith crams the book's 600 oversized pages with description and digression, and he drags dozens of characters through multiple overlapping plots. I can't deny that The Death of the Detective could have used some editing: some portions drag, some characters never amount to much, and some scenes are repetitive. But Smith's ambition is so vast, and the tapestry he weaves so detailed and compelling, that I'm willing to forgive him the occasional lapse. 

Praise (taken from the Brash site and earlier editions of the book):

It’s the novelistic counterpart to Sandburg’s “Chicago”: 

The Death of the Detective  is one of my very favorite “lost” 20th-century American classics, an encyclopedic urban crime panorama that embraces both vernacular and highbrow dialects, tragedy, melodrama and farce, putting it in the very exclusive company of Thomas Berger, Thomas Pynchon, and The Wire. -- Jonathan Lethem

"Remarkable for both its ambition and its accomplishment, [it] reads as though it were written by a resurrected Charles Dickens, one chilled by a hundred years of graveyard brooding. . .every page is a pleasure to read." -- New York Times

"A masterpiece, one of the best books of its decade . . . raises Dicken's benign ghost to remind us again that we're all connected, all both innocent and guilty." -- Kirkus Reviews

"Mark Smith is a writer who, like Thomas Wolfe, has a gift: the magical ability to transmute familiar and trivial elements of live into images of distinction, rarity and fascination" -- Philadelphia Bulletin

"A deeply disturbing, intriguing, and involving novel that attempts something all-encompassing and damn well pulls it off...a meticulously well-layered, moment-by-moment account of madness, murder, the Mafia and guilt" -- Publisher Weekly

"As long and ambitious as Gravity's Rainbow, its underworld is as much Pluto's as Chicago's and the total experience is as a riveting as that of being lost with a guttering candle in a booming maze of sewers" -- The Observer (London)

"A brilliant and arresting novel which so far transcends the detective genre that inspired it as to stand in a category of its own." -- Arkansas Gazette

"The characterization and plot flows together, like rivulets that feed a coursing river, in such a way as to give the novel a momentum and magnetism of scope, and put it beyond the category of mere thriller." -- The News and Observer (Raliegh, NC)

"A novel of great skill and brooding intensity... a work of patient and unvarnished realism...exceptional." -- Newsday

"A piece of fiction that is at once terrifying and compassionate, brutal and brilliantly written, and overwhelming in its impact. It may just be the shortest 600 page book in contemporary American literature." -- Cleveland Press

"One of the most significant American novels in recent years...Bleak House is the only book I can think of that even faintly resembles. A novel I cannot get out of my mind." -- Roanoke News

"Precise, controlled, and often brillant." -- San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle

"In its sustained vitality, power and scale, it is unlke any other fiction I have read....A complex and unforgettable novel."Times Literary Supplement

"The imagination churns as in Dickens, Dostoievsky; bottomless. It’s a good novel. Insane, terrible, but very, very good" -- John Gardner

"Mark Smith's novel is beautiful, macabre, nauseating, enormous, frightening, and thoroughly fascinating" -- Book Review Digest

" throbs with powerfully rendered life...that you won't get away from for days after you've finished reading it." -- Book Week

"Powerful...chilling...brilliant." -- San Francisco Chronicle

"Powerful...with this one enormous book, Mark Smith has emerged as one of the most ambitious, original, and thought-provoking novelists writing today...It is not only about Chicago, it is Chicago." -- Chicago Daily News

"Bizarre...ingenious...a tour de force...a bloodbath with the most bizarre trappings of the Gothic, a massacre of people and animals, a slaughter of innocents. A trip through an urban jungle wilderness." -- Cleveland Plain Dealer

"It's pages fairly explode...terrifying and compassionate, brutal and brilliantly written...An intricate, textured, nightmarish and unspeakably macabre study of guilt and destruction, told in terms of brilliant melodrama." -- Cleveland Press

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Living as a "Kept" Woman*

by Kristi Belcamino

*Before you gag on the title to this post, read on.

Being a published author is a dream come true. No doubt about it.

I am grateful every day that there are people NOT RELATED TO ME who are reading and enjoying my books.

It is mind blowing.

But the truth needs to be told. Six months into being a debut author—and with my third book coming out in a few months—the reality is I am not anywhere close to making a living.

The good news is I already knew this going in.

From everything I've read, an author shouldn't even consider counting on royalties or advances to survive until they've published at least five books.

And from what I hear that isn't even a guarantee, it just makes it more likely.

I know that I'm extremely privileged to be able to spend four hours every day writing my novels without having to rush to a day job. I get it. I don't take a second of it for granted. I very rarely squander my "sacred" writing time because I know it is a gift.

And I know I'm very fortunate to have a husband who believes in me and encourages me to write instead of seeking some job where I will most likely not even make enough to pay for the kids to be in daycare while I work.

This subject has come up a lot in my world this week, including this Salon article and this article.

For me, this subject is also tied in with people who quit their day jobs to be writers.  Maybe because I have such mixed feelings when I hear someone has quit their day job before their first novel is published. On the one hand, I think, Uh oh. And on the other hand, I feel guilty because how can I judge someone who doesn't have the luxury of time I have to write?

But, wow, what a gamble. I hope that for some of them it pays off, but it seems to me that is a heck of a lot of pressure to put on oneself — sink or swim, in fact.

Consider this:

Several friends of mine who are unbelievably inspirational talk about their writing career as a way to survive retirement.

For instance, Peg Valenti Cochran is one of the hardest working writers I know. She has two agents and several books out. Here is what she said on Facebook:

" books will go toward my retirement income. I have 9 books out and no way I could support myself unless I wanted to live in a garret, have no health insurance and dumpster dive for food."

Another hardworking writer friend, Kathleen Prater Taylor, says this:

"13 books and I'm not even close to supporting myself. Sigh. My first knitting book earned more than all 6 of the mysteries put together, and still, it's not a living."

I hear you.

And here is where you can stop reading if you don't want to hear me justify having so much time to write:

While I don't work outside the home, I'm also in charge of every blasted thing within our home and family of four. I'm shopping for food and other necessities, I'm making every meal, I'm the accountant and bookkeeper, I'm chauffeuring the children to doctor's appointments and sports and piano and choir. I'm doing a crappy job keeping the house somewhat clean. And I'm not complaining. This is the part I play in our family while my husband's role is bringing in the paycheck that pays our bills and provides our health insurance.

As a feminist who imagined being a newspaper reporter until she died, it is almost difficult and a bit embarrassing to write about my "housewife" duties, but it is important to point them out. Why? In all honesty, it is because I feel guilty that I don't work that 40-hour job. Let me clarify, I believe that my job as a mother is extremely important and I don't want to make this a post about stay-at-home moms versus working mothers. But the truth is I feel guilty that I am able to choose how to spend my days.

(And being a "kept" writer is not just for women. Brad Parks tells about how his wife believed in his writing enough for him to quit his reporting job and pursue his writing career.) And it's no coincidence that Brad coined the phrase "Church of One Thousand Words" which states if you write a thousand words a day five days a week, you can write a book in three to four months.

I feel like I need to justify not working and so yes, I am being honest about what I do and how I spend my time so people don't think I'm a dilettante, sitting around pondering a blank page for eight hours a day and then writing a perfect sentence when the inspiration strikes.

There is no such thing as waiting for inspiration to strike in my life. Writing is work.

My guilt about being able to do this every day means I don't fuck around. I worship at the Church of One Thousand Words. (Stephen King also talks about this schedule - he says you can write a book a season - Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall.)

I have friends on the same publishing schedule as me who fit in writing books around full-time jobs as pediatricians, attorneys, reporters, etc. So I don't waste a second of my gift of time.

Every morning from 8:30 to 12, Monday through Friday, I park my butt in a chair, either at a cafe or at my kitchen table, and I write until I hit my One Thousand Words. The rest of the day involves Mamma Italiana and household duties. On the weekends I work as a newspaper reporter.

But because I don't work outside the home full-time, I have nearly four hours a day to devote to writing. I don't waste this precious time. Here's why: By sitting there every day for five days a week I have accomplished this: In September, I will have had four books published in 13 months.

I have a four-book deal and I'm doing everything in my power to turn that into a six-book deal, maybe an 8-book deal, as far as I can go. Like Peg, I'm working for retirement, baby.

It is a luxury that my husband is carrying our family through this time while I work on building a writing career. He's my biggest champion. He believes in me enough to believe that one day, I will be carrying our family with my writing alone. But in order to get there, I can't waste a minute of my time.