Saturday, April 25, 2015

Creating Drama When You Know The End

Scott D. Parker

There's a moment in the musical "1776" a little over halfway through the film where the delegates are debating the wording of the Declaration of Independence. The issue is over the inclusion of slavery in the document. The Southern delegates want it out of the final draft, the Northern delegates want it in, and Thomas Jefferson, the author and a slave-owning Virginian, is caught in the middle. They are at an impasse, neither side willing to budge, and the South threatens to walk out of the convention. John Adams and the North calls their bluff and the Southerners walk.

Holy cow, I thought for the briefest of instances back when I first watched the film, I wonder if they'll come back and resolve their differences? But then the obvious fact entered my mind the next instant later: Dude, you're living in the United States of America in then-1995. Of course they figure it out.

But for a moment, the movie had me.

Yesterday, I watched the new movie WOMAN IN GOLD and had a similar experience. The movie tells the story of Maria Altmann, an Austrian Jew, and her crusade to win back a painting stolen from her family by the Nazis. Helen Mirren plays the elder Maria circa 1998 and we get some of her story in flashbacks to 1938. At one point, she and her husband are escaping Europe and there was that moment when my palms started to sweat, my heart beat faster, and the “Will she get out?” question popped into my head. Dude: you’ve already seen her as an old woman in America circa 1998. Of course she gets out.

But for a moment, the movie had me.

It’s a pretty powerful film that can make you forget the real history and get caught up in the sweep of the story. The movie, WOMAN IN GOLD, is, by the way, quite well done. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried, and at a very specific moment. Yeah, yeah, I know: You’re asking “Scott, what film didn’t make you cry?” Quiet. I wear my heart on my sleeve when I give myself over to a story. And this story ensnared my heart and took my away.

What is it that makes you forget history and get wrapped up in the story? Is it the characters or is it the craft of the storytelling process?

What films/books made you forget the real history while you were watching/reading them?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Are There More Male or Female Editors at Literary Magazines?

The Litragger crew did some counting -> 
What percentage of work that a magazine publishes is written by men? What percentage by women? How many books reviewed are written by men? How many by women?VIDA asks these important questions. What we wanted to know: what happens when we ask similar questions about magazine editors who decide what to publish and who to review? So we we started counting editors >>>

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore

by Holly West

Have any of you been watching The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore? The topic hasn't really come up in my FB or Twitter feeds and I'm curious whether the show is making any sort of impact.

To be certain, Larry Wilmore, the former Senior Black Correspondent on The Daily Show, had big shoes to fill when he took over Stephen Colbert's time slot on Comedy Central. And admittedly, the show isn't as good as the Colbert Report, but that doesn't mean it doesn't deserve a place at the table. It's a different show with different goals. The question is whether it's achieving them.

First, it's a comedy show and yes, it's funny. I'm genuinely entertained by Wilmore and I like hearing what he has to say. Not everything he does hits the mark, but then that's the case with most comedy, I'd say. So goal accomplished.

What about its wider aims?

People like to say we need to have a "conversation" about race in this country. I think that's true, but nobody seems to know where to start. Personally, I think a good place to begin the dialogue is for white people to quit having knee jerk reactions to the subject of racism. Take a step back and really listen without being defensive. I assure you, black people know that not all white people are racist. You don't have to keep saying it. Just please listen to what people who've experienced racism first hand have to say and try to take it in.

Wait, how did this post become about me and my own views about race? That's not what I meant to talk about.

What I like about The Nightly Show is that Larry Wilmore is actually trying to have a conversation about race. The show isn't only about race, but the subject comes up rather frequently. It's focus is the news of the day with an emphasis on social justice and politics. There's no denying that the tone of the show is "liberal," but it's less divisive than say, Real Time With Bill Maher. It will no doubt offend a few of the more conservative among us, but there's no pleasing everybody, is there?

There are problems, of course, with attempting to address complex subjects in a half-hour comedy format. Often, it barely scratches the surface of topics that require some deep consideration from multiple view points. At best, the show serves as a starting point for discussion. At worst, it glosses over important points without giving both sides a chance to speak their piece.

It remains to be seen whether The Nightly Show will become a cultural phenomenon like the Colbert Report and The Daily Show. They probably need to up their game with more high profile guests before and perhaps dig a little deeper into certain topics without skewing the narrative too far to the left. Its strength lies in is its potential to ask hard, legitimate questions without being so polarizing that the opposite side shuts down.

Is that even possible in a show that is, at it's heart, a comedy? Its predecessors managed to achieve it to a large extent, even if The Daily Show has been written off as being for college students and stoners. Regardless, I'd like to see Larry Wilmore and The Nightly Show succeed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Facts and Fiction–one more time

So, I saw this headline over the weekend:

FBI admits it fudged forensic hair matches in nearly all criminal trials for decades

Seems like a pretty big deal. What’s more shocking – or not surprising at all – was this part:

“Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favoured prosecutors in more than 95 per cent of the 268 trials reviewed so far..”

95 percent of the “overstated forensic matches… favoured prosecutors.”

It seems like such old news now, the authorities breaking the rules, cheating, lying to get a conviction. The science being manipulated – for one side, in 95% of the cases.

And yet, in popular crime fiction science has become the star. Years ago someone said, “I’m not really into forensics, so I don’t watch much TV.” For a while there it seemed like every other show had people in white lab coats solving crimes. Pretty much always honestly, always above reproach. It was science and science doesn’t lie.

Did crime fiction show too much faith in accepting science? Or in underestimating the lengths people will go to get what they want? (This is a pet peeve of mine, how a lot of crime fiction actually sees the world as completely honest – except for the fact that everyone in a small town could be a calculating, cold-blooded murderer, capable of not only committing the most serious crimes but also of going about their lives as if nothing has happened.)

Another article I saw this week was from about why The X-Files won’t work today. Reason #4 was, “The attitudes towards the military are from a different era,” and pointed out that, “Americans now trust the military more than they do religious leaders, doctors, or teachers. Whether you think that's fair or a result of media brainwashing, the fact remains that repeatedly involving the military in a dark television conspiracy today would be about as popular with audiences as aliens disguised as and played by cute kittens that needed to be slaughtered at the end of every episode.”

Reason #2 was that “The conspiracies are all real now,” and said, “while there has never been a time when the U.S. government's actions were 100 percent peachy, the '90s was definitely a low point for shady government activity. Now, compare this to today. In the last 10 years, we've learned that the government has gone to war for no particular reason, tortured innocent people in secret prisons, and repeatedly executed American citizens without trial. In theory, this should give the new X-Files some great plot fuel, maybe even enough fuel to melt steel, I don't know, the truth is still out there about that. In reality, though, I think it works the opposite way. After the last 10 years or so, the mind-blowing conspiracy theories we saw revealed on the X-Files seem kind of ... quaint, like a kid finding out for the first time why their parents share a bed.”

There’s a joke in Canada that we’re always on the brink of, “Coming of age,” and we never really do (one of our prime ministers once said, “The 20th century belongs to Canada,” and we’ve now revised it to, “The 21st century,” and I expect we’ll keep revising that forever) and that Americans lose their innocence every thirty years.

So now, according to, the 1990’s were a low point for shady government activity. I think maybe a new X-Files will work really well as it seems we’re almost due for another loss of innocence.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The "Wake with a start and grab a gun" opening

Was flipping through some western paperbacks the other day and read the opening to Gun Code and started thinking about certain types of openings. In this case it was the self-explanatory "get up and grab a gun" opening. Here are some examples:

"What it was that aroused him, Joe Edison didn't know, but he suddenly was wide awake and after a tense moment he sat up. The night was bright with stars and half a moon. He could see the homesteader's wagon quite clearly, and near it the blanket wrapped figures of the homesteader and his young wife. Not far beyond the wagon, three horses were staked out, his horse and the team that pulled the wagon. Nothing else caught his attention, but in what he had seen, something was wrong. The three horses were pulling back, straining at the stakes that held them.

Joe Edison's holster gun was under the blanket which had served as his pillow. He found it, tucked it in the waistband of his trousers, then pulled on his boots and stood up." -- Gun Code by Philip Ketchum
"Choc was having a quiet digestion dream of coffee and eggs when things started happening that brought the nightmarish Tulsa siege into his sleep. He woke with a frightened "Yeah!' and gripped the automatic that his Indian Pearl shoved into his hand." -- Pretty Boy by William Cunningham

"When the woman screamed, Parker awoke and rolled off the bed. He heard the plop of a silence behind him as he rolled, and the bullet punched the pillow where his head had been.

He landed face down on the floor. His stubby, pregnant .32 was clipped to the springs under the bed like a huge black fly standing upside down, and Parker's hand was reaching out for it before he hit the floor." -- The Outfit by Richard Stark

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Interview with Lisa Unger

by Kristi Belcamino

I'm stealing this from ... myself. I did this interview with one of my all-time favorite authors, Lisa Unger, about three years ago.  Lisa's latest book, CRAZY LOVE YOU, came out in February.

1. Describe your writing routine and/or schedule?
My most creative hours are from about 5 AM to noon.  However, I have a six year old daughter, who comes before everything else … and she also likes to get up between 5 and 6 AM.  Luckily, my husband is on board to help, but I like to be with her first thing, make her breakfast and see her off to kindergarten … so the early hours are hit or miss.  I write when she’s in school.  If I haven’t met my goals by the time she comes home, I work again after she goes to bed.  The writer/mother thing can be a difficult balance, and sometimes I need support in the afternoons. But mainly it works.  And I feel lucky to do what I love and still be present every day for my little girl.
2. What do you do if you get writer’s block?
I don’t believe in writers’ block.  I think that’s just fear, or perfectionism.  In The Lie that Tells a Truth, author John Dufresne says that writers’ block is you wanting to write well right now.  But sometimes all you have to do is writePerfection – or hopefully something close — comes in revision.
My singular struggle – in work and in life — is that there are not enough hours in the day. Writing is the thing that has always come most naturally to me.  And it’s harder for me not to write, then it is for me to sit down and put my fingers to the keyboard.  I live for the blank page.
3. Who do you read, or recommend other writer’s read, in regards to craft?
Stephen King’s On WritingThe Lie that Tells a Truth by John Dufresne, as well as Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott all books that offer tremendous insight on the craft of writing.
4. Who do you read for fun?
I have always been a literary omnivore and have been influenced as heavily by popular fiction as by classic literature.  I don’t discriminate!  I have loved Truman Capote, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jane Austen, Patricia Highsmith, The Bronte sisters.  But I have also loved Stephen King, Sidney Sheldon, Joy Fielding.  My fiction love affair right now is George R.R. Martin’s Game of Throne series.  I am knee deep in book four, A Feast for Crows.  The series is simply a feat of brilliant storytelling and character development.
I have read widely across genre.  I love a great story and I think that can be found in every area of fiction.  One of my first and favorite thrillers was Rebecca by Daphne DuMurier.  I really loved that idea of the ordinary girl caught in extraordinary circumstances.  And it is a theme that has run through my work.
Some of my favorite contemporary writers:  Laura Lippman, John Connelly, Karin Slaughter, Michael Connelly, Kate Atkinson, Dennis Lehane …  I could go on and on.  I am currently also reading Lisa Gardeners Catch Me. (I always have multiple books going!)  It’s truly fantastic.
5. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Tell us about it.
I don’t remember a time before I defined myself as a writer.  Making a living as a writer is really the only thing I ever wanted to do with my life.  It was a twisty road to that place, and there were times when I never thought I’d manage it.  So I’m very grateful.  It’s a dream come true.
6. What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
The best advice I can give aspiring writers is to write every day. Dig deeper every day. Be true to yourself. Think of publishing as an incidental element to the act of striving to be the best writer you can be, secondary to getting better every day for your experiences and dedication to the craft.
And read.  Read everything you can get your hands on.  Study the people who are doing it best and learn from them.
7. What do you think is the most important skill to have to succeed as a writer?
Tenacity makes up for almost any shortfall.  Of course, you need talent.  You might also benefit from a little bit of good luck.  But without the drive and sheer never-say-die determination you won’t have what it takes to finish a novel, or to succeed once you do.
8. What is your favorite food and/or drink?
Coffee, Coffee, Coffee.
9. Do you have a favorite book or movie?
Rebecca was my first gothic thriller.  I love every word Truman Capote has ever writer – from Music for Chameleons to Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  But it was In Cold Blood that had the biggest impact on me as a writer.
10. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to share?
I am sure every author feels this way, but I think I have the very best fans and readers.  I am connected with them every day at They are funny, smart, and so supportive.  So, I suppose what I’d like to say more than anything is: Thank you so much for reading and being a part of my life.
Lisa Unger is the bestselling author of 13 novels and several short stories.  CRAZY LOVE YOU is her latest release.  IN THE BLOOD, now in paperback, was a 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee for Best Book, Amazon Best Book of the Month, Suspense Magazine Best Books of 2014, Sun Sentinel Best Mystery Novels of 2014 and Indie Next Pick.
Additional accolades include selections as a finalist for International Thriller Writers Best Novel Award, a winner of the Florida Book Awards, a finalist for Prix Polar International Award, Bookspan’s International Book of the Month, and a Target “Emerging Author.”  Her books are published in 26 languages worldwide and have been named top picks by Todayshow, Good Morning America, Walmart Book Club, Harper’s Bazaar, Family Circle, Good HousekeepingWashington LifePublishers WeeklyNew York Daily News, Indie Next and Amazon (Top Ten Thriller of the Year.)  She currently lives in Florida.