Saturday, May 9, 2015

Cover Reveal: The Phantom Automobiles

Scott D. Parker

I met with the editor I am using for my books yesterday. The editor and I, we’ve not known each other that long. I consider that a good thing especially when delivering a manuscript. With little to go on regarding me, the only thing she has is what I’ve written.

The project I hired her to edit is the longest to date that she’s read and reviewed. I curious to see if me telling a longer story than WADING INTO WAR well was in the cards.

Yesterday, as we sat down at a nice little coffee and sandwich shop in the Houston Heights, one of the first things she told was that the manuscript was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Sure, she bled all over it. That’s what I need her to do. But her words served as yet another bit of encouragement for this writing excursion I've chosen for myself.

You see, two weeks ago, when last I had an off Friday (I get every other Friday off), she was already done with the manuscript. I had plans that day and suggested that we maintain our 8 May meeting. The reasoning, she said, for wondering if I’d want to meet early was to get a jump on the edits. But it was the unspoken subtext that snagged me. Why would I want to get a jump on the edits…unless they were so bad that parts of the story needed to be rewritten. Heavens!

But, I fretted not. The beauty of being an independent author and publisher is that, while I have a general idea of when I’d like to publish these books, I don’t necessarily have to stick to it, especially since I’ve not announced the date yet. So, I waited until yesterday to meet. I busted out 2,700 words on the new project, met with her, got the manuscript with her red markups and fifty pages (!) of notes, and was happy as a clam.

Which brings me to another thing that brings me joy: the cover of my second book, THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES. (I can’t tell you how many times me, as a Star Wars fan, keeps wanting to type “Menace” instead of “Automobiles”.) Of all the books I’ve written—8 to date—PHANTOM was the only one whose title I thought of during the writing process. I suck at titles. The work I just completed had no title until after I "The End," and even then, it was someone else who suggested a much better moniker. In fact, my wife was the one who suggested “The Mark of the Imposter” for a Calvin Carter yarn I wrote for “Livin’ on Jacks and Queens.”

Anyway, as easy as the title came, so, too, did the cover image. I had one idea that I quickly dropped to be filled by the image below. Whereas my graphic artist, Ike, and I went back and forth with WADING INTO WAR, this was almost a one-and-done affair.

I purchased the Adobe Creative Cloud suite of software so I had Illustrator and InDesign at my disposal. I knew next to nothing about either program, but I learned enough to be able to crop images from other sources, put’em in a single file, and color like a two year old.

When it came to the title font, I wanted something different than Benjamin Wade’s art deco. What I had in my head was fonts from 1940s movie trailers. Do you know how long I scoured the internet looking for a font like this before a friend of mine said, “Oh, you want a brush font.” Sure enough, plug that word in with “1940s” and viola. Another differentiator is the subtitle. Gordon Gardner, the co-star in WADING is the featured player here. Since he’s a reporter, I didn’t want to use the term “A Gordon Gardner Mystery” so I opted for “Investigation” with a courier font.

Ike cleaned everything up and made it look presentable to the world. And here you go.

Look for THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES later this month.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Why I said Minority Report was very Nearly the Bleakest SF movie ever made

By Russel D McLean

Please note: major spoilers included for the 2003 movie, Minority Report

Noir is about the absence of hope. It’s about people suffering and rising up against insurmountable odds only to fail due to their own hubris or unimportance. This is is an important distinction to make. Hardboiled, often confused for noir, is about people who experience terrible things and yet emerge triumphant. Hardboiled can be bitter sweet. Noir is always, always bleak.

 Last Saturday I made a slightly tongue in cheek remark about how Minority Report was the most noir SF movie ever made, if (and only if) you lop off the last twenty minutes. A few people took me to task on Twitter: “What about Bladerunner?” they asked.

And it’s true: Bladerunner is bleak. Balderunner is noir. But the ending can be taken one of several ways (and depends on which version you watch). Even in the director’s cut, there is a chance – and it’s a small chance – that Rachel and Deckard find one moment of happiness together when they run for it. They have to grasp at something. We, the audience, have an out if we want to believe that there is even a chance of happiness in the world of Blade Runner. (It’s a delusional chance, I should add, but I think it’s there to be read into it if you want to).

 In Minority Report, Detective Anderton has been on the run for a crime he did not yet commit. It has been foretold by the Precog division that he will kill a man he doesn’t know. Anderton realises after a long chase from his old colleagues that he has been set up and that someone has been gaming the precognitive system that predicts crimes. He is on the verge of a revelation when his old colleagues catch him and he can’t run. He can’t do anything.

Cut to Anderton being sentenced to what is essentially a living death and a monologue about how in that death he is alone with his thoughts and maybe some of them will be about changing his destiny.

Anderton has been destroyed by a system so much larger than one man. Not just the forces of destiny, but the forces of politics and the attempted restraint of people’s free will by those who believe they know what is best for the population.

 Cut to Black.

 First time I saw it, I thought that was the end of the movie for about three seconds before I realised that there was another twenty minutes to go during which the bad guy got tripped up and Tom Cruise - - pardon me, Chief Anderton - - was released from this endless waking death prison by his wife, armed with one of Tom’s old eyes which we had assumed had either been confiscated by his old colleagues or lost down a drain (Look, it’s too complex to explain here).

But seriously, I thought, for that moment when I believed it had ended on the Tim Blake Nelson monologue of bleakness, “My God, Speilberg’s got ballsy here!” After all, what had preceded all of this was a breathless chase movie. A brilliant succession of fun set pieces. And some (pretty good, actually – I used it as an example in my MLitt dissertation on free will) toing and froing about free will and pre-destination. And then this idea that even when you do succeed in exercising free will and avoiding the pre-cog’s predictions of your actions, you still wind up paying the price you would have paid for doing it anyway… that’s pretty bleak. That’s very bleak. That means there’s no hope. Nothing.

 It’s a kick in the teeth. It’s going to cause debate and anger and a discussion about what it means. And of course it’s never going to work in a summer blockbuster.

 Minority Report is not Blade Runner. It was never intended to be. But for those three seconds, to me, it became one of the bleakest SF movies ever. And one of the most interesting. And then those last twenty minutes came along, and destroyed all of that.

They gave us what we need in a chase film: a resolution and a payback against the forces of evil. A chance to believe that we can rise and fight against corruption, indifference and a world where everything we do is watched, recorded, analysed and predicted.

 And if you think I’m getting too involved in the themes of a movie intended to entertain and thrill audiences on a global scale, you should hear my thoughts on the revolutionary undertones and calls for the will of the people to be unshackled in The Toxic Avenger…*

 *Please note: this last bit is actually a joke.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Conversation with Rob Hart, Part II

By Alex Segura

Last week, I got to sit down with fellow Polis Books author and friend Rob Hart to talk about his writing, his debut novel New Yorked and more – but why stop there? Rob was kind enough to take on two rounds of questions and I think it made for a more thoughtful, engaging chat. You decide. Here’s the rest of my conversation with Rob. Read it and then pre-order New Yorked. It's one of my favorite debuts in recent memory. Get it. You will not regret it.

OK, Rob - last week we talked about you, your journey and what influenced your first novel, New Yorked. But I want to zoom out a bit and look ahead. But before we do that, can you give us a bit more on Ash and his story - from a publishing perspective and as a character? How long will the Ash series of novels run?
It’s five books, to my mind. The second, City of Rose, is already in, and scheduled to come out in early 2016. The third is tentatively titled South Village. I’m pretty deep into research mode on that. Which means learning about: cam girls, political philosophies of Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin, how to procure and transport liquid nitrogen, what the topography is like around Jekyll Island, the process of fracking, the history of the Earth Liberation Front, and how to get a library card in Georgia. Research mode is fun.
Each book is about Ash growing up, but it’s also playing at different genres within the crime and mystery umbrella. New Yorked is hard-boiled. City of Rose is sort of like a Western. South Village, in my head, is like a war novel, but set on a hippie commune. The fourth will be a spy thriller. And the final entry… I’ll keep that one to myself (in part because I haven’t totally figured it out).
I like the idea of having an end point. I know what the final chapter of the fifth book is. I know what I want to accomplish. Fingers crossed I can pull it off.
What was THE book for you? And by that, I mean, what was the book that made you realize this is what you wanted to do with your life. For me, it was George Pelecanos's A Firing Offense.
I’ve got two. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. That was the first book that knocked me on my ass, and showed me what books were capable of. And Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk made me want to be a writer.
Great choices. Now, as you know, we live in a world that's always on - the constant stream of media, social or otherwise, can be overwhelming. But it's also pretty cool that we're able to get so much so easily. What are you taking in now? Books, movies, TV - plug away.
I’m working on getting through Daredevil on Netflix, which I am enjoying, though it’s a tad slow. I’m hoping that by the time this interview runs I’ll have finished reading Hit by Delilah S. Dawson, The Mercy of The Night by David Corbett, and maybe even The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour. That might be wishful thinking, but those are the three books that have priority right now. Also, Orphan Black. Holy shit Orphan Black is so under watched and so, so good.

I think it's fair to say you've experienced a lot of publishing ups and downs in a short amount of time. What's the best bit of advice you could give to an up and coming writer?
Be patient.
Patience is so important, because so much of this game is just sitting around and waiting. There’s a deal my agent cut recently that took a while to go through and I started freaking out--because as much as I say it, I still haven’t totally learned that lesson. But that’s just the way the industry moves. Slow as molasses.
If you can’t be patient and channel that nervous energy into something positive, this job will tear you apart.
You're also a prolific short story writer, and for whatever reason, I feel like that market is not fully appreciated by new writers - a lot of people seem to think you need to dive in with a novel first. Can you talk a bit about how writing shorts helps your bigger pieces and the market itself?
Shorts are important on a couple of levels. Since they’re smaller and easier to see the breadth of, you can experiment, try new things, feel out your voice. Sometimes I’ll test an idea with a short, with the sense I might use it in a longer work later on. Sometimes I’ve just got a goofy idea, and it’s like playing with a new toy.
They’re also a great shot in the arm. When you’re down in the dumps and a short gets accepted, it’s a rush, and it can give you that extra little push you need to move forward.
One of the highlights of my short writing life thus far is when a complete stranger pulled me aside at Bouchercon and complimented me on a story I had in Thuglit. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Like most writers, you have a day job and you have a home life - how do you find yourself able to balance it all?
I have two day jobs, technically— is my office job, while LitReactor is nearly worthy of full time, and that I fit in whenever I can.
Time management is important. So is a little bit of sacrifice when it comes to leisure activities. I got two video games for Christmas I haven’t even opened yet. I’ve had people practically beg me to watch The Flash. I need mountain climbing equipment to reach the top of my to-be-read pile. It’d be nice to do those things, but it’s not always easy to make the commitment.
When my wife and I are sitting around and watching TV, I’ll generally keep my laptop handy so I can knock out busywork while I’m otherwise distracted. And sometimes when the baby falls asleep, I’ll sit at my computer and work furiously until she wakes up.
My wife is incredible. She’s very understanding and supportive. If I need to sit in my office for a few hours or skip out on a social function and knock out some work, she’s cool with that. Within reason, of course. And there are plenty of times I could be working but I’d rather to put the laptop aside and sit on the floor with the baby and make faces at her.
All work and no play, et cetera, et cetera.
Give me a few writers you think are deserving of more attention and why.
Tom Spanbauer. It’s criminal he’s not more widely read.
Todd Robinson, who has one of the most unique voices in crime fiction. I got a sneak peek of his next Boo and Junior novel recently and it’s so fucking good.
Charles Williams, who was a great noir writer from the 50s—sort of like Jim Thompson, if Jim Thompson was slightly less fatalistic and also really liked boats.
I could do this forever, but I’ll stick with those three for now.
Any parting words about New Yorked, or anything you'd like to share with the DSD crowd?
Thanks for having me! I’m a fan of DSD, so it’s a nice thing, being here. Also, please buy ten copies of my book.
(Not really though.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Back to the Beginning

by Holly West

Lately I've been thinking about a few things that have convinced me I need to make some changes. The first is my personal book review policy.

Since I got published, I kind of gave up reviewing other people's books. In fact, I discussed the issue in my very first Do Some Damage post. After struggling with the issue for awhile, I decided I wasn't going to review books anymore.

As I indicated in that first post, I had my reasons:
"I made a 'policy' never to give any book less than 4. If I didn't feel it deserved that, I didn't rate it at all. In my own personal rating scale, 5-star books are the ones I've loved for years, the ones I've read over and over or resonated strongly with me for one reason or another. Truly, there's only a handful of books that hold that rank for me.
If I rate a book 4 stars, it means that I loved it, that it deserves high praise and gets my sincere recommendation. I've rated many books 4 stars in the last few years, but even as I did it, I wondered if the recipients might take it as a slight. After all, how are they to know my criteria for rating books? Over time, I started rating most books as 5 stars, then, feeling conflicted, I stopped rating books altogether."
Lately, I've realized that I miss one of the things that led me to social media in the first place--the desire not only to connect with other writers, but to connect with other readers. Talking about books and promoting those books I like is one of my favorite things to do. 

But there's another reason for my change of heart. For reasons I still don't fully understand (and if someone would please explain it to me in the comments I'd surely appreciate it) Amazon reviews continue to be very important to the success of a book. The more you have, the more promotion you get, or something like that. If one of my goals is to promote the books I like, then I really should be posting reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. Furthermore, if I'm out there begging for reviews of my own books, shouldn't I be willing to review those of other writers?

Admittedly, I've decided it's not unreasonable to "relax" my rating criteria a bit. Just because a book doesn't compare (for me) to, say, THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt (which is one of my all-time favorites) doesn't mean it doesn't deserve 5 stars. I read plenty of books these days that are so good that I'm sad when I finish it because I no longer get to live in that world. To me, that book probably deserves 5 stars, but in the past, I would've likely given in 4 stars.

I still won't review books that I can't give at least 4 stars. I have a few 4 star reviews for my own books and they don't bother me in the least.

I've had two books published. I'm no longer a debut author and I don't have another book coming out any time soon. But it's not that I feel like I've got nothing to lose by publicly reviewing other people's books again--far from that. I'm more energized about my career now than I've ever been. I'm more excited about publishing and reading than I was, even at the beginning of all of this. But after a brief funk about the state of publishing and my role in it, one of the things that brought me out of it was the knowledge that I still love everything I always did about reading and writing.

And with the Anthony Award nominations just announced (please note that my fellow DSDer, Kristi Belcamino, is nominated for Best First Novel for BLESSED ARE THE DEAD), I have plenty of good reading to do in the coming months. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

A brief look at Baltimore's nickname, Mobtown

"The man out on the street was something without a human nature or a personality of its own. He was on a stage. The street was another world.” -- Elmore Leonard 3:10 to Yuma

"Baltimore, in fact, is chaos theory incarnate." -- Richard Price

 The city of Baltimore has had many nicknames: Charm City, The City that Reads, Clipper City, The Greatest City in America, and Smalltimore.  Baltimore also has another nickname: Mobtown.

John Quincy Adams himself said that Baltimore was "the Monumental City". The nickname Smalltimore is a recent one that speaks to the geographic size and that one always seems to be just a couple of degrees away from everyone else in the city. The nickname The Greatest City in America has it's origins in Martin O'Malley's mayoral term, reportedly there are still some benches around the city that still bear the name.

But the name Mobtown is a historical nickname, a nickname that has been in place for a long time, was enthusiastically used in my lifetime, and is still used sometimes today. Why is Baltimore known as Mobtown? Because the citizens of Baltimore have never needed much of an excuse to form a mob and riot. There are history books that have whole chapters dedicated to the nickname.

"For more than a century Baltimore was known throughout the nation under the unsavory name of "Mobtown". The title owed its origin to the speed and frequency with which the citizenry found excuse to riot. The Baltimore tough of the 19th century knew no peer. But there were also times when the best citizens took a conspicuous  part in these public disorders. In the early days political feeling ran high and politics often was at the bottom of the trouble. However, when the populace was in the mood for going on a rampage almost any reason would do."

The earliest print reference to the term Mobtown comes from The Baltimore Sun in 1838. The archives only go back to 1837 and the name was already well established by the time it made its first appearance.

There's a story from 1777 that involves a crowd of angry Baltimoreans who descended upon the house of a newspaper editor named William Goddard, who was critical of the American cause, they were armed with sticks and swords. They dragged him out to the streets and tarred and feathered him. Another mob gathered a couple of years later to go after Goddard. This time he was ready with his own sword, which he refused to relinquish during a meeting.

In 1794 Congress declared a 30 day embargo on foreign commerce. Captain Ramsdell lowed the flag of his ship to have mast as a sign of protest. The Captain and crew of another ship seized control of the Ramsdell's ship and tarred and feathered him. A judge issued an arrest warrant for the Captain and his crew. They marched to the court, and a large crowd gathered behind them. They were ordered to disperse or go to jail. The mob threatned to tear down the jail and destroy the judge's home. But the judge was no push over, he was Samuel Chase, signatory of the Declaration of Independance and eventual Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. The mob was won over by the fierce nature and eloquence of Chase and dispersed.

A turning point in Baltimore's mob behavior came on September 30, 1808, when the citizens really upped their game. In the buildup to The War of 1812, a piece titled "To the People of Maryland" appeared in newspapers. Baltimoreans were informed that the ship Sophia had arrived with 720 gallons of gin and that on its was to America it was forced by a British man-o-war to put into a British port, and pay a tax on her cargo before being allowed to continue. A town meeting was called and it was agreed that this "infamous tribute" could not be abide and that the only thing to do was to descend on the ship and destroy all of the gin. The owner of the ship, was well aware of the reputation of Baltimore mobs and promptly agreed to allow his cargo to be destroyed. This wasn't just a few guys from Baltimore's prominent families but a sanctioned, organized, political action.

"A monster parade was organized. In the van were 1,200 horsemen, preceded by a trumpeter. Following in line were 400 sailors and, after the sailors, ordinary civilians to the estimated number of 1,000. A conspicuous feature of the procession was a full-rigged barge on wheels from whose rigging were suspended patriotic slogans.

The procession moved out to Hampstead Hill on the east of the town where Patterson Park now lies. Here already was assembled a throng of some 15,000. The 1,200 horsemen formed a circle and in the center of the circle was erected a gallows. On the gallows was stacked the 720 gallons of gin. A band struck up "Yankee Doodle," a torch was applied, flames leaped high in the air and, to the accompaniment of the cheers of the crowd, the gin was consumed by the flames."

1812 was the year that Baltimore's reputation as Mobtown solidified. A mob, armed with axes, hooks, and other weapons, went after another newspaper editor, destroying his office and the press. The mayor and a judge were present and did nothing. The editor in question holed up in a house armed with muskets and fought the large mob. This fight became so large that the militia was called in and negotiated a peace before eventually escorting the editor to prison. There was sufficient peace that the powers that be dismissed the militia. That evening an angry crowd gathered in front of the jail. The mob, finding that the militia had been dismissed, stormed the jail killing a prisoner and injuring eleven others. This was the bloodiest and deadliest mob violence in Baltimore so far. Members of the mob were brought to trial but all were acquitted.

The bloodlust of Baltimoreans was satiated for more than 20 years until the Bank riot of 1835. In 1834 The Bank of Maryland closed and other financial institutions failed causing millions of dollars in losses. One of the Directors of the bank was a man named Reverdy Johnson. 17 months after the banks closure Baltimore residents stormed Johnson's house and smashed his windows. The Mayor gathered 30 armed horsemen to guard the banker's house when another large crowd gathered. The crowd changed course and went to another banker's house that lived in the area that wasn't being guarded. Upon arrival they methodically tore down his house. They managed to tear down the entire front wall of the house before the armed horsemen and policemen could be re-deployed. They fired weapons into the crowd but could not make it disperse. The next day the crowd stormed Johnson's house, ransacked his possessions, and burned his extensive law library in the street. The mob moved on to at least four other homes.

"Baltimore fully merited the name of Mobtown that Sunday night while the populace pursued its grim work of destruction by the light of the bonfires and amid the shouts of the throng, the discharge of small arms, bloody fist fights and the crashing down of walls."

Then there was the Nunnery Riot of 1839. A woman wearing a habit was running through East Baltimore with a story that she'd escaped the Carmelit Convent. Her story drew a crowd and they decided to to march on the convent. The 1850's saw the rise of political clubs. So each election year groups like the "Rough Skins", "Rip-Raps", Blood tubs", and others, working in conjunction with a corrupt police force, used a shoemakers awl to get people to the polls or to keep them away.An election in 1856 saw eight people killed and 250 wounded. The march of the 6th Massachusetts Infantry across Baltimore caused a riot in April of 1861. 1877 saw several thousand people rioting in connection to the B&O Railroad strike in that year. In 1895, another election year, there was a small outburst of violence.

By the time of the 1968 riots the racial makeup of the city had changed (though Baltimore did have at one time the largest African American population of any city in the nation) but those acts of violence weren't tied into the the history of mobs in the city. Was this because of the racial makeup of the rioters had changed? Or because a substantial period of time had passed between significant mob gatherings and the city had finally outgrown the reputation that was at its worst in the early 1800s ("a place which is without government", "the headquarters of mobocracy", "a new Sodom")?

Mobtown now is a nickname that people use but have no idea of the history behind it (eg: there is a group called Mobtown Mommies, a Facebook page called Mobtown minute, the Mobtown Ballroom, Mobtown espresso coffee, Mobtown Meat Snacks, Mobtown Florals, and many others). There is a lot to think about with the death of Freddie Gray and the aftermath and the ongoing concerns. But I definitely took a few minutes last week to ponder, again, Baltimore's relationship with violence and to try and place the riots of 2015 in a historical context.

I find this stuff interesting, and there is much more to be said on the subject, I hope you get something out of it. 

Further reading:

The Amiable Baltimoreans by Francis F Beirne

Baltimore: A Not Too Serious History by Letitia Stockett

Wicked Baltimore: Charm City Sin and Scandal by Lauren R Silberman

Maryland: A Middle Temperament 1934-1980 by Robert J Brugger

The 1877 Railroad Strike in Baltimore by Bill Barry

From Mobtown to Charm City by Jessica Elfenbein, John R. Breihan

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Character Auction - Your Name in My Next Book

by Kristi Belcamino
If you've read my books or followed my journalism career at all, you know why the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is near and dear to my heart. I've looked into the eyes of too many parents who have had a child kidnapped to not feel strongly about this nonprofit organization. All of my books have a theme of missing children and so I thought it would be appropriate to try to give back a little.
My fourth book, BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN, comes out in September, and I'm holding an auction on eBay to raise money for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The highest bidder will have their name in that fourth book. Here is more:
Charity Auction - Bid On A Character Name In the Upcoming Gabriella Giovanni Novel - BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN
Have you always wanted to see your name in a novel? Be the highest bidder and you'll be a character in my next book, Plus you'll receive a personally signed paperback copy of the book when it is printed in paperback in October. 100 percent of the PROCEEDS benefit the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
The eBay auction ends May 10. Click here to bid
And if you aren't interested, but think you might know someone who is, please spread the words.
Thank you.