Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Joy (and Need) of Beta Readers

Scott D. Parker

When you are a independent publisher, it's a good idea to get some good beta readers. BTW, I'm specifically talking about indie publishers because I'm pretty sure traditional publishing has the beta reader stage built in. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

For those that don't know, a beta reader is someone who will read your work and provide feedback. This isn't your editor, this isn't your spouse, and this isn't your mother. And, no, it's not you either. Ideally, this is a friend who will be critically honest with your book and see any potential flaws in the story. A couple of my  readers noted a thread that wasn't completely tied off and I fixed it.

I know of a few indie authors who provide free books to readers who post reviews on Amazon and other sites. Not only do these folks act as a advanced readers who often post reviews day-of publication, they can become a pool of beta readers. I'm not there yet, but it's a long-term goal.

Why are beta readers so important? For one thing, they are not in your head. We creatives can get so wrapped up in our stories and all the plot threads that it can be difficult for us to see the forest for the trees. More than once, as I tried to lay out my carefully choreographed plot, has my wife's eyes glaze over. "It's too much," she'll say. "Yeah, I know, but it'll all be piecemealed out," I reply. "So write it down and I'll let you know if it works."

That's what makes beta readers so key. They'll let you know if it works. sure, your editor can do that, but the editor's job often is more granular. Beta readers are just there for the story. Did this plot work? They are likely not to dwell on your grammar.

I've got a couple of candidates for beta readers since they provided me with some good fixes for my stories. I'm always looking for more.

So, if you think you might want to serve as a beta reader, email me. I can certainly promise free books, in advance of the public, and acknowledgements in the book itself. Plus, you'll get some good entertainment.

Writers out there: how do you find beta readers?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Shamus nominees announced

Congrats to the Shamus Award nominees for 2015, recently announced by the PWE.


The Hollow Girl by Reed Farrel Coleman
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
Toyko Kill by Barry Lancet
Hounded by David Rosenfelt
Peter Pan Must Die by John Verdon


Invisible City by Julia Dahl
Bad Country by C.B. McKenzie
Last of the Independents by Sam Wiebe
Wink of an Eye by Lynn Chandler Willis
City of Brick and Shadow by Tim Wirkus


The Shadow Broker by Trace Conger
Nobody’s Child by Libby Fischer Hellmann
Played To Death by BV Lawson
The Kids Are All Right by Steve Liskow
Get Busy Dying by Ben Rehder


The Detective and the Pipe Girl by Michael Craven
Beauty With A Bomb by M.C. Grant
Critical Damage by Robert K. Lewis
Street Justice by Kris Nelscott
Moonlight Weeps by Vincent Zandri


“Clear Recent History” by Gon Ben Ari in Tel Aviv Noir
“The Ehrengraf Fandango ” by Lawrence Block  in Defender of the Innocent
“Fear Is The Best Keeper of Secrets ” by Vali Khalili in Tehran Noir
“Mei Kwei, I Love You” by Suchen Christine Lim in Singapore Noir
“Busting Red Heads” by Richard Helms in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine

The winners will be announced at Bouchercon in October.

List via BV Lawson and Criminal Element

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

We Interrupt This Blog for an Update on My Life

by Holly West

This past weekend I attended one of my favorite conferences of all time. The California Crime Writers Conference (CCWC), co-hosted by Sisters in Crime Los Angeles and the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America, takes place every other year and it's always fantastic.

I'm not just saying that because I've been involved in its planning since 2011. I might've been silently screaming these past few weeks as the last minute details of conference planning threatened to run my little mental train right off the rails, but once the conference started, I was immediately reminded of why I do this. The teamwork, the friendships, the collective knowledge that we'd done a terrific job and that our hard work made a difference to writers aspiring to get published (and even to those who've been published for years) made it all worth it.

Many of you know I moved from Los Angeles to the Sierra Foothills of Northern California in December. My life has changed drastically and though I joke a lot on Facebook about finding tarantulas under my pillow, hawks eating my little dog and fighting the bats roosting in our eaves, there has been a real consequence of this move that I hadn't anticipated. If I had, I might not've been so eager to do it. Then again, sometimes it's better to jump right into a new situation and worry about the ramifications later.

I bring this up here because the number one question I got during the CCWC this time around was how I was adjusting to my new home. It forced me to articulate, for the first time, the complicated feelings I have about living in one place while my heart is still in another. Flying into LAX, an airport I've been in and out of countless times in the twenty-five years I lived in Los Angeles, was a little surreal because it felt like I was flying home instead of just another conference city. As the taxi driver drove me to the hotel, he asked where I was from and I didn't know how to reply. When the conference ended and I contemplated going home to my own bed, I instinctively pictured our former house in Venice. I constantly had to re-adjust my perception to my reality. Of course, I've kind of been doing that for the last six months but it was definitely magnified, staying in a hotel in Culver City, in an area that is so very familiar to me.

It all kind of fucks with your head a little, you know?

What it all adds up to is that I'm adrift. I definitely don't belong in Los Angeles any more, but I don't belong here, either. I have yet to settle into my identity in my new home and haven't left my old one behind. Most of the time, I understand that such a big change of scenery would cause anyone a period of adjustment and yes, discomfort, and I'm fine about it. But being in LA this past weekend messed with the delicate balance I've achieved for myself, reminding me that for the moment, at least, I'm without a place to call home.

That will change with time and I suspect that one of the reasons I haven't adjusted more quickly is that I don't want to give up my ties to Los Angeles, or even loosen them. Not yet. But until I do, I probably won't be able to fully embrace my new life, though there is much to celebrate here.

To end this on a more positive note, I'd like to point out that I can't wait to write me some rural noir set in my new town/area. This here is Gold Country, and like the name implies, its history is rich. That will have to wait until I finish my WIP but I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what I can come up with.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Replacements Anthology: An Update

By Jay Stringer

I announced earlier this year that we were putting together an anthology of short stories inspired by the songs of The Replacements. Since then, I got to see them live for the first (and likely last) time. You can read about that here.

But I've gone really quiet on things since then.

You getting lazy, Stringer?

Well no. I've always been lazy.

But we're still making good progress with the anthology. Truth is, a whole bunch of people signed up, and those stories are still coming in.I'm having a blast reading them. We've not just got crime writers, we've also got musicians, podcasters, and filmmakers. Everybody has a different schedule, and we're working around that.

The collection is starting to take shape, and looking good. It won't be too long before we can start talking about a publishing schedule, then a release date.

There are still some song titles available though, and I'm looking for some specific voices to round out the cast in the final collection. I'm still keen to get more stories from women and POC. Maybe some LGBTQ stories. One of the things I love about the band's music was they they said, 'whatever you are, whatever you want to be, is okay.' And I'd like to hear more of those voices. Also, as you can see from the kinds of people we already have onboard, this isn't limited to crime writers.

Do the band inspire you to write something romantic? Something hopeful? Do you want to put some filthy sex on the page, but have been looking for the right reasons to do it? Maybe you've got a burning desire to write a story about a party where there's a monkey on a mirror? There's still time. Get in touch with me at

Monday, June 8, 2015

Thoughts on the western pt. 1 - What is the canon of western novels?

...or mapping a cannon and creating a reading map in three steps.

I realized a while ago that I've seen more westerns then I have read. So, I've got 40 yeas of western movies and TV shows under my belt but not as many books. I wanted to correct that so I've been trying to read more westerns. This will be the first in an irregular series on my thoughts and observations of the genre.

My initial wave of western genre purchases was scattershot, I started picking up cheap used western paperbacks at thrift stores, flea markets, yard sales, etc. about a year or so ago. Here's most of my small, but growing, collection of westerns (and some non-fiction western stuff).

The next step is more focused. I wanted to know what the canon was. Regardless of one's opinion of a canon, they can be a useful tool. A way to see what books are considered the best, the most influential, the most popular.

After doing some research it seems that the following books would work as a small canon for the western genre (they are presented in order of release).

The Virginian (1902)
Rider of the Purple Sage (1912)
Sea of Grass (1936)
The Ox-Bow Incident (1940)
The Big Sky (1947)
Shane (1949)
Hondo (1953)
Hombre (1961)
Little Big Man (1964)
True Grit (1968)
The Time It Never Rained (1973)
The Shootist (1975)
Lonesome Dove (1985)
Blood Meridian (1985)
The Sisters Brothers (2011)

Turns out I've read some of these, have some others on my TBR, and I'll have to get copies of some of the others. I look forward to exploring these books to see what they have to offer.

The western genre arguably has what amounts to a codified canon. A couple of time over the years the organization The Western Writers of America has polled its members to determine the best works and authors in the 20th century. The results can be found here.

One of the things that strikes me about my cobbled together list and The Western Writers of America list is a couple of possible omissions. Two authors and two books. The authors are Luke Short and H.A. DeRosso. Short is a writer that a lot of people love and DeRosso is lesser known. The books are Deadwood by Pete Dexter and Warlock by Oakley Hall. I'm still doing a lot of reading so I can't yet say for sure if they are actual omissions or not.

The third step is relying on personal recommendations. Those books that people love. That blew their hair back. That may not appear on lists like the ones above.

Heath's Lowrance's favorite westerns James Reasoner's favorite western writers
George Pelecanos' favorite westerns
Lee Goldberg's favorite western authors
The Five Most Important Cowboy Novels Ever
10 novels that show how wild the West really was
Top 10 Western Books

What is the canon of western fiction? Do you agree with my cobbled together list? How about the broader list compiled by The Western Writers of America? What are your favorites that maybe aren't listed here? What books should I add to my tbr?

Possible future topics:

-The canon's exclusion of more daring and experimental books.

-The possible effect of the popularity of cinema on the western book. Which results in people seeing more westerns then reading.

-Variants like acid westerns, surreal westerns, weird westerns. If/how they fit into the genre. Did they come about as a result of the ubiquity of western movies?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Cry Factor

by Kristi Belcamino

I've been in journalism off and on since 1990 and during all that time I've never even attempted to be a critic.

Part of getting older—in my opinion—involves realizing what you are good at doing, and what you should avoid.

Reviews and criticism are something I avoid.

As Holly brought up a few weeks back, being a writer and reviewing other writers is a decision each of us has to make. In my opinion, I skip it. I have several reasons for doing so. One of the smaller reasons is that I'm not necessarily good at explaining what I liked and didn't like about a book, a piece of music, or a film.

Sure, I can discuss it on a superficial level, but really it comes down to this: The Cry Factor.

Let me explain:

Did it move me enough to cry or not?

Yep. That simple.

It boils down to whether I was emotionally invested enough in the art to cry of sadness or happiness.

To me, The Cry Factor is a sign of a great book, movie or piece of art.

I was out walking my dog today and listening to U2's Miss Sarajevo (Vertigo: Live from Milan - Matthew Clemens I'm talking to you!) and the ending of the song (which I've heard several dozen times) had me in tears when a woman recites the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yes. That. Something so powerful that it moves me to tears. The Cry Factor.

In my writing, it is something I strive to achieve. If you cried, then I'm happy.

Do you have to be that emotionally moved to consider something great or are the stakes different for you?