Monday, June 29, 2015

In praise of Newton Thornburg and Cutter and Bone

At the time of Newton Thornburg's death in May of 2011 all of his books were out of print. He was so far off the radar screen that his death wasn't even noticed by the media until weeks later. Newton Thornburg is too damn good and interesting of a novelist to remain out of of print. I love Newton Thornburg and it is a damn shame that he is largely forgotten these days. So, lets talk Thornburg.

A couple of things to know about Thornburg: He doesn't fully fit in to the crime fiction category but crime fiction fans have been the community to adopt him; He probably thought of himself more as a literary writer than a genre writer; he wasn't prolific; and, rather then write to a genre, all of his work is reworkings of a handful of themes.

Newton Thornburg was a cynical and pessimistic man through and through (more on that in a bit), and it shows in a lot of his work. It also works the best in his crime novels.

He wrote from the 60's to the early to mid 80's and it shows in his work. What I mean is that it is writing from and influenced by another era. No slam bang pyrotechnics and things build at their own pace (then, sometimes, he tacks on and resorts to an almost thrillerish ending that hurriedly ties everything off).

"For human beings finally were each as alone as dead stars and no amount of toil or love or litany could alter by a centimeter the terrible precision of their journeys."

That line is from Cutter and Bone. To me it is one of the darkest, scariest, truest, prettiest lines I've come across in a long time. For me it is the most noir line ever written.

Cutter and Bone is his masterpiece and the must read from his body of work. It was perhaps the best distillation and working of his themes. The books that came before were leading to it and the ones that came after at times channel the cranky old man side of personality a little too much. I think that the pace and necessary forward momentum of his more genre novels prevent him from dwelling too much.

Sometimes it's good to read a true noir book, one that is noir at a DNA level. A book that resets your noir compass to true North. Cutter and Bone is that book for me.

A couple of years ago Charles Ardai, editor of Hard Case Crime, wrote "Noir is crime fiction written by pessimists", in a piece at the Mulholland Books site.

I remember making a comment about that line to my wife to the effect of 'it's not pessimism if you are telling how it really is'. She quipped that that was the mark of a true cynic. Newton Thornburg was a cynic "I suppose I was pretty cynical early on,").  Even if we didn't hear it directly from him we would have the body of evidence that is Cutter and Bone to support the claim. Plus, we recognize our own.

Cynicism thy name is Alex Cutter. The character Cutter is one of the finest characters ever put to paper. One of my notions of what noir is, is embodied in the Cutter character, that noir has to do with systems defeating the individual. Cutter doesn't have an unearned chip on his shoulder and a petty grudge against the world. He was ground up and spat out by the gears of war and as such holds a mortal contempt for the larger forces and big institutions that crushed his body. David Simon wrote of the "essential triumph of institutions over individuals". This is another theme that Thornburg explores in Cutter and Bone. These larger forces (war, socio-economic, class) crush Cutter, leaving only his desire to fight back at them no matter the cost. This pursuit is a noble one. At first.  Yes, this rich man killed this girl and dammit he simply cannot get away with it. This pursuit then becomes obsession that colors everything and starts leaving a fatal wake. The institutions that had a face, that seemed surmountable, show their true size and begin to crush the foolish mortals that dared to rise up.

Thornburg gazed in to the abyss and Alex Cutter was staring back with one eye.

These characters outlook of the world and Thorton's cynicism are therefore linked because that level of cynicism cannot be faked and it informs the very DNA of Cutter and Bone. Thornburg was also great at tapping into the fears of his characters, and probably himself. At one point Mo, another great character and the original bruised angel, says,

"And in the middle of night, Rich, when I wake up and can almost hear my terror scratching along the walls -- will you be there then? Will you be there to hold me, Rich? Will you love me then?".

Diversion Books recently, and without much fanfare, reissued 9 of Thornburg's 11 books as e-books (everything but Gentleman Born and Knockover). This isn't the revival that Thornburg deserves but this is the one we get.

Ross Macdonald's brand of Cali noir has been getting some attention lately due to the second season of True Detective. And deservedly so. There is a rich history of California noir to delve into if you are watching True Detective and Thornburg too has a thematic trilogy of Cali noirs: Cutter and Bone, Dreamland, and To Die in California.

All of the e-books are $2.99 each so consider giving Thornburg and his work a try.

Cutter and Bone
To Die in California
Beautiful Kate
A Man's Game
Eve's Men
The Lion at the Door
Black Angus

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Series Books and Frequency

by Kristi Belcamino

My HarperCollins imprint, WitnessImpulse, has a demanding publishing schedule and while I don't mind it, I'd like to hear opinions on it.

I've heard a lot of different opinions on how often/quickly readers want a new series book to come out.

Part of the philosophy behind WitnessImpulse is that many mystery readers read on eBooks and that they want to read the next series book as quickly as possible.

That's why when my fourth book, Blessed Are Those Who Mourn, comes out Sept. 29th, it will be the fourth book I've published in 15 months. I've been okay with the schedule so far. I'm a veteran journalist and the benefit of that is I know how to write very fast and I know how to sit down and get the job done. In my book, there is no such thing as writer's block.

But I think for future series books, I might consider a book a year, which is what most NYT bestselling mystery writers produce.

What are your thoughts? Are there any downsides to an author putting out more than one book a year? Any drawbacks to only publishing one book a year?

Thanks for your thoughts!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Learning How to Adjust for Indie Authors

Scott D. Parker

Being an independent author has many benefits. I can write and publish what I want, I can design any sort of cover I can conceive, and I can establish a publishing pattern that suits my output. Heck, I can even pivot on a publishing schedule when it makes good business sense.

But there are limits to the things you can control. Sure, I can write whatever I want, but if no one buys, is that a good idea? I can make any sort of cover, but if it fails to attract attention and make sales, is that a good idea? I can publish a book a week for a year, but if no one buys, is that a good thing? No would be the answer to those questions. There is another thing over which an independent author has no control: the printing of a hardcopy book.

I use CreateSpace, which is an Amazon company. The way you go about creating interior files and cover files is very straightforward. I have experience no issues with that--once I learned how to conform to their standards. Having that first book under my belt, prepping the second was a piece of cake.

Here's the thing: WADING INTO WAR is a shorter book than THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES. I never considered making WADING into a physical book until I realized some folks--hi Mom!--wouldn't be able to read the book because they don't read on a device. No problem. I'll just use CreateSpace. The issue I had was with the spine. The book comes out a little shy of 100 pages and the space on the spine for content was, understandably, small. I got the text just the right way, but the cover image kept sliding onto the spine. Only a millimeter or two, but it looked bad.

I called up CreateSpace and talked with a couple of nice folks. They said that the printing process allows for a 0.125-inch variance. Of course, most books are printed 100% correct, but every now and then, especially with a book the size of WADING, things can shift.

Now, I never considered myself a control freak--and still basically am not--but when it comes to the look and feel of my books, that tendency comes out in me. The one thing I don't want is for a reader to buy WADING and have the printing be off. How to correct that?

Adjust. The best way for everything to line up correctly was to adjust the cover image to allow for that variance. As much as I didn't want to do that, I did. I altered the front and back cover, now with a black border that bleeds onto the spine. Now, the books should print the same way every time. I've ordered a physical proof so I'll get to see it in the flesh next week.

Is it the way I envisioned the book? Nope. Is it the end of the world? Also nope. I'm just thankful that I have the ability to do it.

Are there any aspects of publishing, either traditional or independent, that you have had to adjust to?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Read a thing while I'm on vaca

By Steve Weddle

I'm on vacation, kicked back in a long-sleeved t-shirt and light pants under an umbrella on a North Carolina beach, reading a Robin Hobb novel. While I'm out, I figured you might want some Daniel Woodrell you probably haven't read. Enjoy.

"Johanna Stull," by Daniel Woodrell (Buffalo Almanack)

Eugene’s partners have gathered on the gravel bar below the rapids at Tulla Bridge, where so many tourists in canoes take spills and lose watches, rings, cameras, sunglasses and so much else, adding their treasure to our riverbed, and Eugene wanted me there. He wants me along as his witness when he tells this bunch how he’s not worried about the mailman any more, that testimony won’t get said, and the cows can be moved to a sale barn in a few days or a week. Buster Leroy Dolly is sitting on a folding chair, bare feet in the Twin Forks, canned beer between his legs, and a handful of other fully dressed fellas also hang about, smoking weed, snorting stuff that snorts, conspiring idly and drinking plenty in the fine sunshine. >>

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Summer Vacation with Grandma

By Holly West

Today I'm broadcasting from Rogue River, Oregon. As I write this post, I'm watching The Price is Right with my Grandma, which is only one of the many television shows I watch when I'm visiting her. Later today, we'll see The Young and the RestlessGeneral Hospital and The Bold and the Beautiful. Maybe not the most exciting vacation ever, but it takes me back to my childhood when my brother and I would spend a couple of weeks with my grandparents every summer. They lived in Coalinga, California, which, if you haven't been there, is the sort of place that feels like you can never escape, even if you drive for miles and miles. Kind of like a real-life Wayward Pines, only not as charming.

Mostly, I loved those vacations in Coalinga. At home we had chores to do but at Grandma's we got to sleep in and eat sugar cereal for breakfast. My Grandma gave me home permanents and took us to the pool at the community college where they had a high diving board. I'm not sure I could jump off one now but as a kid I had no problem with it. Same with doing cartwheels and twirling on the uneven bars at the playground.

Summers in Coalinga were hot, which made playing outside during the day unpleasant. My brother and I would play in the living room all day with my Grandma's "soapies" playing in the background. One day in August the program was interrupted for a special news alert and the newscaster announced that Elvis Presley was dead. I turned to my Grandma and said, "the Elvis Presley?" It didn't seem possible.

My Grandpa worked six days a week. We'd get up early and have a Carnation Instant Breakfast with him while he played solitaire before work. He was a tractor mechanic on a farm and when he came home he smelled like motor oil and cigarettes. Sometime before I was born, he lost his left index finger down to the second knuckle in a work accident. I never thought I'd forget his hands and yet I just had to ask my Grandma which one--right or left--was missing the finger. She was married to him for nearly 69 years and had to think about it herself.

I got my taste for black coffee and beer during those summers. My Grandma had a pot of weak Folgers in the coffee maker ready throughout the day and my Grandpa would give me sips of the Coors he opened when he got home from work.

Every summer, we made a neighborhood friend or two. There was an older girl down the street who loved telling us how worldly she was. She told me about children being kidnapped and sold on the "black market" and I spent the remainder of the summer terrified that I'd be snatched.

Good times.

But you know what? They really were good times--some of the best of my life. And that's why I'll happily sit here watching soapies with my Grandma and hope I get to do it for many years to come.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Pig Iron by David James Keaton - guest post

by David James Keaton

My new novel Pig Iron had a strange journey to print, and it’s hard to know where to start, but I feel like a reason to have detailed the adventure may present itself by the time I’m finished. I guess it pretty much started when my dad played me the Marty Robbins song “Big Iron,” and we kept having conversations about the story within that song, both of us amazed and how much character development singer/songwriter Robbins got out of so few lines. We felt like we knew “Red” and “The Ranger” pretty well after a few years of repeat listening, and this led to more discussions about what might be going on behind those lyrics. Our interpretation got weirder and weirder, and I became obsessed with the talk of people on that second-to-last lyric of not seeing the Ranger “clear leather,” and how maybe that meant he didn’t shoot Red at all? So we indulged ourselves, and whenever we had some time between family gatherings, my dad and I cranked out a screenplay. At the time, I was trying to be an unsold screenwriter rather than an unread author, so I sent out Pig Iron (The Movie) to a couple agents and producers and got all sorts of fun rejections. My favorite would have to be the guy who emailed and asked, “Have you ever written a screenplay before?” I responded, “Nope,” thinking he must be real impressed. Instead he sends back, “We thought so. We started printing this out at noon, and it’s still going.” It was well after noon, of course. I wanted to at least congratulate him on choosing to print a western script at “High Noon” of all times, but instead I just moonwalked out of that online conversation and worked on cutting the giant script down to a more manageable size. That was Ryan Reynold’s agent by the way, but back then no one was as impressed by that.

So with enough wasted years and close calls, I moved on to trying books, but I always liked the set pieces in Pig Iron, maybe not all those big speeches though, so at some point, I tried to convert it into a novel, which seemed like the most backwards move yet, making it irresistible. But it never felt like a book to, and instead I cannibalized it for parts, turning some of the showdowns into short stories instead, just so I could show my dad I’d turned it into something tangible. “Three Ways Without Water (or the Day Drunk Driving, Roadkill, and the Electric Chair Were Invented,” a short story that was sort of a condensed version of the entire script, was the first story to come out of the script, published in Pulp Modern between Alec Cizak meltdowns, and “Smelt (or a Gun Named Sioux,” which was sort of a sequel, found a home in The Big Adios. “Ha’Penny Dreadfuller,” sort of a prequel or origin story, cobbled together from backstory conversations in the screenplay, ended up at Barrow Press Review. And those three stories felt like the logical conclusion to my attempt at a western. Then I went down to St. Louis for a Noir at the Bar with Jed Ayres, and afterwards while drinking, Jed, Scott Phillips, and myself watched as the late, great Cort McMeel began to tell us of his dozen or so Big Ideas, all amazing brainstorms which he sold to us like a pro. I was ready to follow him into the breach, no joke. Anywhere. He was drunk, but passionate. And one of Cort’s brainstorms was for an anthology of novellas called “Acid Westerns,” a term I hadn’t heard before that night, or if I did, I was talking about the wrong thing, but I’ve since realized this genre encompasses nearly all of my favorite western films. It’s the name of all those weird ‘70s westerns with the counterculture Mad Max vibe to them. And I thought, “Goddamn, that’s kind of what Pig Iron is! Was! Whatever!”  Then Cort got really wound up as I went through a list of a dozen Irish films to see whether he thought they were “legit.” This led to another Big Idea, but that’s another story for another time.

So I went to work on Pig Iron again, starting from those three short stories this time though, rather than the cinderblock of a screenplay. Concentrating on the main idea of a town without water, and how long something like that might last, and how a man could win a gunfight without actually pulling a gun, of course. And out popped a lean, mean, very simple, sorta “cinematic” novel. It was so tiny I felt guilty, so inspired by Deadwood and A Clockwork Orange, I threw in a glossary of all the western terms I’d invented along the way, so that people might be surprised when they turned to the definitions in the back of the book that otherwise noble cowboys had been referring to drunkenness and masturbation during even their most innocent conversations, which I still like to believe is happening in most western films, acid or not.

So Pig Iron finally exists in some form, so far away from the days of that screenplay and the song “Big Iron” that it’s a new thing entirely really. In fact, I wrote my own song to include in the credits, still feeling guilty about it’s girth, sort of a “Nick Cave meets Johnny Cash” kinda thing, but with more people catching on fire in the chorus. I do wish Cort McMeel would have been alive to read it, or sing it. And I also think he would have enjoyed Scott Phillips’ own western novel, supposedly inspired from that time in the bar, Hop Alley, an amazing book you should certainly read first chance you get, if you want to find out how dangerous ghost-busting scams in the 1800s could get. So if you get a chance to give it a look, Pig Iron the movie turned novel will be coming out from Burnt Bridge/Blastgun Books, and will drop on Amazon or wherever on June 19th, my dad’s birthday, and you can see what might happen to a town without water and guns that don’t work right. Here’s a hint. Everything burns.

"Pig Iron" by Arty Stealins

Sunday, June 21, 2015

More on Blurbs

by Kristi Belcamino

Do blurbs mean something to you or are they useless?

I still cringe remembering having to ask for blurbs for my first book.

So not fun.

I was extraordinarily lucky that I happened to ask some of the nicest crime fiction writers in the biz for blurbs, which made it a heck of a lot easier.

Recently, one of my closest friends got a two-book deal and is in the position of having to ask for blurbs. So far, she is doing everything right. And believe me, I think there are many ways to go astray in seeking blurbs.

We've written a lot about blurbs on Do Some Damage, but it is probably worth revisiting every so often.

Rather than blab too much about my limited experience on blurbs and blurbing, I'll offer up three rules I believe should be followed and then a few links I've found on blurbing.

Here are my rules for what they are worth:

1. Read the author you are asking for a blurb. Blurbing 101? You'd think, but I was asked for a blurb I was unable to provide, and a month later saw on Goodreads that the author who had asked for the blurb had just started reading my first book. Doh. The problem with this ISN'T indignation that someone DIDN'T read my book! The problem is how can she know my writing is copacetic with her, which leads me to my second rule:

2. Ask authors who have something- whether it is style or subject matter-similar to your book. For instance, I asked Bruce DeSilva for a blurb because he is a lifelong journalist who writes book featuring reporters. A natural fit, no?

I also asked Alex Marwood, another longtime journalist, because although we have a different writing style (uh, yeah, hers is AMAZING), we both have darker books.

For instance, I would never ask a crime fiction writer who pens historical novels or cozy mysteries. There are a few reasons for this, but an obvious one might be that they won't like my book - it's totally different than what they like. And the second reason is that if I have a blurb from an author who writes a historical cozy, the reader who picks up my books because of that blurb is going to be very disappointed when they crack the pages of my dark, more contemporary world.

3. Be gracious and don't take it personally. When you ask for a blurb explain why. Because I'm a published author is not usually a good reason. I only asked authors I truly admired and thought might be similar enough to not only enjoy my writing but be a valuable blurb.

Here are some more thoughts on blurbing from others much smarter than I am:

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Book Review: Concrete Angel by Patricia Abbott

(I posted this on my own blog this past Wednesday, but I wanted to make sure regular Do Some Damage readers also had the chance to read it and head on over to your nearest bookstore and pick up a copy.)

I had to go back and look to see how long I’ve been acquainted with Patti Abbott. The date was September 2008 and it was via the Forgotten Books review club that she started. Being a newbie to the world of blogging back then, I felt privileged to be a part of something that had already been going strong.

In the years since, whether it was in the comments section of various blogs or direct emails, I got to know Patti: the kind of music and movies she likes to the books she reads. And, most importantly, the types of stories she writes. She was an outlier. As ebooks and electronic publications have risen, so, too, has a certain style of writing, particularly in crime and mystery fiction. Hard-edged tales full of violence and profanity seemed to be on the upswing. Nothing wrong with those kinds of tales, but, increasingly, I found myself drawn to something different. Often, those different kinds of stories were the ones Patti told.

Her tales involved the things associated with crime fiction, but with her language and style, all that stuff was muted. That’s not to say nonexistent, but subdued in such a way that let the gripping tale emerge without everything being all spelled out. A Patti Abbott short story could be hard-hitting but with a prose style that left things to the reader’s imagination. In short, an Abbott story was something to look forward to reading.

Now, with Concrete Angel, we get our first Patricia Abbott novel. If you thought her gifts as a writer of short fiction were good, you’re going to think you’ve hit the jackpot with a full novel’s worth of story. The novel begins with a murder (don’t all good ones?). The twist, however, is that Eve Moran, the shooter who happened to empty all the bullets into soda-pop salesman Jerry Santini, convinces her daughter, Christine, to take the blame. No one would question a young girl who was merely defending her mother’s honor from a would-be scurrilous man. Christine, the narrator of the story, appreciates the reasoning of her mother and confesses.

You might be wondering how a mother could convince her daughter to take the blame for a crime she, the daughter, did not commit. That is the true beauty of this novel. The large majority of this tale is basically Eve Moran’s story. With delicately nuanced descriptions, Christine tells her mother’s story, of how she likes things, things that typically don’t belong to her, but that Eve wants anyway. So she takes them. Over and over again. As the narration continues, Abbott unfolds Eve Moran like an onion, each layer revealing something new, each layer offering a new insight into Eve as well as Christine who can’t help but be swept up into Eve’s mindset.

Abbott uses a neat narrative trick along the way. When Christine’s in the scene, the words are straight first person POV. But when she’s telling Eve’s story, Abbott writes in pure third person. It’s all still Christine’s voice, so there’s that filter, but it sucks you in from the get-go. And the descriptions Abbott deploys deftly knock your socks off.

The definition of a page-turner typically involves lots of action, up-tempo pacing, and breathless wonder. You can’t wait to go to the next chapter—no matter that it’s past midnight on a work night—to see how the hero will get out of the new jam the author placed him in or if the killer will take out a certain supporting character. Concrete Angel is a different type of page-turner. With each chapter, Abbott draws you in and you just want to know more and more. You can’t help but keep reading.

Concrete Angel is a splendid novel and well worth your time. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend you add it to your summer reading list.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Conversation with Angel Luis Colón

By Alex Segura

Angel Luis Colón is a writer's writer - he's the guy other writers look forward to hearing read at Noir at the Bar and an all-around good guy. He's also fun to banter with on Twitter. I'm psyched he agreed to let me grill him for a bit here.

Angel's novella, The Fury of Blacky Jaguar, is an insane, noir, high-octane, nonstop read featuring a memorable and entertaining protagonist in Blacky. Don't wait to read the rest of this - you can pre-order the book now, courtesy of the One Eye Press team. When not writing like mad, Angel also seems to find the time to review mystery/crime for My Bookish Ways and edit flash crime fiction at Shotgun Honey. I can't imagine he has much free time. Thanks to Angel for carving out a few minutes to talk with me.

Elevator pitch time - what's The Fury of Blacky Jaguar?

Blacky Jaguar is a cartoonish, narcissistic ex-IRA Provie with a hard-on for Elvis, the 50's, and making things explode.

Someone made a really shitty call and stole his '59 Plymouth Fury. Now he wants it back. Heads will roll.
How'd you hook up with the gang at One Eye Press? How've they been to work with?

One Eye Press has been killing it from the start. Federales, their first one shot by Chris Irvin grabbed me. From there; White Knight by Bracken MacLeod, The Gospel of the Bullet by Chris Leek, Knuckleball from Tom Pitts, The Gunmen by Timothy Friend - all fantastic single sitting reads from some of the best writers on the crime and western front. When I sat down and wrote The Fury of Blacky Jaguar, it was with complete intent to have that story pubbed by One Eye and nobody else.

I lucked out, huh?

As for the working relationship? Ron Earl Phillips is amazing. He's got an eye for talent and an open ear in case I moan (which I don't do a lot of, thankfully...hopefully). I'm so thrilled that this is a great home for Blacky and I couldn't be happier working with a guy like Ron.

You've built a rep as not only a great short story writer, but someone who's really precise when it comes to flash fiction and, for lack of a better word, presentation. I would never want to read after you at Noir at the Bar, for example. How important is that to you - being a strong short story writer?

Well, first, thanks for the compliment. That means a lot, especially from a writer I respect (it's a love-fest!).


Being a short story writer is incredibly important to me and I believe it should be important to any writer - beginner or pro. It's like weightlifting or marathon training. The short circuits with the sudden bursts of speed or strength help improve conditioning for the big stuff. Flash and short fiction writing is how you work your writing muscles for the marathon sessions. They provide you with the challenge of word economy and of learning basic narrative structure. Without those skills, you're rambling just like I am now.

I know Blacky isn't just a one-and-done character. You have a lot of stories to tell in his world. Can you zoom out a bit and let us know why this character keeps poking at you? Maybe tease what's in store?

He is certainly not a one and done. Matter of fact, his first appearance was in the recently released Shotgun Honey Anthology, Locked and Loaded: Both Barrels Book 3 in a story called 'Love At First Fight'. He's also got a role in the novel I'm working on and will be returning later this year in 'A Very Blacky Christmas'. That story pits him against a very mean lady known as Krissy Kringle and her muscle; Krampus and Attis.

This stuff writes itself, man.

Honestly, I just love the son of a bitch. Not that I want to do anything he does, but it sure is fun to imagine it. I feel like I can get out of hand without explaining it in detail when it comes to Blacky because, for Christ's sake, the man calls himself Blacky Jaguar.

In addition to writing, you also edit Shotgun Honey with a killer crew. While the seat isn't warm yet, can you talk a bit about what that's been like? Has it made you a better writer?

It's been incredible. An absolutely vital learning experience for me. The best part about Shotgun Honey is we demand our stories be short, like, super short (700 words, kids) so it's a manageable task to read through our submissions. What I've learned and been inspired from has been very instrumental in making me a more deliberate writer. I try my very best to listen to my criticism and praise of others. While, yeah, I won't let it get in the way of the voice I've built for myself, there's always room to learn.

Influences - who are yours? Can you see how they play a part in your final product?

My influences are surprisingly not very noir. Top of the head list: Clive Barker, Douglas Adams, Chuck Palahniuk, Ted Lewis, Hunter S. Thompson, Peter David, and Kurt Vonnegut. I'm not very conscious of the exact role they play in my final product, but I do know I do my very best to not ape them. I consider those guys to be geniuses in their own ways and they've influenced me even outside my writing, but I'd be terrified to ever be compared to them.

I think there's a lot of value in promoting the work of others and I get the sense that you feel the same. How important is it for you to be part of a community of writers? Can you share some experiences in the time you've been part of the crime writing world that helped your career?

Dead on. We have to support each other and watch each others' back in this business. I'm in total agreement there. I've been fortunate to have quite a few writers that I respect (and am genuinely a fan of)  give me an incredible amount of support and advice. It's not only been vital in any of my successes, but also in just improving my experience within this community. I know everyone says it, but I don't think I've ever been part of a scene as fostering and friendly as the crime-writing community. Though, you get what you put in, obviously.

Shifting gears - I know you like comics. I love comics, too. Who doesn't? What have you been reading? What did you read starting out? And which character would you kill to write?

I'm so behind on my comics, but Secret Wars has been pretty amazing. I JUST nabbed the first few issues of Black Hood, but haven't had time to dive in yet.

As for my first single issue: Web of Spider-Man vol 1 Issue 8 written by David Michelinie and interiors by Geof Isherwood. The cover, by Charlie Vess, is tattooed on my left arm. The ENTIRE cover sans typography.
So needless to say, Spidey would be my dream project.

Writer, editor and reviewer - you do the reviewing part for MyBookishWays, one of my favorite book sites. How did that come about and what kind of writing muscles does that flex? Do you find it tricky to have to review the work of people you may have to interact with in another role?

Funny enough, I asked. Kristin Centorcelli (editor in chief of My Bookish Ways) tweeted a call for reviewers, so I emailed and asked if I could lend a hand. Hopefully, I've been a help!

And yeah, it's at times tough to switch back and forth from fiction to reviewing, but it helps me more often than not. My brain likes to be bounced around.

You know, it's not like I haven't felt a little worried about my reviews, especially in light of the fact that I do know some of the authors, but I try my best to keep it professional and to put as much thought as I can into any critique or praise I provide. Thankfully, corporate dayjob trained me to flip that switch easy.

Give me some tracks that would be on the soundtrack to BLACKY JAGUAR. What did you listen to while writing this book?

To name a few:

Attitude by Bad Brains
Rebel Without Applause by Every Time I Die
Devil's Dance Floor by Flogging Molly
Woo Ha! Got You All In Check by Busta Rhymes
Buzz Bomb by Dead Kennedys
Lots of angry punk, hardcore, and hip hop.

In closing - name-drop a few authors you think deserve more attention and why.

I've got to give a big shout out to the Polis Books bench: Rob Hart, Terrence McCauley, Dave White, Patti Abbott, and that Alex Segura fella. Absolute beastly lineup of books from great writers coming out over there.
Other writers I think deserve attention: Jen Conley (my fellow Shotgunner), Chris Irvin, Bracken MacLeod, Renee Asher Pickup, Josh Stallings, Patrick DeWitt, Sara J. Henry, Thomas Pluck, and Todd Robinson (GO BUY THE HARD BOUNCE).
I also can't leave out Brian Panowich, Paul G. Tremblay, and Chris Holm. Good lord, these guys have written some fantastic, fantastic stuff this year.

Folks need to search all these writers out and consume their output, it's good for your brain - maybe.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

My Vicarious California Crime Writers Conference Wrap-Up

by Holly West

The last couple of weeks I mentioned that I recently attended the 2015 California Crime Writers Conference in Culver City, CA. Unfortunately, I didn't attend any panels because of my duties at the registration table (my choice--there were plenty of people who volunteered to help at the desk so I could take a break), but I've enjoyed reading about other people's experience of the conference.

Here's are a few wrap-ups of note:

For my part, I was given the honor of introducing one of our speakers, Anne Perry, for her Sunday keynote speech. Travis Richardson kindly took a photo:

I was also on a social media panel with moderator Terry Ambrose, Diane Vallere, and Lee Nelson. Going into it, I was a little apprehensive because even though I'm very active on social media, I wasn't certain I had anything new to say about it. It was really an opportunity to re-iterate my cardinal rules of social media:
  • Engage! Remember, social media is called "social" for a reason.
  • Don't use social media only to promote yourself. That gets boring fast.
  • Restrict or abstain from posting about politics or other controversial matters unless you're willing to participate in a conversation or polite debate about such topics.
  • There is not necessarily a direct correlation between book sales and social media. Rather, it's part of an overall strategy to get your name out there and to define your platform/brand. I could definitely do a better job at that part of social media, as my brand seems to be defined by me saying whatever I happen to be thinking or feeling at a given time.
So, with all that said, I'm looking forward to the 2017 California Crime Writers Conference. Co-Chair Sue Ann Jaffarian has already roped me into being the registrar and manuscript consultation coordinator for that conference. And so, I leave you with this:

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Printer's Row Lit Fest

by Kristi Belcamino

I spent last weekend in Chicago at the Printer's Row Literary Festival as part of the Mystery Writers of America. (Above: goofing with bestselling writer Julie Hyzy with some people who ran in the Chicago Color Run)

One of the joys of being a published author is attending events like this and meeting new readers face-to-face.

In a smaller environment, like standing in a tent and greeting people in person, a relationship is automatically established. I sold about a dozen books but I remember everybody who bought my books. In fact, I've even had email exchanges with some of them.

As a writer there are dozens of conferences you can attend and it is sometimes difficult to decide since they all cost money and time away from home.

I have to prioritize.

Bouchercon is the most important conference to me.

After that, a few local conferences are considered. If I'm on a panel, as I was at Printer's Row, that makes the local conference an easy decision.

Along with meeting readers, (which doesn't always mean selling books), my favorite part of attending a writing conference is hanging out with my people—other mystery writers.

I had a blast last weekend hanging out with people like Clare O'Donohue, Lori Rader-Day, Jamie Freveletti, Julie Hyzy, Jessie Chandler, Matthew Clemens, John Bychowski, Lynne Raimondo, Bryon Quertermous, Gunter Kaesdorf, and more.

What are your favorite conferences and why?

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?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Planning Ahead

Scott D. Parker

I’m an independent author early in his writing career. Year zero, in fact. What that means for me is that 2015 has two main goals. The first is to publish books and start to build a body of work. The second is to see how well I can simultaneously produce new work while publishing new work all the while maintaining a day job.

Ironically, the publishing part is much easier. You see, I have six manuscripts already written. All I have to do, really, is pull another manuscript off the shelf as soon as another is published. I read and revise the manuscript, send it off to my editor, make the changes, make the changes other readers find, get a cover, and then publish. I’ll admit that all the struggles I endured publishing WADING INTO WAR were all but gone when I published THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES. Experience’ll do that for you.

The harder part is the writing of new material. Day job holders, like me, must carve out writing time amid all the other duties. In fact, just yesterday—one of my off-Fridays—was the first time in nearly six months in which I didn’t have something that needed to be done that wasn’t writing. I woke, I wrote, and I nearly completed a short story that should see the light of day this summer.

Earlier this week, as I was looking ahead to the rest of the year, I took pencil to paper and mapped out the schedule I’d like to maintain for the rest of 2015 and into 2016. I started by listing the books I had on my mind. To my amazement, that total was eighteen. Eighteen, not including the eight I’ve already written. It surprised me, so, naturally, I broke out the spreadsheet.

I’ll say that 13 of the 18 are planned as 30,000-word novellas. Some of those books might expanded when the time comes to write them, but they’re planned to be only 30K. The other 5 are envisioned to be 60K on up. All told that’s 1,148,000 estimated words of fiction I’d like to write.

Wow. So, how long would it take to write that many words? Some full-time authors match that number in a year. I am not a full-time author. I guess you’d call me a part-time fiction author since I hold a day job. But, in the past two years, I have managed to carve out about an hour a day to write. That time is 5am on weekdays, 6am on weekends. Hey, I allow myself to ‘sleep in.’ Also, on weekends, I get an extra hour or so per day. When I am in the zone and the words are flying out of my head and through my fingers, I can bust out 1,000 words in an hour. That doesn’t always happen but it does, more often than not. So if I write an hour a day, it will take me approximately 1,148 days to write just these stories. That’s 3.14 years.

3.14 years to write 18 books. One of my thoughts when seeing those numbers was satisfaction. It is really neat to map out future stories on a schedule and know the approximate order. On the other hand, it’s sobering to know that as much of a pull the fiction writing life is for me, I can’t just stop the day job. I have to have it in order to sustain my family. But, like all lists, you take the first one and begin. Soon, it’ll be done and then I can turn to the next one. Others will arise and work their way into the writing schedule so the list will grow.

On Thursday, Alex wrote about “Playing the Long Game.” I consider this list, this plan, to be my long game.

I’ll always consider these 18 to be the Core 18, the foundation on which I will build my fiction-writing career. Business people always talk about the 3-year plan or the 5-year plan. I’ve got the 3-year plan. The only thing left to do is make it work.

So, other writers out there, do you have a business plan for your fiction-writing career? What is it like?

BTW, today is the 71st anniversary of D-Day. Thanks, as always, to the men who did the incredible against the unimaginable. Just a couple of days ago, I ran across this amazing video about the death toll in World War II. Staggering is an understatement.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Playing the Long Game

By Alex Segura

I don’t have a book out this year. That’s probably stressful to a lot of authors. I will admit, it was a little stressful to me at first.

But it’s okay.

As some of you know, earlier this year, I joined the great team at Polis Books. Polis will be publishing my first two Pete Fernandez novels, Silent City and Down the Darkest Street, next year, with another - tentatively titled Dangerous Ends - to follow. I am extremely excited, super grateful and still in that “pinch me” stage that I hope never ends. Added bonus: I’m part of a group of amazing writers. The crime fiction stable Jason Pinter has put together is seriously impressive.

Did I mention I don’t have a book out this year? Right. See? It can be stressful. But seriously, it's okay.

One of the things I’m most thankful for, in terms of being an author and managing my career, is my day job experience as a publicist. Not just because of the contacts I have, but also because I know publicity - and building a career - isn’t about a flurry of activity. It’s a marathon. It’s about knowing when to go loud, when to step back and when to ramp up. It’s about knowing when to step back and “go quiet.”

For me, “going quiet” doesn’t mean I disappear completely. Quite the opposite. I’ve got a few short stories showing up here and there, a few comic book projects percolating, readings, publishing events and conventions, day job stuff to promote, other people’s books to talk about and there’s always The Next Novel. (I’m just starting revisions on Dangerous Ends now, after putting the draft aside. The book feels new and I can look at it as a reader, not as someone who just wrote it.)

On the other end, I’m not doing a ton of interviews. I’m not plugging the books or where people will be able to find them. When I do readings, I read a short story or something different, as opposed to something from Silent City or Down the Darkest Street. I’m not doing any major crime/mystery cons this year, either (though, I would probably still be at Bouchercon if it wasn’t the same weekend as New York Comic Con. It’s just not the right moment. I have to be patient. The time for that is coming.

As writers, we need constant validation and need to know what’s next - but sometimes, what’s next is months away. Maybe more. But publishing isn’t about instant gratification, even if you feel like your work is done. You have to be ready for that, and be okay with hibernating for a bit. You’ll know when it’s time to pull out the bullhorn and start the publicity machine, trust me.

In the meantime - work on your Next Big Thing. Plug a friend’s book. Write something different. Start planning what you’ll do to build buzz for your book when the time is right - events, press, marketing. There really isn’t any down time as a writer - there’s just what we do between publications.

Try your best to do anything but fret.