Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Book I Read

By Alex Segura

Or, What I Read While I Write vs. What I Read When I Edit.

This is the opposite of a how-to post. This is closer to a poll. Why? Because I’m extremely curious to hear what other writers have to say about it.

I was having dinner with a writer friend last night and, not surprisingly, we were talking about books we’d read recently. Many of these were written by people we knew. Something he said stuck out: 

“I can’t read Author X’s book yet because I know Book #Z of my series will also be in the same genre.” 

Now, I bring this up not because I think it’s weird (I don’t), but because it got me to thinking about my own reading “rules.” It also got me wondering about what writers read while they write, and when they don’t.

I don’t read mysteries while writing a mystery. Most of the time, I’m doing research or reading nonfiction that’s somehow influencing my current work - or the next one. True crime, historical pieces, whatever. Why do I avoid other mysteries? Simple: I don’t want to lose my voice because my reading has become immersed in another writer’s. It happens. You mainline an author’s work and next thing you know, your sentences have the same cadence. Your dialogue starts to read like you didn’t write it. It’s weird.

Now, a little influence here and there is fine - it’s organic. We’re all products of the books we read. But I don’t want to push it. If I’m rolling along on a piece of fiction, and I have the voice and style down, I don’t want to lose that because I just got hooked on a new author. It keeps the work somewhat pure, and, I think, consistent.

So, when do I read fiction? The rest of the time. While editing, while revising, between major projects and on trips and such. Even then, I’ll hop between genre fiction and true crime or nonfiction as my tastes guide me. I’ll read a music bio or some political stuff, too, to provide a change of pace.

I guess, now that I put it on paper, my only rule - and it’s not really an unbreakable, hard and fast one - is that I try to avoid books in my genre when writing a new book. What’re yours? Why do they exist?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Diary of a Conflicted Reader

by Holly West

I think it's kind of funny that I had literally no thoughts or feelings when HarperCollins announced earlier this year that it would publish GO SET A WATCHMAN (GSAW) by Harper Lee. Because now that I've finished TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (TKAM) and I'm half-way through GSAW, I have all the thoughts and feelings on the subject.

I'm happy that the publication of GO SET A WATCHMAN finally got me to read TKAM. At the very least, it got me, and probably more than a few others, excited about TKAM. TKAM is a book that deserves to be read. So there's that.

Once I finished TKAM, I was left with a hole in my literary life--so immersed was I in the fictional world of 1930s Maycomb, Alabama that I wasn't ready to leave it. Judging by the initial excitement brought on by HarperCollins' announcement, I was far from alone, even after rumblings of controversy arose.

Though I hadn't intended on doing it so soon, I began reading GSAW immediately. While it's not as compelling as TKAM, I'm enjoying it. As I write this, I'm not quite sure how to express myself. TKAM and GSAW are at once the same book and yet different books. Although it wasn't exactly clear when HarperCollins announced it would be publishing GSAW, it's quite clear now: GSAW is an early draft of TKAM. But it's so completely different that it's not like reading the same novel. I would simply say that there are shared elements, told differently in each book.

In trying to explain the situation to my husband, I began by saying it was as if someone published the first draft of MISTRESS OF FORTUNE, with no developmental editing whatsoever. But that's not right--the published version of MISTRESS OF FORTUNE bears a distinct resemblance to the first draft. They are the same book. TKAM and GSAW are essentially two different books with similar characters, settings and themes. TKAM is recognizable in GSAW but I can't say they're the same book. Except for all intents and purposes, they are.

Many questions have arisen with its publication--most notably, did Harper Lee want it published? Was she somehow taken advantage of? As readers (and writers), is it unethical for us to support the publication of GSAW by purchasing it and reading it?

There have been several articles and op-eds written about the circumstances of GSAW's publication. I've not said much on the subject because frankly, I didn't know what I was talking about. But now that I've read TKAM and much of GSAW, I feel like I'm on a bit more solid ground to share my opinion.

I really hate to say it, because like I said above, the hubbub surrounding its publication got me to read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and I'm thankful for that. But I wish HarperCollins would never have published GO SET A WATCHMAN because now that I'm reading it, I can't, for the life of me, believe that Harper Lee, if she were of sound mind and body, wanted it published.

Keep in mind that there are no reports (that I know of) that indicate unequivocally that Harper Lee didn't want it published at this time. Much of my opinion is based on the facts surrounding its publication (as I know them), the speculation of others about the circumstances of its publication, and my own observations as I read GSAW.

GSAW, to my understanding, is an unedited manuscript (though I suspect it's at least been copyedited). And it reads that way. Even so, it's fairly well written, at least in the beginning. It's slow, but not boring. Unfortunately, I've reached a point, about thirty percent in, where the writing turns amateurish and its clearly in need of a polish. It's not completely cringe-worthy, but it's not far off from that.

For this reason I can't see why Harper Lee wanted it published. Why would she knowingly agree to put work out there that is sub par? Nothing in her history hints that now, at her advanced age, she'd suddenly say, "what the heck, go ahead and publish this first draft."

Some writers might want to cash in on that sort of thing--and I say that with no judgment--but I just don't see Harper Lee being one of them. Has the publication of GSAW sullied her personal reputation? No, I certainly don't think so. But I hate the idea that her legacy now includes the very real possibility that she's been taken advantage of.

And I feel terrible that in my small way, I've been a part of that by buying the book. Having read and loved TKAM, even if it was only recently, I feel suddenly protective of Harper Lee and her legacy. But I also didn't want to pass judgment on its publication based on speculation. It wasn't until I began reading GSAW that it became clear to me that it probably should never have been published. I just feel too strongly now that Harper Lee was far less complicit in its publication than we've been led to believe, though I can't speak to the actual extent of the deception.

So amidst the joy I feel for the reading experience TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD gave me, the circumstances surrounding my decision to read it sadden me. I'll finish reading GSAW and perhaps my feelings about it will change, but I can't see that happening so far.

I'd love to hear what others who've read both books think about this. Most of the opinions I've seen are from people who've said outright they've no intention of reading GSAW for the very reasons I've cited here. I absolutely understand their position but I'm also curious what others have to say on the subject. By all means, let me know your thoughts, whatever they may be.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Thoughts on the western novel - pt2

My computer is down at home and our internet connection there has been tenuous at best. I've been reading a lot of westerns this summer and a lot about westerns. So in the spirit of having something to post today I thought I'd pull some quotes about the western together and link to a couple of articles. I'll leave it up to you to decide their worth.

-Considering modern Westerns from a somewhat broader perspective, however, allows them to be grouped into four major categories: traditional Westerns, anti-Westerns, elegiac Westerns and experimental Westerns. Together, these four categories reveal not only common themes but also the extent of the diversity of Western movies, especially since 1960.

-But the western as a literary form left us with another legacy. No other region of the nation produced a comparable genre of formulaic, relentlessly aggrandizing whitewash--and it has stigmatized all subsequent writers from (and those writing about) this part of the country. To say one is a "western writer," or that this is a "western story," is to automatically raise a doubt as to its long-term merit as literature. would seem that Wister's personal values constantly interfered with his objective to describe the West and its people as they really were. Romance and marriage in his novels, as in some of his stories, serve only to emasculate his cowboys, to make them docile Easterners concerned more with personal ambition, accumulation of wealth, and achieving what by Eastern standards could only be considered social standing, rather than luxuriating in their freedom, the openness and emptiness of the land, and the West's utter disregard for family background. To make his cowboy's acceptable heroes to himself, as well as to his Eastern readers, Wister felt compelled to imbue them with his own distinctly patrician values. For this reason his stories cannot be said to depict truthfully the contrasts and real conflicts between the East and West of his time and Western readers of his stories have always tended to scoff at what he was presenting as the reality of Western life.

"Wister in his political philosophy was a progressive and what has come to be termed a social Darwinist....He believed in a natural aristocracy, a survival of the fittest -- the fittest being those who measured up best to the elective affinities of his own value system. ...Yet privately (and this is wht his journals are so illuminating), he lamented the sloth which he felt the West induced in people, and it was his ultimate rejection of the real West that brought about his disillusionment with it and his refusal, after 1911, ever to return there.
-I want only to underscore the point I made earlier about the absence of a present in western literature and in the whole tradition we call western. It remains rooted in the historic, the rural, the heroic that does not take into account time and change. This means that it has no future, either. Nostalgia, however tempting, is not enough; disgust for the shoddy present is not enough; and forgetting the past entirely is a dehumanizing error…Millions of Westerners, old and new, have no sense of a personal and possessed past; no sense of any continuity between the real Western past, which has been mythologized almost out of recognizability, and a real Western present that seems as cut off and pointless as a ride on a merrygo- round that can’t be stopped.… If you are any part of an artist, and a lot of people are some part of one…then I think you don’t choose between the past and the present, you try to find the connections, you try to make the one serve the other.
I want only to underscore the point I made earlier about the absence of a present in western literature and in the whole tradition we call western. It remains rooted in the historic, the rural, the heroic that does not take into account time and change. This means that it has no future, either. Nostalgia, however tempting, is not enough; disgust for the shoddy present is not enough; and forgetting the past entirely is a dehumanizing error…Millions of Westerners, old and new, have no sense of a personal and possessed past; no sense of any continuity between the real Western past, which has been mythologized almost out of recognizability, and a real Western present that seems as cut off and pointless as a ride on a merrygo- round that can’t be stopped.… If you are any part of an artist, and a lot of people are some part of one…then I think you don’t choose between the past and the present, you try to find the connections, you try to make the one serve the other. - See more at:
I want only to underscore the point I made earlier about the absence of a present in western literature and in the whole tradition we call western. It remains rooted in the historic, the rural, the heroic that does not take into account time and change. This means that it has no future, either. Nostalgia, however tempting, is not enough; disgust for the shoddy present is not enough; and forgetting the past entirely is a dehumanizing error…Millions of Westerners, old and new, have no sense of a personal and possessed past; no sense of any continuity between the real Western past, which has been mythologized almost out of recognizability, and a real Western present that seems as cut off and pointless as a ride on a merrygo- round that can’t be stopped.… If you are any part of an artist, and a lot of people are some part of one…then I think you don’t choose between the past and the present, you try to find the connections, you try to make the one serve the other. - See more at:
I want only to underscore the point I made earlier about the absence of a present in western literature and in the whole tradition we call western. It remains rooted in the historic, the rural, the heroic that does not take into account time and change. This means that it has no future, either. Nostalgia, however tempting, is not enough; disgust for the shoddy present is not enough; and forgetting the past entirely is a dehumanizing error…Millions of Westerners, old and new, have no sense of a personal and possessed past; no sense of any continuity between the real Western past, which has been mythologized almost out of recognizability, and a real Western present that seems as cut off and pointless as a ride on a merrygo- round that can’t be stopped.… If you are any part of an artist, and a lot of people are some part of one…then I think you don’t choose between the past and the present, you try to find the connections, you try to make the one serve the other. - See more at:

 -Long before Louis L'Amour, Max Brand, or Zane Grey thought about swinging up into a saddle, women were blazing a trail for the Western story. Even prior to 1902 with Owen Wister’s The Virginian which is widely respected as the novel that put the genre on the map, female authors were far ahead on the drive.

I also read this half-baked article on weird westerns. It's a pretty terrible article really because it starts out with the assumption that Stephen Kin's Gunslinger books are the first weird westerns. I post the article on Facebook and it prompted a response from Heath Lowrance in which he posted a link to a post he did awhile ago: Weird Westerns. I don't fully agree with some of Lowrance's conclusions about weird westerns but he has a far better grasp on the subject then the first writer does.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Noir at the Bar Twin Cities July 2015

by Kristi Belcamino

I love Noir at the Bar.

Last Thursday I got to participate in my third Noir at the Bar event.

One of the best parts of Noir is meeting other crime fiction writers from across the country.

This go round I was lucky enough to read with Anthony Neil Smith, Eric Beetner, Paul Garth, and Kent Gowran.

This event, like most Noirs in the Twin Cities, was organized by Dan and Kate Malmon and Paul von Stoetzel, who was MC, and showed an outstanding short film based on Dennis Tafoya's writing.

Subtext Books was there selling our wares and supporting us, as usual.

The one drawback: After asking him on Twitter, Anthony Bourdain did not come visit Neil Smith at Noir. Disappointed, Smith had the crowd sign his Bourdain book instead.

The biggest surprise: Hot Indian Foods, responded to mine and Smith's pleas on Twitter to bring us Indurritos at the event in exchange for signed copies of our books! Best food I've had in months and now one of my new favorite restaurants. They rock!

Here is evidence.

Despite how it appears, I was not reading to an empty bar.
Eric Beetner in the house from Los Angeles
Dan Malmon
The incomparable Anthony Neil Smith
Hawking our wares and doing our John Hancock's afterward
Kent Gowran up from Chicago for his second Twin Cities Noir
Paul Garth reading at his first Noir in from Nebraska
Italians like to speak with our hands

With the president of the Twin Cities Sisters in Crime, Rhonda Ghilliland
Jay from Hot Indian Foods. The spinach paneer indurrito he brought rocked my world!
John Rector had to cancel at the last minute 
so Paul von Stoetzel read his story with help from Dan Malmon
Our pre-Noir at the Bar lunch included a field trip to visit Pat at Once Upon a Crime

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Ten Year Anniversary

Scott D. Parker

I’m a sucker for anniversaries and commemorations. It’s probably an offshoot of my love of history or, rather, perhaps my love of history makes me keenly aware of dates and things. Ten years ago this summer, my family and I took a vacation. It was on that vacation that I began writing what would become my first novel. It’s called Treason at Hanford and it features Harry Truman as the protagonist.

Not knowing how to write a book, I fell back on my experience writing my thesis. A key to that endeavor was a common file in which I kept the status for my professor. I figured if it worked for a thesis, it should also work as a novel. I did not want to take my laptop—vacation, remember—so I bought a good, old-fashioned composition book. I also brought some post-it notes, pens of many colors, and a pencil.

Ten years ago this coming Monday, 27 July, I started. It was a brainstorming session. I had the vision of a single scene. This scene was crucial and I made a decision that has led to a pattern ten years on: I would write all first drafts chronologically. This scene took place later in the book. With my copious notes and in this comp book and obsessive dating, I finally got to that scene on 21 May 2006. It was a long wait, but it was oh so earned.

I have read through this comp book/journal more than once in the past few years. I go back to it when I was feeling particularly discouraged in 2008-2013. You see, while I wrote this first book from 27 July 2005 to 1 June 2006, I didn’t start and finish another long project until May-June 2013. In these years, I used to joke that it’s taken me longer NOT to write my second book than it did to write my first. That was a bad stretch, I’ll admit, one in which I dreamed about writing and wrote about writing much more than actually writing.

That last thing was something I swore not to do once I started back up in May 2013. I us

And I’ve rarely done it since. In the past two years, I’ve started and completed seven longer projects and I’m not sure how many short stories. Maybe I needed the discouraging time to get me going. I don’t know. There are days, here in 2015, when I wonder what my professional author life might have been if I had actually completed books from 2006 to 2013, but I don’t dwell there. I see 1 May 2013 as my Writer’s New Year’s Day. That was the day I decided I would pick up the pen again, write, and complete things.

And I’ve not looked back since.

But it all started ten years ago on Monday. 27 July 2005. One of the most important days of my writing life.

So, do y’all have a specific date that you can point to and say your writing career started on that day?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

You're like school in the summertime: No class

By Steve Weddle

As they used to say on the Fat Albert television program:
You're like school in the summertime -- no class.

And yet, here's a class.

Pass the word, friends and neighbors. I'm back at LitReactor, starting August 6. Fundamentals in Short Fiction is 4-week class discussing character, plot, setting, dialog and all those elements you need to build an effective story, 

Goals Of This Class

  • You will complete this class with a finished, publishable story in hand, and a skillset to craft your own fiction with compelling characters, rewarding plot, and telling setting.
  • You will be able to understand and use the best contemporary storytelling techniques, learned through our carefully cultivated weekly readings.
  • You will be able to move forward, using these techniques to enhance your own voice and vision.
  • You will have raised your own standards for writing, working with classmates and the instructor through detailed discussion and line edits of your manuscript.

You don't always need an MFA for writing. Wait, MFA? Who said MFA? Oh, that's right. I did. I have an MA and and MFA, so I was ripe for the picking, it seems. Lisa Ciarfella and Elaine Ash chatted me up about the MFA program. To MFA or Not

Neither degree has been a golden ticket for anything I’ve done. The biggest benefit I got from the MFA was finding a group of like-minded people who were passionate about the same things I was. You think anyone at my office today wants to talk about whether Gordon Lish’s influence is what made Raymond Carver a great writer? About whether opening with straight dialog is a risk? About open endings in short stories? Heck, no. But the people I went through the MFA program with me STILL DO. I’ve got a dozen or so friends from that time who are still adamant about stories.Essentially, we created a network of readers and writers that we’re still involved with. It’s pretty damn glorious. >>

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Post-Pourri of Thoughts

by Holly West

I'm gonna cheat on my post a little this week by directing you here:

Author S.W. Lauden interviewed me for his website this past week. Not only to I appreciate the screen time, I appreciate his patience when I accidentally missed the deadline for sending in my answers.

The interview aside, I'm happy to have met Steve last year at a literary event in Los Angeles. In addition to the numerous short stories he's had published, his novel BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION comes out in October and a novella, CROSSWISE will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016. Plus he's just a lot of fun to hang out with.

In other news, the Outrage Machine in my social media feeds seem to be working overtime lately. It's a big bummer. I know we don't live in a perfect world but re-posting simplistic and potentially offensive memes on Facebook doesn't strike me as a particularly good way to handle it. I've had to unfollow a few people this week just because the noise gets so tedious.

Sure, I might disagree with your positions, but if you take a moment to express yourself in a well-thought out way I'll respect your efforts and maybe even see your point of view. But re-posting some idiotic image from the political group of your choosing is just annoying.

One last thing: I started reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for the first time last week. I've never read a book that used the N-word so freely. I know it's reflective of the casual racism that existed at the time it takes place in, but I find it so jarring. Which isn't to say I'm not enjoying the book--I am.

That's it for me. If you have any random thoughts to share on the above topics or others, please feel free to do so in the comments. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Hawking & Slinging Books at Festivals

by Kristi Belcamino

So, it's official.

I'm not a Festival Girl.

Cafe Girl, yes. Festival Girl slinging and hawking my books to strangers trying to enjoy their day?

Not so much.

I spent time this weekend at my small little table at an Italian American festival, accosting strangers who stopped to look at my books. It sucked.

Sure, I sold some books.

Yes, I enjoyed meeting everybody who stopped by to chat.

But I've decided that spending ten hour days at a festival to promote myself is a nightmare.

I admit it might just be me.

I'm no Jessie Chandler. That woman is a natural promotion machine.

At Printer's Row in Chicago, she not only sold passersby her own books, she sold them mine, as well.

So this leads me to believe that selling books at a festival is not inherently evil, it's just not for me.

I can tell people about my books but it still makes me uncomfortable.

It exhausts my introverted nature. I left with a raging headache and a desire to sleep 20 hours in a row.

So that is the first and last festival I will attend as an author.

What about you? Do you like meeting authors at non-book event festivals? What about you authors, is it hell on earth for you, as well, or do you like it?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Time-Traveling with the Justice League

Scott D. Parker

Summer being summer, I often take time to remember past summers and past vacations. The summer of 1982 peeked itself out of my memory recently when, of all things, I listened to the Fatman on Batman podcast with Brad Meltzer. At one point, Meltzer mentions his first comic book being one of the annual crossovers between the Justice League of America (JLA) of Earth-1 and the Justice Society of America (JSA) of Earth-2. That got me to thinking that those crossovers typically landed in the summer months. It was the Big Event in Comics before they made comic book movies.

I have read many of those crossovers throughout the years, but the one that really sticks in my mind was the giant JLA/JSA crossover of 1982. This story, “Crisis on Earth-Prime,” was so huge, that it included a third team: All-Star Squadron. The five-part tale spanned two titles: JLA for three issues and All-Star Squadron for two.

A quick note for folks who don’t know how these things work: the JLA lives on Earth-1. They are the heroes you know: Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern. The heroes of Earth-2, the JSA, are those we originally saw in the 1940s: Starman, Hawkman, the Green Lantern with a cape, the Flash with a helmet. Both of these groups live in their respective 1982s. The All-Star Squadron, however, are heroes whose main stories take place in World War II. There’s a bit of retconning in there, but it doesn’t take away from the story. These heroes are Johnny Quick (another “Flash”), Firebrand, Liberty Bell, and Steel. Earth-3 is an earth where only the villains have super powers. Their group is the Crime Syndicate and they are all parallel versions of main heroes. Earth-Prime is our earth, the earth where heroes like this exist in comic books.

Anyway, not to get too deep in the weeds here or nothing, but the saga starts with the JLA about to meet their JSA friends…when the Crime Syndicate bursts out of the time rift machine and takes out all the JLA. What makes this a neat idea is that the JLA put the Crime Syndicate in an inter-dimensional jail back in the 1960s. So, if you read this issue in 1982, you had a reference to events that happened 20 years in the past.

There are lots of time shenanigans that go on in this story, but the main villain is Per Degaton, a Hitler-like depot who convinces the Crime Syndicate to steal the nuclear missiles from Earth-Prime’s 1962 (thus causing World War III there) and bring them back to Earth-2 in 1942. (Get that?) Degaton is a real villain who first made his appearance in comics in 1947. Not giving away anything here since this is a thirty-year-old story, but the ending of the entire tale is very reminiscent of “Back to the Future.” Because the heroes win (shocker!), time is set right. I found the ending to be quite satisfying in that there was a great adventure that no one remembered.

I’m not sure if this story is collected in a trade paperback or not, but I’d recommend hunting around your comic story for the back issues (JLA 207-209 and All-Star Squadron 14-15). This re-read has made me pull all my All-Star Squadron back issues and start to read them again. 

The fond memory I have of this story arc was from the summer of 1982. My dad, great uncle, and I traveled to Alaska to fish. I was fourteen and loved comics more than fishing. One of these five issues was left on the plane. I saw it and immediately was captivated by the cover. I love those old roll call covers you see there. I knew the big crossover was due, but hadn’t seen it yet on the spinner rack down at the 7-Eleven. Seeing that issue was all I needed to know: the big summer event was here. Now, I just had to find the other four issues. Ah, life before the specialty comic stores or the internet...

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Too much 'POP' in your culture?

Over at the wonderful RIVER CITY READING blog is a discussion about too much pop culture in a book. Check it out.

A group of bullies are like the goons from Power Rangers.
People are staring like that scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
A lucid dream like Vanilla Sky. Computer simulation like The Matrix. A fantasy life like that episode of The Twilight Zone.
It is relentless.
I've read much crime fiction that leans too much on the STUFF of the world, rather than the world. In order to tell you that the investigator is smart, the author has him listen to some obscure Bartok because we all assume classical music lovers are smarter than, say, fans of NKOTB.

My problem with dropping in pop culture is that much of it feels dropped in, used as a short of shorthand for character creating, for building the world.

The other part I dislike about it is that it's a sort of "aren't I clever" wink to the reader about something cool and vague, the sort of reference Captain Rhatigan would make in the third season of Star Blaster.

I haven't read the book discussed over at River City Reading, nor have I read the author's earlier work. For all I know, I could love the pop culture references. I could feel as if I were in on it, if it were full of Tom Waits nods and references to early Starsky and Hutch episodes.

But that's the thing. We talk about this some in my short story class over at LitReactor. One of the worst things you can do when you're writing is to alienate your readers. If you're writing Star Blasters fan fiction and want to use references to that world, that's great. But, see, what I want from a book is for it to be its own world. I want the writer to take me to a place that's new, tell me a story I haven't heard before about people I can fall in love with.

Tell me a story, author. Don't try to prove how cool you are.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

To Read or Not to Read

by Holly West

I've never read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (TKAM). It wasn't assigned reading at my high school and I never got around to reading it later in life. As I discussed in this recent post, there are lots of classic books that fall into that category for me. I have this vague feeling I should probably make reading at least some of them a priority, but then I turn back to the most recent download on my kindle and read that instead.

(For those of you who are interested, that book was Anonymous-9's HARD BITE. I finished it last night and enjoyed the hell out of it).

And now that I think about it, I've never even seen the film version of TKAM. As such, I have no pre-conceived ideas about the book or, specifically, Atticus Finch. What I know of it comes only from its iconic status in American literature and culture.

So with this said, I didn't have much of an opinion or reaction when HarperCollins announced it would be publishing GO SET A WATCHMAN (GSAW) in July 2015. Many people I know did have opinions, however, so the issue of whether or not it should be published was widely discussed in my social media feeds. And now that the initial reviews of GSAW have been released indicating that the much beloved Atticus Finch might not have been the hero some have come to love in his earlier incarnation, there's been another flood of opinions on the subject.

Some have said they refuse to read the new book based on speculation that Harper Lee didn't want it published. Others have said they'll happily read it for a host of reasons, but mainly out of love for TKAM.

Both books have now risen to the top of my to-be-read pile. I'm not so much interested in the controversy surrounding GSAW as I am in examining how Harper Lee first conceived Atticus versus what he became in TKAM. I think we can learn something as writers from seeing how Lee took one element of an existing manuscript (the adult Scout's childhood reminiscences) and used it to create an entirely different book. The writer in me is fascinated by that. But I also think we can learn something about ourselves as a society, too.

Keeping in mind that I haven't read either book yet, one (TKAM) seems to portray an idealized vision of race in America--how we might like to view ourselves--while the other (GSAW) presents a more realistic portrayal of race relations in the 1950s that unfortunately continues into the present. I understand that this might be a simplistic view of both books, especially considering its based completely on hearsay. We'll see how my perceptions change once I read them.

My hope is that Lee did in fact want GO SET A WATCHMAN published. I haven't read every article on the subject, but as far as I can tell, there's no concrete evidence it was done without her consent. Not that there aren't legitimate questions surrounding its publishing--though I'm in no position to say. I suppose if Lee came out and said unequivocally that she did not want it published, I wouldn't read it, but I don't think we'll ever know for sure.

I'm writing this now, before I read them, because I have no history with nor emotional investment in either book. I'm simply an interested bystander who now wants to learn more.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Tom Piccirilli

I heard about Tom Piccirilli's death on Saturday as Peter Puma Hedlundwas playing "The Waltz of Death" on the nyckelharpa. It was a coincidence sure but these two will now forever be linked for me.  

Others who knew him better have written far greater tributes.

Nick Mamatas:

Here's how good he was. A couple of years ago, I left a copy of The Coldest Mile on a bus in Seattle when Olivia and I in town for the Locus Awards. I had used my Virgin America boarding pass as a bookmark. I got a Facebook message from a stranger who found the book and said he'd like to send it back to me. It was a cheap mass market paperback, not the sort of thing anyone would miss or have a sentimental attachment to, but when this guy found the book, he started reading it, and was hooked. And he knew, because of the bookmark, that I hadn't finished and that I needed to. So he contacted me and mailed the book back to me at his own expense, then filled his Kindle with Tom Pic.
Stephen Romano, Brian Keene

Tom Piccirilli had that rare gift of being able to tap into his emotional raw spots. Those places that other, lesser writers fear, those places that others turn away from? Those places were where Piccirilli lived. His fears, his desires, his hopes were all on the page in very honest ways.

Here are two of my favorite essays by Pic. The first is one of the very few "what is noir" type pieces that cuts right to the heart of the matter by avoiding many of the pedantic arguments and making an emotional one. 

I want to read about men pushed to the edge, corrupted by the world, destroyed by their own vices, who face down the worst part of themselves every hour. Sometimes they win against their own baseness and frustrations. Sometimes they are consumed. Hope springs eternal. So does terror.

The second was a blog post that came out of nowhere but scared me and moved me in it's raw openness.

And then drops us back into our real selves. And at least one element of that fantasy is comprised of daydreams–the common and average daydreams that fill out my common and average life. The people I miss are returned to me. The ones who were never born are there for me to cuddle and protect. It's what happens when my mind wanders. I drift. I dive into the page. I call back to memory. I get swept away. Sometimes it goes so far that when I'm snapped back into myself it's something of a shock and I feel like someone's thrown cold water in my face. I suck air through my teeth like I've been holding my breath for minutes. Maybe I have. That's the power, the pain, the gift and the disappointment of trying on someone else's skin. Even if that someone else looks exactly like me.

I was such a fan of Pic's essays that I contacted him about pulling them together in a book and publishing a collection of them through Snubnose. We sent a couple of negotiation emails back and forth and came to a "verbal" agreement. Then he got sick. It's a shame we were never able to pull that book together because I don't want this side of his work to be forgotten.

Tom Piccirilli had a fierce imagination and his work was filled with a rare, raw honesty. He will be missed.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Guest Post: Samantha Bohrman

by Samantha Bohrman

Fear, the Crime Writer’s Most Essential Tool or A Crime Writer Goes on Vacation

When my lovely and talented friend, Kristi Belcamino, invited me to write a guest post on this blog, she gave me the directions: “write about the life of a crime writer.”

“Crime writer” probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you meet me. I’m petite. My glasses are crooked. I’m usually holding a baby. If you needed a Band-Aid or directions, you might ask me.

My life isn’t very crime writer-y either. This week, I’m on vacation with the kids in the Black Hills. In the spirit of maxing out our family vacation, we’re hitting up all the attractions: Reptile Gardens, the 1880 Town, and this afternoon, the petting zoo.

Even though I’m in mommy mode, my inner crime writer is along for the ride. Walking through Reptile Gardens I thought about how I might kill characters using reptiles or what would happen if all the poisonous snakes got out. Who would be the most likely to survive? Would I make it? Could I save my kids? I bet three quarters of the people at Reptile Gardens were thinking the same thing, a normal reaction to a fifteen-foot crocodile, I think. Plus, it’s basic biology. (Disclaimer: I don’t remember if I took biology.) People who imagine worst are probably better prepared to survive when it happens, reproduce, and nurture lots of little worst-case scenario-lings. Assuming, it’s a healthy dose of crazy.
Because I’m not actually a psychologist (I bet you already guessed that), I went to Google for verification. According to Psychology Today, people who engage in “catastrophic thinking” should manage their dark thoughts by also imagining the “best case scenario” or addressing the problem by talking, having a plan, that sort of thing.

Psychology Today totally missed another way of managing catastrophic thoughts: writing them down and selling them. That’s what I do. Well, I haven’t sold any yet, but hopefully soon. Catastrophic thinking isn’t a problem if you enjoy it and make money, right?

For me, Reptile Gardens or one of its creatures very well might end up in one of my books. One of the crocodiles already made an appearance in my forthcoming novel, Ruby’s Misadventures with Reality. It was just one line, but all those creatures are in my dark and deadly file collection. They’re also in my family photo album!  (Just like some of my real family!)

You’d think the petting zoo would be safe from my dark imaginings, but I couldn’t help but imagine the baby farm animals in someone’s freezer next year. We embraced that reality and went out for hamburgers after petting the baby cows.  
In conclusion, if you want to read books where characters incur various injuries and suffer embarrassment at all of the amusement parks I’ve ever been to, you know where to look. Ruby’sMisadventures with Reality is out July 14th.
About Samantha:
Shortly after graduating from law school, Samantha had three children and started writing novels. She never looked back, though she suspects her husband has. Ruby’s Misadventureswith Reality is her first book, but hopefully not her last. Connect with Samantha on Facebook, Twitter, and at

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Starting in the Middle of Everything

Scott D. Parker

Yesterday, in the comments section of James Reasoner’s Forgotten Book entry (Crisis on Multiple Earths, a collection of Justice League/Justice Society crossover stories from the 60s), one of the commenters noted that, with so much history behind these events, it might be daunting to jump in and start. Non-expert that I am, I assured him that, at least with the 1960s and 1970s material, the author’s rarely left readers in the lurch. The writers and editors would find a way to make sure every issue had enough back story so that new readers could quickly catch up but not so much to annoy regular readers. To paraphrase Stan Lee himself, every issue of a comic will likely be someone’s first issue.

Over the recent decades of comics—let’s say 25 years—there has been many attempts by DC and Marvel to write The Big Story, The Big Crossover, The Big Event That Will Shatter Everything You Know. Great. Fantastic. I love it. But it can serve as a barrier to the general reader who might’ve watched Iron Man or The Dark Knight in theaters and is curious enough to want to put a toe in the comic ocean. It *can* be daunting. Heck, I’m a lifelong comic reader and I find just keeping up daunting.

The same is true for series novels. About a decade ago, when I began to read crime and mystery fiction, I faced a similar dilemma as the commenter from yesterday’s post: where to start. Here’s how it usually went for me. I’d be in a bookstore and a cover of a book would catch my eye. I’d pick it up, read the blurb, and usually like what I read. However, I’d learn that it was, say, book 4 of a series. More often than not, at that time, I’d put that new book down and seek out book 1. I never wanted to start a series with the latest book. I always wanted to start a series from the beginning.

And you know what? I’d almost never get to that book I initially noticed.**

That has led me, in recent years, to a new way of buying books: buy the book that I notice no matter the series order. Why? Because something caught my eye and I figured there’s a reason now I want to read it. If the novel is good, I’ll go back and catch up. I think most authors have enough of the idea that “Every book might be someone’s first book” to spice in past events (for the newbies) but not so much for the brand-new readers.

So, what do y’all do when you see a new book that’s not the start of a series? Do you read the new book or start from the beginning? And, does the number of books play a factor? That is, if the new book is book 9, do you ever start from book 1 and read’em all?

*In an interesting bit of timing, I’m actually re-reading my favorite JLA/JSA crossover from 1982. This one includes a third team, All-Star Squadron, and it spanned 5 issues over two titles. The story itself actually referenced a story from 1942.

**The only exception was Clive Cussler’s Isaac Bell series. I first noticed the cover for The Race, figured out it was a series, went back to book 1, and read through The Race up to the current book. LOVE that series.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Ways to Die in Glasgow: The Stringer Chat

By Steve Weddle

Jay Stringer’s WAYS TO DIE IN GLASGOW is one of the big hits of the summer, which should surprise no one. Already selling like pints of room-temperature stout through the UK, the book is set to hit American readers soon.

A violent drunk with a broken heart, Mackie looks for love in all the wrong places. When two hit men catch him with his pants down, he barely makes it out alive. Worse still, his ex-gangster uncle, Rab, has vanished, leaving him an empty house and a dead dog.
Reluctant PI Sam Ireland is hired by hotshot lawyers to track Rab but is getting nothing except blank stares and slammed doors. As she scours the dive bars, the dregs of Glasgow start to take notice.
DI Andy Lambert is a cop in the middle of an endless shift. A body washes up, and the city seems to shiver in fear; looks like it’s up to Lambert to clean up after the lowlifes again.
As a rampaging Mackie hunts his uncle, the scum of the city come out to play. And they play dirty. It seems that everyone has either a dark secret or a death wish. In Mackie’s case, it might just be both.

"That sounds great," you say, "but how's the writing?" Gracious, you're a tough one to please. OK. Here's the opening:

I’m baw deep in Jenny Towler when they come looking for me. I don’t hear it at first, because Jenny’s doing all that fake shouting that she thinks turns me on, and there’s guys in  the other rooms getting the same doing. But then I hear people running up the stairs and the back of my neck goes, does that tingling thing that always saves my arse, and I’m up and moving.
They come in through the door, a bald man covered in tattoos and some skinny blonde guy carrying a gun. You know you’ve pissed someone off when they send a gun.

What's that? Get out of your way and get to the interview thingy with the now-Wikipediable Jay Stringer? Fine. Enjoy.

Steve Weddle: Why are you setting this story in your Eoin Miller world? Are there aspects of that world you wanted to explore from a different perspective? Or are the worlds very different after all?

Jay Stringer: I grew up reading comic books. I know everyone’s onboard with the shared-universe thing now, because of the films, but I always liked how Daredevil and Spidey could go out for drinks, or Thor might fly past on his way to save the world. I really liked the thought that Jim Gordon could go for coffee with Maggie Sawyer, and they could have real-people conversations, while somewhere out in the world Superman was saving everybody from Darkseid. Then when I started reading crime fiction, I saw that Elmore Leonard did it, and so I just thought it was something we all did.

I think it’s exciting to leave the vague suggestion that Eoin Miller or Veronica Gaines could turn up in Glasgow at any moment. And, who knows, if I write a sequel maybe they will.

SW: Your earlier novels had a strong cultural and political tone, especially with the Romani people and the idea of “outsiders” and belonging in Britain.  Do you consider yourself a political writer?

JS: This is one of those times when the answer I’m supposed to give would be ’no, I’m not a political writer, sir, what a silly thing to suggest.’ But the real answer is, ‘yeah, kinda.’ I used to deny it. I’m a political person, so that finds its way into my work. I’m also a big fan of fart jokes, so, you know, you pay your money and take your chance.

SW: And, um, what is a political writer?

JS: Well me and my buddy George Orwell both think that all art is political. Even if you’re deciding your art isn’t political, well…that’s a political decision. Sure, Ms. Hollywood Action Film BlockBuster Writerwoman might say she’s just writing about fun things happening to cool dinosaurs, but she’s choosing to write that in a world with rising inequality and with species becoming extinct every year. Mr Cop Procedural UK Writerman might say his book is just a bit of fun, but he’s choosing to write that in a UK where one in four children is living in poverty. That says something about the writer, and they’re political choices.

We write about the world around us, and more importantly, about how we see it. How we meet it.

You might never go out and meet the world, never go and talk to the people you’re writing about, but it will show in your work. We have to tell some basic truth, and the truth isn’t always nice. That said, we’re storytellers, and nobody likes to read a polemic, so we have a duty first and foremost to tell good stories and give people a reason to keep reading.

SW: Your new novel opens, shall we say, in medias rogering.

JS: Perfect. let’s always say that, from now on.

SW: How important is pacing to you and how do you keep the readers engaged once the initial onslaught of intercourse and killing passes? How do you keep things moving?

JS: For Ways To Die In Glasgow, it was easy. I had Mackie. That guy is pure ID. He’s basically a human shark, he moves, he fucks, he eats, and if he’s not doing one of those things he dies. He’s not a character who will sit still and contemplate the world, or pause to reflect on some deeper irony of life. He’s always moving, and if you’re writing that guy, it means the plot is always moving, too. If I stopped at any moment to try and figure out what Mackie should do next, I’d find he was already off doing it.

SW: I heard that you have some sort of bicycle fixie, but I can't seem to find out what that is. I've looked at some British language sites, and it seems to be a bloke what is sat at the edge of the lane in a lorry with a spanner in hand to repair your bicycle for nine shillings. Is that right?

JS: Think of me like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in PREMIUM RUSH, except I do my own stunts. Fixed gear is where it’s at. Especially for writers, it’s a chance to get out and work the body without daydreaming about the current project. No gears. No coasting. Constant peddling. And you need to be aware of the road around you at all times, because you don’t have breaks. It’s like being a zen monk, but travelling headlong through traffic at high speed.

SW: When you move from voice to voice in your books, from perspective to perspective, you do a great job working with that character's voice. How do you inhabit each character? Do you think of the story as that person's story? Do you hollow out a place in your soul and become that person?

JS: I found playing around with tense was a fun trick. So Mackie, who seems to be everyones favourite character, was written in first-person present-tense. He lives in the moment, always alive, always moving in real time. We know what he’s going to do at the same time as he does. Sam, the PI, is a more thoughtful character. She tells her story in first-person past-tense. Then there’s Lambert, the cop, and his story is in limited-third. He has some secrets, a distance between himself and the reader. Once I figured out those three basic ideas, the voices came easily.

SW: When people ask me what path they need to take to be an author, I say they need to write a great book and add that the traditional "path" doesn't really exist, if it ever did. "Look at my pal, Jay," I say. “He's done everything wrong and he's a huge success."

JS: Usually, when people say "look at Jay, He’s done everything wrong and he’s a huge…” the word that follows takes the form of dirty cussin’

SW: Yeah, well I tell the folks how you don't spend months scheduling signings in bookstores or driving across the country to conferences or lining up readings. I tell them you write great books and that you have a solid relationship with the Thomas & Mercer folks over at Amazon. Seriously, though, how have you managed to get your books in front of everyone without blogging every day about nonsense or retweeting every positive review you’ve gotten or sitting on 20 panels a year?

Jay Stringer
JS: My approach is to not try. As you may have noticed. I’m rarely (apart from right now, because, hey, I have a book coming out…) trying to sell things to people. And if I do, it’s usually someone else’s book. Like I’ll say, “hey, check out Rumrunners by Eric Beetner,” or, "why the hell aren’t you reading Kristi Belcamino? Were you raised in a cave?” My social media platform, or whatever we’re calling it now, is really just a place for me to crack terrible jokes, talk about political issues, and write love letters to The Replacements. If I blog, it’s about something that’s interesting to me. I like to think people get a sense of who I am, rather than what I’m wanting to sell them, and then I let my publishers get on with the job of selling books. They’re better at it than I am.

SW: As a cyclist and a human, you've certainly followed all the doping stories in sports -- bicycling, baseball, track and field. If there were a performance-enhancing drug for writers -- besides coffee or whiskey -- what would it be? Adderall? Speed? 

JS: I think the fear of financial oblivion would be a good one. Contracts are also quite performance enhancing. I know there was this whole thing with Lance Armstrong about replacing the blood in his body, because the oxygen levels would be too high, and that got me thinking about this trick I used to try as a kid, where you hang your head upside-down off the edge of the bed while you….wait, where were we?

SW: We were on the last question. What part of this book was the toughest to write?

JS: The bit that’s not there. Fun fact, folks, the original ending is missing. I wrote a coda that summed up some of the themes of the book. Al Guthrie talked me into deleting it. It’s still on my hard drive. Maybe one day, it’ll make a fun extra, like a deleted scene on a DVD, but for now it’s on the cutting room floor. Maybe if people want to see a sequel, they’ll get to know what happened next.


UK readers can grab a copy of Ways to Die in Glasgow here.

Most of the rest of you can queue up here.