Saturday, September 5, 2015

Expanding the Portfolio

Scott D. Parker

For those of us with a traditional day job, our resumes are our introduction. They are the one-page summary of all that a potential employer would need to know about us. We list all the jobs we’ve had, the duties performed, and skills we’ve learned along the way.

When I updated my resume last year to apply for the job I now hold, I debated something: do I include my published fiction or not? On the “No” side, I thought published fiction might be a detriment to a technical writing career. On the “Yes” side, it showed what I hoped was a well-rounded proficiency in writing and thinking. I opted to include the then-only published short stories. Ironically, the first question in the interview was about my fiction. It was a nice, but unexpected, icebreaker.

Basically, including my fiction expanded my resume and my portfolio. Now, when I update my resume at some point (hopefully far away) in the future, I will definitely include my published novels. But how might this paradigm apply to the fiction writing career?

As of this week, I have provided the answer. I have published two novels this year with a third on the way. But we writers don’t live by novels alone. At least I don’t. So, as of this week, I have expanded the offerings from Quadrant Fiction Studio to include the Triple Action Western series of short stories and novellas. My vision for this line (probably imprint is the proper term) is to provide an outlet to write some western yarns in between writing longer novels. I found the quick-turn aspect of short story writing is a great cleanser while planning a longer work. The westerns I wrote in July were completed while I planned the current novel I’m finishing soon.

Triple Action Western is also an opportunity to let potential readers have a new way to discover the tales of Quadrant Fiction Studio. There is likely a reader who hates World War II-era stories (what I’ve published so far) but loves tales from the old west. It’s my goal to meet that reader with a few things he or she might like. At the same time, there’s a possibility that folks who love the Benjamin Wade stories but not enjoy westerns. That’s cool. I’m working on writing stories for more than one type of reader.

It’s early days here at the home office of Quadrant Fiction Studio, but they’re exciting days. And it’s with great pleasure I can introduce the first Triple Action Western: “The Box Maker.”

Emory Duvall practices his simple carpentry trade, knows everyone in town, and stays out of trouble. But when a young gunslinger pulls iron on him and makes an unusual request, trouble lands in Duvall’s lap. Now, the carpenter must figure out how to avoid getting shot…and how many coffins he will have to make.

Available exclusively at Amazon:

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Books That Haunt Us

By Alex Segura

I try not to be too self-promotional in this space, mainly because I think these blog posts shouldn’t serve as hype machines but, you know, share some droplets of knowledge I’ve gained during my relatively new career. That said, I’ve had my books on my mind a lot - in the macro sense. As some of you know, my first novel Silent City is being reissued by Polis Books in March. The following month will see the release of my second novel, Down the Darkest Street. Both books are part of the same series starring washed-up journalist/reticent detective Pete Fernandez.

So, as part of the whole “publishing a book” thing, I have to write new acknowledgements for the Silent City. Doing that got me to thinking about this journey I’m on, and the books that not only got me hooked on reading noir/mystery/crime - but made me want to create it, too.

I was always a reader - whether it was comics, sci-fi, "literary" novels, Sherlock Holmes, what have you. But it wasn’t until my early-to-mid twenties that I got truly tapped into mysteries. I burned through a lot of the classics (though, there are many lost/forgotten classics I need to seek out), like Chandler, Hammett, MacDonald, Highsmith and so on. I was digesting these books as a member of the audience. That said, I very clearly remember a turning point where I went from being a passive reader, enjoying the experience to someone who wanted to do the same thing. To write a book. And while the classic pulps and noir novels certainly helped get me there, it was another batch of books, more contemporary and relatable, that spurred me to take a stab at it myself. I want to talk about a few of them.

I’ve talked about influences on the blog before, so I’ll spare you a grocery list of people I think have played a part in how I write. But I did want to take a minute and write about some of the books that stuck around and still take up real estate in my head, and make up a big chunk of Pete Fernandez’s literary DNA.

I’m not going to do a deep-dive plot description for these - but know that I think each of them is excellent and you should read them all.

A Replacements song in prose form. Shambling, bruised, daring and kinetic, this book crackles with energy and introduces one of my favorite fictional characters ever in Nick Stefanos. Pelecanos has written a ton of great books, but I’ll always have a soft spot for his first three Stefanos novels.

Hands down, one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read. Featuring two compelling protagonists in Pat and Angie and a Boston setting that feels all too real. I loved Lehane’s first PI novel, but this one just blows it out of the water - dangerous, disturbing and the kind of book that keeps you awake.

 I love Tess Monaghan. It’s hard to put into words what a great character she is - charming, flawed, funny, brave and self-aware, unique and more. My favorite part about Tess is she refuses to remain static - and evolves from chapter to chapter. If you haven’t read this series, do yourself a favor and remedy that immediately.

The outlier of Ellroy’s magnificent “L.A. Quartet,” Jazz is pure style and is the kind of book only Ellroy can pull off. While you should read the first three, you don’t have to, and I find myself going back to this weird little closing chapter more often than the earlier installments, though they’re great, too.

The first Harry Bosch novel also seems to be the most noir of the series, which is probably why I like it so much. A little more raw and jagged than future installments, we meet Bosch and learn a bit about his past as it comes back to haunt him during a particularly trying time. Connelly hit it out of the park in his first at bat - supremely impressive.

Miami is a shadowy, sweaty place full of double-crosses, weird characters and a heaping dose of menace. Miami Purity captures it perfectly. The Miami novel I measure all others against. A classic.

I could list books I like/loved/was influenced by for days. But this seems like a good place to stop. Feel free to share your essential, influential reads in the comments below.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I HATE SEX! Writing About it, That is...

Guest Post by Ellen Byron

Of course I don’t hate sex. But I do hate writing about it, or writing romantic scenes in general. It takes me forever to craft verbiage that’s remotely passable and not a total cliché. That’s one of the reasons I’ve gravitated toward writing cozy mysteries. I’m spared coming up with creative ways to describe sexual contact and human genitalia. To be honest, it’s not easy for me to read that stuff, either. A friend and I once did an “Look inside” for Fifty Shades of Gray, and I literally recoiled. Well, first because E.L. James actually used the expression “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle” – seriously, E.L.? Was there ever a time when anyone on the planet sounded cool saying that? - but mostly because I could not stomach the graphic details. I might as well have been a tween going, “Eeewwwww… gross!”

I don’t know why I’m so stunted in this aspect of my writing ability. Maybe it’s because I developed an obsession with Victorian literature in middle school. While other kids passed around The Godfather and whispered “Page 24,” where a salacious scene lurked, I was swooning over Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever found anything hotter than Cathy and Heathcliff’s tortured passion.

Speaking of torture, in my quest to overcome this aversion to a crucial literary element, I actually took an online class titled “Sex on the Page,” offered through Sisters in Crime’s Guppy sub-group. The class was laid out beautifully; each online class covered one of “The Twelve Stages of Intimacy.” Again, I’m being totally honest when I say that I cringed just reading the lecture topics. Topics ranged from “Hand to Body” (okay, I can handle that) to “Mouth to Mouth” (um, getting uncomfortable) to “Genital to Genital” (eeewwww, gross!!).While other participants enthusiastically shared their sexy homework assignments, I hung back in the virtual corner of the classroom like a shy spinster. I could not seem to get past describing any couple as “locked in a passionate embrace.”

I’m currently mulling over the storyline for a third book in my Cajun Country series and it looks like this is the one where my protagonist, Maggie, will finally get-it-on, do-the-deed, have-sex, make-love – see? All bad! – with her boyfriend. I’m months away from starting an actual outline, yet I’m already agonizing over how I can make consummating a relationship fresh and well-written.

So once again, I reference my chosen genre. The unofficial cozy rules are that they must be devoid of graphic language, violence, and sex. Phew! But I’m not completely off the hook; my protagonist does need to have physical contact with her boyfriend. So my task will be creating the romance of that moment, and then discreetly closing the bedroom door, or the door of wherever they bump uglies (See? Terrible!). I’m committed to writing the best scene possible. But I can’t promise that my characters won’t end up “locked in a passionate embrace.”

Ellen Byron is a native New Yorker who loves the rain, lives in bone-dry Los Angeles, and spends lots of time writing about Louisiana. She attributes this obsession to her college years at New Orleans’ Tulane University. Her debut novel, Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery, was chosen by the Library Journal as Debut Mystery of the Month. Her TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and many network pilots. She’s written over 200 magazine articles, her published plays include the award-winning, Graceland, and she’s the recipient of a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant. Visit her online at

Monday, August 31, 2015

Let's talk music

Today is going to be a music post. I like discovering new (sometimes to me) music but it doesn't seem to get discussed *too* much in the online circles I travel in. But I do pay attention when it does. I thought I would periodically create a playlist of songs that I'm listening to, new songs I like, old songs re-discovered, etc. Don't know what the frequency of these playlists will be, or even if there will be interest, but I hope you guys get something out of them. Whenever possible I'll link to a playable version of the song but I won't load this post up with embedded videos. So, if you like this kind of thing let me know. Give some of the songs a listen too and tell me if you like any of them.


September 2015 Mix

Till the Casket Drops by ZZ Ward

Drive My Car by Curtis Harding

Old Time Religion by Parker Milsap

My Service Isn't Needed Anymore by Caleb Stine

Coming Home by Leon Bridges

Bringing the Boys Home by Zane Campbell

Dearly Departed by Shakey Graves

I Broke Wahoo's Leg by Sweet GA Brown

Deadman's Blues by Matt Woods

Raggy Levy by Jake Xerxes Fussell

She's Got You by Rhiannon Giddens

Roll Up Your Sleeves by Meg Mac

Jesus Was a Capricorn Lyrics by Kris Kristofferson

Suicide Sal by Karen Jonas

Dynamite by Tami Neilson

I Ride at Dawn by Ben Harper  

What are you listening to now? Discovered anything new? Want to pull together your own mix? Let me know.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Can a novelist be too productive? (Asks Stephen King)

Stephen King just published an article in the New York Times asking whether a novelist can be too productive. Here is the link to the article.

As the author of 55 books, King explores a little bit of the snobbery prolific writers face and whether quality drops when the words flow so easily. This sums it up for me:

"No one in his or her right mind would argue that quantity guarantees quality, but to suggest that quantity 
never produces quality strikes me as snobbish, inane and demonstrably untrue."

I wonder - does it boil down to jealousy?

Are other writers jealous because someone has the ability - and possibly even the time - to write quickly and efficiently?

I'm not sure, but I do subscribe to King's belief that a book can be written in a season - three months. Maybe not a book per say, but a Shitty Rough Draft as Anne Lamott calls it.

On Sept. 29 I'll have published four books in 15 months so I'm a bit sensitive to snobbery about the quality of these books. I will say that I find writing a series book much faster than a stand alone. The world is there, I pretty much sit down knowing exactly what is going to happen and then just put it on paper.

But looking at my back story - I really ended up writing a book every six months, so not exactly as it appears having them published in a 15-month-period. For instance, when I got my book deal I had the first two books in the series ready to go. Then I had six, very tense tight months to get my butt in the chair and write my third book. As soon as I turned that in to my editor, I had another fast, furious five months to write the fourth book.

I did it, but let's just say I think I'm going to slow down for one simple reason - something that King apparently recommends here -

"20. When you're finished writing, take a long step back.

King suggests six weeks of "recuperation time" after you're done writing, so you can have a clear mind to spot any glaring holes in the plot or character development. He asserts that a writer's original perception of a character could be just as faulty as the reader's.
King compares the writing and revision process to nature. "When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees," he writes. "When you're done, you have to step back and look at the forest." When you do find your mistakes, he says that "you are forbidden to feel depressed about them or to beat up on yourself. Screw-ups happen to the best of us."

Can a novelist be too productive? I say no.

What say you?