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?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Gospel of Creativity by Kevin Smith

Scott D. Parker

I went to "church" on Wednesday night and the preacher was Kevin Smith.

Some of you will probably stop reading right now. Kevin Smith? The independent director of films like "Clerks," "Chasing Amy," and "Jersey Girl"? The guy who has a few dozen podcasts and fills them with talk of film and comics and humor all laced with profanities? Yup, that's the one.

I'm unique in the world of Kevin Smith fandom. I've never seen any of his films. I know him as a podcast personality. Three years ago, while listening to the podcast from SF Signal, there was mention of "...a Batman podcast by filmmaker Kevin Smith where he talks to Mark Hamill." All I heard was "Batman" and "Mark Hamill." The definitive voice of the Joker as far as I was concerned. I listened and fell in love with Fatman on Batman podcast. I've written about it more than once. (here, here, here, and here). Add in Hollywood Babble-On and I have some great content for the week.

Cut to a few weeks ago and word came down that Kevin Smith was going to be live in Houston. I knew I had to get tickets. A couple of friends and I met at the Improv Wednesday night. We got there at 7pm for the 8pm show. It started at 8:30...and didn't stop until 12:10am! No breaks. What followed in between was one part comedy show, one part great stories, and a huge, heaping helping of a motivational speaker who preached the gospel of creativity so well that if I hadn't already started my own company and published two books would've had me going home to write a business plan.

The format was Q&A and Smith joked that he might be able to get through five, maybe six questions. I thought he was joking. He wasn't. What is great about podcast--not just Smith's--is that there is no ticking clock or commercials butting up against the host to curtail discussion. There have been many times when an interview goes multiple parts. I love it because you can really dig deep and ask questions we listeners want to know. I assumed that in a live setting, some of that would actually be trimmed.

I assumed wrong. For each question asked, Smith gave the audience member his full attention. The answers were in depth and, dare I say it, reminiscent of Garrison Keillor in that whatever rabbit trail Smith traveled, he always came back around to the question asked. And the rabbit trails were so fun. A year older than me, Smith basically loved the same things i loved as a kid: Batman, comics, and Star Wars. He has made a name for himself just being himself. He just has twenty something years in the film industry to bolster his heritage.

What really struck me was his passion for independent creativity. One of the questions involved a podcast. Smith paused to give an impassioned tangent about the power one individual can have in this world through podcasting. He used podcasting as a real-world example but basically said that any art can save lives. He talked so well and deeply that I wasn't the only one who picked up on his motivational style. Heck, there were so many good nuggets that I flipped over the comment cards and started taking notes. Yeah, I know: I’m odd, but when you hear words of wisdom from a guy who’s been in the fray, you take notice. Among the things I took away, in case you can’t read my scribble, are these:

  • There’s too much ‘Why’ in the world. Go for “Why not?”
  • Find something that’s yours.
  • Don’t be afraid of your thing not working.
  • Put some ‘secret sauce’ in your project, something that just for you.
  • Ask yourself: What would make your bliss?
  • Smith made “Clerks” because he kept looking for a movie like it and realized it was never going to be made unless he made it. (Of all the things I’ve heard Smith say, this one resonates most with me.)

There were others, but those are the highlights. Oh, and he talked extensively about “Tusk,” the movie he made last year. He told about its genesis (via a podcast), how his daughter had a part (as a convenience store clerk), and how Johnny Depp got involved merely by Smith taking a chance and asking a question.

I absolutely loved the show and the message of independent creativity. I’m already doing the independent publishing thing (new western short story and new Benjamin Wade novel coming next month). Now, I just have to go watch some Kevin Smith films.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Guns and writers

By Steve Weddle

Is the writer's only responsibility to tell a good story?

Yesterday, a man shot and killed two of his former co-workers near Roanoke, Virginia.

Today, crime fiction writers will get up early (or late) and write stories about people shooting and killing each other. The protagonist of the story may be a criminal and may get into a shoot-out with law enforcement. The hero of another story may be an FBI agent tracking down bad people.

Today, across notebook pages and Scrivener screens, the crime fiction writers of the world will toil away on guns. They'll research how much a pistol weighs. They'll Google the distance a bullet can fly. They'll search for images of gun powder residue on the back of a hand.

My friend Chris F. Holm, author of the amazing and upcoming The Killing Kind, writes about guns. He also writes about writing your legislator about guns.

I write violent stories about violent people doing violent things, and for that I don't apologize. The world is a scary place, and my fiction reflects that. And while I hope that, first and foremost, my books are entertaining, I'd like to think they also handle violence thoughtfully, and with due heft. I'm not writing this post due to some crisis of conscience. I don't believe crime fiction leads to increased crime any more than I believe heavy metal leads to Satanism—and even if I'm wrong, I'm not widely enough read to move the needle.
But personally, I'm saddened that we're greeted almost daily with story after story of mass shootings, yet we—I—do nothing. So today, I wrote my senators and congresswoman an email  >>
You can read his email at his blog. You can steal his email and use it yourself. Or you can do something else or nothing at all.

My friend Lauren Winters writes about guns. She writes about how guns kill people. She writes about how guns killed her friends, her co-workers.
On July 1, 1993, an asshole with guns came to my office building at 101 California Street and killed the eight innocent people >>
I grew up with guns. I hunted. I killed things. Birds. Squirrels. A chicken hawk. You can read about the chicken hawk killing in that book I wrote that time.

You can have the "guns don't kill people" fight if you want. You can argue about freedom if you want. The Constitution. I don't know that social media shares or, quite honestly, blog posts do a damn bit of good. But I do know that we as writers deal with guns all the time. I read stories with guns. I read stories about shootings. I write those stories.

Maybe writers do have a responsibility to show the effects of gun violence. Maybe they don't.

And maybe the question isn't about our responsibility as writers.

Or maybe we do have a responsibility to others. Maybe that responsibility has something to do with those who can't speak for themselves. Alison Parker. Adam Ward. Countless others. And that's not hyperbole. Honestly. Countless others.

Maybe we have a responsibility, not just as writers and readers, but as people.

Maybe the question isn't what to do as those who write about guns, as those who read about violence.

Maybe that isn't the question at all.

Maybe we need to ask ourselves what to do as those who are still alive.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

When the Lightning Strikes

Guest Post by S.W. Lauden

Holly's note: I've invited a few guests to write posts in the coming weeks and first up is author S.W. Lauden. I met Steve at a literary event in North Hollywood about a year ago and since then, I've had the pleasure of getting to know him and his writing. He's done a series of interviews on his own blog, which you can check out here. When I learned he had a novel coming out (and a novella, too) I knew I wanted to host him on this blog.
“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.” —Neil Gaiman
I'm writing this blog post on a late night flight from New York to Los Angeles. Everybody around me is either fast asleep or focused on the digital screen flickering in front of them. I’ve been looking out the window, watching the clouds light up as we pass through a Midwest thunderstorm.

It’s got me wondering what would happen if lightning struck the plane.

At least that was the original thought. From there I imagined terrorists jumping out of their seats, only to be thwarted by a Federal Air Marshal. She’s snapping the cuffs on the bad guys a few minutes later when the thankful passengers give her a round of applause.

That’s when the lightning strikes and sends the plane into a tailspin. Lucky for us, our hero knows how to pull a commercial airliner out of a death spiral. Her name is Myrna. She’s a badass character that I’ll probably try to write a thriller about.

Call it daydreaming, an overactive imagination or insanity. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve told myself stories when I was lonely or bored. I didn’t start writing some of them down until about four years ago. Since then I’ve become a bit of an inspiration junkie, and I’m trying to kick the habit.   Let me come clean.

I've snuck out of holiday parties to email myself short story ideas. Written whole flash fiction stories on my phone while at the beach with friends and family. I've even stepped out of restaurants to leave opening lines on my own voicemail.

The last time I was on a cross-country flight like this, I bashed out a story called "Airplane Mode". That one was recently published by The Flash Fiction Offensive and features a marriage proposal that goes terribly wrong at 30,000 feet.

A drunken passenger who was aggressively flirting with a flight attendant inspired it. There was nothing I could do once the idea took flight in my mind. So I just opened my laptop and started typing—much to the chagrin of my traveling companions.

Earlier this year I had another short story called "Everything On Black" published in Crimespree Magazine. That one opens at a roulette table in the early morning hours, when everything feels electric and the casino looks like a neon hallucination.

Guess where I was when inspiration struck that time? I cashed out and headed straight to my hotel room to get the concept down before it disappeared like my pile of chips. Come to think of it, that one probably saved me a lot of lost cash. And people say that short stories don't pay these days!

It’s great when it works out like that, but what about all those other days when your mind is blank and so is the page? That’s when you’re reminded that writing is a hard job—one that takes determination, intense focus and dedication to craft.

And in case you were wondering, nothing much happens when lightning strikes a plane these days. Just like nothing much will happen with all that inspiration unless you’re willing to write your ass off. The next time I get on a cross-country flight will be for Bouchercon in early October. Right around the time my debut novel comes out. You can find out more about what inspired that right here.

S.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION
will be published by Rare Bird Books in October 2015. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Shane comes to Deadwood

My mind is elsewhere so my thoughts are fractured, just a couple of stray thoughts for today. Those expecting coherence suck cock by choice. Been watching Deadwood lately. One of the hallmarks of the show is its use of language both profane and Shakespearean. Geoffrey Nunberg wrote an article called "Obcenity Rap" in which he details the ways that Deadwood's profanity is historically inaccurate.
"The words those "Deadwood" characters would actually have used had religious overtones rather than sexual or scatalogical ones."
Been picking my way through Shane by Jack Schaefer (dig it so far but find I like his later work far better) and came across a piece of dialog that reminded me of Nunberg's line.
"Horses! Great jumping Jehosaphat! No! We started this with manpower and, by Godfrey, we'll finish it with manpower!"
I imagine that this character's speech pattern is what Nunberg was referring to. Imagining Al's dialog being more historically accurate makes me smile but not as much as this does.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Dreaded or Revered TBR Pile

by Kristi Belcamino

Before I became a published writer, my To Be Read pile was, in fact, a pile by the side of my bed. It made me super happy to look at this pile. It brought me great joy.

Now, a year into being a published writer, I've been blessed enough to have made many many friends in the mystery world. As a result, I've bought their books, I've bought books they've recommended, I've gotten scads of free books at conferences, and I've bought books from my favorite bookstores at every visit.

As a result I know have a smaller two shelf bookshelf exclusively for my TBR books.

And I've found that it is sort of bumming me out. Instead of joy, it seems like a chore. Now, I don't like that at all, so I've decided to bring the love back to my TBR pile and do some purging.

So, this summer I've decided to make a huge dent in this TBR bookshelf.

It works like this. Today was a perfect example of how I am purging.

Walking over to my bookshelf, I picked up a book, sat down and started to read it. Books that didn't grab me were put in a donate pile.

For some books, I stuck around for as many as five chapters before ditching them. Others only held my interest for a few pages.

Let's just say I put six books in the donate pile before I found the one that grabbed me.

The winner? COP TOWN by  Karin Slaughter​. Now, all I want to do is ignore my family and read this all night long until I reach the end.

Have you ever been totally ruthless about your TBR pile?

I truly believe life is too short to read a book that doesn't make you want to abandon the rest of your life ...

** Confession: On my TBR bookshelf I have one whole shelf that is dedicated to people I know in person who have inscribed a book to me. These books and authors are exempt from this ruthless purging process.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Word Count as the Nice Motivational Gift


Scott D. Parker

I’m going to piggy back on Steve’s column from Thursday regarding word counts because I believe, as he does, that it can be a powerful motivating factor to keep us writers going.

I have used a spreadsheet since 2013 to document my word counts on all the things I’ve written. The annual cumulative word count is remarkable. It’s showed me what I produced and gave me a goal the following year to match or exceed.

When I work on a novel, you get the same thing in a microcosm. I’m going to share my August spreadsheet as it was yesterday morning for an example.

NOTE: at this point, I’ll state that my goal every day is to write. I haven’t missed a day this year. Some days were barely 100. Others have been well above that.

I use a modified version of a word count spreadsheet* developed by the SF writer Jamie Todd Rubin. I don’t track everything he tracks (I don’t do time, but I should) and I add a few columns (far right.) Based on Rubin’s desire for automation, this tracker calculates words in a Google subfolder (for the details on how it works, see Rubin’s site). So, every night, when I’m asleep, Google wakes up, adds everything up, and spits out the new number in the spreadsheet. The first thing I get to see every morning at 5am when I write is the word count achieved the previous day (the column with “Title” in the header). It’s a nice kind of parade every morning.

“7-Day Avg” is exactly that. Goal is “500” words/day. When I’m writing short stories, that’s a modest goal. Now that I’m blasting through a fantastic novel, I’m hitting that mark daily. “Difference” is how much below/above my Goal I reached on that day. I have it conditionally formatted to show green if I go 501 or above and red if I only get 499 or below.

The “Notes” column is where I can document various things, like how much I wrote in my car while traveling to and from San Antonio. The “Cumul.” column is for this novel specifically. “Day Avg.” is the daily average for this novel.

So, I’m with Steve on posting good word counts. 15 August was my personal best day not only of this book but of this year. I made a post on that. When I crest 50,000 words (an unofficial NaNoWriMo), I’ll tweet. And, when I’m done with this book, you know I’ll be tweeting the heck outta that accomplishment. After that, the next best thing I’ll be tweeting and posting about is when the book—have no clue as to title—will be available.

If you’ve toyed with the idea of a spreadsheet, I highly recommend you do it. You can use Rubin’s tracker or make your own. you will be amazed at how the word count can add up over time. Think about this: if you write 100 words a day for a year, that’s 356,000 words, or 3 novels! Anything faster than that is gravy. A spreadsheet can help you achieve your goal of writing *and finishing* a book.

*Site of Rubin's word count tracker

Discussion of how it works

LATE MORNING UPDATE! The new novel surpassed 50,000 words!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

On word counts, James, and Playboy magazine

By Steve Weddle

In November, Playboy magazine will publish my story, "South of Bradley." Country Hardball (2013) ended with a ride off into the sunset (headlights). This short story picks up where the book left off.

After I finished that book, I went to work on a longer story, one that moves back and forth between years and families. Part of that longer story became "South of Bradley." Here's how this new story opens:
Roy Alison hadn't killed a man in three years, two months, and four days.
The new book, Broken Prayer, is currently more focused than my original plan, which was to move from present, to the 1950s, to the 1930s, and back and forth. So far, this has been more than I am able to handle. It's likely that I'm not a good enough writer to do that yet. Maybe someday.

While writing, while putting ink to paper, a writer is by necessity solitary. Though I listen to music while I write (Tom Waits for the first book. David Lynch for this one.) I pretty much need the rest of the world to shut up. Maybe I'll have a map of the area in front of me. Maybe I'll have historic photographs. But I need to be shut off from this world, so that I can tune in to that one.

I try to get a page a day in the moleskine. Some days are better than others. You can follow the pages on Instagram if you have the internets where you are.

So, there I am, uploading an image of a page to Instagram. Here's why. I did a thing. I got up, had breakfast, ran or didn't run. Maybe I didn't have breakfast, after all. Maybe I just went right to the desk with a cup of coffee, pulled open the notebook and started writing. But after those couple hundred words get on the page, you know, I sit back and look at this thing I've done. The story is moving. Or maybe it isn't. I have no idea until I put the filled notebook into an envelope and mail it off to World's Best Agent, who then gives it to a typist in Koreatown, and then something something magic, the pages are emailed to me in a Word file. Then I can see what's happened. But, at that moment when I've filled that one page, I've still done a thing.

But there's no one around. Because I've shut the world out, remember? And, yet, at this point I don't want trees falling silently in the forest. Do I want to share this accomplishment of doing the thing? Uh, does the pope shit in the woods? You betcha. So it's off to Instagram.

Some people post word counts each day. I'll see "450/21,874" come acroos my internet screen. Or I'll see someone share a paragraph or a line written that week. Sometimes people will share cover art for an upcoming book.
Now I'm relieved to hear
That you've been to some far-out places.
It's hard to carry on when you feel all alone.

You know what? We do carry on alone. We have to. We're not those people who show up at the coffee shop with laptops and soy lattes so that the others will think we're writers. We are writers. We're up at dawn's crack writing luminous paragraphs. We're struggling, neck-stretched to get another page in before we crash at two in the morning, We're hiding away on our lunch break with a stack of index cards and a workplace pen. We're writers, and we're mostly alone when we're doing the thing we do. 

So when we get the thing done, when we get a piece of the thing done, hell, when we have an idea about this thing we're going to get done, we're going to share that accomplishment, damn it. Because we made a thing. And you know what? We could use a little encouragement along the way. Because we're writers, we sometimes stagger between the arrogance of creating a thing and the despair of thinking the thing is no good. Some days we're write the greatest sentences of our lives, and some days we can't understand why anyone would want to read this dreck.

I'll sing myself to sleep
A song from the darkest hour
Secrets I can't keep
Inside of the day
Swing from high to deep
Extremes of sweet and sour

This is what we do. We're writers. And, some days, we get an email that a story we've written is being bought by top-shelf folks and will be seen by a bazillion people. And some days we email a dumb question to our agent, forgetting that it is Tuesday and she has 19 clients with books out that day, seven others with movie deals just announced, and three glossy magazine interviews with Owen. Never email your agent on Tuesday. (In the time it took me to write this post, Joelle has signed another five-book contract.)

But you know what you can do? Tweet me your word count. Facebook your opening paragraph. Because I bet it's wonderful. Or maybe it sucks. But you know what? You did a thing. While the soy latte, coffee-shop writers were home in bed or matching their trucker caps to their flannel shirts and thick, unnecessary eyeglasses, you were hand-cramping your way through that scene that had been eating at the back of your brain for a week. And you got the damn thing down on paper. Con-friggin-grats.

Post that word count. Share that sentence. Then get your ass back in the chair tomorrow and do it again. Because I'm sitting here with an empty space in my TBR pile and I've been waiting for something wondrous.

Those who find they're touched by madness
Sit down next to me.
Those who find themselves ridiculous
Sit down next to me.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Moderating for Control Freaks

by Holly West

A little birdie told me that the panel assignments for the upcoming Bouchercon in Raleigh have been sent out. Though it's not yet time to announce the specifics of any panel assignments, no doubt some of my friends are on panels, either as participants or moderators, some of you for the first time. I'm looking forward to seeing the finalized schedule.

In the last few years, I've been fortunate enough to appear on a variety of panels. To be honest, I prefer moderating to simply being on a panel because I'm a control freak. Though it requires a bit more preparation, dictating the pace and topics discussed makes the panel more interesting for me and keeps my anxiety at bay.

So with that said, this week, I thought I'd share the introductory letter I usually send to my panelists:

Hello All,
My name is Holly West and I'll be moderating the panel, <Insert Title Here>. To help me prepare, please send me the following, ASAP:
--A brief bio
--The title of the book you'd like me to read and focus on for the panel
If there is any particular topic with regard to your books or yourself you'd like me to touch upon, please let me know. I can't guarantee it will make it into the panel, but I'll do my best.
In the coming weeks, I'll be reading your books and preparing the questions for our panel. To help *you* prepare, I'll be sending everyone a sampling of the questions I plan to ask, likely around <insert date here>.
I look forward to meeting you all. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Short and sweet, but it allows me the space to shape the panel any way I like.

Two suggestions for all of you who are participating on panels but not moderating: Offer to send the moderator a copy (either physical or ebook) of the book you'd like them to read and most importantly, thank your moderator after the panel is finished.

I wrote an expanded article on this topic for the upcoming issue of MWA's newsletter, The Third Degree, so if you're a member, keep an eye out.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Hateful 8 and The Revenant

Damn near every time a new, good looking western comes out someone writes a piece about whether the western is making a comeback.  It's not the old days of tons of movie westerns and won't ever be again (do we really want it to be?). A list of the top ten westerns from the last decade is easy to compile because there were only 10 westerns made, you just have to decide how to order them (sarcasm). Jokey bullshitting aside this Christmas looks to be a one good for western fans with two high profile western films coming out. Take a look at the trailers and let me know what you think.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Reader Feedback Fun

This post is loosely inspired by a recent post by Meg Gardiner. 
Here is what readers think of my books in a nutshell (as a writer you always have to take the bad with the good when it comes to reviews).

They love me:
I Have Found A New Mystery/Thriller Author to add to my "Must Read" list!
The atmosphere is dark and gritty, and this crime thriller is not for the faint of heart. 

They love me not:
What could have been a penetrating study of the psychology of serial killers doesn't succeed in Blessed Are the Dead. 

They love me:

I lost sleep because of this book. (So worth it.)
Wow, simultaneously disturbing and fascinating, Belcamino's story gives you a peek into the mind of a serial killer. And no, it's not pretty. Not at all.

They love me not: 
Didn't love it. A bit too whiny for my taste and somewhat repetitive. Not bad but I wouldn't look for more on this protagonist.

They love me:
Like the best Law & Order SVU episode you've ever seen...
This is authentic stuff, not the result of Google research and fancy wordplay. So real, in fact, that the suspense will make you glad this is an e-book so you can take it with you everywhere.

They love me not:
Not as good as some of hers
It was okay. Not as good as some of hers.

They love me:
BELCAMINO is consistently GOOD!
In the same vein and in my case, Kristi Belcamino writes books for people who have forgotten how much they LOVE to read! Please keep them coming.

They love me not:
One Star
too much a repeat of the first book, which was actually good

Writers: feel free to share your favorite bad review in the comments section.
Readers: Ditto, feel free to share a bad review you've written!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Inaugural Author Talk

Scott D. Parker

When you’re an author, there’s a list of things you know you want to do: have a book you wrote actually published; have folks tell you they liked the book; be interviewed; and give a talk as a professional author. Well, I can cross off that last one.

About a month ago, the men’s group at my church asked me to speak as a professional author. The man who asked me I’ve known for a long time. Long time. In fact, he taught my Sunday School class back in the day. He and I now attend the same church. He bought Wading Into War, enjoyed it, and asked me to talk to his group. It was an honor to say yes and, this past Tuesday, at 7am, I was there as a guest.

It’s an odd feeling to be the guest of honor. This counts as my first time anywhere, anytime. It meant I got to get my breakfast first. Large scoop of eggs, bacon, biscuits, and pancakes fill me up ahead of my talk.

I brought some items for show-and-tell. I told the story of how I went from being only a reader to a published author who now runs his own publishing company. It’s a fun tale, full of twists and turns, a lot of rejections, but ultimate getting to the first finish line. I have no issues with public speaking. I find I can get quite comfortable in front of a microphone and people. I’ll admit, however, that the first couple of minutes were a little tense.

Afterwards, many of the guys came up to me to thank me for talking and how much they enjoyed the event. A musician particularly enjoyed me talking process and how my process and his process for practicing guitar kinda matched. Of all the nice accolades, one gentleman made my day: without any prompting by me during the speech to indicate I enjoyed CASTLE, this nice man said that when he looked up at me talking on the stage, it was like watching Richard Castle from the TV show. Awesome!

The talk was a great pleasure. I know my fellow DSDers have delivered talks, and I have finally joined their ranks. It was a blast and I’m looking forward to the next one.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Conversation with Lisa Unger

By Alex Segura

I like Lisa Unger's books because they're not conventional, they change things up and they keep you guessing. She does this consistently with each of her novels. Imagine my delight when I learned that one of her latest, CRAZY LOVE YOU, featured a protagonist who also happens to be a comic book creator. I took a shot and asked her to come visit this here website to chat about writing, the book and the two mediums. 

While CRAZY LOVE YOU is unlike a lot of her previous work, that's par for the course for the versatile author - which, in turn, is refreshing and fun for the reader. Dark, evocative and hard to put down, CRAZY LOVE YOU makes for a quick and intense read, very much worth your time.

Thanks to Lisa for taking the time to chat and to the amazing Erin for making it happen. This interview was edited a bit for clarity, etc. 

Let's dive in, shall we? What can you tell us about CRAZY LOVE YOU?

Each of my novels begins and ends with a character voice. There’s usually a germ or a spark that leads me to do a lot of research. If all of that connects with something else going on with me, I usually start to hear a voice, or see a scene over and over. That’s how almost all of my novels have started. But it wasn’t that way with CRAZY LOVE YOU. I just started hearing Ian Paine’s very edgy, very male voice in my head. And I started writing just because I was interested in who he might be. I’m not really sure what the initial germ was.

Ian is a graphic novelist, living in Manhattan. He’s escaped from an ugly past, and shed his former self — a bullied, overweight boy, who was hated and feared in equal measure. When we first meet him, Ian has a successful graphic novel series called FATBOY AND PRISS, loosely based on his own past. One of the main characters, Priss, is modeled after his lifelong friend of the same name. Ian is newly in love with a girl named Megan. And his complicated relationship with Priss is starting to be more of a liability than an asset in his life. Though Priss was his only friend growing up, his avenger in many ways, standing up for him, and making trouble for the people who made trouble for Ian, as they grew older, their relationship changed, grew darker. Where she used to bring out the best in him, now she brings out the worst. Even his editor is hinting that it might be time to move on from the series — where Priss suddenly seems more like a villain than a hero. Ian knows it’s time for a change, time for a grown-up relationship with someone who doesn’t encourage him to indulge his darker urges. But Priss isn’t willing to let go, not on the page and not in real life. The more he pulls away, the more out of control his life becomes.

Were you a comic book/graphic novel reader before writing CRAZY LOVE YOU? What made you want to make one of the protagonists a "graphic novelist”? Did you speak to a lot of comic creators or people in the business to get a feel for what it's like to work in the medium?

I have deal of respect for the medium and a real fascination with idea of the classic superhero figure, particularly Batman. The layers of character and the mythic nature of the storytelling has resonated with me as a reader and writer. But I wasn’t a graphic novel reader per se until I wrote this book. 

CRAZY LOVE YOU didn’t come from that place, necessarily, not from a desire to write about a graphic novelist. When I started thinking about (hearing? seeing?) Ian, it was just who he was, what he did. He was a graphic novelist and a lifelong lover of comic books. He found a home within those exciting, beautiful, idealized pages when he couldn’t find one in the real world. That’s what I knew about him. And I was a little freaked out because I knew nothing about his world. So I called my friend Gregg Hurwitz and said, “I am writing about this guy and he’s a graphic novelist. And I know nothing!” And his classic Gregg response was, “What? Why?” And I said, “I have no idea. Just help me.” So Gregg connected me with Jud Meyers, owner of the amazing, fabulous BLASTOFF comics in North Hollywood. 

During my first conversation with Jud (who is one of the loveliest, smartest, coolest people I have ever met), I said, “I don’t even know enough to interview you.” So, he sent me a vast array of graphic novels and I read them, as well as a bunch of books on how to write and publish graphic novels (like it’s just that easy!) and did a deep dive online until I felt like I knew enough to ask reasonably intelligent questions. And then I stalked Jud, who was my doorway into the whole world. He opened up everything for me, knows just about everything there is to know, and inspired me in all sorts of ways.

What did you learn that surprised you?
There was so much to learn about that whole universe — and I’m sure I didn’t even scratch the surface of what I should know. But for me it was always about Ian — who he was as a person, what his journey was as an artist and a traumatized spirit. Could he make himself whole? What was real with him and what wasn’t? Is there a difference between fiction and reality for the writer/artist? And if so, which one is better, more manageable? The world of graphic novels – meaning the nuts and bolts of the business -- was less critical to me than was the inner life of the artist. (And for that I don’t have to go very far.)

What has always thrilled me about the medium is how art and language unify to tell a story. Flipping through the pages of both the classic “comic book” and the very current, sophisticated and deep “graphic novels” I am amazed by the talent of the artists and the writers, the big stories, and how few words it takes to convey meaning. As a novelist, I am swimming in words. I need a lot of them to weave my universe. But the graphic novel has all these layers of meaning in a single glance. I am also amazed by how collaborative the process is, that people like Ian who do it all are very rare. It’s fascinating to me how a team of people can work together to create a single story. My process is so private, so personal — each novel is an inner journey. The story spins out from inside. There isn’t a story that I seek to tell. There’s a story that tells itself through me.

I think the character of Priss represents something for most people - the dark past relationship we're all trying to move past. Would you agree? What went into her creation as a counter-balance to Ian?

Priss, like Ian, is her own entity. She is not his counter-balance, nor is he hers. Their relationship is a symbiotic one, as perhaps all relationships are to a certain degree. They each fulfill very specific needs for the other, which once upon a time was a positive and powerful thing. But the energy between them has grown dark, a bit twisted. It needs to change. And, yes, I agree that she represents a dark relationship. That relationship might be with drugs, or appetites we know we shouldn’t indulge, or someone we love but who nonetheless brings out our darkest selves. Or it might be with the person we ourselves used to be, someone we’ve outgrown as much as we have those old friendships that keep us living in the past.

Ian has a dark history, and some dangerous appetites, as well as suffering from extreme trauma and addiction. In some ways, it would just be easy for him to continue down the path he and Priss are on together. For Ian, darkness is a siren song. All he has to do is surrender to Priss. The way into the light takes work, he has to claw his way there. I wasn’t sure he had it in him to make it into the light. I am still not. 

How much is the world of comics/graphic novels part of the story? 

All my novels begin and end with character. The world of comics/ graphic novels plays a relatively small part in this story. Much as when I wrote about a fiction writer in DIE FOR YOU, the publishing world was a small element. It’s Ian’s life as an artist, his struggle to separate fiction from reality, what comics and graphic novels meant to him as a kid, and what story means to him now that interested me. It’s always the people we’re involved with, more than the world they inhabit. And that’s true for any genre. I could have been writing about fiction, or painting, or music — any creative enterprise that takes over the artist and becomes more significant than the real world. But the vivid color and rich textures graphic novel storytelling worked perfectly for this novel.

Are there any comics you read regularly? Would you ever want to write a graphic novel?

I kind of fell in love with graphic novels during the writing of CRAZY LOVE YOU. There’s nothing I read regularly, as I always have piles of things I need to read, want to read, should be reading. But during my last visit to Blastoff Comics I bought, on Gregg Hurwitz’s recommendation, I KILL GIANTS by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura. I don’t say this lightly: It was brilliant and beautiful and incredibly moving. Just gorgeous. Some of my favorites during my research: REVIVAL: Volume One: You’re Among Friends by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton; TERM LIFE by AJ Lieberman and Nick Thornborrow; CHEW: Volume One: Taster’s Choice by John Layman and Rob Guillory. My daughter Ocean, who is 9 and a half going on fifteen, loves the new BATGIRL by Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher, and Babs Tarr. But, to be honest, it’s a tiny bit too grown up for her, so we’ve only read a couple together. I love it, too.

My daughter became a little obsessed with my graphic novel/comic pile and kept trying to sneak glances. She’s currently writing her own — and it’s pretty amazing. She’s that rare breed of writer and artist. It will be interesting to see how those twin talents develop. I think it’s more likely that she’ll write a graphic novel before I do.

As someone who's written both novels and comics, I find each medium to be uniquely fulfilling. Comics let you collaborate with another creative person to create something greater than the individual parts. A novel is solitary and allows you to create a clear, singular vision. Would you agree?

The novel is a very personal enterprise, and definitely in most cases a solitary one. I am not sure I could collaborate with another person, not because I don’t want to. Just because I’m not sure how that would work. I’m so deep inside my story and character. And I often find myself waiting for that voice to tell me what’s next, or to see that next scene, or hear that phrase that drives me to the next piece of the puzzle. I’ve always loved the idea of writing a graphic novel, but I’m so all about words, and creating images with those words, I don’t know how I would adapt to that very different process. I already have too many people and voices in my head. But I like the idea, as you say, about the collaboration allowing creative people to make something bigger than the individual parts. I hope I get to experience that one day.

With this book, were you trying to allow them to bleed into each other a bit, and maybe turn on novel-readers to comics and maybe vice-versa? 

So little of what I do is intentional. The way I ultimately told the story -- a dreamy blend of the “real" and the graphic novel within the novel -- was a direct result of who Ian was and how his story unfolded.

I was hoping that there might be a graphic feature to the book. Those interior sections, the graphic novel within the novel is all so vivid and colorful to me. I see it in panels. It’s a shame I can’t draw to save my life! But my publisher was very adamant that the world of novels and the world of graphic novels don’t blend easily. Readers of novels — supposedly — aren’t necessarily graphic novel readers, and vice versa.

But I wonder how that can be so. If you love story, wouldn’t you be excited for any great one, no matter what the format? But maybe that’s just me as a reader. I don’t discriminate — give me a great story with vivid images and well-drawn characters and I’m yours regardless of genre or format. So even though I didn’t really intend to turn novel-readers on to graphic novels or vice versa, I’d be happy if that was a result.

This book is a bit of a departure for you, in terms of character and style - was that intentional? Instinctual? How has reception been so far?

Is it? A “departure” indicates that I’m on one particular path. I’m not. (Which is probably not a good thing from a commercial standpoint!) I am all about character, and the person (or people) in my head dictates how the story is told. So each of my books is going to be a little different from the others — though you can always count on dark themes, and a deep dive into character, and hopefully some twisty suspense.

Ian is my first male, first-person voice. But I don’t feel like I chose that — even though on some level I know I did. So that’s a little bit of a departure. CRAZY LOVE YOU is not my first foray into the “unexplained” for lack of a better word. But it’s certainly my most fearless trip. (I write a little more about there here: 

Like all of my books, some people love it, some don’t. But I think with any truly authentic endeavor, the most we can hope for is deep engagement with the people who do find their way to the work and with whom it resonates. I’m fortunate to have very loyal readers who are willing to follow me wherever I choose to go. The reviews here and abroad have been lovely. So I’m thrilled.

Did I miss anything?

I don’t think so! Thanks for the great questions and inviting me to hang out on your blog! 

My pleasure! Thanks again.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Truth About Crime

by Holly West

Awhile back I asked for recommendations for true crime books on Facebook. I got a boat load of suggestions and I realized that though I like true crime a lot, I hadn't read (or even heard of) the majority of books being recommended. So I'm glad I asked.

Here is a sampling of those recommendations:

FATAL VISION by Joe McGinniss
IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote
LA NOIR by John Buntin
THE LAST MAFIOSO by Ovid Demaris
BLOOD AND MONEY by Thomas Thompson
HELTER SKELTER by Vincent Bugliosi

There were a whole lot more. Joseph Wambaugh's books got several mentions. IN COLD BLOOD probably got the most, which didn't surprise me because it's one of my all time favorite books.

Maybe because she died so recently, I decided to read THE STRANGER BESIDE ME by Ann Rule. First published in 1980, it's an autobiographical and biographical book about serial killer Ted Bundy. Rule knew him personally before his arrest and had coincidently been contracted to write a book about the murders he was eventually executed for. Imagine her surprise and dismay when she learned her good friend Ted was the prime suspect. The edition I read, issued in 2008, contained several updates, including a chapter about Ted Bundy's execution in 1989.

I've never been all that interested in Mr. Bundy's story and now, having read it, I'm ambivalent about the book. I woke up last Wednesday morning with a cold so I gave myself permission to lay in bed and read all day. The cold continued for two more days and let me tell you--reading voraciously about a serial killer for three days straight is a bit of an emotional drain. Half way through I was exhausted and disgusted and wanted badly to quit. But I'd invested so much time in the book thus far I had to see it through. And I did, even though my pleasure reading had turned to dread when I contemplated returning to the written scene of Ted Bundy's terrible crimes.

It's not so much that the book itself was bad, though I've read better true crime books. Rule spent a lot of time ruminating on her relationship with Ted Bundy, especially toward the end of the book (which was also chronicling end of his life). Who wouldn't? It must be difficult to process ones feelings about such a person when there's been a close friendship. But I kind of felt like she was doing it at our--the readers'--expense. I didn't need so much self-reflection.

The real problem for me was simply reading, in detail, about such atrocious crimes. There were so many. We'll never know how many women he killed. He never fully confessed to any of the murders until what looked to be his final execution date drew near, when he thought his life might be spared if he began giving up information about the murders he'd committed for the sake of the families involved. When asked if Bundy's life should temporarily be spared in order for them to know the details of their loved ones deaths--and in some cases, the location of their remains--every one of them said no, execute him now.

It touched something dark in me, to be privy to so much senseless death, and it drained me. It made me wonder at my proclivity toward writing fictional crime, my desire to someday write my own true crime book, and my preference for reading both.

And here, finally, is the point I'd like to make: Though I'm not the least bit ashamed of these preferences, I try never forget that there is a true crime behind every fictional one. Which isn't to say that every novel we write is based on a real-life crime, but only to remember that crime does happen in real life and causes a great deal of suffering. My decision to write about it isn't to glorify, but to shed light on it, to empathize with its victims and to come to some understanding about those who commit it.

Ironically, I came to no real understanding of Ted Bundy, even after reading 500+ pages about him. Nor do I want to, particularly. I'm unprepared to call him--or anyone--consummately evil, but boy oh boy, if such a thing exists in this world, he surely comes close.

Maybe I need to detox with a good romance. Got any recommendations?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Let's Talk Frankly about Book Marketing - Publisher Style

by Kristi Belcamino

Let me start by saying that my publisher does do SOME marketing of my books.

And let's face it, it could be worse - but like every other author out there, I want MORE. Way more.

To be fair, I knew when I signed with Witness Impulse - a smallish HarperCollins mystery imprint that focuses on marketing your eBook and basically does a print run to appease my figurative elderly aunts who refuses to read digital - that my books would be low priority in the HC world.

So I was pleasantly surprised after I first signed my book deal to hear the publishing company say that in their eyes a "book is a book is a book" meaning that they intended to treat eBooks the same as their print books. And to be honest, they have done this extremely well -- in some areas:

I have a publicist. My books go through a detailed developmental edit from possibly one of the best editors in the business. My book is also sent out for copyediting and fact checking before it is printed. My covers (at least the last two) are fantastic. My publicist is a true gem. She is incredibly helpful in spreading the word about my books, but the fact is, her hands are tied, as well.

The true power lies in the marketing department, not the publicity department. The marketing department decides where to spend the money and sadly, so much of a book's success depends on this money being spent.

And here's where we speak about the obligatory catch 22 - the publisher will spend money on you if your sales warrant it. But for a debut author, I need that marketing money to garner those higher sales.

This paradox is nothing new. But it really hurts if you  are a debut author trying to figure out how to let people know about your books.

Because here is the cold, hard truth: Unless you have a publisher willing to invest in you, and by invest in you I mean spending MARKETING money on you - if you are a brand new author out the gate - the odds are you will have mediocre sales.

There are a few exceptions to the rule, of course, but this seems to hold true.

I've seen the difference between authors at my level who have a large monetary investment from the publisher and those who don't. It's a HUGE difference. In sales numbers.

This week, a very disheartening article came out that revealed something new to me that I've suspected - sometimes publishers promise the world and then don't deliver. Here's what one author, Steve Hamilton, did about it—spoiler he ditched his publisher.

Read it here on Publisher's Weekly or since it is short, I'll also post it below, although the comments on the PW article are worth reading on their site:

And four days later, after I wrote a rough draft of this post, Hamilton had a four-book deal with a new publisher. Read more here or below.

Hamilton Ends Deal with SMP Claiming Lack of Support

Disputes between authors and publishers are not uncommon, especially when it comes to marketing and publicity efforts. But rarely does an author make a preemptive move, and pull his book before a publisher has a chance to publish it. Which is why thriller author Steve Hamilton's move to end his relationship with longtime publisher St. Martin's Press has highlighted a growing issue in the business: Are traditional publishers doing enough to support established authors?
On Tuesday it emerged that St. Martin's imprint Minotaur Books was canceling Hamilton's October-slated novel, The Second Life of Nick Mason. The sudden move, for a book with strong word-of-mouth, seemed odd. St. Martin's issued a terse statement saying only that, "after many years" of publishing Hamilton, it "had a parting of ways" with the author.
Hamilton and his agent, Shane Salerno, said the publisher's comment was deeply misleading and, contrary to what SMP implied, it was Hamilton who chose to end the relationship. The reason? A lackluster plan from SMP to promote The Second Life of Nick Mason.
A two time Edgar-winner, Hamilton, who has been at SMP for 17 years, said the publisher's statement "wasn’t right factually, and it wasn’t right in principle, not after such a long relationship." He added: "This was my decision and mine alone. And any suggestion otherwise is ridiculous."
The Second Life of Nick Mason, which follows an ex-con unwillingly plunged back into the underworld of Chicago crime after he's sprung from prison, had received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. (Now that the book has been shelved, that review will not be running.) The book also received blurbs from, among others, Michael Connelly, Lee Child and Don Winslow. Additionally, SMP had said that it was planning a 75,000-copy first announced printing. It also claimed, in galleys, to be committed to a number of major marketing efforts, such as a national author tour for Hamilton, and a national ad campaign for the book.
Hamilton, however, said none of those claims are true. "There was no national campaign," he wrote via email. "None at all." Staying with his publisher, given what they were doing, was unthinkable, he added. "The catastrophe that would have transpired for a book with extraordinary advance reviews would have been unfair to me, to my book, and to every bookseller."
When asked about the statements made about the supposed marketing plans for the book, SMP again declined to comment. However, it is an open secret in the publishing industry that claims made on galleys and other material for the trade--about everything from first printings to marketing budgets and efforts--can be gross exaggerations. This fact has begun to spread beyond the confines of the industry, though, as more authors and industry experts take to the Internet with posts about the realities of what Big Five publishers actually do for most authors on the marketing front.
For Hamilton, the focus now is on getting a new publisher. His exit from SMP was negotiated by attorney Richard B. Heller of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz (who also worked on Janet Evanovich's 2010 departure from the house). Having paid SMP a sum to cover his advances on four books, along with delivery and acceptance fees on the first book, Hamilton and his agent are now fielding offers on print rights for The Second Life of Nick Mason, as well as film rights.
"In the end, I just want to work with a publisher who’s passionate about my work, and who has a real plan for reaching the widest possible audience," Hamitlon said. "That’s all I’ve ever wanted. But I didn't feel like any of that was in place at St. Martin’s Press, or that it ever would be."

and four days later this:

NEW YORK (AP) — Prize-winning crime writer Steve Hamilton has a new publisher just days after leaving St. Martin's Press over what he cited as lack of support.
Hamilton has a four-book deal with G.P. Putnam's Sons, the publisher told The Associated Press on Thursday. Hamilton's "The Second Life of Nick Mason," originally scheduled for release this fall by the St. Martin's imprint Minotaur, will come out in the middle of 2016.
Earlier this week, Hamilton had startled the book world by breaking with St. Martin's, his longtime publisher, and openly criticizing it for not properly backing "The Second Life of Nick Mason," the debut of a series featuring an ex-convict trying to break from his criminal past. Authors have long complained about lack of attention from their publishers, but it's rare for one to leave at the start of a multi-book deal and so soon before a novel's release.
More than 10 publishers "aggressively" pursued a contract with Hamilton, according to his literary agent, Shane Salerno.
"I am overwhelmed by the response to my decision to leave St. Martin's and grateful to have had so many passionate publishers pursuing my work," Hamilton said in a statement issued by Putnam, which is part of Penguin Group USA.
The Nick Mason novel was supposed to have been the first of a four-book deal reached last year with St. Martin's. In a highly unusual step, Salerno said he paid nearly $250,000 to get the author out of his contract (authors traditionally absorb the cost). Salerno added that the deal with Putnam was for substantially more than the near-seven figures Hamilton was to have received from St. Martin's.
Salerno, who besides being a literary agent is a screenwriter, filmmaker and author who in 2013 released a widely publicized documentary and book about J.D. Salinger, said Hamilton did not have the money on hand to buy out the contract himself. He added that he wanted Hamilton "to be completely free of St. Martin's" and able to find an enthusiastic publisher "who would support his work."
St. Martin's issued a statement this week saying that "After many years of publishing Steve Hamilton, unfortunately SMP has had a parting of the ways and will not be moving forward with the publication of 'The Second Life of Nick Mason.' We wish Steve all the best with his new series and his future endeavors."
St. Martin's spokeswoman Tracey Guest said Thursday that the publisher had no additional comment.
Hamilton, 54, is a respected and popular author known for his 10 Alex McKnight books. In 1999, his McKnight book "A Cold Day In Paradise" won an Edgar Award, presented by the Mystery Writers of America, for best first novel. Hamilton's "The Lock Artist" won the Edgar in 2011 for the best book overall.
Hamilton's contract with Putnam calls for two McKnight novels and two Nick Mason novels. "The Second Life of Nick Mason" has received early blurbs from Harlan Coben, Don Winslow and Michael Connelly and was listed by Publishers Weekly as one of the fall's most anticipated books.
"With two Edgars to his name and story-telling chops to beat the band, we're convinced readers will love his new character Nick Mason, and our whole team's aim and focus will be to bring him to a much larger audience," Putnam president Ivan Held, who along with editor Sara Minnich acquired the book for the publisher, said in a statement.