Saturday, October 17, 2015

To the Friend Who Asked Me a Question

Scott D. Parker

Some writers are born with the innate sense to get started writing. Others have to be kick started. I'm in the latter group. This week, I lost the friend that helped me write my first book.

A decade ago this past summer, a co-worker of mine, a fellow technical writer, Doug Warren, asked a simple question of me. "Would you read chapters of the novel I'm working on?" I replied without hesitation: "Sure." Then, without thinking, added, "If you read mine."

Doug had chapters written. I had nothing written.

We writers who are born with that innate sense that makes us want to tell stories all want to write novels. But the task can seem so daunting. How do you do it? What's the process? How will I ever finish something that will be the longest thing I've written?

Big questions, indeed. Ten years ago, the proliferation of how-to-write resources wasn't the big business it is now. Doug and I didn't quite know what to do. He had a basic outline and wrote to it. I fell back on the training I had received writing my Masters' thesis: write an outline, arrange the scenes, and go.

Doug and I quickly established a pattern. Each Wednesday, we'd eat lunch together, usually at the campus of the client for whom we worked. After the first week, we'd each come with two different documents. One was the fresh chapter of our own books. The other was the marked up print-out for the other guy's previous week's chapter. We'd take turns going over the chapter, asking questions, and clarifying any comments.

The experience was invaluable. And it was damn fun. It quickly became a thing that you didn't want to be the guy who arrived at lunch without new content. That sense of responsibility really spurred each of us.

Doug was an awesome writing companion. He'd give helpful comments and, more importantly, ask pointed questions. I specifically remember a question he asked when I was well past the halfway point of my book: "Hey, what are your bad guys doing?" Aha! Good question, my friend. I proceeded to tell him all that they were doing to explain their actions in the chapters I had already given him. After I finished, he said, "Yeah, all that. Put that in your book."


"Because as a reader, I wanted to know. And if *I* wanted to know, future reader will, too."

So I put those scenes in the book.

Doug finished his book first, but we kept our lunch dates each week. He still spent the time to read and edit my chapters until I, too, finished.

Writing is a solitary journey, but it sure is easier when you have a companion who can travel with you. Most importantly, I think it's important to have a companion to travel with you on that first journey. I've completed other novels since 2005-2006, but none were as special as that first time. I am so glad that it was Doug with me on that initial journey that proved to each of us that we had what it took to write and complete a novel.

A week ago today, Doug passed away. He was only a year older that I am. When you're in your forties and that happens, it'll get under your skin. It has for me. His funeral service and eulogy was warm with the love of family and friends. I got up and told this story to the folks there who maybe didn't know the special place in my life that Doug held. They do now. And now all y'all do, too.

Before I conclude here today, let me state the obvious: always tell those you love that you love them. Do it today. Do it everyday. Do it in words and deeds.

As a corollary to that, let me encourage you writers (and all artists) to contact the person who may have sparked your flame of creativity and thank them for being there at the beginning. Doug and I both knew we were special to each other when it came to writing that first novel. 

Finally, there's the thing that slammed into my head in the moments after I heard the tragic news last Saturday: when I publish that first book, the dedication will be for my friend and fellow writer, Doug Warren. I can think of no better tribute to the guy who was there to kick start my writing career.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Those formative years...

By Renee Asher Pickup

The house I grew up in had a picture window and a giant tree in the front yard. Pretty much all of my memories from inside the living room feature dappled sunlight. Even the ones that feel like they should have taken place on a rainy day. One particular sun-dappled afternoon, both my parents were at work and I'd only been home from school for a little while. I was a senior in high school and it had been kind of a rough year, but it's hard not to look forward to graduation. I looked out the picture window to see a news van pulling up in front of the house and my stomach hit my feet.

Who died?

What happened?

Was it an accident or murder?... Like I said, it was a rough year. For most people who graduated high school in 2002, the most memorable moment was probably similar to me walking into my period 1A English class to see my teacher bent at the waist, wailing as the news replayed the footage of an airplane hitting the WTC over and over again.

The seniors at my high school had more than one soul crushing moment to hang onto.I grew up in the shadow of Steven Stayner. If the name sounds familiar, that's because they made a movie about him.

By the time I was in school Steven had been kidnapped, abused for seven years, returned home, started a family, and died in a motorcycle accident. I went to the same elementary school he attended, hung out at the same local landmarks. It seems like I’ve always known his name, even though I never knew him.Steven had a brother, Carey Stayner. That name probably sounds familiar, too.

He's a serial killer.

Merced wants desperately to be known as the Gateway to Yosemite. While it’s true that any kid who went to public school in Merced has memories of field trips to the national park, most people only associated us with Yosemite because Carey killed four women there. I was a sophomore watching the local news as they searched for, and eventually found the bodies of the missing tourists he'd murdered. I watched when Carey Stayner was taken into custody and Steven’s name was repeated again.

There came a point in high school where you knew the announcement was going to be bad news before the assistant principal got a full sentence out. I can mark life events by deaths. The day I visited my college campus, I got a call that my cousin and two kids I'd gone to school with for years died in a drag racing accident. The day I left for college, I attended a funeral for a friend who died in a drinking related accident.The Santa Clara sheriff who murdered his three stepchildren, five-year old daughter, then shot himself while their mother was on a morning jog wasn't an accident. It was, however, a stomach churning media frenzy that outdid the callous vulture behavior displayed when my cousin died. Is it any wonder I still don't trust the media? The most depressing game of 6 Degrees of Separation I've ever played revolved around a vagrant wandering from one town to the next until he wandered into Merced and terrorized a house full of children with a pitchfork, killing two. I had connections to the victim and the killer that time. That was also my sophomore year.

The year I graduated, our government teacher offered extra credit if we attended a political event. I shook hands with Gary Condit - running for re-election after somehow dodging murder charges. If you don't remember his name, maybe you remember Chandra Levey, the intern he likely killed.

Oddly, I didn't know these were national news issues. They were all local news to me. I didn't realize that anyone outside of my general area knew who Scott Peterson was until I was watching his sentencing hearing in DC bar three years after the remains of his wife and unborn baby washed up in the Bay Area.
Condit and Peterson hailed from Modesto, a mere 45 minutes away.

These events weighed heavy on me, on everyone I knew then. It's a lot for a high school kid to take in. I don't think I realized how incredibly fucked up our high school years were until much later. Merced is crime and gang ridden now, but it didn't seem that way then. I think about the training I received in the military, the way people talk about combat (I never saw any) - nothing ever happens until something is blowing up. That was Merced. Nothing ever happened until it was big enough for news crews to pull in and set up shop.

Nothing ever happened until you had that interesting, but difficult to share story about the first time you saw a dead body and why you can't stand the smell of nag champa (I'll save that one for another day).
So, is it any wonder I read and write dark shit? Is it any wonder I hate the media?

I waited behind the screen door as the news anchor and camera- man approached the porch, and waited to be told that someone was dead. That someone had been murdered in a spectacular fashion and once again, it was someone I knew.

The dappled sunlight didn't ever hit the porch - it was covered.

Turns out, my mom had called a consumer complaint in on the people who printed our graduation invitations incorrectly and refused to fix or refund them.

I’d never been so relieved to be embarrassed.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Alafair Burke's nachos

By Steve Weddle

Had a lovely time a Bouchercon this past weekend. I'd said I would try to get to a Bouchercon and a NoirCon, and I have. Five years ago I hit NoirCon in Philly. Here's what happened then.

At Bouchercon on Saturday, I met many, many people, most of them for fewer than five minutes. I spent Sunday emailing people saying I was sorry I had missed them or sorry I hadn't gotten to spend as much time with them as possible. Years back, I would have had regrets because of things I'd done at conferences or conventions, things I'd done while full of blended whiskey, things I'd done on tables to potted plants. This time, I regret not being able to hang out with more people for more of the time. I only met a couple of people who were complete jerks, so I had a pretty swell go of it.

This week I've read many great write-ups about the Bouchercon weekend. Joe Clifford and Angel Colon and Jed Ayres had wonderful recaps.

I'll probably spend the rest of my life reading the books of the nice folks I met there -- including about 80% of DSD bloggers (past and present) -- so it was pretty swell.

Oh, and the noir crew stole Alafair Burke's nachos.

The only thing better than a plate of nachos is a plate of stolen nachos

And knowing that it is rude to follow people into the restroom to get them to sign a book for you, I waited outside for Alafair Burke to sign my copy of All Day and a Night. Because I am a damn gentleman.

I also followed Kathy Reichs into the elevator to ask her to sign a book for my lovely bride. That went less well. Kathy Reichs used the phrase "off kilter." That is a true story of trueness and fact.

I had many, many books signed, some brought and some bought. Here are the bought ones:

The fancy counter that the books rest on is in Chad Rohrbacher's house. I stayed there. (The house, not the counter.) You might remember Chad from that time Amazon hated me.

Hey, speaking of Amazon, Country Hardball is on sale for $1.99. As the book is usually around $9, that's a savings of [insert math]. If you've already bought a copy, keep in mind that you can gift an ebook pretty easily. I'm not saying you should gift the book to everyone you know, of course. Then again, I'm not saying you shouldn't.

And speaking of Country Hardball, the follow-up to that book is out in the November Playboy magazine. [This is what we call "burying the lead," bee tee dubs.]

"South of Bradley" takes place about five days after Country Hardball ends and involves Roy Alison hunting down his grandfather's killer. 

Stolen nachos. A huge sale on a book. And Playboy. Good grief. What a week. I'd hug you all if I weren't so nyquil-sick and didn't mind human contact.

Oh, and Jay Stringer has worked his tail off getting some fresh blood to start here at DSD in the next few weeks. You have no chance to survive make your time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Buy My Book #amwriting

Guest Post by S.W. Lauden

The last time I checked in at Do Some Damage, I was on a flight from New York to LA. This time I’m flying back from Bouchercon in Raleigh. 

It was great weekend filled with new friends and old, lots of laughs, killer books, informative and entertaining panels, terrible ideas for collaborations and anthologies, and a death-defying car ride in the rain in search of “an authentic Carolina barbecue experience.”

This year’s conference was special for me because it was the first place that I held a copy of my debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION. It officially comes out Nov. 3 from Rare Bird Books, but the publisher shipped a handful to me for show and tell at the conference.

The response from the incredibly supportive crime and mystery community was overwhelming. I felt like I was walking on air until a nagging question began eating at me: “How the hell are people outside of this conference going to find out about this book?”

So I adjourned to the bar. This was a writer’s conference, after all, and everybody knows that the Bouchercon hive makes the sweetest honey in the hotel lobby late at night. I got a lot of great feedback, but the responses were all over the map.

The common thread was that many authors are uneasy with marketing. It can be difficult to know how to strike the delicate balance between seeming desperate or aggressive, and effectively spreading the word about your latest masterpiece.

It got me thinking about the last time I was in Raleigh, fifteen years ago. Back when my rock band was the opening act on one club tour or another. Our whole world in those days was organized around playing 45 minutes a night to support our album. 

Along the way, our little rock and roll circus might also do a few interviews or record store appearances. After every show we would hang around the t-shirt booth to sign CDs and connect with people who liked what we did. Then we’d pack up and head off to the next town to do it again. It’s a tried-and-true promotional strategy perfected over decades.

While more ambitious and established writers have used similar approaches, many simply don’t have the marketing budget, vacation time or emotional capacity to take the show on the road. Skinny jeans and pyrotechnics aside, I still think there’s a lesson to be learned from struggling rock bands: Stop acting embarrassed about marketing your work. 

Why spend several years writing, editing, refining, re-writing, pitching, querying, negotiation, re-re-writing, re-editing and publishing our work only to act grumpy or aloof when it comes time to tell the world about it? I’m guessing the answer lies somewhere on the Bukowski-to-MFA spectrum, depending on the author. 

There are many reasons why we might scuttle our own potential for success, including self-importance, self-doubt, self-loathing and self-sabotage—to name a few. And I can definitely relate given my daily urge to crawl back in bed, suck my thumb and remind myself, “They’re gonna see right through you, jackass!”

It seems like the point of publishing is to get people to read your writing, for better or for worse. Book trailers, SEO and magazine ads are all great, but that’s a piece of the puzzle that can come with budgetary limitations. Which brings us to a slightly modified version of the original question: How do readers find out about new books outside of paid advertising?

S.W. Lauden reads at Noir at the Bar, Raleigh
Photo by Michelle Turlock Isler

Thankfully, listening to established crime authors like Jack Getze or Les Edgerton talk about it—or watching Johnny Shaw, Christa Faust or Joe Clifford read their own work—is a great reminder that writing is a form of entertainment.

Most authors I’ve met will happily do readings, book signings or panels when opportunities arise, or we might even set up a few of our own at the local library, bookstore or bar. But what about all that time in between when we aren’t already concentrating on our next masterpiece?

The go-to platforms are blogs (our own and guest posts—thanks, Holly!), podcast and radio interviews, reviews, social media and video. From what I can tell, the trick is to create a consistent stream of original and engaging content that authentically reflects both our writing and personality, while resisting the urge to Tweet “Buy my book #amwriting” over and over and over again. Easier said than done.
I know there’s no magic bullet, but I would love to hear what you do to get the word out about your writing in the comments below. Or what you’ve seen other authors do with some degree of success.

I’m, um, asking for a friend.

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, October 12, 2015

Small press shout out

This just seemed like something that needed to be done.

Here are some small presses that I like and some recommended books for each one.

Lazy Fascist Press

"We’ve published everything from minimalist dark comedies to meta-fictional SF, along with historical fiction, fairy tales for adults, and hybrid plays. We seek out books that are emotionally hard-hitting, critically engaging, and exhibit crisp, original prose. These books tend to be difficult to pigeonhole under any one banner, but together they form a complex mosaic of the disenfranchised, the poor, and others who are struggling to survive — and make an impact — in an increasingly bleak world. However, we’re not all about doom and gloom. We like to laugh, demand the absurd, and love great storytelling above all else."

Books I dig from them: Skullcrack City by Jeremy Robert Johnson, The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World by Brian Allen Carr, The Laughter of Strangers by Michael Seidlinger, The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones, The Door that Faced West, Zombie Bake Off by Stephen Graham Jones, Black Hole Blues by Patrick Wensink

Broken River Books

"Starting out as a weird crime fiction press, BRB has branched out into horror, bizarro, and even nonfiction books. While the overall genre of our titles might be hard to pin down, all of our releases are connected by their incredible prose, killer design, and anarchic spirit. BRB has maintained a blistering publishing schedule, releasing 27 books (including 5 on its new imprints, King Shot Press and Ladybox Books) in a little over a year.

With a diverse and unpredictable catalog ranging from the southern gothic Peckerwood to the weirdo epic The Last Projector to the bizarro riff on B-movie madness Leprechaun in the Hood: The Musical: A Novel, BRB and its imprints are dedicated to bringing you fiction that falls just left-of-center. This is fiction for the rest of us."

Books I dog from them: Peckerwood by Jedidiah Ayres, Street Raised by Pearce Hansen, The Last Projector by David James Keaton, Gravesend by William Boyle, The Fix by Steve Lowe, Repo Shark by Cody Goodfellow

280 Steps

"280 Steps is a publishing house specializing in crime fiction. The name is taken from master crime writer Raymond Chandler’s 1940 novel Farewell, My Lovely, the second novel he wrote featuring L.A. private eye Philip Marlowe. 280 Steps publishes established authors and rising stars, as well as well as reissuing crime classics."

Books I dig from them: Rumrunners by Eric Beetner, Burn Cards by Chris Irvin, Out of Mercy by Jonathan Ashley, One-Eyed Jacks by Brad Smith, Neon Noir by Woody Haut, The Red Right Hand by Joel Townsley Rogers

Word Horde

"Word Horde was founded on the the idea that great stories should be given every opportunity to find the right audience. That when you work with the most talented creators available, you cannot help but create great art."

Books I dig from them: Vermillion by Molly Tanzer


"ChiZine Publications is willing to take risks. We’re looking for the unusual, the interesting, the thought-provoking. We look for writers who are also willing to take risks, who want to take dark genre fiction to a new place, who want to show readers something they haven’t seen before. CZP wants to startle, to astound, to share the bliss of good writing with our readership. We want stories using speculative elements—magic, technology, insanity, gods, or insane-magic-technology-gods all in one—to show the dark side of human nature. The good guy can feel—and act on—anger, hatred, vengeance just like the villain. Heroes don't always win, conclusions don’t always wrap things up nicely, and sometimes things can take a turn that’s just plain weird . . . even for the genre.

Books I dig from them: Bulletime by Nick Mamatas, The Door to Lost Pages by Claude Lalumiere, Every Shallow Cut by Tom Piccirilli, Haxan by Mark Hoover, In the Mean Time by Paul Tremblay, Katja From the Punk Band by Simon Logan, Napier's Bones by Derryl Murphy, People Live in Cashtown Corners by Tony Burgess, Sarah Court by Craig Davidson, Westlake Soul by Rio Youers.

Two Dollar Radio

Two Dollar Radio functions on a no-wasted bullets policy. You won’t find jokebooks or bathroom readers camouflaged in our lists. In the work we produce, we value ambition above all, and believe that none of our books/films crimp to convention when it comes to storytelling or voice. Ideally, that contributes to a liberating reading/viewing experience. Our primary interest lies with what we would characterize as bold work: subversive, original, and highly creative.

Books I dig from them: Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky by David Connerley Nahm, Haints Stay by Colin Winnette, The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing by Nicholas Rombes, The Drop Edge of Yonder by Rudolph Wurlitzer, The Drummer by Anthony Neil Smith, The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich.

One Eye Press

"One Eye Press is a multi-genre publisher with a focus on short consumable fiction ranging from flash fiction to short novels distributed across multiple formats."

Books I dig from them: Federales by Christopher Irvin, Gospel of the Bullet by Chris Leek

Crime Factory

Primarily noir and hardboiled fiction.

Books I dig from them: Saint Homicide by Jake Hinkson, Fierce Bitches by Jedidiah Ayres

Civil Coping Mechanisms

"A continuously expanding selection of innovative literature and poetry. The kind of stuff that stays with you."

Books I dig from them: Noir: A Love Story by Edward Rathke, Winterswim by Ryan Bradley

Blasted Heath

"Fascinating characters… gripping stories… deadly writing. That’s what Blasted Heath is all about. The very best in crime fiction, with a few surprises along the way."

Books I dig from them: Angels of the North by Ray Banks, All the Young Warriors by Anthony Neil Smith, The Point by Gerard Brennan, Hot Wire by Gary Carson, Saturday's Child by Ray Banks, Hard Bite by Anonymous-9

New Pulp Press

"Bringing you the most original voices in crime fiction, neo-noir and neo pulp."

Books I dig from them: Bad Juju Jonathan Woods, A Choice of Nightmares by Lynn Kostoff, The Science of Paul by Aaron Philip Clark, The Bastard Hand by Heath Lowrance, In Nine Kinds of Pain by Leonard Fritz, Frank Sinatra in a Blender by Matthew McBride, The Fever Kill by Tom Piccirilli, The Last of the Smoking Bartenders by CJ Howell, Dust Devils by Roger Smith.

Beat to a Pulp

"Offering stories in a variety of genres (from noir and hardboiled crime to Westerns, from science fiction to the undefinable), BEAT to a PULP is sure to have something for every pulp enthusiast. "

Books I dig from them: The Big Ugly by Jake Hinkson, The Posthumous Man by Jake Hinkson

Nightscape Press

“To provide readers with high quality speculative fiction novels, novellas, and anthologies while going above and beyond to promote and nurture our greatest resources, the author and their work.”

Books I dig from them: Sterling City by Stephen Graham Jones, Three Miles Past by Stephen Graham Jones

All Due Respect

"low-life literature. Criminals, thugs, douchebags, cheaters, gamblers, pickpockets, ne’er-do-wells, guns, cigarettes, bath salts, booze, beer, strippers, whores, wheelers, dealers, schemers, robbers, adulterers, embezzlers, loan sharks, losers, and lottery winners (who are, of course, losers)."

Books I dig from them: Selena by Greg Barth

Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing

"We tend to publish dark speculative fiction but have been known to branch out into other genres, if the story is right."

Books I dig from them: Sirens by Kurt Reichenbaugh,

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Importance of Owning it

by Kristi Belcamino

Are you a writer?

Here's a simple quiz:

Do you write?

Yes? You're a writer.

No. You're not a writer.

At some point, all of us have to take ownership of being a writer. I believe if you truly want to be a writer, you write. And you call yourself a writer.

If you write, you can ditch that weak willy nilly "aspiring writer" title and dive right in.

I had to do that.

My ego didn't want to call myself a writer. In fact, I spent about thirty years avoiding calling myself one.  After all, after scrapping my first novel at age 11, I was scared to death of writing fiction. Who was I to think I could write a book and be a "writer" - the  most glorious and elusive and magical career in the world?

So, I got a journalism degree and poured my heart into newspaper writing and reporting. I was a REPORTER. Not a writer.

And then - THANK GOD - I got older. I turned forty and glory days, realized I didn't care anymore about what anyone thought, which gave me the freedom to sit down and write a fiction book.

So, I sat down to write and decided to call myself a writer. I even bought this mug so I could look at it every morning and remind myself that I WAS A WRITER. For reals.

And who knew? People liked my book. An agent liked it and then a publisher liked it.

But even before anyone else liked it, I claimed the title and owned it: I am a writer.

How about you?