Saturday, October 24, 2015

Motiffs That Transport

So this past Wednesday was October 21, 2015, otherwise known as Back to the Future Day. I think by now we all know what that date signifies, but for those of you who are living under a rock, that was the date Marty McFly and Doc Brown go forward 30 years from 1985 to 2015. I’ll admit to a little bit of sadness when you realize the entire trilogy now all takes place in the past. What was neat about Wednesday, October 21, 2015, was the promise of hope for the future. You knew you weren’t going to get flying cars…but there was hope, right? To those of us born and raised in the 1900s, the year 2000 was a magical year. Course when we got there, Y2K didn't happen. And, somehow, January 1, 2000 looked pretty much like [pick your date] 1999.

Question: Was October 21, 2015 the last great ‘future’ date in pop culture and/or science fiction? It’s certainly the last positive one I can think of other than Star Trek. “The Martian” is set in the future but it’s never dated. Are there any new dates? There’s The Running Man in 2017 and the future Blade Runner showed us for 2019. Not sure we’ll get to either one of them, thankfully.

On Wednesday, I re-watched Back to the Future Part Two since it takes place on that day. After the universal logo, the screen goes dark and there is that four note motif that opens all three films. Instantly, those four notes, conveying whimsy and wonder, put me in that mindset. It got me to thinking about other musical cues that instantly transport you. Here are a few off the top of my head:
  • Jaws (two notes, tons of menace)
  • Star Wars (first blast of brass)
  • Superman (opening five note, a clarion call for goodness)
  • Raiders (strings are all I need, but the brass really bring it)
  • Star Trek (opening three notes channels the sense of wonder)
  • Batman ’89 (opening mysterious vibe before the theme kicks in)
  • Jurassic Park (swirling strings)
  • first Harry Potter movie (where the theme is played on the flute-like bells)
  • opening Dick Dale riff in Pulp Fiction (not a theme per se, but hearing that anywhere takes me to Tarantino's LA)
All good themes. What are some themes y’all like whose opening riffs take you to that place you want to be?

Friday, October 23, 2015

An Ode to the TBR

By Renee Asher Pickup

Ah, the TBR pile.

The digital age hasn't made it easier to get through that long list of "To Be Read" but it's made it a hell of a lot easier to grow it. My relationship with the TBR is a mix of excitement and horror - every time I open a new book I think of all the others left behind, waiting, collecting dust.

Here are some of the books that have been on my TBR list for too long.

It's been over ten years since I worked at Borders book store in Columbia, Maryland, which is where I first encountered STIFF, shelving books. I'd worked in the schoolhouse where the USMC and Army trained service members to retrieve casualties and done a few morgue visits, and an interest in death, dying, and bodies remained. Mary Roach has gone on to pen several other books I really want to read, and haven't actually gotten around to. 

As soon as I added the photo for this book I felt like I had to duck - the readers of Do Some Damage are very likely throwing rotten vegetables at me for skipping this one. If not, wait for this - I've never read ANY Ellroy (if I'm not here next week it's because I've been asked politely to leave). I don't know how something like this happens. I know I should read Ellroy. I actually really want to read Ellroy. My growing interest in true crime says - for chrissakes, woman, read Black Dahlia! Yet, here it sits in the TBR, under a book I borrowed so I really, really need to read it before I get to anything else.

I look at this book every day. It is on a shelf in the living room and I can't walk into that room without looking at this book and yet... Ed Brubaker doing a mix of crime noir and Lovecraftian horror, somehow isn't the first thing on the TBR. I went back and read Deadpool vs. The Marvel Universe but didn't read Fatale. This blog entry is starting to make me feel bad about my life choices.

In addition to never reading Ellroy, I also never watched Justified. Not on purpose, really, I just didn't. I'm a big Elmore Leonard fan, though, and according to Goodreads I'm "currently reading" Pronto. Except, I'm not. A few years ago I downloaded the Raylan novels to see what the fuss was about, and apparently had really high hopes for tearing through them without delay. I also seriously intended to watch Justified. The intricacies of Raylan Givens remain unknown to me.

I've been a huge Stephen King fan since I was ten years old, sneaking books off the shelf. I have a huge collection of first editions, promotional items, and other random book-nerd junk I'm really proud of. Somewhere along the way though, King stopped being an author I bought and read overnight and became an author with a spot saved on the TBR. 11/22/63 was the first King novel to go TBR, and each subsequent release has followed. It's like I don't even know who I am anymore.

This is just a small selection from my ever-growing TBR. If I were to combine the actual pile with the digital list, and look at it long enough - I'm sure the length of the resulting list would make me feel my mortality in a very real way. The "To-Be-Read" is like a pile of hopes for the future and failures yet-acknowledged. 

What's been in your TBR for too long?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Noir at the Bar 101

So you wanna host a Noir at the Bar, eh?

Wait, you don’t know what Noir at the Bar is? Eek. OK. Well, read this and this and this. This blog post is not a history lesson, but those links should give you a general idea. Going to a ton of Noir at the Bars will help, too. Lemme know when you’re back.

Oh, hi. OK - still want to host one? Great.

I’ve had the pleasure and honor of participating in a ton of Noir at the Bars as reader and host - mainly in the NY/NJ area, where I learned a lot about hosting from folks like Todd Robinson and Thomas Pluck. I also like to think I’ve hosted a few good ones on my own in Queens. That said, I’m not the be-all, end-all when it comes to the mechanics of these events. With that in mind, I’ve put together a quick and dirty guide with my thoughts, plus insight from some of the best and brightest Noir at the Bar hosts around the world. So, sit back, pop open your favorite beverage and start dreaming up your plans for Noir at the Bar Narnia…


A good venue is the unsung hero of N@tB. What makes a good venue? Well, it should be relatively spacious, have a decent PA/mic setup (so the audience can actually hear the readers) and sport a relaxed atmosphere. Now, here’s where I digress from traditional N@tBs - I’ve hosted four, and all have been at coffee shops. The first four were at ODradeks, a coffee place in Kew Gardens. The most recent, and arguably most successful one, was at Astoria Coffee. Both places served beer and wine, covering the “bar” part - but most importantly, both places had a mellow, welcoming mood with engaged owners/managers that “got” what we were trying to do and promoted the events via their channels. That last point is key because it draws people in beyond your circle of writers and friends-of-writers. I’ll get into promotion a bit later, too.

It’s important to find a place that not only opens its doors to new patrons, but to the event as a concept.

“You want a place that likes having you and doesn't make you charge a cover,” said Jen Conley, who runs Noir at the Bar New Jersey. “I like the old school bars. I do mine at Tumulty's in New Brunswick. We have a downstairs room with chairs and a bar—all to ourselves. The place is fantastic.”

Adding special twists to make your event stand out from the many going on across the country doesn’t hurt either. But first order of business is getting a killer venue, most N@tB planners agree.

“For Noir at the Bar Twin Cities, we partnered with Paul Von Stoetzel - our MC - of Killing Joke Films,” said organizer Dan Malmon. “He shows a short film at each of the readings. That gives us a unique experience. The venue is so important. We've been in bars that were too loud, a private theatre that had a bar and stage, but was too isolated. We've been at Bent Brewstillery for 2 readings now, and it's perfect. They are a great partner and really enjoy having us. Tasty beer too.”

Even something as simple as a “VIP” meal can suffice.

“At the one I hosted in Harrisburg,” said Erik Arneson. “We had a pre-event dinner with all the readers who could make it early. Great fun.”

It also helps when the venue doesn’t do readings often - so the event feels new to not only the attendees, but the venue and its staff.

“For my money, the venue needs to be somewhere that doesn't typically host literary events,” said Jay Stringer, co-host of Noir at the Bar Glasgow. “I like the punk rock idea of taking literature out of libraries and book stores and putting them in a bar, making it live and fresh.”


OK, so your venue is locked in. What’s next? For me, I usually coordinate a ballpark date with my contact at the space - like, Thursdays in November, for example. Then I send an email out to some writer contacts to gauge interest (BCC is your BFF here). The people on the list vary and depend on the event. Not all Noir at the Bars are the same. For example - the first three N@tBs I did at ODradeks were not “selling” events. Which is to say, people didn’t expect to sell copies of their new book at the event. We did raffles every 2-3 readers so authors could bring their giveaway books and promo materials. However, the most recent Noir at the Bar Queens was done in tandem with the wonderful Astoria Bookshop - which meant I had to limit my roster to authors who had books out that could be ordered by a bookstore. Sounds trivial, but it changes things. After the initial emails are sent, I wait to see who responds and what date works best. Based on that, I start building a list. I try to cap it at 10-12. That’s usually two hours of reading, and you shouldn’t try to go over that. That’s the mechanics of it. There’s more to it.

I always strive for a mix of “big” names, up-and-comers and outside-the-box readers (i.e. crime writers who people might not expect to see at a N@tB). The idea is to pull from each author’s fanbase or circle of friends and to also draw in people that don’t normally attend a Noir at the Bar. Once you lock in your list, you’re halfway through. The next challenge is reading order. I liken it to creating a mixtape (so does Jay Stringer, which further proves we’re soul twins) - you want to start strong, close strong and have tonal shifts throughout to keep things interesting. Whenever I make a playlist, I start big, then hit harder with the second song and blow it out of the water with the third, always keeping in mind that the finale has to be the biggest moment. What does that mean in concrete, picking-a-reading-order terms? It’s hard to say. It should be a mix of what you know about an author’s skills as a reader and their resume in terms of being a draw. If you have a big name, like Lawrence Block - who was at the last Queens Noir at the Bar and hadn’t done a N@tB before - you close with him. Not only was he the biggest name on the bill, he was also a masterful reader (and a gentleman and joy to deal with), so it evened out. Other times, I’ve closed with a lesser-known author who I’m certain will bring the goods and end the night on a strong note. Go with your gut.

For what it's worth, I always ask readers if they have a preference as to where they land on the list. You’ll be surprised at some of the responses you get. I don’t always do this, but you should also note that while you’ll do your best to make it work in terms of author preference, final say on reading order rests with the host.

“Go with someone dark and funny to open,” said Ed Aymar, who runs a Noir at the Bar event in D.C. “Nik Korpon opened at our first, and Peter Rozovsky opened our second. Great ways to set the tone, and let newcomers know what to expect. Along those lines, if someone wants to participate but their usual storytelling is a different flavor, it's good to let them know what to expect. My pal Wendy Tyson is reading in Philly, and noir's not her bag, so she asked Angel Colon for advice at Bouchercon. I think she's still a little shaken, but ready.”


Easier said than done. I’m thankful I have some basic PhotoShop skills. Most of my N@tB posters are old paperback covers with modified text. They work for me.

If you’re not design-oriented, keep ‘em simple - cool photo, legible font and there you are. Just make sure the poster lists your readers, venue (with address!), start time and date. I also like to note it’s a free event, because I think everyone is cheap.

I also like printing it out on nice paper and providing it to the venue so it’s on display a week or two before the actual event. I’ve heard from attendees who came based on just seeing the poster.


Not all authors are Noir at the Bar veterans. In fact, you don’t want your lineup to be full of the same names someone could see elsewhere. After doing a few of these, I’ve started to notice how the Queens events differ slightly from its N@tB siblings. Not in a better or worse-than way, but just different. That’s good. And because you should strive to get new people into the mix, you should also be prepared to over-explain what the event entails. I try to lay it out as clearly as possible when emailing the roster - readings shouldn’t go over 10 minutes, I suggest a time of arrival and also ask readers to stick around until the end if they can (for the post-game group photo and because I think it’s nice to support your fellow readers - but you should also be understanding if someone can’t). These guidelines serve as a safety net for readers - it doesn’t guarantee a good reading. But you, as a host, have done your duty in letting your participating authors know what’s expected. The rest is in their hands. 90 percent of the time, it’s great.

I’m also learning as I go as a host. I make a little cheat sheet for myself before each event - it’s literally a script for the night - “Thank the venue, thank the readers,” etc. It includes author bios and sections that note when breaks should happen to allow people to exhale a bit, order a drink and mill about. Without those pauses, you’re basically sitting in silence for two hours.

Most, if not all Noir at the Bar hosts are veteran Noir at the Bar readers. With that experience comes a sense of how it works and what to do.

“Rehearse! Practice your piece. Keep it short,” said Eric Beetner, who’s organized a number of Noir at the Bar events in L.A. and elsewhere. “Pick something with humor or action and something that doesn’t need a lot of setup or backstory.”

Yes, bring the funny.

“Funny is always good,” said frequent Noir at the Bar reader and organizer Nik Korpon. “Don't go too heavy on dialogue unless you're an actor. Or at least, too many speakers. Don't go too long. I try to keep my readings under five minutes, which is about 2–3 pages.”


Every Noir at the Bar has a story - funny, bizarre, awful or amazing. It’s just the way these things go. As host, you should do your best to keep things relatively painless for your authors and put on an entertaining show for the people attending. Everything else is out of your control.

One of my fondest memories as a reader was watching Todd Robinson read a story of mine that involved some graphic stuff at a recent Noir at the Bar NYC that featured a handful of authors trading stories. I cried with laughter as things got more and more awkward.

As a host, I don’t think anything can top introducing Lawrence Block. He not only honored us with his presence, but he absolutely killed it as a reader.

But it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. Shit happens.

People get turned off.

“Our weirdest story was when we had someone walk out,” said Malmon. “During our second N@tB, Jed Ayres was in town from St. Louis. He read his story ‘Hoosier Daddy.’ It gets pretty graphic at the...climax...and we had a walk-out. Jed says it was a Red Letter Event for him.”

People get pissed.

“Our bar double booked by accident one night,” Beetner said. “So we had a very raucous birthday party going on at the same time. I’d worked really hard to get a reclusive writer out that night and it felt like he thought I was an idiot. Like, why did he agree to this bullshit.”

Readers swap stories.

“Reading Rob Hart’s story ‘Pretty Princess’ [at Noir at the Bar NYC] was just a blast,” Conley said. “Todd Robinson put together an event where we read each other’s stories. It was absolutely hilarious—the story and the event. I swear I must have turned 10 different shades of red while I was up in front of the microphone reading that tale.”


You’re probably doing this because you love crime fiction and being part of the community. So make sure you’re enjoying the process: listening to great stories, meeting the readers, connecting fans with great books and laughing  with your friends. Otherwise, why bother?

“They're all great,” said Eryk Pruitt, who hosts a Noir at the Bar in Durham. “As a host, it's going to be hard to top the one at Raleigh Bouchercon because there were eleven seasoned pros showing us how to do it. As a reader, I enjoyed reading at Shade in NYC because everyone was so nice and receptive. It was great to see how the grown ups do it.”

Got a favorite Noir at the Bar story? Share it in the comments.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Diving off the Deep End

by Holly West

Wowza. There's lots going on here at Do Some Damage at the moment. Jay's skipping out on us for awhile because he'll be writing full time soon and we've added a couple of kick ass contributors on Tuesday and Friday. Here's my big hearty welcome to Scott Adlerberg and Renee Pickup. I look forward to reading your posts.

But this is Wednesday and that means it's ALL ABOUT ME. And it just so happens that as of today, I've finished a new manuscript. This is where I'd post the picture of the stack of printed pages, but since I'll be sending this draft directly to my editor without printing, you'll have to settle for this screen shot:

It's difficult to see here (for some reason I can't get Photoshop to open so I can crop it) but the working title is NOSE DIVE and in its current state, clocks in at about 79,000 words.

It's been nearly two years since I finished a full-length novel and nearly three since I started this particular book. It was a NaNoWriMo project in 2012, but half-way through the month I got the phone call from Carina Press saying they wanted to publish the book that eventually became MISTRESS OF FORTUNE. This one got dropped by the wayside.

NOSE DIVE is a welcome departure for me. I love my two historical mysteries, but I'm ready to make the jump into contemporary crime novels. It's set in August 2015 in Venice Beach, California, a neighborhood I lived in for four years and miss terribly. I won't call this book an homage to Venice, but I did try to bring the location to life the same way I did with 17th century London in the Mistress books.

It features a disillusioned bartender named Mia Bartlett who works at Luca's Lounge, a historic but failing Los Angeles bar previously owned by a gangster who ran a speakeasy in its basement during Prohibition. When the arrogant new manager hired to revitalize Luca's is murdered and a homeless man is accused of the crime, Mia must find the real killer to exonerate her friend. As she proceeds with her investigation, the past and present collide when she discovers that the key to solving the crime is tied directly to the bar's notorious history.

Obviously, I haven't managed to escape my love of history altogether. What's that they say? You can take the girl out of the history but... well, something like that.

I don't know what the future holds for this book. On Thursday, I'm sending it off to a freelance editor and eventually, it'll go to my agent. From there, it's anyone's guess what will happen, but I have high hopes.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Hold On To Your Butts....

By Jay Stringer

I was in two minds about writing this. 

I have a big change coming up, and it’s a wee bit scary, so originally I was only intending to share it with a few close friends.

But DSD was founded -back in 2009- on a promise to share details of our careers, and to “pull back the curtain” on publishing. So I’d be breaking the promise if I didn’t let readers in on the decision. 

So, come the 1st of November, I’m a full-time writer. 

Why the nerves? 

Well, it’s a big fucking jump. I know for most writers, it’s always at the back of our minds. It eats away at us. Every day that we’re renting our brainspace to an employer, every hour that we’re doing it, there’s a voice telling us we need to write full time. The same voice talks about setting our own hours, not answering to a boss. 

Each time we get in the slightest bit of money from our writing, no matter how small, we have to fight back against the devil on our shoulder saying that now is the time. 

Look, I know it’s only a hundred quid, but hey, take the jump.

And it gets more and more frustrating having to fight against that voice, while still have space in your head for both your writing and your day job. There have been times when I’ve been desperate to make the jump, but knew I couldn’t risk it. It was only last year when I wrote on here about the mental health issues I was suffering from splitting my life in so many directions. But I held out. 

The truth is, most writers need a day job. Most writers will always need a day job. We’ve all seen the clickbait news articles recently about the majority of writers earning below the poverty line. We talk as if this news. We talk as if it represents some change in the publishing industry. 

The reality is, twas ever thus. This is how it’s always worked and, most likely, always will. 

I’ve gone about this in as patient and pragmatic way as I can, but even still, the most likely outcome of me going full-time in November, is that I’ll be looking for a day job again by June. 

Recently I did some maths and, thanks mostly to the hard work of my agent, the people at Thomas & Mercer, my wife Lisa-Marie and, most of all, you crazy good people who’ve bought my books; I have some options. 

I have a safety net of a few months. Enough time that it feels like a reasonable decision to make. I also have a new book deal in the works. It's a very thin safety net, though. I won’t be socialising for a while. I won’t be buying much in the way of Christmas or birthday presents. There’s a chance Harrogate might have to be skipped, and Bouchercon is at risk. 

Also, I’ll need to figure out my pension. I currently have a private pension, deducted monthly from my payslip. It’s not worth much at present, because I only set it up two years ago, but there’s money there, and I’ll need to figure out how to pay into it from my writing income. 

But I figure If I don’t do it now, I never will. Plus, I have no real qualifications, so it’s not like I'm giving up a career. The level of job I have now (until the end of the month) isn’t that different to the level of job I can get next year. 

And these are the kinds of decisions that we don’t talk about too often. If we’re to “pull back the curtain,” this is exactly the kind of thing we should be showing. The real financial decisions that we make. 

So why was I in two minds about sharing this news? 

Well, as I said, the most likely outcome (by far) is that I’ll be running back to a day job again.  So making this news public now, really means setting myself up for an embarrassing about-face sometime next year. 

But….hell….that’s something you guys should see too, right?

So, here goes nothing. 


On a quick side note; On behalf of everyone else at DSD, I’m really proud to welcome Scott Adlerberg and Rennee Asher Pickup to the team. Scott takes the seat on Tuesdays, and Renee already started posting last Friday. 

Russel, McFet and myself are still around. We’ll be showing up occasionally, when we have something we need to share with you. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The cold hard facts

by Kristi Belcamino

Lately, I've come across many articles talking about the harsh realities of the writing life when it comes to making a living. While this is not uplifting, knowledge is power and knowing some of these realities helps us to figure out exactly what we should expect in our writing journey.

Here is one where the author asks should she just give up on writing?

The part of the response I love is really probing why we write, but also reminding us not to compare ourselves to any other writers.

".. when I write 'Stop comparing yourself to everyone else and do the work you love!' I'm not saying "Keep powering up that hill, Sisyphus!" I'm saying shut out all the noise of Facebook and Twitter and Oprah and the best-seller lists and figure out what you really believe in and like to do every day.

“Writing can't be a popularity contest, and popularity doesn't add up to much anyway, beyond the ability to pay the bills. There are lots of really popular self-help and advice writers out there whose work is — Well, I would rather carve driftwood sculptures than adopt someone else's winning strategy for connecting with readers. Advice without rage, advice without longing and despair in the mix, advice through a Vaseline-smeared lens, advice that sounds like ad copy or a douche commercial: NO. I have to do what I do, even if the world decides it's worthless. I have to follow my own compass and give it my best and hope to connect. I have to carve messy emotions into a useful shape that feels inspired but not reductive."

This one is a wake up call for debut authors who are trying to figure out what sales numbers mean in the publishing world.

"I want to talk about the reality of being a debut author, because nobody actually talked to me about those numbers. What defined success? What should I expect? Was I a failure if I sold fewer than 80,000 copies? Fewer than 20,000? I know selling 100 is bad, but outside that….?

The average book sells 3000 copies in its lifetime (Publishers Weekly, 2006).

Yes. It’s not missing a zero.

Take a breath and read that again.

But wait, there’s more!

The average traditionally published book which sells  3,000 in its entire lifetime in print only sells about 250-300 copies its first year.

But I’m going indie! you say. My odds are better!

No, grasshopper. Your odds are worse.

The average digital only author-published book sells 250 copies in its lifetime.

It’s not missing a zero.

If you sell fewer than 1500 copies at a traditional publisher, you’re generally considered a commercial disaster by any publisher but a very, very tiny one who paid you an advance less than $1000.

So: hope you sell more than that.

But this also greatly depends on how much your advance was. If your publisher paid you $100,000 and you sold 5,000 copies, well – they didn’t make money, did they?"

And one more on book sales that quotes an agent from my literary agency, Jane Dystel:

"A sensational sale would be about 25,000 copies," says literary agent Jane Dystel. "Even 15,000 would be a strong enough sale to get the publisher's attention for the author for a second book."

But if that second book doesn't sell, says Dystel, odds are you won't get another chance. And that brings us to the Authors Guild survey. Just over 1,400 full- and part-time writers took part in the survey, the Guild's first since 2009. There has been a 30 percent decline in author income since then and more than half of the respondents earned less than $11,670 (the 2014 federal poverty level) from their writing related income."

All these articles lead me to the question  - is it worth writing even if you aren't making a living from it? I say yes. I have to write. It is part of who I am. And you?