Saturday, October 31, 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015: Day 0

Scott D. Parker

So, I’m doing NaNoWriMo. Last year, I did my own version. Instead of a 50,000-word novel, I *completed* a novel. I published it this year as The Phantom Automobiles. It was the first Gordon Gardner investigation. This year, I’m writing Gordon’s second investigation.

I’ve been brainstorming the work during October. I’ve got most of the book more or less mapped out. I’m using some of the techniques I learned with Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker. (My review) I’m constructing the book a little differently. Before now, I was plot first. With the Hawker method, I’m approaching Gardner 02 with character first. In addition to character, I have an arc. With these two things in place, any scene that doesn’t contribute to the arc or character, I don’t use. It’s a different way of building a story so it’s a little…interesting. I don’t like the word ‘scary.’ I’m actually looking forward to the process.

I don’t have a working title yet. I toyed with “Who Killed Bobby Brooks?” but I’m going with “Gardner 02”. I might develop one along the way. If I do, I’ll let y’all know.

The blurb isn’t quite ready. In general, this is the opening scene: Gordon Gardner, demoted from his investigative reporter position to that of society reporter, desperately wants his job back. At a big shindig, he overhears a couple of known shady types talk of a planned heist against one of Houston’s most influential men, a cattle baron who runs a gambling ring out of his house. Moments after this fact lands in his ears, Gordon hears one of those men murdered. And he’s the only suspect. Now, inside the interrogation room, Gordon Gardner makes a decision: he will investigate the case on his own and win back his old job. What could go wrong? Only another murder and a whole lot of people who suddenly decide that Gardner must know more than he’s letting on.

And I’m adding a wrinkle: I’m documenting the process in public. Each week, here at DoSomeDamage, I’ll provide a weekly recap. But every day, I’ll provide a quick post on my author sites (blogspot and; maybe twitter as well) to provide daily word count. Why am I doing this? I want to show the public what an author like me—with day job—can do during NNWM. I’m tipping the hat to Dean Wesley Smith who does this all the time. I just thought I’ll try. 

A caveat: my version of NNWM is a completed manuscript for a book. That book may or may not get to 50,000. It may go more, it may go less. The Phantom Automobiles came in around 31,000 words and I was cool with that. Gardner 02…we’ll see. 

So, there you go. NNWM 2015 starts tomorrow. Who’s in?

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Serial Killer Chick

Last I checked, an article I wrote about Ted Bundy and feminism had been read nearly ten thousand times and was still bringing in hundreds of views a day.

First, let's party - it's by far my most-read piece ever, including fiction, and that's fucking amazing. Second - I think I inadvertently became "the serial killer chick."

My most read nonfiction is all at Dirge Magazine and it's been a great place to publish.  The first piece of mine they ran was On Love, Sex, and Murderers. The piece was about the women who suffer from (or enjoy living with?) the paraphilia known as hybristophilia. You may have heard it called "Bonnie and Clyde syndrome." The more violent, detestable, and terrifying a man is, the more sexually attractive they are to these women. It's a strange phenomenon and one I thought spoke to something in our culture worth discussing. Moving it to Dirge definitely got it in front of more eyes, and as a result I had a lot of people wanting to know more. Hell, I wanted to know more.

That's how I deal with weird, dark, horrible shit - I research the hell out of it. Somehow knowing more makes me feel better. Around the time I was attempting to get a few of these women to do an interview with me (with no dice) Slate published an irresponsible and inaccurate article on the James Holmes fangirls that seemed to speak to the reasons many women gave for not speaking to people like me. Without a woman to interview, and feeling a bit "scooped," I decided to make my sequel a direct response to Slate, and take a moment to clarify that the women involved in the online hybristo communities may be living with an incredibly dark and unimaginable paraphilia, they are not freaks to be infantilized and laughed at.

If we fast forward a bit, we land here - me with a Ted Bundy article that's taken on a life of it's own. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy this article is reaching people and I'm thrilled that what I was trying to say is relevant enough for this kind of success, but it does leave me wondering "what now?"

I've always enjoyed reading about serial killers. It's a topic I find endlessly fascinating, and through my research I've stocked up even more interesting facts and strange perspectives on the topic of men and women who kill. Is this my specialty? It's a funny thing to think about. I wasn't writing nonfiction with any regularity a year ago. I didn't enjoy it and I had zero confidence. Somewhere along the line, though, I've found a voice, and that voice seems most at home when talking about serial killers, or, at least, spectacularly violent crimes. A part of me wants to dig deep and find a pitch that goes far away from the work I've done on serial killers and similar crimes, but the other part of me still wants to know more.

It does seem a little pretentious and even pre-emptive to worry about finding a niche or escaping one, but what are writers if not pretentious and neurotic? My first blog here was about the spectacularly violent crimes that made up my high school years in Central California, my most read pieces are about children attempting to murder their friend, serial killers, and women who want to have sex with serial killers. It's an odd place to be comfortable.

But I am comfortable. Not so comfortable that I am complacent or lack a challenge, but comfortable in the knowledge that I'm examining something that matters - and I think I'm doing it in an interesting way.

So, yeah. Maybe I am the serial killer chick.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Supergirl: The Quest for Fighting Skillz

By Steve Weddle

So, this Supergirl show was on my TV this week. My good pal JEB! said he was looking forward to it, and we gave it a chance at our house. Gotham gets DVRed, as do Flash and A.G.E.N.T.S. O.F. SHIELD and Arrow. We're not immune to the pull of comic book shows, though I am disappointed Warren Ellis's Transmet hasn't made it to TV.

I was surprised at how much they crammed into the first fifteen minutes of the show, if I'm being honest with you, which, sure, let's try that for a bit. The expositiony backstory was pretty awkward, like when you have to carry something a little too big that isn't heavy, just kinda cumbersome. After Kara Zorels is handed off to George Reeves and Teri Hatcher on that seacoasty house where they stand in yards and eat lobster (-Excuse me, Teri Hatcher. Are these lobster balls real or imitation? -They're real, and they're spectacular!) we get to see Kara get coffee for Ally McBeal (hey, remember those co-ed bathrooms in her law office? that was weird).

Then something something story, Oh, she fights Lizard Head Trucker. Cool. She has no training, though, and gets her tail handed to her. But then they cut to commercial and she goes to the Bat Cave with her sister who is in the ELO or something and some mean dude and then she asks this mean dude's permission if she can go fight Lizard Head Trucker (LHT) again and he's like, "Sure. Whatevs."

You're gonna worry, right? Because she tried to fly two commercial breaks ago and barely managed that. One commercial break ago she got ROUNDLY TROUNCED (technical Cuong Nhu term) by LHT. And she hasn't had the music montage training scene yet? How can she learn to fight without a Night Ranger song and hanging upside-down situps? Does no one remember how to write??

Somehow, she learns to fight during the commercial break. Like how on a reality show -- The Amazing Race or Ink Off or Face Masters the contests are totally doomed -- "We will never find the magical token key clue!!" -- and then they cut to commercial, come back and they find the thingy? (Tip: If you're ever on The Amazing Race or one of those shows, say "We'll never find the" whatever and then watch what the cameraperson does, because the cameraperson always pans to the location of the thing you can't find just to make you look like an idiot.)

Anyhoo, they come back from commercial and Supergirl is a better fighter and eye lasers the Sword of Kryptonian Nuclear Destruction and so LHT can't be taken alive because he doesn't want to be tortured for the location of Magical Token Key Clue (not sure on this part of the plot) and so he sticks a glow stick into his chest and dies on the loneliest, most untraveled road in America.

So, I dunno. I was kinda impressed at how much character building they did in the first quarter of the show, despite parts of the backstory being clumsier than a drunk Guy Gardner on a cruise.

Kara Zorels seems to be a likeable enough character. I think they've done fine there. I worry that, because this is on CBS and not CW or UPN or AMC that we'll lean to pop more than indie. Maybe that's fine. At least it's not on one of the premium movie things or whatever they're called now, where you'd get boobies and peckers and humpy time every fourth scene.

So, maybe give this a shot? Who knows? What rating grade do I give it? Uh, seven purples? Is that a fair rating?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Fuck Genre

Guest post by Josh Stallings

When my good pal Holly invited me to stomp the halls of Do Some Damage, I knew I needed to up my game, play hardball, bring out the big guns, and at least two more trite but manly clichés. So I started writing an erudite essay on how gender affects perceived genre. It was going gang busters (cliché #4 for those watching the score board), until I remembered I’m a white American male and should ride shotgun, leaving the driving in this genre war drive-by to someone with the extra X chromosome.

So I deep sixed that and put on my marketing hat. I wrote about how I was told by a trusted advisor that my new book, YOUNG AMERICANS, wouldn’t sell, because it’s a coming of age, and a heist novel and those genres don’t cross over. Then I whined on about how my perceived label as a noir writer would make a lighter book a hard sell. My plan here was to shill the book while cloaking it in a higher literary discussion. Kinda like, “don’t buy the Moses McGuire novels, they’re full of sex, violence and unrelenting action.” (You just Googled them, didn’t you?)

But the truth, like the tattling little bitch it is, sold me out. And the truth about genre is… it means fuck all. Tells nothing about a writer. Admittedly, I may be the wrong cat to talk restrictions of genre, since you will as easily find Donna Summer, David Bowie or NWA on my currant playlist. Books? I read widely. I have one criteria, make the words sing and don’t bore me. Too many clunky paragraphs will have me hurling a book across the room. This has happened often enough in Erika’s thirty five years with me, that she has stopped noticing. She does however seem to prefer the muttering and slamming of the delete key when I’m Kindling it.

At Bouchercon 2015, I attended the "Where Crime and Mystery Meets Horror and the Weird" panel. Chris Holm spoke of using horror techniques in crime novels. He’s a smart guy and so were David Morrell, Reece Hirsch, and John Rector, so I paid attention. Take away - read many styles and genres, then steal their punk asses blind. This is the way to build a large tool-chest. This scam is nothing new. Oxford, Bacon, Derby, and Marlowe all said Shakespeare ripped them off. And criminal Thomas Pluck admitted after the rubber hose was applied that he got a five finger discount on style points from Willa Cather for his atmospheric western monster story, "Little Howl on the Prairie."

At Left Coast Crime, Portland, I was a panelist on Katrina Niidas Holm’s Cozy/Noir Summit panel. To prep I read Hannah Dennison’s MURDER AT HONEYCHURCH HALL,  a solid book that’s more about a painful mother/daughter relationship than discovering who done it. From cozy writer Marty Wingate, I took away how sexy it can be to open a scene just after the boots stop knocking. You know, that still moment when the passion is slipping away but you haven’t cooled down enough to pull the sheet up. The sex takes place in the reader’s mind. In Chris Holm’s THE KILLING KIND, the most horrific torture scene is the set up, the rusted tool, the beloved character trussed… And he leaves it there. When we return to the same room we witness the aftermath. Holm didn’t allow me to turn away, the horror was already inside my head.

In case this talk of sex and torture has you skipping a groove, I’ll remind you - genre means fuck all. Erin Mitchell told me so. OK, not in those words. She explained that in a digital search engine, a book could appear in as many sections (genres) as it fit in to. Unlike in mega-book stores and library shelves, which use precise, controlled and inflexible systems to organize material, a good (independent) book store or a well staffed library will have humans who know and love books. People who could see I was reading Hunter S. Thompson and suggested James Crumley to me. In doing so they changed the trajectory of my life as a writer. “You love Cormac McCarthy’s border trilogy, you should give Ken Bruen a shot.” Bingo, another life changing exchange. These suggestions defy genre. Currant logarithms ain’t too sharp at picking books for me, (proven by how many time they suggest I read Josh Stallings) but they will get better and hopefully bring on the destruction of genre. Until then I will rely on trusted friends for guidance.

Here are just a few of the outside-my-wheelhouse writers worth jacking:

Diana Gabaldon, (I never would have read her except for Erika’s obsession.) The Outlander series is brutal and sexy and romantic, did I mention brutal? Need to write about someone stitching up a wound? Read her.

Terry Shames, (again it took Erika to get me on board.) In the Samuel Craddock novels, Terry writes about things that matter, spousal abuse, racism, and more - but she is never obvious or preachy. She slips themes into, like Greeks hiding in a wooden horse, her pastoral tales of small town Texas.

A.A. Milne, in THE HOUSE AT POOH CORNER, draws complete characters with so very few words. Plus, Eeyore is pure noir.

Anaïs Nin, master of erotica. If more people read her, she would have ruined any chance 50 Shades had of shocking, let alone selling. If you want to be schooled on writing sex read LITTLE BIRDS.

Tim Hallinan - His creative tool chest must be one of those big rolling Craftsman suckers. He writes the Poke Rafferty novels, tough heartfelt and very real. And the Junior Bender Mysteries, light and fun, but also with heart. He has two very different and completely authentic voices living in his head. And that is worth checking out.

Chelsea Cain - I hate serial killer books, even good ones. I also have no stomach for torture (the Moses McGuire books may lead you to a different conclusion. Writing it ain’t the same as digging it.) But Cain’s HEARTSICK - I loved it. This novel could be in the romance section of an alternate universe bookstore. Dark as midnight in a blindfold, she does things with hammer and nail they don’t teach in wood-shop. And yet, she made me care about these people. Made me want them to find peace somehow, or at least a resting place in their lives away from the pain.

When I step outside the construct of genre I can see a link between crime writer Jamie Mason and celtic noir writer Ken Bruen. They both sling words fast and true. When I pick up either of them I know I’m in for word magic.

Back to my 70’s glam rock disco heist coming of age crime novel. Both Pearce Hansen's STREET RAISED and Ian Ayris's ABIDE WITH ME are coming of age crime novels, and these gentlemen are writers I’d be proud to run with. So, I think I’ll just keep writing what my heart tells me is next and leave genre to the salespeople. Be on the lookout for my upcoming World War 2 crime romance science-fiction dance western novel - HOW TO DIE AT HIGH-NOON IN THE TRENCHES OF MARS WHILE WEARING A TUTU. I’m sure marketing will want a shorter title, but screw them, this is my art man.


Josh Stallings is the author of Anthony Award nominated memoir, ALL THE WILD CHILDREN and the multiple award winning Moses McGuire crime novels. YOUNG AMERICANS, a ‘70 heist novel will be out November 2015. His short fiction has appeared in Beat To A Pulp, Protectors Anthology 1 and 2, Blood and Tacos, Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey and more. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Erika, two dogs and cat named Riddle.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I Can't Say Goodbye to Ross Macdonald

By Scott Adlerberg

Some writers keep drawing you back to them.  Among crime writers, one who does this to me is Ross Macdonald.  I first read him when I was 13 – the novel was The Goodbye Look, a Lew Archer mystery from 1969.  At the time I read it, the mid-seventies, the book was contemporary, and I remember the enjoyment I felt reading a hard-boiled private eye story that was not Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler – in other words, that type of mystery story but not set in the past.  I liked Hammett courtesy of Red Harvest and the Continental Op short tales I’d read and I adored Chandler from reading Farewell, My Lovely (that cool, cynical voice!), but Macdonald felt different.  I recall thinking that Macdonald’s characters were people I might actually meet. 

The Southern California suburbs he described were different than the suburb I lived in north of New York City, but the problems and issues he explored seemed familiar: parents and children who struggle to communicate, husbands and wives arguing, unhappiness despite comfortable surroundings, families with secrets, the importance of psychology and psychologists in apparently everybody’s worldview.  

I recall, too, from that particular read, that the complicated plot held me enthralled.  I’ve read a number of Archer books since adolescence, of course, and The Goodbye Look twice more, and I have to say that the pleasure of sifting through Macdonald’s plots is one that has never diminished.  Nor has the emotional satisfaction I get reading Macdonald at his best. In his full maturity, Lew Archer has got to be as compassionate a private eye as ever existed, and the people he investigates have a psychological richness that draws you into their stories. Through Archer, you feel their pain.  

           The first six Archer books are enjoyable. Macdonald writes classic, terse Southern California mysteries in the Chandler tradition.  That’s a key point: from The Moving Target (1949) through The Barbarous Coast (1956), Macdonald’s talent is obvious but so are his influences.  In The Moving Target, for example, Archer’s narrative voice has a self-conscious toughness barely present in the later works, and the dialogue often works too hard. Macdonald pushes to be witty in the literary street patter style of the day.

Take this stilted exchange:
“The name is Archer,” I said.  “Do you use bluing when you wash your hair?  I had an aunt who said it was very effective.”His face didn’t change.  He showed his anger by speaking more precisely.  “I dislike superfluous violence.  Please don’t make it necessary.”I could look down on the top of his head, see the scalp shining through the carefully parted hair.  “You terrify me,” I said.  “An Italianate Englishman is a devil incarnate.”

A little farther on, Archer says that he hates being touched by a man because “his hands were epicene.”  There’s no way the Archer of the 60’s and 70’s would express this contemptuous and macho a sentiment, and more than once in The Moving Target, Archer suddenly finds himself kissing a seductive young woman whose “lips were hot on my face.” You could get this kind of stuff in any private eye tale of the day.  

By the third book, The Way Some People Die (1951), Macdonald as a hard-boiled craftsman is working on all cylinders.  I'd even say that this novel is among my favorites in the series.  It has a relentless quality and an overall sense of nastiness.  In a case with a high body count, Archer has to outmaneuver the police and the mob while moving from one seamy location to another, and it's here that we first get a glimpse of the Archer to come – a thoughtful man who keeps his composure amid deception and dysfunction, familial and otherwise, of the worst sort. 

The Doomsters (1958) and The Galton Case (1959) mark the turning point. In these books, the Archer voice changes into something unique, and for the remaining ten books, the full-fledged Macdonald conception of a private eye appears.  Hammett, non-romantic to his core, had created the tough existentialist protagonist.  Chandler’s version was more romantic, the ever popular tarnished knight.  Both write stories with sociological overtones, but the emphasis remains on catching the wrongdoer.  Motivation is considered insofar as it will help in nailing the culprit. Empathy is not a quality that comes to mind when you think of the Op or Spade or even Marlowe.  But for Archer, product of a creator who went to therapy for his own issues (a childhood shadowed by the early separation of his parents, an absent father, and a lot of moving around growing up), trying to get at the why of crime, the root causes, becomes the investigative touchstone.  

As Macdonald wrote in his 1965 essay “The Writer as Detective Hero”, Archer “is less a doer than a questioner, a consciousness in which the meanings of other lives emerge.” He comes across sometimes as a therapist as much as he is a detective, a role he acknowledges.  And what psychiatric school does he follow? Well, Macdonald is nothing if not a Freudian, and with Freud, for better or worse, the key to psychological problems usually lies in childhood.  From The Galton Case on, Macdonald’s plots follow one pattern: trouble in the present, usually involving family tensions, stems from murder and other traumas in the past.  

The generations are at odds, the relationships between younger adults and their parents are strained, and the arrogance and hypocrisies of the parents cause no end of damage to their children.  People try to cover up and repress past experience, but as every respectable Freudian knows, repression is merely the mother of neuroses.  Archer does his probing through these inter-generational webs of conflict, and though he tends to sympathize with the young against the old, he casts few judgments. He knows that repression solves nothing, that what’s buried will bubble up in the present, causing calamity.  He explains his view of time's weave in The Chill (1962) – “History is always connected with the present” – and expounds on it in The Far Side of the Dollar (1965), “Life hangs together in one piece.  Everything is connected with everything else. The problem is to find the connections.”

How Macdonald creates a fabric where the past is present and connections are pervasive is through his intricate plots, which are things of beauty. His ideas on plot are essential to understanding him as a writer, and he expresses them best himself in the essay I quoted earlier.  

Here he puts his ideas in context, explaining how he differs from the giant looking over his shoulder – Chandler:
I learned a great deal from Chandler—any writer can—but there had always been basic differences between us. One was in our attitude to plot. Chandler described a good plot as one that made for good scenes, as if the parts were greater than the whole. I see plot as a vehicle of meaning. It should be as complex as contemporary life, but balanced enough to say true things about it. The surprise with which a detective novel concludes should set up tragic vibrations which run backward through the entire structure. Which means that the structure must be single, and intended.

The argument against Macdonald’s plots is that he had only one (from The Galton Case on) and used it again and again. That’s not completely untrue.  But it’s a great plot, and what he does in each book is work variations on it.  That Macdonald likes jazz is obvious from the jazz player references he makes in his books – people such as Lux Lewis and Mary Lou Williams are mentioned in The Moving Target, JC Higginbotham in The Far Side of the Dollar – and I wonder whether Macdonald saw himself doing something a jazz musician would do, riffing on a theme and continually reworking it, trying in his mind to get it just perfect.  

Reading him now, you go into each of the last eleven Archer novels knowing what he’s going to explore in that book and how more or less he’s structured it, yet it doesn’t matter.  You still admire the construction, the suspense, and the mastery of language.  You still live with the anguished, striving characters.  His characters kill for any number of reasons, but nobody is what you'd call an evil person. He would agree with what the crime writer Ruth Rendell said about criminal motivation, that "Crimes are more often committed out of fear than wickedness. People lead frightened, desperate lives." Macdonald's characters fit this description to a tee, and his understanding of the human weaknesses that lie behind the monstrous acts is what leaves you finishing his books feeling, above all else, as in Greek tragedy, pity.  Pity for the criminals and pity for human beings in general. 

What I saw as fresh and current in Macdonald when I first read him is as far back in history now as Hammett and Chandler were when I started reading them.  Considering that, has Macdonald dated? When Archer uses a 60’s era phrase like "I had a gestalt", as he does in The Chill, perhaps the answer is yes, a little. But is his use of the parlance of his time any more dated than the 20's lingo Hammett falls into or the 40's slang Chandler employs? 

Macdonald fused plot, character, style, and psychology in the private eye novel like nobody had before him.  He used genre fiction to explore his deepest personal concerns and obsessions.  As a writer (and I don't even write PI novels), I've come to regard him as one of those novelists you can keep learning from, and after all these years, as I said a bit earlier, he’s a writer I keep coming back to, reading and re-reading.

Who among crime writers do you keep returning to?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bouchercon Wrap Up in Pictures

by Kristi Belcamino

As a crime writer, I'm lucky to have dozens of wonderful mystery conferences to choose from each year. As a crime writer on a budget, I have to be picky about which conferences I attend.

I've only been published a little over a year, but I've decided the two main conferences for me to attend are Bouchercon and Murder Mayhem and Milwaukee.

Which are your Must Attend Conferences?

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with a photo essay of Bouchercon, the world's largest mystery conferences, which took place a few weeks ago. (So basically, the conference is where you go around and take pictures with everyone you know!) HA!