Sunday, November 29, 2015

The L.A. Riots vs Black Lives Matter

by Kristi Belcamino

This is a VERY long story about why I didn't flinch when I was told by my newspaper to  cover the Black Lives Matter protests in Minneapolis despite Molotov cocktails being found near my car and five people getting shot.

I've seen all this before on a scale that is nearly unfathomable to me now. If you have a few minutes to spare, here is the story. The above photo was taken by a man named Gary Leonard in my neighborhood in 1992.

It was April 29, 1992. That day I threw on my Alice-in-Wonderland print dress and laced up my Doc Marten boots. I stepped into the hallway of The American Hotel — where very few people had televisions and Internet access was many years in the future — and was told this:

"You're lucky you're moving to Seattle next month because as soon as this verdict comes down, all hell is going to break loose in this city."

I  lived in a residential hotel in downtown Los Angeles that was above an infamous punk rock bar, Al's Bar, where Jane's Addiction had played in the day and where Charles Bukowski's widow held his wake.

I was on the fourth floor and at night, sleeping on my black futon spread on the floor, I could tell whether the band was any good or not based on the vibrations coming up through my floor. 

For some reason, I don't remember which one of my neighbors  at the residential hotel told me this that fateful day, but his words are seared into my memory. I paused outside my door and then, almost without thinking, as a primal, self-preservation instinct, I walked back in and changed into jeans and a T-shirt, grabbing my jacket that had a huge picture of Robert Smith from The Cure on the back. The future was uncertain and I felt too vulnerable to step onto city streets wearing a dress that day.

We were awaiting the Rodney King verdict. Little did I know that I would be wearing those same clothes for the next three days.

About a half hour later, I was on the 710 freeway that snakes from Los Angeles to Long Beach — where my boyfriend was waiting for me. The 710 freeway travels right over South Central L.A. In fact, it swoops very near Florence and Normandie.

As I drove to Long Beach I listened to the radio news announcing the Rodney King verdict and it's aftermath. First, reports of what was happening at Florence and Normandie near where I was driving: a man later identified as Reginald Denny was yanked out of his truck and beaten. A helicopter hovering above captured the beating on camera for the world to see as it ignited rioters across Southern California. The news reports said rioters were attacking drivers, reporters, anyone who wandered into their path.

In Long Beach, the entire town was in an uproar talking about the violence and chaos just north of us. Everyone was in a state of shock and disbelief. It suddenly felt like we had been thrust into a third-world country.I don't remember much about those first hours. 

Everything was overshadowed by the riots. People were gathered in front of radios and TVs everywhere. We stood around and watched what was happening. On street corners. In restaurants. In coffee shops. At the bars. The beaches were deserted. Nothing else existed except the riots. Oddly, I remember that there wasn't a lot of conversation about it at the time. People were too stunned. Most of us stood there, stricken into silence, watching the news reports.

Later, tired, and ready to go home, I was on the freeway again, this time toward my home in downtown L.A. I was about to exit onto the 101 freeway, but what I heard on the radio made me change my plans: Rioters had swarmed onto the 101 freeway and were setting fire to cars and palm trees.

One of the scariest moments of my life was exiting the freeway right then to turn around and realizing there was not an easy entrance to get back on the freeway heading south. My memory is hazy, but I remember the fear that coursed through me and verged on panic. In the dark streets I drove, frantic to get back on the freeway as I saw clumps of people less than a block away swarming the streets with their fury.

I somehow managed to get back on the freeway and, unsure where to go, since I couldn't go home, headed back to Long Beach.

Meanwhile, as I later learned, back at The American Hotel, my neighbors had taken to the rooftops with their guns, vowing to protect our building, as piss-filled and worn-down as it was.The guns were a bit of a surprise to me. 

One neighbor, a former cover girl model now down and out, who like me worked as a waitress at the Mexican cantina a few blocks away on the border of East L.A., stood on the roof with an Uzi.

Two days later, when I returned to L.A. my neighborhood had been turned into a war zone. Parking lots that usually were full with commuter's cars had been turned into armed camps, with camouflage nets strung across the tops. An empty dirt lot near The American Hotel now had trenches dug in it and was patrolled by National Guard members in full body armor. Old hangouts were burned to the ground. Tank-like vehicles rumbled down my street.

But that first night, I knew none of this. That first night, reports of the rioters on the 101 freeway were enough to send me scuttling back to Long Beach. That first night, I got a hotel room and stayed up all night with my boyfriend, glued to the TV. 

We stayed up until dawn, until we could no longer keep our eyes open anymore. We stayed up watching footage of L.A. burning, of rioters looting and carting shopping carts full of merchandise, of bricks hitting people's heads. My neighbor was right. All hell had broken loose in my city.

The next day, blurry-eyed, I hung out in coffee shops all day long. I remember calling in to the Mexican cantina and being scolded by my boss for not coming to work that day. I told him that there was no way in hell I was going to go to work at the Mexican cantina that was a notorious hangout for both East L.A. gangbangers AND off-duty LAPD. Screw that. It would be fire-bombed, I was sure.

I was sitting at one coffee shop, the last in a long series I had visited that day, when the Long Beach cops came in and shut the place down. They said they were closing all businesses on that street because "The rioters" (they had taken on a life and entity of their own) were a mile up the road burning the mall.

"The Rioters" — an unidentifiable group of people — had become a solid mass that struck fear in people. What I hated, what I loathed with every fiber of my being, was this sudden acute awareness of race and skin color that faced me at every turn. I hated thinking that the color of my skin was defining me in that moment and defining others, as well. 

It was shameful to realize that the world had suddenly turned into "us" and "them" overnight. It scared me to think that the L.A. population was being viewed in terms of black and white. 

Literally. To me, that was more frightening than rioters burning palm trees and cars. I knew I wasn't the only one who felt this way. I knew that people black and white, felt exactly the same way as I did.

With nowhere to go, my wandering eventually led me to a bench on some cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I sat there with my head in my hands for what seemed like hours, but was probably only minutes.

Then, I noticed somebody had sat down beside me. I looked up. It was a black guy about my age. He sat in a similar position, holding his head.

When I saw his similar pose, I chortled a sort of delirious, sleep-deprived laugh. He looked up at me and laughed, too. We both were in hell and we knew it.

We spent the rest of the afternoon together. We tried to figure out what had gone wrong in the world, how we had grown up in the middle of it all, and what we could do to stop something like this from ever happening in the future. (Remember we were idealistic college kids!)

We especially talked about "them" — the rioters. Because they were not us.

The ones who were trying to seek justice by destroying a city and killing people were not us. We didn't know how to solve such a deep societal problem, but we knew violence wasn't the answer.

And so, no, I didn't flinch for a second covering the peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis. They were angry and there was shouting, but the only violence the first two weeks of protests saw came from an outside group - a radical white supremacist group that decided Molotov cocktails and shooting people was an answer to whatever frustration they were having - or whatever hatred they needed to spew.

The protesters remained angry, but peaceful.

People out that Friday night included families with children, ministers from different denominations across the Twin Cities, and people who had grown up on the North side and seen and had an experience with police I've never had.

So, no I didn't flinch when I was told to go to the protests and see what was going on.

When I arrived, I headed straight to the fire pit with the toughest, baddest looking guys gathered around it.

And you know what happened? They offered me a slice of pizza and scooted over so I could warm myself at their fire.

When it was time to go back to the newsroom, I found a man with a flashlight checking under cars in a dark parking lot. When I showed up, he was ducking down peering under my minivan. He told me they'd received numerous threats from white supremacist group's promising to disrupt the protests that night. In fact, they found several Molotov cocktails near my car. He was checking to make sure there weren't any more.

"It's really freaking us out," he said.

His name was Michael and he was one of the organizers from Black Lives Matter. I gave him a hug and thanked him for being out on this cold night taking the time to look under my vehicle and others for something that could hurt us. By the time I got back to the newsroom, the Minneapolis police had posted this photo:

And a few days later, several white guys in masks showed up at the protest and opened fire. Five people were shot with non-life threatening injuries. Four men have been arrested in connection with the shooting.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015: Week 4

Scott D. Parker

The end is nigh, but a major milestone has been achieved.

This past week, on 23 November, I reached 50,000 words in the new book! By now, I’m up to 61,506 (although Word thinks it’s 62,700). My next goal is to get this book complete by 30 November. It’s possible, but I’ll need to knuckle down.

No matter what, NaNoWriMo 2015 has been a success. Couple it with the novel I wrote back in August and it’s proof that, when I have a road map, I can get a book’s first draft out of my brain in a pretty efficient manner. I’ll have more work to do after I type “The End” but I know I can get there.

Now, I just have to figure out the ending! Actually, I know the true ending, just not 100% how I get there from where I am. It’s Gordon Gardner we’re talking about and he almost always has a plan to get him out of sticky situations…and this one is the stickiest to date for him.

For the record, here is the final weekly tally. I’ll add the last three days to the cumulative total by Tuesday. Next week, back to normal programming.

Week 1    16087
Week 2    12096
Week 3    15769
Week 4    17554

Probably the most fun I’ve had outside of the actual writing has been the daily updates. It has been fun seeing people’s responses, mainly via Twitter. Other authors do this and, the next time I begin a novel, I’ll probably do it again.

So, you other writers who engaged in NaNoWriMo, how are y’all doing with your books?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Bad, Nasty Women

Fat on turkey and maybe a little hungover from cheap wine and rum cake, I'm still excited about a new project I'm working on and that's a great feeling. A few days ago I went to Facebook to get everyone's favorite heist movies and criminal couples. It was a good time, but watching ol' Bonnie & Clyde got me thinking about Bonnie Parker in relation to my new character and all the bad, nasty women I would interview for research if I could.

First and most obvious - Bonnie Parker.

What I wouldn't give to know if she was a cold blooded criminal with a thirst for fame, or a girl along for the ride. It seems like everyone has an opinion on what Bonnie's role in the Barrow Gang was, but I'd love to hear it straight from her cigar smoking mouth. My theory is she was as mean and nasty as the rest of the gang, but I guess we'll never know for sure.

Aileen Wournos

We've all heard of the "hooker with a heart of gold" but Aileen Wournos couldn't have been further from the trope. Famously saying "I'm a serial killer - I'd kill again!" and presenting herself as a sort of black angel of death for rapists and unsavory men, the truth seems to be somewhere between that and the media's view of her as a cold blooded bitch. I'd love to sit down over a cup of coffee and get some insight into her as a person, but her last cup of black coffee was served just before her execution in October of 2002. I'd settle for a cup of coffee with Charlize Theron, but she isn't returning my calls.

Griselda Blanco

Her name was Blanco and she was the "Cocaine Godmother" and there is something ridiculously cool about that. Griselda Blanco is fascinating because she seemed to really love her job and station. Men like Pablo Escobar are well known and accepted as a sort of default - men in it for the money and power, but women like Blanco are either incredibly rare or underreported. Not only did she hold her own among the criminal men in the cocaine wars of the eighties, but she kept herself in the game even from prison. I don't think many women worry about breaking the glass ceiling in the drug trade, but Griselda Blanco did just that. She lived like a drug lord and, ultimately, died like one - shot in the head outside a butcher shop.

This Woman

All these other women got popped or thrown in jail, but this last lady - no one knows who she us or where she came from. Always more interesting than the criminals who got caught - the ones that get away are the ones we all want to know. This woman's approach is simple and to the point - her face is even caught on camera, but she walks free. Of course, "she" maybe "they", and they may not even know each other. Either way, a lot of jewelry is missing and despite having a clear picture of this woman's face - no one has any clue where it is. 

In this latest work I'm having a lot of fun exploring criminal women who are in it for the money and fame - not the watered down version of women criminals we get in pop culture. They're all misunderstood, vaguely sexy, along for the ride. Even recent history tells a different story - for every "Orange Is The New Black" backstory where a woman falls into crime because of a man, there is a woman who loves what she does, and will do it again. Those are the women I find interesting.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Long and Short of It

Guest Post by Angel Luis Colón

I’m an ex-marathon runner—meaning I have run marathons, plural.

Yes, I am bragging a little.

I’ve probably peaked at coming in 12,000th place at the finish line or wherever, so it’s not like I’m a pro, but in long distance running there’s some great knowledge that’s entirely applicable to writing: short runs help make the long runs better.

Seriously. You TOO can be the Prefontaine of writing. Well, I can't
help with the bitchin' facial hair. You're on your own with that.

I’ve recently come off putting together another novel while my last one’s being shopped by my agent and my brain is pink slurry. Most folks understand novel writing is tough. It takes a lot out of you and sometimes it feels like a hellish slog—like running a marathon (see what I did there?). And after you’re “done”, whether you’re waiting to reread with fresh eyes or have a friend or editor going through that manuscript, the last thing you should do is sit around staring at your dainty fingers. Unless your day job is hand modeling, then I guess you need to get on that manicuring tip ASAP.

Otherwise? You should be writing, damn it.

But Angel, my fingers, they are cramped and beaten from the keyboard slapping! I will never be generic pair of hands #3 in that Tostitos commercial!

Indeed, imaginary failure of a hand model I am addressing, indeed, but you know what? It’s no excuse.

Now is the time to write a short. Be it flash or the standard short story, this is a chance to work a whole different set of writing muscles. Remember, you just wrapped up plotting 60K or more words—connected a skeleton of intrigue and back story, synced chapter 1 with your denouement on page 354, added whole heaps of background for that fella who was only supposed to be around for six pages but took over the back half of the novel. Think about all that space this novel’s taking up. It’s not too dissimilar to the Monday after a 20 mile training run. Your legs are lead, your core (JESUS CHRIST, YOUR CORE) feels like you’ve been taking blows from Tyson, and you can’t lift your arms over your head. Is it the brightest idea to go out and do 21 miles right after?

That’s a lot of work, but a whole different way of writing. Shorts don’t require all that constant effort. And please, I am in no way demeaning the effort it takes to condense an entire story into 6,000 words or, yikes, 700, but there’s something nice about feeling “done” in a quick turnaround. A short is quite literally running a tempo 5K or a 40 minute fartlek (if you Google the latter, spell it right—don’t go blaming me for what turns up if you’re not paying attention).

I also find jumping back to shorts helps my brain dump out all the gunk that novel writing’s occupied through the weeks/months. It provides me with clarity and less pressure. It gives me something to do while I wait for edits or hear word back on whether I wasted my time on 300 pages of gibberish. What’s better: finishing stories and sending them out to publications! Even if you get bad news, it’s an opportunity to further refine those unused muscles. Bonus: when you’re back to the novel and worried you’re still a talentless hack, the occasional short story acceptance does wonders to breathe a little extra life into you. You don’t have to look very far to see a lot of the writers in the crime community not only came from writing shorts but still thrive there. Look on the back cover of any issue of Thuglit, All Due Respect, or even Ellery Queen and you’ll see the names of critically acclaimed novelists with work they put together in the ‘downtime’. Because ‘downtime’ doesn’t mean writing stops. Writing never stops.

The other perk in jumping back to short form: refining your craft. It sort of goes hand in hand with working on running mechanics. You take the chance to try new things out and see what works and what doesn’t. This goes back to my earlier point that writing short pieces is in no way a simple task. Nothing gets you thinking about word economy like going from the infinite space of the novel to the 2x2 jail cell of flash fiction. Can you fit a three act structure into 700 words? CAN YOU?

Um…got any tips? Because that’s not easy.

All the effort you’ll go through with shorter fiction will help you in editing phase and with later long form projects. You’ll learn to get to the damn point and do it in a way that manages to maintain attention instead of droning on and on about frivolous details that will remain frivolous no matter how much you try jamming them in to pad your word count.

And you don’t have to limit yourself to short stories. Blog, write a review on Goodreads or Amazon, hell, do a guest post somewhere people may actually read the lunatic ramblings you’ve put together about the craft of writing. Man, if you’re the masochistic type, why not craft a workout plan where you’ll write out the dreaded 1, 5, and 10 page synopses? Disclaimer: I take no responsibility in what may happen if you actually attempt writing three synopses of various lengths at one time, but I will pray for you and your loved ones.

There are a lot of options and in the long term, all excellent for your work on that big novel. You’ll find that slapping out 250, 500, 1000 words becomes easier, which will help you handle trimming 15,000 words from 100,000 or adding 25,000 to 55,000. Like in running, there is never a mile that should be considered a waste—even if it’s an ugly one.

Angel Luis Colón is the author of THE FURY OF BLACKY JAGUAR. His fiction has been shortlisted for the Derringer and has won an award or two. His nonfiction has appeared in The LA Review of Books, The Life Sentence, and My Bookish Ways. He’s also an editor at Shotgun Honey, home of some of the finest hardboiled flash fiction on the Internet. Find out more or ignore him on Twitter under the handle @GoshDarnMyLife.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Spanglish, hyperviolence, and positionality: on writing Zero Saints

Guest Post by Gabino Iglesias

Scott's Note: Today we've got Gabino Iglesias guest posting.  Does Gabino even need an introduction?  I don't think so. Certainly not in the indie crime fiction world.  He happens to have a new novel out, Zero Saints, a barrio noir, and the accolades have been rolling in. I started it yesterday - I'm two chapters in - and I'm kind of annoyed that I'll have to spend a whole day at work today before I can get back to it.  

Anyhow, without any more delay, here's Gabino...

“I didn’t hear those pinches cabrones coming.” That’s the opening line of Zero Saints. The second it was written, I knew I’d started down a weird path and there was no coming back, but that knowledge did nothing to minimize my insecurities or cut down on the number of times I thought about the reasons behind my choice to write a novel in Spanglish. However, I stuck with it. Why? Because we’re living in a great time in publishing, a time in which positionality is being acknowledged in all the right ways, supported by the best indie presses, and accepted as natural by most intelligent readers.

“Motherfuckers will read a book that’s one third Elvish, but put two sentences in Spanish and they think we’re taking over.” Those words by Junot Díaz encouraged me to keep at it whenever I’d start fearing I was going overboard with the Spanish. Thankfully, by the time those thoughts arrived, I’d already decided that my commitment to crime fiction with a message was stronger than my desire to write something that would appeal to most readers. Counterintuitive as it sounds, my commitment stemmed from my appreciation of the times we’re living and the opportunities we have as authors of these times.

Yeah, I know that sounds pretentious as fuck, so let me clarify: I wanted to write an entertaining novel about decapitations, a desperate man trying to battle a really strong, almost inhuman evil, a Russian hitman, magic tattoos, and an unblinking visionero. That being said, I wanted that narrative to carry something heavier than entertainment value. I wanted the novel to explore life after crossing the la frontera. I wanted the novel to be about syncretism, superstition, fear, love, weirdness, hybrid cultures. and a plethora of elements that are part of my immediate reality or my childhood, and Spanglish was part of that. Code switching is part of my everyday life, and writing something that reflected that was something I simply had to do.

The best thing about sticking with it and dropping all those prayers in Spanish is that I feel Zero Saints joins a truly outstanding group of novels that put positionality at the forefront without sacrificing anything. We’re living, and reading, in a time when I can enjoy Danny Gardner’s A Negro and an Ofay and see the similarities between someone who belongs to no nation and someone who’s too dark to be white and too light skinned to be black. Life in those interstitial spaces is a unifying theme for many, and when you mix it with the basic elements of crime fiction, you get novels that work on a multiplicity of levels. Furthermore, I can read this novel while having Scott Adlerberg’s next novel in the pile and still celebrating the fact that my hermano Grant Wamack will has joined the Broken River Books roster and will give us his crime debut in 2016. This is diversity. This is great fiction. This is why Zero Saints feels right.

Most folks think of positionality in fiction as something that stands aggressively against the narratives offered by straight white males. They’re wrong. Many of my favorite authors (i.e. Jeremy Robert Johnson, J. David Osborne, Cameron Pierce, Brian Allen Carr, ect.) are straight white dudes. I love what they do. Positionality is something else; the realization that the “I” needs to be hidden sometimes and allowed to take over at others. Positionality is saying that homosexual (and straight!) authors shouldn’t be fearful of writing homosexual characters. Positionality is allowing someone like me to write a novel in Spanglish because that's my reality. Positionality is accepting that a brutally honest book about African Americans in this country will have a healthy dose of racism. Positionality is allowing authors to speak their truths through fiction and accepting it as a unique thing that doesn’t necessarily stand in opposition to another.

A novel is a weird thing that’s born out of our desire to tell stories and then acquires some baggage along the way. At the end of the day, once it’s been polished, it should be whatever the author wants it to be. In my case, Zero Saints is a chunk of reality wrapped in a lot of weirdness and religion and sprinkled with the kind of hyperviolence I’ve come to love in neo-noir. It’s also a narrative that takes advantage of the fact that there are brave indie presses out there willing to put out a book with Santa Muerte, Changó, and Niño Fidencio all thrown into the same universe, just like in real life. That diversity is where I stand, es lo que soy. That rich, beautiful, multicultural mess is what I celebrate and where I stand. The fact that I’ve been given a chance to share all of it is something I’m truly grateful for and clear proof that women, the LGBTQ community, and POC are finally getting a chance to write whatever the hell they want. Yeah, it’s a good time for positionality. Let yours shine. 

You can pick up Zero Saints right here.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Best Mysteries of 2015

by Kristi Belcamino

I sort of snickered writing the headline because who I am to say ... but hey, this is my opinion, and I hope you find something you like in the bunch.

The reason I only name eight books—instead of say, ten— is because I have two books out this year, my two best books yet, but I think it would be totally obnoxious to list them as nine and ten, but you can imagine them there in those empty spots if you read them and liked them. Ha. Talk about passive aggressive, right?

But in all seriousness, I think the competition for best mystery book in 2015 is FIERCE and the number of books I've been able to read so far this year has been woefully inadequate. so I know there are many more contenders for this list.

Here is my list, but PLEASE leave your choices or recommendations for me to read in the comments! Thanks!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

NaNoWriMo: Week 3

Scott D. Parker

Like Week 2, Week 3 just kept the momentum going. I actually increased the word count over Week 2 but still didn’t match Week 1.

Week 1    16087
Week 2    12096
Week 3    15769

I'm up to 43,952 words. I did a quick comparison of the novel I wrote back in August and realized I reached 50K in that novel in 22 days. I have to write 6,048 words tomorrow (i.e., today when you’re reading this) in order to match that record. That’s not going to happen. After I do tomorrow’s word count, I’ll be preparing for a speech I’m giving at church on Sunday and starting the Great Star Wars Re-watch ahead of the new Star Wars movie next month. But, unlike the August Novel which took me until the middle of September to complete, I aim to finish this book by month's end. It'll definitely be north of 50,000. I just don't know by how much.

The neatest thing I did this week was visit Bayou Bend yesterday. A few scenes of this second Gordon Gardner book take place at the Ima Hogg (yes, real name) manor in the heart of Houston. It’s now a museum and open every day except Monday. I spoke to a librarian and she gave me the titles of a few books I can use for research. I’ll be returning next week to tour the entire property and bring some good historical research to the novel.

The biggest writing challenge this week was having to brainstorm part of the middle section in which I find myself. I’m an outliner, but I also allow the nuances of storytelling to steer me along my pre-determined course. That happened this week. I spent almost all my daytime writing time doing the brainstorming, leaving me to start the daily writing after 9pm. That is not my standard operating procedure, but I got it done. Much happier writing at 5am than 9 or 10pm.

How are your NaNoWriMo projects going?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ramblers, Let's Get Ramblin'

The first scene in From Dusk Till Dawn is a Ranger and a cashier talking the absolute worst shit you can imagine about a disabled kid. It's cringeworthy and terrible - and quite fucking perfect because when George Clooney pops out of the background and puts a gun to the cashier's head, the viewer doesn't mind one bit. Within seconds the liquor store explodes in an intense gunfight, and you don't even realize you're not rooting for the victims until the Gecko Brothers walk out of the burning building arguing like an old married couple.

I tell people all the time "From Dusk Till Dawn changed my life,"and they think I'm joking. I saw this movie for the first time with my parents, and none of us knew what was coming. I vividly remember both of them cursing my uncle's name for recommending "this stupid fucking movie."

I was exhilarated.

I was thirteen and had never seen anything like any of it. Forget the twist - the raw, unadulterated violence of it, the so-cool-it's-fucking-cold characterization of Seth Gecko, and the terrible unease I felt every time Richie had a scene - it was an awakening. I'd been writing for years at this point, something that had been encouraged by family and teachers, a lauded nascent talent, but I didn't even realize anti-heroes were a thing. To be honest, I didn't realize it when I watched the movie the first time or the fiftieth time. I was along for the ride and the only thinking I had time for was making a list of every Tarantino and Rodriguez film ever made so I could walk down to the video store and rent them (on VHS for 99 cents).

As I've grown up, watching the film over and over again, it's struck me that the real strength in this film is how it makes you love The Gecko Brothers despite them being two of the worst, despicable criminals to grace the screen. Is it controversial to say that no one sympathizes with a rapist? Probably not. But somehow you don't mind rooting for Richie, because the film manages to make you view him through his brother's eyes - is he fucked up? Sick? Wrong? Yeah, but Seth loves him. How much does the viewer have to love Seth to give a fuck about that?

It comes drips and drops. Of course, Seth is fucking cool. Everybody likes a cool criminal. He appeals to the part of all of us that wants to take whatever we want and ignore the needs of anyone but ourselves. Most works of fiction can get a long way on that alone, but if you're going to love him enough to love his brother, there's more work to be done. Seth doesn't want to kill you, but he will - even so, when he opens the door in the hotel room and sees what Richie has done to their hostage his horror is palpable. Seconds later, when he's shaking Richie, hitting his head against the wall, the horror is replaced by true helplessness. As we travel through Texas with the brothers we get to know Seth better. He won't kill unless he has to, he lives by his word, he loves his brother.

The genius part of this characterization, though, is how the film quietly shows everyone around Seth to be much, much worse than he is. The Texas Ranger and cashier come first, but then there is the news reporter grinning like an idiot as she reports on the body count they've racked up. At the Titty Twister, he reflexively knocks out the bouncer who comments on his young hostage's body. Seth may be a real mean motor-scooter, but he's a product of his fucked up world. When it comes time to lay it down and fight for survival, he doesn't let Jacob and his family down - he gladly joins up.

What makes Seth so relatable, so easy to root for, is the idea that he might not be that much worse than anyone else - he's just better at being bad. I mean, what's the big loss if he has to take out a couple assholes just as bad as he is?

A friend (Tony McMillen) once pointed out that From Dusk Till Dawn was just a new (and incredibly fucked) way of telling the story told in Of Mice and Men - El Rey is "the fat of the land", Seth and Richie the George and Lenny - cursed to be tied to one another on their ill-fated journey. Everybody's retelling an old story - Tarantino just added vampires.

There is something truly special about making people who are easy to hate easy to root for. FDTD makes it happen in the first seven minutes.

So yeah, I tell people the movie changed my life because instead of writing poorly realized love stories or Hardy Boys style adventures I was writing alternate endings to the Geckos story, hiding them behind passwords on my DOS word processor. Somewhere along the line I started writing my own characters, and while they may not be as cool as Seth Gecko, I hope they're at least half as tortured, one tenth as sympathetic in light of how terrible my characters tend to be.

Psychos don't explode when they're hit by sunlight, I don't give a fuck how crazy they are.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Meet the Baddest Citizen - Interview with S.W. Lauden

by Holly West

By now, you've probably heard of S.W. Lauden. His debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, dropped on November 3 and people are digging it. I dug it myself. But prior to publication of the novel, he made a name for himself around town by writing bad ass short fiction and blogging, interviewing and promoting other authors. He even interviewed me once, announcing that mine was "probably" the first historical fiction book he'd ever read.

Now it's Steve's turn to wear the princess tiara. He was kind enough to stop by the blog today to answer my insightful questions. Here we go!

HW: Your debut, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION (BCC), is fast-paced, creepy and atmospheric straight out of the gate. Greg Salem, a cop/surfer/punk rock singer, is under investigation for a shooting in the line of duty when his best friend is murdered. In the book, Greg’s past intersects with his present as he searches for the killer. The murder aside, it reminded me of the different phases of my own life over the years—how they overlap and intersect, and how they’ve contributed to who I am now. To an extent, is Greg’s story a reflection of your own life?

SWL: Thanks for having me, Holly! BCC isn't autobiographical, but it's absolutely informed by my own experiences. Like Greg, I spent the early part of my life chasing a career in music, which meant doing a lot of side hustles in order to eat and live indoors. Mostly slinging food and drinks, but I also worked as a journalist here and there.

Once I stopped pursuing music as a career (what's Einstein's definition of insanity again?), I started sifting through the ashes a little. I discovered that I hadn't been particularly successful at any one thing, but I had done some pretty interesting things—at least according to me. That kind of reckoning is really what Greg is dealing with in this book. He's haunted by his past, conflicted about choices he's made and forced to make some tough decisions about his future. It just so happens that he is surrounded by part-time punks, thugs, drug addicts and murderers. Once I had worked through those internal struggles and external influences for him, I knew that I had a book I could relate to and could get excited about writing.

HW: Having lived in South Bay for a couple of years in the early 90s, I can say you captured the feel of the area remarkably well, noting, of course, that it’s changed quite a bit in the last twenty years. What inspired you to write about this location and how did it inform the plot?

SWL: Growing up near the coast in SoCal was amazing, but my life has taken me in different directions since high school and college. After twenty years of mostly living inland I feel like a tourist whenever I visit my old stomping grounds these days. From that perspective, it allows me to compare the blue-collar beach towns of my childhood—filtered through my faulty, romantic memories—with the exclusive, high-end communities many of them have become.

Unlike me, Greg never really left his hometown so he's forced to experience those dichotomies on a daily basis. He's a SoCal native who feels like he's living behind enemy lines, but he's also a punk musician who grew up to be a cop. So I couldn't imagine setting this particular story anywhere else, although in my head The Bay Cities is a fictionalized combination of several SoCal towns including the South Bay, Santa Barbara, Venice, Silverlake and Los Feliz.

HW: BCC has been out for about a week now (two weeks when this interview posts). Tell me, is being a published author all it’s cracked up to be?

SWL: I think that my experiences in the music business—for better or worse—really prepared me for being a "published author". There's always a big difference between the dream and the reality. That said, publishing a book has been a lifelong dream and I'm still trying to wrap my head around the idea that I actually did it. So, for the time being, it's pretty mind-blowing. Is there anything better than killing yourself for something you love so much? Ask me again in a couple of years. For now, I'm pretty stoked.

HW: You recently wrote a blog post about being surprised to learn that BCC was, in fact, a mystery, as opposed to a straight crime novel. Brings a (modified) quote from the film Withnail and I to mind: “I’ve written a mystery by mistake!”

SWL: First of all, thank you for reminding me of Withnail and I. What a fantastic movie. I don't remember that specific quote, but the first time I watched it was in a tour van as my band drove across England on a club tour. Our roadie was a really cool English dude who was blown away (gobsmacked?) that we hadn't seen it. I was really hung over that day, like most days back then, and almost threw up because I was laughing so hard. Good times!

Anyway, I knew that murder was going to be a main plot device in BCC from the beginning, but I was honestly more concerned with the character development and their motivations. What I didn't know when I started writing it was that there were so many sub genres within the greater crime/mystery world. Looking back I feel lucky because my ignorance, at least at the onset of this project, kept me from being beholden to any particular genre. More than anything, I wanted BCC to have the energy, intensity and darkness that I've always loved about my favorite punk songs.

HW: Anyway, I think that’s kind of hilarious since I’ve had a similar reaction to people assuming my books are cozies because they’re historical mysteries (which I realize is somewhat different than your situation but overall it’s about genre and our perceptions of it). It’s not that I have a problem with cozies, it’s that readers have certain expectations about the label and my books don’t meet them. I don’t want anyone to be disappointed or offended.

I personally consider mysteries crime novels in the general sense so I refer to myself as a crime fiction writer. If the conversation goes further I say I write hardboiled historical mysteries.

All this to ask: How do you really feel about the fact that you wrote a mystery and not, as you say, a crime novel? Does it even matter? Also, can you ever see yourself writing a cozy?

SWL: Genre matters to me more as a reader than as a writer. I like to have a general sense of what I'm getting into when I choose a book. Of course, it's also fun to be surprised. I thought I was digging into some literary fiction when I picked up Robin Sloan's MR. PENUMBRA'S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE, but it ended up being one of the best mysteries I have read in the last few years.

Could I write a cozy? I honestly have to say that it looks much harder than what I currently do. I'm no expert, but anything with that many specific rules seems like it would be difficult for a writer like me. So instead of giving you a straight answer, I'll just quote Romeo Void: "Never say never."

HW: Obligatory geeky writer question: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

For BCC, I started with a plot that I quickly abandoned. My novella, CROSSWISE (coming from Down & Out Books in March, 2016), started as a short story that just didn't want to end. So...I guess I'm a "plotty pants." Is that a thing?

HW: You’ve quickly become known in writing circles as an indie publishing advocate. Is that by accident or design?

SWL: I have always been a fan of Indie music, and I think that transferred over to Indie publishing once I started exploring this world. I love the DIY aesthetic in general, and find it hard not to root for anybody who decides to go their own way instead of seeking out, or waiting around for, the approval of perceived gatekeepers. I also respect writers who take chances, push boundaries and generally make decisions that the mainstream may not fully understand or embrace. Hell, I don't always understand what they're trying to do, but I try my best to support it. Call it a punk rock hangover.

But just as with music, I'm definitely not somebody who scoffs at mainstream success. Get in my car sometime and you'll be treated to anything from Taylor Swift and The Rolling Stones to Ty Segall, Black Flag and Thao Nguyen. Likewise, I'm perfectly content reading HOW TO SUCCESSFULLY KIDNAP STRANGERS by Max Booth III and DIRTBAGS by Eryk Pruitt back-to-back with ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins.

All excellent books, by the way. And they all started out the same way, as far as I know—with somebody sitting down in front of a computer and making shit up. From there it's up to the market to decide. Mostly, I would encourage people who think they want to do it to just go ahead and do it. Start a band, write a book, create a podcast, shoot a movie, go to clown school—whatever. Get weird.

HW: You’ve written quite a few flash fiction and short pieces that are published online. Tell me your favorite, why it’s your favorite, and provide a link.

SWL: Interesting question. I think the answer would vary wildly depending on when you ask, but at this exact moment I would pick "Fix Me." It’s about a bicyclist getting chased by a muscle car through some of my favorite East LA neighborhoods. My violent little love letter to Los Angeles.

I submitted it to a contest for Criminal Element earlier this year and was thrilled when it won. Then a friend who is a director approached me about turning it into a short film. We have been going back and forth on ideas for adapting the script, which has lately allowed me to consider the story from a different perspective. I always try to picture the scenes that I am writing—taking into account the peripheral action that's indirectly influencing the outcomes—but writing for a visual medium is something else all together.

HW: What’s up next for you?

SWL: Late lunch. And maybe a mani/pedi, if I think my boss won't notice that I'm gone for two hours...

I already mentioned that my novella, CROSSWISE, is coming out next year. That one's about an ex-NYPD cop who chases his coke-addict girlfriend to her hometown in Florida. She leaves him shortly after he gets a job as head of security at a sprawling retirement community filled with a colorful cast of septuagenarian characters. He's sad, drunk and lonely until the murders start.

I'm also writing the second Greg Salem novel. BCC was always meant to be the first installment in a three-book series. I'm a little over half way through book two and I have to say it's been fun reconnecting with some of the characters again. It's sort of like a high school reunion, only with a lot more violence.

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What's Old is New

by Scott Adlerberg

History is cyclical, is one way of looking at things.  Another is to use a familiar phrase like, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

With these thoughts in mind, and considering the current state of affairs involving what's called the Western world and the Islamic world, it's interesting to look at a short suspense novel that dramatizes the conflict in an entertaining but serious way. The book's author is none other than Arthur Conan Doyle, and the book is The Tragedy of the Korosko.  Serialized in Strand Magazine from May through December of 1897, the narrative was published as a novel in 1898.

The plot involves a group of Western tourists taking a Nile holiday cruise in North Africa.  This is the time when the British, of course, are the region's colonial power.  The nationalities represented by the tourists are English, Irish, French, and American.  Their trip starts from the village of Shellal, just south of Aswan, Egypt, and it is bound for Wadi Hafa in the Sudan.  The third person narration describes the travelers as a "merry party, for most of them had traveled up together from Cairo to Aswan, and even Anglo-Saxon ice thaws rapidly upon the Nile".  As colonials abroad, Westerners traveling with their late nineteenth century sense of entitlement, who see large patches of the world as their playpen, why shouldn't they be merry?  Except that their trip gets rudely interrupted when a group of Dervish fighters on camels take them all hostage in the desert.  The Dervishes are Islamists, absolute religious zealots, and their leader tells the hostages they must convert to Islam. If they don't, they may be killed. Alternatively, they may be sold into slavery when the troop gets to Khartoum.  In any event the hostages are in deep trouble, and what follows, in Victorian-era style, is an exciting yarn of pursuit and tension as the British army takes up the chase in the desert and tries to rescue the hostages before the kidnappers get them to Khartoum.

There's no question this book is of its time.  Conan Doyle has no qualms about standing up for British imperialism, and for the most part, the Westerners are the victims in the story, the Islamists the villains.  And Doyle can't but help throw a few barbs the Frenchman's way, creating a character who criticizes the British for their expansionist policies.  But it's remarkable how much the overall thrust of the book mirrors the contemporary world.  Doyle wrote the book when many Europeans clearly felt a fear and distrust of Islam, and though the narrative moves fast, Doyle touches on topics as relevant now as they were then: East versus West, Judeo-Christian civilization versus Islamic, the Middle East as danger zone, hostage-taking, religious fanaticism, terror.  There's even a section spoken by a British character that reads, "It's my opinion that we have been the police of the world long enough...We policed the seas for pirates and slavers.  Now we police the land for Dervishes and brigands and every sort of danger to civilization. There is never a mad priest or a witch doctor, or a firebrand of any sort on this planet, who does not report his appearance by sniping the nearest British officer. One tires of it at last. If a Kurd breaks loose in Asia Minor, the world wants to know why Great Britain does not keep him in order. If there is a military mutiny in Egypt, or a Jihad in the Sudan, it is still Great Britain who has to set it right.  And all to an accompaniment of curses such as the policeman gets when he seizes a ruffian among his pals.  We get hard knocks and no thanks, and why should we do it?"  Cut out "Great Britain," paste in a certain other country, and does any of this language sound familiar?

The Tragedy of the Korosko has brisk prose and impeccable craftsmanship.  You'd expect nothing less from Conan Doyle, a writer who didn't know how to write a boring line.  You can read the book in one or two sittings, and it's well worth a look both as a snapshot of its time and as an early consideration of a conflict that hasn't changed all that much in over a century.  Question though: when you read a novel like this that seems at once ripped from the headlines of its long ago era and, in its essence, not far removed from today's headlines, do you get depressed at the lack of so-called progress?  I don't know. Some people might. Depends on the person.  But I find that whenever I'm silly enough to think that there's something particularly special or horrific about this age, a good historical story sets me right. It reminds me of the obvious - that, technology aside, nothing much concerning people has changed greatly since...whenever.  Not to minimize horrible actions and events, but I find that a little historical perspective always helps me tune out the shouting, hysteria, and overstatement that fill the air these days.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Shake Hands With The Devil

By Sandra Ruttan

Over the weekend, emotions were running high. I must admit, I got a little agitated with some comments I saw in the wake of Friday's events.

And I made it clear that talk of a certain nature wouldn't be acceptable in my Facebook feed.

I don't disagree with that action. The statements that were starting to pop up - from Trump to Rob Lowe to others - were insensitive. They also don't prove a damn thing about gun control legislation.

By the end of the weekend, I was challenged with other information that had me thinking about free speech from the other side of the equation.

After pressure from victims' families, Amazon pulled Paul Bernardo's fiction book and it's no longer for sale on their site.

Now, I remember the events that led to Bernardo's arrest very well. I was a young adult, living in Ontario, at the height of the manhunt. I remember seeing the news of the missing girls on TV, and then learning of their murders. The trials played out in a way that trials are hard pressed to play out now. In Canada, there was a media ban of certain information, while US journalists were having a feeding frenzy.

Bernardo is a name that people know. It elicits a strong emotional response if you lived in Canada at that time.

But should Amazon have pulled his work? The story wasn't about his crimes. It was a work of fiction.

If others can write from behind bars, and even reform themselves through writing, is there a legal basis to deny Bernardo that option?

I don't know the specifics of Canadian law with regards to inmates publishing books online. And I can't say that I want to rub shoulders with Bernardo at the next crime fiction convention.

However, I have to consider whether this action moves towards control of individual rights in a way that extends beyond the scope of control businesses should have. What's next? How far will it go? As the descendant of a Huguenot, could I oppose books by French Catholics who support the persecution of Protestants?

I know it isn't the same thing. I'm not trying to pretend it is. I can't imagine the pain that the French and Mahaffy families feel, to this day. I don't question their actions at all.

But I wonder, assuming he was within his rights to publish a book while imprisoned (others have done this with traditional contracts), if this sets a dangerous precedent.

Food for thought.

Meanwhile, at least two episodes of two different shows have been pulled in the wake of the attacks in France.

Is this proof that censorship is alive and well, or is it a display of consideration and good taste? And would be conclude the latter if we disagreed with what was being censored? Anyone remember the backlash over Satanic Verses?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Two Faces of Crime Writers

by Kristi Belcamino

This week I wrote about something that probably most crime writers can relate to - how to reconcile your personal life with your professional life.

In my case, it's about how I can write dark and disturbing and let's face it - pretty F'd up stuff - and then be this cheerful, silly mamma italiana to two little girls. I wrote about it here:

I think one reason the New York Times picked it up is because it doesn't just apply to crime reporters - ER doctors, cops, soldiers, etc. all are in the same position - reconciling the sometimes dark world of their day jobs with their family life.

In other news, I had the incredible luck to be on Amazon and Barnes & Noble bestseller lists this week, which is amazing, but is fleeting. (I took screen shots as proof that my book was neck and neck with Michael Connelly, Patricia Cornwell, and Stephen King.)

The interesting part of making these lists is that it was really due to two things - the publisher doing a promotion for me and an intense grassroots campaign by readers.

The initial push was the publisher promotion, but the sales got wheels from grassroots campaigning - people spreading the word.

If by any strange fluke I make the USA Today Bestseller list it is because of people spreading the word about the promotion, which is amazing to think about.

If you have ever considered picking up one of my books to read and want to help with the grassroots push, I've included the links for the book that is in the running - WEEP - below. The sales reporting period ends at midnight tonight.

I'm not expecting to make the list, but I figure I've never been this close before so I should probably spread the word in case it comes close!

Barnes and Noble:

"BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO WEEP is a crackling, emotional, and rocket-paced mystery. Kristi Belcamino brings her reporter chops to Gabriella Giovanni, the very best kind of heroine -- smart, plucky, and true. Keep your eye on this writer." - Lisa Unger, New York Times bestselling author

Saturday, November 14, 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015: Week 2

If Week 1 got off to a great start, Week 2 maintained the momentum. I experienced no major roadblocks. Well, perhaps a minor one: I ended up writing a couple of scenes that I didn’t foresee so that was interesting. But the newbies seamlessly integrated into the story.

Week 1: 16,087
Week 2: 12.096

Two things of note for Week 2.

1. I passed the halfway point (25,000 words) three days ahead of the standard pace.

2. I dictated portions of my chapters on my iPod. I upgraded the software on the device and, when I was dictating a Facebook post, I noticed how swift the dictation was on the screen. Almost instantaneous. The biggest stumbling block to dictation right now is not being able to see the text (because I dictate into an audio file and transcribe later.) But how do I remember where I left off at, say, my last break at the day job?

Up until now, the dictation feature on my iPod was slow so I never used it. With the update, I started to. Granted, I’d dictate a sentence or two and then stop Siri, but that was pretty good. Something new to try.

Oh, another fun thing this week was seeing our old friend Joelle Charbonneau at Blue Willow Books here in Houston. She’s promoting her new book, NEED. I picked up a copy and plan to get to it in December. Get yours here.

Another book I’m excited to read is Kristi’s new book, BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO WEEP. Right now, for a limited time, it's only $0.99 for the ebook! I picked up my copy this week. You should, too. C’mon! It’s less than a cup of coffee.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Those curtains again

By Steve Weddle

Back in 2011, I said a thing about this dumb thing:

Essentially, I argued that if you ever found yourself in that situation, you should read better books. If you're reading books in which the author only meant to tell you the color of a thing, well, that's on you. The world is full of books by brilliant authors who can layer meaning and, I argued, you should read those instead of bitch about the shitty books you're reading now. Or, I guess, you could do both. Or neither. I'm not your real mom.

And yet.

And yet.

And yet that dumb thing has come back around, probably because Facebook is doing the "Hey, remember last year when you posted this picture? Wasn't that fun?"

So let's consider it this time, not from the reader's point of view, but from the writer's.

Sure, you could mean that the curtains were blue. That's fine. But let's work through how an intelligent writer might handle those curtains.

You could get particular about color, if you wanted. I grew up with the box of eight crayons, but I'm told some kids had boxes with more. Orange-red and red-orange. Something called "taupe." You could say the curtains were "light blue" or "sky blue." That's the sort of thing a writer might do when someone marks "needs more detail" in the margins. See, it seems like more detail, but it's not. It's dumb. Who gives a shit? Light blue. Dark blue. So what? Please stop writing stories.

If you're a writer with any skill. you'll want the curtains -- and much of the, ahem, fabric of the story -- to do more than just sit there. Lousy writers put detail where it isn't needed, where it merely slows the flow of the story and confuses the reader. Don't do that. What, you want an example? Fine. How's this?
He sat down on the couch, which was about six-feet long and had been bought at an outlet mall near Cleveland.
Again, who cares? Does the length of the couch, the mall, or Cleveland have anything to do with the rest of the story? Is Cleveland some sort of clue? No? Then shut up about friggin' Cleveland.

An origin story for a couch? No. Well, unless, OK. Let's try it again, this time with those damn curtains, again.
He slid open the curtains, their bright blue contrasting harshly against the deep blue of the walls, a color choice he'd argued against, but, what hadn't he and Margaret argued about in the snow-deep months last year.
Here, the origin matters. Margaret and the dude here got kinda fighty. Neat. Now we have more of the story coming out, thanks to the curtains. Of course, having an adverb in there -- "harshly" -- kinda kills it for me, but whatevs. You can work on that.

If you're giving details, you have to keep in mind that the details have to tell you something about the character or the setting. Or they have to move along the story. I mean, they have to do something. Gracious, any damn thing is a start.

Are they mis-matched curtains? Fine. Is that because she doesn't care about how things look or because she doesn't have the money to buy an $80 set at Curtains-R-Us? Or is it because she had a matching set, but she and Blaine had to split everything in the divorce, even the curtain? Come on, you're a writer. You can do better than having blue curtains, right?

Back in 2011, I said that if you read a book with the line "The curtains were blue," then you have lousy taste in books.

Four years later, I'd just like to say that, have all the blue curtains in your story you want. If you think a funny meme will make you a better writer, then you're probably setting the bar too low. You can do better than making internet memes proud of you.

You want to write about curtains? Rock on. Keep the curtains closed if your character is scared. Have her panic at the crease of light along the edges. Or tell me why a successful corporate vice president has Snoopy curtains in her office. Or why the guy hosting the party in your neighborhood has blinds on some windows and curtains on others. Is he a sociopath who hosts parties? Weird. Tell me more.

Have all the blue curtains, brown couches, and white towels you want. But, for Salter's sake, have them do something.