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