Saturday, December 12, 2015

Favorites of 2015

Scott D. Parker

Well, everyone seems to be in the mood for year-end best-of lists so I thought I’d join. Thing is, I didn’t read nearly as many books as I thought I did. Bummer. I plan on reading more in 2016.


Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush - Jon Meacham - I’m not finished yet, but I am really loving this biography.

Canary - Duane Swierczynki

The Thief - Clive Cussler

Concrete Angel - Patricia Abbott

Take Off Your Pants - Libbie Hawker

Raging Heat - Richard Castle


“Uptown Funk” - Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars - Bar none, the absolute favorite thing I listened all year this year. I have this song on constant rotation. At least once a week.

Songs in the Key of Life - Yo Yo Ma and Kathyrn Stott

Absolute Jest - John Adams

Sonic Highway - Foo Fighters

Tower of Power (1973)

Old New Borrowed and Blue - Slade


The Flash - Bar none, the absolute favorite thing I watched all year this year. I was a late comer to the show, having only watched it last spring, but quickly binged and got up-to-speed. Now, I can’t wait for Tuesdays to roll around. The season 1 finale had it all.




The Big Bang Theory (watching the entire series in order)


Star Wars: The Force Awakens (come on, is there any doubt this’ll be my fav film of the year?)

Mission Impossible: Rouge Nation

Jurassic World


Inside Out



Fat Man on Batman - Still my perennial favorite

I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere

Pod of Thunder (KISS podcast)

Hollywood Babble On


The Nerdist

Pods and Sods

Friday, December 11, 2015

Get through the haze

For the second time in two months I am sick-as-a-dog sick. Scrolling through my Facebook today, I was reminded that just one month ago I was so sick I lost my voice, and here we are again. Between upper respiratory Hell, I had one of the longest and most unforgiving bouts of insomnia I've ever dealt with. My desire is to hire someone to keep passing hot toddies under my fuzziest blanket while I sleep for a couple months, but it turns out I can't afford it.

Money aside, what do writers do? We write. If we keep making excuses not to, we turn into those annoying people who post silly memes about "what it is like" to be a writer even though they never publish anything, anywhere.

Get it? Because we google weird stuff? HA. HA.
The problem with writing versus filing papers or marathoning Netflix is that it requires some semblance of concentration. If you can't think straight, you can't write. So what do we do when there's a genuine issue keeping our brains mushy?

I want to note that I didn't say "writer's block" and I didn't mean "writer's block." Are there times when it is difficult to be creative? Of course there are - but there's usually an underlying reason. If there isn't any underlying reason for your failure to write, the reason is - you don't want to. 

If you want to write, or you need to because you have made some kind of commitment, writer's block isn't an option. So what do you do?

1. Get some fucking sleep.

I know it sounds obvious but I always have a big crash after a large project and I almost always get sick. Stressing the body out for days or weeks at a time and not expecting to end up hacking something up is a fatal error. Once you deprive your body of sleep for an extended period of time, you'll get trapped in a vicious insomnia cycle, and you'll only compound the problem. 

Do whatever you need to do to get some sleep. Long soak in a hot bath, a nightcap, a sleeping pill, reading transcripts from C-SPAN - just do it. If your work schedule or other responsibilities keeps you from sleeping in, do yourself a favor and go to bed at your first yawn for a few nights in a row. Just get some fucking sleep. You aren't going to write a masterpiece while dozing off on your computer and drooling on the spacebar.

2. Go outside

No really. Get your ass outside into the sunshine, or at least the cool night air. Breathe in some air that hasn't been recirculated. Even if you feel like death itself, a change of scenery and some good old fashioned fresh air can work miracles. If the thing keeping you from focusing isn't physical, get some exercise. Even if it's just a quick walk around the block, you'll get the creak in your knees to loosen up and feel a refreshed. Exercising the body works wonders for waking the brain up. Plus, if you're outside it's harder to post stupid writer memes.

3. Find a nonjudgemental person and complain

Whatever it is fogging your brain - personal issues, hacking up a lung, a kid that won't sleep through the night - find someone who is willing to listen to you whine about it, and whine. People may tell you that complaining doesn't change anything, but once you've word vomited it out to a trusted friend, it becomes easier to focus on other things. Being mentally, physically, or emotionally exhausted is a heavy burden to carry, and most of us take a certain amount of pride in carrying it alone - but if you're ill or you have to put the family pet down, those issues take up space in your brain and keep you from setting your laser focus on the task at hand.

4. Sit the fuck down

My number one piece of advice for hitting a deadline or getting a jump start on a personal project? Sit the fuck down and just do it. Maybe the first five times you write the first paragraph it's the worst thing you've ever written - fine. Who cares? Because once you sit down and tell yourself not writing is not an option, you'll start lighting up the areas of the brain that make the writing happen, and telling the parts of the brain that would rather you watch Parks & Rec on Netflix for the fourth time to shut up.

You know how I know this works? 

I didn't have an idea what I would write for this week's blog two hours ago. I went a little off course of my own advice and did my complaining here at the start, rather than complaining to a live human - but I've done both in the past and one works as well as the other if you can work in the other three. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Art Taylor Interview

By Steve Weddle

By the time you read this, author Art Taylor has likely overtaken drummer Art Taylor on internet searches.

This week Kirkus Reviews called Taylor's On the Road with Del & Louise one of the year's promising debuts. (They also had high praise for the newest from our own John McFetridge.)

As for Official Art Taylor stuff, here you go: Taylor's short stories have won two Agatha Awards, the Macavity Award, an Anthony Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards. His fiction has appeared frequently in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,

On the Road with Del and Louise is Taylor's first book, a novel in stories.
Del’s a small time crook with a moral conscience—robbing convenience stores only for tuition and academic expenses. Brash and sassy Louise goes from being a holdup victim to Del’s lover and accomplice. All they want is a fresh start, an honest life, and a chance to build a family together, but fate conspires to put ever-steeper challenges in their path—and escalating temptations, too.
A real estate scam in recession-blighted Southern California. A wine heist in Napa Valley. A Vegas wedding chapel holdup. A kidnapping in an oil-rich North Dakota boomtown. Can Del and Louise stay on the right side of the law? On one another’s good side? And when they head back to Louise’s hometown in North Carolina, what new trouble will prove the biggest: Louise’s nagging mama or a hidden adversary seemingly intent on tearing the couple apart? Or could those be one and the same? 
I recently caught up with Art Taylor at a rest stop east of Lexington. Well, I was at the rest stop, because of some questionable dietary choices (Chicken Florentine, "Mama's Egg Nog," etc) I'd made a few hours earlier at a place that used to be a Texaco but is now just called "The Gas Up." I don't know where Art Taylor was, but he was somewhere answering my emails. It went something like this--

DSD: Donna Andrews said your book was “warm yet unsentimental.” That seems a difficult balance. How do you manage that?

Art Taylor: I appreciate Donna saying that—and I hope she’s right, because it does indeed strike me as a difficult balance, and I’m not sure how well I pulled it off. I do hope that readers will feel the same warmth and affection for Del and Louise as I felt myself—I like them, and I’m rooting for them—but I think it’s awfully easy for affection and admiration to veer into sentimentality. I often stress to students in the fiction workshops I lead at George Mason that we want to keep overt emotions off the page as much as possible—that such moves risk being shrill or maudlin or melodramatic or whatever, ultimately alienating readers; instead (I tell them) we simply need to leave space for the reader to project his or her own emotions into a situation—sketch out the situation objectively enough but clearly enough that some emotional response is sparked. Warmth for characters, coldness of artistic approach—that subjectivity and objectivity in equal measure, I guess. Again, I’m not sure I pull it off well, but I appreciate Donna’s own warmth and generosity with her assessment.

DSD:  Why did you choose this form for this book? Why not a more standard novel?

AT: The “novel in stories” approach wasn’t entirely a choice—not in the sense that I had planned this project in full from the start. “Rearview Mirror,” the first story in the book, was originally intended as a standalone story: Del, a small-time crook, and his lover Louise on the road after a final heist and en route to an honest life—but at the same time struggling with one another about whether to splurge a little with that big windfall or save it all, an investment for the future. The couple found themselves at a crossroads (to keep that road metaphor alive a little), and that single story resolves whether they’re going to stay together or part ways. Where they are at the end of the tale seemed to me a fully resolved—a happily-ever-after kind of ending.

But after a couple of years, I began to wonder what did happen at that next stop of theirs—the start of that honest life. I liked Louise as a narrator, liked her voice, and I found myself percolating over their life beyond the end of the story. One thing led to another, and I’d ended up writing another adventure, with notes toward a third stop too. The more I considered their lives, the more I realized that these individual adventures were indeed simply legs on a longer journey—toward each of them understanding themselves more, toward figuring out their relationship, toward that search for family and for home.

I think better at the length of the short story—I can keep it all in my head while I construct it, and I can handle the structure and the pacing more easily than a longer narrative. But I liked the idea of using those short stories as building blocks toward a bigger story, and I hope that it worked, the way I stumbled into it all.

DSD: What is it about these characters that makes them interesting for you, as a writer?

AT: Louise’s voice was always one of the biggest draw for me. I’m not entirely sure where that voice came from—where she came from—but I liked her attitude, her perspective, that sassiness and that heart. Del may be the one literally behind the wheel, but Louise's voice drives the story, every step of the way.

Beyond that, however, the question of morals fascinated me. Del’s a criminal, and Louise has no hesitation about being part of the criminal lifestyle, but they also have a complex approach to right and wrong, and the question of ethics dominates their actions with greater intensity as each story unfolds; by “The Chill”—for me the make-or-break story here—Louise wonders openly about the cost of their misdeeds, about how their crimes may be catching up to them. I hesitate to say that the stories become more philosophical, but there is indeed some hint of existential querying here, some sense of ethical dilemma, and for me, those dilemmas and that querying prove pivotal.

DSD: In a recent interview, Ian Rankin said he begins with what he calls "themes" --
"My books begin with a theme that I want to explore or a question I want to find an answer to. It can be something like racism, xenophobia, human trafficking, immigration."

Whether topics or themes, most of the old masters of crime fiction worked with recurring themes in their stories. Loyalty. Isolation. Greed. I'm thinking about Hammett and Chandler here, though similar themes appear in much of the great crime fiction. Agatha Christie works with this pallete, plus the idea that anyone who has traveled to India is likely the killer, of course. Do you find yourself coming back to some of the same themes from story to story? Do you find yourself revisiting topics? If so, how do keep these themes from becoming tropes?

Art Taylor
AT: I always enjoy writers who set out to tackle big themes in their work—search out and provide deeper insights on some aspect of the wider world and pervasive troubles. One of my own favorite mystery writers, Margaret Maron, has devoted novels to various social and economic issues of concern to her native North Carolina: racism, gender prejudices, real estate overdevelopment and the loss of agrarian traditions, the plight of an aging population.

But I have to admit that I’ve generally tried to avoid in my own work writing toward such themes—and I regularly caution writers in my student workshops at George Mason University from starting with a theme themselves in their fiction (instead of starting with character, situation, conflict). I think it’s too easy, when starting with theme, to end up writing toward our beliefs on a theme or issue instead of illuminating that theme/issue in its full complexity—too easy to become didactic or preachy. At the very least, I’ve feared that for myself.

Let me stress, however, that I do think writers can accomplish great things working like Rankin says he does—but I also think powerful themes can evolve out of character and situation and plot. It’s that latter that seems to me the better path maybe. I think back to some of the power of Eudora Welty’s writing and her own comments about writing toward a theme. Here’s how she answered a question about all that in the book Mississippi Writers Talking: "I think that would’ve paralyzed me. No, the thing at hand is the one…. I didn’t have an overall idea about working toward something. I think such things evolve of themselves out of the work. It sort of teaches you as you go. You learn what you’re writing about, in one sense, through the work.”

In my own work, I do see certain themes recurring—more general than specific maybe. My characters are generally struggling with relationship questions, whether in terms of romance, friendship, or family: the responsibilities at the heart of being in a relationship, in conflict often with other responsibilities, whether relationships in other directions or responsibility to self or to some point of integrity. Many possibilities for missteps, for betrayal, and it’s those conflicts, those moments, that I seem to keep gravitating toward—even as I feel like I’m always starting out crafting unique characters and unexpected situations or whatever.

DSD: Many authors avoid social media. Many authors use social media to do little more than share positive reviews of their own work. Do you find social media helpful to authors in general? To you in particular?

AT: I’ve always enjoyed Facebook in particular for connections and for conversation—with friends and fellow writers and now, suddenly, increasingly, with readers too (a new development with the book). I worry with these new developments, especially around launch week back in September, that my posts have become too promotional at times. What’s the line between sharing good news with friends and promoting your work to potential buyers? It’s a fine one, and I’ve caught myself thinking more about when I’m oversharing stuff about myself.

To my mind, to echo my earlier phrase, I think that the first goal should be connection and conversation, not promotion, and I’ve tried to limit things like “buy links” (Amazon, whatever) to my author page, where I feel like it’s more acceptable. And even then, I have no clue how such overtly promotional efforts might impact sales or other kinds of success—no faith that it will and no disappointment either if it doesn't. (And overall, my bigger concern is how much Facebook and social media in general becomes a distraction—eating away at focus and writing time.)

DSD: In talking about short stories, I’ve begun to think of ‘conflict’ as the most important element, at least on the structural side of things. Conflict causes tension, of course, but it also induces movement. For you, what are the most important elements in successful storytelling?

AT: The genesis of most of my stories lies in character or situation—not in a fully mapped-out plot. In fact, with one of the first of my stories that got big recognition, "A Voice from the Past," I wrote half of it following through on a situation and then had no idea what to do next. I ended up just setting it aside for a couple of years, letting it sit, letting the ideas sit, and then diving back in with fresh perspective on how the conflict might escalate.

I emphasize that story to separate out where stories start for me and where they have to go. I don't chart out plots as part of my prep in the classical sense that we might study plot in the classroom (rising action, climax, denouement, whatever), but I do think about such peaks, locate and analyze them, between draft and revision: where a story moves, where it needs to move, where it falters. That's not to say that every scene should end on a cliffhanger or even that every section of a story has to escalate the stakes somehow. There's a lot that can be accomplished by a reflective pause or by dialogue that's not plot-driven or even by description (whatever Elmore Leonard says about it). But overall, plot and storytelling ultimately go hand in hand for me—plot is the scaffolding on which I hang a lot of other stuff.

DSD: Finally, you've written mostly in the mystery genre. Gun to your head: You have to write a novel in one of the following slots. Which way do you go -- Space Opera, Historical Romance, non-fiction study of the Kardashians?

AT: Space Opera—no hesitation. But I'd want to add some actual opera into it—not just the high adventure and big melodrama, but singing too, you know? Darth Vader could've put that deep baritone to interesting use in a barbershop quartet, after all.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Mystery Community

Guest Post by Matt Coyle

Holly's note: In this post, Matt Coyle talks about the generosity of the mystery community. Of course, he omits references to his own generosity. When I needed blurbs for my second novel, MISTRESS OF LIES, he didn't hesitate to send me one. It felt great to have an Anthony Award winner blurb my book (Matt won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel for YESTERDAY'S ECHO), but mostly it was great to know that I had a friend who believed in paying it forward and giving back. The mystery community is full such people and Matt is one of them. He's never once failed to step up when I've asked him for a favor and I appreciate that.

Here's Matt:

My protagonist, Rick Cahill, is tough, heroic, and a loner. I share one trait with him, the last. I can fake it when I have to and act social. When I go to trade shows and national sales meetings for my day job, I interact socially and am a decent conversationalist. However, as soon as my duties end I head up to my hotel room to read or watch limited channel TV. I’ve never been a joiner and spend most weekend nights home alone or with a friend or two. Large parties make me nervous.

Those of you in the mystery community may be surprised by the above admissions. I’m on the board of SoCalMWA, and am a member of SinCLA, ITW, The Private Eye Writers of America, and The International Association of Crime Writers/NA. I do as many book signings as I can, talk to groups, serve on panels and even moderate at writers conferences. I’m a loud and obnoxious regular at the mystery conference traveling poker game. And none of it is a con, an act, a put on.

The mystery community invited me in and accepted me as one of its own from day one. It started sixteen years ago when I took night writing classes at UC San Diego taught by multi- award winning mystery author Carolyn Wheat. She ripped to shreds the first draft of what became my first book on the class whiteboard weekly. But she also told me that I had something and that I should keep at it. That I’d be published someday.

I met Alan Russell and Ken Kulken at the first writers conference I ever went to, Southern California Writers Conference. They had the misfortune of having to read thirty pages of an early draft of that same first book. They encouraged what strengths they could find and pointed out the weaknesses as required, but they went way beyond. They regularly answered my email enquiries for years to come.

I met Darrell James at Left Coast Crime Los Angeles in 2010, the first mystery writers conference I ever attended. I’d volunteered to work the MWA booth and he was my booth-mate. I was a bit intimated because he was an award winning short story writer with a novel coming out and I was a schmo with a drawer full of rejections. He couldn’t have been nicer or more encouraging.

The next year I met Naomi Hirahara at the California Crime Writers Conference. I was in the bookroom, looking like a lost child, and Naomi introduced herself to me. Wanted to know something about me. An Edgar Award winner introduced herself to me!

Over the years, as an unpublished writer and fan at book signings and conferences, I had the pleasure of meeting many New York Times bestselling mystery writers. Each time I’d see them they’d ask how my writing was going. Many responded to my email inquiries about the business of writing.

I sat at Gar Anthony Haywood’s table at a Men of Mystery years back and he volunteered to look at pages from my first book. The advice he gave me helped shore up an early chapter and put the book on the path to publication.

I’d never met Holly West, but when I asked for her a favor via email she helped me out, which ultimately led to me landing an agent.

When I finally got a book deal and needed to get blurbs, Stephen Jay Schwartz agreed to read the book and blurb it for me. I found out later, and not through Stephen, that he was in the middle of reading 200 books for Anthony Award nominations. I’m still blown away by that act of generosity.

Other writers who I’d only known through brief conversations at their book signings who took the time out of their busy schedules to read my books and blurb them have been: Robert Crais, Hilary Davidson, Dianne Emley, Gar Anthony Haywood, T. Jefferson Parker, and Hank Phillippi Ryan.

David Putnam has become an invaluable source for police research twenty-four hours a day. San Diego mystery super fan Micheal Higginbottom has word-of-mouthed my work and helped me land speaking engagements.

Booksellers at my local independent bookstores, Mysterious Galaxy, Warwick’s, and my home away from home to the north, Book Carnival, have steadfastly promoted my books.

My agent, Kimberley Cameron, and publishers, Bob and Pat Gussin at Oceanview have supported me beyond just a business relationship.

There are dozens and dozens of other people in the mystery community who have helped, and continue to help, me get better at the thing that I love. They have all become a second family to me, a loner who doesn’t join groups.

And the family was never more welcomed than at Bouchercon this year.  My ninety-year-old father had suddenly passed away just days earlier. My first family had gotten together and grieved, but the grieving continued, as it does today. Bouchercon was a respite from the grief where I could be with like-minded people and be myself. My better self, that I’d found over the years by being a part of the mystery community.

So, this is a longwinded way of saying thanks to all those in the mystery community who accept strangers and make them part of the family.

…this doesn’t mean I won’t still be loud and obnoxious at the poker table.


Matt Coyle grew up in Southern California battling his Irish/Portuguese siblings for respect and the best spot on the couch in front of the TV. He knew he wanted to be a writer as a young teen when his father gave him THE SIMPLE ART OF MURDER by Raymond Chandler.

It took him a few decades but he finally got there. His debut novel, YESTERDAY’S ECHO, won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, the San Diego Book Award for Best Mystery, the Ben Franklin Silver Award for Best New Voice in Fiction, and was named one of the Best Mysteries of 2013 by DEADLY PLEASURES MYSTERY MAGAZINE. The second book in the Rick Cahill Crime Series, NIGHT TREMORS, came out in June, 2015. Matt lives in San Diego with his Yellow Labrador, Angus where he is currently working on the third Rick Cahill crime novel.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

My Favorite Books of the Past Year

by Scott Adlerberg

It's always fun to share thoughts on favorite books, so here are the ones I read the past year and liked the most (whether they were published in 2015 or not).  In no particular order:

The Dead Mountaineers Inn, The Brothers Strugatsky

Russian masters of science fiction The Brothers Strugatsky published this book in 1970, perhaps to get something past the Soviet censors without the struggles they usually encountered.  It's subtitled One More Last Rite for the Detective Genre, and it is in fact a send-up of the classic locked-room, isolated country house murder mystery.  At the same time, it's a terrific whodunnit in its own right, though not without lots of weirdness as you'd only expect from the Strugatsky boys.  Few writers I've encountered can be so silly, thought-provoking, and serious at the same time.  As I write this, I'm actually two thirds way through the novel, and I don't know whether the solution will be rationally based or have a sci-fi tinged solution.  Doesn't matter. Makes my favorite list already for sheer enjoyment.  However the brothers end it, I'm confident the resolution will be satisfying.  Kudos to Melville House for recently putting this out.  This is the book's first appearance in English translation.

The Conjure-Man Dies, Rudolph Fisher

How I never heard till a couple months ago of this influential 1932 novel by Harlem Renaissance writer Rudolph Fisher, I'll never know, but I'm glad I finally discovered it.  Basically, this is the first African-American detective novel ever published in the United States. All the characters are black, and the murder victim is an African-born fortune teller with a Harvard education.  New York Police Detective Perry Dart and his friend, Doctor John Archer, investigate - with help from various neighborhood people.  Witty, twisty, and readable - a huge influence on Chester Himes and the Harlem detective novels he would later write.

Blind Man with a Pistol, Chester Himes

And speaking of Chester Himes, here's one I read for the first time this year, and all I can say  Blind Man with a Pistol is the 8th and last completed of his Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson books, and one comes away from reading it realizing Himes was only becoming more and more furious with age. Chaos rules in this novel, a blistering almost absurdist work where violence is rampant and good luck if anything, from minor crimes to murder, gets solved.  The final images of total communication breakdown and a blind man firing a gun in an enclosed space are haunting. Remarkably relevant to today's world.

The Hare, Cesar Aira

One of my favorite living writers, the great Argentinian Cesar Aira is an eccentric master of the absurd.  The Hare is his take on a historical novel, sort of, as it follows Clarke, a 19th century English naturalist, as he explores the pampas and tries to find a legendary hare that supposedly can fly.  Meanwhile, he gets caught up between warring Indian nations...This book is funny and fast-paced, philosophical, a ridiculous adventure story, and gorgeously written (when Aira chooses to go that route, like when he's describing the landscape). I've read three of Aira's books now (the others being The Literary Conference and An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter) and loved each one. Luckily, he's written 50 or 60 other books (all short - he doesn't write epics), and is still going strong at 66 years old.

Little Apple, Leo Perutz

One of the great forgotten writers, Leo Perutz lived from 1882 to 1957.  He was born in Prague and died in an Austrian spa town, and he's been praised by no less than Jorge Borges, Italo Calvino, Graham Greene, and Ian Fleming.  He's a marvelous storyteller who specializes in historical tales that often have a whiff of the fantastic. Little Apple (1928) is a compelling tale set just after World War I about an Austrian soldier who was tortured in a Russian prison camp during the Great War.  When released, he goes back to Vienna and his family.  But he's so bent on avenging himself on the prison camp's commander for the pain the man inflicted that he can't settle back into normal life and goes back to Russia to find and kill his enemy. The search is arduous, though, because Russia is in the midst of a Civil War.  Pure propulsive narrative, with great characters, from start to finish.

House of Psychotic Women, Kier-La Janisse

I actually started this in late 2014 and worked my way through it slowly. But how to describe the book? Maybe in the author's own words. She calls it An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neuroses in Horror and Exploitation Films.  Get the picture?  It's partly a memoir, partly a study of, well, the depiction of female neuroses in...It's also a meditation on the beauty and necessity of horror films, with some of the most insightful writing on gender in the genre I've ever come across.  House of Psychotic Women is a thorny work, and Kier-La Janisse doesn't mince words about the ups and downs she's taken through life.  Here's self-examination via the other in horror and exploitation films with a vengeance.  You'll discover loads of films you didn't know before, and you'll want to re-watch films you thought you understood.

Death Don't Have No Mercy, William Boyle

Eight stories about men who drink too much, have damaged souls, and whose lives, for all purposes, may already be over. None of the main characters is all that old - we're talking about men in their twenties and early thirties - but they've already made a lot of bad choices and they continue to make bad choices. Still, you'll be hard-pressed to encounter more entertaining, compelling fiction about sad people than the fiction you'll find here. Boyle has a style of elegant simplicity that makes for compulsive reading, and his way of evoking place, Brooklyn around Coney Island, upstate New York, a hotel room in Montreal, is impeccable. Environment almost is a separate character in these stories, and you just sink into each specific place as events unfold and lives unravel.  

Picnic at Hanging Rock, Joan Lindsay

While reading, I spent a lot of time in the past this year. Here's another historical novel. If you know the movie, you know the novel's story. For years I'd wanted to catch up with the book, and doing so confirmed how closely Peter Weir's movie follows it.  Still, knowing how everything plays out didn't diminish my pleasure. Smoothly constructed, rich in atmosphere and foreboding, Picnic at Hanging Rock has got to be one of the few books containing mystery that ends without providing answers yet leaves the reader satisfied. Actually, it contains mysteries within mysteries within mysteries.  It's a superb feat of literary tantalization.

Zero Saints, Gabino Iglesias

There's plenty about this book in the previous two posts I did here.  Suffice it to's good.

Safe Inside the Violence by Chris Irvin

Chris Irvin focuses on the unnoticed people in life.  The ones who grind life out with great resolve but little chance of getting recognition.  He's a calm and lucid chronicler of people battling social forces they had no part in creating, and he has a way of telling quiet stories that take unexpected turns.  Safe Inside the Violence is a strong collection that's billed as crime stories, but it really shouldn't be pigeonholed.  Crime plays a part, but conventional tropes do not.  These are closely observed character studies that smolder with tension.  In each story, you get the sense of a writer in full command of his material.

The Blind Alley by Jake Hinkson

Jake Hinkson's idiosyncratic look at film noir is a must for noir buffs and general film lovers alike.  Few people can match him for a combination of knowledge and readability. I've written about this book in depth elsewhere, so I won't repeat myself here, but I'll just say that this is one volume that now has a spot to stay in my film book library.

Some old books, some new books.  What else is new?  There's always that tension between the desire to read past authors and the pull to read contemporary authors. There are old books you want to explore and the new books you want to jump right into. I assume most everyone grapples with this problem? Anyway, I expect the same pleasant inner tension will be there next year.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Keep Your Eye On The Prize

by Kristi Belcamino

I'm sure I'm not the only writer who is occasionally crippled by self-doubt.

There are so many ways to compare yourself to other writers and realize you come up short.

Just to name a few: Sales. Advances. Best of Lists. Bestseller Lists. Awards.

All of these are great ways to boost your ego when you are on the receiving end.

Or to be crushed when you aren't.

And ironically—or not—I have to remind myself of something that I am teaching my two young daughters: There will always be someone in life who is smarter, better at soccer, prettier, has a more beautiful singing voice and so on.

In my case, there will always, always be other writers who are more talented, who sell better, who get more marketing money, who are more loved, who get better advances, and so on, ad infinitum.

This is that time of year when you watch all your colleagues and peers being lauded for their talents and occasionally, if you are really lucky—Bless you, Alex Segura—your own book might make one of these lists and you are filled with giddy gratefulness.

But most of the time, for the vast majority of us, we won't make these lists.

That's when you need to remind yourself, "Keep your eye on the prize."

Last year, for the first five months of the year, I watched all my debut author colleagues get nominated for best first novel awards one after the other.

Then miracle of miracles, I was nominated. But I didn't win. And surprise, surprise, all was still right in the world. In fact, I teared up with happiness when my pal, Lori, nabbed The Anthony because she was so damn happy up at that podium.

And I told myself, "Keep your eye on the prize."

Earlier this month, for the first time ever, I had a small, very small, shot at making the USA Today Bestseller list. My publisher had put one of my books on a special promotion and sales skyrocketed. But not quite high enough. But for a few days, I held out hope.

And when I didn't make that list, I reminded myself, "Keep your eye on the prize."

The moral of the story is that comparing yourself to other writers can be deadly (or at least unproductive), so remember to keep your eye on the prize.

But what is the prize, you ask?

The PRIZE is your career.

The way to win the prize? Readers. And not just any old readers— readers who want to read your next book.

That is the prize.