Saturday, December 19, 2015

2015: A Personal Summation

Scott D. Parker

I had a two goals in 2015: write fiction every single day and publish one book.

Regarding the first, I’m batting 1.000. I have written some sort of fiction every day this year. Some days, I manage 8,000 words (back in August when I traveled to San Antonio and I wrote the entire 4-hour trip). Other days I managed 12. But the point was I did it: when I was tired, when I didn’t truly feel like it, etc. It’s fascinating that a habit can become so ingrained that I look forward to the writing so much that it’s no longer work.

Regarding the second, I’m also batting 1.000. Back in February, I published WADING INTO WAR, my first book. It was a novella that I had completed back in 2013. Then, I upped the ante by publishing a second novel, THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES, in May. Two books in a year! In addition to the two books, I published 3 western short stories under the Triple Action Western imprint. Coupled with that were two anthologies James Reasoner’s Rough Edges Press published—WEIRD MENACE and TALES FROM THE OTHERVERSE—in which I had a story each. Altogether, that was 2 books and 5 short stories.

All while holding down a day job.

The more 2015 went on, the more I realized that a person who wants to be a writer but also works a non-writing day job can write and publish stories. It’s doable. I hesitate to use the word ‘easy’ but it’s very straightforward. The only obstacle, really, is the will to do the work. If you’re willing, you can write and publish in this day and age.

And it’s incredibly liberating!

If 2013 got me back on the writing wagon and 2014 maintained it, 2015 was the year I wrote and published material. It was Year One of my second career. And its so much fun. It’s also a lot of work, but it’s fun work, work that no longer seems like work.

It’s a good place to be. I look forward to 2016 when I up the ante yet again.

On behalf of all of us here at DoSomeDamage, we wish you the happiest of holidays and we’ll see you in the new year.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Alabama Worley, You're So Cool

By Renee Asher Pickup 

I never got into romantic comedies. I can't suspend my disbelief, and half the time the woman "finding love" would be the bitch in a story told to you by your friends: "So then, she LEAVES HIM AT THE ALTAR and runs off with her high school boyfriend! Can you fucking believe that?"

But I do love a good love story.

Not many love stories are written with people like me in mind. Maybe my father over-romanticized Bonnie & Clyde when I was a kid, or maybe there is just something fundamentally wrong with the part of my brain that processes traditional love stories, but when I say "a good love story" I mean a story like True Romance.

There are a hundred different ways to approach explaining my love for this film, and how heavily it influenced what I consider "a good love story" and "a good crime movie" and "a good performance by Christopher Walken", but I want to focus on the real badass in this film:

Alabama Worley.

Look, Clarence is a sweet guy. Bama didn't choose poorly, even if marrying a guy on the first date is ABSOLUTELY INSANE. But the facts are the facts - without Bama, Clarence would have been dead three to five times in the course of the film. This movie could have been about a hooker with a heart of gold, but Tarantino and Tony Scott didn't take the easy way with any of the characters.

Arquette plays Alabama with a sweet sort of naivety that tricks the viewer into thinking she needs saving, but when push comes to shove - don't fuck with Bama. I don't know if Arquette going head to head with Gandolfini is the best fight scene I've ever seen - but I know that if you didn't fall in love with Alabama Worley the moment she starts laughing at him and flips him off you don't have a soul.

It's easy to forget that Alabama was already in a bad situation when she met Clarence. Whatever lead her to Drexl didn't take the childlike innocence out of her, but it definitely hardened her in ways we don't immediately see. She sees a pile of coke and her brand new husband and thinks "sure, let's do this!" You might even believe she just drifts into whatever life throws at her, hoping for the best, until you realize this woman actually laughed her way through a brutal beatdown and came out on top. Then, she doesn't run scared or go running to Clarence with second thoughts - she puts on her Elvis shades and gets down to business.

I have a real hard time with happy endings, I really do. The darker and ending, the better I like it. If this film had ended the way Tarantino originally wrote it, I wouldn't have minded one bit. But you can't help but be happy that Tony Scott changed it at the last minute (he really didn't decide to let Clarence live until midway through shooting the movie). I will go as far as to say, if it had ended with Alabama alone, driving away with the money, it would have been a killer movie, but it would have lost it's ranking as a "love story."

Regardless, Bama earned that ride into the sunset. She was hot on her feet and, as usual, took care of business.

Bullets are flying, Clarence is shot, no one is getting out alive. She doesn't run. She doesn't go somewhere to hide and cry. She gets the money, gets her man, and gets the hell out of Dodge. Nothing stops Alabama. Nothing throws her off her game.

She's so cool.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Dave White talks BAD BEAT with Rob Hart and Alex Segura

By Alex Segura

What happens when you get two crime writers talking about comic books? They start brainstorming crossovers of their own. At least that’s what happened earlier this year when I got a bite with fellow novelist (and Polis Books author) Rob Hart. Aside from being friends, we were also fans of each other’s work. I dug Rob’s debut Ash McKenna novel, New Yorked, and Rob said a few nice things about my first Pete Fernandez book, Silent City.

The idea seemed almost too good to be true: a story that featured both our series stars, set before both debuts and timed to hit in advance of the Polis reissue of Silent City and Rob’s second Ash novel, City of Rose. We ran the idea by Polis head honcho Jason Pinter and we were set. The theoretical story would also feature teases for both Silent City and New Yorked, serving as a teaser trailer for our debuts.

Now we just had to write the damn thing. A little crime caper that would eventually become Bad Beat.

Collaboration is always where things get interesting. Everyone, in theory, likes the idea of working with another creative person. But the fact is, writing is a solitary and personal thing, at least when it comes to novels and prose. Luckily, Rob and I both come from a journalistic background. I’ve also written a bunch of comics - we were used to getting feedback and adapting to hit a larger goal. We’re also both kind of workaholics. The ideas flowed easily and the writing happened fast, creating a final product that was unique and gave a fair share of screen time to both Ash and Pete, allowing readers a peek into their lives before New Yorked and Silent City. Most importantly, aside from making the work good, was that the story counted - it’s an essential and important chapter in Ash and Pete’s lives - and made for a tasty appetizer to fans that might be interested in reading their ongoing adventures.

Bad Beat is a dark, dirty short pulled from the New Jersey gutters that features backroom deals, old friends, kidnapping and the dark side of college football - all told through the prism of Ash and Pete’s first meeting. I guess “first” implies there’ll be more…

We wrangled fellow Polis author Dave White (pre-order An Empty Hell!) to serve as DSD’s own James Lipton for a quick interview with Rob and I. Hope you enjoy.

Dave: So, how did the idea for Bad Beat come around?

Alex: It was pretty organic. Rob and I had dinner and were talking shop, which veered into comic books. We both grew up reading comics and I work in the industry, too. We were going on about how cool crossovers were, and we wondered aloud why that didn't happen much with mysteries. Then we started theorizing about having our characters interact and it grew from there. We pitched Jason Pinter, our publisher at Polis Books, on the idea and away we went.

Rob: I sort of assumed it wouldn't happen! Alex and I are both pretty busy with our day jobs, and most things sound good over a couple of drinks (I'm sure I had a couple of drinks). But it turned out, we're pretty simpatico on a lot of things, in terms of process, and keeping our egos in check. That helped keep things moving.

Having already read Silent City and New Yorked, it strikes me that Ash McKenna and Pete Fernandez are very different protagonists.  Did their differences help or hinder the story coming together?

Rob: The difference between Ash and Pete is what makes it work. If they were too similar, there wouldn't be anything for them to do. It'd be two tough guys posturing the whole time, or two quieter guys unwilling to make a bold move. Ash likes to hit things. Pete likes to think things through. They compliment each other well.

Alex: I think it helped. They provide contrast to each other. We'll get into the timeline of it all later, but when you see Pete in this story, he's very different. Kind of proto-Pete in relation to Silent City and its sequel, Down the Darkest Street. So, having Ash, who's more of a bruiser and less emo than Pete really helped propel the story, and hopefully it worked the other way, too. I had a fun time writing Ash - and it really did have the same feel as those older Marvel comics, where the heroes meet, disagree/fight, then join forces against a common enemy. Plus football.

Where in the chronology of your two books does Bad Beat come into play?  Was it more difficult getting into your characters' mindsets at that point in their lives?

Alex: The story happens before our first novels - Silent City for me, New Yorked for Rob. So, it serves as a prequel. You meet Pete before he moves back to Miami - and you get a sense for how bad things have gotten for him.

I liked zooming out a bit and writing an earlier version of Pete - I wrote a short story that ran in Crimespree Magazine called "Quarters for the Meter" that happened shortly after Pete returned, involving Pete, his best friend Mike and a robbery, but it was fun to really explore the world he lived in prior to Silent City. I felt like there was a lot of room to play that I hadn't expected.

Rob: Writing Ash before New Yorked was fun. Because New Yorked was about him accepting things about himself--he needed to grow up, he needed to be less of an idiot. So I got to go back to him as an immature idiot, which was a good bit of fun.

Rob, in the announcement interview on LitReactor, you talked a bit about having concerns with third person, which you eventually overcame. Were there any moments where you two really had to discuss and compromise on a story point?  How did you deal with it?

Rob: I don't think we had any big objections. We're both former journalists, so we're both used to getting edited. I think early on we promised each other there'd be no egos--the story has to win. A few times we had to look at whether something was working, but we were never far from a solution.

Alex: The only disagreement I remember was so minor it’s not really even worth a mention. The whole process was painless, which I didn’t expect - not because it was Rob, but because collaborating is like being roommates with someone, in a weird way - you get a peek under the hood that you wouldn’t normally get as friends or colleagues. But it was totally fine, and elevated both of us a bit, I think.

Both of you really get into a strong sense of place in your books.  Is the setting in Bad Beat different for either of you?  Was switching locales tricky?  

Alex: It definitely involved more research. But even writing about Miami, I find I have to double-check stuff to make sure I'm not completely off, or writing from memories that are no longer relevant. The fact that we were writing a story set in Jersey, near Rutgers, makes me wonder if Jackson Donne was around at all. Sequel, perhaps?

Rob: I had fun writing about Jersey because Jersey is the worst and it was important for me to convey that. I hope I did!

Okay, lightning round.  Rob, your second Ash McKenna book is City of Rose, and Alex, you have two books out in the next few months in Silent City and Down the Darkest Street.  Give me the elevator pitches for both, and how (if at all) they tie into Bad Beat.

Alex: In Silent City, we meet down-on-his-luck journalist Pete Fernandez. His fiancé’s ditched him, his father's died and he's on the brink of unemployment. He's also drinking himself sick. When a colleague asks him to help find his missing daughter, Pete's dragged into a dark, unexplored corner of the Miami underworld that involves an urban legend known as the Silent Death - one that turns out to be much deadlier than anyone anticipated. Down the Darkest Street jumps forward, and we find Pete trying to get his life in order after the tragic events of Silent City. But just as Pete starts to create some semblance of an existence together, he finds himself forced to investigate a series of grisly murders - pitting Pete against true darkness when he's most vulnerable. Bad Beat really gets the ball rolling for both of these books and serves as a nice primer for both characters, I think. It's really smart marketing by Polis - you can pick up the story and then read the first two chapters of Silent City and New Yorked - a perfect teaser to get tapped into these two PI series.

Rob: In City of Rose, Ash has moved to Portland. He's working as a bouncer in a vegan strip club. One of the dancers tries to hire him--her daughter has gone missing. He refuses to take the job, because he's in a place where he's trying to avoid his past habits. Later that evening a guy in a chicken mask throws him in a trunk, holds a gun to his head, and tells him to stay away from the girls. That just serves to piss him off. So he takes the job and then things get bad. Because it's Ash, and he's not nearly as clever as he thinks he is.

He does meet with a journalist and I was going to work in a joke about Pete and like a dummy I forgot and it's already gone to press. Sorry, Alex. :(

Alex: Dammit, Rob. I did manage to tweak something in Silent City to reference Ash - so there’s that.

Please write a 70,000 word essay on how awesome Dave White is.

Alex: No. But Dave, lemme ask you - if you could cross Jackson Donne with any other writer's protagonist, who would it be?

Rob: Yeah. Just don't say Bryon. No one needs that.

I always thought Donne would get a lot out of a long sit down with Spenser.  Kind of a "Shut up and figure out your shit" talk from an east coast master.  As a more contemporary team-up?  Donne would fall right in line with Todd Robinson's Boo and Junior, who'd essentially run roughshod over Donne so he'd have no choice but to get caught up in whatever hi jinx they'd gotten themselves into this time.  Donne follows and then tries to catch up and take the lead at the end.

Alex: Dude - I was totally setting you up to say Ash and Pete. Sigh.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Josh Stallings - The Young Americans Interview

By Holly West

If you haven't heard me singing Josh Stallings' praises, then clearly, you haven't been listening. He's one of my favorite people and is truly one of my greatest allies in the writing biz. His new book, YOUNG AMERICANS, is an entertaining romp through the 1970s world of glitter rock and stars a former petty thief named Sam who must return to her crime-committing roots when her new boyfriend double-crosses her boss at the strip club she's now dancing at to make ends meet. To pay him off, she plans a heist with her old crew. They're a group of engaging misfits on the verge of adulthood, looking into the abyss and not sure if they're ready to make the leap. Why not knock off a popular San Francisco disco on New Year's Eve? It beats growing up.

I always enjoy my conversations with Josh and thought you would, too. There's some wisdom here, folks. You'll want to take heed. This is my last post of 2015 and I can't think of a better person to spend it with.

HW: YOUNG AMERICANS is a departure from your Moses McGuire series and somewhat of a shift in sub-genre, but the writing is pure Josh Stallings: unflinching, unapologetic, and painfully authentic. Judging from your memoir, ALL THE WILD CHILDREN, there are also more than a few autobiographical elements. Tell us a little bit about the novel and why you chose to write it.

JS: In some ways it’s a classic heist novel, in others, a 1970’s coming of age novel. What it ain’t is hard boiled. The Moses trilogy dealt with a deepening darkness as I explored the harsh world of sex for sale, and the price we extort from women for the crime of being female. The farther my research, (interviews, first source documents, life) took me the angrier the books got. And that was right and true, rage is the correct response to that world. By the end of ONE MORE BODY, both Moses and I were beat to hell. In between books 2 and 3 I wrote a cathartic but hard memoir. So four books into my career I needed to lighten the hell up. I had no idea what that meant.

I was recouping at my brother Larkin’s home on Martha’s Vineyard. Eating fish stew, drinking coffee, chatting and laughing with our wives. I was walking in the woods, not thinking about writing when three words came to me. Disco. Heist. Novel. It made me smile, and that was good.

I was a glitter (or glam) rock teenager. So if I was going to write about a disco heist it wouldn’t be the macho world of Saturday Night Fever. My girlfriend and I used to go dancing in San Fransisco’s club City, a huge crazy circus of a gay disco. So as I played with the idea I started to see the world slipping into rough focus. I don’t plot a book out, the story comes in pieces from the world and the characters. For the FEEDING KATE anthology, I wrote a 6,600 word short story version of YOUNG AMERICANS. It was a test case, I needed to see if it would keep my interest for over a year of writing. This is the first time I’ve done this, but it was a proof of concept that convinced me to go forward.

This novel is dedicated to Tad Williams, my running mate from those days. Tad called YOUNG AMERICANS “a funny, violent cracked mirror of our past.” True. And yet it is fiction. It is a pure lie used to tell truth. But isn’t that what we do as writers?

Tad also said, “You’re like me, a fucking romantic. Half a step away from completely delusional.” And that is also true. I wanted to write a book that has unabashedly and unapologetic romantic moments, ones that didn’t end in guilt, regret or gunfire.

HW: Anyone who has read your books knows you value truth, no matter how brutal it might be. Do you ever feel tempted to pull some of those punches? What keeps you so honest?

JS: As a young man I wrote a couple of low budget screenplays and did some slightly larger script doctor work. Except for the film I directed, the others were all compromises. I wasn’t proud of the work, and I shouldn’t have been. When I started writing fiction I decided regardless of what others thought, I would not lie again. I feel less dirty that way.

I tried once to soften a scene in the final edit of ALL THE WILD CHILDREN. I had had a painful dust up with my mother over the book, and I let that conflict influence me. Erika, my wife, first reader, co-editor and partner in crime, blasted me for changing it. We both felt the book needed to be true to the me who wrote the first draft. She keeps me honest. I can’t want to make my mother, or my wife, or an agent approve of me through my writing. That will guarantee crap. My voice as an author can’t survive me trying to bullshit. The truth is all I have. I have heard from several readers that the memoir is their story, the facts are different, but the essential truths match their lives.

HW: You’re a film editor by trade—specifically, movie trailers, which require you to distill the plot of a given film to a minute or two, highlight key scenes and in general, tempt audiences to flock to see the movie. Are any of these skills useful in plotting your novels?

JS: Trailers have influenced my sense of pace and rhythm. Editing is story telling. I cut a film in Russia, at Mosfilm, the birthplace of editing theory. Vsevolod Pudovkin had revolutionary ideas about structure. While his cohorts used montage to show a bigger picture of an event, Pudovkin discovered that the order of shots changed their meaning. A shot of a kitten, cut to a man looking, and the viewer will imbue the actor with a warm feeling. Our brains search for connections. This is why we don’t need to handhold viewers or readers. Put the sequence in the right order and you don’t need to tell them how to feel about it. Fuck, this makes me sound smart and methodical. I know all this crap, but when I write I just type the damn story.

HW: Now for some questions about the publishing biz. Like the Moses McGuire novels, you chose to self-publish YOUNG AMERICANS, but this time you did a few things differently, like hiring a publicist. What have you learned from enlisting the help of professionals—particularly in the area of PR/Marketing—that you wish you’d have known when you published your earlier books?

JS: YOUNG AMERICANS is a bigger, more broadly appealing book than my earlier work. I knew I was going to need help to get it to the right reviewers and get noticed in the general mystery community. I got lucky that Erin Mitchell believed in the book enough to come on board to handle publicity and so much more. She has taught me really important lessons, like if it takes more than one click to get somewhere on a web site people leave. Attention spans are short, so before any marketing happens you need to be sure readers have a place to click. Erin set up pre-sales on Amazon. I’m sold in a couple of great bookstores, with Erin we’re trying to expand that.

The NY Times isn’t ready to start reviewing indie writers. Oprah isn’t putting us on her book list. Hell, as it stands right now I’m not eligible to join Mystery Writers of America, regardless of how many books I sell, or awards I’m nominated for. So if I want to compete, I need to get professionals to help.

HW: Having self-published several books, you likely have some tips for those of us who haven’t yet done it. Care to share a few?

JS: Readers deserve your best possible book, so hire a great editor. Elizabeth A. White gets my facts straight and the story clean. Between her and Erika, they eradicate most of my dyslexia.

Get a professional to design your print and ebooks. Yes, a lot of programs can spit out an ebook, but they are clunky and inelegant. I use Jaye Manus. She thinks about book design the way I think about prose.

People judge books by their covers. The Moses books I designed myself. I knew how I wanted them to look. They were based on the covers of poet Richard Brautigan’s books. I also wanted the covers to show a progression. BEAUTIFUL, NAKED & DEAD is a woman’s faceless, near naked body. OUT THERE BAD is a fully dressed woman with her head down, no face. ONE MORE BODY is a woman aiming a gun at the camera, staring us down, taking no shit. Eric Beetner designed the cover for ALL THE WILD CHILDREN, he’s brilliant.

For YOUNG AMERICANS I knew I needed a totally new look and feel. I used Deviant Art and a couple of other sites to look for an artist. I had to convince Chungkong to do a book cover, but damn I’m glad I did.

The last thing is the title. The first Moses book was originally titled PRICE OF LOVE, before book editor/writer Deborah Beale, said unless it is a romance novel, change the title. Now I always write up five or six titles and send them to my trusted writers and readers for feed back.

HW: What’s next for you?

JS: My next book is at least a year out. It’s a multi-generational tale about a family of East LA cops. My short story in PROTECTORS 2: HEROES anthology, "When the Hammer Comes Down," is part of the new book’s world. "As is The Ledge," a piece I wrote for Jay Stringer’s upcoming anthology of stories based on songs by the Replacements. I am as proud of those two short stories as anything I’ve ever written. Beyond that, I need to put my head down and pound those keys.

HW: One last thing. What are you reading now?

JS: I'm alternating between the fucking amazing HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN by James Lee Burke and the ridiculously wicked, Thuglit presents: CRUEL YULE.


Josh Stallings is the author of YOUNG AMERICANS, the Anthony Award nominated memoir, ALL THE WILD CHILDREN and the multiple award winning Moses McGuire crime novels. His short fiction has appeared in Beat to a Pulp, Protectors Anthologies 1 & 2, Blood and Tacos, Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey and more. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Erika, two dogs and a cat named Riddle. 


I'll be back on January 6, 2016. Wishing all of you a happy holiday season.

~ Holly

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Detective's Eye, the Criminal's Eye

by Scott Adlerberg

When you write a crime story, do you write it from the detective’s point of view or the criminal’s? It’s a question worth asking because, speaking broadly, most crime fiction tends to be told from one of these two perspectives. You get the bulk of the story from the police/detective/law enforcement side or from the transgressor’s side. There are myriad variations on these frames of reference, but let's face it, most crime writers tack one way or the other. In police procedurals, private eye novels, cozies, and classically styled detective stories, the general thrust of the story leans toward order and rationality. There may be moral complexity and violence, there may be difficult choices for the investigator to make, and in this day and age, endings may not be as tidy as they once were. Still, there is a basic sense that to mystery and disruption, at least a modicum of closure and balance will be restored to the world. In noir fiction, or any crime fiction emphasizing the criminal's side, you get the opposite. Disorder and irrationality rule the day, and there's no guarantee that anything will be resolved or orderly when the story wraps up. Detective-eye fiction leaves the reader comforted to some extent (a mystery has been solved, a problem explained, a wrongdoer caught, etc); criminal-eye fiction aims to leave the reader unsettled and disturbed. Process and intellect triumph in detective-eye fiction. Chaos and malignancy trump reason in criminal-eye fiction.

For whatever reason, most crime writers favor one of these two approaches.  Most write either type a majority of the time.  I guess which type a writer prefers says something about their psychology and their outlook on the world, but there are some writers who do both types and do them equally well. They can alternate between the detective eye and the criminal eye. Neither viewpoint seems foreign to them. What I want to do here is point out a few writers I've read who excel in this regard; they are writers I marvel at for their ability to inhabit entirely different writing personas depending on what they want to depict.

To start with: Edgar Allan Poe

Old E.A. Poe.  You have to start with this bipolar individual. On the one hand, you have the murderous I-narrators of “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat”; on the other, C. Auguste Dupin, the model for so many later detectives. And Poe's utterly convincing whether presenting his criminal madmen or the logic-machine Dupin. The crime tales move from instability to utter derangement; the mysteries like “The Purloined Letter” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue” go from bafflement and terror to lucid explanation. The mind of Poe is a never-ending source of fascination, at least to me, and it’s partly because he was able to access such completely different parts of his brain to write his various tales.

Georges Simenon

One of the most prolific authors who ever lived, Georges Simenon gave us, of course, Inspector Maigret. The Paris-based policeman has a stable home life with his devoted wife, and he’s known for his steadfast patience when pursuing a case. Unlike Dupin and many other detectives, he works more from intuition than sheer logic. He soaks up atmosphere at a crime scene and even mingles with suspects. He hangs out in the milieu the victim inhabited, embedding himself in that specific world. For Maigret, understanding the psychology behind a crime, the motives involved, is quite important. As such, he often wades through the darkest of waters. He finds himself lost. But inevitably he makes a connection that gives him insight, and that insight leads him to a solution.  In each, through the inspector, you get a glimpse into human desperation and darkness, but by the story’s conclusion, the culprit has been captured or killed and the reasons behind the malevolent actions elucidated. Best of all, Maigret can return to his comfortable Parisian flat, where Madame Maigret has made a great meal and he can smoke his pipe in peace.

The other Georges Simenon writes roman durs (hard novels). These are explicitly psychological novels that are quite serious and dark in tone. While Simenon said that he wrote the Maigret books as a way to relax, the roman durs demanded total concentration from him. All are short, no more than 200 pages, and intense. They dissect the routines of daily existence with an understanding of the difficulty and pain people go through merely to carry on each day. In these books, Simenon burrows deeply into people with psychological hang-ups and problems, and often he studies the sticky, tangled relationships between men and women. Crimes happen in these books, lots of them, and when they do, the focus is on the people who committed them and why they committed them. While the Maigret books are perennially popular, the roman durs are the books that have made Simenon’s literary reputation. I haven’t read all of them, but the ones I have read – November, The Mad Hatter’s Phantoms, The Clockmaker, Red Lights, Betty – are excellent. He wrote a bunch of others, and for those who are interested in seeking them out, I recommend the reissues from the NY Review of Books Classics imprint.

Ruth Rendell.

British writer Ruth Rendell followed no less than three strands of crime during her career.  The detective-eye side of her writes procedurals featuring her policeman, Chief Inspector Wexford.  In the fictional town of Kingsmarkham, he and his main assistant, Detective Mike Burden, solve all manner of cases.  Wexford is married and has two daughters, and as the series progresses, we get as clear a sense of his family life as we do the cases he investigates. There is nothing cozy about these books - they confront horrible deeds and deep-rooted social ills - but in each one, Wexford and his colleagues succeed.  They tie up their cases.  In classical fashion, a feeling of order, however temporary, prevails.  Rendell wrote 24 Wexfords, and the quality of the series is very high. Favorites of mine from the ones I read: Kissing the Gunner's Daughter and Simisola.

Rendell’s standalone novels are something else entirely. She wrote 28 of these, and in them, abnormal psychology reins. Rendell is an absolute master at portraying damaged people from inside out, people who are social misfits, suffer from mental illness and have experienced every conceivable sort of disadvantage. Obsession in various guises is a key ingredient in these books, as is the difficulty of human communication. Rendell is cool in her approach, yet understanding of nearly everyone, victims and victimizers alike, and it is with these psychological thrillers that Rendell has taken the whydunit and worked inventive wonders with it.

After writing these books for twenty years (alternating them with the Wexford mysteries), Rendell in 1986 started a third line of books under the name Barbara Vine. The Vine novels (there are 14 of these) tend to be longer and more leisurely paced than the Rendell standalones, but in the Vine books also, the emphasis is on psychology and dysfunctional human interaction, with particular attention devoted to families and their secrets. Just about no psychological depth is too deep for Rendell/Vine to probe, and if I had to name a few must-reads among these, I’d name The Crocodile BirdA Dark-Adapted EyeA Sight for Sore Eyes, and A Fatal Inversion

Poe, Simenon, Rendell - three particular favorites of mine who are equally at home looking at things from the detective's vantage point or the criminal's.  It's a great ability to have.  Crime writing switch hitting, in effect.  

Who are some writers you like who switch from book to book between the detective's eye and the criminal's eye?

Monday, December 14, 2015

New to me authors - 2015

I like discovering new to me authors. This may mean taking a chance on a debut book, or finally getting around to reading an author I'd long been aware of, or reading an author whose work I'd known about sooner.

This year almost half of the books that I read were by new to me authors. In no particular order, here they are:

  • Yuri Herrera
  • Iain Ryan
  • Kat Clay
  • Adam Howe
  • Paul Magrs
  • Jonathan Ashley
  • Colin Winnette
  • Timothy Friend
  • William Giraldi
  • Clifford Jackman
  • H. A. DeRosso
  • Farel Dalrymple
  • Ryan W. Bradley
  • Marlon James
  • John Darnielle
  • Brian Turner
  • William Cunningham
  • Kenneth Mark Hoover
  • Andy Adams
  • Eric Shonkwiler
  • Lonesome Wyatt
  • Kirsten Alene
  • Glendon Swarthout
  • Alan Lemay
  • Elmer Kelton
  • Clifton Adams
  • Charles Neider
  • Conrad Richter
  • Eric Norden
  • Lewis B. Patten
  • Charles O Locke

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Dear Diary

by Kristi Belcamino

For as long as I can remember I've kept a journal.

I have a footlocker full of my ramblings that dates back decades.

If I die young, God forbid my family reads them and sees what I've really been thinking this entire time! Ha. Or that my children see just how wild I was in my younger days. It is a private place where I can voice my thoughts at that moment, where I can write about my dreams and inspirations and goals. It is the most secret and sacred space in my life.

Keeping journals over the years also prepared me to write my first book, Blessed are the Dead, in my forties.

I can't imagine being a writer without having journaled my entire life.

Even now, I always have a Moleskine journal in my bag, where I make lists, write down story ideas, keep track of my goals and dreams, and generally bitch about things that piss me off.

When I wrote my YA mystery, CITY OF ANGELS, set in LA during the riots, I drew upon my memories from my journal at that time.

When I look back at old journals, I see that ideas I had about novels ended up in those books without me ever looking back at what I had written.

There is magic in writing things down.

Some bestselling writers believe you should actually journal about what you are going to write about that day before you actually sit down to write.

Do you keep a journal?