Saturday, January 16, 2016

Going to "School" in 2016

Scott D. Parker

I'll admit it was a tough week for me. The death of David Bowie sent me into a particular type of sadness one gets when an inspirational figure from one’s youth passes from this earth. There wasn't a day this week that I didn't experience tears or a quavering voice. I'll get over it, I know, as time takes a cigarette and moves on.

What made this week of mourning challenging was the need to continue work on my current story. It's likely gonna be the first Calvin Carter story I release later this year so there's not hard deadline, but I needed to make progress nonetheless. I made some, but it as much as I'd have preferred. Life goes on. So does work.

Speaking of work, I've also been busy putting final changes in the second Benjamin Wade book. I'll probably have a cover and title reveal in the next week or so.

One aspect of publication is the book description, the sales copy that goes on the back of a book or an Amazon page. I don't know about you but sometimes this can give me trouble. For my Triple Action Western short stories, it's a tad easier. The opening scene is usually enough. Couple that with a $1 price tag and I either get the potential reader or I don't.

A novel has, to my mind, slightly different rules. It's supposed to be longer, but not so long to bore the reader. Weird, huh? I recognize I need some help on that regard so I'm going to school for just sales copy. I purchased Dean Wesley Smith’s HOW TO WRITE FICTION SALES COPY. I started reading it, annotating along the way. My goal is to get better at writing sales copy that entices readers to want to read my stories.

Speaking of Dean Wesley Smith, he’s practically a one-man school. He has lots of resources on his website and decades of experience behind it. I’ve been reading his blog for years.I even ordered one of his lectures.

Improving my skills is one of my two major writing goals in 2016. I realize I can produce new words with relative ease now, so I need to focus more on the business side of the ledger.

I know about Smith’s books and workshops. Are there other resources y'all use to improve y'all's business ecumen?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Are you not entertained?

Another day, another series of crime scene photos running across my screen.

The last few weeks I have been asking myself where the line between true crime and entertainment is, or if it exists. When I dive into another project exploring a murder case or murderer, I'm hoping to find something I can use to understand the world we live in, but it often seems like I am in the minority. Whether the latest hot case is a viral "Florida Man" or a high profile murderer being "analysed" on HLN, it seems a lot of people are in the true crime fan club for entertainment.

I get that a lot of the readers of Do Some Damage are crime fiction readers and writers - and it may seem funny to draw the line between getting your kicks reading about a criminal tearing through the world, taking what they want, killing anyone who stands in the way, and drowning it all in whiskey and a real life criminal. The difference for me, is in the crime scene photos.

When I wrote about Ted Bundy earlier this year, I didn't do it as a "TedHead", I didn't do it because I found him fascinating or the details of his horrific crimes particularly salacious. I don't have an ounce of sympathy in my heart for Bundy. But what has stuck with me, on a daily basis, since writing that piece has been Bundy's dead eyes staring back at me from Google Image Search. If you search for Ted Bundy, you will see his dead body. You don't get a choice in the matter. I understand why people get a hit of endorphin seeing a man like Bundy dead - for sure, for certain, dead as the women he victimized.

I do not understand why, when researching the Jodi Arias case, I stumbled upon the graphic autopsy photos of her victim, Travis Alexander, without looking for them.

I can take gore. I love horror films. I love watching Tim Roth bleed to death for two hours in Reservoir Dogs. I don't particularly love looking at photos of a man who was nearly beheaded by his on-again-off-again girlfriend after being shot in the head and stabbed nearly thirty times. I definitely don't love when it happens unexpectedly.

I won't lay down some ridiculous philosophical "are we any better than the murderers?!" question - because, of course we are (unless you're also a murderer, then it's probably a more case by case thing). But I do wonder how we blur the line between real tragedy and passing entertainment. I wonder how the more salacious details of a murder case get more attention than the life of the victim and the loss their loved ones feel.

Crime fiction serves a different purpose. Of course, we find it entertaining. Often, the anti-heroes speak to our more primal side - the part of us that wants to look out for our own interests without regard to the law or what others want or need. Crime fiction can serve to humanize the criminals we tend to demonize, or to cast a light on parts of our society we regularly ignore. I don't know if true crime, in it's most common state, serves any such purpose.

I'm certain that uncensored, freely distributed photos of the bodies of real people doesn't.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Everybody Let's Get Stoned

Guest Post by Jeri Westerson

Holly's note: Welcome to the my first guest post of 2016. It's rather appropriate that it's Jeri Westerson, author of the Crispin Guest medieval mysteries (and several other novels as well) since she's been kind of a mentor to me in my own career. Her latest Guest book comes out on February 1 from Severn House buy you can buy now on Amazon.

I'll let Jeri take it from here.

Medievally speaking, we aren’t talking about what Bob Dylan expected, or, to be more literal, getting a good stoning for some infraction. I am, however, talking about an actual stone, the “Stone of Destiny” to be exact, that features in my newest Crispin Guest Medieval Mystery, THE SILENCE OF STONES.

What is the Stone and why is it important to my medieval tale of murder and mayhem? It happened in the later part of the 13th century. In the time of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace (yes, that William Wallace, but the less said about the movie “Braveheart” the better), when all the heirs to the Scottish throne seemed to die off one after the other. At one time there were fourteen claimants, but the two that had the best or at least loudest claims, were Robert the Bruce and John Baliol.

So they turned to Kind Edward I of England. He was known as Edward Longshanks because he was very tall. Later, he was to be known as “Hammer of the Scots” and not in a good way. They figured Edward was a king and a gracious knight and he could be relied upon to arbitrate. Edward said, “Sure I’ll arbitrate. But if I do this for you, you name me Overlord of Scotland.”

They kind of rolled their eyes, said sure, whatevs. Then the Scots ended up choosing John Baliol anyway.
Edward just wouldn’t seem to go away. He’s like the last guy to leave the party even when the hosts are starting to clean up. So he asked the Scots to provide troops for his war with France and they’re like, “Are you still here?” They’re so pissed off, in fact, that they allied themselves with France.

Now Edward is pissed off. And in 1296 he invaded Scotland and that’s when he captures the Stone of Destiny.

Just what the heck is the Stone of Destiny? The Stone of Scone? Jacob’s Pillow?

In Genesis 28, Jacob travels to Bethel, gets tired, grabs a stone, and uses it as a pillow—as one does—and dreams of a Stairway to Heaven. And it is this Stone that is taken into Egypt by Jacob’s sons. The pharaoh’s daughter, named Scota, where people believed the name of Scotland derived—except it didn’t because it comes from Latin, Scoti which means the “Gaelic regions”—supposedly took the stone into Spain, and then it ended up, somehow in Ireland where Irish kings were crowned. It seemed to be the thing to do to sit on the stone and be crowned. In Ireland, the stone was supposed to groan if you had the right to be king when you sat on it, and stay silent if you didn’t. That would mean a lot of instances where no one was king—until the smart guy hid someone in the bushes to groan at the appropriate time. And if that were the case, then he deserves to be king!

In the 6th century, Fergus Mor Mac Earca, King of the Picts, brought it to Scotland. Cinaed Mac Ailpin, 1st King of the Scots, left it at Scone (pronounced “scoon”) Abbey.

It’s grey sandstone, 27 inches long, 17 inches wide, and 11 inches high. With iron rings embedded on either side.

It’s stolen in my book THE SILENCE OF STONES, but it WAS never stolen…until young Scottish nationalists stole it in 1950. In 1996 Prime Minister John Major returned it to Scotland to appease the Scottish Independence movement. So now the stone lives in Edinburgh Castle with the proviso that it come back to England when a new monarch needs to be crowned. 

By the way, tests done on the stone in 1996 proved that the stone’s provenance was around Scone Abbey. So much for Bethel and Egypt and Spain. 

HOWEVER…did the monks of Scone Abbey really give Edward the real Stone of Destiny or did they pull a fast one? Rumor had it that they hid the Stone and gave Edward a lid to a cesspit, with rings and all. Even Edward wasn't sure and he returned to Scone to demand an answer--but everyone said that, yes, that is the real stone. So is it the REAL stone of destiny? Is the real stone still hidden somewhere in the abbey? No one will ever likely know.

All this talk of the Stone naturally leads us to the Coronation Chair that sits in Westminster Abbey. 

Now this is not a throne. This chair was strictly created for the purpose of crowning the monarch of England. Edward originally commissioned a bronze chair and it was always designed to house the Stone of Destiny beneath the seat as a symbol of England’s supremacy over Scotland. But the bronze chair was going to be too expensive so he settled for wood.

It is believed Edward II, Edward III and Richard II (the king who reigns in the Crispin books) were crowned sitting in this chair, but we aren’t certain. The first monarch we are sure of that sat in the Coronation Chair was Henry Bolingbroke, Henry IV.

There are exceptions as to who sat in the chair for their crown. None of these did so:
Edward V (one of the princes in the Tower). Richard III already took the throne before his nephew could be crowned.
Lady Jane Grey was only pronounced Queen and that only lasted 9 days.
Mary I, Bloody Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter. She sat in the chair but took another for the actual crowning.
Mary II. She ruled with her husband William of Orange, so she let him have the chair and they made another one just for her.
Edward VIII abdicated to marry Wallace Simpson before he could be crowned.
Even Oliver Cromwell used the chair to become Lord Protector after the English Civil War.

Symbols. They can hold people together or divide them. The Stone in the Coronation Chair was designed to cleave England and Scotland together but really only served to divide. The medieval world was chock full of symbols of royalty and nobility, of the divine and the humble. Castles, cathedrals, crowns, badges of office. Crispin’s sword is the symbol not only of his past but—yes—of virility, an important aspect of the medieval man’s place in society. It’s the symbols that fascinate us about this period. That’s what draws us back again and again. And it’s what I hope draws you to the Crispin books.


You can find out more about Jeri, her books, see a series book trailer, use book discussion guides, and see some keen maps by going to Jeri’s website at

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Too Long on the TBR List

By Scott Adlerberg

With the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame voting recently concluded, I've come to realize that there's something of a similarity between how the Hall operates and how I operate with the books on my To Be Read list.  With the Hall, each voting cycle, a group of writers names no more than 10 eligible players whom they consider worthy of Hall of Fame honors.  A player must be named on at least 75% of the voters' ballots to be enshrined.  Players are removed from the ballot if they are named on fewer than 5% of the ballots or have been on the ballot 10 times without being elected.

It's this last sentence in particular that has relevance to my TBR list.

The pattern goes like this:

However I heard about it, I get all excited about a book and buy it.  Amazon and the Advanced Book Exchange are absolute dangers in this regard because they so easily allow you to give in to impulse buying.  No more hearing about a book and then needing to go out and find it in a store. Initial enthusiasm leads to a quick buy leads to the book being delivered to your house leads......oh no, now I have another book to add to the pile and I'll get around to it soon, except that, well, though I still want to read the book, another book has caught my attention in the meantime and I'm reading that. Or: that momentary desire I had to read a science fiction novel has given way in the few days it took for the book to be delivered to a desire to read the new crime novel by my friend so and so. Oh yes, and after that, I have a book to read for a review I promised and then a book to read for a blurb I promised. Weeks pass.  What was the book I ordered again? I'm sure it's great but I'm not quite in the mood for it now.

Months go by, years, and the book I once was dying to read falls off the TBR list completely, its chances of making it to my Hall of Read Books, so to speak, remote to nil.

Except of course I still have that book taking up space in my house.

Well, this year, all that is going to change.  This year I'm going to assign myself specific books I've been meaning to read for years.  Because in truth I want to read these books. I really do. I feel enthusiasm when I imagine starting a TBR list veteran. I open the book, thumb through it....and put it down for something else. Why I do this, I'm not quite sure; it's as if the idea of reading this or that book has become a pleasure unto itself, superseding the actual reading of the book.  Silly, maybe, but there it is.

So my plan: I'll keep it simple.  I'll pick six of the books on the TBR Veterans list and set myself the task of reading them this year.  That's a doable plan - one of the veterans every two months - and it leaves plenty of time to read other stuff.

The six I've chosen as my 2016 homework?

Senselessness by Horacio Moya

Over the holiday break, I spent a couple days down in El Salvador so this is as good a time as any to finally pick up this short novel by El Salvador's premier novelist. To paraphase the Amazon description: "A boozing, sex-obsessed writer finds himself employed by the Catholic Church (an institution he loathes) to proofread a 1,100 page report on the army's massacre and torture of thousands of indigenous villagers a decade earlier, including the testimonies of the survivors."  One or two friends whose reading judgment I find impeccable have recommended this to me. 

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

I saw Tarkovsky's Stalker and recently read two other novels by the great Russian brother pair. No more need be said.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada

Pushkin Vertigo re-issued this last year, and I've never read anything about it that makes it sound less than superb.  Plus, I haven't read a good Japanese mystery or crime novel in way too long.

Chasm by Dorothea Tanning

A surrealist novel by the great painter. It's described as a kind of Gothic that takes place in the American southwest. This has been on my radar longer than any other book here.

The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor by Cameron McCabe

Everything I've read about this 1937 crime novel talks about how innovative it is, so it's about time I see for myself.

Cocaine Nights by J.G. Ballard

I've read a lot of Ballard but nothing for several years now and I'm feeling the need to get back to one of my absolute favorites.  All well-timed since, this year, the movie adaptation of High Rise will be coming out. In any event, Cocaine Nights is among the last novels he wrote and it's something of a mystery story apparently, so I can't wait.

I will check back with reports on these six books after I read each one.

TBR list veterans - this is the year you finally start to get the attention you deserve!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Reading goal: Read 200 short stories

Over on Twitter Gabino Iglesias challenged people to read 200 books in 2016. 167 is my best so I can't make 200. Every year I always have the same goal of reading a short story a day, I always fail to do so. Following on the heels of some earlier DSD posts about 2016 reading goals here is mine: I will read 200 short stories.

To date, I have read 9 short stories.

"Major Burl" by Jack Schaefer from The Collected Stories of Jack Schaefer

"Some You Lose" by Nancy Richler from Jewish Noir

"Perchance to Dream" by Charles Beaumont from Perchance to Dream : Selected Stories

"Black" by Annabel Lyon from Oxygen

"Basements" by David Nickle from Knife Fight and Other Struggles

"Martian Matters" by Rios de la Luz from The Pulse between Dimensions and the Desert

"At the Funeral" by D Harlan Wilson from The Best Bizarro Fiction of the Decade

"Greenhorns" by David James Keaton from Stealing Propeller Hats from the Dead

"The Triumph" by Clarice Lispector from The Complete Stories

9 down, 191 to go. I'll check in from time to time with my progress.

How about you, any reading goals for 2016? Will you join me in the 200 short story challenge?

What's on your plate for 2016?

by Kristi Belcamino

Later this month, when I hand over the Shitty First Draft of my new standalone novel to my writing group, I'm going to finally have one month to let a draft of mine sit and simmer, as Stephen King recommends.

The past three books I've written have been on super strict publisher deadlines (basically six months from conception to submission to my editor). Now that I have the luxury of a month off, I'm debating what to write.

My first book, Blessed are the Dead, was inspired by my dealings with a serial killer while I was a reporter in the Bay Area. For more than a decade I've carted around dozens of reporter's notebooks with my interviews of him in jail or on the phone. In addition, I have a packet of letters he wrote me from prison and jail.

I'm thinking about writing a novella about this time in my reporting career.

My only hesitation is immersing myself in that ugliness again when I finally purged that fucker from my head. But I think it will be good to write the novella and then basically throw away this giant copy paper box, get it out of my basement and out of my house and out of my life.

Besides polishing my standalone and writing this novella, other projects I have planned for this year include writing the fifth Gabriella Giovanni book, "Blessed are the Peacemakers."

So it's going to be a busy year. I can't wait.

What is on your plate for 2016?