Saturday, January 23, 2016

What DC’s Legends of Tomorrow Can Teach Writers

Scott D. Parker

Rip Hunter is on TV.

For those that don’t know who he is, Rip Hunter is a time traveling character from DC Comics who debuted in the 1950s. (1959: thank you Wikipedia.)

He is a deep bench character, one who even this life-long comic book reader wasn’t too familiar with by the time I started reading comics in the mid-1970s.It wasn’t until the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline in 1985 that I even knew his name. I very much remember him from the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon where the writers brought out all the deep bench character to team up with the Dark Knight.

But that’s a cartoon, a mere step away from a comic book. Now, in 2016, Rip Hunter is a character on a live-action TV series, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. The new show is a spin-off of the Arrow and The Flash TV shows. All air on the CW Network. In Legends of Tomorrow, Rip Hunter travels back in time and recruits eight heroes—six actual heroes and two villains—to battle the immortal Vandal Savage. Hawkman and Hawkgirl have their fates tied to Savage wherein he gains immortality each time he kills them. For millennia, the pair get reincarnated and find each other and the cycle repeats. Firestorm (actually two people merged into one figure, for those of y’all counting at home), White Canary, and The Atom round out the heroes. (BTW, he has the best reaction when the twist occurs in episode 1.) Captain Cold and Heatwave are the crooks and scene chewers par excellant. (“And this bunch must somehow form a family…”) Together, they’ll fight in various time periods of the DC universe, enabling other DC characters—still deep benchers—to have a turn in the spotlight. It’s already been announced that non other than Jonah Hex, the bounty hunter from the old west, will be on the show. It's awesome!

So, to recap, there’s actual live-action television show featuring super-heroes fighting an immortal villain…through time. Rip's up there. Far left. For a comic book person, this is a fantastic time to be alive and watching shows like this. For a comic book person, I never thought there’d be a Green Arrow show, a Flash show, and a Supergirl show. But, these latter three are basically well-known, or known enough to launch series.

Not Rip Hunter.

Again, Rip Hunter is on TV. Heck, if you want to get really deep, the villain King Shark—think a huge man with a shark’s head—showed up on an earlier episode of The Flash this year. I’m well-versed in comic lore, but even I had to Google “Flash villain shark man” to get King Shark’s name.

The point I’m trying to make here is this: the folks behind Legends of Tomorrow—Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg, and Phil Klemmer—wanted to make a show where time-traveling super-heroes fight bad guys through time. And they did it. They weren’t afraid to pitch the story. They probably said, “Hey, you know what would be cool? Time-traveling super-heroes!” “Yeah,” another one chimed in, “and we can play in the DC sandbox!”

They were fearless in their love for the show. They had to be, because they sold it. And it’s on the air for everyone to see.

What does this mean for writers and other creatives? If you love something, do what you’re passionate for. Infuse that project with all the joy you can muster. It doesn’t matter if it’s a little out there, a lot wacky, or something weird. Do it, for yourself and for those out in the world that love what you love. They’re out there, but it starts with you.

Write Fearlessly! 

Rip Hunter is on TV.  Is anything impossible?

Friday, January 22, 2016

James Deen, Making A Murderer, and Who We Are Not

Just before Christmas I met a friend for coffee and the conversation turned to the allegations made against porn star James Deen. At home on my computer, I couldn't go thirty seconds without Deen's face staring back at me underneath a headline about the growing number of sexual assault allegations raised against him. People at once condemned him and praised the porn industry for reacting swiftly, and for once, most people were talking about the sexual assault of women in the sex industry as victims who needed to be heard, respected, and see justice.

That seems like such a long time ago.

Where are the headlines now? Where is all this "action" the industry was going to take?

AVN planned a historic panel on consent in the industry, that was to include one of Deen's accusers, but it mysteriously disappeared. Now that the heat is no longer on, and the public's attention has shifted to the latest crime-as-entertainment event (Making A Murderer, obviously) the industry is quiet even as Stoya, Deen's ex-girlfriend and first accuser, contemplates leaving the industry that supposedly did such a great job at responding to her allegations.

I hate to harp on the same topic two weeks in a row, but what good does the public's fascination with true crime do anyone if we run wildly from one crime to another without any follow through? If we can't get a sensational perp-walk and a filmed trial we move on, bloodthirsty for the next big thing. In the meantime, the victims (who are so rarely acknowledged at all) and their families are left in the wake.

When the accused suffers some professional consequences and sees no legal ramifications, when the women making the accusations are swept under the rug just as quickly as they were supported with hashtags, when we simply find other things to care about - what are we saying? Do Some Damage's own Jay Stringer pointed out that although Making A Murderer was happy to use the murder victim Teresa Halbach's photo in their promos, she's missing from the docu-series. Early last year I was asked to cover the Slenderman Stabbing for Dirge Magazine and was surprised to find that the victim was alive. When I mentioned it to people who I knew had followed the case, I found I wasn't alone.

This pattern repeats itself over and over. The only victims that can manage to get any attention at all are the ones who go missing, and they only get attention if they fit certain expectations about their looks, lifestyle, and family life. Once the bodies are found, the attention goes straight to finding the dirtiest, most sensational details. The crazier the better. The more sex involved the better. The more we can get worked up in righteous indignation at the criminal, or at least pat ourselves on the back for being so much smarter - the better. Remembering the fact that real human beings were assaulted, raped, or murdered at their hands takes a lot of joy out of all of that.

I really question what the media is doing in sensationalizing real crime only to push one case aside for another as soon as something more exciting comes along. I question the role of the viewer, and whether the media's presentation of this stuff is the chicken or the egg.

I get that for most people, the allegations against Deen seem distant. When we hear about really horrible stuff, it's natural to form a makeshift security blanket out of the ways we are not like the victims. We are not porn stars, so James Deen will not rape us. We are not men with sordid histories like Steven Avery's, so the police will not frame us for a crime. We don't associate with men like Steven Avery, so if he is a murderer, he won't murder us. We are not overly trusting young girls. We are not desperate single mothers. We are not dumb enough to hitchhike.

We are none of these things, so when the next big crime story comes along, it's all too easy to shift gears and obsess over it like a good TV show.

Except - we are all of these things. Not a single one of us is "above" being the victim of a serious crime. Not a single one of us is better than the media's forgotten victims.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The books I'm looking forward to this year

By Alex Segura

I did this as a combo post last year - meaning, I listed my 2014 besties with my most anticipated for 2015. This year, I figured I'd split them in two. Not sure why, but here we are.

I've read a handful of these already - and they did not let me down. I very much enjoyed the new Ian Rankin, Rob Hart, Dave White and Reed Farrel Coleman novels - definitely check those out.

One note - I tried to include Scott Adlerberg's latest, Graveyard Love, but Riffle wouldn't let me. I've also read that one and loved it. You will, too.

So, here they are. The books I'm most excited about this year, so far. It's gonna be a good  year for books...

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Leveling Up

by Holly West

When my four year old nephew is ready for dessert (which is pretty much always), he asks what he has to do to level up. Usually, it requires eating a few more bites of salad or whatever vegetable is still on his plate. Beat that boss and you can have a cookie.

As a writer, I think about leveling up a lot. Leveling up is a little different from writing the best book you can. Presumably, we all aim for that with every book we write. But how do I get to the next level as a writer? My current WIP, which I'm now revising, isn't leveling up so much as it's breaking free of the historical mysteries I've published so far. I'm proud of this book and I love it, but the next book I write will be a stab at something more ambitious. A "bigger" book, if that makes sense.

In the mean time, I'm always looking for books that represent what leveling up means to me. Simply put, they are books I wish I'd written myself. Books that make me suspect that no matter how long I do this, I'll never reach that story telling level. Bosses I might never beat but, damn it, I'll die trying.

Over the last couple of years, I've read several books that fall into this category. This doesn't necessarily mean that the book is a leveling up for the particular author. It only means that when I read it, I got a sense of the type of book I'd like to write. A book that inspires me to take more chances with my own writing. A book that reminds me why I want to be an author in the first place.

Here they are, in no particular order:

I'm always looking for more leveling up books, so tell me, what books have you read lately that represent leveling up to you?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Three Letter Word Starting with F.

by Scott Adlerberg

A couple nights ago, at a Noir at the Bar in Manhattan, I had a talk after the readings with a crime writer who's written many books, had a strong career, won an Edgar Award for Best Novel (among other awards she's won), and without question has a high reputation.  I asked her what she's currently working on and she told me, a project that sounds fascinating.  Then she asked what's up with me.  I told her I have a new book coming out soon, on February 1st, and that there's a launch party planned at the Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan. 
"Excited?" she asked.
"Yeah," I said. "Very."
"Excited, a little nervous..."

An experienced hand at the book launch thing like her - nothing I had to explain, obviously. 
We kept talking and at some point I told her about my current book, which I'm about halfway through.  I told her the overall premise.  It made her laugh and she said, smiling, "That sounds great." I laughed also, and then she asked a question that came out of left field and completely surprised me, though I had no difficulty answering it.  
She asked, "Are you having fun with it?"
Just to be clear: when I told her what the current book is about and where I am with it, and though she seemed to genuinely like the premise, she did not ask me about any of the following:
1)  Do I have an agent for the book? 
2)  Do I have a contract with a publisher for it?
3)  Do I have any sort of deal with any publisher?
4) How many words I have done in it so far and what I anticipate my final word count will be?
5) Why I write? I mean, as an existential question.

She simply asked, koan like, am I having fun with it? 

It just amazes me how rarely I hear this word, "fun", used by writers in relation to writing.  "Pleasure" and "enjoyment" are two other words that pop out rarely.  I'm not trying to be naive. Everyone wants to make as much money as possible from what they write, and of course some stories you write are stories filled with ugliness and pain that you have to get done to purge your system of them.  You write certain things as a kind of self-exorcism.  These are not stories, books, essays, whatever that are  "fun" to write in the usual sense we mean by fun.

Still, yes, please call me naive.  I still find there's almost nothing that gives me greater excitement than getting that tingle you feel when you hit upon the kernel of a good story idea.  It's like having a thrilling dream.  You have that kernel of an idea in your mind and then you start to develop it, tease it out, play around with it in your thoughts.  The fun that comes with this process - can it be denied?  Then you have to start writing. Okay.  Now the fun involves sweat, anger, near despair,  the acknowledgement of your limitations.  The fun includes realizing you will have to let go of the work at some point, even if it's not perfect. (Of course it's not perfect.  This is writing and you wrote it).  Fair enough.  I'll grant all of these. But the writing process itself, that developing a story from scratch, making something from nothing,  reworking, layering, polishing, living with a story for months and months, waking up every day thinking about it, trying to create a narrative that's a vivid and continuous dream, making yourself laugh as you write, pleasing yourself because every so often you're capable of a halfway decent phrase - I don't know what else to call all this but fun and I'm always happy when I encounter a fellow writer who has no shame expressing the basic concept.  As I see it, when you're working on a story and wrestling with it, playing with it... agents, publishers, contract deals, incessant word counting, the ultimate meaning of why we as a species write - who the fuck cares?  You're enjoying yourself, you're dreaming while awake, you're trying to write the best story you can. For most of the time you're actually writing, does anything else truly matter?

So thanks, experienced pro, for asking me the perfect question when we talked about writing the other night.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Flash Fiction

I've been reading the anthology Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories that was published in 1992. It would appear that editor James Thomas created the term flash fiction with the publication of this book. Not the form, there's a long history of stories of a shorter length, just the term. I'm not aware of an earlier usage.

From the introduction:

Why Flash Fiction, as opposed to Sudden Fiction, which we have featured in two previous books? Answer: We did want to make a distinction between the two types of stories. The stories here are shorter (in terms of "limit") by a full thousand words than the stories in those books, and quantitatively there is a big difference between 1,700 and 750 words.


One of the original ideas for the book was to present stories that could be read without turning a page, assuming that there might be some difference in the way we read stories when we can actually see beginning and end  at the same time. So, envisioning a story on a two-page spread, 750 words seemed about tops for conventional, readable typography. Enthusiastically, we began searching for such stories, and called them "flash" fictions because there would be no enforced pause in the reader's concentration, no break in the field of vision."

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Anticipation: 2016 To Be Read List

By Kristi Belcamino

This is the first year I've kicked off with a TBR list that makes me drool. This is going to be an amazing year of reading and I've already dug in.

I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at Alex Marwood's THE DARKEST SECRET and it is brilliant. I just cracked Nicholas Petrie's THE DRIFTER last night - and I can tell you that if these two books are any indication, this is going to be a stellar year for crime fiction.

Here are the 2016 books I think we will be talking about for years to come: