Saturday, January 30, 2016

Cover Reveal: All Chickens Must Die: A Benjamin Wade Mystery

Scott D. Parker

A little over a year ago, WADING INTO WAR introduced the world to private investigator Benjamin Wade. He made a cameo in THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES, but now it's time for his second solo mystery.

Back in May 2013, I wrote WADING INTO WAR, Benjamin Wade’s first story. I went on to write a couple of book featuring a completely different set of characters. Late that year, I wanted to return to the world of 1940 and Benjamin Wade. Thus, ALL CHICKENS MUST DIE was born. At the time, I hadn’t written THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES, Gordon Gardner’s first novel. The ending of that book meant that I had to fix up a few things here in CHICKENS. It proved to be a fun challenge.

The title of ALL CHICKENS MUST DIE, however, proved elusive. Very elusive. For the longest time—up to and including when I delivered the manuscript to my editor—I had no title. I can’t even say for sure how the phrase “all chickens must die” entered my head, but it did. And it stuck. With a title that would have been at home on an old 1950s or 1960s pulp novel, I wanted a cover that matched. I love the two intricate covers of WADING INTO WAR and THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES but I wanted a different vibe for this novel. After examining all the old novels I have here in my office, the concept of a solid color “main field” and a secondary color/field at top gave me the old-school pulp fiction look I wanted. For the longest time, I had a stock image of a silhouetted man, kneeling, and aiming his gun off screen. I liked it. A lot. You’ll see it in the future I assure you.

At my day job, David Hadley is our company’s graphic artist. We have many similar interests—Star Wars being one—and we stuck up a good friendship. Along the way, I’d ask him design questions as I tried to train myself in the art of cover design. I showed him my first concept. He appreciated the old-school look and feel and offered a few suggestions. Then, one day, he asked if he could just work with an idea he had. No problem. I was eager to see what he would do. 

The cover was so much better than I had imagined. He used my kneeling man figure and introduced the arcing bullet you see on the cover. The kneeling man didn't really fit in this new scheme, so I suggested showing a man fleeing. Viola. Front cover done. He suggested the idea of the front and back covers showing one scene. He made it happen.

Presenting, the front cover of  


May 1940, the last days of the Great Depression, and private investigator Benjamin Wade isn’t exactly rolling in the dough. He doesn’t even have a secretary. So he’s in the unenviable position of taking any client that walks in his office.

Elmer Smith, a local farmer, has a problem: all of his chickens are scheduled for slaughter. He’s desperate to save his livelihood. He got a court injunction to slow the process, but time is running out.

Instead of laughing Smith out the door, Wade suppresses his pride to take the case. It seems like a simple, straight-forward paycheck. He zeroes in on a central question: What really happened the night police chased someone through Smith’s farm? Wade isn’t the only one asking that question, but he could be the only one who might die for it.

ALL CHICKENS MUST DIE is scheduled to go on sale Tuesday, 2 February, as an ebook. The paperback will follow later this month.

Friday, January 29, 2016


My dirty little secret is that, as far as crime fiction goes, I'm largely uneducated on the classics. I was a young teenager when Tarantino blew up. I talked my dad into renting every Robert Rodriguez movie I could find at the video store when I was at his place. My introduction to crime fiction came on VHS, and movies are my biggest influence when it comes to the genre. I only started on Elmore Leonard because Tarantino made Jackie Brown. The nineties were a pretty solid time for crime movies, and I don't really have any regrets (though it can get embarrassing when crime writers start talking about books I've never read, authors I know I should know).

Last week it came to my attention that Netflix had Roadracers - one of Robert Rodriguez's early efforts - one I had never seen. When I mentioned I was watching From Dusk Till Dawn (yeah, I'm bringing it up again, if I go too long without bringing it up I start itching) and someone suggested it. Well, it's been rec'd, I have easy access, and it's Rodriguez, so here I go.

I've mentioned before the sort of things I think make criminal protagonists fun to root for - the primal part of us longs to be selfish. The fact that most of us grew up being sold a version of the "American Dream" that doesn't seem to exist makes their greed satisfying. What Roadracers gets right is the other element - we like angsty motherfuckers who can't fit into a society that's trying to wring everything different about them out into the gutter. Rodriguez's protagonist, Dude, would rather live in the gutter than let them win. There's some real beauty in how the fifties setting works to highlight issues that still exist today (even if I did spot what appeared to be a Toyota Tercel in the background of one shot).

Dude takes a lot of heat because his girlfriend is Mexican. Rodriguez doesn't shy away from showing exactly how nasty people can be to Latina woman. The other women in the film don't hesitate to throw slurs at her, the men seem to feel entitled to grabbing her, kissing her, and then talking about her like she isn't there - the sad truth is, Latina women are at higher risk for assault like this. More likely to be viciously catcalled, more likely to see violence as a result of their defiance in such situations. If that's true now, I imagine Donna's situation in the film might actually be a little lighter than what a Mexican woman might have faced in an all-white town in the fifties.

Maybe her understanding of what it is like to be an outsider is what draws her to Dude, a dirty greaser in a broken down convertible who always seems to be in trouble. Most of the film centers around his feud with the local cop's son. We discover this cop has it out for him, because he had it out for Dude's absentee father. What I've always loved about Rodriguez's films is the way he quietly inserts big moments and profound thoughts into these violent, over the top movies. Sure, there's a scene where the two groups of teens are drag racing down Main Street and one of the women's hair is on fire - but there's also an expert juxtaposition of the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Dude's big dilemma. He wants to get the hell out of Dodge, but the anger in him, the lack of self respect, is driving him to continue this feud that's sure to end badly for all involved.

His instinct to be true to himself hobbles him at every turn. He has an almost Holden Caufield like disdain for people who go with the grain. At one point, he says, "I want to make music that scares the Hell out of people." Even as you watch him blow it for himself again and again, dammit, you want him to succeed. You want him to break free of the suburban bullshit  that's threatening to strangle him, the baggage saddled on him by his deadbeat dad, the doubts he has over his musical talent. More than anything, you want to see him beat the smirk off that asshole cop's son.

When shit gets real and the film turns, when we see the path Dude takes, it's hard not to be happy for him. I won't get into spoilers, because the movie is on Netflix and you really need to see it. The music is phenomenal, and in a true testament to Rodriguez's talent as a director, David Arquette is cooler than cool in the lead role (plus - Selma Hayek. There is never enough of Selma Hayek). What makes the movie special, aside from being an awesome rockabilly ride for folks who are into that, is that it hits on racism, police corruption, small town bullshit, shattered dreams, and so much more all while pumping you up with knife fights and drag races and all the shit that makes Robert Rodriguez movies so much fun to watch.

Maybe sometime I'll regale all of you with my favorite profound moment from the Spy Kids franchise.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Don't Tell a Soul

By Steve Weddle

Few years back I was working on an Oscar Martello novel based on the success of some of the short stories. Those stories had been anthologized here and there alongside some smart folks, and I figured it was a good idea to work on something a little more ambitious, to develop something a little bigger.

I figured I had a good idea, because I'm a big fan of conflict and tension to drive a story. Martello would find himself responsible for a small child, after the child's parents go missing. Something something details. So he'd have to do some investigative tough-guy work, while trying to arrange for day care. Tension on various layers, maybe some humor mixed in with all the killings. So I started working on it.

"What are you working on?"
"An Oscar Martello novel?"
"Nice. Good luck."

If only I could have left it at that I'd certainly have a novel series sold and a string of movies with that sweet, sweet Hollywood money.

Instead, I'm burdened with friends. This has always been the thing that's held me back, I think.

I'm talking to someone about the idea, and this friend says, "Oh, like Kindergarten Cop, huh?"
"Like who the what now?"
"That movie where tough guy Arnold has to take care of the kid. That was hilarious."
"No, not like Kindergarten Cop," I said.
"Maybe you could get Arnold to play Oscar in the movie."
"Uh, maybe you could, maybe your face could eat a big bag of shut up."
"Whatever. Good luck with it."
"Oh, yeah. Well, good luck with your big stupid face of stupidnesses," I said.

Honestly, people ruin everything.

So, yeah, that book ain't getting written. Neither will other stories I've told people about because they sometimes say, "Oh, sounds good. Have you thought about _____?"

If you send a few pages you're working on to someone, the last thing you want is to have your work hit a wall. You don't want people to slow your roll. You've got momentum. An idea. You're writing and, sure, you want to share it, so you do. And that's when it all goes testicles up. Because people ruin everything. They have ideas. They have THOUGHTS they want to share. This is how they'd write your story.

Look, you and I don't need people. We've got this writing thing down. When it's done, then we show people. But we have to get the thing done first, then the critical stuff, the editing and the pulling apart and putting back together stuff can happen. Anything too critical during the process is a killer. You're introducing a foreign object -- some other brain -- into the reaction.

David Foster Wallace was giving an interview about Infinite Jest and the interviewer asking him what he was working on after that.
DFW: "I'd rather not talk about it, thank you."
That's it. He went full-on Bartleby, the Scrivener on the dude. Hell, I didn't know you could do that.

There you go. What are you working on? A big stack of none of your business, pal. Now buy me another drink.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Who Writes Short Shorts?

by Holly West

Over the weekend, I received my panel assignments for Left Coast Crime 2016. I'm pleased because neither of them focus on historical fiction. Not that I don't love me some historical fiction--I write it, after all. But sometimes I'd like to talk about other subjects.

I'm particularly pleased because one of the panels is about writing short fiction. The assignment took me by surprise because there are those in the crime fiction community who are known for their short fiction and I don't count myself among them. I'm not sure anyone else does, either.

Odd, perhaps, because I love my short stories. Writing them is difficult but the pain is short lived because they require less time to write. Unlike my novels, I don't outline short stories. I get an idea and begin to write before the story is fully-formed in my mind. After days or weeks of struggling, there is a moment when I realize "Aha! That's what this story is about." That moment is golden and oh, so satisfying. It's a wonder I don't write more short stories just so I can have it more often.

When I think back on all of the characters I've created, it kind of tickles me. In trying to identify a common thread about them, I'd say that none are cheerful people. Only one can be considered a hero in any sense of the word. Most of them are women who've made a series of bad decisions, often involving men. Perhaps it's my way of exercising the demons of my past, since a few ex-boyfriends might recognize versions of themselves within these pages. Spoiler alert: it doesn't end well for them.

It happens that I have a few short stories coming out this year, so maybe my panel assignment isn't as surprising as I first thought:

In 2015, editor Thomas Pluck included "Don't Fear the Ripper" in the PROTECTOR'S 2: HEROES anthology. Set in late Victorian London, it features a Whitechapel midwife determined to stop Jack the Ripper's killing spree. The same story will be re-printed in THE BIG BOOK OF JACK THE RIPPER (Vintage Books), edited by Otto Penzler, in Fall 2016.

Awhile back, Eric Beetner approached me about writing something for a crime fiction anthology in which none of the crimes involved guns. The story I wrote, "Peep Show," is about a developmentally disabled man who doesn't know the strength of his own fury, leading to tragedy. It will appear in UNLOADED (Down & Out Press), available on April 16, 2016.

A third story will be published this year in FORTY-FOUR CALIBER FUNK, edited by Gary Phillips and Robert J. Randisi. This one, entitled "Queen of the Dogs," is set in 1970s Los Angeles and features a pretty young Guatemalan woman who snags what seems like her dream job working as a live-in maid for the producer of blockbuster films--as long as she doesn't mind dealing with her employer's advances and his wife's drug and alcohol habit. She gets her thrills at the disco, but when she hooks up with a foxy stranger on the dance floor, she doesn't guess where it might lead until it's too late.

So yeah. I guess I am a short story writer, and proud of it. I'm looking forward to discussing the subject with fellow panelists, Sarah M. Chen, Rob Pierce, and Dharma Kelleher, with moderator Susan Cummins Miller.

I'm also moderating a second panel called "An Unusual Job for a Sleuth" with panelists Susan C. Shea, Mark Stevens, Ray Daniels and Eloise Hill. Again, no historical fiction! This one should be fun since each of these authors have protagonists with--you guessed it--unusual jobs. Moderating is more work than simply being on a panel, but, control freak that I am, I like to be in charge.

I hope to see many of you at Left Coast crime this year.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Rooting for the Economy to Fail

by Scott Adlerberg

Over the weekend, I went to see The Big Short.  I haven't read the Michael Lewis book, but the movie, directed by Adam McKay, written by Charles Randolph and McKay, I thoroughly enjoyed. The cast is excellent, the pace fast, and the writing funny and sharp. It's the last film anyone might have expected from the director of Step Brothers, Talladega Nights and the two Anchorman movies (all of which I like but, come on, we're talking about low comedy material and nothing with the heft of the 2008 global financial meltdown), but it turns out that Adam McKay's comedic approach is suited to the subject matter.  Seems a little counter intuitive, but what better way to handle a saga that is crammed with greed, incompetence, and callousness?  Without laughs - dark ones but they are laughs - you'd only want to scream in anger and maybe, just maybe, kill some of the movers and shakers behind the catastrophe.  Anyway, we all know what happened in 2008 and we're still feeling the repercussions, so this is not a story that needs to go out of its way to stoke outrage.  The earnest, heavy-handed approach would turn the movie into a slog.  It might become something preachy. McKay and company take the opposite tack entirely, and while I was watching, I was reminded of a line I always loved from a Muriel Spark novel, Loitering with Intent, where her narrator says of a book she's writing: "Now I treated the story.....with a light and heartless hand, as is my way when I have to give a perfectly serious account of things."  The Big Short follows this tonal strategy to a tee.

So the movie's fun.  Very much so.  But what's particularly curious, and instructive from a storytelling viewpoint, is how it works at creating viewer identification.  The movie gets you to root for certain characters even though you know that if these characters are right, if they win so to speak, millions of other people will lose.  And we're not talking about losing figuratively, like a loss of ideals or the loss of belief in a system.  We're talking real loss, life-changing loss, the loss of jobs, savings, homes. The people who come out on the short end here are merely the millions the financial crisis touched.  And yet...

As it's set up, the group of characters who pursue credit default swaps, counting on the housing market to collapse when nobody else believes such a thing possible, are the story's non-conformists. This endears them to the viewer.  Christian Bale's character, Dr. Michael Burry, is socially maladroit but great with numbers, a guy who runs a hedge fund while barefoot and listening to death metal music in his office.  Steve Carell's Mark Baum is neurotic but righteous; he and his small team are of the financial world but rail against its fraudulence and stupidity.  The two young investors involved are shown beginning their financial dealings working out of a garage (a pleasingly archetypal American image if ever there was one), and the experienced trader they get to help them, Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), expresses frequent disillusion with the banking industry and in fact has left the game when we first see him, preferring to garden and grow seeds.  It's a colorful and rough-edged group; of the players betting on the housing market to fail, only Ryan Gosling's character carries himself with the air of what you might typically think of in a Wall Street guy - smooth, cynical, never afraid to express his obvious self-interest.  But these guys are the bright and focused ones in the story, capitalizing on the inattention, stupidity, and smugness of the banks around them.  In effect, the movie is something of a caper film, and as with any good caper film, it's difficult not to pull for the guys who've come up with a brilliant plan.  In the world they inhabit, it's almost as if they deserve to be rewarded for their intelligence, foresight, and balls.  When the economy starts to tank as they predicted but this does not at first turn into the profit they envisioned, they and the audience smell a rat; of course the banks are not playing fair and it irritates you as it irritates them.  Dammit, I was thinking, are they not even going to get what they should be getting. This caper has to pay off.  "It is possible we're in completely fraudulent system," Burry says, echoing what the average person watching the movie may very well feel about the U.S. economic system.  The story's superb construction has you on the iconoclasts' side and you can understand and smile when the young investors, in their excitement over success, start dancing. It takes their mentor Brad Pitt to remind them that they are rejoicing over what in essence will be the collapse of the US economy.  Not that Pitt's character, or the chastened young pair, refuse to take their profits.

What happened in the end?  We all know.  Exactly one banker went to jail, the banks remained intact, no substantial reforms occurred. The Big Short doesn't let you forget any of this, and it darkens in tone enough at its conclusion to leave you with the appropriate feelings of anger and disgust.  But along the way, there are the many laughs I've mentioned, and the movie is indeed a fascinating study in how to engage an audience and direct their rooting interest, regardless of the story's overall consequences.  Like with any movie or book, set in any milieu, you root for the people with the most guts, the funniest lines, and the brains to take advantage of a system too dumb and too arrogant to take them seriously.  The Big Short is the kind of movie that has its cake and eats it also.  There are no genuine little guys in its Wall Street world, but in its specific context, the outsiders win.  Outsiders, not heroes, as Ryan Gosling's character makes clear.  Through its meticulous and clever structure, the film lets you appreciate their victory while never letting the system as a whole off the hook.  In a way that's rare, I left The Big Short feeling buoyant and infuriated at the same time. Well done.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Crime Song - (Pardon Me) I've Got Someone to Kill

Thinking about using my Monday space to post crime songs. Was listening to a little Johnny Paycheck yesterday and heard this gem. I don't see this one mentioned too much, if at all, when the discussion of crime songs pops up.

I know you'll excuse me if I say goodnight
I've got a promise to fulfill
Thank you for listening to my troubles
Pardon me, I've got someone to kill

I warned him not to try and take her from me
He laughed and said if I can I will you know I will
So tonight when they get home I'll be waiting
Pardon me, I've got someone to kill

I know I'll surely die for what I'm about to do
But it don't matter I'm a dead man anyhow
This gun will buy back the pride they took from me
And also end this life of mine, that's worthless now
By the time you tell the sheriff, it'll all be over
He'll find me at their big house on the hill
He'll find a note explaining why I killed us all
Now it's time to go, I've got someone to kill

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Inspiration: Apply within

by Kristi Belcamino

This month I am surviving - scrabbling and fighting to survive -  my twelfth winter in Minnesota.

The land of cold and little sun.

It has not been pretty. I've been in a funk and everyone else I know who lives here feels the same way.

We look at each other and say "January."

I've been obsessively reading writers who put my writing career in perspective.

And my life.

Namely two writers who are friends and share each other's writing frequently:

Chuck Wendig


Delilah Dawson

Luckily, reading blogs by these two writers is pulling me through the slump.

Here is Chuck on Mid-career authors, which I realized, Hey, I'm one of them!

I’m going out on a limb here and say that, as an author grows into a career, that author starts to realize that a lot of the branding and platform talk he listened to early on is at least half a sack of monkey shit. What I mean is this: your writing career is predicated on writing books — it’s very seductive to believe that Our Every Movement Online will somehow be The Crucial Detail that sells our books. So we curate a persona and work very hard to say the Right Things and not the Wrong Things and to Demonstrate Our Social Value As A Content-Delivery-System but at the end of the day people want a book they like. They want a book they enjoy for whatever definition they have for “enjoy.” The author matters, but the author is secondary to the book. It has to be that way. You’re not an online personality. You make stories for a living. And it’s tantalizing to assume the story you should be making is YOUR OWN, but I find that at the end of the day, it’s a very big distraction and will pull you away from doing the thing you should really be doing.
Two rules here prevail:
Don’t be an asshole (and if you are, try to fix it).
And be the best version of yourself online.
That’s it. Beyond that, write books. The best you can.

How to survive the creative life: You keep going, even when the going is slow. Care for the body, care for the mind. Laugh a lot. Read more.
Here's Delilah on surviving in general - depression and anxiety and how it kicks our butts in the winter sometimes.