Saturday, February 13, 2016

When TV Shows Disappoint

Scott D. Parker

Man, I hate to write this piece.

I have been a fan of the TV show “Castle” literally since the first moments of the show back in 2009. I remember seeing the trailers for the show, thinking that it looked fun—it had Nathan Fillion!—and that I’d check it out. Truth be told, I was probably in Castle’s bag before the show even aired. That it proved to be the charming show it is was all the better.

Fillion it utterly charming as Rick Castle, novelist with writer’s block, who uses Kate Beckett, NY detective, as inspiration for a new character in a new book series. Stana Katic’s Beckett is a perfect combination of street-tough brawn and elegant beauty. Jon Huertas and Seamus Dever as Detectives Esposito and Ryan are some of the best co-stars a detective show ever had, what with their bromace that has only blossomed over the years. Molly Quinn is a gem as Castle’s daughter while Susan Sullivan as Castle’s diva mom is always good for a laugh.

The mysteries have always been quirky and light, full of fun references to pop culture. There’s a laugh in nearly every episode. Then, when the show goes serious and dark, everyone involves turns on a dime and it’s always been excellent. The overarching mystery of Who Killed Beckett’s Mom formed the backbone for the show as well as the developing relationship between the two leads.

That ABC started publishing actual “Richard Castle” novels was the icing on this luscious cake. In these books, you had stand-ins for Castle, Beckett, Ryan, Esposito, and all the characters in the show, all mimicking the actual show, but different enough to be fresh. Heck, you had Nikki Heat and Jameson Rook (“Castle” and “Beckett”) hook up years before the ‘real’ Castle and Beckett did.

Castle will end up being one of my all-time favorite TV shows. And I’m in it until the end.


During the tail end of season seven, the original showrunners—including creator Andrew Marlowe—weren’t sure the show would be renewed for this current eighth season. So, instead of giving viewers a cliffhanger that might not ever resolve, they summed up all that Castle was in an graceful last episode and last scene. It was wonderful. I grew misty.

And then the call for the eighth season. Great! More Castle!


This season is lacking. Beckett’s drive to find her mother’s killer was an underlying structure that gave her character a place to strive for. Once she found the killer, her life, specifically that obsessive part of her nature, was unfulfilled. That would have been interesting to see where they take now Captain Beckett. Instead, we get a new conspiracy thing on which Beckett can latch onto and obsess over. And, to make matters more irritating, to keep Castle ‘safe,’ she has to keep him at a distance. Castle and Beckett even go so far as to fight in public and give everyone around them the impression that the fairy tale is over.

Which is stupid. Again, their dopplegangers in the Castle books proved you could have two characters be in love and still have some romantic tension. Because that’s what the new showrunners are trying to do: replicate the early seasons.

There are some great moments this season, but there some not-so-great moments as well. That all became crystal clear this past week. Mondays at 9pm CST is ALWAYS Castle. Don’t call me during that time because I won’t answer the phone. Tuesdays is now THE FLASH, which has basically supplanted CASTLE as my fav show. CASTLE’s still #2.

Castle’s episode on Monday was one of those Season 8 episodes where you enjoy the 60 minutes, but you know it pales in comparison to Seasons 1-4. I ended up turning off the TV on Monday with a shrug. Cut to Tuesday where THE FLASH makes the fanboy in me giddy beyond reason—Supergirl was seen by Flash!!—and it gets me grinning ear to ear. This episode also brought out the tears. If you’ve seen the episode, you know why. When THE FLASH was over, I couldn’t wait until next week. I even tell my wife—who doesn’t watch THE FLASH and has given up on CASTLE—all that made me literally hoot and cheer the events of the show.

I hate that CASTLE is lagging behind what it used to be. It was an awesome show. It’s still a fun show. But it’s not that awesome right now. Who knows? Perhaps the latter half of this season will turn things around. Perhaps not. Perhaps “Great! More CASTLE!” wasn’t the best thing to articulate. Perhaps there needs to be a shot in the arm for a potential season 9.

Don’t worry, I’ll be there every step of the way until the end. I’ll be buying every book or graphic novel published. But I might also find myself tuning in to the reruns on TNT or my DVDs and get wistful at how good the show used to be.

Have y’all ever become disenchanted with a show?

Friday, February 12, 2016

This Valentine's Day, a bouquet of books!

Not too long ago I wrote about how I don't believe in writer's block, but I believe in life getting in the way, taking up your headspace, and generally flinging you off track.

My husband is finally back after six months on deployment, our cat went missing for two weeks, one of my daughter's rats is probably not going to live through the day, and due to logistics, I've been without a car for a couple weeks, too. It is safe to say LIFE IS HAPPENING. And... oh shit. Sunday is Valentine's Day.

If, like me, you've been busy being spun by life and trying to wedge an hour or two a day for writing in when you can, and Valentine's Day has sort of snuck up on you, I've got your back.

I'm rounding up a few awesome love/crime books you can pick up for your Valentine.

It's got LOVE right there in the title, and the cover is basically a Valentine's Day card! It's perfect!

I've banged this book's drum in the past and don't plan on stopping. It's rare to encounter a book that really changes you/changes your outlook but Clifford's honesty is heart stopping and this is an incredibly special book.

Once again, a perfect title for a Valentine - and the protagonist's name is actually Valentine! The cover isn't as saccharine as Clifford's, but trust me when I say this is a fun ride. Vic may be an almost archaic private dick, but there's a lot of fun to be had in the world Viharo created for him - and there's a cute punk rock girl.

Who doesn't love the drama of a single rose on Valentine's Day? Well, probably not Ash McKenna, Hart's protagonist. While New Yorked saw Ash heartbroken and nearly beaten, City of Rose shows a different side, and there's a little romance for him, too. If you also forgot your Valentine's birthday, you can throw in a copy of New Yorked and have the set.

Okay, so the title and cover aren't exactly brimming over with romance and roses. The inside isn't either. But maybe you're single this year or maybe you have a friend who's going through a divorce? Maybe your Valentine appreciates a book full of fucking amazing stories and won't mind the absence of a Valentine theme. Point is - this is a damn good book, and though the relationships in this collection are anything but romantic, it is a damn good book.

I realize this is a list of things you should have bought when you had time to get them shipped before Valentine's Day (City of Rose just might be at your B&N, though!), but maybe you can download them on Kindle and read them aloud to your lover. Stranger things have gotten people laid.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Jesus' Son: The Movie

By Steve Weddle

I'm away today, but thought I'd leave you with this.

There's a Jesus' Son movie? With Billy Crudup and Jack Black and Samanta Morton and Holly Hunter and Denis Leary? Good grief. I had no idea.

Haven't seen it, and I'm not sure I want to. I'll just read it over and over and listen to others read it. Here's a New Yorker podcast reading of "Work."

Good gracious, I do love that book.

And here's Tobias Wolff reading "Emergency," also from Jesus' Son.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Don't Be That Person

by Holly West

This is my semi-regular plea to authors (and everybody else) about writing political or otherwise controversial posts on social media. Please think before you do it. Hell, sometimes even thinking about it isn't enough. Maybe you should just not do it at all.

Awhile back, someone I know to be an avid reader tweeted, "I liked my writer friends a lot better before twitter." I'm paraphrasing because I can't find the exact tweet, but it was a reference to authors who post about politics. I feel similarly about Facebook and a few of my relatives, so I understand the sentiment. Who doesn't?

But what really prompted me to broach this topic again was that over the last year or so, I began following an author whose books I like on social media. Said author has never been particularly shy about writing political posts, but with the primary season upon us, those posts have really ramped up. They're increasingly vitriolic, and while I suspect this author believes the commentary to be thoughtful and well-considered, it's only convinced me that he/she is somewhat of a tool, and not a tool in the useful sense. At the very least, my respect for the author has diminished considerably.

Yes, I realize this post is somewhat passive aggressive in that I wouldn't say any of this to the author directly. And yes, I know that I'm free to unfollow or unfriend. But this post isn't so much about me being annoyed as it is about how authors choose to use their social media accounts. We're told constantly we need to have a presence on social media, which requires effort. Taking the time, even if it's minimal, to cultivate a social media presence only to turn around an alienate your audience is counter productive. I've done it many times myself.

We're not out there trying to be jerks, we just don't realize the negative impact such posts can have. It's too easy to post one's opinion without really thinking about how it can be received.

I said earlier that I've enjoyed this author's work in the past, so I wouldn't say that my new impressions will prevent me from buying future books, though I might think twice. But what about the author who I might not have any experience with beyond annoying social media posts? Even if I wasn't an author myself, as someone who loves books, it's not inconceivable that I might cross paths with someone on social media whose work I'm not familiar with, who I'd first get to know through social media. Call me immature and small-minded, but I probably wouldn't buy their books if they're constantly posting about politics. I have too many other choices.

When you post about politics and other controversial subjects, you never know who you might offend. And sure, I get that you might not care about offending others. Sometimes I don't care either, especially if a particular topic is important enough to me. But the Internet world we all inhabit is an increasingly chaotic and negative space, and I try not to add to the noise.

Before you write such a post, I urge you to think about it. What's your purpose? Are you trying to convince others to see your POV? Chances are, that isn't going to happen. Do you have some anger or frustration to vent? Maybe go for a walk instead. Do you just need a little reassurance that there are others out there who feel like you do? Trust me, there are plenty of them. But there are also a lot of people who don't feel like you do and they aren't aren't interested in your diatribes. Or mine, either.

<Sigh.> Something tells me it's gonna be a long, hard road to November.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Precinct: Siberia -- Cop Novels by Tom Philbin

Guest blog by John Shepphird

A big thanks to Scott Adlerberg for offering the space here this week. Since Scott’s a true New Yorker, I can think of no better place for a tribute to the late, great author Tom Philbin.

While browsing a dust ridden used book store many years ago, I picked up a paperback solely because of its cover; a NYC cop climbing the staircase of a  brownstone, a desperate woman in the shadows looking back, and a mysterious killer about to blow the cop away. This was the 1986 Fawcett Gold Medal/Ballantine mass market paperback Cop Killer, the third in Tom Philbin’s Precinct: Siberia series, and a true discovery. I relished the pulpy prose and dark humor. I was hooked and would go on to read and collect the entire nine book series.

Over thirty years after Ed McBain began his 87th Precinct series of novels, Tom Philbin echoed the McBain formula for Fawcett with a cast of continuing characters in a New York City Precinct. Whereas McBain’s fictionalized a typical midtown precinct with run-of-the-mill cops, Philbin forged the Bronx’s 53rd Precinct--a dumping ground where the NYPD sends losers, misfits, and problem cops--the toughest beat in America’s toughest city known as Precinct: Siberia.

In the first chapter of Precinct: Siberia Tom sets the scene:
It was places, precincts like the Five Three, that cops dreaded being sent to. Actually, you weren’t sent; you were sentenced, and at any given time there was always a Fort Siberia. In the fifties and sixties there was Fort Apache. Before that there was Staten Island; there was a precinct in Harlem, one in Bed Stuy. It was punishment duty, except for cops who had the misfortune to be assigned there after the Academy. It was for misfits.
Alcoholics who couldn’t be helped, homos, psychotics, grass-eaters, drug users. Malcontents, thieves who couldn’t be nailed, wheeler-dealers, cops who messed with the wrong people, and old cops who should retire but who wouldn’t and, like old Indians, were put out on the plain to die.
Having lived in NYC for a half a decade, Tom’s fiction felt so real to me, his characters and locations so vividly portrayed. I had worked part time for the New York City Department of Transportation making training films while a student at Columbia University. The NYC DOT had its own dumping ground, a drab building way out on Queens Plaza in Long Island City. I’d learn because of the labor unions it was nearly impossible to fire a city employee as long as they showed up for work. The solution was to send the square pegs to the Department of Transportation’s own “Siberia.”
There was always a strong sense of justice in Tom’s narratives, with underdogs finding a way, and that made them satisfying. In Leroy Lad Panel’s exceptional reference book, The American Police Novel: A History, he describes Philbin’s characters as:
“The point Philbin makes, however, does not concentrate on the corruption in the precinct, but on the way in which leadership and an awakening sense of duty transform losers into cops. He created a cast of misfits and losers: Grady is a burned-out drunk, Getz is a pea-brained muscleman, Piccolo is a violent hothead, and Edmunton “had been assigned there for grass-easting – petty thievery that couldn’t be proved" (Undercover).  Not a loser or a misfit, but the victim of departmental injustice, there is also detective Barbara Babalino. All of them profit, grow, and mature because of the leadership of Detective First Grade Joe Lawless. About Lawless Philbin does not mince works: “Of all the human beings who had crossed his path in forty-two years of living, Joe Lawless was probably the best. The stuff, really, on which heroes are made” (Cop Killer).
I felt Tom’s series would make great television (even though I didn’t necessarily have the means to get a TV series off the ground), so I found Tom through the Author’s Guild. Unfortunately Precinct: Siberia was already optioned, but over the years we remained in contact and grew to become friends. On a trip to New York, Tom drove me around the battered Bronx neighborhoods that inspired his novels, where he’d grown up. We even dropped in on the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage in the Bronx where Poe spent the last years of his life and penned The Cask of Amontillado.   
Tom was the son and grandson of police officers. He’d served the U.S. as a  paratrooper, and worked as a painter and contractor, then started writing about what he knew with books such as How to Hire a Home Contractor Without Getting Chiseled. In 1981 Tom made his fiction debut with the thriller Yearbook Killer, a Fawcett mass market paperback. A few years later Precinct: Siberia would be published. Eight more would follow.
A Matter of Degree sticks out from the pack. It’s the one novel that does not parallel three cases but rather concentrates on the singular hunt for a serial killer by hypochondriac Detective George Benton, or as other cops call him, “The Bent One.

By the 90s the series ended when Fawcett’s mass market pulp paperbacks all but faded away. The producers that had optioned Precinct: Siberia had a pilot script written. Fox was looking for a police series. Precinct: Siberia was one of the projects considered, but the studio instead chose Stephen J. Cannell’s The Commish starring Michael Chiklis.
Tom would go on to write Copspeak: The Lingo of Law Enforcement and Crime, serial killer nonfiction, horse racing books such as Barbaro and the stunning Churchill Downs commissioned Two Minutes to Glory: The Official History of the Kentucky Derby plus a variety of others. He published over 40 books.
Tom encouraged me to write fiction and served as a mentor. I’d fax pages and we’d swap notes. I found early success when my short stories were published, and in the acknowledgements of my novella The Shill I give tribute to the “late, great pulp paperback author extraordinaire Tom Philbin.”
If you’re a fan of gritty cop novels, sample one in the Precinct: Siberia series, available on Ebay, Amazon, or quite possibly in the mystery section of your favorite used book store. Everyone I’ve ever referred the series to says the same thing; “Hey, these things are really good.”
 (John Shepphird is a Shamus Award winning author and writer/director of TV movies. Look for The Shill and Kill the Shill from Down & Out Books). 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Let's Talk About the Word "Fuck"

This is from a Facebook discussion yesterday.
Warning/Public Service Announcement:
If you've read my books, this is nothing new, but if you haven't here you go -
I use "fuck" in my books.*
Sometimes a lot.
While my main character, Gabriella Giovanni, doesn't use it much, people around her do. She covers the crime beat.
Cops say fuck. Reporters say fuck even more than cops, maybe. Bad guys say fuck.
My books are crime fiction. They have the word fuck in them.
I try not to use the word thoughtlessly, but it is part of the world I write about.
One of the best compliments I get about my books is that they are "authentic." Cleaning up the language would mean sugar coating it, glossing over what the world I write about is really like.
This post is basically a way to say that if you are offended by seeing the word fuck in print, maybe my books aren't the right ones for you.
It's cool. We can still be friends.
I recently received a one-star review that called my book foul. "If you want to read four letter words of all types every few paragraphs then this is your book."
I felt a little bad, as if somehow I'd mislead that reader, but I hope that with my darker themed covers and blurbs that say things such as "disturbing" on the cover, that people won't mistakenly pick up my books and expect something different.
I'll never forget the time my great friend, Father Seamus Genovese, God bless his soul, called me from Oakland, California to tell me that a nun he knew was reading my book because I had based one of the characters on Seamus. When I hung up the phone, I quickly grabbed the book and flipped through the first pages. I think I had the word "fuck" twenty-two times in the first two pages. Oops.
So, again, my books have foul language in them and if that is extremely offensive, I have some very talented author friends with lovely books that might suit you more than mine.
It's okay.
Nobody likes every book out there. That's life. And it's cool. No, really.
Feel free to weigh in. Comment below on what you think about books with "fuck" or other swear words in them.
*PS I almost always avoid using swear words on this Facebook page out of respect for my super classy mother who also reads this page. And yes, she reads all my books.