Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Year From Now…

Scott D. Parker

I can’t recall where I saw it, but sometime in 2013, I read a motivational statement: A year from now, you will have wished you started today.

I’m not a guy who has motivational posters on the walls or shelves full of motivational books. But this phrase struck me. I think it was one of the things that spurred me to write a story that ended up being WADING INTO WAR, my first published book.

Why do I bring it up? Well, three days ago, 18 February, was a year since the publication of WADING. Boy, has it been fun! Challenging, but fun.

I’ve had to learn how to format a Word file for Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and Smashwords. They all have their own, slightly different ways of formatting. Then there was the fun challenges of preparing files for CreateSpace and the paperbacks. These had their own unique challenges—how to use InDesign and Illustrator!—with different review processes.

In the year since, I have published 3 novels, 3 short westerns, and submitted 2 stories for anthologies. Quite a bit for Year 1. This coming year will be equally as productive.

Again, why do I bring up this motivational statement? To get anyone who might be on the fence about starting a story, a novel, a painting, or any project …to just do it. Take that first step and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish in a day, a week, a month, or even a year.

You can do whatever creative thing you want. You just have to start.

Because, a year from now, you will have wished you started today, 20 February 2016.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Do You Have A Moment To Talk About Deadpool?

In the last couple weeks I have hidden more Facebook posts than I can count. I discovered I don't care about vitriolic posts about politicians, or arguments about the appropriate response to Justice Scalia's death. I said on Monday, "Honestly, I'd rather talk about Deadpool."

Turns out I was wrong.

I've spent a large portion of my life as one of the few women present in male dominated areas. I walk with a limp because I broke my pelvis in the US Marine Corps - a male dominated place if ever there was one - but before that I loved getting into dirty mosh pits in the punk and metal undergrounds of Central California. I know how to handle a firearm, I like throwing a punch. Wine gives me heartburn but I love beer and whiskey. These aren't statements meant to make me sound cool - I value my friendships with women and I don't think getting lost in the comic book shop is any more or less admirable than getting lost in Sephora - and I do both as often as possible. I'm telling you this about myself for one reason only - I've spent a large portion of my life being told that the things I enjoy are for other people, or even more bluntly, NOT for me.
Look at me all wearing floral and firing a rifle at the same time! 
Does this make me masculine? Does this make me a wannabe "cool girl"?

Fuck no, it doesn't.

Even crime fiction is often thought of as a man's game. While the people in the crime fiction and true crime communities are, for the most part, welcoming and inclusive to people of all genders, the work itself is often classified as "masculine." Many women protagonists get described as "men with boobs" or dismissed entirely. It makes me want to say, "Hey, am I not a woman?" If I relate to these characters? If I enjoy their story lines - am I less a woman? More a man? Of course not.

So when I see die-hard comic book fans getting snarky and shitty about the huge response Deadpool pulled from women, it sets my teeth on edge. When I see non-comic book people wailing and gnashing teeth over the film's success because it was made for "adolescent boys" and men who haven't outgrown their adolesence, what I hear is that this thing I enjoy isn't supposed to be worth my time.

Both sides seem confident that Deadpool wasn't made for me. Deadpool wasn't made for people who like dirty jokes, gun fights, and comic books? Or was it not made for people who like looking at Ryan Reynolds (hey, his face wasn't fucked up for the whole movie). Or was it not made for people who like criminal protagonists who aren't interested in being heroes?

I'm also a feminist who isn't overly fond of the way action movies fuck up female representation - but I saw a sex worker who wasn't ever judged for her profession and who's partner didn't ask her to leave it. I saw a teenage girl be treated fairly and kick major ass without ever being discounted simply for being a young woman. I even saw the hench-woman kick Colossus's ass, where most movies would have left that fight to a man.
Negasonic Teenage Warhead IS an awesome name.
Was it perfect? Hell no! Most entertainment isn't. But I knew what I was getting into because, yes, boys and girls, I did read the fucking comics. Because I am vast and contain multitudes, I've read Deadpool and I've read Bitch Planet, I've read crime fiction and I've read feminist theory. I may not have a college degree but I am confident I'm more educated and more thoughtful than the average adolescent boy.

I should be used to it, after all - horror isn't made for me, action movies and sci-fi aren't made for me, Hemingway didn't write for me... the list goes on and on. Of course, if my interest in makeup and pretty dresses were my only hobbies, I'd be labeled an air-headed bitch.

I'm a woman, and Deadpool was made for me.

If you have a problem with the idea that me, or women like me, enjoy it when you think it belongs to you? Shut up and find a hobby. If you have a problem with the movie's success because you're deathly afraid of a world where things are popular, and the only way you can assert your intellectual dominance is to assume people who enjoyed the film are "teenage boys", hop right off the gender assumption train and check yourself.

You don't get to take the high road while sorting people into boxes based on how much smarter you think you are than them. You can't take the high road while excluding an entire gender from the things you enjoy.

So, if you can't accept that women are into all kinds of movies, books, and stories - no, I don't want to talk to you about Deadpool. Or anything else, probably.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Patience, Persistence and Wine

Guest Post by Nadine Nettmann

I once read somewhere that when you get a rejection, you should have a glass of Champagne because it means that you’re actually in the game. I followed this advice when I started querying my first book in 2005 and I poured a glass of Champagne when my first rejection arrived. Because in truth, I was glad to be in the game and glad to be on my way to making my dream come true.

But then the rejections continued and the thought of celebrating each one didn’t sound appealing anymore. This was a wise move because over the next ten years, I sent 421 queries for five books. That would have been a lot of Champagne.

Although I didn’t open a bottle of bubbly over every rejection, I also didn’t give up. There were many moments when I could have, such as after the 100th rejection, or the 200th, or even the 400th. But I wanted to see my book in a bookstore. I wanted to hold my book in my hand.
I’m a big fan of Randy Pausch and The Last Lecture. This particular quote of his resonated with me: 

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

So I kept learning, I kept writing new books, and I kept querying. The Champagne advice stayed in my mind and while I didn’t celebrate the rejections, I did put a bottle in the fridge a few times when I had some fulls with agents and thought I was close.

A few years ago, wine began to play a key role in my life as I became a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers. As I continued writing, I thought of the advice I had learned in 2005. Instead of having a glass of Champagne with every rejection, I decided to put wine into my next book. The book became my debut novel, DECANTING A MURDER, which will be published in May with Midnight Ink. 

Patience isn’t always easy and neither is persistence, but I’m finding they are both key elements in the publishing world, no matter what stage of your career you are in. There will always be something to wait for and there will always be a time when you need to keep going. And as I’ve found, Champagne helps.

Nadine Nettmann, a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, is always on the lookout for great wines and the stories behind them. She has visited wine regions around the world, from Chile to South Africa to every region in France, but chose Napa as the setting for DECANTING A MURDER, her debut novel. Nadine is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She lives in California with her husband.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Unreliable Narrators

by Scott Adlerberg

During the last two weeks, I've enjoyed reading the feedback and reviews of my new novel Graveyard Love.  Among a few repeated points, one observation has been that the story's narrator, Kurt Morgan, is an unreliable narrator.  It's an accurate description, but actually there are two types of fictional narrators I called upon in creating Kurt. They are types not unrelated and sometimes you get both types within one character in a book, but they are in fact distinct from each other. One type might be called the obsessive isolated existential narrator.  Think Dostoevsky's Underground Man, talking at you from his bleak apartment, and you have the prototype for this sort of character. He's more of a ranter, a compulsive monologist, than a person telling a skewed, self-protective story. For a long time, I've loved reading novels with these kind of narrators, and actually, using the great Argentinian novel The Tunnel, by Ernesto Sabato, as a jumping off point, I discussed a few notable examples of this type of narrator in an essay awhile back over at the Los Angeles Review of Books site.

But what about the other type, the narrators who aren't so much isolated souls howling in torment as unreliable tellers of their tales ?  With the new book out, and the unreliable narrator influence apparent in it, I thought this would be a good time to talk about some of my favorite novels that center around these slippery characters.

Here's a short list, books with unreliable narrators that have made a strong impression on me:

THE GOOD SOLDIER by Ford Madox Ford

I read this 1915 British novel in college for a class and it has stuck with me ever since.  Yes, this is an Edwardian era novel where the characters, on the surface, behave politely.  But it is also a very dark tale about two couples whose relationships, through adultery and deceit of all kinds, come unraveled.  Three characters die, one goes mad.  And the narration, told by one of the four participants, is a masterpiece of misdirection. Nothing is what it initially seems in this book, and the famous opening line, "This is the saddest story I ever heard," straightforward when you first read it, becomes downright chilling and indicative of total deception by the time you've finished the story.  All four of the novel's players deceive each of the others, and John Dowell, the narrator, is the most unreliable of the four, leaving all sorts of gaps and elisions in his telling. The reader is left with plenty to fill in on his or her own, and some of what you fill in does not jibe with the version of events Dowell is relating.  As if that were not enough, Dowell has got to be among the most self-deceiving characters in the history of fiction, something the author pulls off masterfully, allowing you to understand things the character can't or won't.  For anyone interested in the unreliable narrator device, this masterpiece is a must read.

DESPAIR by Vladimir Nabokov

Nobody does unreliable narrators better than Nabokov, and most people name Lolita first when they think of Nabokovian narrative deception.  I've always found Humbert Humbert to be less of an unreliable narrator than a self-justifying one.  I mean, we have to pick apart the "fancy prose style" somewhat, but we do know what he's doing with the pre-pubescent love of his life.  The narrator of his 1934 novel Despair, Hermann, is if anything more solipsistic than Humbert, and as the book proceeds and Hermann plots what he tells us is the perfect murder, we realize we cannot trust anything he says because we simply don't know whether what he is telling us is accurate, a half-truth, or a total figment of his imagination.  Does the man Hermann tells us is his double, and whom he intends to kill, resemble him at all?  Despair uses the unreliable narrator to wonderfully mordant effect, and it's no stretch to call this tale of murder and madness something of a crime novel.

David Cranmer has written an insightful, detailed piece about Despair at Criminal Element that I urge you to check out if you haven't already:

THE GROTESQUE and ASYLUM by Patrick McGrath

A master of stylish gothic fiction, British writer Patrick McGrath has employed the unreliable narrator in several novels. He's a writer obsessed with mental illness, psychological trauma, repressed sexuality, and adulterous relationships.  In a way that Freud would appreciate, his preoccupations seem to date back to childhood; his father was the Medical Superintendent at Broadmoor Hospital in England - a maximum security psychiatric hospital.  The two McGrath books I've read, The Grotesque and Asylum, both have unreliable narrators, and it's obvious from the David Cronenberg film adaptation of McGrath's Spider that this book does also.

In his first book, The Grotesque (1990), the narrator is Sir Hugo Coal, a between World Wars British aristocrat confined to a wheelchair and unable to talk.  His mind is quite lively, though, and in his internal monologue, he tells how the household's butler, a man named Fledge, has ambitions to usurp his place in the house, including to sleep nightly in his wife's bed.  But is Fledge really out to get him as he claims, or is Coal attracted to Fledge in a way he can't accept in his own mind, fueling his paranoia and visions of persecution?  McGrath writes in a heady, elegant way consistent with the gothic form, but there is nothing slow or old-fashioned about The Grotesque.  It's a devious and entertaining book filled with wit and bite. 

Asylum (1996) is another one I can't forget.  I found it to be a spellbinding tale about the destructive relationship between the wife of a psychiatrist running a mental hospital and a patient-murderer-sculptor there.  Here the narrator is not the husband or his wife or the patient, but a colleague of the husband's who watches everything unfold and tries to convince us how dispassionate he is about it all.  But is he as detached toward the wife involved, Stella, as he claims?  As in The Good Soldier, the opening sentence is a tip off, though of course no reader grasps this right away.  "The catastrophic love affair characterized by sexual obsession has been a professional interest of mine for many years now," the narrator says.  Sounds dry, sounds professional, but in the realm of the unreliable tale teller, there are always hidden depths

CORROSION by Jon Bassoff

The less said about Jon Bassoff's terrific novel, the better. It's got a number of dark twists and turns that I don't want to hint at for those who haven't read it.  But let's just say that this contemporary noir/psychological thriller presents identity as something malleable and Bassoff uses the unreliable narrator technique audaciously.  It's a book that takes chances and the chances pay off.  Bassoff takes the unreliable narrator tradition you find in crime fiction masters such as Jim Thompson and makes something of it that's his own.

HEARTSTONES by Ruth Rendell

Through her long career, Ruth Rendell was another writer who created a number of unreliable narrators.  Her 1987 novella Heartstones shows her doing in economical form so many things she does well.  The story of two teen sisters named Elvira and Spinny, their widower father, and the woman he meets and plans to marry, the book is told by the elder sister Elvira, and in typical Rendell fashion her narrative voice is quiet but creepy.  She keeps telling us that she didn't have anything to do with her mother's death and that her father, who she dotes on obsessively, cannot be permitted to marry this new woman in his life.  Rendell has an uncanny skill to develop a complicated plot unobtrusively, with everyday events happening, through characters who are complex, believable people.  Then from the quietness she lowers the boom and you realize just what has been going on as you read, and the horror appears, to your surprise and chagrin.  Heartstones serves as a prime example of this - a short book perfectly crafted.


Six books with unreliable narrators.  All of them I enjoyed immensely, and from a writing perspective, I learned a lot from each one.  

What are some of your favorite unreliable narrator novels?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Bite, Chew, Swallow, Repeat

In anticipation of The Walking Dead's mid-season return, I got sucked into the TWD marathon and saw a lot of post-Dale death episodes over the past few days.

As a result, one of the things that stood out to me was the importance of realism.

That might sound ironic when you're talking about a show where walkers are routinely trying to eat you and your friends, but one of the main catalysts for the plot centers on the ability characters have to accept their reality.

One example? Season 4's gut-wrenching episode, The Grove. All the signs of Lizzie's inability to understand the true nature of walkers were there. In fact, she'd openly stated beliefs that were so disconnected from their reality, and dangerous, that Lizzie almost smothered Baby Judith before ultimately murdering her sister to try to prove that walkers weren't dangerous.

Her inability to come to terms with reality was her undoing. Carol's inability to recognize and address Lizzie's distorted views contributed to the situation, causing her to share some responsibility for what happened.

One has to wonder how much of her denial over Lizzie was connected to her own pragmatic choice to execute Karen and David and subsequent exile, and her guilt over what she put Tyreese through.

Leading into this episode of The Walking Dead, Jessie had been coddling son Sam, and instead of helping him confront the reality of their world and learn how to stay safe she indulged his denial, and the result? Sam, Jessie and Ron die. 

Jessie's inability to force her own son to confront reality is her own way of avoiding the full truth about their situation. It shows that while Jessie is giving speeches to her neighbors and showing her skill with a knife, part of her still thinks that there's room for indulgence, and ignorance, and that she can protect Sam from the world they live in.

Most of Alexandria lived in denial, and carried on day to day as though the world beyond their walls wasn't gone.

Think back to the days of the Governor, and his first community, Woodbury. Most of the community lived at a distance from the walls, and carried on with regular life and routine. Imagine the level of ignorance you have to have to think that, after one incident with a breach of the walls, they were ready to leave, thinking they were safer outside the walls of their town.

It seems that whenever characters fail to come to grips with their reality, they soon find themselves with a shot-out eye, because the boy who tried to kill them mere hours earlier has not gotten over how much he hates you.

One of the things that I think could be most interesting as the second half of this season progresses is to watch how Rick balances the realities of building a community that can be kept safe. He's attempted this before, at the prison. His denial about the threat of the Governor contributed that. When he arrived at Alexandria, he seemed to have difficulty trusting in the safety in the community, but what he's really grappling with is the need to eliminate that denial that's threatened so many individuals and groups before. He needs the Alexandrians to see the reality of the world they live in and be prepared to defend themselves, and he's ultimately proven right.

On a smaller scale, this played out with The Wolf in episodes 8 and 9. Morgan tries to share his wisdom, which falls on deaf ears. The Wolf is not capable of philosophically-based redemption. He doesn't buy what Morgan is selling, but when Denise tells him he's full of shit, he seems to connect with her honesty. Was he really redeemed in the end? We'll never know, but he did save Denise's life, and without the realities of their situation, and Denise's ability to confront her own anxiety and fears and to confront The Wolf's bullshit, that might not have happened.

Accepting reality and dealing with it seems to be an underlying theme throughout the series, and perhaps the path to survival is best summed up on a quote from one of The Saviors.

"If you have to eat shit best not to nibble. Bite, chew, swallow, repeat."

I know some people think there's no character development or substance to this show, but The Walking Dead is a bit like a James Sallis novel, and the evolution of the characters and the story often builds in a slow burn, but is far more realistic than characters magically fixing all their problems in 45 minutes, only to forget everything they learned and make the same mistakes again next week. And if we consider our day to day lives, and the little truths we withhold from others, it isn't hard to believe that the human mind functions in a state of denial. A $50 prize keeps the dream alive that the next ticket will win the big lotto prize. Our own Walter Mitty moments convince us the next great book deal is just around the corner.

The ability of the mind to subvert reality and develop a more appealing fantasy is within us all, and that's why it's so easy to understand how the mind tries to suppress the horrors of The Walking Dead world in a way that few works of fiction really seem to address. Even that moment when Carol tells Morgan she should have killed him... She's again struggling with reality and responsibility and her own humanity, and in some respects, that seems to be the truth this show is really about finding. Can there be any more worthy struggle to face?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Darkest Corner

by Kristi Belcamino

This is the little book I've been working on recently, LETTERS FROM A SERIAL KILLER:

It's a novella-length book that is a combination true crime/memoir. It's up for pre-order now here. If you do happen to pre-order it, be sure to email me ( a screen shot and I'll send you off some copies of the letters. Here's a bit about it:

"After termination ... there is a let down. Anytime you get an adrenaline rush like that, there's a let down. Hard enough where it puts you to sleep."
 - Curtis Dean Anderson from jail.

This is the story behind my Anthony and Macavity-award nominated book, Blessed are the Dead. Letters from a Serial Killer is a novella-length true crime/memoir about my life as a newspaper reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area covering the crime beat and my dealings with a serial killer and one little girl he kidnapped off the streets of Vallejo--Xiana Fairchild.

Warning: it contains some explicit excerpts from Curtis Dean Anderson's jailhouse letters to me and Stephanie Kahalekulu, the woman who raised Xiana.

More than a decade ago, I lugged a big box across the country that has become a dark memorial to a man I feared and despised. I've kept it in a far dark corner of my basement. It contains sick mementos of a monster--dozens of reporter's notebooks filled with interviews with this man, newspapers filled with articles I wrote about him, and documents, such as his birth certificate and jailhouse interview requests stamped "denied" or "approved."

Letters from a Serial Killer is my story about a seven-year-old girl snatched off the street on the way to school and never seen again. It is about how this story came into my world and still affects me to this day. But readers will also hear from Kahalekulu--the woman whose life was changed forever on Dec. 9, 1999. In this book, we share details of our jailhouse conversations with this man and the letters he sent us from behind bars and how we are forever bonded by our dealings with a monster, but more than that--by our quest for justice for Xiana.