Saturday, March 5, 2016

Breaking Down Books

Scott D. Parker

How often do you break down a book you’ve read to see how it’s built?

On Wednesday, I wrote a review of BOUNTY ON A BARON by Robert J. Randisi. One of the things that amazed me was just how fluidly I got through the story. It was effortless. No sooner had I started than I was sucked into the tale and just went along for the ride.

How did Randisi accomplish this? I set about to discover the answer.

About a quarter of the way into the book, I started taking notes. With pencil in hand, I jotted bullet points per chapter about the action. Later in the novel, as Randisi inserted more than one scene per chapter, I sub-divide my bullet points into scene. When I had completed the novel, I wrote all my notes into a ledger so I could refer to it in the future.

What emerged was the structure of a well-crafted story. Next I did a little internet research to discover if Randisi, author of over 650 books (no, that’s not a typo) outlined ahead of time. Surely, that’s the only way a writer could be this prolific. Nope. He just goes. Naturally, having decades and hundreds of novels of experience, much of the mechanics of writing a story is now ingrained in his mind, but still.

Looking at this book at such a high level, the mechanics of the story start to reveal the overall story structure. Sure you can see that in one later chapter, he had five small scenes in one chapter, but sometimes, those little scenes were merely setup for later scenes. It proved to be a constant flow of small little cliffhangers and denouements throughout the entire book, to say nothing of the overall climax and epilogue.

I’ve read in more than one place that some beginning writers will actually type out a book they enjoy literally to get the feel of a book. I’m not one of those people. This structure breakdown is enough for me.

The exercise is illustrative, however. Just having a book diagrammed out enables a higher level of storytelling. I’ve heard that what happens when you dictate a novel, a professional goal for 2016.
Do y’all breakdown a book into its component parts in order to learn how it was constructed? Is there another exercise y’all do? I’m curious.


I’m listening to the latest novel by Clive Cussler, THE PHAROAH’S SECRET. It’s a Kurt Austin adventure, my first of this series. Cussler has five by my count: Dirk Pitt, Isaac Bell, NUMA Files (Austin), Oregon Files, and the Fargo Adventure.

Well, midway in PHAROAH, there’s a shootout and Kurt hears the voices of a couple other people. When they get closer, he realizes they are characters from the Oregon Files. And, what’s even cooler, when they namedrop the case their investigating, I realized that it’s in the *next* Cussler book to be published in May, THE EMPEROR’S REVENGE.

How cool is that!

In all the books I’ve written to date, all my characters typically walk on in nearly every book. But I’ve never had the idea of something like this. You know what this means, right? In, EMPEROR’S REVENGE, I’ll get to see the exact same scene but from the POV of the Oregon characters.

That is really, really neat.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Black Sails, Disco Inferno

A little over a year ago, I was laying in the guest bedroom at my in-laws' house, browsing Facebook on New Year's Eve. Being eight hours ahead of most of my friends made the activity light, but I saw a post from a friend and writer talking about this idea he was playing with - he wasn't sure if he should go ahead.

The idea was, what if you gender-flipped the Tristan and Isolde myth, modernized it, and made it noir? Holy shit, I was not going to let him talk himself out of that one. I had read (and loved) all of Andrez Bergen's work up to that point, and I couldn't think of a person better suited to that story, so I picked up my pom-poms and started cheerleading.

Fast forward to September of last year and the seventh issue of the resulting comic, Trista & Holt, debuted with my name in the slot for guest-writer. I'm a huge comic book fan, and a huge fan of Andrez, so this was absolutely surreal. When our first review for the issue came in, and it was overwhelmingly positive, I actually cried. I couldn't have been happier with our collaboration - or so I thought.

Because Andrez never sleeps (he says he does, but I don't buy it), once he wrapped up the comic series, he moved right on to the next project: a novelization of the comic series with a different ending.

Completely unexpectedly, it turns out that the first novel with my name on the cover will be Black Sails, Disco Inferno, set to be released this summer.

This is HUGE.

This is AMAZING.

This is INSANE.

I don't even know how to process the turn of events. For my part, I stumbled through my collaboration on the comic with Andrez, held my breath, and hoped for the best. I am so proud of the work I did, and how beautifully the collaboration worked out, but when Andrez sat down to write the novel, he promised I'd be credited for my part, he assured me the story would not have been the same without my work - but to have my name on the cover? To have a dedication to my husband in the front and acknowledgements in the back? To be planning a release party? HOLY SHIT.

This book is amazing, the previews I've seen for the cover are beautiful. This collaboration is absolutely the high point of my (admittedly short) career. I'm a bit stunned, but overall bursting with excitement to share this work with everyone.

I'm sure I'll come to grips with how to fully take the credit for my part (I'm not there yet), after all, it did suddenly feel real when I started writing acknowledgements but for now I'm trying to savor the excitement of seeing something I was a part of come out into the world with my name on it. Andrez is, as always, a wonderful person to work with, and has made sure I feel like this is mine, too, but I've been calling it, "The novel I collaborated on... well, I mean... I didn't write it..." which is a bit of a mouthful. I'm open for suggestions on something a little more succinct.

In the meantime, I bought myself a cool toy and am having a drink to celebrate.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Doing Time: My Path to Publishing

Guest post by James L'Etoile

I recently announced signing a two-book deal with Crooked Lane Books and when Holly West asked me to blog about my path to getting published, I thought—that’s nothing special. I did the same things every other author does, write, edit, query, repeat.

Holly’s request got me thinking. Why do I write the kind of stuff I do, namely crime fiction with a bit of a dark edge? After hours of navel gazing, I came to the realization that I’ve been preparing for crime writing my whole life. I learned about crime and the people involved in it from my time in prison.

I grew up on prison grounds as a kid. My father was a career Department of Corrections employee and as he moved from prison to prison, so did I. Some of my earliest memories are meeting my dad after his shift at San Quentin, watching an inmate crew at a Conservation Camp pull a black bear out of a garbage pit, riding in a wheelbarrow pushed by an inmate groundskeeper (serving life) and learning about racing pigeons from an inmate named Renell Lindsay. Not the typical childhood experience, but I didn’t know any different. I saw the darker side back then too. I witnessed my dad come home bloodied after being assaulted and watched him go out on escape details.

One of my first jobs, while going to college, was in Parole. And the man who helped me get it—Renell Lindsay, an ex-convict who went on to champion re-entry programs in the 1970’s. From there, it wasn’t long before I went to jail (as a probation officer) and then off to Folsom Prison.

When I started at Folsom, it was a time of rampant gang violence, stabbings, murders and assaults against staff. One of my first days on the job found me in a riot in the prison license plate factory. You’ll never look at a license plate the same way after one goes whizzing past. The pace of violence and bloodshed continued to the point where you begin to become accustomed to it, desensitized to the stabbings, slashing and shootings. The bonds with your fellow Correctional Peace Officers become deep and everlasting in a place like this.

After twenty-nine years, (Not all of it in harsh prison conditions. I helped deliver substance abuse treatment programs to inmates, transportation, classification, back to parole and other headquarters assignments where the bad guys weren’t wearing orange jumpsuits—they wore suits.) I’d had enough of corrupt legislators, lobbyists and one or two unsavory administrators.

What to do with all this background (or baggage, depending on your point of view)? I knew there were stories to tell and I’d been a crime fiction junkie for years. The two seemed to go together and the line between fiction and real life is pretty damn thin. So, I started to write and write. About two manuscripts in and I felt like I was getting the hang of this writing thing. I felt really good about it, until I began to query the work. <cue the crickets>

Rejection is a bitch! Being a fledgling writer, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. It would have been easy to give up, but working in prison thickens the skin—a handy thing for a writer. I began reaching out to other writers, learned more about the craft of writing and attended writing conferences. Most importantly, I continued to write.

I chose the traditional publishing route over self-publishing my work. The self-publishing avenue is great for some of my author friends and they swear by the freedom and total creative control of the process, from cradle to grave. I found a small publisher who was willing to publish my first novel, LITTLE RIVER, a human trafficking thriller set in the Caribbean. She turned me onto social media (and yeah, an old dog can lean new social media tricks) and it was a blast to see my book in a brick and mortar bookstore.

The publisher closed up shop and I knew that I needed something more to reach the next level in the market. I researched literary agents, heard horror stories of predatory contracts, agents sucking authors dry for excessive “extra services,” and never selling the author’s manuscript.

At a Book Passage Mystery Writer’s Conference, I listened to a panel of agents talk about what they look for in a client, how to pitch a story to get their attention and above all, don’t come off as a total douche-bag (that may not have been the exact wording). One agent really stood out to me, Elizabeth Kracht, of Kimberley Cameron and Associates. This woman had substance. She believed in her authors, gave them active support and knew the publishing industry. A year later, at the same conference, I had the chance to pitch my latest manuscript and Liz agreed to take a look, in spite of my sputtering elevator pitch.

After the conference, I shipped the manuscript off to an editor for a final pass because I didn’t want the thing to end up as birdcage liner. When it went to Liz, I was confident that the manuscript was as good as I could make it. Over the next six months, Liz and I went on an extensive back and forth on the storyline, plot holes and edits. Her perspective on the manuscript was such a tremendous help and when we were done, I knew I had someone who could champion this book and would have my back when it came to marketing the story.

Liz had a bite on the manuscript less than a week after she sent it out. Crooked Lane Books, a crime fiction publisher, made an offer on the manuscript and Liz arranged a telephone conference with Matt Martz, the Editorial Director. Matt explained the company’s editorial process and what I could expect if we entered into a contract. Matt’s experience and connections in publishing, distribution and author support were a perfect fit.

The novel, AT WHAT COST, is tentatively set to release later this year. I’m really excited how all this came together. Stay tuned for a cover reveal very soon. I’ve seen the draft artwork from Crooked Lane and it’s killer. I’ll post the book updates over at

So, that’s my path to getting published. It may not be perfect, or the right way, but it’s mine. If a guy from prison can do it, so can you. Don’t give up the fight—keep writing.


Author James L’Etoile’s crime fiction work has been recognized by the Creative World Awards, Acclaim Film and the Scriptapalooza Television Script Competition. His complex, edgy stories are fueled by two decades of experience in prisons and jails across the country. Realistic crime fiction requires an eye for detail while immersed deep within the darkest criminal elements. James brings these stories to life with his background in probation, parole, investigation and prison operation.  An experienced Associate Warden, Chief of Institution Operations, Hostage Negotiator and Director of Parole, James is unique among crime fiction authors.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Anthony Awards: Eligible Titles

By Jay Stringer

(Just when you thought I'd left, huh?)

Okay, here's the deal. The ballots for the Anthony Award nominations are out and the rules are here. You may have noticed, as your facebook feed is full right now of authors looking for nominations. There's nowt wrong with that at all. We all do it. But it can get tricky to remember what books you've read.

With all the titles flying around, it's difficult keeping track everything.

Some authors are comfortable with BSP, some aren't. Some publishers get titles out in front of everyone, some aren't able to. Some indie authors have nobody in their corner, no publisher or publicist.

If you're any one of those -or if you're a fan who wants to speak up for a particular title- add your suggestions (including title, author, category) to the comments here, or seek me out via email and facebook, and we'll add it to this list. And if you've already sent in your suggestions and don't see them here, give me another shout, some might have slipped through the initial rush.


You're As Good As Dead - E.A. Aymar

Made To Kill - Adam Christopher 

Night Tremors - Matt Coyle

Night Night, Sleep Tight - Hallie Ephron

The Scam - Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg

The Killing Kind - Chris Holm 

Pleasantville - Attica Locke

Cry Uncle - Russel D McLean 

Dead Out - Jon McGoran

Burnt River - Karin Salvalaggio 

The Stolen Ones - Owen Laukkanen

Zeroes - Chuck Wendig


Concrete Angel - Patricia Abbott

Go Down Hard - Craig Faustus Buck

True Grift - Jack Bunker

The Short Drop - Matthew Fitzsimmons

A Negro and an Ofay - Danny Gardner

New Yorked - Rob Hart- Polis Books

Bad Citizen Corporation - S.W. Lauden 

A Line Of Blood - Ben McPherson 

Bull Mountain - Brian Panowich

Murder Boy - Bryon Quertermous 

On The Road With Del And Louise - Art Taylor 


Rumrunners - Eric Beetner

Blessed Are Those Who Weep - Kristi Belcamino

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn - Kristi Belcamino 

The Last Good Place - Robin Burcell

For The Dignified Dead - Michael Genelin

Requiem For Innocence - BV Lawson

Dies Irae - BV Lawson

All In - Joel Goldman & Lisa Klink

No Other Darkness - Sarah Hilary 

February Fever - Jess Lourey

A Little More Free - John McFetridge

Caught Read-Handed - Terrie Farley Moran

Hashtag - Eryk Pruitt

Little Pretty Things - Lori Rader-Day

Off and Running - Philip Reed

Storme Warning - W.L. Ripley

Young Americans - Josh Stallings 

Ways To Die In Glasgow - Jay Stringer 

Not Even Past - Dave White 

The One That Got Away - Simon Wood

Stone Cold Dead - James Ziskin



The Siege - Hilary Davidson

Joe Park's Little girl - Nikki Dolson

Our Man Julian - Nikki Dolson

All Things Violent - Nikki Dolson

Georgie Ann - Nikki Dolson

Labor Day- Danny Gardner

A Year Without Santa? - Barb Goffman

The Wrong Girl - Barb Goffman

Lupe's Lemon Elixir - Christopher Irvin

The Sevens - Kristin Kisska

Silent Measures - BV Lawson

The Water's Edge - Russel D. McLean

Obsession - Russel D. McLean

A Questionable Death - Edith Maxwell

Old Hands - Erin Mitchell- Dark City Nights

On Target - Terrie Farley Moran

A Killing at the Beausoleil -Terrie Farley Moran

The Big Snip - Thomas Pluck - Dark City Nights

Quack And Dwight - Travis Richardson

Trash - Todd Robinson

Feliz NaviDead - Johnny Shaw

South Of Bradley - Steve Weddle

Don't Fear The Ripper - Holly West


Thuglit Presents: Cruel Yule - Ed Todd Robinson

Protectors 2 : Heroes -Ed Thomas Pluck

Murder Under The Oaks

Safe Inside The Violence - Christopher Irvin

SoWest: So Deadly. - Ed Yvonne Corrigan-Carr

Swords, Sandals and Sirens - Marilyn Todd


Need - Joelle Charbonneau

How To Win At High School - Owen Matthews


Causing Chaos - Deborah J Ledford

Young Americans - Josh Stallings and Em Eldridge 

You Must Remember This

By Scott Adlerberg

I don't know what's taken me so long, but only in the last few months have I gotten into listening to podcasts.  Actually, so far, I've been listening to just one series in particular - Karina Longworth's You Must Remember This.  When the weekend comes around and it's time to do the mundane stuff around the house - fixing things, straightening up, the usual - her series has become my company.  I put on the headphones and listen; it's not an exaggeration to say I've almost come to look forward to the weekend housework because it means I'll be listening to the show.

As the series' website describes it, "You Must Remember This is a storytelling podcast about the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood's first century."  Started in April 2014, the podcast has had 74 episodes so far, each of them a "heavily-researched work of creative nonfiction."  Based in Los Angeles, Longworth began as a film journalist and since has gone on to write a few film biographies. She also happens to be a brilliant film critic and historian, and on this podcast, which she writes and narrates - with actors sometimes supplying voices  - she puts all her skills to work to weave absorbing, often bitingly funny narratives.  The overall approach is best summed up by what she says: "Every reasonable attempt is made at accuracy, but quite often when it comes to the kinds of stories we explore here, between conflicting reports, conscious and unconscious mythologizing and institutionalized spin, the truth is murky at best.  That's kind of what the podcast is, ultimately, about."

I've listened to about 25 episodes so far and every single one has been excellent. Some I knew I'd be interested in - "Happy 100th Birthday Val Lewton", "Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles" - and other topic titles I didn't know what to expect but wound up fascinated by - "Isabella Rossellini in the 1990's", "Madonna from Sean Penn to Warren".  
As I say, every episode has been good, and I particularly enjoy the ones where Longworth tells a tale involving movie world crime. This weekend I listened to the episode called Eddie Mannix.  This will be a familiar name to anyone who's seen the new Coen Brothers movie Hail, Caesar!.  Josh Brolin plays Mannix, the man who fixes and cleans up the problems and scandals of the actors and filmmakers at the fictional Capital Pictures. He's portrayed as a hardworking guy who's rarely at home but who is devoted to his family.  Not so, the real Mannix, who was among the most powerful men at MGM for a long time through the studio's heyday.  The real Mannix was, you might say, something of a thug, not to mention a complete womanizer, and in the podcast Longworth details two stories in particular connected to him.  

One, in 1937, involved the rape of a woman named Patricia Douglas at a Hollywood ranch stag party. She was among 120 young dancers who answered a movie casting call that turned out to be a call for them to be party favors for 300 salesmen invited by MGM to this ranch.  The story gets complicated and pretty horrific from here, but in the end, after many attempts by Douglas to get the case to court, the matter was quashed, and years later, when nearing death, Mannix allegedly said of Douglas, "We had her killed." Not quite, in reality, because she lived well past his death and told her story about the rape and its aftermath to Vanity Fair

They published the piece in 2003.  There is also a documentary about the entire story, made in 2007, called Girl 27.

The other infamous Mannix story, which you'll know if you've seen the movie Hollywoodland, revolves around his connection to the death of "Superman", George Reeves.  In 1959, when Reeves died from a gunshot wound to the head one night in his house, he had recently left Toni Mannix, the long time wife of Eddie, for another woman. Did Toni do it? Did Eddie have it done? Or maybe Reeves, not the happiest of people, committed suicide.  Anyway, Bob Hoskins plays Mannix in the movie, which gives you an idea of the sense of menace the filmmakers were going for in their portrayal.

The Eddie Mannix episode of You Must Remember This is a story filled with Hollywood darkness, but to this point, the podcast's masterpiece has got to be the twelve part epic Longworth tells in Charles Manson's Hollywood.  This is a remarkable bit of storytelling that charts the various threads and desires and pathologies in the country as a whole and Los Angeles in particular during an era that ended with the Manson family killings in August of 1969.  Every player touched by the saga is considered in detail, with episodes focusing on Terry Melcher, Dennis Wilson, Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski, Bobby Beausoleil, and Kenneth Anger, not to mention Manson and his various followers. Longworth delves into the counterculture of the time, the music business, and the movie industry, and she shows the connections and interplay among all of them.  Especially incisive is how she dissects the pattern of abuse and sexism so prevalent in each; it's no stretch to say that family leader Manson was in some ways merely a darker version of many of the successful men operating in the entertainment world at the time.  Fame, drugs, sex, violence, success, failure, madness - this story has everything, and believe me, even if you think you know the era well and the Manson killings story well, you will learn something listening to all twelve episodes.  As for Longworth's narration, it's compelling and most entertaining.  As always, she's funny in a sly, cutting sort of way, but she's somber when the telling calls for it.  I didn't binge listen to Charles Manson's Hollywood but it's the kind of series you could listen to that way, once you get hooked on it.

So twenty five episodes down of the seventy four made so far for You Must Remember This, and new episodes are being done right now.  Hopefully there's a lot more to come.  Next up for me might be another one where I know homicide will play a major part; I gotta listen to the recent Lana Turner episode and hear Karina talk about the stabbing of Turner's boyfriend Johnny Stompanato by her 14 year old daughter, Cheryl.  Can't wait.