Saturday, March 19, 2016

Writing Pace and a Surprise Discovery


Scott D. Parker

Last week, I wrote about HoursTracker, an app I’m using to keep track of my writing process for my latest novel (A western! Shh! Don’t tell anyone around here.) Anyway, as of yesterday, I had reached 34,000 words. Now, 7,000 of those words were a short story I had already written last year. Doing the math, that leaves 27,000 new words. The time on the app reads 16.23 hours.

In total, I have written in 33 separate sessions. All but two sessions since 1 March have been less than an hour. I have a day job and I don’t have a lot of time to carve out of my various days to write. Tis why I wake up at 5am on weekdays and between 6 and 7am on weekends. The words do add up, given time.

Seeing as how I have a day job, my mind fixates on hours worked. My workdays are nine hours long for nine days and I get every other Friday off. It took me some time to get used to the 9-hour days, but the day off every tenth day is a wonderful benefit.

Now, when I saw the 16.23 hours number, my mind shifted to “day job mentality.” If writing this book were a traditional job, I’d have worked a little over two days. If I assume I go to work Monday at 8am, then, by now, in the writing of this book, I’m just getting coffee on Wednesday morning. My mind immediately shifted to the Big Question: Holy cow! Am I really writing a book this fast? Am I really going to be finishing a novel in a “week”? (I.e., 40 hours).

My mind whirled at the idea of this. Imagine how many books I could write if it were my true day job. Imagine the lifestyle! I could do this.

I ran this info by a fellow writer friend who does do this for a living and has for a long while. He brought me down to earth. “You've got to be young and full of energy or else a freak of nature to do that consistently, though. My theory has always been that you can push yourself way beyond what seems like your normal pace, but only for a limited time.”

My graphic designer friend, David—the one who created the cover for ALL CHICKENS MUST DIE—pointed out something else that probably plays into things. He commented that, since I only have a limited amount of time per day to write, I have to be as efficient as possible. Thus, the likely inflated word count and efficiency of this book.

Still, it’s given me food for thought. What is my true writing pace? What would it really be like to write 9 to 5, five or more days a week? Frankly, I’d love to find out that answer, but I’m not there. Yet.

What’s y’all’s writing pace? How do you (if at all) keep track of your writing?


I actually have 2, but I’ll hold off on one until next week.

So, yesterday, I was flipping through Facebook and ran across a Facebook ad for Rolling Stone. The photo was small and I didn’t recognize the band. Heck, I didn’t even know the band name: The Struts. Anyway, the little one-sentence headline read something like “Blah blah blah blah GLAM ROCK blah blah blah blah.” I honestly can’t remember. All I saw was “Glam Rock.” That’s enough for me. I read the article. [Here’s the link] Hmm, I thought. They sound interesting. The article mentioned Spotify. I’ve got the free version so I headed over there.

I found the album, “Everybody Wants,” and set it to play. The free version of Spotify doesn’t play the albums in order, so I had to suffer the shuffle play.

In retrospect, it would have been nice to note which song I heard first. I can’t remember. From the opening lines of the first song, I was hooked. Shades of the band Slade from the early 70s were all over this song. The second song just kept up the momentum. The lead singer has a way of rolling his Rs just like Freddie Mercury. By the fourth song—this one I know: “Put Your Money on Me”*—I was grinning like a goofball, tapping my foot at my cubicle and bobbing my head. I hadn’t even finished the new LP before I was up and asking my co-workers if they had heard this band and telling them all about the new LP.

I heard The Struts for the first time around 10:00am or so. By 12:40pm on my lunch hour, I had purchased the entire record. The last time an album has so captured my imagination was in 2013 with Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.

If you like FUN music, unabashedly flamboyant songs as cheeky as they are catchy, and unashamed to tout their artistic influences, The Struts are the band for you.

**Side Note: I *heard* this music before I even saw the band. The music is so fantastic. The presentation, specifically in lead singer Luke Spiller, is over the moon.

Check them out for yourself.

Put Your Money on Me

Could Have Been Me (This appears to be the single)

Kiss This (good concert footage here)

Here's the Amazon link for the new 2016 reissue (with extra songs!)

Friday, March 18, 2016

Calling in Sick...

There are four children in my home right now (my own, and three houseguests), which means there are germs aplenty, and decent sleep is at a premium. The obvious result? I've been sick with some kind of Captain  Tripps-esque head-plague that's made speaking in full sentences a challenge and doing things like writing and editing nearly impossible.

So, this week, at Do Some Damage: I'm calling in sick, calling in twisted...

Thursday, March 17, 2016

7 Reasons I Hate Literary Events

I’ll be at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville this week and moderating a swell panel on Saturday.
Whether they’re labeled conventions, conferences, festivals or tailgates, these literary events are everywhere. Bouchercon. Noircon. Left Coast Crime. Malice Domestic. They’re growing and growing and I hate them so much.
Why? How can I possibly hate these literary events? Well, back in 2010 I went to Noircon in Philly. That started it, and it’s only gotten worse. Here’s why.
  1. I always go broke. See, at all these places they’ve got book rooms. At Bouchercon in 2015, I bought a stack of books at one table. Eleven books. Because the authors were there and I wanted the books signed and/or I wanted to read the book because it seemed cool. I was down $158 so far, not counting the expense of the convention and the gas and food and all. Just on books. Down $158. Then I remembered a couple other people who were there and I wanted their books, too. But I hadn’t seen the books. Turns out, there was another bookseller in the room with those books. And another bookseller with other books. I ended up down $319 on books alone. And I was only at the convention for a total of four hours.
  2. I have to interact with authors. I like to have signed books. I have a shelf of autographed books with a huge range of authors – everyone from James Dickey and Tom Wolfe to Dave White. So I wander around like a spastic ginger trying to get $319 worth of books signed. Well, that’s not true. I also brought along some other books and magazines for authors to sign. See, at Noircon I’d brought alone a baseball bat for authors to sign. George Pelecanos. Christa Faust. Megan Abbott. Even Dave White. That was much easier to manage than three tote bags full of books. Although, hooray tote bags. Still, I looked like your grandmother at a Kohl’s red tag sale. 
  3. I have to interact with people. If you’re like me and you go to these writer events, you’re probably mobbed by fans. You can’t help it. You write a book people love. You get a story in a great magazine. And these people come from out of nowhere wanting you to sign your book that they just bought at the book table or some magazine they’ve lugged to the event, and you try to be nice about it, even though there’s a line of people behind them getting impatient. Like I said, if you’re an author like me, you’re probably mobbed all the time like that. At Bouchercon for me, it wasn’t so much a mob as John McFetridge. And it was so much aggressive as it was his saying it was good to see me and how was it going. But, still. I imagine it must be terrible to be a successful author and get mobbed by fans asking you to sign their dumb baseball bat or whatever.
  4. I get a runny bottom worrying about which panel to attend. Thing is, these places usually have two or three panels at a time that look pretty awesome. And they never have all the people I like on the same panel. Holly West might be on this panel at 2, but Chris Holm is on this other one at the same time. And at 2:30 I’m supposed to me Jedidiah Ayers and Jay Stringer back in the bar to talk about movies. So I feel as if I have to be all over the place or clone myself into three or four people (which is an option no one wants, believe me) and so I get nervous and sick end up picking whichever panel happens to be close to the restroom. This panel is always a Bryon Quertermous panel. I don’t know why.
  5. I am always reminded of that time at Noircon in which I punched Dave White in his man junk. Oh, this is supposed to be what I hate about literary events. I don’t know how this one got in the list. That was pretty awesome. #sorrynotsorrydave
  6. I always come away wanting to read more than I write. I get home with books by Lou Berney and Hilary Davidson and Johnny Shaw and Joe Clifford and S.W. Lauden and Kristi Belcamino and Thomas Pluck and Alafair Burke and Rob Hart and Chris Irvin and Eric Beetner and all I want to do is sit down for an uninterrupted month and read. So my writing time suffers.
  7. I always come away wanting to write more than I read. I get home after talking with smart writers and I feel inspired by something they’ve said or written and I can’t slow my fingers and I get to scrawling sentences into notebooks and I forget to read and forget to eat and it’s just generally a complete mess. Awful.

Anyway, I can think of a dozen more reasons these things stink. Wasting time in a bar talking to fellow writers about great books they’ve just read or books they’re working on. Meeting authors I’ve read and loved and making myself super nervous that I’ll Russel D. McLean all over their shoes. Spending so much time tracking down Kathy Reichs in an elevator that I never get to listen to Jedidiah Ayers explain movies to me. I don’t know. They’re terrible. I hate them so much. If you hate all this as much as I do, join me this weekend in Charlottesville. It’s sure to be a horrible mess of readers and writers talking about what they love. I have to go get nervous sick now.


Sat. March 19, 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
Omni Hotel - Ballroom C
212 Ridge McIntire Road, Charlottesville, VA 22903
Rebecca Drake (Only Ever You), Mary Louise Kelly (Bullet), Lisa Lutz (The Passenger), and Sarah Weinman (Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s) discuss their crime novels and compilation. Steve Weddle, moderator

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Two-Year Writing Prompt

Guest post by Kristi Abbott

Holly's note: I've known Kristi for awhile now, originally through her friendship with my brother. But since my move to Northern California, I've had the privilege to get to know her better on my own and it's been a delight. When she told me she was contracted to write a house-owned series for Berkeley Prime Crime, I was really curious about how that works. She was kind enough to write a guest post about it for Do Some Damage.

Now I'll let her do the talking:

About a year and a half ago, my editor at Berkley gave me the bad news that we wouldn’t be continuing my Messenger series. I loved that character. I loved writing her. I loved her voice. I loved slipping into her brain. I was going to miss that girl. I wasn’t completely surprised, but I was sad. It was a little hard to focus through the rest of that conversation as I processed that I would not be slipping into Melina Markowitz’s brain again any time soon, at least not under contract.

That’s why I barely registered my editor telling me that she really liked working with me and that we needed to find a new project to do together. Plus, I put it down to typical New York publishing let’s-have-lunch-air-kiss anyway. Nothing wrong with it, but I didn’t think it meant anything either.

Which is why I was a little surprised when she sent me an email asking if we could talk. Surprised or not, who says no to that? We chatted. She asked if I’d ever thought about doing a cozy mystery. I had, but it had been a while and I didn’t think the project still had legs. She asked if I’d ever considered doing a house-owned series. I told her I wasn’t sure because I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. She explained. The publishing house would come up with a concept and I would write it under a pen name. The house would own everything about the series including the author name. That’s when I totally got it. I said, “You mean like Nancy Drew!” It was exactly what she meant, which is how I ended up writing a popcorn-based, grown-up Nancy Drew.

The whole experience has reminded me a lot of the writing prompts from creative writing workshops and classes. I was given specific parameters, a time limit, and the approximate length of the piece. The difference was that rather than writing three paragraphs in twenty minutes about a snow globe I pulled out of a bag, I was going to be writing three approximately 80,000-word books in two years about a woman chef opening a gourmet popcorn shop. Oh. She has a poodle, too.

I know some people would chafe at the parameters and restrictions, but I found them to be a relief in some ways. I can be completely undone by having too many options. I was almost unable to make plane reservations to attend Left Coast Crime this year because there were too many decisions to be made. Should I fly out of Sacramento? Oakland? San Jose? Should I fly in Tuesday night or Wednesday morning? United or Southwest? Paper or plastic? Soup or salad? Boxers or briefs? So even though some of the choices weren’t ones I would make, it was nice not to have to make them.

Like a good writing prompt, it’s been fun. Even though the concept wasn’t mine originally, by the time I was ten pages in it felt (with some minor exceptions) like it had been mine all along.

So do you have any questions about writing a house-owned series? Or do you have a favorite writing prompt? Comment below. I’ll send one commenter a copy of KERNEL OF TRUTH, the first book in Kristi Abbott’s Popcorn Shop Mystery series.

KERNEL OF TRUTH is Kristi's first book with Berkley Prime Crime. She has been obsessed with popcorn since first tasting the caramel cashew popcorn at Garrett's in Chicago. If you've never had it, you might want to hop on a plane and go now. Seriously, it's that good.

Kristi lives in northern California, although she was born in Ohio like the heroine of Kernel of Truth. She loves snack food, crocheting, her kids, and her man, not necessarily in that order.

Kristi also writes as Eileen Rendahl and Eileen Carr.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

THE RED SEVEN by Robert Dean

Guest Post by Robert Dean
Scott's Note: Today we've got Robert Dean guest posting.  Robert's written one novel, In the Arms of Nightmares, which is hardcore horror, and now he's got a new novel out that's a western.  There's plenty of violence, of course; there is also, as he says, regret, money, malice, and death.  Never a shortage of juicy stuff to call upon when doing a western.  But what prompted him to take on this genre?  That's what Robert's here to talk about.  So...on to Robert, talking about The Red Seven.
Writing a western is weird. It’s a genre that doesn’t get a lot of respect, yet some of the dopest writers in the game have written one or two. Elmore Leonard started on them. Stephen King has dabbled with The Dark Tower series while Larry McMurty made a career from westerns. There ain’t a soul alive who’ll tell you McMurty can’t write. Jim Thompson had his toes in the western water, and there’s this dude who’s a master called Joe Lansdale who knows a thing or two about some cowboy business. Trust me on this, westerns are cool.

But, it’s in the heart of the western that the genre is so appealing, at least, to me: you gotta be a bad, bad hombre to handle the violent world of the wild west. The west was hard. People ate bears and horses. Folks slept near outhouses and pissed in pots. They wore wool everything. (Seriously, Texas in August and wearing wool? No bueno, compadre.) If you spit on a dude’s shoe, it was likely you were gonna, at least, get into a brawl where homeboy could cut your ear off and keep it. And we’re not even getting into the whole shoot em’ up thing, either.

But what makes the genre timeless is precisely all of that – the bravado, the bravery, the wildness and oneness of creating your world by bullets, with or without your hands. There’s an inherent love of the West in American culture – it’s a big piece of the fabric of who we are as a people. Many of us will never visit Tombstone, but the ghosts of the past forever intrigue us – from Miami to Seattle.

When I set out to write my novel, The Red Seven. I thought about the genre, how it wasn’t cool. No one I knew was writing westerns. To most people, the genre comes off as something old dudes in dusters cling to or women in denim skirts and chunky Navajo jewelry love. And those stereotypes suck. I wanted to write a story that dabbled in the elements of southern gothic but was raw. I wanted to write something that felt like a Tarantino movie but read like Cormac McCarthy’s little brother. Lofty goals, I know. I ain’t saying I accomplished my goals, but I sure as hell tried to write something honest.

There’s another misnomer that westerns are predictable, which also sucks as the genre should be as multi-layered as its cousins in mystery and noir. There’s plenty of room for crime and violence – just replace the cars for horses. In the current social landscape, people go to jail. In the west, folks could blast their way out of town and never be seen again. The stories allow for complexity, it’s just how bad you want to tell what happened.

So, I guess this is a call to other writers – consider the western genre. There’s a lot to love. There’s plenty to work with, and there’s a culture that’s ripe for the taking. Get on that horse, hombre. Let's ride.


You can get Robert Dean's The Red Seven here.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Blurred Lines

One of the criticisms I've heard of characters is that they aren't consistent.

"She's tough, she shouldn't be crying."
"He's a prick so he shouldn't be nice to that waitress."

The thing is, these complaints aren't usually directed at major scenes or events. There sometimes seems to be a viewpoint that if a character is bad they're always bad and can never have any moment of redemption.

The reality is that most people are more than good or bad. Most people are complex. Even the toughest person can have a moment of weakness. Many will know what I mean when I say that you there are times you can go through hardship after hardship and keep a cool head, and then something minor will happen and you're reduced to tears. You're done. One little thing becomes the straw that drops you to your knees.

Although it's rarely credited with awards that recognize this fact, The Walking Dead has allowed for some of the most significant character development with their long-standing characters. As the characters have faced hardships and horrors they have either adapted to their situation or died.

In case you haven't seen yesterday's Walking Dead episode you may want to tune out now because I want to touch on Carol's evolution.

Carol has been on the show for six seasons. She missed the first episode but has been part of the core group ever since. Her husband beat her. She lived for her daughter. After becoming a widow she faced the loss of Sophia, but instead of crumbling under the weight of her daughter's death she toughened up and became one of the most formidable characters -male or female- on the show. If you were on the wrong side of a confrontation with Carol you weren't long for this world.

When the group reached Alexandria Carol began playing a role. Suzie homemaker. A nurturing type who bakes cookies and doesn't know how to hold a gun. She flies under the radar, deliberately, so that people drop their guard around her and she can infiltrate the group and learn about the people there.

Always smart, always thinking, always ten steps ahead of everyone.

And then there was her relationship with Sam, who she scared the crap out of. Leave it to Carol to tell the kid scary horror stories that would ultimately contribute to his death.

Ask anyone yesterday morning and they would have described Carol as strong, tenacious, even vicious at times.

Then last night's episode airs and we're left to wonder if Carol was acting to drop her captors' guard or if she really is facing a crisis of conscience.

The reality is that Carol has come out on the other side of a lot of horror and seems to be taking stock. She's realized how many people she's had to kill and it clearly reluctant to take another life if she doesn't have to. She leaves a cookie on Sam's grave. Carol is nicer to him dead than she ever was when he was alive.

Yes, she's still Carol. There's no inconsistency. This is just a different facet of Carol bubbling to the surface. It doesn't bode well for her, as those who seem to embrace peace or a reluctance to kill (like Tyreese) don't last long, but Carol seems to have reached the end of her rope for now. We've finally had the Daryl-Carol moment we've been waiting for, and any doubt about whether she was acting or not about her fears her real are put to rest once and for all.

Carol isn't okay. She doesn't want to kill anymore.

Perhaps Morgan has impacted Carol more than anyone realized. Or perhaps she'll come back tougher than ever, ready to take down Negan herself.

What do you sacrifice for your writing?

by Kristi Belcamino

Some people complain they don't have enough time to write. I hear you.

I used to complain about that, too. When I first started writing, I had two precious hours each weekday when both my children were at school. But I also knew there were parents who worked full time and fit in their writing either by waking at 4 a.m. or by staying up until midnight.

If you want to write, you make time.

You make it a priority.

Otherwise, you won't find time to write.

If you want to write, you sacrifice other things in your life to do so.

In my case, I gave up watching TV to try to squeeze more hours out of the day.

But I didn't give it up completely. Every few months I binge watch a series on Netflix or Amazon Instant Video for about a week.

Over the years that has meant Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones, Weeds, and a few others.

Recently I got hooked on Jessica Jones and have been binge watching her for the past week.

Two words for that show and character: Bad. Ass.

Do you binge watch shows?
Do you sacrifice for your writing?

PS Wondering how old is too old to wear a motorcycle jacket. Asking for a friend.

PPS I bought my first motorcycle jacket in 1988 on Melrose Avenue in L.A. and then my friends and I repeatedly ran over it with our cars so it wouldn't look so new and shiny.