Saturday, April 30, 2016

Erle Stanley Gardner: Independent Author?

Scott D Parker

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was talking shop with my friend David, the graphic designer who helped design the cover of ALL CHICKENS MUST DIE, the latest Benjamin Wade book. I gave him a list of books that helped me along. The books that I mentioned was one that doesn’t usually show up when we talk about famous writing books. It’s called The Secrets of the World’s Best–Selling Writer: The Storytelling Techniques of Erle Stanley Gardner by Francis L and Roberta B Fugate. The book was published in 1980. It’s the story of how Gardner went from merely a lawyer to, at the time of his death in 1970, the world’s best-selling writer. It is a fascinating book. When I first discovered it a few years ago, I checked it out from the Houston Public Library and read through it very quickly. I took copious notes. I mean a lot of notes. I ended up reading it a second time and now, I’m reading it through for a third time. There is little about Gardner’s personal life; instead, this is a “biography” of how writer practiced, honed his skills, and ultimately, was successful.

The Erle Stanley Gardner papers are housed at the University of Texas at Austin at the Harry Ransom Center. When I attended school there, I never knew it and, let’s be honest, I had never read any of Gardner’s books. The two Fugates scoured through all of Gardner’s papers and pulled out a wonderful history — complete with many of Gardner’s own notes — of the steps he took to become the writer he became. The appendices are wonderful and there are even a few photographs of Gardner’s own handwritten notebooks complete with descriptions, timelines, and all the other things he needed to craft his mystery books. A particularly neat thing is the transcription of a lecture he gave to the writers of the Perry Mason TV show back in 1959. And when I say transcription, I’m talking about an 8 to 10 page block quote. He basically summed up everything you needed to know about how he wrote all his books in this single transcription.

So how do the writings of Gardner and independent authors collide?

As independent authors in 2016, we are urged to publish regularly and frequently. This helps us build up an audience as quick as possible and, if one can maintain a certain writing production, it will give our readers a constant flow of our work. There are many different definitions of “publish regularly and frequently.” I’ve seen estimates that can range from two books a year to four books a year or more. If you think about it, even a moderately paced writing schedule of 1000 words a day can yield, more or less, four books a year that you can then publish. Anything more is gravy (or flooding the market, depending on your mindset).

The reason I bring up Earl Stanley Gardner when talking about independent publishing is his publishing schedule. Now, for the purposes of this discussion, I’m only talking about his novels. He honed his skill as a pulp writer in the 20s and early 30s, writing short stories, novelettes, and novellas. I seem to remember one statistic from the book which stated that he wrote up to 1 million words a year. I know some modern-day writers who can achieve this feat — James Reasoner being one of them — but the mere fact of writing a million words a year is incredibly staggering. But with the writing and publication of Gardner’s first Perry Mason novel, The Case of the Velvet Claws, Gardner turned toward writing more books and fewer short stories.

Get a load of the statistics. In 1933, he published two Perry Mason novels. In 1934, he published three. In 1935 and 1936, he published two each. So that’s nine books and four years. Starting in 1937, things get more interesting. In 1937, he published three novels, two Perry Mason’s and one of his Doug Selby, DA, series. In 1938, same thing: two Perry Mason books and one DA book. Now comes 1939. We get two Perry Mason books, one DA book, and the debut of the Cool and Lam series. That’s four books in one year! He tops himself in 1940: two Cool and Lam books, two Perry Mason books, and one DA book. So, if you do the math, in the first eight years of his novel writing career, Erle Stanley Gardner published 24 books in three different series.

So yeah, Erle Stanley Gardner pretty much published like an independent author. The only difference between him and what we do in 2016 is that he had a traditional publisher. And it was the 1930s, so things were different. And he was able to devote all his time to writing. And he dictated everything. Famously, he dictated the first Perry Mason book in three days. He said it took him a half a day to come up with the plot and 2 1/2 days to dictate the entire book. Wow. I’m majorly impressed.
And if you want one more little tidbit from the mind of Erle Stanley Gardner regarding how he thought about his readers and the editors of the pulp magazines in the 1920s, there is this: “My own approach to the question is different from that of the critic. I am a writer. I serve the reading public. The reading public is my master.” And, according to the Fugates, “After that, he became an outspoken exponent of the idea the publisher of the magazine was simply acting as a middleman in purveying merchandise — story supplied by writers — to readers, the ultimate consumers.”

Erle Stanley Gardner. He acted like an independent author when such a thing rarely existed. Now it does. I wonder how many authors can replicate his success over the nearly 40 years of his novel-writing career? I have my own answer. I aim to try.

BTW, the book is now available as an ebook.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Word on the Street - Interview with James Queally

Sometimes when you get to talking to someone with great insight and stories to tell, you lose track of time and forget you're going to have to transcribe the conversation in an interview format for the readers of Do Some Damage - and that's exactly what happened when I sat down with James Queally, a crime reporter for the L.A. Times, just days after his paper won a Pulitzer for their coverage of the San Bernardino shooting.

James shared some great stories and gave me a lot of his time, so rather than trying to butcher the wonderful thing we created, I've decided to split his interview into two entries. In this entry, we discuss the importance of crime reporting, the tensions during the Ferguson protests, and how small details tell more than one might imagine when reporting on crime.

Photo by Dan Buczynski

You’ve been doing crime reporting for a while now, how many years?
I’ve been on and off for about seven years. I did breaking crime at night, so like, graveyard shift homicides all across New Jersey for about two years at the Star Ledger, then I started covering the Newark Police Department and statewide crime there.

When I came out here the first year, I was doing… working on this like digital breaking news desk so it was kind of a diversion. Then, for about the last year I’ve been kind of like a general assignment crime reporter for the Times, mostly crime around L.A. County, so that could be anything from an investigative project to getting sent to South L.A. because a body got found in a refrigerator.

That actually happened, I’m not that imaginative.

Wow! So, I mean what I want to know, from your perspective is (and it may seem obvious to you): Why do you think it’s important to have people like you out there covering crime as it’s happening?
It’s a variety of different things. It keeps an open dialogue, especially in the past two years with every officer use of force, pretty much, that happens in the U.S. under scrutiny. It allows the other side of any argument to come out. It’s the same as the importance of covering politics, of covering you know, court system. It gets human voices, it gets dissenting voices into a conversation that would otherwise be dominated by the press release or the sentencing transcript, or the court transcripts. I guess court’s a bad example ‘cause that is pretty open dialogue.

But you know, it’s let’s us be there, in the moment getting witnesses, doing as much of our own investigation as we can. A lot of what drove Ferguson, aside from social media was simply the “Hands up, don’t shoot” narrative kind of coming out of witness statements, coming out of Twitter, coming out of the St. Louis Post Dispatch’s early reporting down there. It kind of, depending on what side of that argument you’re on, you could say it’s for better or worse, but it kept it from just being the original police department narrative. And that’s kind of what I’ve always found, and it also just gives you more avenues to a more human story.

I’ve found plenty of good features, good other interesting characters to write about. Moreso when I was in Newark when I was really plugged into the city, just by going to homicide scenes. You know, you may go there and it might be what on it’s face looks like a typical murder. Your average police department press release is not terribly illuminating. It will generally be this is the age, the hometown, gender of the dead person or people. There are survivors, they are in this condition. They’ll generally say they don’t have a motive or suspect, or if they do release a motive it’s because it’s something basic or obvious like a domestic violence call or a known gang thing. And that’s usually it.
Photo by Neil Cooper

That’s all there is – and at the end of the day, somebody died. You know, there’s still a story to tell there. It’s not going to be every murder case, but you need to go down there. It’s probably your best crack at finding witnesses – obviously at finding witnesses, but also finding family members who will show up before everyone kind of just kind of scatters away. It’s a lost opportunity to not armchair cover.  When drowning in Newark, in nearly a hundred murders per year, there were days I would occasionally not run on the scene, but more often than not, I tried to get to every one I possibly could.

Do you feel that, in the time that you’ve been covering these kind of things that people seem to be more interested in the more human details than maybe they have been in the past – with things like the Freddie Gray incident in Baltimore and realizing that there are competing narratives?
Yeah, I mean, people have always been obsessed with crime and true crime narratives, but I definitely think everyone – you know, you have a facebook account – everyone is armchair quarterbacking the way police handle everything, especially use of force these days.

So I think it is more important than ever to have the other side of the argument – even if the police are right – it’s just like any conversation you need both sides. I do think there is more interest in it now, it’s also more important, I think, just to get factual information to have traction. Because you know “millenials are evil’, it’s my generation that’s doing this, but they kind of live and thrive off social media

But you know, Ferguson was both a good and terrible example of this because while on the one side of things, Twitter definitely made that issue front and center – I really think that, more than Eric Garner, is what pushed us into the scrutiny and the climate we’re in now. But like I said, it brought all that attention the day of, and the week of when the shooting first happened. But also, when I was down there you could see people yelling and screaming things that were happening, that just weren’t. They would say the buildings were on fire that I was standing in front of, or that looters were in a certain building that they weren’t. You can just say anything. So I think now more than ever it’s important for those initial accounts to get out there and to get them from reporters on the ground, people you can trust. Get them online quicker.

If we’re not physically there in the moment and you’re waiting. It might sound like it’s a police sanitized narrative – but like I said before, the press releases are so limited that even while I was down there and I got to Ferguson – I landed about an hour after the grand jury decision, so things had already gotten bad. I could see the smoke coming up while I was landing at the airport in St. Louis. Anyway, there was a press conference about 2 am with the St. Louis County Police Chief, and he told you everything he could. But I mean, at the end of the day the official account of hundreds of people obliterating the main road through a city, he can’t cover everything that happened.

There was one thing I saw that got picked up by a few media accounts, but not a ton – there was a near catastrophe down there that I think I was one of the only reporters standing around for.
Things were insane. There was a gas station that had already been looted earlier in the night and – some of this is just illumantive to the tension, it’s not really a major story on it’s own – this caris just trying to get out of the street, from these rioters and peels off into the gas lot to get out of the way. And two officers arrived there, pull their rifles and advance on them. These were like sixteen year old kids, just trying to get the hell out of Dodge. That was like five seconds away from something absolutely mortifying happening. And in a vacuum, it’s chaos, no one is wrong to some extent. The officers are defending themselves, these people are trying to get the hell out of Dodge, but it’s just… you get examples like that, that really highlight the tension, almost more than any quote, anything a police officer is going to tell you, anything a city official is going to tell you. THAT image stayed with me and it was something I kept harkening back to writing about it later. You get those little pockets of action that you just might not see otherwise.
Photo by Intangible Arts

One of the worst murders I remember covering in Newark. There was some street dispute, I don’t remember exactly what lead to this. I think it was 2011. But a thirteen year old kid was murdered by this twenty-four year old. They were apparently fighting over the same woman. But when we got down to the scene it was less than an hour after it happened. A reporter who I was working with on it, found that the kid’s mother was outside, powerwashing the blood off the street. That’s kind of always been a hallmark of urban centers, the street Mylar balloons and candles, its always the one repeat image of homicides there, and she was cleaning the spot that was eventually going to turn into that. If that’s not indicative of the hellacious urban violence that happened in that city the whole time I was covering it, I don’t know what is. I just feel like finding those pieces can sometimes highlight what’s going on better than any comment.

And obviously, going back to what you said before, yeah what we’re talking about, especially increased scrutiny of police now – it’s not just getting the witnesses right there and not letting misinformation get traction, it’s also you wanna get to people before, you know like anything – like anybody, like a police officer would, too – you don’t want to talk to them after they’ve told their story three and four and five times and refined it. And they’ve talked to TV or have been coached, or they’ve been deposed by a lawyer. You don’t want to talk to somebody who was there three days later. You want to talk to them right there, right then, right now. So you’re gonna get the clean story.
You’ve just got to be there. It’s not a good way to do business otherwise

Look for part two where we discuss True Crime TV, OJ Simpson, and more. Read James's work at the LA Times here, and follow him on Twitter.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Learning from mistakes: Pynchon

By Steve Weddle

When I was an undergraduate in Louisiana, I read Thomas Pynchon because his books seemed cool and he seemed mysterious. (Years later, when we became good friends, I realized Tom was much weirder than anyone knew. (Yes. We're pals. If you don't believe me, just ask him.)) I enjoyed Gravity's Rainbow and V. quite a bit, especially the parts I didn't understand. I enjoyed Lot 49, which is sort of the Pynchon for people who never read Pynchon.

Later, in graduate school in Kansas, I read Vineland and some of Mason & Dixon. (I think Mason & Dixon was too clever for me.) While in Kansas, I checked out Slow Learner from the library, Pynchon's story collection, stories he'd written in the late 50s and early 60s.

The amazing thing about the book was the introduction, in which Pynchon laid out in horrifying detail what went wrong with each of his stories, all of which were published (Kenyon Review, Saturday Evening Post, Epoch, etc). He writes that he got dialog wrong, characters wrong, motivation wrong. The intro reads as if some sock puppet is attacking him on Amazon. It's heart-breaking and glorious.

This book sticks with me for a couple reasons. One, when I went back to return the book after two weeks and ask whether I could renew it, I was told I hadn't checked it out at all. According to the records, the book was still on the shelf. I held the book in front of the librarian and explained to her that, well, no, the book was indeed checked out. She said that it was still on the shelf. I said that it was not. At the time, I was not as pleasant and charming as I am now, of course. My state of being has taken decades to perfect, as you'd expect. So, it is possible that we each became rather grumpy with each other. I absconded with the book, down the steps and to the sidewalk. I thought I was brave enough to live with stolen property, but I was not. I went back to the library and returned the book directly to the shelf. A few days later, when I went to check the book out again, it was gone. A different librarian said that they had no record of the book, that it did not exist in their card catalog. She was nicer than the other librarian, but no less unhelpful.

Last week I purchased a used copy of the book. (Tom doesn't need the money, believe me. He won a substantial amount a few years back betting on a town council election in Escondido.) I was reminded of Pynchon's writing lessons in the introduction, his explanations of where he went wrong. Many readers hated this book when it came out, calling it "self-indulgent" and worse. Fine.

What I appreciated in the book was that an accomplished author walks the reader through his earlier stories with hindsight. I am thankful for his hindsight and think that, as a writing book, Slow Learner is horribly under-rated.

If you can find it on the cheap, you might want to give it a shot, just for the introduction. Also, your library might have a copy. Or not.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Creationism vs. Evolution

Guest Post by Dana King

First, thanks to Holly for offering this coveted spot. I’m a daily reader of DSD and getting to post here is always a treat.

There are two types of series heroes: those who evolve and those who don’t. Readers seem to prefer those who don’t: Robert B. Parker’s Spenser and Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer jump to mind. The problem with them was the series went on so long the characters became virtual caricatures of themselves, kicking ass and taking names well into their 70s (and 80s for Hammer). This might not have been so jarring had Parker and Spillane left out references to their heroes’ history as time went on, but they seemed to relish in reminding us that Spenser saw action in the Korean War and Hammer served in the OSS. Kind of took me out of the stories after a while.

Not that evolving the hero is safe. Raymond Chandler left Philip Marlowe pretty much alone until he married him off in PLAYBACK which is, without question, the weakest Marlowe book. (Even POODLE SPRINGS is better, and Chandler didn’t write all that much of it. Parker didn’t do a bad job finishing it up, but it’s no competition to Chandler’s best). Dennis Lehane domesticated Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro in MOONLIGHT MILE and it’s by far the outlier of that series. (I always had the feeling Lehane got tired of people bitching about wanting another Kenzie-Gennaro book and wrote  MOONLIGHT MILE to shut them up in more ways than one).

The two best examples I have of evolving the hero are current series still relatively young, but that show great promise. Adrian McKinty’s Troubles Trilogy is now five books long and displays no signs of slowing down. Sean Duffy moves through Northern Irish history as lone Catholic on the Protestant police force in an era where that wasn’t much safer than being a Jewish security guard at a Hezbollah convention. The books retain their vigor in large part because of the inevitable effects of the times on Duffy and those around him. John McFetridge is only two books into his Eddie Dougherty series (a third is on the way) but Eddie’s growth is apparent even in A LITTLE MORE FREE as he investigates cases and lives through a tumultuous period of Canadian history.

Stagnant protagonists are nice if I just want to read a series novel at random but reading through the series can get stale. No matter how creative the author gets with the plots, an aura of sameness permeates the book when you know the hero is going to remain essentially unaffected by all the horrible things that have happened to—and been done by—him. I like to see the characters move through time as real people would. That’s the point with fictional characters, right? To make them real.

That’s what I’ve tried to do with Nick Forte. He can’t quite bring himself to take prophylactic action to remove a threat to not just himself but his family in A SMALL SACRIFICE. In THE STUFF THAT DREAMS ARE MADE OF he tries to do what he thinks is the right thing and it backfires. THE MAN IN THE WINDOW shows a Forte who’s contracted what one hopes is not a terminal case of Don’t Give a Shit. In A DANGEROUS LESSON (due out May 15 at all finer Amazon outlets everywhere), he’s another step down the road that takes him to his guest appearance in GRIND JOINT, where he’s gone full circle from being the hero of his own series to the psycho sidekick in another.

(Note: Forte’s chronology is complicated. Four novels were completed before his guest appearance in GRIND JOINT. When GRIND JOINT found a publisher, I brought out A SMALL SACRIFICE myself because…well because there was no reason not to and some who had read drafts encouraged me.  A DANGEROUS LESSON clears out the Forte backlog, though a few weeks ago I completed a book that takes place after GRIND JOINT. Publishing queries are welcome.)

So would I say evolution of the main character is what keep a series fresh? Not so much. Forte ideas get harder to come by all the time. The next Penns River book (RESURRECTION MALL, due in early 2017 from Down and Out Books) started out as a Forte story. I couldn’t make it work and finally realized is wasn’t a good vehicle for him and belonged in Penns River. He evolves, but it’s difficult to change his circumstances too much and remain true to the series.

Penns River is a different. It’s a fictional depiction of a real place; ideas are coming faster than I can keep up with them. Rare is the week I don’t save something from the local paper to my hard drive that could be a plotline, or at least a scene. I like Detective Ben Dougherty (no relation to Eddie) as a series lead and cops and other characters will come and go, but it’s the town that drives the action. I can see that series running for quite a while.

Walking along a stream with Gustav Mahler, a young Bruno Walter lamented classical music had reached an end of innovation, “Look!” said Mahler, pointing. “There it goes. The last wave.”

Ideas for Forte will pop up from time to time, and I’ll be happy to work on them; I like the character and supporting cast. It’s The River I expect to flow for a long time.


Dana King lives in Maryland with The Beloved Spouse. Last month he signed three deals with Down and Out books to re-issue and extend his Penns River series of novels. His first PI novel, A SMALL SACRIFICE, received a Shamus Award nomination in 2013. A short story, "Green Gables," appeared in the anthology BLOOD, GUTS, AND WHISKEY, edited by Todd Robinson. Other short fiction has appeared in Spinetingler, New Mystery Reader, A Twist of Noir, Mysterical-E, and Powder Burn Flash.

Dana’s blog, "One Bite at a Time," resides at You may contact him there, or sending an e-mail to

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What to Do with My New Finished Story?

by Scott Adlerberg

For quite a while, I had trouble figuring out what to do with a story I'd completed. The reason for the difficulty? The story's length, an unfortunate 13,000 words.  Not that I consider the story's use of language unfortunate, but its length, neither a short story nor a novella.  The story is an in-between thing some people call a novelette. A novelette is a perfectly respectable literary term but it's one I never liked. Though it does mean, according to some dictionaries, "a brief novel or long short story", it also means, in other dictionaries, a work that is "typically light and romantic or sentimental in character". This story, called "Summerfield's Film", has humor but it is not especially light, and it is neither romantic nor sentimental.

So I had this thing, this long story, and I felt I'd written it pretty well.  I'd spent a good bit of time polishing it and then I sent it to someone I trust, and in this case paid, to look over for more editing.  He did almost no editing and expressed strong enthusiasm for it, as did the two friends I showed it to for their feedback. One of these two is a novelist, the other a guy who writes and directs movies, and I have known both for many years.  Both are friends who when it comes to giving criticism are honest, constructive, and ruthless, and so when they also weighed in on the story positively, I felt set to put it out somewhere, and excited to do so, except.....what the hell do you do with a 13,000 word story?

Broken River Books, who've done my last two books, publishes mainly short novels but not anything as short as "Summerfield's Film".  I thought about adding short stories to it to make a collection, but that would mean writing some new tales to have enough to go with the ones I already have and feel are worthy to publish, and I didn't want to spend months writing stories when I had a novel in progress. Finally, I spoke to a few people about the situation, conveying my frustration about having a story I liked just sitting there in my computer, and each person suggested the same thing. Why not just put the story up myself on Amazon as a solo work, an e-book, and let the chips fall where they may?  For some reason, not having gone this route before with any stories, I hadn't ever considered this option, but it made sense. Hire a pro to do a cover, put everything together myself, press a few buttons, and voila! The novelette that's not romantic or sentimental is out in the world.

So what the hell is "Summerfield's Film" about anyhow?  Here's what the Amazon description will say:

Now that he's a stay at home father in New York, taking care of the baby while his wife works, Tyler can't get out to the movies often. On one of his rare theater outings, something unexpected happens. He stumbles across the famous director K.M. Summerfield. Once prolific, now a recluse, the filmmaker vanished from public view years ago after he went blind.  No one knows where he's been living, and nobody knows what happened to the legendary film he supposedly made just before he lost his sight.  It's said he made a horror film, but nobody can be sure.

Thrilled about the encounter, Tyler hatches a plan.  If he can get his hands on that unseen film, if he can release it to the world, he'll be a hero to film fanatics everywhere. Still, something seems off to Tyler.  Is he playing Summerfield as he thinks, or is the once great director, for reasons of his own, playing him?

It's a story I had fun writing.  It draws upon the period of years I worked nights and had no other responsibilities and could go to movies in New York City every day of the week if I wanted.  There were several revival houses in the city (some still exist) and it's at these places, with their festivals and great programming, that you could see any film from any era from any part of the world - and on the big screen. A whole subculture of cinephiles exists in New York, people who devote the better part of their lives to going to all these revivals and art house showings around the city. These are people who apparently don't work at all, but just go to films.   As you might expect, most of these people are on the older side, retired probably, and I would always find it amusing to be at matinees with these fellow film nuts, and I would be the only one in the theater under the age of sixty. "Summerfield's Film" is a story about a guy who used to be part of this world of moviegoing addicts, but now he has settled down with his wife and their baby.  That is, until his accidental discovery of the whereabouts of the mysterious director Summerfield brings all his old film obsessiveness back.

Anyway, I'm just glad I found a solution for what to do with a 13,000 word story. Thanks to everyone who offered their suggestions.  "Summerfield's Film" will be out on Amazon as an e-book later this week.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Lessons from Prince

It's easy to think of Prince as a musical icon but in the days since his death I've been struck by how much writers can learn from him.

About a devotion to art:

Prince was a man bursting with music — a wildly prolific songwriter, a virtuoso on guitars, keyboards and drums and a master architect of funk, rock, R&B and pop, even as his music defied genres. In a career that lasted from the late 1970s until his solo “Piano & a Microphone” tour this year, he was acclaimed as a sex symbol, a musical prodigy and an artist who shaped his career his way, often battling with accepted music-business practices.

About surrounding yourself with the right people:

"He would ask me 'Who is that? Who just walked in the room,'" recalled Kim Berry, Prince's hairstylist and friend for over 20 years. "He was watching at all times."
Prince Rogers Nelson was a man who couldn't afford not to be. 
In an age where many celebrities don't want to do anything away from the public eye, Prince avoided the spotlight. Instead, he wanted it to shine on his art.
Prince was careful and built his inner circle almost as meticulously as he did his compositions. 

About generosity and our attitude towards other writers:

Prince will happily talk about how much he adores Adele (“When she just comes on and sings with a piano player, no gimmicks, it’s great”) or Janelle Monáe, but he won’t criticise other artists. “The new pushes the old out of the way and retains what it wants to. Don’t ask me about popular acts. Ask Janelle. Doesn’t matter what I say. We ain’t raining on anyone’s parade. I ain’t mad at anybody. I don’t have any enemies.”

About fighting for his rights as an artist:

Having crafted a musical empire, taken on his industry to fight for the rights of artists and survived with a career artists half his age would have envied, Prince was careful and built his inner circle almost as meticulously as he did his compositions.
“When I first started out in the music industry, I was most concerned with freedom. Freedom to produce, freedom to play all the instruments on my records, freedom to say anything I wanted to,” he said when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

About privacy:

He was a man who, despite his showmanship, shied away from fanfare.  

About acknowledging his own talent:

He keeps playing down his own stardom... but does he ever think, perhaps midway through playing When Doves Cry to 30,000 people: “I’m really very good at this”?
“Well I don’t think it,” he smirks, raising an eyebrow. “I know it.”

About genre labels:

a wildly prolific songwriter, a virtuoso on guitars, keyboards and drums and a master architect of funk, rock, R&B and pop, even as his music defied genres.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Letters from a Serial Killer - on sale today

by Kristi Belcamino

Over the past decade, I've tossed around the idea of writing about something profound that has affected me as a person and a mother - my dealings with a serial killer.

I fictionalized part of my story in my first book, Blessed are the Dead, but there was more to be said.

As a reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area I spent countless hours interviewing a man who kidnapped and killed kids in the hopes that he would reveal whether one girl he took, Xiana Fairchild, was still alive and where she was.

I would drive each night to the jail and talk to him. We also talked on the phone and exchanged letters.

When they found Xiana's remains, my goal became to get him to tell me details that would mean he would never see the light of day again.

Eventually he was convicted of her murder and confessed to others. The FBI suspects he killed at least ten people.

This winter I joined forces with Xiana's mother - Stephanie Kahalekulu - to write Letters from a Serial Killer. Stephanie, the girl's great aunt, was not Xiana's biological mother. However, as we know, sometimes that doesn't matter. She was more of a mother than many people ever are. Stephanie raised Xiana from her birth in prison to when she was seven years old, shortly before she was kidnapped and killed.

We wanted to share our stories about our dealings with the man in the hopes that it would bring healing to something that still affects us nearly every day.

The greatest gift to me, besides Stephanie trusting me enough to co-write this book (despite dozens of other offers to write about it over the years), is when she told a reporter that now she feels she can finally put this monster out of her life now that she's written this book with me.

After we wrote this book, I didn't sent it to my publisher. I decided to self publish it. For a few reasons. For starters, it didn't fit into what would qualify as a traditional nonfiction true crime book nor a memoir. It is about a third the size of what a publisher would want.

I didn't want to fill the book with more than I was willing to say in order to get a publishing contract. At the same time, because this is such an intensely personal book, I wanted complete and utter control of every aspect of it, from the cover to every single word. I was less interested in what someone else's idea of what would make the book marketable - to me that didn't matter. What mattered was writing this book with Stephanie and finally getting it all out on paper, which has always been my free form of therapy.

To our surprise, the number of pre-orders for this book and the media interest has been impressive. It comes out today and has already been featured on two radio shows, written about in three newspapers, including the San Jose Mercury News, and on one San Francisco TV station. In addition, we've received calls from producers in Los Angeles about featuring us and on our book on true crime TV shows. A little overwhelming.

Here are what some early readers have said: 

"Heartbreaking and horrifying, Letters From a Serial Killer delves into the thinking of a monstrous murderer - but it also reveals the brave struggles of the women who faced him in order to find justice for his victims. It's a powerfully emotional true account that simply must be read." - Claire Booth, author of true crime book, The False Prophet

"An unflinching look at the mind of a notorious Northern California predator who shattered young lives - and invaded the psyche of the reporter who dared to confront him.Together with an anguished victim's mother, Kristi Belcamino fought for answers, at great personal and professional peril. Letters from a Serial Killer is required reading for the armchair criminal profiler. But be forewarned: this book is not for the meek."- Henry K. Lee, author of Presumed Dead: A True-Life Murder Mystery

"In this heart-wrenchingly honest, gripping, and at times disturbing look at the inner workings of a missing child case, Kristi Belcamino and Stephanie Kahalekulu pull back the curtain to what it is truly like to go through an experience that changes the lives of all those involved."- Art, Books, & Coffee

"I was lucky to read an ARC of this book. I really did not know what to expect when I started reading this, but I was quickly enthralled. I found the prologue emotional and moving. At the end of Chapter 12, something happens which is very powerful and chilling at the same time. Throughout this, I had to keep reminding myself this was not fiction but real! This whole story comes across as raw, truthful and heartbreaking all at the same time. Kristi gives a great account of the life of a crime/police reporter and things I never really thought about. To sum this book up – it is a raw, truthful, emotional, moving account from a loving mother and the relentless crime reporter, both of whom never gave up finding the truth for this little girl." - Sharon Long, reviewer for Mystery Playground

If you would like to find out more here are some links:


House of Mystery

Darkness Radio

And here is where you can buy the book:



Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Sense of Community

Scott D Parker

Yesterday, the family and I went to the fine gem and minerals show here in Houston. My wife is a silversmith/jewelry artist, and this is one of the regular events that we attend together. She gets to pick up some new material for her jewelry making and we get to see some really spectacular fossils — which is my favorite thing. But what makes this a fun event even for a non-rock hound like myself the sense of community.

The event is held in the Embassy suites. This is one of those hotels where the interior is a huge atrium and all the hotel rooms are on the perimeter. The show takes up the entire second floor. The dealers each have a room. In the front of the suite is where they set up all of their wares. Some, but not all, have additional items on display in the bedroom area. Every door is open, which makes the shopping process simple and inviting. Every vendor has a sign that sticks out from the open door frame to identify each shop my name.

Like every small community, everyone who attends this show wants to be there and knows what they’re talking about. There’s a friendly atmosphere. Everyone says “hi.” The dealers, like dealers everywhere in the world, are standing around waiting to make sales or answer questions. What makes this group a little different, at least in my mind, is the willingness to discuss rocks, gems, minerals, and fossils. Gems and minerals and fossils are nowhere near my expertise. So that means I ask lots of questions. Every person I talked with was more than pleased to answer all my questions. How does one determine that an object is from a meteorite? Why is heliodor such an expensive mineral? Do the rocks actually form this way are you cut them to make them prettier? Is that really woolly mammoth fur? Can you just imagine the size of the woolly mammoth based on just this part of the foot and lower leg? (Hint: no, not really, it’s just too big.)

I’ve experienced this sense of community in other environments, primarily at comic book and science fiction conventions. Murder by the Book bookstore, down here in Houston, is another place where you get that palpable sense of community. I suspect that Bouchercon and other mystery conventions are much the same way.
But maybe it was the size, the smaller size, which really made the minerals show such a fun experience yesterday. It made me think back to the late 70s and early 80s when I first began to go to comic book conventions. They weren’t the large, expansive conventions that are housed in giant convention centers of today. Those conventions back then were small affairs, barely contained inside a banquet hall or an event room of the hotel like the Embassy Suites. For a moment yesterday, I actually longed for the smaller environment and wished that there was an event that featured my wheelhouse that I could attend.

I plan to attend Bouchercon this year so I’ll get to see what it’s really like. Are there is still small conventions around the country that still have that small town feel to them? Or have they all grown to such a size that you’re merely one of a large number of people and you could never be noticed?

Friday, April 22, 2016

Livin' La Vida Criminal

Guest blog by Gabino Iglesias

Back in 1999, you couldn’t turn your radio on or read a music publication without encountering the Latin explosion. Between Ricky Martin’s hips and Jennifer Lopez’s derrière, it seemed like Latino culture was about to take over the nation with its sexy rhythms, pretty people, and danceable hits. Then the explosion fizzled and disappeared. Why? Well, for starters, because the music was a fabricated mess, nothing more than crappy pop with a few Latin touches sprinkled on top. Also, between the albums in English everyone started releasing, the yellowing of every singer’s hair, and the videos full of easy-to-swallow cultural references, the Latino part of the Latin explosion was nothing more than an homogenized product with no real voice and as devoid of authenticity as a Milli Vanilli record (Google that one, youngsters).
Now, something akin to that is happening in literature, except it looks, feels, and reads like the real deal. I’m talking about a Latin explosion in crime fiction that is finally giving folks from south of the border, the Caribbean, and those born in the US in multicultural homes the chance to let their true voices be heard, their language to be used in the construction of their discourse, and their realities to be exposed in new and very interesting ways. From famous authors like Don Winslow becoming experts in frontera drug mayhem and Latin crime fiction giants like Leonardo Padura and Paco Ignacio Taibo II being translated into English to top indie presses accepting more Latino/bilingual authors and a wave of new writers sticking up their middle fingers and writing about their experiences the way they want to, it looks like this Latin explosion is real, and that’s a good thing.
Ask anyone about the DNA of American crime/noir and you’ll quickly get a list that reads something like this: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson, Mickey Spillane, and James M. Cain. Those are authors you have to read in order to educate yourself. However, the country they wrote about has changed, and the voices telling the narratives of that nation are finally as diverse as the country itself. In the words of Claire Wells, who contributed a superb piece titled “Writing Black: Crime Fiction’s Other” to Diversity and Detective Fiction, edited by Kathleen Gregory Klein: “Crime fiction is a notoriously conservative genre and an examination of how the boundaries are breaking down in terms of racial positioning in this genre is perhaps representative of the wider postmodern slippage which is generally occurring in the field of literary production.”

This postmodern slippage is gaining momentum, and that is only part of what’s making crime fiction crucial right now, perhaps more so than any other popular genre. You see, the way crime fiction works is like this: something bad happens and that something exposes a plethora of social and political problems. When I sat down to write Zero Saints, besides the experiences and memories I wanted to put into the book, I knew that there was something important that I had to keep in mind at all times: crime seldom happens in a vacuum. For the characters in this new Latin explosion, the gun, the kilo, the trick, and the murder are means to an end, a way to put food on the table, or a way to cope with the rejection that comes from being the Other/not being able to find a real job/not knowing the language. The narratives about guns and crimes are now being injected with looks at diversity, identity, positionality, (multi)cultural touches, and the experiences of those forced to live on the margins of society. Latinos are here to stay. Spanglish is here to stay. The Latin crime fiction explosion is only starting, and as a bunch of second generation Whatever Americans start looking for and writing themselves into the genre, it’s bound to grow.  
I grew up surrounded by death. I grew up knowing that the wrong look got you a bullet. I grew up getting my teeth broken in street fights. Then I moved away from that and got a different version of hardship. I’ve been asked for my green card at job interviews. A great university hesitated about giving me a job because they didn’t know if I could give a 3-hour course and run a lab entirely in English. I’ve been on the verge of homelessness. These past six years have shown me that women will accelerate as soon as I step off the bus behind them. I wrote a piece about my relationship with guns while growing up in a hyperviolent country (you can read My Gun Education here) and realized that some states of mind just stick around forever. In short, my life in this country, especially when mixed with the one that preceded it, is not normative, except for someone who inhabits Otherness. That’s why barrio noir happened. That’s why I think of Zero Saints as the start of something special. That’s why I need to talk about the things I need to talk about. That’s why I escribo en Espanglish even knowing that some folks will criticize me for it. That’s why I’m really happy women, African American, and Latino authors are making so much noise now. This is one Latin explosion that won’t fade away, and you should keep your eyes on it.  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Guest Blog: Less Talking, More Writing

Very lucky to have the wonderful Steph Post (A Tree Born Crooked) step in for me this week with a topic I think we can all relate to.  Enjoy! - Alex

“Adventure is just bad planning.”- Roald Amundsen
Back in college, I was a “pack the dogs and some eyeliner” kind of traveler. I lived for spontaneous road trips and cheap motels, for trouble, for the unexpected, for the next adventure just around the corner. I was also a poet. Angry, angsty. Dashing off verse in the local coffee shop while glowering at all the people who didn’t understand me. Half-drunk, standing in the middle of the road, screaming stanzas up at the pouring rain. That kind of angst. We’ve all been there to varying degrees. Yes, you know you have, and you know it, too.
But then, as I suppose often happens, real life settled in. I spent less time scribbling poetry and more time waiting tables to pay the bills. Then came grad school. Then teaching. A few short stories here and there. An absolutely terrible novel draft. A halfway decent one after that. Life moving along, my dream of one day being a novelist still hazy somewhere on the horizon. 
About three years ago, I was sitting in my living room complaining. Blah, blah, I know I’m meant to be an author one day, but how will I ever find the time, so on, so forth, blah, some more, blah. I was complaining to my husband who is, thankfully, not a writer. He’s a firefighter. He saves lives. He doesn’t have time for bullshit. So, basically his response was: “quit talking about being a writer; be a writer, already.”
His words hit me at just the right time and place in my life. In previous years, I probably would have snapped back something about “art” or “inspiration” or “muses,” but I was finally ready and his words were the spark I needed. Quit talking. Start doing. I changed my mentality about the writing process and the writing life. I still worked from inspiration, of course, but I framed it within a schedule. I made myself disciplined. I put in the hours. Day in, day out. I fought, I pushed. My first published novel, A Tree Born Crooked, was the result.
I’ve often said that writing is like a war. And for me, the comparison truly fits. It’s a fight all the way, from the first few words scrawled on the back of the bar tab to the printed page, and I’ve always been a fighter. After my first novel, I wrote Lightwood (due out January 2017 from Polis Books) and then switched genres from Southern Crime to Historical Literary Fantasy for the novel after that. Now I’m back to Crime as I work on the sequel to Lightwood, but I’m also researching for the next book, going back to Lit Fantasy. And that’s where polar exploration and Amundsen come in.
I don’t know how many books I’ve already read on the subject, but I’m back to reading another about Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott’s race to discover the South Pole. Everyone’s heard of Scott, what with his dramatic tale of scurvy, struggle and finally death in the frozen jaws of the Antarctic, heroism in the face of insurmountable odds and all that, but he didn’t discover the South Pole. Amundsen did. The Norwegian explorer didn’t suffer a harrowing fate in the name of king, country and everlasting glory. He was smart, he planned and prepared for years, he understood the task he was undertaking and he just went out and did it. Nobody died. It wasn’t easy, certainly, but it wasn’t a disaster, either. He didn’t talk; he just discovered.
So many years ago, I thought that being a “real writer” was akin to being Robert Scott. If you didn’t bleed onto the page, if the story didn’t come forth in a dramatic rush of inspiration, if you weren’t inches away from an emotional breakdown, then the piece wouldn’t really be worth reading. Now, I find being a writer more like being Amundsen. If you really want to be successful, to accomplish your goals, then you need to be in it for the long haul. You have to plan and work, you have to put in the hours. You have to talk less and write more. You have to put your head down and march on through the snow. Robert Scott wanted to be an explorer. Amundsen was an explorer. 
Back in those blood-and-thunder college days, I wanted to be a writer. Now, I am a writer. And I know the difference.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Story Behind My UNLOADED Story

Guest Post by S.W. Lauden

Here’s a question I’ve been asked by several people who’ve read my debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION: Was the police shooting of a teenager ripped directly from the headlines of the past couple of years?

It caught me off guard the first few times because I'm not an overtly political person. Sure, I follow the news and I have strong opinions about certain issues, but you won't usually see me posting tirades on Facebook or getting on my soapbox at a dinner party.

So while the answer I want to give might be a definitive “Hell yes!”—because that seems like a pretty badass thing to write about—the truth is probably something a little more complicated.

I first sat down to write “BCC” five years ago. At the time, I knew the protagonist, Greg Salem, was going to be a beach cities punk singer who had grown up to become a police officer. I also knew that he would lose his badge, but I wasn’t exactly sure how.

It was probably a year later, and deep into the first draft, when I finally decided to make his fall from grace an on-duty shooting involving a kid. This wasn’t specifically in response to anything I’d seen in the news, but because it seemed like a good metaphor for his relationship with his own troubled youth.

Sadly, police shootings are not a new phenomenon, but in this case I used it more for dramatic effect. The political implications of choosing that kind of tragic event were not lost on me, but it wasn’t the focal point. That’s just not how I approach my writing.

So I had to think about whether or not to submit a story to Eric Beetner's anthology, UNLOADED: Crime Writers Writing Without Guns. I dug the idea and I loved that the proceeds from sales would benefit a worthy cause ( I just wasn't sure that I was the kind of writer to participate for all the reasons stated above.

My knee-jerk response was that it would be much easier to move on and put my energy into another writing project, but that didn’t sit well with me either. Then it dawned on me: Gun violence isn't really a political issue for me, it's a moral one.

Somehow that made it easier for me to wrap my head around the opportunity. From that point forward I focused on the interesting challenge of writing a compelling crime story without using guns.

The result is “Itchy Feet,” the story of a suburban family that’s hosting a yard sale while their lives fall apart. You can cut the dysfunction with a knife, but everybody is pretty much holding it together until a psychotic clown turns up. That’s when the wheels fall off the circus wagon.

“Itchy Feet” is the latest version of a short story I first started three years ago. The inspiration came to me while I hosted a yard sale of my own. I watched the strangers dig through piles of my old stuff while making up stories for them in my head—because that’s what I do.
Whether this anthology will make any difference in the greater debate is beside the point. For now I applaud Eric Beetner and Down & Out Books for putting this anthology together, and thank them for letting me be part of it. I know for sure that there’s a least one person that was challenged by the concept.


S.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, is available now from Rare Bird Books. The second Greg Salem novel, GRIZZLY SEASON, will be published in September 2016. His standalone novella, CROSSWISE, is available now from Down & Out Books.