Saturday, June 11, 2016

Being a Fly on the Wall in 1978

Thirty-five years ago tomorrow, the creators of Jaws and Star Wars introduced the world to the Ultimate Hero in the Ultimate Adventure. His name was Indiana Jones and the movie was Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It’s a safe bet that Raiders is on most people’s list of greatest movies of all time. It’s on mine. Top 5 for sure, probably Top 3 or so…but I can’t really think of another I like better. Well, except Star Wars. But as a movie, Raiders is probably tops for me.

Many readers who come to DoSomeDamage are also creators. We know what it’s like to hole up in a room and create our stories out of our imaginations. We can look at a movie like Raiders—which seems so effortless—and wonder how the magic was made. We long to be a fly on the wall during story conferences.

Well, guess what? You can. (And you can also go back in time!)

In January 1978, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and a young Lawrence Kasden met for a few days to talk over this new movie featuring the hero Indiana Smith. It is utterly fascinating to read the transcripts of these meetings and see how much effort went into a final product that, as I said, feels so effortless. When I first learned about this PDF back in 2009, I eagerly devoured the entire thing.

You want to know how genius ideas happen? Hard work. Long work. And a few sparks of inspiration
Here’s the link. It’s a PDF.

So, celebrate the 35th Anniversary of Raiders by watching the movie and then read the story sessions.

Oh, and I’m doing something interesting: I’m reading the novelization. I either never have or did and can’t remember. That was the summer between sixth and seventh grade. I want to see what, if any, liberties Campbell Black took with the story and the character before Indiana Jones exploded and became what he is today. I’ll report back when I’m done.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Isn't Your Blood Pressure High Enough?

It's been a hell of a week. Black Sails, Disco Inferno has been out for exactly that long, which is fantastic! But something else has been happening too - social media has been an absolute hellscape.

I love you all, I really do - I just liked all of you a lot better before primary season.

If the political ranting and fighting weren't enough to make my day at "the office" (stealing that one from Joe Clifford) hell, we've got human garbage like Brock Turner running around blaming rape on alcohol and "promiscuity" and judges acting like that's totally fucking acceptable.

We've got people raving over what they perceive as bad parenting (whether it's about supervision at the zoo, or, as I recently read, a mother who didn't realize the water from the garden hose was hot enough to burn her child).

We've got teeth gnashing, name calling, and shouting...

It's rough out there. I was heartened to see a lot of people in the writing communities I associate with jumping on the fun little Facebook "compliment challenge" where everybody is just NICE to each other - a great refresher between all the other bullshit. I'm a big fan of positivity in writing communities, I think the rising tide really does raise all ships, and this gig is tough enough without shunning all your friends over what they post on Facebook.

If you know me at all, you know I'm not shy about ranting and raving when I think it's called for - and I definitely won't tell anyone not to stand up for what they believe in (even if some of you are driving me fucking insane right now), but please allow me to share with you this video of a dog doing ballet so we can all lower our blood pressure for a few minutes:

There, isn't that better?

Now go write a story.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Write Music

By Steve Weddle

At all the writers' conferences and conventions I've been to, at all the Noir at the Bars and bail hearings and readings, some of the same questions keep poppuing up.

  • How many words a day do you manage?
  • Do you like your publisher?
  • What's the deal with Keith Rawson?
  • What are you working on now?
  • Do you listen to music when you write?

Yes, I do listen to music when I write. Currently, I have some Thelonius Monk playing each morning when I write. My favorite period for jazz is late 50s, so I picked up one of those "Six Great Monk Albums on Three CDs" collections. I hsve some Bill Evans bootlegs and radio broadcasts I work in lately, too.

Every so often in some of the Monk songs, one of the horns will stick a blade into the back of my head, but it keeps me active, I guess.

For a long while, I had Glenn Gould in the air around me, the Goldberg stuff he did in the 50s, not the re-done slop a few decades later.

I dig the atmosphere on that and, true or not, I feel as if my brain works better sometimes when I listen to Bach. I was a freshman and a dude in the dorm introduced me to Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" and walked me through it in terms of good vs. evil, leitmotifs, and crap like that. He was high as hell. But the "Toccata and Fugue" gets kinda big there, so it isn't exactly the music I want while writing. Same for Bach's Brandenburg stuff. The Bach violin concertos Hilary Hahn has played are also in high rotation come 4 a.m. when I break out the moleskine:

I'll get an idea from an old Emmylou Harris song in the afternoon and then listen to Glenn Gould the next morning while I write. Probably explains quite a bit about my stories.

A friend of mine was saying he likes to write to the Game of Thrones music, as it's good in the background and at times can get active, keep you focused.

Another favorite of mine is the work Henry Frayne has done in Lanterna:

Anyone else write with music in your brain?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Five Good Reasons to Kill

Guest Post by D.J. Adamson

Many crime and mystery writers get fixated on coming up with different ways to kill someone. But I have always been more interested in the why, rather than the how, and have discovered in my numerous years that, as Agatha Christie wrote, it is Easy To Kill.

I believe there are five good reasons why we kill someone, whether it be fictionally or real, and most rationalizations or explanations, physically or psychologically, have to do with the “fix.”

Motive #5: Irritation. Edgar Allen Poe used irritation as a reason for killing in several of his stories. In "The Tell-Tale Heart," the killer is irritated by the victim's glass eye. In "The Black Cat?" No, it wasn’t the cat, but the killer’s nagging wife. Walling the cat up was pure accident.

Many people can become irritated to the point of screaming, ranting, raving--killing isn’t that far of a leap.

Motive #4: Id vs. Ego. The edge of sanity vs. insanity is in all of us. Just a mere toe length over the edge of psychological balance can send anyone tumbling off. It’s why therapists charge rates equaling those of a lawyer. It is the coveted secret for many, I’m seeing someone. We’ve got mother issues, father issues, sibling rivalry, lack of attention, too much attention, feel depressed, worthless, overlooked, overwhelmed. Most of you reading this have probably dealt with one of these issues, although maybe not to the ultimate solution. Or if you don’t think you have one of these problems, just go to a therapist! Because at some point in your life, an emotional concern caused you to say, “I wish he/she/it was dead.” Remember, George in Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN may have psychologically and morally reasoned that killing Lennie would keep him safe. But, without Lennie, George has a chance for a more balanced life. He takes on the ID and gives the EGO to Slim.

Motive #3: Control. Serial Killers murder for power or revenge. And isn’t revenge just another way to re-script the past--making it how you would have wanted it? Sex-related crimes are all about control and power. But so is morality. Religion has caused mass killings, war. The rationalization must be the thought that if everyone worships the same way, then there will be no more fear of death. Although, ironically, most religion is a false dilemma of good vs. evil.

I have always feared evil. That’s why I like to write about it. It’s my control. I decide and most of the time, I win. But getting away from organized religion, television’s Dexter was psychologically convinced his victims were morally different than he. Same with Patricia Highsmith’s THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY series.

Motive #2: Love. Yes, number two! Love is not the definitive reason to kill someone, however much it’s said: "I love him so much I could just kill him." "I love her to death." In William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," she thinks since her father is dead, she is free to love. There was definitely a father-daughter issue here. Only, while her father controlled her love, she learned she was ineffective in keeping and controlling love herself.

Her solution? Rat Poison. It kept her lover in bed. Love can kill: Suspicion, mistrust, envy, jealousy, power, selfishness, manipulation, all in the name of love. It’s always been a good reason to knock someone off.

#1 Motive: Money. Show me the money! Follow the money! I don’t think I have much to say about this motive. It’s an apparent reason understood. Greed is one of the seven deadly sins. Greed, gluttony, insatiability, self-indulgence, covetousness, materialism, need I go on? Putting this on a minuscule level, if you see someone’s newest iPhone, there is a little voice in the back of your head, no matter the age: I want one. The only thing that stops you from brutally taking it from the person who has it is the thin edge of sanity you hang on to.

I sat beside a Catholic nun in an airport waiting room once. Seeing she was reading a book involving a serial killer, I was astounded. Shouldn’t she be only reading gospels? Anyway, I asked her if she liked the book. She said she loved reading books about or with a serial killer because she understood how that element was God given to us as much as our desire for goodness. I completely understood what she meant. It is the psychological, religious, social human dilemma—that edge we all walk.


D. J. Adamson is the author of the Lillian Dove Mystery series and the Deviation science fiction-suspense trilogy. SUPPOSE, the second in the Lillian Dove series, has just been released. She also teaches writing and literature at Los Angeles colleges. And to keep busy when she is not writing or teaching, she is the Membership Director of the Los Angeles Sisters in Crime, Vice President of Central Coast Sisters in Crime and an active member of the Southern California Mystery Writers. Her books can be found and purchased in bookstores and on Amazon. To find her, her blog L’Artiste, or her newsletter that interviews and reviews authors go to Make friends with her on Facebook or Goodreads.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Turning Over the Soil in the Field of Hammett and Chandler

Guest Post by Dana King
First, thanks to Scott Adlerberg for allowing me to use his spot this week. I’ve been a fan of Do Some Damage since it premiered and Scott has made Tuesdays particularly worth reading. This is a treat for me.
Scott asked me to write about the private eye genre. Specifically, “How do you approach it with the confidence you can bring something fresh to it? How do you avoid ‘the anxiety of influence;’ you know, working in a field so well walked on?”

I liked PI stories from the first time I read Encyclopedia Brown or Sherlock Holmes, which naturally drew me to writing them. There was an established canon with its own Pantheon of heroes: Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, Macdonald, Parker, Lehane, and plenty of others. I had no delusions of doing anything they hadn’t done. All I ever wanted to do was to write what I was capable of as well as I could write it.
I never thought of what I wrote in comparison to anyone else until I received some reviews with flattering comparisons, along with a Shamus nomination a few years ago. (I’m not quite done riding that bad boy into the ground yet.) All of that was—and is—flattering, but I still don’t really think of myself in comparison to anyone else, nor do I try to measure up to anyone else, mainly because I know I can’t. Anyone established enough to be a yardstick is a unique collection of superior talents. I couldn’t be any of them if I tried, so why worry about it?
The “anxiety of influence” is a good term; I’m almost sure to steal it. I don’t really have any, I think because I know I can’t be as good as those guys. Frankly, I hope they do influence me. It’s like playing a sport or being a musician. You only get better by playing with people better than you. I read Hammet and Chandler and the others because I want them to influence me, mainly by keeping the bar I strive for higher than I’ll ever attain. That will keep me reaching and should allow me to get better than I would have without their influence.
Along those lines, I’m not one of those writers who doesn’t read in his chosen field when working on a book, for fear someone else’s style will rub off on me. I look for a good rub every time I open one of their books. Not so I can steal anything, but reading the masters while working myself is a good way to remind myself of what I want to accomplish in more or less real time. There are elements of all the greats I’d like to see in my writing—I think most writers have some of that—and keeping them fresh in my mind is a good way to catch myself before I fall into bad habits.

Tests have shown I’m about as left-brained as I am right-brained, so I’m not likely to be someone about whom readers and critics rave about for breaking revolutionary new ground. Considering how much great PI writing already exists, doing something completely different isn’t even necessarily a good thing; there may be a reason no one else has done it. What I hope to do is to learn from those who came before me and adapt what I can from their work to suit my skill set. For example:
  • Hammett for concise language and no melodrama.
  • Chandler for the clever simile when opportunity presents. (Not too many, as that’s become a cliché itself.) Also not to be afraid to take a moment to elevate the language a little if the situation calls for it. 
  • Parker, for his willingness to let the story catch its breath while the hero and best friend banter.
  • George V. Higgins, not a PI writer, but for allowing dialog to carry as much of the story as possible.
  • Ed McBain, another non-PI guy, for not being afraid to poke a hole in the fourth wall and speak directly to the reader once in a while.
I don’t think I use enough of any of their characteristics to worry about ripping them off or writing derivatively. They are always there, though, teaching a master class every time I open one of their books, showing me the direction in which I want to travel, even though I’ll have to take my own route to get there. They climbed Everest, and I’m not going to pretend I can reach such heights. I look for their guidance to keep me from wandering the foothills forever.

Dana King’s first Nick Forte novel earned a Shamus nomination for best independently produced PI novel in 2013. His newest book, A Dangerous Lesson, is the fourth Nick Forte novel. Dana recently signed with Down & Out Books to publish his Penns River novels, a series about an economically depressed town in Western Pennsylvania.

Scott Note:
A Dangerous Lesson, Dana's newest Nick Forte PI novel, just came out, and you can get it here at Amazon.

Monday, June 6, 2016

John D MacDonald on the current state of publishing

I've been flipping through an advanced copy of The Red Hot Typewriter: The Life and Times of John D MacDonald (reprint coming in August from Stark House). I found two quotes that struck me as being just as applicable today as they were then. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Here's John D MacDonald in a 1980 interview:

"There are many published novels which probably would have been more successful as short stories, or if they had been kept to 25,000 to 30,000 words in length, although the novelette or novella is not really marketable in this era."
And here he is in 1950

"Today, as a writer, I am a small businessman in a highly competitive field, fabricating a product for sale in a buyers' market, and required to establish my own merchandising and marketing procedures."

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Change of Scenery

For far too long, my scenery has consisted of four walls, a cork board littered with way too many sticky notes, piles of research, and a computer. It’s the perfect set up for writing. But for inspiration? Not so much.

For me, finding inspiration means I need to ditch all of that office scenery and find some of the real stuff. So as summer begins, I’m shutting down the laptop and packing up the car. The family and I are heading to Yosemite National Park. I can’t wait.

I want to see waterfalls and granite monoliths and smell clean mountain air – and not think about the manuscript that I’m agonizingly close to finishing. My goal was to be done with it before this trip – which has been scheduled for a long time – but that’s not going to happen. So now I’m being forced to step away from it. And I’ve realized that’s a good thing.

Not thinking about something is really difficult for me, but when I manage to actually do it, it works wonders. I come back to it with new ideas and renewed enthusiasm. And I think – why don’t I do this more often? I don’t necessarily mean a full-on road trip, just putting myself in a different setting for a while.

Since this location is so different from what I’m used to, I’m positive I’ll come back fresh and rested. And hopefully not sunburned.

How do you get away from it all? And does it help recharge your creative batteries?