Saturday, July 2, 2016

What I’ve Learned From A Year and a Half of Daily Writing

Scott D. Parker

As of yesterday, I have written some amount of fiction everyday for a year and a half. I started the current streak on New Year’s Day 2015. I haven’t stopped. I have a minimum target goal of 500 words, but if events of the day encroach, I no longer let it bother me if I don’t hit the 500-word mark. The point is to sit at a computer or be tethered to my dictation software and spin some yarn.

Unfortunately, I have my 1 Jan to 22 Jun 2015 spreadsheet that screwed up so I only have definite numbers since 22 June 2015. That number is 362,524. That’s 993 words a day on average. I’ll take that. It is very nearly the gold standard of 1,000 Words a Day that many authors use to be prolific. My single best day was 29 March 2016 with 7,136. That was for my upcoming western ALWAYS BET ON RED. Not coincidentally, that was one of the monsoon days here in Houston where I didn’t have to go to work and the internet was down. My best stretch happened twice. With NaNoWriMo 2015, I exceeded 1,000 words for the entire 35-day stretch it took me to write the second Gordon Gardner book. Back in August, I wrote the first Lillian Saxton book—now with a new title: ULTERIOR OBJECTIVES—in a 40-day stretch, missing the 1,000-word mark only once. Of course, there were other days when things did not go as smoothly and I managed 10 words. But I kept at it.

I’ve learned two things over the year-and-a-half. One is enthusiasm. Those mini streaks of 1000-word days are when I’m really excited about the story. Not that I’m not excited about the others, but I was firing on all cylinders. Both of those books were planned out ahead of time and, here’s the key, I had planned start dates. I allowed the excitement to build until I couldn’t wait to start.

The second thing is also obvious to me. As good as it is to be prolific in the creation of stories, if I’m to be a professional writer, then I need to be as equally as prolific on the publishing side of things. The three books I mentioned above have yet to see publication. Granted, all of them are scheduled for this fall, but I’m giving myself a new directive: don’t sit on these stories for so long, especially the short stories. Write’em, edit’em, give’em a cover, and release.

Anyway, the reason I write the occasional post like this is to show the power of math. You may be struggling to write and thinking that your 500-word day or your 100-word day isn’t getting you anywhere. It will. Just give it time. Over time, all the numbers add up and you’ll be amazed at what you can do.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Eat and Drink Like Thieves

Jewelry heists are great fodder for crime fiction with all the moving parts leading up to the robbery, and all the complications in moving the jewelry to translate it to the one thing we all need - money. But there's something else everybody needs, and it's a lot easier to move.


We all need it, we all eat it, and we all appreciate when it tastes especially good. With certain foods hitting cult status, it's no surprise that foie gras isn't the only illicit food on the black market. Here are four of my favorite food heists.

The Great Maple Syrup Heist

Maple syrup is one of the more perplexing things we consume - you can imagine somewhere in history, one of our ancient ancestors seeing fruit on a tree, giving it a sniff, and thinking it would be good to eat. Imagining a person standing in front of a tree leaking sap and deciding to lick it is a little more difficult. Regardless, maple syrup is a big deal.

So big, an official federation (Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers) was established to keep syrup prices stable. Opposition to the Federation led to the hilariously titled "Maple Wars" and to a massive heist of maple syrup - the amount stolen was said to be so large that it would have taken over 100 tractor trailers to move it all. So how the hell do you fence syrup? 

That's the interesting part. They didn't. The syrup wasn't stolen with the intent to turn the liquid gold into greenbacks, it was stolen specifically to destabilize the Federation and cause havoc. Almost 30 people were arrested in the grand scheme, and millions of gallons of syrup recovered - but plenty of it got out of Canada and into the world.

The Highland Ham Heist 

There are a surprising number of ham heists to choose from, if one is googling the words "ham heist," but one stands out, not just for the beautiful alliteration, but for what followed.

Over the course of a week, a former Honey Baked Ham employee and two friends repeatedly burglarized the warehouse and nearby "Roly Poly Sandwich Shop" before using the money to finance a week long cocaine fueled vacation in Florida. 

The ringleader's home was filled with assorted meats and a nearby lake was filling with discarded safes from their miniature crime spree when they were caught in their makeshift meat house. They were caught when, unable to break into a natural foods store, they opted to attempt to break into a cigarette shop. See kids, smoking is bad for you.

Wisconsin Cheese Bandits

When you think of Wisconsin, you think of cheese. The problem is, Wisconsin has been having a hard time keeping the cheese in check. In January of 2016 two separate cheese heists lost over $160,000 worth of cheese. Forty-one thousand pounds of parmesan was stolen right out of a warehouse in Marshfield, Wisconsin. A week later, a tractor was hitched up to a trailer holding $70,000 worth of cheese and disappeared. The cheese was later recovered in Milwaukee, but the criminals behind the heist remained at large.

Today (June 30, 2016), Wisconsin lost another 20,000 pounds of cheese was stolen in its trailer. The police aren't sure whether it was a one-off deal, or it was connected to a larger operation, but I think they may want to look into the possibility of a cheese mafia just be sure.


What pairs better with twenty-year aged bourbon than some good old fashioned anabolic steroids?

Well, a lot of things, I imagine. But for Toby Curtsinger, the price people are willing to pay for Pappy Van Winkle whiskey was too much to pass up. He and members of his softball team worked out of at least two distilleries stealing Wild Turkey and Pappy Van Winkle, then selling it and the empty barrels for a hefty price to just about anyone who would buy them. Curstinger wasn't sly about his side business in the slightest, bragging about his supply, and keeping it right on his property. He had so much whiskey on his property when authorities arrived to check out an anonymous tip they actually smelled the whiskey before even getting to the front door.

Curtisnger and his gang of whiskey bandits talked openly in text messages about their steroid use and their illicit whiskey sales so much, and so blatantly, their case was a slam dunk. The total haul was said to be over $100,000 worth of whiskey but it's hard to know how much they managed to sell before the rest was recovered.

The real tragedy? The recovered whiskey had to be destroyed.

The real take home here is that everyone but the cheese bandits have been caught, and almost all the food ends up being tossed in the trash. Much like the restaurant business, stealing food is a high risk game.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

What your favorite authors look like NOW?!?!?!

By Steve Weddle

Remember these authors?

Have you ever wondered what some of your favorite authors look like now? You won't believe your eyes.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens wrote a story about Christmas that later became the 1988 hit Scrooged, starring Billy Murray as the delightful curmudgeon Frank Cross and Robert Goulet as Robert Goulet. 

Recently, Dickens has been rumored to be adapting a screenplay from some of his other boring-ass work. He has also let his beard grow, as seen in recent photographs from the Sears Photo Studio in Palmdale.


Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt had the great fortune to have been born in the South, but then moved to Vermont. She won a Pulitzer a couple years ago for The Goldfinch, her third novel.


Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon was a very famous author many years ago, known for declining the William Dean Howells Medal. Pynchon's second novel, The Crying of Lot 49, is his most read, as it is the shortest. His third novel, Gravity's Rainbow, is second only to the Bible in the ratio of bought:read books. (GR is 384:1 and the Bible is 1,387:1).

Recently, Pynchon's novel Inherent Vice was made into a movie, featuring Maya Rudolph as a receptionist. Pynchon himself had a cameo in the movie as "Angry Man."


Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison wrote Beloved, which was made into a movie of the same name, starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover, before he was too old for this shit. The book won the Pulitzer, and her other work has done pretty darn well, too, She won the Nobel in 1993. In 2012, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


Dave White

Dave White (b. 1979) is a New Jersey novelist, known for his love of pork rolls and the NY Mets. White attended Rutgers University, which discontinued its women's fencing program in 2007.  Ozzie Nelson also attended Rutgers.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Violent Words, Violent Worlds

Guest Post by CS DeWildt

Holly's note: When I asked Chris DeWildt to write a guest post for DSD this week, I never guessed it might help me solve a dilemma I've been having with my own WIP. But the question he poses: Why do crime fiction writers write what we write?--helped me do just that. One of the reasons I write and read crime fiction is that I believe even good people are capable of doing terrible things under the right (or wrong) circumstances and its a theme I'm compelled to explore again and again in my own work. Thinking about Chris's question helped me nail down the theme of my current WIP. Thanks, Chris!

I'll pass the mic to him now:

So I was on Facebook the other day (I’m always on Facebook) and running my mouth as usual (I’m always running my mouth) and posted a short gem (they’re all gems) about the best piece of writing feedback I ever received from a professor. It was this: “You have talent, but is this how you want to use it?” Now, I was young, and while I was ecstatic to be recognized as having talent (what fledgling writer isn’t?) the second part of her statement, “is this how you want to use it?” confounded me. The story she referred to was a noir piece at its core, probably better described as horror in hindsight, but I thought what I’d written was good, a kind of twisted coming of age tail in which three young children are attacked by a stray dog while walking through their suburban neighborhood. The arc was completed as the last child learns that life isn’t as peachy as we tend to assume it is when we’re young, a lesson everyone learns eventually. Unfortunately for the kids in the story, this lesson came too late to do them any kind of good. I think I worded it something like “it was the moment they separated real-life from Disney for the first time.” I’m sure if I read this piece now I would be mortified and wonder exactly what the professor saw that qualified as “talent,” but the “is this how you want to use it” question stuck with me. What did she mean? Of course it was. I’d written the piece, hadn’t I? I later realized what she was really asking me was why didn’t I write something more akin to the epic poem about famous quarterback Joe Namath she’d written and shared with us, or the dialogue only piece about a flirty young girl working in a call center who took on various personas as she tried to entertain herself through the night shift. What my professor wanted was something more “literary” or to borrow a wonderfully sarcastic line from author Joe Clifford, something about “the symbolism of a rain soaked parking lot. Or a story about Christmas dinner with my grandmother in Japan.” And then, just like that the semester was over and I was never able to answer her question, but I couldn’t dismiss it either. Then, years later, something occurred to me: that the more interesting question, for every author, isn’t what, but why do we choose to write what we do.

I love dark subject matter. I always have. As a kid I loved pouring over the crime section of the newspaper, the violence particularly giving me a thrill. And the more sordid the better: beatings, sexual assaults, abductions, murders; the reports gave me access into worlds I didn’t want to be in, but didn’t want to look away from either. Now it’s no secret to anyone who writes that the things you take in are going to affect the things you put out. But that still doesn’t fully answer the why of it. So I continued to wonder why are we, as dark writers, so drawn to these things? In preparation for this post, I asked many of my writer friends about this, looking for some common theme, a signal in the noise so to speak that would give some kind of insight. I was met with a variety of reasons my brethren and sistren choose to write the violent, dark prose we do. For some it’s simple catharsis. For others, it’s a vicarious wish fulfillment they are too law-abiding to seek out in real life, and on the page, anything goes. Someone told me it was more of a calculated choice, a way to both gain sympathy for characters as victims, or to simply put their protagonist’s feet to the fire and up the ante quickly. And still others reported the old art imitating life adage, and though violence was a horrible thing in the real world, their stories gave them level of control over what is otherwise very unpredictable and no always as satisfying. The surprising thing, or maybe not so surprising since dark genre writers are about the nicest, most supportive people I’ve ever met, is that many of them told me that they often find themselves in a moral dilemma, asking themselves repeatedly if they are doing the story justice with the violence and not just producing an exploitative shocker or perhaps taking the easy path to the readers’ emotions. And it’s this dilemma that to me is the crux of our desire to depict the horrible and hideous, the vile side of humanity. What it provides us is the opportunity to explore our own morality, to examine our own lives and make sense of that real darkness we’re forced to witness.

Art comes from pain, it’s cliché but that doesn’t mean it’s untrue. I could give you a sob story about my own life that would bring some people to tears while causing others to laugh at how easy I’ve had it, relatively speaking. But relative as it may be, my pain is real. My friends’ pain is real. Your pain is real. I can only speak for myself, but I’d be surprised if any writer couldn’t relate at some level, that by digging around a little deeper than they’ve had to go personally, they can see that their trials, their hurts, are universal and in most cases, truly not as bad as they could be. I’ve never had a real artistic philosophy for my writing other than that I make it a point to try to find some kind of beauty inside ugliness, whether it just be some sort of justice being served or just something terrible to the best of my ability, infusing it with the truth it warrants. As a result, I relish my time in the murky depths, and that breath I take when I return to the surface is a reminder of how good everyday life can really be. I’m not claiming any kind of truly novel insight, just my own experience, but if you’re a writer and this idea seems foreign to you, I recommend you give it a try. Challenge yourself to go to places you’d rather not. Challenge yourself to examine the dregs of humanity. And tell me it doesn’t feel great when you get back.

So, Ms. Professor whose name I can’t remember. Your tutelage was valuable and I appreciate the feedback, but to answer your question: Yes. This is exactly how I want to use my talent, and now I can tell you why. So thanks for that.


CS DeWildt is the author of several works of crime fiction and numerous short stories. His latest book, the rural noir Kill Em with Kindness was released by All Due Respect Books in June 2016. He lives in Arizona. You can find him at and on Twitter @csdewildt

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Summer Crime Travel to Sicily

by Scott Adlerberg

When the summer hits and the weather gets real hot, is there any place you like to visit every year? I mean visit through reading, armchair travel.  Since I don't have the money to fly off to wherever I want, I have to be content, like most people I guess, to do most of my traveling through books. And what better way to visit places than through crime fiction?  Am I in the mood to travel to Cornwall, England?  Great. I can read the excellent Superindent Wycliffe novels of W.J. Burley. Iceland, with its volcanoes and glaciers? Simple. I pick up a Detective Erlendur book by Arnulder Indriason.  I've enjoyed visiting Norway in summer courtesy of Karin Fossum, and Amsterdam in the company of Janwillem van de Wetering's Grijpstra and de Gier is always fun.

Still, the past few years, during July and August, I find myself returning to one place in particular, Sicily, as I make my way through the great Inspector Montalbano series, written by Andrea Camilleri. Ninety years old and still going strong, Camilleri was born in Sicily and knows his complex island inside and out. There have been 19 Montalbano novels translated so far from Italian into English as well as a collection of stories about the inspector, and as of now there are at least 4 more books still to be translated.  It seems, too, that the series will have a definitive end, since Camilleri has said that he's written a novel that will be the final Montalbano story.  It's written and sitting with Camilleri's publisher. But according to the author, it cannot be released till it's clear that he's suffering from Alzheimer's.  Until then, still of sound mind, he'll keep working on new Montalbano stories.

But what about these books makes them ideal for summer reading?  Well, with its history, corruption, and beauty, Sicily never ceases to be a fascinating place, and the Montalbano books primarily take place in the heat and sun, with the sea, of course, never far away.  The novels mix darkness and light beautifully, never shying away from presenting social ills and human evil and the intractable problems that plague Sicily - and Italy as a whole - but sprinkling in a lot of humor, much of it through Montalbano himself.  He's a remarkably likable character, gruff and sardonic, idiosyncratic in his methods, a difficult guy for his superiors to handle.  He's a man with little patience for the idiocies of bureaucracy but who stands by those working for him and shows a great deal of empathy for underdogs. His long developing relationship with his girlfriend, Livia, is also well-done. Both have careers that consume them, and they go through a contemporary couple's ups and downs trying to make their relationship work.  Then there's the food. Montalbano loves to eat (though he keeps himself fit), and the books integrate his love of food into the fabric of the stories.  Reading these books, you just want to be in Sicily, go to Sicily at once, and like Montalbano, be sitting at a table in some tiny restaurant near the sea, in the sun, eating what he's having for lunch and washing it down with cold white wine, preferably bone dry. 

I've read six of the Montalbanos so far and I'm sure this summer I'll read one or two more. Sicily's a place I never get tired of visiting, and the Montalbano books evoke it with grit and a sense of the absurd.  At the same time, no matter how dark the plots get, the books make the point that you should never forget to try to carve out a moment of pleasure for yourself.  These novels satisfy as both crime fiction with depth and utterly pleasurable escapes.

What about for you? Any series of books you like going to in the summer, for armchair travel?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Even in Hope There is Despair

Okay, last night was the season finale of Game of Thrones. If you haven't watched it and care about spoilers, consider yourself warned. Although I won't delve into a recap, I want to touch on one key thing.

We finally learned who Jon Snow's mother is. And with that revelation comes the speculation of who his real father is, and that he is actually a Targaryen.

What does this mean for Danaerys?

I find myself wondering if the intent is for Jon to ultimately be king. And I'm not going to suggest I'm entirely happy about this prospect. Danaerys has demonstrated wisdom and discernment and strong principles in her rise, and she is a worthy ruler.

Will further Jon Snow parental revelations put the two at odds? Or will Danaerys be queen by virtue of marriage to Jon Snow?

I have to admit that, while they both seem very good people in the context of the show, that could be a blow for the advancements women have made in the series. While they've been subjected to rape and slavery and abuse, in recent seasons they've risen to power in a way that suggests female leadership is key to restoring balance and honor to the kingdoms.

For now, there will be ten months or so to speculate on what the future holds for our Targaryens. Meanwhile, my favorite moments of the finale:

5. Danaerys stands alone. She has put leadership over her romantic pursuits, showing she's ready to assume that leadership.
4. Sansa walks away from Littlefinger. Oh, our once-naive Sansa sees how things are, and she isn't about to be fooled or abused by any man again.
3. Lyanna Mormont. Someone on twitter suggested Lyanna team up with Arya to form a buddy cop duo. Hell yes! Her speech was classic.
2. Arya's revenge.
1. Tyrion being named Hand of the Queen.

The assignment of #1 could be debated, but I found it oddly touching that he came full circle to earn this trust from Danaerys. They have a great partnership.

Of course, it could be argued that Cersei's revenge was worthy of a spot at the top. I am sad for Marjorie. I am not sad for Tommen, who departed without a word. But when I consider the implications of Tommen being alive, I see Danaerys' victory as a simple matter. Cersei is a formidable opponent, and I look forward to seeing her eventual demise.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

When Facts Get in the Way

Sometimes book research leads you to wonderful, interesting things. (See Steve Weddle’s or Renee Asher Pickup’s posts.) And sometimes, it leads you to inescapable, inconvenient facts that force you to rewrite the entire scene.
Take, for instance, an action scene I worked on this week. The bad guy is trying to get away. He leaps into a car, hot-wires it and speeds away. But as I wrote this, something tugged at the back of my brain. Can you do that nowadays?
I have learned not to disregard this internal alarm. It starts off as the gentle ding of an elevator door indicator, but if I ignore it, it’ll rapidly escalate until the red alert from Star Trek is blaring through my skull.
So I reluctantly put the brakes on my scene and went to Google. And was informed that yes, it is practically impossible to physically hot-wire a modern car. It might be feasible to hack into it with a computer, but ripping out different-colored wires and sparking the car into life ain’t gonna happen.
So I had written myself into a corner. The whole thing depended on the bad guy driving away in this car that wasn’t his. And it had to be a specific kind of car – I couldn’t change the make and model so it would be older and hot-wire-able.
I sulked for a few minutes, wondering why my research couldn’t have led me to Betty Grable, too (see again, Steve Weddle). Then I went back to the beginning of the chapter and started over. My internal alarm calmed down, and I figured out another way for my bad guy to drive away in that vehicle.
What pesky facts have tripped you up in your writing? And how much work did it take to fix it?