Saturday, August 13, 2016

Taking Your Time

Scott D. Parker’s post yesterday about the movie Ratatouille got me thinking about the long record of quality films produced by Pixar. The animation studio has been making phenomenal movies for more than twenty years. It’s a track record unrivaled by any other major studio (which each manage to put out at least one bomb a year). So how do the geniuses at Pixar do it? I think their success comes down to one thing:

They take a lot of it. Toy Story took more than four years to bring to the screen. And that was fast. Monsters, Inc. took almost six years, and Finding Nemo took almost seven. The complicated (and absolutely perfect) story of the inner emotions of a 12-year-old girl took about seven years to develop, write and animate to become the movie Inside Out.
In all of these instances, and their thirteen other movies, Pixar didn’t let their work out into the world until they thought it was ready. It’s a good policy that I think applies just as equally to writing. Taking your time is never a bad thing.
How a writer does that can take many different forms. There’s no one correct way, but I do believe that when you reach the end of your manuscript, you need to have taken time somewhere along the way. You can outline carefully before you ever start a draft. You can write the entire manuscript slowly and carefully without an outline (that’s me). Or you can write like you’re Usain Bolt in the 100-meter dash and then let it sit for a while before coming back to it for a final read-through and edit.
Any of these ways will make for a better story in the end. The proof is in the Pixar.

Inspirational Quotes from Ratatouille

Scott D. Parker

Pixar’s Ratatouille is one of my favorites from that studio. It’s different from the rest of the movies. Sure, there is slapstick comedy aplenty, but it goes deeper under the surface. The movie gets to a core of what it is like to be a creator.

The more I watch this film—probably once a year—I get something new that I never considered before. Ever since the first viewing, the ending soliloquy by Anton Ego, as voiced by the sonorous Peter O’Toole, struck a deep nerve with me. I’m giving away the ending here, but here’s the setup. Anton Ego, the critic, is astonished to discover that the true chef is Remi the Rat. As he says in the movie, it shook him to his core. He is faced with a dire situation: does he tell the truth about the chef and face ridicule or lie. In the end, he gives this speech:   

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize that only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.

Powerful stuff, especially when you learn that he was fired from his job with his reputation ruined. But he was content having opened his own restaurant with Remi as the lead chef.

But the quote that stayed with me during yesterday’s viewing was one from the ghost of Gusteau. When he’s describing what it takes to be a chef, he says this:

“You must be imaginative, strong-hearted. You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from.”

Those words percolated in my mind and I realized that the quote can apply to anything and any profession. Heck, any passion can be applied to that quote.

After last night, I’ve added it to my list of quotes.

To be honest, Ratatouille can act as a case study for passion. “Wonder Boys” is another.

What other movies can y’all think of that come across as case studies for a passion?

Friday, August 12, 2016

Fight The Good Fight - Interview with Kameron Hurley

I'm going a little off-script here. This amazing guest interview by Katy Lees with Kameron Hurley isn't about crime fiction, but it IS about writing, and it IS about writing believable strong, badass women, and it IS full of great lessons we can all use. -R.
Kameron Hurley - award-winning fiction author, inventor of 'bugpunk', self-confirmed badass and troublemaker, and apparent llama enthusiast - is currently winning acclaim and applause for her collection of non-fiction essays, The Geek Feminist Revolution, which includes her Hugo Award-winning essay We Have Always Fought.
Before this glorious revolution, Kameron was lauded for her work as a speculative fiction author of such works as the Worldbreaker Saga and the Bel Dame ApocryphaThe Mirror Empire, first book of the Worldbreaker Saga, is particularly famous for its inclusion of powerful and complex women, world building both deep and broad, and uniqueness of perspective.
Kameron took some time out to tell Dirge Magazine about her feminist beginnings, the power of empathy, the best and worst parts of geek culture, and her upcoming works.
DIRGE MAGAZINE: How long has feminism been part of your life?
KAMERON HURLEY: Since my late teens/early 20’s. Growing up post-80’s, I was raised to believe that, because women were legally equal, they could do and be anything that men could. But no matter how equal you believe you are, when you go through puberty and get out into the working world, the world treats you like it treats women. I was confused about why I wasn’t getting promotions and opportunities like my male peers. I’d work twice as hard and get passed over. I’d get harassed on the street. When I lived in Chicago, I’d get harassed on public transit every day. I lost a job offer as an assistant to a stock broker because I refused to wear makeup. I remember another job interview where it became clear that the man in charge was looking for the type of secretary he wanted to sleep with, not one who could do the job. It grinds you down. When you go out into the world you can believe all you want that sexism doesn’t exist, but that won’t change how people treat you.
After experiencing all that, I went back to my mom’s books on feminism, the dusty ones she put away when she had a family. They opened my eyes this time. Whereas before I said, “Oh no, none of this applies anymore, we’re all equal,” now that I’d seen the world for what it was I recognized just how many things were disturbingly the same. Those books gave me a good grasp on feminist theory, and helped me not only make sense of what was happening to me and the women around me, but also gave me tools for understanding that world and working to change it.
How long have you been writing about feminism?
I started writing online back in 2004. My blog was called Brutal Women, and was explicitly positioned as a feminist blog. Those were great days for young feminist bloggers; were able to find each other and have good discussions. I wrote critiques of books and other media, reviews that let me tackle not only the race and gender politics of a work, but the worldbuilding and prose, too. People call these “feminist” essays because they acknowledge the gender politics of media. The truth is, every piece that doesn’t address those things is also addressing race and gender, but in a way that upholds the status quo. That says something about the writer’s and reviewer’s attitude toward how men and women and everyone else should behave, too. Not mentioning the race and gender politics of a work is just as much of a position as mentioning it.

Misogyny in geek culture is rampant. How best do you think it can be combated?
There’s been misogyny in geek culture since there was geek culture, because geek culture is part of our wider culture, and we’ve built a society on the idea that some people are more equal than others. It’s difficult to change that foundation.
I read somewhere that “Athens was a democracy, albeit one that did not include women, slaves, or immigrants.” I laughed because that was the exact democracy the United States was founded on. Women, slaves, and immigrants were not legally equal to white men when this country was founded, especially white men with property. We’re dealing with that legacy today. When you build a society with that assumption as the foundation, it bleeds through history and colors everything we see and do. So, to address misogyny in geek culture, we have to address it in the wider world.
Laurie Penny had an amazing essay called Why do we give robots female names? that argues that the man-creates-female-robot story is rampant in sci-fi because it’s men asking themselves whether women are really human, or at what point women become human. The reframing of the subtext of that story – from a man’s fantasy of an emotionless woman that serves him, to this struggle men have in defining whether or not women are human – was super creepy and eye-opening to me. As long as we position women as other and opposite to men, as opposed to human beings, we will struggle with misogyny.

Solving this misogyny problem involves cultivating empathy. It’s about encouraging women and men and everyone in between and beyond to engage with stories about people other than themselves. Our media has enforced this view of heterosexual men as the default, as the “real” human, with all other stories and people as secondary. Combating this narrative involves telling other stories from other narratives, and making sure those men come along for the ride. I believe storytelling can help us change the world, and it starts with telling stories about everyone, so that we all become normal, so that we are all the default, so we are all seen as humans with agency.
What’s your favourite aspect of geekdom at the moment?
The fact it’s so easy to find each other. It used to be that, if you liked some obscure show or character, it was difficult to find other people to talk to about it. Now you can find folks who both love the same things you do and who find some of the same aspects disconcerting or worth discussion. I love these discussions about media, though I would prefer more nuance. Sometimes the narrative can become “This is good” OR “This is bad”, but most stories have aspects that are both. I enjoy aspects of many sexist stories – if I didn’t enjoy aspects of work that were also sexist, there wouldn’t be that many stories I could enjoy. I can acknowledge that a show does some things right and some things painfully wrong, and not burn it out of my life.
We Have Always Fought stands out for its commitment to the truth about women as active and important throughout history, plus your honesty in writing it. What was it like to write it?
Once I came up with the llama frame – because who doesn’t want to read a story about llamas? – the rest was pretty easy. I had a whole lifetime of experiences and research to draw on and turn into a narrative. I wrote it in a few hours, and revised it for a couple hours the next day. Maybe 4-6 hours of total work, because most of it was stuff I knew.
As for the honesty, that’s a hallmark of my writing. My parents raised me on this idea that honesty and integrity are paramount. I share a lot of data that other authors don’t, including sales and financial data, because I’ve found that it helps other writers to understand what to expect. Having said that, I choose what I talk about online very carefully. I see a lot of writers, especially young women, writing these excruciating tell-alls for like $50 that end up on the internet forever, and I think, “Are you really sure you want to give that away for $50?” There are certain subjects I don’t talk about or write about online: sex, my spouse, details related to my day job, etc. I decided early on what was out of bounds and what I would share with others. I think that’s an important thing that every writer needs to consider, especially in this age where privacy is considered quaint.
Who is your favourite woman who fought in history?
There are an incredible number, and they are largely forgotten. I’d say my favorite group, though, are the ones who said, “Fuck it all,” dressed up as men, and went to serve in regular armies. Fighting is already a dangerous thing, but to do that knowing discovery could mean even more terrible things could happen to you was pretty brave.
What are your favourite fictional stories about women?
I grew up on the Alanna books by Tamora Pierce, about a woman who dresses up like a man and becomes a knight. They are perfect for kids of all genders from 9-13 who are piecing together how the world could work. Peirce wrote those books in such a real and engaging way that it was a big part of why I would go on to study the role of women in combat.
Alanna was never positioned as someone who was especially gifted, and not chaste either. She was good at some things, not so good at others. What was important was that she held her own during training and earned the respect of her peers. She was not positioned as Singular Woman, which we see so much in some other stories – like, THIS woman is SPECIAL so SHE can break all the rules! She’s stubborn and really just wants to be a knight, which is the actual story of most women in history who fought. Being good and stubborn will get your far.
What’s your least favourite trope about female characters?
The “strong female character” trope: a woman who is given a gun so the reader is supposed to think that makes up for lack of depth, or that sexism in that world doesn’t exist because she has a gun, or punches somebody once.
Carrying a gun doesn’t make a character interesting or complex. I read some advice from a female screenwriter who told writers, especially men, that if they wanted to write great women characters, they should write one they didn’t want to sleep with. It’s great advice, especially for men who default to writing about their ideal woman – sexy, tough andvulnerable! There is more to being human than being seen as attractive.
Your Worldbreaker trilogy offers a vision of a culture with gender-flipped social politics; a society where consent is always explicitly and verbally sought; and a world with five politically recognised genders. How did it feel to break fantasy status quo so thoroughly and awesomely?
Writing the Worldbreaker books is a lot of fun. I wanted to create cultures that were at least as interesting as the rest of the worldbuilding. So many fantasy books will give you these amazing worlds and cool magic, then trot you through the same small pseudo-medieval villages with the same pseudo-patriarchal gender roles. It’s just boring. Total lack of imagination. Like, you’re a fantasy writer! COME UP WITH SOMETHING FANTASTICAL.
So I wrote the book that I wanted to read, one that included all sorts of different family and gender structures. Many of those structures had historical influences. Many Native American cultures had third and fourth genders, and I just read a great book about a society that had thirteen different gendered pronouns. If we can’t be as imaginative as the real world, what are we doing writing fantasy?

Guest post by Katy LeesKaty Lees is a mental health worker and trainee psychotherapist from East Yorkshire, England. She's a fan of zombies, spooky sci-fi and wet-your-pants horror. Katy blogs mini book reviews, writing news and poetry at You can also find her tweeting over at

Thursday, August 11, 2016


Title: All the Bridges Burning

Author: Neliza Drew

Series: Davis Groves, Book 1

Pitch: Sisters bound by tragedy.
Davis Groves grew up in a volatile environment. With a dead father and an addict mother, Davis learned early to do whatever it took to survive: fight, lie, steal…even sell her body for money to get by. Above all, she knew it was her job to protect her sisters—always.
Now, she’s settled into a somewhat normal life away from her family, complete with a respectable job, apartment and boyfriend. Her demons have been put to rest, mostly, her old obligations abandoned.
So when her mother calls for help, Davis is all too willing to ignore her…until she says Davis’s little sister has been arrested for murder. There’s no question Davis will go back, that she’ll try to save her sister any way she can. It’s what she was trained to do.
As she investigates, the events surrounding her sister’s arrest begin to unravel, the past Davis thought she’d buried and her sister’s present collide, and Davis is forced to question if she can ever forgive herself for leaving her sister behind.
She may not live long enough to try.

"Neliza Drew pulls no punches in her searing debut. Her characters bear fractured hearts and stubborn wounds that won’t heal, yet even in their darkest hours, they are hauntingly real. ALL THE BRIDGES BURNING is a triumph." -- Hilary Davidson, Anthony-Award-winning author of THE DAMAGE DONE and BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS

Criminal Element: A great read from a new author. Here’s hoping for a lot more Davis Groves.

Dead End Follies: Toughness done well, stark realism and a strong mystery are the calling cards of All the Bridges Burning.

DSD's own Holly West: Neliza Drew's debut is a compelling, well-plotted mystery, but its real strength is its protagonist, Davis Groves. I haven't encountered such a complex and well-drawn character in a long time and hope that Drew continues the series for awhile to come. To say that Drew has writing chops is an understatement--she's one of the best debut writers I've had the pleasure of reading. Ever. With an evocative setting and a group of supremely dysfunctional but nevertheless realistic characters, All the Bridges Burning is a spectacular start for a writer I look forward to reading for a very long time.

Get Yours: Amazon B&N Elsewhere

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Funny? Funny how?

How much funny do you like in your crime fiction?

In other genres like fantasy and science fiction, there is a strict line. Some like the hard stuff and hate the funny stuff. In crime there tends to be a delineation between hardboiled and "cozy" but there are those that cross the line: Robert Crais's wisecracking Elvis Cole, for example:

That line has stuck with me since I read his fantastic debut, The Monkey's Raincoat, back in the early '90s. Elvis has taken on some very tough cases, but Crais always manages to inject some humor. Maybe not slapstick, but enough to leaven the brutality of the crimes with some laughter and keep us from throwing the book across the room and taking the lead pill.

Then there's just flat-out screwball crime fiction like Johnny Shaw, Rob Brunet, and Carl Hiaasen. You either love those or you don't. I'm also a big fan of Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr "Burglar" books (and I'm probably the only fan who also enjoyed the movie Burglar with Whoopi Goldberg, but that's another story). Block doesn't eschew humor in his more hardboiled Matt Scudder books, but there's a very different tone.

The book I'm editing now is straddling the line. There's a death of course, and the subject matter of suburban hate groups and the rise of fascism in the U.S. before World War II isn't a light one. But it's not a story I wanted to tell in a gritty tone. The story of Nazis hiding in America has been told many times, and our government's complicity in harboring them for the space race and the Cold War is well documented (Google 'Operation Paperclip' if you like).

So where do you draw the line? This isn't Hogan's Heroes we're talking about. Just like you can kill any character but the dog, there are some jokes you can't tell. Punching up instead of down helps. Not going for the easy laugh helps, too.

So, do you enjoy hardboiled noir or funny stuff, or both? Can you enjoy a mix of the two? What are some favorites?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Writing and Physical Training

by Scott Adlerberg

With my 54th birthday approaching and the Olympics on every night, I'm reminded each time I watch an event that sadly I will never be one of the people who gets to stand on a medal podium. In the realm of fantasy, if there's one thing I've always wanted to do as much write a novel that lasts forever, it's win a gold medal at the Olympics, preferably in a track event, let's say the marathon or the 1500 meters.  But even I have to admit that the window for that glorious possibility has closed.  Not that it was a window ever actually open.

Still, since childhood, I've been an active person, either playing competitive sports - everything when I was a kid, mainly tennis as an adult - or engaging in lots of straight exercise (bicycling, swimming, running).  I rarely got sick as a child and hardly ever come down with so much as a cold now.  I love to eat, but I've never had to worry at all about my weight. Maintaining energy has never been something I gave much thought to because energy and health have been constants, and I have to say that I don't feel my energy or health flagging now. But there's no getting around the fact that as the years creep by, the aches and pains flare up and back stiffness prevails in the morning.  To my astonishment, my metabolism has slowed a little.  I find that if I let days go by without doing aerobic exercise, I start to feel less energetic.  And if I feel less energetic, writing becomes that much harder.  I have to push more to get my self-allotted work done, and that sense of having to push so hard to do what I like to do is not something I enjoy.

Of course, like with most people I know, my energy gets sapped on a daily basis by all things that are not writing.  You have to work full time, bring your kid to and from school, take care of your house, and so on and so forth.  Writing might be the last thing you do at the end of a long day.  And with that work and school schedule, writing till 1 or 2 in the morning will inevitably be followed by waking up at 6 or 7.  I've gotten to where I can function well on 5 to 6 hours sleep most nights, but it is a pace I can only keep up if I'm physically fit.  It helps to get the endorphins working several times a week.  Then the energy's there and the eagerness to write is there no matter how much else is going on and how many other things I've done during the day.  I approach writing now much like an athlete preparing for a sport. Everything's geared to optimizing performance.  Get the exercise in, I tell myself.  Be careful about what's going into your body.  I'm more picky now than I ever was about what I eat.  I'm even kidded about it at work.  "Mr. Salad," I'm called. "Mr. Fruits and Veggies."  Though, granted, I'll never be a total health fanatic because I like ice cream too much.  Same goes for wine, and to a lesser extent, rum and vodka.  But ridiculous as it may sound, I've found a regimen that works for me and keeps my energy level where I need it.  And I do really need it at that level - high, strong - or the writing suffers.  Is there any better motivation for getting on the exercise bike for an hour or going for a run?

For myself, there's not, though I still wish I'd been good enough in something to go to the Olympics.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Moving Beyond Writer Crutches

Eventually, you just have to sit down and write.

Sometimes, I think some aspiring and new authors are more in love with the idea of writing than actually telling the story. Course after course, book after book is touted as the thing that's going to inform their writing aspirations.

Oddly enough, the main options I see recommended repeatedly are often taught by people with no publishing credits to their name. I mean, if you were going to invest in a book or course to learn to write bestselling screenplays wouldn't you want to know the author or instructor had actually sold a screenplay for a healthy sum?

While learning about the process of writing, how to plot, developing strong characters and writing convincing dialogue is important, reading advice will only take you so far. There comes a point where you have to learn through the hard work of actually writing and executing those elements of your story effectively.

I mean, if you're going to hire someone to redo the electric in your house, do you want someone who's rewired a hundred houses, or someone who's simply read a lot of textbooks about how to do this?

With writing, it's a bit like expecting to eat breakfast, lunch, a snack and dinner before needing to go to the bathroom. It's like expecting your system not to digest anything until you've consumed everything.

A lot of novelists start late—Conrad, Pirandello, even Mark Twain. When you're young, chess is all right, and music and poetry. But novel-writing is something else. It has to be learned, but it can't be taught. This bunkum and stinkum of college creative writing courses! The academics don't know that the only thing you can do for someone who wants to write is to buy him a typewriter. - James M. Cain

 In my opinion, you read a lot and write a lot when you start out. When you hit a snag, let's call it a weakness in your diet, you refer to resources to get some insight on the issue - whether it's plot or character development or how to use semicolons. However, you do not stay entrenched in the feeding process endlessly. You take it back and start applying any insight to your work. That's how you truly learn. When anyone is more invested in a writer's help book or a course, or repeating a course, chances are they're avoiding the real pleasure and pain of actually being a writer and applying what they've learned theoretically.

Are you in love with the idea of writing, or actually telling the story? I have my own 'writer crutch' - a hangup I've let hold me back at times -  although it doesn't fall under this category. (Perhaps I'll share another time.)