Saturday, September 10, 2016

Bouchercon Freshman

Scott D. Parker

I’ll not bury the lede: I’m attending Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans.

For the first time, the stars have aligned that will enable me to attend this convention I’ve heard so much about and seen lots of photos online.

Part of that alignment is proximity. New Orleans is driving distance for me, a Houstonian. Thus I get to eliminate airfare. That’s a win. The convention lands in Dallas in 2019 so that’s certainly driving distance. Now I’m wondering what Houston has to do to get on the list. Has Houston ever hosted Bouchercon?

Another part of the alignment is time off from the day job. I’ve got some days banked, so I decided to use them. I won’t be there Wednesday night for Noir at the Bar. I’m driving over on Thursday. I have to get my boy to the carpool house by 6:30am, so I’ll be heading out soon thereafter. I’ll miss most of Thursday’s panels but I’ll be there by late afternoon and into the evening. That’ll enable me to be at the Opening Ceremonies. That sounds fancy. What’s the attire?

I have to be honest here. I’ve “met” so many folks online over the past eight or so years, but have met only a handful face-to-face. I can’t wait to meet y’all live and in person. It’ll be a blast!

So, folks, I’m a Bouchercon Freshman. Tell me all the tips about this wonderful convention. What do I need to know going in to my first Bouchercon?

Friday, September 9, 2016

I Miss The World - Guest post by Violet LeVoit

Please welcome Violet LeVoit to my Friday spot here at Do Some Damage, writing on the inspiration for her latest novel I Miss The World.

I saw Los Angeles with my own eyes for the first time two years ago. I was on a book tour in support of my short story collection I'll Fuck Anything That Moves and Stephen Hawking with stops in Vancouver, Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. It was self-financed and self-booked, my big DIY effort to make the most of my trip out to Bizarrocon. Finding venues to read was not going well. Vancouver, Seattle, and San Francisco gave the slightest twitch at the news of my arrival, like the involuntary shudder that shoos a fly from a water buffalo's skin, and went back to being desirable and unattainable. A now regrettably defunct zine storefront in Tacoma gave me a reading. All my leads in LA ignored me, except for Burbank's twisted lowbrow Hyaena Gallery.

When not planning this tour I was working full time to support myself and my son at an ostensibly socially conscious food co-op, where their earnest and smug desire for nutritional yeast-fueled social change did not include my $10 an hour wages. I was also writing copy whenever I could for film websites. I was also completing the manuscript for the short story collection-to-be. I could not afford a car and I could not afford internet in the tiny apartment where I owned no furniture that required two people to lift, because I couldn't guarantee there would be someone to help me if I needed to move in a hurry again. Then my beloved grandmother died, of Alzheimer's.
Soon after the funeral my son's father called telling me some urgent and unfair detail, some extra thing that needed to be done to keep all the plates of my life spinning. I don't remember what it was exactly, but when I hung up I remember that tipping point morsel of stress sending ribbons of fierce running cracks across the lake of my psyche as if seeded with Vonnegut's ice-nine. My co-workers found me crumpled into a pile in the break room and drove me to the hospital. The terrified intake nurse asked the gibbering wreck of me if I wanted to be seen by psych and the stupidity of the question sent me shrieking into the linoleum floor
The rooms really are padded in the psych ward, just like in the movies, and as I lay there pondering this fact two doctors came in. One was an old silverback in a white coat and one was young. Dr. Silverback had some questions. Was I having suicidal thoughts? Hearing voices? Any grandiose plans? Well, I said, I am planning a self-financed book tour down the West Coast for a book no one has heard of or will ever care about. Yes, he said, but do you think you'll win a Pulitzer for it? Now that's grandiose, I said, and he snickered, and turned to the younger doctor and said a sense of humor is an encouraging sign. That little wisecrack earned me a Xanax and discharge papers. I was released into the care of my mother and sent home.
Five days later I was on a plane to LA.
I saw lots of things for the first time on that trip. I went to the strip of sidewalk in Leimert Park that was the site of Elizabeth Short's body dump sixty years ago. I saw the Watts Towers. I involuntarily laughed out loud when I saw the Hollywood sign – it's real, just like padded rooms are. I saw backyards with persimmon trees so laden with heavy sweet fruit in January they plopped all over the cars in the driveway, and sunrises in Technicolor sky blue pink. And I went to Hollywood Forever Cemetery with a friend, and she said I was fun to go with because I knew who all the people were. Here's Renee Adoree, whom MGM literally worked to death while she was still recuperating from tuberculosis. Here's most beautiful junkie Barbara La Marr. Here's Darla Hood, the Little Rascal whom I dressed up as in a little pink dress my mother sewed for me when my second grade teacher said we had to do a report about a historical figure. I loved it there. You can see the Hollywood sign from the gate.

My life is better now. I am married and sane. I own furniture the two of us can lift together. The cloud of blood from the bruise of that hurtful winter has risen to the surface of the skin, and dissipated. It dissolved into I Miss The World, set in Hollywood Forever and answering all the questions I could not then: about forgiveness, forgetting, grief, revenge, the past, the future, the self and where it goes, just like the ditty I saw printed in carefully painted white letters on a photo of headless corpses hung on meathooks in some Depression morgue, like a closet full of suits:
This party that you now see
As you are now so once were we
and if you do not give a cuss
just grab a hook and follow us.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Bouchercon Absentee

By Steve Weddle

If you're like me, you're a loveable curmudgeon in ankle socks and reading glasses. Also, if you're like me, you won't be at Bouchercon with all the cool people.

For those of you who don't know, Bouchercon is the World Mystery Convention. This year's Bouchercon starts September 15 in New Orleans.

DSD folks are going. Jay Stringer is going. Holly West is going. Kristi Belcamino is going. Others, too. Maybe McFet?

Back in 2010 I went to NoirCon, a smaller affair in Philadelphia. I wrote a thing about it then. Then five years later I tried Bouchercon, which was in some North Carolina hotels.  I did not write about last year's Bouchercon, as no one at the bar offered to buy me a drink and it made me pretty sad and so I didn't like the idea of reliving that, you know?

If you want to go to Bouchercon in New Orleans, you have until September 9 to register. Holly West is promising karaoke. Also, there will be a Noir at the Bar reading thing, along with all the usual panels and signings and cosplay. Keep up with everything B'con on Facebook.

As I was saying a second ago, I won't be at Bouchercon this year. If you're not set to attend, you're missing out on the fun. But fret not, for you can still enjoy a bit of the fun and pretend you're there.

Have some cocktails. (Again, if you're like me, you'll have to buy your own as I had to at the bar because, well, I don't know why. Who cares? Best to not dwell on it. I mean, people say all year how cool it would be to meet you and how the first round is on them and then you go to the trouble of showing up and you're just kinda waiting and talking and being, you know, utterly charming (as if you have any control over your high charm levels) and you're just kinda waiting still and nothing and so the bartender makes the rounds and asks what you want and no one offers to buy you a drink and you just sit there like a moron like when you were in fifth grade and no one wanted to dance with you in the gym which is fine because you don't need other people anyway and besides maybe the second quarter of the junior varsity game isn't a time for dancing or whatever).

After you've had some drinks, enjoy some Noir at the Bar readings:

Nik Korpon

Jessica McHugh

Meredith Cole

Bryon Quertermous

Kristi Belcamino and Dan Malmon

And for a panel/interview feel, here's Laura Lippman and Michael Kortya from Bouchercon a few years back, B'Con 2008 in Baltimore:

And if you're going to miss New Orleans Bouchercon, you can still catch the fun in Toronto in October 2017. Looking at the Toronto B'con page, the Sheraton location seems, um, homey?

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Rules of Engagement

by Holly West

This past week, our good friends' son stayed with us while his parents took his older sister to college in Massachusetts.

It's been a long time since I've felt like this much of a loser.

It turns out that beyond regular meals and rides to and from school, I have nothing to offer a fifteen year old boy. Except, perhaps, for when I was querying agents, never have I worked so hard for approval and gotten so little back in return.

It's not him, it's me. He's a good kid. Polite, respectful, a little bit sassy, funny and observant. But not overly talkative. Which left it up to me, of course, to fill the silence.

We took him to sushi on Saturday night. I struggled in advance to come up with topics we could discuss during dinner. How the hell was I gonna engage this kid for the duration of a meal out? I settled upon telling him about an idea for a story I had, set in a high school and based very loosely on The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, which we'd watched earlier that day. I asked him for feedback: what do high school kids really want? What motivates them? What do they care about? I don't have children, teenage or otherwise, so I'm pretty clueless about kids in general and I was hoping he could give me some insight.

When I realized my questions were too broad, I narrowed them a little bit. Does money motivate you? Does freedom motivate you? What are the consequences if you do something wrong? Do those consequences stop you from breaking the rules?

I know. It was a lot to ask and I'm pretty sure he was sitting there trying to figure out a way to get the crazy lady to shut up and drink her sake. But really, my only goal was to try to come up with a plot for my story. Explaining that didn't help open him up.

I still don't know what motivates teenage boys, but I'm pretty certain it isn't discussing story ideas with middle aged female writers. With help from my husband, our dinner conversation devolved into devising methods of tricking our Fitbits into recording steps while we were just sitting there.

Engagement achieved.

At some point during his visit, I texted his mom: R is spending a lot of time in his bedroom. Is that normal?

She assured me that it was, but I still felt guilty, as though I'd locked him in there and wouldn't let him out except for the bowl of gruel I set out in front of his door once a day.

So many of my conversations with him started with, "When I was a kid..." In some ways, I share a history with him since I've been friends with his mother since we were nine. Turns out he wasn't very interested in my reminisces about his mom and grandparents and high school (he attends the same one I graduated from).

Our remaining discussions consisted of me asking what he wanted to eat. At some point, I said, "I guess grown-ups spend a lot of time thinking about what to feed people." He declined to comment.

During the week, I learned one thing with certainty: Despite all my efforts against it, I have not only become a grown-up, but also, my mother. The realization is horrifying. By necessity, actual parents must come to this understanding early and get used to it to some degree. But in my day-to-day life, I labor under the delusion that I'm young and hip and oh, so with it. Never mind the fact that I wasn't hip or with it when I actually was young.

It's a cruel lesson to learn all at once, with no warning whatsoever. Hey--I just agreed to watch your kid. Questioning my own identity wasn't something I signed up for.

In the end, we all survived and it was a good week. We watched lots of TV and movies and I got to know a great kid a little bit better. And let's be honest--it's probably time I grew up some.

Not too much, though. I'm going to New Orleans next week and I intend to laissez les bon temps rouler.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

An August in the Jersey Pine Barrens

by Scott Adlerberg

Novels I usually pick up and read through without reading any other substantial books in the meantime. This is true if the book takes me two days to read, two weeks to read or (the occasional tome) two months to read.  But I find that short story collections dictate their pace to me. Some collections I zip through, devouring story after story till I'm finished with the book, and some I prefer to read a story or two a day, or every other day, while reading something else.

It's difficult to say exactly why some collections make me want to go through them slowly. The urge to read a story and wait, read another story and wait, has nothing to do with the collection's quality. Some great collections I want to read fast, some great ones I read with the slow method.  The slow method may have to do with a particular emotional experience the collection engenders.  You just want to let the feel of each story sit with you awhile before you move on to the next one, or each story has a strength you need a little time to recover from.

That's the kind of collection I found Jen Conley's Cannibals to be.  After hearing such good things about it, I had high expectations when I opened the book, and the stories did not disappoint.  Cannibals was among the reading highlights of my summer. I spent the month of August working through these stories, and I found myself savoring pretty much every one.  

The key here for Jen Conley is total familiarity with the area she writes about - the Jersey Pine Barrens, that rural, wooded, sandy-soiled stretch of southern New Jersey that most people just drive through to get from one part of the state to the other.  Each of the fifteen stories in Cannibals is set in this region, and Conley accomplishes something quite difficult to do: she creates a world that is at once a little foreign (because so distinct and self-enclosed) and yet utterly familiar (because her characters are so accessible and real).  She writes of people scraping to get by, and sometimes failing to, and of the cruelties both casual and premeditated that people inflict on each other.  Her stories contain home invasion, assault, rape, murder, and parental neglect, and characters repeatedly find that their plans go astray and their dreams don't come to fruition. And yet, for all the harshness and difficulty her stories depict, they never succumb to the miserabilism that some fiction trying to be "gritty" falls prey to.   In a story such as "Metalhead Marty in Love," the ending is terribly sad, but there are moments in the life of the title character that are ectastic.  "It's Hard to be a Saint in the City" ends on a note of perfectly calibrated middle-aged rueful reflection.  You may have missed your chance for great love in life, but still, life goes on.  The grandmother in "Debbie, the Hero", having done something gutsy that could make her daughter hate her for life, knows from experience to take life's pleasures where you find them. She has a male friend living far from her and whether things will work out between them in the long run, she can't know.  Still, she hopes "there's a chance for us, a chance for me.  But even if this trip never happens, at least I'll have a few weeks wishing for it."

Four stories center around police officer Andrea Vogel, and let's just say that this is a character I'd love to see more of.  Married for many years, Vogel lost her husband in a car accident, and in many ways she seems to embody the no-nonsense complexities of the world Conley creates. Despite the sadness she lives with, she carries on and does her job. She's all business at her work and tough inside, nobody to mess with, but she has enough compassion inside her to try to help others as much as circumstances allow, whether it's an ex who keeps screwing up, an elderly woman who killed her abusive husband, or a young woman who was raped.  In the face of people doing their worst, she remains even-keeled and steadfast, realistic and clear-eyed but not despairing. It's a way of viewing life that could also be applied to Vogel's creator, who mixes the bleak and the hopeful, the vicious and the cautiously beneficent, with expert skill.  Conley's portrayal of life is a fully rounded one, and her laser precision charting the high and low points of human endeavor gives Cannibals its emotional power. 

Cannibals is available here.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Great movie hats

I re-watched some old favorite movies recently, at work I've watched Rio Bravo a couple of time over the last week or so and Jaws just hit Netflix so I was watching it with my daughter over the weekend, so naturally I'm thinking about hats.

Quint's hat and Chance's hat have a lot of character, more so than other characters in the movies. The hats are a natural extension of the characters that wear them. They have their own full lives, adventures, scars, and histories that are clearly visible. They are natural extensions of the characters that comfortably wear them. Are the characters wearing the hat, or is the hat wearing them? No one else could ever wear those hats like those two men do, and no one else would dare try. Those are great hats. Those are powerful hats. Some of the best hats that have ever graced the screen.

I would argue that John Wayne's hat is the greatest movie hat ever if only for a simple fact. It is the same hat (or, one of a small collection) that he wore for a significant number of his movies. By the hat gets to the set of Rio Bravo it has led a full life. No wonder Wayne and the hat fit so comfortably together.
I would argue that Quint's hat could be the one of the greatest movie Easter eggs. There has been a few discussions over the years on hat forums about what kind of hat Quint wears. There isn't a consensus (hence the could). But one of the suggestions is a U.S. Navy Sailor's Baseball Cap, WWII. Assume that this is actually what the hat is and let that sink in for a moment. The defining moment of Quint's life was the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. When telling of his time in the water, after the Indianapolis sank, Quint only mentions one person by name, his friend Herbie Robinson, who was a baseball player. I posit that Quint is wearing Herbie Robinson's hat.

After the Indianapolis speech Quint doesn't wear the hat any more. And without it, his actions become more crazed. He dons the hat briefly, with his shirt buttoned up to his neck and his jacket sitting proper and straight (all of  which is carried differently than the disheveled look we've seen on Quin so far). It's an act, he want to appear sane, for just a few moments, to tell Brody and Hooper that he plans on going back to shore. This is a ruse, as his true intent is to burn the boat's engine out. He never again wears the hat.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Joy of Tinkering

By Claire Booth

I am at my favorite point in writing – the tinkering. My manuscript is done, and now I get to go back and fiddle with it. That sounds pretty lackadaisical, but it's not. There are very specific things I look at when I’m at this stage in writing a novel.

Chapter breaks. I make sure that the word counts of all of my chapters are consistent. I have a tendency to stick them wherever, and sometimes I don’t realize that although my scene breaks are pretty rhythmic and well paced, my actual chapter numbering is horrendous. For me, consistent means relatively similar lengths, but that’s not the only way to do it. Some books work best with chapters that become shorter as you near the end. Or short-long-short-long. It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as you know the pacing that you’re going for and stick to it.
Particular words. You know which ones I’m talking about. The ones that catch on the surface of your brain and tug incessantly. This is the time in my writing where I give in to the little bastards. My reptilian writer brain is telling me they aren’t right. I have to find new ones. Get out a thesaurus, go for a walk, do anything but pass over them. Your sentences will thank you.
Pesky little details. Yes, these are your responsibility. Check to make sure your main character’s eye color doesn’t change halfway through the book. Google to make sure that it’s Hollywood Boulevard and not Avenue. I love checking the facts and I do a lot of that as I write, but continuity mistakes like eye color are things you’ll catch only at this tinkering stage of the game.
And if you’re lucky enough to have a copy editor, don’t take it for granted. Their job is to save you from making horrible mistakes you don’t even realize you’re making (“hanger” and “hangar” mean two very different things – I was saved from myself on that one once). Their job is not to spend all of their time correcting stuff you could have gotten right with ten seconds of effort. And if you don’t have a copy editor, I know you’ll be doing this step several times over.
Read aloud. I know. This is the one tinker I don’t like. It’s tedious and horrible (unless you were a theater major, in which case, could you come read mine, too?). If you can’t bring yourself to read the entire novel out loud, at least do important passages or plot points. Get your pet to listen if that helps you get through it. Then reward yourself with some TV. After all, you’re almost an actor now after all those soliloquies.  
Do you have other tinkering skills that you use on a completed manuscript? I’d love to hear them – they’ll help me put off reading my manuscript to the dog.