Saturday, October 1, 2016

Cover Reveal and Free Sample: ULTERIOR OBJECTIVES

Scott D. Parker

When you’re a writer, you always want to share your books with the world. But when the book in question is your favorite, then the excitement is just that much higher.

In a month, ULTERIOR OBJECTIVES: A Lillian Saxton Thriller, will be released. The tagline is this: What if the only way you could discover who killed your brother was to lie to your commanding officer?

In the order of the ongoing series of World War II-era novels I’ve published, this one actually ends up being the second. WADING INTO WAR is the first. The closing chapter of that novel is the opening chapter, from a different perspective, of ULTERIOR OBJECTIVES.

When it came time to design a cover, I wanted ULTERIOR OBJECTIVES to stand out from the other three novels to date. This is a special novel for me, partly because my dad helped brainstorm the big themes on a drive from Dallas to Houston last summer. I wanted a cover that would mirror this book’s big action.

One of the big set pieces of the story is a car chase. Lillian’s car, a convertible, is being tailed by another automobile and two motorcycles. Lillian isn’t driving, so it’s left to her to deal with her pursuers as best she can. I wrote the scene with a huge grin on my face, and I knew that this was the scene for the cover.

I had a particular scene in mind, and I also had an inspiration: Clive Cussler. If you look at nearly all of his modern covers, there is a commonality to them. You’ve got the title, his name, and the subtitle of whichever character is featured. That is what I wanted.

As I wrote a few weeks back, I went to to conduct a contest. Bob, from B&J, created the perfect cover for ULTERIOR OBJECTIVES. And, without further delay, here it is.

I love the little details Bob drew. Lillian’s hair flying around as her car speeds down the road. Tire marks on the road. The bad guy driver, visible, but in shadow. Cool explosion of one of the motorcycles. Needless to say, when Bob presented me with this cover, I was ecstatic.

As good as that cover is, the book is just as good. And guess what? I’m sharing the first 5 chapters with anyone who wants to read it.

I’ve set up an account at BookFunnel. If you click this LINK, you’ll be able to download a mini-ARC. You get the first 5 chapters of ULTERIOR OBJECTIVES as well as some samples of the other books and short stories I’ve published.

So head on over to BookFunnel--a great site to upload free books and ARCSs--and pick up your copy—mobi and pub—of the mini-ARC. Then, come November, you’ll get to read the entire novel.

Psst. If you just want to read Chapter 1, it’s available right now at my blog.

I made this offer to my mailing list and I’ll go ahead and make it here as well. If anyone wants to receive a copy of the entire novel ahead of the publication date, I’ll be happy to give you a free ebook. My only request would be that you provide an honest review on Amazon, Kobo, GoodReads, Barnes and Noble, Apple, or any other online store. If you are interested, please comment or send me an email.

So, what do you think of the cover?

Friday, September 30, 2016

Playlist: Crime Fiction Through Music

Let's talk crime music.

We're all familiar with crime fiction, but we don't talk about the artists making crime music enough.

Johnny Cash and some of the most famous rappers made names for themselves doing "crime music" but it's never really talked about that way. I talked before about Gin Wigmore's "Devil In Me" and how it helped inspire a story I wrote, but I've been having a great time scoping out music that works as crime fiction set to music.

First, one of my favorites, M.I.A. I know we're all familiar with "Bad Girls" and "Paper Planes" but I don't know if a lot of people who "don't like rap" have paid attention to the way she weaves actual stories into the songs. "Paper Planes" is great because it's not just about her "hustle", but the small details that make crime fiction fun - the border crossings, fake Visas, and of course, the infamous "All I wanna do is *fun crime sounds* and take your money."

I've already mentioned Gin Wigmore, but I'm going to mention her again for this great song about a crime couple gone wrong, "Dirty Love." This song is on the same album as "Devil In Me" and a great, creepy song where it's pretty clear Gin is inhabiting the role of a bloodthirsty serial killer. Her more criminal songs have been on heavy rotation while I write recently, a nice mix of sultry and straight up murdering people.

I've mentioned that my current WIP is a Bonnie & Clyde inspired criminal romance, so tripping over Bitter:Sweet's "Dirty Laundry" on YouTube was a fantastic accident. This song is every crime romance ever - a bad boy with bad intentions, and the woman who's just as bad. It's slick and sexy, and even includes a verse about that old running away to Mexico trope.

It's not all sexy, of course. One of my favorite songs by The Reverend Horton Heat is "Bales of Cocaine" a sort of crime fiction Beverly Hillbillies based around Horton getting a literal windfall of cocaine from a low-flying plane. He tells the story of how he sells the bales and becomes a coke kingpin. It's a little silly, but I've always wanted to write a novel based on this outline - some Texan farmer heading to Peru to start up a cocaine operation after getting coke dropped on his carrot farm.

Whether you think 3Oh!3 is a ridiculous band (they are) or not, this song is actually a pretty cool western crime story. It popped up on the Iron Man 3 soundtrack and now lives on YouTube where it is used for every TV villain fan-video ever made. But there's a cool story in it, and if you separate it from Iron Man or any of the fan videos, it's about some hardcore Wild West organized crime.

I like digging for this stuff and enjoying the genre in a different format, especially because saying a story is "inspired by a song" sounds a lot better than "I ripped this premise off from someone else." I'll probably revisit this topic again, because five songs is a pretty measly playlist.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Who Gets to Tell Your Story?

There's a lot of argument over who gets to tell whose stories.

Writers have an instinctual revulsion to hearing what we "can't" write about. We believe it's our privilege to tell any story we choose. When we hear discussions of cultural appropriation, we feel boxed in. Hey, I thought you just told me to write more characters who aren't just like me? I'm trying, here!

The best answer I've heard to that comes from Kaitlyn Greenidge, writing in the New York Times last week, in her opinion piece Who Gets to Write What?

A writer has the right to inhabit any character she pleases — she’s always had it and will continue to have it. The complaint seems to be less that some people ask writers to think about cultural appropriation, and more that a writer wishes her work not to be critiqued for doing so, that instead she get a gold star for trying.

No one's telling you what you can and can't write, but none of us is immune to criticism, and we don't get gold stars for trying. (Isn't that what the older generation complains that the millennials are getting? Well, you don't get one when you're an old white writer who writes a badly researched and badly written story about a different culture, either.) There are dozens of articles by writers of color explaining how to write "the other."

Look them up; here's one by Linda Rodriguez. As writers, we like to think we step out of our own experience and into another person's shoes when we write a character, but often, we keep the same eyes. However sympathetic we think we are being, we aren't speaking from another's experience, but our own, transposed onto another. Empathy is our trade, and projecting our own feelings onto another is not empathy.

Imagine the better, stronger fiction that could be produced if writers took this challenge to stretch and grow one’s imagination, to afford the same depth of humanity and interest and nuance to characters who look like them as characters who don’t, to take those stories seriously and actually think about power when writing — how much further fiction could go as an art.
Some of my best-loved stories star characters who are not like me. African-American men and women, a West Indian woman, young boys in Appalachia. I read books by people like them and talk to people like them and most importantly listened to people like them, my mouth shut (a rare thing) before embarking on those stories. And I had reasons for writing those stories other than "I want to tell their story." Denny the Dent came from my experiences as a bullied child with an explosive Hulk temper that got him in trouble when the torment broke me. I felt like I had no one on my side, no one saw my pain, only the anger of my reaction. And when I sat down to write about someone with that experience, Denny came to life.

And yet if a reader or writer told me I got Denny wrong, even with readers who love him, I would listen. For what I did not get right. Because I want him to express the pain of always being seen as someone you are not. Of having to smile to allay fear, and know they might be smiling back, but they are reaching for a big rock.

Read on for how Greenidge took a bitter old white woman character she was writing from a stereotype to a living person. Think of how it hurt her to hear that criticism; she used it to improve. She didn't stomp off and sigh, "they can't be pleased." (Okay, she did at first, but she swallowed her pride and wrote better:

“It doesn’t work,” I was told. “She’s not believable as a character. She doesn’t work.” “Damn white readers,” I jokingly said to my friends. But once I got over myself, I took apart that section piece by piece. I rewrote and failed and rewrote and failed. As much as this character had begun as an indictment of all the hypocrisies of my childhood, she was not going to come out on the page that way, not without a lot of work. I was struck by an awful realization. I would have to love this monster into existence. The voice of this character had been full of scorn and condescension. I rewrote it with those elements in place, but covered with the treacly, grasping attempts at affection of a broken and desperately lonely woman.

We don't get a gold star for trying. But we don't get them without trying.

Keep trying.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Quite suddenly, it seems, one era has passed and another has started. The previous era lasted for six years and involved a lot of time traveling each weekday on the subway, and now...

Let me explain:

Since 2006, I've been living in Bed Sty Brooklyn. "Bed Sty Do or Die," as the saying used to go. Spike Lee immortalized the area in a particular moment in time in Do the Right Thing.  That was 27 years ago, and since then things have changed a hell of a lot.  Not only in Bed Sty but in Brooklyn as a whole. Still, contrary to what HBO TV series show of the borough and what people in other parts of the country often seem to think, Brooklyn is not one vast stretch of urban hipsterdom. Williamsburg does exist as advertised and yes, even Bed Sty is gentrifying rapidly, but evolution, if you can call it that, doesn't proceed evenly in all areas.  A few pleasant bars have come to my area in the last 5 or 6 years and now there's a dog run in the small park around the corner from my house, but the public schools near my house haven't changed - improved is a better word - with quite the same alacrity.

In 2010, my son turned 5 and had to start kindergarten.  There's a school a three minute walk down the block from us, but both my wife and I rejected the very notion that we would put him in this place. Not to be a snob but...The best way to put it is to say my wife and I would have quit our jobs and lived out of a car to homeschool our kid before we put him in that school.  If that sounds callous, well...whatever.  There's no time or luxury for niceties when the education of your kid is involved.

To make a long story short, we had the opportunity to put him in a charter school in Manhattan, and there on September 8th, 2010 he went, for his first day of kindergarten.  The charter school wound up having a ton of problems and we transferred him out of there after 2nd grade, but the new school too was in Manhattan, a regular public school this time, on the Upper West Side, near Central Park.  The upshot: from kindergarten through 5th grade, we traveled to schools a good one hour and ten minutes away from our house. For six years, that commute was made, back and forth, back and forth.  Either I did it with him both ways (when my wife's work hours didn't allow her to take him or pick him up), or my wife and I split the drop off and pick up duties.  However you cut it, we all spent a lot of time on the subway, and the result was six years where we were tired from commuting and had nary a minute of spare time Monday to Friday.  Up at 6 am, then my wife or I would leave the house with him by 7:20 am, and either of us would return home with him around 7:30 pm. That was the routine.

Whatever writing I did, I worked around that schedule.  

The upside was all the time I got for six years to spend with my kid. When you spend that much time every day on the train, you do get to talk about countless topics, joke around constantly, play all sorts of games together.  It made the commuting worth it.

But enough's enough.  For middle school, we decided to ditch Manhattan. We selected and got a Brooklyn school fifteen minutes away from us by subway (though still not in Bed-Sty, mind you), and thus did the new era begin.  School this year has been going about two weeks, and how much more relaxed it is.  Though I was planning to take that short trip with him each morning, it's transpired that he can go with a classmate who lives around the corner from us.  No need for me or my wife to take him at all.  Let the process of independence begin.  It's what's supposed to happen, and I can't argue with that.  Besides, now that I don't have to do so much commuting, now that the gruelling subway routine is over, now that two extra hours a day for me are free, I have (what a change of life!) more writing time.  This is what I've been wanting for years!  As I tell myself, I can get so much more work done.

And yet, I still feel a little bittersweet.  I'm very glad the period of endless daily travel is over and happy I have more writing time, but a part of me will miss those hour long rides with my son. The laughter, the bickering, the discussions...

And so, on to the next phase.  Just like that, a new era begins. I actually have some breathing space and I can't but find it hard to believe I'll have additional time to write.

I'm excited. 


Sunday, September 25, 2016

We Have Names, Too

This week, the Washington Post made a spectacular – and completely avoidable – contribution to the recent spate of sexist headlines that pretend accomplished women don’t have names.
Because the most important thing about her is that she’s Tom Waits’ wife, right? Um, no. She has a name – KATHLEEN BRENNAN. The AP reporter who wrote the story grudgingly mentions this at the end of the lede paragraph.
There is no mention in the story of Brennan’s own long list of songwriting achievements. And the fact that she’s the first female recipient of this award? That “unimportant” nugget of information was relegated to the tenth paragraph in a sixteen-paragraph story.
Now, let’s parse the blame here. The Washington Post chose to put the story on its web site and wrote the headline. The AP sent the story out without moving the first-female fact higher in the text or including a single complete quote from her speech.
How is this possible? Not just because it’s 2016, for goodness’ sake. But don’t you think people would be more aware after things like the horrible Olympics coverage brought this kind of crap into gold/silver/bronze relief?
Or how about when an NBC commentator credited an amazing gold-medal winning swim by Hungarian Katinka Hosszu to her husband? Or when Katie Ledecky’s world-record obliterating swim was demoted to a subhead? (And don’t start with me about Phelps’ achievement. Yes, amazing, but the hed could easily have said “Phelps, Ledecky swim milestone races” or something similar.)

This hurts especially much for me. I am a journalist as well as a novelist. I worked as a newspaper reporter for years. I know firsthand that sometimes, mistakes happen despite the best efforts of everyone involved. But this kind of thing? This is not a best effort. This is not trying. This is lazy, and this is sexist. The defense of “well, it wasn’t meant to be,” is not a defense. It is an excuse, and it is about time that the excuses run out. Because we have names, too.