Saturday, October 29, 2016

In Praise of Serial Consuming

Scott D. Parker

I know bingeing (Yes, it's spelled correctly) is all the rage nowadays, but I’m here to praise serial consumption.

Tomorrow, the penultimate episode of Washington Post’s Presidential podcast will be released. Hosted by Lillian Cunningham, this podcast spends an episode per week examining each of the 43 men—Cleveland is counted once in this podcast even though he gets two numbers in the official order of presidents—that have held the highest office here in the US. I discovered the podcast at James Monroe back in February so I binged all six episodes in one day and have consumed each new episode Monday morning. She brings in historians and journalists and archivists to discuss each president. She even included a question that seemed odd at first, but grew to be a great window in the presidents as young men. “What would it have been like to go on a blind date with ______?” Moreover, as the show picked up steam over the weeks, word of mouth spread. Folks liked it so much that it even spawned merchandise. That's what serial consuming can produce.

On the last few episodes, Cunningham has commented on the journey she and us have been on this past year. The first episode was 43 weeks ago. That’s January. Each week, no matter the current event, she focused on a president. No matter whether it was spring, the heat of summer, or now into fall, every Sunday, a new episode was released. And when she mentioned the journey, I find comfort in thinking back to January and where I was when I discovered this podcast. I think back to my summer vacation and making my family listen to the then latest episode—Calvin Coolidge—as we drove around Texas’s Big Bend region. It also was great to know that as the list of presidents slowly reached the present day, our own 2016 Election was ever closer.

Bingeing just doesn’t give that kind of emotional connection.

First off, absolutely nothing wrong with bingeing. For fiction-related items—television shows, novel series, etc.—bingeing can work well. You can consume all the episodes in a weekend and really get the “novel as TV show” vibe.

But sometimes, it’s nice to have the breathing space between episodes. Take “LOST” for example. I’ve talked with folks who have binged all seasons of “LOST” in a month. I imagine the concentrated viewing helped those viewers get consumed in the story, but they missed something. I watched it live, on a weekly basis, for the entire run (save the first fall). For seven days, everyone got to discuss what happened on the previous episode, what all the clues meant, and to get ready for the new week’s episode. Repeat. We got three months of pondering over the summer after a season’s cliffhanger. Sure, over those hot months we might’ve forgotten nuances of some episodes, but, for me, that’s part of why you wait for the DVD released of the previous season during the weeks leading up to the new season.

I know I’m probably old fashioned. I know that having all the episodes of a new show available for any type of viewing you’d want. As a side note, my wife and I ended up watching “STRANGER THINGS” over a week, but there were a few times when we looked at each other and said, “One more?” We did. But I still remember fondly sitting down in front of the TV Monday’s at 9 pm to watch “CASTLE” (or CSI: MIAMI before it), or Tuesday’s at 7:00 pm to watch “THE FLASH” or Sundays at 9:00 pm for “ELEMENTARY.” That’s just me.

What about y’all? Now that bingeing is available, do y’all prefer it? Or do you still like to consume your media peace meal, over a long period of time? Or do you like having all the shows at your fingertips, allowing yourself to consume at whatever pace you want?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Another writer leaves Twitter

UPDATE 11a.m. 10/27: Chelsea Cain respondsSubmitted by Chelsea on October 27, 2016 - 10:59am
Uh, hi.  So some of you may have noticed that I recently deactivated my Twitter account.  (Apparently that’s a news story?)  I wanted to clarify what happened.  >>


Good gracious, folks.



Chelsea Cain, the writer of Marvel’s recently concluded “Mockingbird” series, has deleted her Twitter account, citing multiple instances of online harassment. This comes in the wake of “Mockingbird” ending last week with the series’ eighth issue, and her subsequent call for more female-driven comics at Marvel in a series of Twitter posts, which are no longer online.  CBR


Twitter rallies behind Mockingbird writer after feminist comic cover backlash


Chelsea Cain FB page

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

This Little Light of Mine

by Holly West

Writers often talk about their rituals--those things they do to prep their minds for a writing session. For some, it's a writing playlist, for others it's a cup of good coffee, or a designated time of day for writing. For many, it's a combination of things, all set up to put one in the "right" frame of mind for getting the job done.

Some rituals seem stranger than others. For example, Victor Hugo reportedly wrote Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame while naked, reasoning he couldn't leave the house without clothes on. Gives a new meaning to the phrase "keep your butt in the chair," doesn't it? A lot of my writer friends like to joke about not wearing pants (and I personally believe that pajamas and/or yoga pants count as actual pants) but I think we can all agree this takes things to a whole different level. Still, the man achieved lasting fame with two of the most iconic pieces of literature ever written. Maybe he was on to something.

While I have a variety of writing rituals, most of which are better described as work avoidance, there's one that I've kept to for over a year and I find that it puts me in the mood for writing better than any other thing.

I light a candle.

Why is this ritual so effective for me? First, the act of lighting a candle is, to me at least, particularly ritualistic. I was raised Catholic and candle lighting is an act of prayer and reflection in this religion. While I've long since put aside adherence to religious doctrine of any kind, the scent of burning candles in a Catholic church is still a source of comfort to me. And oddly, I still light candles for friends and family when I travel. These days, visiting famous cathedrals is pretty much the only time I ever set foot in a church and lighting candles for those I love provides powerful moments of reflection.

Beyond the spiritual aspects of candle lighting, there are more tangible benefits. Scent is very evocative for me (I know I'm not alone in this) and the right scent immediately puts me in the writing frame of mind. Writing, like reading, is a cozy pursuit, the kind of thing I like to do when it's cold and dreary outside, while drinking hot buttered rum next to a roaring fire. Accordingly, I tend to choose cozy scents, like wood fire, cinnamon, patchouli, coffee and spice to write by. My choices are very much seasonal though, and Fall is the best season. At this very moment I've got a candle called "Bonfire Nights" burning. Bonus points because the wicks are made of wood, which provides a crackly fire sound as it burns.

Incidentally, fellow author Neliza Drew makes a wonderful line of soy candles called Neptune and Nutmeg. My go-to candle is Dirty Hippie, which mostly smells like Nag Champa incense. It's a great accompaniment to the novel I'm revising, which takes place in Venice Beach. The only scents that manage to edge out the smell of incense there are weed, burning sage and occasionally, urine. Other favorites from Nepune and Nutmeg include Very Noir, Big Bookstore and Fresh Coffee.

The flame itself is also helpful. One of the issues I have when writing is that I'm easily distracted when I end a train of thought. For me, writing is comprised of two parts--part one is when I'm merrily cruising along, writing my little heart out without having to think about it. Part two is when I have to stop and think about what or how I want to say something. This is danger territory for me, since the second I can't figure out what to write I'm tempted to check my email or facebook or pinterest or the blog that I already checked twice. This can easily lead to two hours of oblivion. Maybe it's the pyromaniac in me, but gazing at the flame helps me re-focus my energy so I'm less likely to start clicking through bullshit.

Speaking of bullshit, I'm gonna go on record and say that's not a scent I'd favor in a candle.

So there's my number one ritual. I shared mine, now you share yours. It's only fair.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Cops Against Criminals, Cops Against Cops: Peter Hyams' Busting

In preparation for this coming weekend's NoirCon, where I'll be part of a panel discussing 1970's crime films, I've been revisiting some favorites from the era - Night Moves, The Seven Ups, Rolling Thunder - and watching films I never saw before. One I'd never seen is Peter Hyams' 1974 film Busting, starring Elliot Gould and Robert Blake.  It's not a film that gets as much attention as a lot of other 70's crime flicks, but it's a movie well-worth watching.

Gould and Blake play a couple of Los Angeles vice-squad detectives who handle various cases in the story. One or two of these cases they bring to moderately successful conclusions, but most of the time they find themselves butting up against a system so corrupt and inefficient that their efforts accomplish nothing. Busting has got to be  considered among the more cynical crime films ever made, showing not only the idiocy of bureaucracy, but clearly suggesting that the cops are kind of fools for having chosen, as tough but honest upholders of the law, a totally futile profession.

The film is rough, hectic, and funny, and what's a little startling is how Gould and Blake are at once shown as employees of the establishment (they are, after all, police) but also pretty cool cats who know the establishment is rotten. They're not semi-rogue figures in the Dirty Harry tradition but more in the way of being wise-ass, uncouth anti-authoritarians.  This is the only film I can remember seeing where one cop, Gould, actually calls another cop a "pig".

Only in the Seventies, man, only in the Seventies.

Peter Hyams went on to make Capricorn OneOutland, Timecop and a slew of other films, but nothing I've seen by him is as good as or packs the punch of Busting.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Selling Out

One of the realities that authors face is that they almost always have to do public appearances sooner or later. This comes more naturally to some, while others struggle to adapt to marketing themselves. As writers, we tend to live in our heads a fair bit, and that puts us in a place where we get wrapped up in our own fears and thoughts and often make things harder on ourselves than they need to be.

That was one of the key things I took away from a recent Skype conference with author and literary event manager, Sarah L. Johnson.

When she launched her own book, Johnson had been coordinating events for over a year, but “when you’re talking about your own work it’s very different and you get nervous.” Although the nerves are natural, she says that one of the most important things an author can do to prepare for a bookstore event is to relax. “It really isn’t a big deal. It’s a friendly room. There’s nothing to be worried about. These are people who want to support you.”

What's the secret to a successful author event? Sarah's insight and advice is running in full today. I think for me, the biggest thing I took away from this is that we are our own worst enemies.

I will say that it can be hard to fully embrace the self promotion aspect, though. If you're in your own hometown you should have a strong audience to pull into an event. For some of us who've moved around far too much as an adult, we have limited local social circles. It's left me wondering if there's a void that can be filled with online book launches. I know the odd person still does blog tours, but the heyday of blogs and the large author social circle online seems to be far behind us, and I do find myself wondering why that is. Are we only able to invest in immediate results, and because we can't always see the impact of a blog post to the overwhelming majority of the audience, who do not comment or interact with the writer, does that render the medium ineffective? When I post here and get no comments or only 1 is it a sign that it's time to pack it in? Yet the site stats tell a different story, and it does leave me wondering why the shift away from internet promotion, or the change in how that occurs.

Which is probably enough to get me wrapped up inside my own head for the rest of this Monday morning. So instead of falling down that rabbit hole, hop over to Spinetingler and check out Sarah's tips for successful bookstore events.

Sunday, October 23, 2016