Saturday, November 5, 2016

Author Event: Announcement and Questions

Scott D Parker

I have my first author event later tonight. I have to admit: it’s pretty darn exciting.

My wife, Vanessa, is a jewelry artist who does business under the name of Betoj Designs. She is a member of the Sugar Land Arts Center andGallery in Sugar land, Texas, just south of Houston. Earlier this year, I began to display my novels in the gift shop. As nice as it is to hold physical copies of my books, it is also nice to see them on sale somewhere other than my house. As a gallery member, my wife has the opportunity to be a featured artist of the month. For the month of November, it’s a tag team effort with Vanessa and JZ Selewach, an artist who uses the encaustic technique. The two of them talked and they invited me to be the third member of the November team. It’s pretty good timing because ULTERIOR OBJECTIVES: A Lillian Saxton Thriller was published on 1 November at Amazon

And tomorrow is the opening reception. This being an art gallery, the opening reception usually focuses on the featured artist, and their work is displayed in a more prominent location throughout gallery. With me however, I’ll actually be doing an author talk and signing autographs for anyone who buys one of my books.

Which brings me to the questions I’d like to ask all of y’all. 

  • How long do y’all typically do a reading from your book? I’ve been to many book signings and it seems five minutes is about the extent. Is that about right?
  • How long to talk craft? I’ll also give a short speech about the writing life, how I decided to become a writer, and the craft of writing. I’m thinking another five minutes or so. Do you think that’s about right? I can always fill up more time with some audience questions.
  • Overall, I imagine 15-20 minutes of me talking before people start to tune out. Sound good?

Anyway, these are some of the ideas that I’m wondering about. If you’re reading this and are in the area, here is the flyer with all the pertinent information.

And I’ll be sure to take some pictures and post them either here or on my Facebook page.

An honest to goodness author event. How cool is that!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Make NaNoWriMo work for you

It's November, and that means if you're attached to any writing community on social media, you've already seen at least three people shit-talk NaNoWriMo, and at least three people post word counts.

Several years ago, when I decided I really wanted to focus on my writing, I dedicated myself to NaNo. I had a few completed first drafts of novels, that even then I knew would never see the light of day. I also had a project I'd picked up and put down at least a hundred times over a period of time that's embarrassing in retrospect. The truth? I had no idea how to write novel. I'd done it, but the results didn't lie. I had never written a short story, and I'd only had one essay published.

My husband agreed to help me find the time to write, and I did it. I wrote fifty-thousand words that November, despite having a husband that worked long hours, a baby that refused sleep, and my father dying just days before Thanksgiving.

The project was a disaster.

But the next year, I did NaNo again.

Rather than getting into the debate about whether NaNo is good or bad, I'd rather talk about ways to make it work for you.

1. Set a goal

I know, the goal is fifty thousand words in one month. That's not what I mean. I mean, set a goal for what you hope to accomplish. My first year, I wanted to see if I could really do it. Sit down and write every day for a month. My second year, I wanted to let go of my destructive need to edit, rewrite, and edit again before I ever got to the end of a novel. I went through life with the Hemingway quote about shitty first drafts anywhere I could see it for almost a year, and then, in November, I plowed through a first draft. Another year, I wanted to see if I was cut out for romance (I am not).

So, what do you hope to accomplish by doing NaNo? You can use it to let go of obsessive editing, to form a writing habit (or reinvigorate habits you've let slide). It's useful for learning to write faster, or, if you're a real beginner, just sitting down and doing it, without any of the doubts or bullshit that keep so many writers from actually writing.

2. Know yourself

People who know me well know I can crank out a 3500 short story in an afternoon. The word counts required for NaNo aren't really a challenge for me. The challenge for me is doing the work every day (even the weekends). For some people, getting 500 words down is a great writing day. Neither is better than the other. To "win" NaNo and get the 50k, even people who write quickly will face days where that 1667 words is just too much.

If you write slow and steady, consider a different goal. A short story a week, revising 50k words, or allowing yourself to free write and do character sketches can be alternatives. NaNo is fully customizable, and you can bend it to your will. Getting wrapped around the axle over a word count won't do anything for you in the long term. Be realistic, but challenge yourself. The most important thing is to make the time to work every day.

3. Be realistic

Just about anyone can shit out a 50k word novella, especially if they aren't particularly worried about anything other than shitting out 50k words. If you want a novel, not a novella, you probably aren't going to get that done in 30 days. If you want something polished and ready to submit or self publish? You sure as hell aren't getting that in 30 days. The fastest writers I know still revise, rewrite, edit and rewrite again.

Some people think this is an argument against NaNo in and of itself, but the truth is, I don't want to read anyone's novel that hasn't gone through rewrites and edits. I don't care if you spent 30 days or 30 years on the thing, a first draft isn't enough.

And if you don't hit the magic number? Be realistic about that, too. It's a lot of writing, and it's not a "normal" writing pace.

4. Shut out the critics, embrace your supporters

You could spend all of November arguing with people who don't like NaNoWriMo, or don't like your genre, or who think you're favorite TV show is shit. But if you do, it's going to be a hell of a lot harder to reach your goals. If you've got to hit "hide post" on Facebook, or tell your friends to leave you alone until December 1st, do it. But don't shut out the people who are genuinely excited for you, or who are ready and willing to support you. You'll need them in November, and you'll need them in January when you're still in the writing slog, getting rejection notices and watching other people succeed. Writing is a long and lonely game, make it as easy as possible.

5. Take a fucking break!

Don't get so wrapped up in word count goals that you forget to be nice to your significant other, read books, or veg out in front of the TV every now and then. You need to recharge. Writing is a lot like working out - do it too little and it's nearly impossible, do it too much and you're going to hurt yourself.

6. Keep your coffee machine in good working order

Self explanatory.

7. Treat yourself on December 1st

Whether you hit the 50k or not - if you gave it your best shot, have a cocktail, eat a nice meal, binge watch something on Netflix. Enjoy Facebook now that it's free of both NaNo debates AND election coverage. Whatever you do, don't take what went down in November too seriously. If you hit the 50k, great! But the work has just begun. If you didn't? That's still fine - because the work has just begun.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Pacific Homicide - Interview with Patricia Smiley

by Holly West

I met Patricia Smiley back in 2012, when co-chaired the 2013 California Crime Writers Conference and I was the registration chair. Eventually, she roped me into becoming Vice President for Sisters in Crime/LA, which I still haven't forgiven her for... (I kid--it was a great experience and I'd still be on that board now if it wasn't the fact that I moved out of the area).

After publishing four books in the Tucker Sinclair series, Patricia took a writing hiatus of several years, which strikes me as a brave thing to do in this uncertain world of publishing we reside in. But I'm happy to say her latest novel, PACIFIC HOMICIDE (Midnight Ink), will be published in just a few days. I was excited to read it, as it's set in my old stomping grounds of West Los Angeles, and though I have scant experience with the police/crime in the area, Patricia brings the whole setting to vivid life, along with her protagonist, a smart, tough homicide detective named Davie Richards.

Holly West (HW): Your new book, PACIFIC HOMICIDE, comes out on November 8. What’s it about?

Patricia Smiley (PS): I’ll borrow from a blurb written by the talented Kim Fay, author of THE MAP OF LOST MEMORIES, who so beautifully encapsulated the essence of the novel. It’s about “…the emotional wounds that drive the best of cops to buck the system in search of justice.”

Some people may not know this, but patrol officers in high crime areas may draw their weapons every workday but most cops spend their entire careers without firing a gun in the line of duty. Davie Richards is a petite, red-haired woman, a second-generation LAPD detective, and an expert marksman. She’s also an outlier, a cop who killed a suspect to save her partner’s life.

While she waits for the police commission to rule that the shooting was within policy, she’s called out to investigate the gruesome murder of a young Russian girl whose body is found in the Los Angeles sewer system. As she hunts for the killer, somebody from her past is hunting her…and it’s no longer just her job that’s on the line.

HW: The Los Angeles police procedural is well trod, but always compelling, territory. Still, it’s important to set oneself apart. With this in mind, what when into planning the Davie Richards series, particularly Davie Richards herself and the West Los Angeles setting?

PS: Davie Richards is a composite of every strong woman I’ve ever known. Other characters in the novel speak dialogue that jumped directly from the detective squad room and onto the page. Those people probably recognize themselves, but they haven’t come after me—yet.

The LAPD is the subject of numerous police procedurals, but the only other novel set in Pacific Division (at least that I know of) is Miles Corwin’s series featuring Det. Ash Levine. Michael Connelly’s early books were set in Hollywood Division, as are many others. My book takes place in the LAPD’s Pacific Area Police Station, which covers the Westside of Los Angeles from Venice Beach and Playa del Rey to LAX, abuts Culver City to the east and extends to the intersection of Westwood and National Boulevards. Pac-14 is a diverse area that includes public housing, upscale homes, movie stars, and thirty-five known street gangs. It’s also the station closest to where I live. However, Homicide detectives travel far and wide to track down leads, so Davie will continue to venture outside the area in search of justice.

HW: As a procedural, PACIFIC HOMICIDE is a departure from your previous series, which featured an amateur sleuth. It’s also tremendously well researched. How did you conduct your research? Did you find writing a police procedural more challenging than your previous books?

PS: Researching this book wasn’t a challenge because I spent fifteen years as a volunteer and Specialist Reserve Officer (not sworn) for the LAPD at Pacific Area Police Station where the book is set, including five years working in the detective squad room. While at Pacific, my supervisor gave me responsibilities that were highly unusual for a civilian. He sent me to the LAPD’s Homicide Investigation School and Detective School, as well as to courses where I learned how to use law enforcement databases that enhanced my ability to support Burglary/Theft detectives in their work. I was eventually given my own caseload. I interviewed witnesses and suspects, wrote search warrants, presented cases to the DA’s office, and a variety of other tasks that supported the Burglary table. I also helped Homicide detectives as needed, including preparing for court and even reviewing a cold case, searching for possible new leads.

The challenge was my reluctance to write about my experiences, because I was afraid I wouldn’t do justice to the people I’d come to admire and respect. When I finished the book, I was still hesitant, so I sent the manuscript to a friend, an LAPD Homicide detective with over 200 murder investigations under his belt. I asked him to read it and tell me what I’d gotten wrong and if the book just plain sucked. His response is full of hilariously positive comparisons to famous authors (did I mention he was my friend?) and ended with the best unprintable blurb I’ll ever get: “FUCKINBITCHIN. Nailed it.”

HW: Are there elements of the book (or even the main plot itself) that are based on true-life situations?

PS: I would say they are “inspired” by real events. There was an actual case I read about online of a woman whose body was found in the sewer, but I fictionalized the details. That story, however, sent me off to research L.A.’s sewer system, which was fascinating reading.

Setting always inspires my writing. For example, there’s a scene at the L.A. Equestrian Center that was patterned on my recent foray into horseback riding lessons. I also drove to the Malibu Country Mart for coffee (hazardous duty pay, right?) and watched kids on the playground, as Davie Richards did when she interviewed Sheriff’s Deputy Moran. While I was there I observed a little girl on a slide confronting her fears. I used that as a metaphor that mirrors the decision confronting Davie. Lastly, working with officers and detectives over the years I often heard stories about the questionable and sometimes unfair discipline meted out by the LAPD brass and others. I created a plot twist inspired by those stories.

HW: Who are some of the authors who’ve influenced your writing?

PS: I’ve always been an avid reader and fell in love with mysteries as a young child when I discovered the Trixie Belden series. After I powered through those books, I went on to Agatha Christie and other classic mystery novels. I’ve always loved police procedurals, especially those written by Michael Connelly and Joseph Wambaugh. However, I was never inspired to write until I discovered two books: AFTER ALL THESE YEARS by Susan Isaacs and G IS FOR GUMSHOE by Sue Grafton. Both were well written and they made me laugh, something I love to do. They also had a romantic element. That’s when I thought it might be challenging and fun to try my hand at this writing thing. So, I created the four novels in my Tucker Sinclair series.

But the author who had the greatest influence on my career is Elizabeth George. I first heard her speak at the Mystery Annex of Small World Books on the Venice boardwalk at a signing with James Lee Burke. Later, I became a member of her writing group for nine years, during which time she taught me volumes about writing and the writing life. I’m a huge fan of her work, but I’m also honored to call her mentor and friend.

HW: You recently changed agents, which, to a lot of authors, is a daunting thing. How was that process for you and do you have any advice for writers facing a similar dilemma?

PS: I’ve actually had four agents in my career. I first signed with an agent at William Morris in New York. She loved my book and was just getting ready to send it out when 9/11 happened. New York publishing ground to a stop and nobody knew when it would come back. Two weeks later, she called to tell me she was leaving New York. Her colleague eventually agreed to represent me and sold the book soon after.

While writing those four books I was also taking care of my elderly mother, so after my fourth Tucker book, agent #2 passed along interest from my publisher for starting a new series, I turned it down and instead took a hiatus from writing. I’d started Pacific Homicide during those subsequent years, but didn’t have the time or inclination to finish it. One day out of the blue my mother said, “Your book deserves to be published.” She’d always been my biggest fan but she’d never read any of the pages and I kidded her about that. She just repeated the sentence. Those were the last words she spoke to me. She died the next morning. That’s when I returned to writing.

When I had a presentable draft, I sent it to my agent. He was willing to send it out, but didn’t have much faith in the outcome. He had done a great job for me in the past and I was extremely grateful, but I wanted an agent who agreed with my mother. We had always had a professional relationship and parted on good terms.

Looking for a new agent was a daunting experience because the new book was a departure for me. I’d gone from humorous amateur sleuth to hard-boiled homicide detective. I found the experience more difficult this time around. Back then you sent a letter. Most of those letters were answered, if only to jot a note on the query and return it, saying “Not for me.” This time I found most agents didn’t even acknowledge my email. The relationship with my third agent was short-lived. It wasn’t a good fit, so I moved on.

By this time I realized how important it was to know what I wanted and to say it out loud. I wanted an agent who loved my work, had a keen sense of humor about life and publishing, and who would actually read and critique my manuscript. And then…somehow the universe heard me and sent Sandy Harding of Spencerhill & Associates. She is everything I dreamed of and more.

HW: I know you’re part of a well-established writers group. How important has this been to your writing and career? How often does the group meet, what’s the format and do you have any pointers for writers who want to establish their own group?

PS: Writers groups aren’t for everybody but I can’t imagine functioning without one. You just have to make sure fellow members aren’t trying to rewrite your book and aren’t criticizing you, only suggesting how to make the words on the page better. If you’re starting a group from scratch and don’t know the members well, you should set some ground rules. If you are joining an existing group that’s been together for a long time, ease into the group gently and bring chocolate.

I first joined Elizabeth George’s writing group in 1996 and would still be there now if the group hadn’t disbanded when she moved to the Pacific Northwest. We met every Wednesday when she was in town. There were four readers and each was allotted thirty minutes for reading and critiquing. She set a timer so nobody would encroach on another reader’s time. Each writer had two choices: 1) we could either ask in advance for a “free for all,” a sort of brainstorming session during which anybody could speak at any time or 2) a “go around,” i.e., one person would critique without interruption, and then the next, and the next, and so on until all had spoken. The writer was not allowed to talk during this time, could not defend, justify, or explain their work. They could only listen and take notes. At the end, they could ask for clarification if needed. This worked exceptionally well for me and I still use this technique. My feeling is if the reader doesn’t understand something I’ve written, it’s my job to fix it. Being defensive is never a good choice.

After Elizabeth left Southern California, I joined another group for a while until I stumbled onto my current group. All members are successful published novelists, produced screenwriters and TV writers, including a director and a multiple Emmy winner. Their critiques have made me a better writer and a better person in ways I cannot even describe. We meet at members’ homes every week from 7:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. unless we are touring or otherwise committed. Group members travel from as far away as Hermosa Beach to the south to Agoura Hills to the north, so we try to converge somewhere in the middle. Writers generally read around 10-12 pages unless somebody has a pressing deadline, i.e., they’re pitching a series idea to studio executives and need to read the entire pitch. Over the years we have become close friends and supportive fans.


Patricia Smiley is the bestselling author of four mystery novels featuring amateur sleuth Tucker Sinclair. PACIFIC HOMICIDE is the first in a hard-boiled series about LAPD homicide detective Davie Richards and is set for release on November 8, 2016. Patty's short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and TWO OF THE DEADLIEST, an anthology edited by Elizabeth George. She has taught writing at various conferences, in the US and Canada. She served as vice president for the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America and as president of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles. For more information, please visit

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Hip-hop Crime Fiction: Revisiting Jason Starr’s LIGHTS OUT

This week Gregory Rossi guest blogs.  He recently interviewed Jason Starr, and they talked about the influence of hip hop on Starr's novel Lights Out.  

And so, on to their talk...

Hip-hop Crime Fiction: 
Revisiting Jason Starr’s Lights Out

by Gregory Rossi

Jason Starr has been turning out a string of crime fiction and thrillers for over fifteen yearsTen years ago, he published his seventh novel, Lights Out. For me, it’s a seminal work of hip hop crime fiction,and has taken on a life Starr couldn’t have expected.Even though Lights Out isn’t overtly hip hop, Starr imbues the setting and characters with such precise authenticity, that they don’t either coyly wink at hip hop culture or blow it up to absurd proportions. Perhaps the realness is why Michael Rappaport -the actor, podcaster and hip hop fan-boy optioned the film rights to Lights Out in 2015.

Lights Out is about two guys who grew up on the same street in Brooklyn’s Canarsie neighborhood. They were baseball stars, and rivals, in high school. The undersized Ryan fizzled out of the minor leagues after getting hurt, and is now back in BK painting houses. Ryan’s fully in the anger phase of mourning over his lost dreams. He’s also chasing Angela, the girlfriend Jake left behind when he made it to the majors. Jake is the Pittsburgh Pirates star player, and back home for a week.

Beyond the main players, the most significant supporting character is the borough of Brooklyn. Start does an impressive job of working in subtle details about the decaying houses and the changing neighborhoods. You can feel the fear between people who aren’t quite sure who their neighbors are anymore. There’s the requisite grimy city boulevards, and it doesn’t take too long if you’re lost to find yourself in a neighborhood that’s way out of your comfort zone.

In 2006 when Lights Out was released, Starr had just won the Anthony Award for Twisted City his sixth novel. As a fan of hip-hop and crime fiction, I asked Jason a few questions about Lights Out.

GR: Lights Out was the follow up to Twisted City, a very successful novel. Often times artists will take more risks on the heels of a success, and I’m wondering where you were craft-wise when you sat down to write this book?

JS: In 2005/2006, I had just written Twisted City and I wanted to change up my style. I'd written a few--what I thought of as---straight ahead, single POV crime novels, and I wanted to push myself to write a book on a bigger scale, with multiple POV's. I'd had the core idea of Lights Out for a while--rival athletes, both have a ton of potential--but one makes it big, and the other doesn't. The conflict of this situation intrigued me. I just wasn't sure how do get into the story. I was originally going to set the book in the suburbs, or in the Midwest, but when I started writing it I realized that it had to be set in a neighborhood near where I grew up in Brooklyn. 

GR: Did you have an image that inspired you or that you based the book on?

JS: The image from the first page of the book-- the welcome home banner and block party for Jake. A block party is such a Brooklyn thing and I knew that was how I wanted to start the book. As I got into the writing, I realized that Brooklyn wasn't just the setting; it was the theme. The story I wanted to tell wasn't only about Jake and Ryan and their conflict, it was about the entire community and the changes that were going on in Brooklyn at that time.  

GR: Given the way you handle the fluidity of moving from street-to-street, neighborhood to neighborhood you succeeded. There’s this over-arching feeling that things used to be one way around here, but times have changed. It’s not heavy-handed or didactic in any way, which makes for a more authentic read. I found the song selection in the book to be on-point. Not just the songs Ryan listened to, but the fact that he was into Mobb Deep (50 Cent, Nasand Canibus get shout outs too) is a nice touch. Non-hip hop fans will intuit Ryan’s anger, while fans of the music interact with the mention of songs on a different level. Did you have to do hip hop research?

JS: I'm a fan of hip-hop--the good stuff is like crime fiction with beats and rhymes. I saw the character of Ryan adopting hip hop style, as way to latch on to something when his baseball dreams fall apart. I don't like to do a lot of research for my books. I feel like when it comes from me and my own experiences it comes off as more genuine.

GR: I surprised myself in finding the fashion choices (a T-Mac jersey!) possibly more fascinating than the music. Mostly because the fashion perfectly complimented the music. I mean, it was 2006 and the guy wore Lebron’s right? Thefirst year they were issued?

JS: Yes, Lebrons had just hit the market. I wanted to really capture the moment of hip-hop style. Hopefully it reads more time stamped now than dated--that was my goal anyway. In fiction there is a fine line between time stamped and dated. 

GR: All questions about celebrity sound cynical to me. But yet I think we are all enamored with it in one way or another. Jake was a 2006 version of celebrity, what can you tell me about his character?

JS: I wasn't really thinking about celebrity per se when I wrote Jake's character, but I realize it comes off that way. I saw him as a guy with a massive ego which clouds his judgement and entire view of the world. I just wanted to make him as real as possible--go all the way with his attitude and outrageous ideas. I didn't want to hold back, that was the most important thing to me. I think this is where the satire in the book, and maybe my other books, comes from. So wasn't consciously writing about celebrity, but I think there is a way to make a character ultra-real and make a commentary about something at the same time.

GR: While writing Lights Out did you think about crime novels (or novels generally) that had a very hip hop feel to them? Or called out hip hop music as specific tone-setter for the novel?  When I first started looking for hip hop in crime fiction you were recommended to me. And separately I found Adam Mansbach's superb Angry Black White Boy (years ago, I blogged about Mansbach’s superb novel here).  Also, the Tupac mixtape in Michael Connelly's Lincoln Lawyer jumps out as an example where the music is featured prominently.

JS: For me, it's all about the character and attitude. So I had this idea for Ryan--his big dream has failed, he's angry and disappointed, and jealous of his friend/rival who has seemingly had everything go his way. Ryan is desperately trying to find something to latch onto. So I began to think about how Ryan looks, his style, and the music he listens to. Hip-hop seemed to represent his whole attitude. So it's not like I approached the book with the idea that I wanted to write a hip-hop centric novel. I never want details in my books to feel forced and researched; I want it to make sense for the character. But I do admire the way other writers incorporate music into their books in a similar way. In addition to the authors you reference, I think Richard Price, George Pelecanos and Elmore Leonard also do an excellent job incorporating organic, character-driven music details, often referencing hip-hop.

GR: You mentioned above that hip hop songs are like crime fiction stories themselves. I think the entire genre of hip hop is very close to crime fiction especially series fiction with one featured protagonist. A writer creates a character that often times is a stand-in for the writer's fantasy (or opposite) personality. The writer takes that character through a series of adventures, and over time the character evolves. The same could be said for both quality hip hop and quality crime fiction. Any thoughts as to why there aren't more crime fiction writers working with hip hop?

JS: Well I think to write about something you have to be aware of it. Hip hop may not be in the wheelhouse of some writers. Maybe it's an aesthetic thing, which is cool, as I'm a big believer in writing what you know. But I do think some of the great modern urban crime storytelling is in hop hop and if you're not aware of it, or dismiss it, you're missing out.

Jason Starr’s Savage Lane (Polis Books) is now out in paperback. Gregory Rossi’s fiction has appeared in The Missouri Review, The Brooklyn Rail, and Shotgun Honey. He lives in New York. His novel The Come Up uses Nas’s 1994 album Illmatic as a soundtrack. The Come Up is available at or Amazon.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Reducing Genre to the Point of Offense or Betraying One's Ignorance

I had a very limited view of what 'horror' meant for a long time. To me, it was the slasher/scare-me-to-death films of the 80s. Jason. Freddy. The stuff we watched at sleepovers that was probably a subconscious ploy to ensure we would stay up all night, because we couldn't sleep, not just because we wanted to.

In truth, I have to credit my husband for expanding my understanding of some genres. I'd make some remark about horror or another genre and he'd round up a stack of anthologies related to the topic and tell me to start reading.

The result was that my understanding of horror as a genre expanded. The Cabin in the Woods isn't Nightmare on Elm Street, although I may or may not* have still jumped when the title sequence started.

Now, I recently noted some submission guidelines from a publisher, and I took offense to them. There's been a long-standing argument between literary and genre fiction that involves the perception that literary writers look down on genre writers as being beneath them, and that genre fiction isn't seen as having the same quality as literary fiction. (I'm sure J.K. Rowling is crying over how she doesn't sell like literary writers.)

One of the perceived differences between literary fiction and genre fiction is that genre fiction is driven by a plot, with a clear beginning, middle and end. Things build up to a climax with resolution. Things happen.

Literary fiction can be more introspective, with less focus on events and actions than on the impact events have on the main characters.

I was reading a set of submission guidelines, and the publisher was pretty detailed about what they wanted. That can be a very good thing for writers, because it can help them figure out if they're a good fit with that publisher. There's nothing worse than skipping to a set of submission guidelines and seeing a generic, "Only send us material that's similar to what we publish." That can be very ambiguous because over time a publication may evolve. What Spinetingler publishes today in terms of fiction is different than what it published initially. I always go back to the story, "Jessie's Toothbrush," which we published very early on. The mystery was why the guy was so enamored with that toothbrush, but it certainly wasn't crime fiction. It was memorable, though. However, if a comparable story was submitted today it would probably get rejected because the focus has narrowed over time, and also it can be determined by the preferences of the editor, and our editorial staff has changed over time.

Specific details can be good. When a publisher has identifiable genres or subgenres they publish, it's great to know this. However, when the publisher states that they are more interested in character growth than plot and then says that's why they aren't interested in any manuscripts about characters who are in law enforcement, they've demonstrated a prejudice.

Now, those aren't the exact words that I read. I've been reading a lot of submission guidelines lately, because when I do manuscript reviews I don't always stay within one genre. I've been working on an assessment of a non-fiction manuscript, and the one before that was some sort of horror/speculative fiction piece that didn't fit easily in one box. I'm rarely hired to review crime fiction manuscripts, which means I'm often researching different genres and publishing categories so that I can provide up-to-date examples to illustrate a point I'm making to the writer I'm working with.

As I read this set of submission guidelines, I felt my blood boil. I was offended and annoyed.

It's remarkably presumptive to assume that a character who happens to work in law enforcement doesn't have the capacity for self growth, or that their journey isn't worth reading about. It also suggests a certain level of ignorance. My mind automatically went to the brilliant works of James Sallis, and the John Turner and Lew Griffin books. Those books are the definition of a personal journey for the central character. The mystery in any Lew Griffin book isn't a case but is the man himself, and what prompts his limitations and relationships.

I clicked off of that site with cheeks burning and some inappropriate words mixed in with a vow to never read a dang thing by that publisher if they were so biased against a genre I love.  

I'm not sure if it's an entirely fair response. Perhaps in another week or two I'll forget about it and even forget who said it. I understand if an editorial team has had a hefty percentage of their books be police procedurals and they want to see something else. Just say you aren't accepting police procedurals at this time. There's no need to piss on the whole genre in the process and suggest that it's so fucking beneath you that it can't say anything significant about the human equation or contribute any depth to our understanding about humanity, a person's motivations, or how it can prompt character growth.

My husband may or may not have been tired of hearing me rant about the subject, so I may or may not have needed to work this out of my system here. I also know that when I approached my latest manuscript, I wanted it to push deeper than a formulaic procedural, while still having a solid story. I don't believe the two are mutually exclusive. I don't want to live in a publishing era that suggests that's the case. I have always felt that what's more compelling about a Rebus book is the man himself than the specific crimes being investigated, and while those crimes may open the door for an examination of politics and personal views, they work best when everything from the crime to the investigation to the characters mirror the central theme of the story and amplify what the protagonist is working through.

It may be that a high number of police procedurals fall short on this account, but to suggest they all do is wrong, and the publisher could have picked a more tactful way to talk about what they wanted to see from writers, rather than making such a sweeping judgment against a whole subgenre... and I have to be honest, while I've only addressed the law enforcement restriction, that was just one of a number of careers that were excluded from submissions.

* I'm a jumper, so nobody questions when I have a strong fear reaction. This is also why I prefer to lie on the couch rather than sit.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Halloween - It's Like Crime Fiction, Only With Candy

Halloween is a lot like crime fiction. Funny, you say, you don’t recall many thrillers populated with pint-sized princesses or superheroes. True.
But both of them are the chance to be frightened in a safe environment. You’ll get a glimpse of a scarier world while secure in the knowledge that it will all turn out okay. A crime fiction author does this by providing a conclusion. The murder is solved, the conspiracy is foiled, the villain is caught. Halloween does this by ending with you back in a warm, well-lit house and pilfering from your kid’s candy bag. You know that when the evening – or the book – is over, you’ll be able to walk away, safe and sound.
So enjoy your night of fright tomorrow – whether it’s curling up with a mystery, roaming through a haunted house, or trekking door-to-door with a five-year-old hopped up on Sweet Tarts and Pixie Stix. Because everything will be all right in the morning.