Saturday, November 19, 2016

Book Review: High Heat by Richard Castle

Scott D. Parker

Anyone who knows me or has followed my blog knows I am a huge fan of the “Castle” TV show. I was crushed when, at the end of season seven, there was talk of cancellation. Then we got the glorious news that “Castle” would return for an eighth season. Was there anything better than more “Castle”? Well, if you watched season eight, you knew the answer to that question. Yes, sometimes more of something isn’t always a good thing.

The books by the heretofore unknown author behind the pen name of “Richard Castle” have almost all been uniformly excellent. Naturally, some are better than others, but on the whole, they are all very good books that capture the spirit of the television show as well as echoing and mirroring some of its contents. For example, when the TV show characters Castle and Beckett kept playing “will they or won’t they,” their counterparts in the novels — Jameson Rook and Nikki Heat – got together by the end of the first novel, HEATWAVE. So, for the first few years, readers got to see what it would have been like had Castle and Beckett got together. Now, with book eight, much of what clogged the eighth season of the television so has also clogged HIGH HEAT.

What am I saying? In short, I liked HIGH HEAT, but I certainly didn’t love it.

The novel opens with a scene that you could call ripped from the headlines.  A group calling themselves American ISIS has released a video. In the video, a hooded victim is decapitated. As gruesome as the video is, what really chills the blood of Captain Nikki Heat is the final proclamation from the masked terrorists: their next victim is to be Jamison Rook, famous journalist and her husband.

Naturally, the crime is committed in the 12th precinct, and Heat and her squad jump into action. The victim is identified—no spoilers here—and they are well on their way to working out the case when the Feds show up. Guess what? The NYPD class with the Feds. Also as you might expect, Jamison himself is nowhere to be found. When last Nikki heard, the famous journalists was following one of the three presidential candidates, Legs Kline, the Donald Trump stand-in for the novel. For the record, there is a Hillary Clinton Stand in as well as third-party candidate Gary Johnson. Again, with the events of the novel mirroring real life, the author all but reveals his opinion of our own recently completed presidential election even though the book was readied for publication long before the results were counted.

The supporting cast are all back in this one. This little universe of Nikki Heat novels is pretty good. I have always enjoyed the stand-ins for the TV characters, but the ones unique to the Heat-verse are equally good. There is one aphorism that says the sum is greater than the whole. In other books in this series—NAKED HEAT especially—that is true. In the case of HIGH HEAT, I’d say the sum is just equal to the whole. All the ingredients are there and what is spat out is exactly what you’d expect. Nothing more, nothing less.

I listened to the audio version and Robert Petkoff, as he has done since he replaced original narrator Johnny Heller, does a good job of narrating with his ruggedly handsome voice. The way he reads the prose and delivers the dialogue, it really is as if Nathan Fillion AKA Richard Castle is reading the novel.

Oh, and if you hated season eight of the TV show, well, there’s a tangent in this book that, well, ugh. Don’t want to give too much away. There’s certainly going to be a ninth book in this novel series. I’ll certainly read it because I’ll consume everything related to Castle. And there’s an ingredient that literally shows up in the penultimate line of this novel. That alone will make Book 9 special. And, most importantly—and I fully expect this to happen—the ninth book, likely the last in the series, will give Castle fans, and Nikki Heat fans, true closure, the kind of closure we didn’t really get from the TV show.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Halfway Point: NaNo Update

If you're participating in NaNoWriMo, how's it going?

If you're asking me? I'll be honest - not great. I let myself take a few days off, which defeats my personal object (writing every day for 30 days) and puts me in a position to not quite hit 50k. One nice thing about the NaNo site is there's a little sidebar that shows you your daily average, the word count goal per day, how much you've actually written per day - and this is the big one - how much you have to write per day to still hit 50k by November 31st.

Right now, I need about 2k a day to hit the goal. It's not an impossible feat, and it's pretty cool to see how a few hundred words a day add up. The original daily goal is just over 1600 words, and after fucking off for almost four days, an extra 400 a day can catch me up? Now, that's not to say I'll actually write 2k a day, or even hit the 50k goal. But that small stat shows something really important - if you sit down and do the work, it adds up. 400 words per day will make up for over 5k I'm behind. 400 words a day isn't nothing, but it's not a lot, either. I'd venture to say that almost anyone with a regular habit can crank out 400 words in a sitting.

When I talked about how NaNoWriMo is fully customizable, and how it can teach us things about our writing we don't always think about, I didn't talk about how it proves steady writing leads to accomplishing big goals, because I'm aware that not everyone can make 1600+ words happen every day for a month, and plenty writers who can, simply don't want to. It's a lot of stress and it requires sacrifice. 50k words in 30 days is an accomplishment because it's a highly unusual pace. But when I look at that addition of 400 words per day it really sends home how habitual writing can make big goals happen with steady, concentrated effort.

It's a great object lesson for people who aren't sure about their pace, their goals, or their ability to carve out writing time.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've gotta try to write 2k words...

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Todd Robinson to appear on Big Brother?

First. Simon Ampersand Schuster is aquiring Adams Media from F Plus Sign W Media, according to published reports.

2. Simon Ampersand Schuster is a subsidiary of CBS Media.

C. Adams Media is the parent of Tyrus Books, the publisher of Todd Robinson's excellent Hard Bounce.

Ergo: While a number of experts have refused to comment on the timing, it is worth noting that the upcoming season of Big Brother is set to begin filming within the next year or two.

To Whit: As of Nov. 17, Todd Robinson has not denied that he will appear on the new season of Big Brother,

Kate Malmon and Todd Robinson at  2016 Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

This Time, It's Serious

by Holly West

I swore to myself I wasn't gonna talk about politics in my first DSD post after the election. And for the most part, I'm not. But there is something I'd like to address:

Social media, especially Facebook, has become a trigger for me and I need to abstain.

I'm not the only one who's had to make this choice. Social media is a cess pool right now. Actually, that's probably too generous a description. Social media is a festering wound and collectively, we are the pus. Why post an original thought when I can just post this divisive and factually-dubious meme instead? Why provide my own, well-considered commentary about a sensitive subject when posting a link to this click-bait will serve my purpose just as well?

And those who do take the time to write thoughtful posts about controversial subjects are often not met by more of the same--even if opinions differ--they're bombarded by trolls and bullies whose only agenda is to spew hate.

I'm really not interested in participating anymore, on any level. At least for the time being.

Now, it's no big news that Holly West will be off social media for awhile. It's certainly not the first time I've complained about it on this blog. But this time, it feels different. More imperative, almost a duty. My role in trying to clean up this mess is to simply back away, at least as far as social media is concerned. Leave the fight to people with stronger stomaches.

I do have a close circle of writer friends and friends who do not live near me and I've used FB to keep in touch with them and keep up with their lives. I use it to share my life with them. I'm fairly certain my break will not impact those relationships too badly but I do miss it.

The larger question, is how can I use social media to promote my work while at the same time lamenting its contribution to the downfall of meaningful conversation and accurate reporting? Because at this point, it's as much a vehicle for sharing non-political news, event information and invitations, light-hearted inspiration and interesting tidbits as it is a venue for barf-inducing content. Sure, the balance is tipped toward the vomit right now, but there are good people sharing good stuff, too. And that will remain true because my circle of friends is wide and wise and for the most part, wonderful.

Look. I'm certainly not the arbiter of what's appropriate to share in one's own social media feeds. That is for each of us to decide. I only know that I'm tired. Oh, so tired. On the positive side, I plan to use my own blog to post updates and news and stuff, things that I might've posted on FB. Because in the end, it's better for me if I retain ownership of my content rather than giving most of it to social media. Instagram is still a fairly positive place. You can definitely find me there.

And of course, Do Some Damage. I'm not leaving this blog any time soon.

Finally, I'm not kidding myself. I know I'll be back on Facebook eventually, maybe sooner rather than later. Fuck it. Maybe tomorrow. I do tend to be flighty and given to impulse decisions. And who cares, really? It's only Facebook. Except I kind of think we should care, because it and social media as a whole has changed the way we communicate with each other. And not always for the better.

I just had an idea. If you're an author who puts out a newsletter, please put the link in the comments so I can sign up. In the interest of creating and owning our content, I think we can support each other. Of course, that means I'd better start putting out a newsletter (not just as a promotional tool).

I've also bookmarked a selection of blogs and websites I plan to visit regularly. If you have a blog you update fairly often, post it in the comments and I'll add it to my list.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Conversation with Myself

Inner Voice: How do you feel?

Myself: Tired.

Post-Election fatigue?

In part.  The news.  The conversations in the street.  With friends.  The bombardment of political posts on Facebook.  A never ending stream.  It's like people have been reduced to one obsession, one subject.

It's understandable, though.

Of course.  As is the anger people feel.  But you know, from this election, there may be a couple of positive by-products.

Come on.  Like what?

The end of the myth, once and for all, of American exceptionalism.  I mean, we all know the arguments against it anyway - a country built on slavery and the way the Native Americans were handled and then civil rights stuff and on and on.  Don't get me wrong.  A fascinating place, the United States, with lots historically to recommend it, but people are people, to state the obvious, and I'm not sure why people are so shocked that Americans, like everybody else in the world, have their biases, hatreds, regional differences...Americans are supposed to be unique?  A different brand of humans than humans everywhere else?  I don't get that.  Never did.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Anything else good to report?

Maybe this.  Doesn't this election definitively put the lie to the idea of linear history?  It's a lazy kind of belief system, the linear view.  A little complacent perhaps.  Like history moves in a straight line, consistently forward with a positive thrust, people and society getting more open and tolerant all the time? I mean, that may be the overall thrust, but there are hiccups, regressions, retrenchments.  It happens everywhere and always has, in pretty much every culture, from what I've read.

So you go by the cyclical view of history.

Seems more accurate to me.  Really does.  But, whatever.  One thing's certain: you have to be vigilant, and not just in darker times. Because under the surface...Things can always, always, go backward.

If you say so.

Of course that's just one man's opinion. Fella name a' Adlerberg, first a' Scott.

That sounds familiar.

Sharp of you. It's from The Great American Novel, Philip Roth.

That's right. "Fella name a' Smith; first name a' Word."

Love that book.

Me, too.  But getting back to the election.  Are you curious to see how the next four years will impact people's fiction writing?

Definitely.  Especially friends.  Crime fiction writers and others.

Makes you wonder if we'll see a whole bunch of politically oriented fiction.

Maybe we will.  When you're inflamed, when miserable stuff is going on, there's that urge to do someting, say something about what's happening. 

You don't sound excited.

No, it's not that.  You just hope, with political just hope people write what they need to write and whatever it is, it's imaginative.   Whether it's political in any obvious way or not.   You want to read stuff organically derived from the inside, if I can put it like that.

You can.  Though we're not at Whole Foods.

Now that you mention it, I am getting hungry.

We can end this talk then.

It's been fun. 

We should do it again some time.

The way things are now, there’ll be plenty, lots, to talk about.

Monday, November 14, 2016

It's The End of Social Media As We Know It (and I don't feel fine)

Most writers who chat here publish in crime fiction. We delve into the minds of criminals, or we follow protagonists who pursue criminals, or explore the responses of those who've endured a crime.

I've written from the perspective of hitmen, serial killers, cops, and rapists, and yet I am not a hitman, a cop, a serial killer, or a rapist. I've written from the perspective of men and of women, and children and the elderly. I've written from the perspective of minorities. (And the issues of men writing women and vice versa, and authors writing characters from other races are discussed endlessly on blogs and forums. You can even take classes.)

As writers, we project and explore. Part of our process is stepping into the unknown (to us) territory and asking, "What if?" and then using the possible answers to enrich our stories. It was this ability that enabled George Orwell to write 1984 and imagine a day when the government monitored citizens. It was this ability that enabled Ray Bradbury to create the world of Fahrenheit 451, where people were so inundated by electronic entertainment that books were seen an an evil outside the control of the government, and therefore burned when found.

The ability to walk in another person's shoes and explore the possibilities - even if they aren't realities we've lived with or will ever live with - is what we writers do.

Perhaps this week has shown the limits of the ability to be a true writer for some. I don't know.

I recently saw this post** on Facebook:

Seeing an author post this really got me thinking. How good of an author are they if they can't try to understand a view they don't share? Doesn't that mean their writing would be very limited?

And that got me thinking. Can I put myself in another side's shoes and understand? Or am I limited by prejudices of my own?

Isn't that our job, as writers? To get past our own realities and explore the unknown?

I know tensions have been running high. Mine included. I never thought an election would make me cry. Hell, I never though a speech by Hillary Clinton (#imwithher) would reduce me to tears, and yet that was last Wednesday's reality.

There are writers who are racists and bigots and misogynists. There are writers who are assholes.

Some of these writers still craft exceptional stories that do their job of entertaining the reader.

And some will find themselves blacklisted by readers who don't want to support their beliefs or feel as though they've engaged with their views.

I guess that's fair. We all have the right to decide why we will or won't read something, and it could just be as simple as being put off by the cover design of a book, which is usually far outside the control of an author.

I just thought that social media had helped take down some of the boundary lines. I've never written a cozy, but have many friends who have. I've never written a romance, but many friends of mine are authors who specialize in that genre.

We can all be friends... So why is it that political differences have driven a wedge between some authors?

Imagine if that post above had said:

If you are an ethnic minority or a person who is not full-blooded caucasian unfriend me because I am not your friend! I question your right to be considered a person under the law.

Just imagine.

I've known people on both sides who've unfriended over political affiliations. To me, that's not the core of any action on social media. I have friends who voted Trump. I have friends who voted Clinton. I have friends who voted third party.

I have unfriended (I think) or unfollowed (until after the election) some of those people because the nature and volume of their posting was comparable to the tone of the post I quoted here. (And nobody wants every exchange with a person to be that person trying to convert them, religiously or politically.) The content became hateful, discriminatory, or so vile that it was no longer about understanding their views. They weren't posting about what they believed in. They were just name-calling and attacking anyone who supported other candidates.

The first time I remember voting was a provincial election in Ontario, and I helped elect one of the worst governments that province ever had. I learned I needed to take responsibility for my vote and make sure that I researched my issues. If I have an opinion on an election, I haven't just listened to the soundbites and decided who I like based on party or headlines. I've gotten there with some substance.

So you may not ever have much chance of convincing me to think differently, but at the same time, the only way we're going to build bridges instead of walls is by keeping the lines of communication open. By meaningful dialogue. By finding common ground.

Shouldn't we all hope the elected government does better than some of us think they will? And shouldn't we all - no matter how we voted - hold them accountable if they threaten the ideals of America and the principles America was founded on?

How are we going to do that if we hide behind dividing lines, if we shut ourselves off to people who don't think like us, and if we make blanket generalizations about people based on how they voted?

I've already had friends wave goodbye to social media. And others are talking about following suit.

Are we going to let one election destroy a community of writers and readers who are supposed to cherish the idea of exploring the worlds of others through stories?

What happens when we allow this election to destroy a communication network that will enable us to rise together as a unified force if necessary if things we fear come to pass?

Just the other day, a friend talked on a Facebook post about being harassed because of his skin color and threatened that he'd be deported. And he was born here, as were his parents, and their parents before them.

How can I know these things are happening if I don't listen?

Leaving doesn't make things better, but it does make it possible for people to close their eyes to the reality of what's happening. That may make one's day to day feel fine, but it doesn't mean it isn't happening. It's shutting our eyes to the realities and keeping inside our own bubble so that we can believe everything is peachy that is the same mentality some took when Hitler was elected.

There are people in parts of this world who risk their lives to have a voice to the world, to tell the truth about the regime they're oppressed by, who cry out for help and beg to not be forgotten. Educating and informing the public can only happen with communication, and that's largely accomplished through social media.

Unplugging might be occasionally necessary for our own sanity at the best of times, but walking away over politics runs the risk of muffling the very voices some of us claimed we feared were threatened through this election.

And if you're a writer, what does it say about your skill if you can't find common ground with the other side?

We must be better than this. We must stand together to fight for the ideals we believe in, and it's much harder to stand up to forces that may threaten us if we stand alone. 

**I didn't unfriend them. I think that's their job if that's how they feel. We manage our lists. (And it would be self-righteous to say, "Well, I never unfriended anyone because we disagreed about politics" if you post like this.) In the same way that I think I'm responsible for my friends list, I think each person is responsible for their vote, or lack of vote. Reforming government, if that's really what people want, comes with holding them to account every day. It comes with saying, "I voted for you but I didn't vote for this, and you're breaking a promise" when necessary.

I have to be honest. I think if we're blocking out the voices of 100% of the other side, then we're facilitating segregation. We're as much a part of the problem as anyone. If we censor people just based on political affiliation, or turn social media off altogether just because of this election, then we're censoring and being censored. We're hastening the alienation we claim we fear.