Monday, July 31, 2017

Lessons I've Learned About Publishing

(The writing advice comes at the end.)

I grew up knowing there were things girls couldn't do, because they were girls.

I really wanted to take karate. The parental veto quashed that. Karate, I was told, wasn't for girls.

It's forgivable. It was a different time, and changing people's perspectives wasn't quite as easy. Small town people like us could live small town lives, surrounded by neighbors with the same skin color and back then, you kept your nose out of other people's business. Nobody told anyone how to raise their child. You could see a crying kid dragged down the road, being told to just wait until they got home, and people wouldn't interfere. It was nothing to spank a child in public.

It was nothing to rape a wife. I suppose legally it likely wasn't even possible to be charged with such an offense.

For all our alleged progress, sometimes it seems little has changed. Oh, laws have impacted the way kids are disciplined, but it comes to gender issues, one doesn't have to go far to see that women are still treated as inferior; consider the fact that women are more likely to be killed by a partner than men are, and that 1/3 of murdered women in the U.S. are killed by a current or former partner.

Overt and subtle sexism exists within the world of entertainment as well. A few years ago, it was gamergate:

Gamergate started with a man lashing out at his game developer ex-girlfriend through a blog post crafted to incite the Internet against her. The maelstrom of subsequent accusations and threats sent Zoe Quinn into hiding. The furor soon sucked in anyone associated with her and those who sought to defend her. Targets were barraged with hatred via email and social media. Their employers were pressured to fire them. Sometimes their home addresses were publicly disseminated. Harassers made fake 911 calls to dispatch SWAT teams to their targets’ houses. (Link)

Over the weekend, an editor was attacked for posting a selfie.

As my own Facebook friends are aware, I had an issue last week with someone who had submitted a story to Spinetingler Magazine. Despite the fact that our submission guidelines are clearly posted, this person sent an incomplete submission.

Now, our system is set up to send an automatic reply, and that automatic reply reiterates how important it is that story submissions be complete. It actually states that incomplete submissions may be deleted without notification and that they will not be considered for publication.

I thought I'd be nice and take a minute and email the writer to let them know that unfortunately, we couldn't consider the submission as it was and it had to be deleted, and advised them to refer to our submission guidelines. I mean, all they had to do was complete the submission and resend it.

Instead, I received this:

I took the rare move of sharing it on Facebook because I have privacy settings in place, and because the name was so generic that it didn't paint a target on anyone's back. After being told to shove Spinetingler up my ass, I wrote back and informed the individual that further correspondence from them would not be read. They have also been informed that they are banned from submitting to the magazine.

The response?

I have not written back to this individual since; however, they have continued to email Spinetingler. When they did not receive a personal reply, they changed their email address and emailed again.

And again.

I haven't read them in full, although while filing all the documents in case of pursuing legal harassment charges, I did notice I'd been called shit-for-brains.

Such a way with words. I mean, I must seriously regret not fawning all over this individual the minute they graced our inbox with their so-called writing.

In this midst of this, some possible blame was thrown my way on Facebook by someone who seemed to think that the person's behavior could potentially be excused if I hadn't expressed myself clearly.

Why should anyone ever have to open email that is this abusive? This person initiated contact with us. This person even admitted that they knew the submission guidelines and ignored them.

But it's my fault they started swearing at me?

Others speculated that the reason this person was acting that way was because I'm a woman. When I go online and see a Marvel comics editor being harassed for being a woman, it's hard not to think that's a reasonable conclusion.

Lawmakers don't seem to treat this issue seriously.
When discussion of online harassment exploded into the mainstream a few years ago after Gamergate, I thought it would mean change was on the horizon. Today, I can see these years have been an utter waste. A federal bill to punish “swatting” sits in limbo. Reddit is still convulsed in the same battle with itself that it’s been fighting since 2014. A handful of bad actors are permanently banned from Twitter (though white nationalist Richard Spencer was un-banned this week). (Link)

Where does that leave us? Well, Spinetingler has always been a labor of love. The odd bit of money generated hasn't come close to covering costs of investment over the years.

And let's be real; nobody wants to pay for these things. We talk about artists being expected to give their work away for exposure, and I've experienced that as a writer as well. However, with Spinetingler, there are people reaching into their pockets and others banking off hours upon hours of time to keep things going.

We've watched ezines and magazines fold one by one, and from the glory days of online ezines promoting crime fiction, few of us are left.

We can celebrate being the first venue to publish a number of writers who've gone on to great success. James Oswald is one; Mindy Tarquini is another.

But the inference from someone that there was any justification at all for this person's continued harassment had me start thinking it was time to pull the plug after 12 years. I have my 9-5 responsibilities. I have a family. I have my own writing, and that's the main thing that gives out when I work on Spinetingler. While I'm certainly sad to see places shut down and don't want to pull the plug, there's an issue with how professional women are treated, and the backlash over a Marvel comics editor's selfie is proof of that.

If anyone's looking for a woman who may be occasionally seen but not heard, they've got the wrong woman here.

I don't want to believe that in 2017, women still need to have a platform extended to them because they're less than equal, but a lot of things lately have demonstrated that's the reality of the world we live in.

Do I ban books by male authors from being reviewed?

Do I prepare a female-only issue of Spinetingler?

This issue that I'm working on is a tester. If it can't generate ad or sales revenue to break even on the costs of paying writers and artists involved (no pay to editors, no contribution to website costs) then it may be the last we ever do. We've been toying with an option to put it into print, but I'm reluctant to do that because I'm not sure we'll be continuing next year.

Working as an editor has schooled me as a writer in ways I never could have imagined when I started out. What I learned that every writer should know before they submit material anywhere:

1. ALWAYS follow the submission guidelines.

2. You are not the exception to the rules.

3. Editors are very busy. Don't email them every few weeks to check on the status of your submission. (I have writing I submitted to publishers six months ago that I still haven't followed up on.)

4. Professionalism and courtesy will go a long, long way in the publishing business.

5. Editors will reject stories because a writer is difficult to work with.

6. Writers unwilling to make corrections to their work or consider developmental editing suggestions earn a reputation of being difficult to work with. (See #5.)

7. The publishing world is small. Chances are, if you've make a horrible impression on one editor, they've told at least three others.

I referenced this writer being banned. Spinetingler has a shitlist. I'd bet cold, hard cash that other publications do as well.

Editors don't put rules and guidelines in place because they're anal or because they enjoy tormenting writers. They do it to ensure that writers have the best chance of success with their submission. I learned years ago to include strict formatting guidelines because I accepted a story that wasn't properly formatted. The writer had used a hard return at the end of each line like a typewriter, and that meant that all of those hard returns had to be extracted... Only they refused to do it.

I gave up hours of my time to do it, and in the end, after talking to some other editors, I realized I had made a mistake by coddling this writer and wasting my own time. Any writer who won't correct their material will be unaccepted.

I hold firm on that to this day. Occasionally, I still get to read a story that blows me away and I instantly love it, but within what we accept there are a number of stories that went through a period of time where they were simply under consideration. They may have been similar to another story in terms of theme. There may be technical writing issues that need to be corrected. Error-free and original stories will always rise to the top, but many stories simply just edge another story that's comparable out because we have to make decisions.

That's taught me that for every piece of writing I send out, there are a hundred others who've submitted and are fighting for the same slot. The odds are against even those of us who've been traditionally published. Nothing is guaranteed to anyone in this industry.

Whether you're a man or a woman, you have to work for what you get.

And if you really are a sexist asshole, you'd best keep that on lockdown while dealing with professionals in the industry.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Sign of a Well-Read Book

Scott D. Parker

Do you ever read your books this way?

My grandfather used to hold his books that way. I remember, even as a boy, cringing at bending the cover all the way around so that he would be able to read just a single page. (It is one of the primary reasons I enjoy reading on my Paperwhite so much.) After awhile, his books—mostly westerns—would end up this way.

Last week, I was in Galveston and I always visit the Galveston Book Shop. I checked the western section and ended up buying HIGH LONESOME by Louis L’amour (as a direct result of reading James Reasoner’s review). It was then I actually took notice of something. Many of the older westerns—i.e., the slim volumes from the 1960s and before—had the same slant to the spine. That meant my grandfather wasn’t the only one who held his westerns that way.

Nowadays, with our thick tomes, even in paperbacks, holding a book that way is almost impossible. And many of us don’t like to do that either. It ruins the shelf appeal I assume.

But there’s also something charming about seeing a stack of used paperbacks in this condition. It reminds me about the consumer quality of cheap paperbacks. They were just a few steps away from pulp magazines. They were one form of entertainment, likely meant to be read, then passed on to someone else or sold at a used bookstore. Not like today when most of us like to have that bookshelf lined with books.

When I open my “new” copy of HIGH LONESOME and noticed the spine had that slant, I actually curled the cover all the way around and read like my grandfather.

I loved it.

Do y’all read paperbacks this way? Did you grandparents or parents?

Friday, July 28, 2017

Between Space Ships and Detectives - Guest Post by Erika Wurth

Between space-ships and detectives, I have to confess, I’m spaceship guy. As one of those nerds in high school who needed an escape through books, at first my jam was magic and horror and then it became science-fiction – big time. But as I got older, I ended up reading and eventually writing a lot of what could easily be called realism. I think that’s because as a native kid growing up on the outskirts of Denver with an alcoholic dad (white dad, sorry stereotype machines) and a Indian mom who stayed because she loved him – and because it wasn’t financially the most viable thing at the time to leave, the harsher, but often more poetic realities offered in traditional literary fiction spoke to me. All around me were the ghosts of the people I had grown up with: other natives who were all screwed up, white girls with mullets in love with men who did nothing but hurt them, cigarettes. Miles and miles of cigarettes. And eventually my father’s ghost. Though I didn’t know I would write about them, and him, at the time.
Short Stories - BUY HERE

Though I’ve come back around to fantasy and science-fiction, and though I suppose my fiction bears a more striking resemblance to literary realism than it does crime, or noir – I can’t deny that I’m in the crime family. My novel, Iinà (a Navajo/Dinè word for life) is about a man named Matthew who lives a life that is filled with crime, with grit, with everything noir without any of the glamour. Born to an alcoholic mom and an absent dad, he starts drinking before he hits puberty and ends up homeless by his teens. Picked up in the streets by a man in a gang who wants to clean him up and ultimately use him, Matthew finds hope in the worst of circumstances. When that collapses, he ends up back on the streets, ready to resume drinking himself to death. There has not been one moment in Matthew’s life that didn’t involve crime. Not one. Needless to say, despite all efforts by my agent, the New York publishing folks felt guilty – dirty – just reading about Matthew – and talked endlessly about how they just couldn’t deal with his darkness. Matthew couldn’t either. And I’m sure the plethora of inner-dialogue, the description over action didn’t help either. But the thing is, though nearly everyone’s compelled by an episode of SVU: Special Victim’s Unit, or a good old-fashioned cop or criminal drama, usually that stuff is written by and about and for white folks who want a cheap thrill that ends cleanly once the novel is done. Matthew doesn’t do that. He makes you sad, unhappy. And though I guess I didn’t realize it at the time, if you’re white, guilty. But don’t we have room for that? Not guilt, but sadness. Are we really going to spend our lives going from one cheap thrill to the next until it’s over? I’m not against cheap thrills per se – but, all cheap thrills makes one a dull, dull boy.

I remember my agent saying something to the effect of (as to the New York Presses and why they were rejecting it), “I know what they’re thinking. They’re thinking why would anyone spend twenty bucks in Barnes and Nobles to be sad. But to me, what’s beautiful is how it’s written, how good the story is.” See, that’s what I read for too. Bigger beauty. And the thing is, I’m not really interested in white guilt. I think white folks are way, way too used to going there when it comes to art by folks of color. But DUDES? It’s not always about you. And it’s my job to make you care. What it is about, is Matthew, and his story, his life of tragedy and crime. His sadness, his humor despite it, his big, beautiful epiphany right at the end of his life. And most of all, it’s about his humanity, something folks – especially native folks – who are in gangs, or homeless are so often denied. Folks who don’t have much of a choice (a word one publisher used, sounding pretty Trumpish) when it comes to living a life of crime. I just want him to be human. That’s what Matthew wants too. Just to be human. God, what a small, small thing.

Erika T. Wurth’s published works include a novel, Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend, a short story collection, Buckskin Cocaine, and two collections of poetry, Indian Trains and A Thousand Horses Out to Sea. A writer of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, she teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University and has been a guest writer at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals including Boulevard, Drunken Boat, The Writer’s Chronicle, South Dakota Review and The Writer's Chronicle. She is represented by Peter Steinberg. She is Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee and was raised outside of Denver.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Books of Summer

by Holly West

On Saturday night, I saw James L'Etoile at Claire Booth's book launch for ANOTHER MAN'S GROUND. We got to talking and he asked me what I'd been reading lately. Authors do love to talk about books. Anyway, on the drive home I decided the question--what have you read and enjoyed recently--would make a good Do Some Damage post this week.

As I so often do, I turned to my author friends (or as I think of them, the Usual Suspects) and asked them to tell me what the books they've enjoyed recently. We'll start with James, since this was all his idea in the first place.


James L'Etoile (AT WHAT COST)

EVERY DAY ABOVE GROUND by Glen Erik Hamilton
A terminally ill ex-con talks Van Saw into a quick score. The job backfires and Shaw has to question if he’s one of the good guys, as he tries to recover from the botched robbery. Van’s background story also comes into play in this third installment of the series.

COVER ME IN DARKNESS by Eileen Rendahl
Leaving the cult behind is more difficult than it seems. After Amanda Sinclair’s cult survivor mother commits suicide in a mental facility, Amanda discovers family secrets that connect to a cult leader's upcoming parole hearing.

SILENT RAIN by Karin Salvalaggio
Grace Adams tries to leave the past behind and gets pulled into a murder of a prominent novelist, who wants to turn the details of Grace's past into a salacious best seller, over her objection.The investigation unravels an entire town. This is the fourth in the detective Macy Greely series.

Then of course Danny [Gardner's] book [A NEGRO AND AN OFAY]. I really love that one.



I'm going with a terrific YA thriller, CITY OF ANGELS, by Kristi Belcamino (who's also a DSD alum). It’s set in Los Angeles, but a bit further back – during the 1992 riots. It’s a perfect backdrop for the story of a teenager who flees trauma in the Midwest only to get swept up in a movie director’s twisted child porn ring. Nikki Black rescues a twelve-year-old and they land in a residential hotel in LA’s gritty downtown. The whole novel has a fantastic sense of place and a great mystery as well. I loved it.

At the top of my TBR pile is THE SHATTERED TREE by Charles Todd. It's the latest in the mother-son writing duo's Bess Crawford mystery series. Bess, a WWI battlefield nurse, tends to a wounded soldier whose allegiance is mysterious. Is he French? German? When the soldier disappears, Bess starts to investigate. Todd's portrayal of a determined and intrepid heroine won them the 2017 Mary Higgins Clark Award for this book.


Everyone is going to say this but SHE RIDES SHOTGUN by Jordan Harper. I also enjoyed the second Nick Mason book from Steve Hamilton, EXIT STRATEGY. THE RIDGE by John Rector for something different but entirely compelling. THE SMACK by Richard Lange. His work is so good I haven't even read it yet but I can recommend it.



Zoë Sharp's latest comes out next month, so I finally read ABSENCE OF LIGHT, the novella in between her last and her next.

Holly's note: Read Neliza's Criminal Element review of A NEGRO AND AN OFAY here.



I read DOROTHY MUST DIE [by Danielle Paige] recently, the story of a Kansas girl who gets transported to Oz only to find out that Dorothy seems to have ruined the world and the witches are attempting to set things right. It's the first in what appears to be a lengthy, well developed series. The author has a degree from Columbia and wrote for soap-operas, so that should tell you how the book moves.

I also revisited ADRENALINE by Jeff Abbott, the day after finishing his new book, BLAME. Both are top-shelf stuff, and I was struck by how strong the pacing of ADRENALINE is. As with DOROTHY, the hook for this one is irresistible: A spy gets a call from his wife to meet outside the office building. When he gets to the street, his office explodes above him and kills everyone there. He looks across the road to see his wife leaving with another man, who seems to be holding her against her will. And, we're off. 

Thomas Pluck (BAD BOY BOOGIE)

THE FORCE by Don Winslow is the summer crime blockbuster this year, and deservedly so. Winslow mastered the crime epic with THE CARTEL and now he aims his investigative skills northward to look into the abyss of the failed American Drug War.

I also enjoyed WORLD ENOUGH, by Clea Simon, which comes out in a month or two. It's a nostalgic trip back to the '80s Boston rock scene by someone who was there. Simon's best known for her cat mysteries like hardboiled (or should I say tough mouser?) THE NINTH LIFE but she is equally adept evoking the gritty past of the sleazy rock clubs of our youth. 


Jeff Abbott’s BLAME—super fascinating read...the kind of book that keeps “page-turner” from being a cliché.


I've got a thing for girls' schools, and my current work-in-progress features a kinda-creepy girl's school in which there's a murder (of course!). So, I'm re-reading two of my favorite girl's school mysteries: THE LAKE OF DEAD LANGUAGES by Carol Goodman and THE SECRET PLACE by Tana French. They're so different, but each illustrates an aspect of craft that interests me: Goodman deploys a gothic-style mood and atmosphere in most excellent fashion, including lore and myth. French is more about voice, and she deploys a parallel plot line like no one's business. Know any other girl's school mysteries that I should read? Let me know!

Lori Rader-Day (THE DAY I DIED)

This is not what I'm reading this summer, just books that came to mind when you said "books" and "summer" in the same sentence.

-THE HEAVENLY TABLE by Donald Ray Pollack. Difficult and lovely and holy crap.
-THE WRITING CLASS by Jincy Willett. Fun and oddly instructive on how to write a mystery.
-HEADS YOU LOSE by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward. I suggest this book any chance I get.
-THE END OF THE WASP SEASON by Denise Mina. Wasp season is summer, isn't it?
-THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE by Jessica Shattuck. Beautiful and slow, like summer should be.
-THE QUIET WOMAN by Terence Faherty. Like a refreshing drink on a hot day. Or maybe I just read it for the first time on summer vacation.
-THE SHIPPING NEWS by Annie Proulx. When else are going to read about such cold surroundings?

What I'm HOPING to read this summer, yet:

-AMERICAN FIRE by Monica Hesse
-THE CRIME BOOK by DK Publishing
-WHERE CAN I SEE YOU by Larry D. Sweazy
-The last TWO Tana French novels, pre-ordered in hardcover and staring at me from my bookcase.

What I'll be reading as soon as it lands on my porch: the new Dandy Gilver mystery [A SPOT OF TOIL AND TROUBLE] from Catriona McPherson, ordered from the UK, as to get into my hands as fast as possible.


Nadine Nettmann (UNCORKING A LIE)

I just finished SINCE WE FELL by Dennis Lehane and really enjoyed it. The story captivated me from the start and I couldn’t wait to find out the answers as the main character, Rachel, untangled them.

I also recently listened to the audiobook of THE PRINCESS DIARIST, written and narrated by Carrie Fisher. Because it was her voice, the words came out just like she meant them to and it felt as though she was still here with us. Even if you read it on the page, her wit still comes across and there’s some amusing tidbits about the filming of Star Wars.


Ending with Nadine is fitting since I've just read her two sommelier mysteries, DECANTING A MURDER and UNCORKING A LIE. They both tick all the right cozy boxes and I actually learned a lot about wine. The only problem is I wanted to open a new bottle every time I read a chapter's suggested wine pairing.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Polish From the Start, or Not?

Well, I'm about six weeks into a new novel, and so far the going has been pretty good.  I've been trying to write faster than I have in the past, at least for the summer, when I have a little more time to write than during the school year.  Get as many pages done as possible by the end of August and save all revising till later.  That's the thought anyway.  As usual, despite that thought, I find myself revising and editing and doubling back on myself to change things as I go along.  I never follow a set daily word count.  Sometimes I do a thousand words in a day, other times two hundred, that two hundred, of course, being a reflection of five or ten drafts of the same paragaph to get to that final meager word count. I never do a first draft start to finish, then a second draft, then a third, etc, and have always found it hard to proceed for thousands of words without halfway liking the words I've already written. I was talking with a friend recently about her writing plans for the summer, and she was telling me how she's determined to get a complete first draft done by September.  As a school teacher, she has the entire summer off, so she'll use the time she has in July and August to get the book done in rough form.  "At least I'll have another book finished," she told me, meaning enough done to go back and get to the serious work of making all the needed fixes.

I sometimes wish I could work that way and maybe I should force myself to.  I'm trying to push myself more in that direction.  In any event, I find there's a tension between the need to polish and perfect on the go and the desire to push ahead to make sure pages accumulate.  Also, I wonder, in doubling back so often, do you stunt your own momentum as a writer?  Very possibly.  And a form may emerge in your story, a twist, a structure, just from you letting things flow.  On the other hand, I so hate forging ahead knowing I'll only be going back to fix a ton of things later. Why not fix them now, if I know they need fixing?

It's a tension well captured in these two passages by Annie Dillard, in her great book The Writing Life.  She makes the case very well for editing a lot as you go, and she makes the case just as well for not editing as you go:


"The reason to perfect a piece of prose as it progresses — to secure each sentence before building on it — is that original writing fashions a form. It unrolls out into nothingness. It grows cell to cell, bole to bough to twig to leaf; any careful word may suggest a route, may begin a strand of metaphor or event out of which much, or all, will develop. Perfecting the work inch by inch, writing from the first word toward the last, displays the courage and fear this method induces."
"The reason not to perfect a work as it progresses is that, concomitantly, original work fashions a form the true shape of which it discovers only as it proceeds, so the early strokes are useless, however fine their sheen. Only when a paragraph’s role in the context of the whole work is clear can the envisioning writer direct its complexity of detail to strengthen the work’s ends."
Two viable ways to proceed.  Take your pick.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Let's eat Hector.

Actually, I want you to meet Hector. My friend, Hector Duarte, Jr. to be clear. He’s a fiction editor at The Flash Fiction Offensive. He’s lectured at The Crime Fiction Here and There and Again Conference in Gdansk, Poland; the second and third Captivating Criminality Conferences in Corsham, England, and Theorizing the Popular at Liverpool’s Hope University. A talented writer in his own right, his work has appeared in Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, Sliver of Stone, Foliate Oak, Shotgun Honey, Shadows and Light: An Anthology to Benefit Women’s Aid UK, The Whimsical Project, Spelk Fiction, and HorrorSleazeTrash. In his down time, he teaches seventh graders and travels the world.

Hector’s love of the written word is obvious and his desire to help up and coming writers is clear. This week he joins us at Do Some Damage to drop a little truth on the editing process. This subject is front of mind for me as I’ve just reviewed a recent submission only to discover my character was holding a star-foam cooler in one key scene. STAR-FOAM! I even used a hyphen. To make it all official. Gah. Hector help me.

Let’s grab our pencils and take some notes.

The Importance of a Fine-Tooth Comb

In the spring of 2016, Joe Clifford and Tom Pitts asked me to take over as co-editor at The Flash Fiction Offensive. It was a flattering moment of complete joy where I humble-bragged to all my friends. My time there has been nothing but fun, building relationships in a community of supportive, like-minded people. Don’t be fooled, crime writers are some of the nicest folks out there. As a self-proclaimed hippie, it’s the closest thing matching the Phish community when the band isn’t on the road. Everyone smiling and glad-handing, happy to be in one another’s presence. 

Aside from getting to read great flash stories and collaborating with a huge community of established and up-and-coming writers, I also have gotten a few requests to read and review advanced reader copies, which to me is a huge sign of having “made it” as an editor: when someone trusts you enough with their copy to ask for your editorial advice. Any writer knows how much time, labor, and outright stress even a flash piece can consume. You’re not going to trust just anyone with it. You wouldn’t hand your kid over to any random teen for a Friday night babysitting gig, right? Same thing here.

So, for whatever it’s worth, this article is meant to serve as a caution, a quick manual; hell, a warning, about the importance of editing. You’ve dedicated weeks, months, years to this draft. It’s ready to be sent out to that important publishing house. Now, pore over the thing like it’s sacred religious text. Because that’s what it is. To you, after all.   

Many of the ARCs I get are going to indie publishers. It’s no big secret many of these indie houses don’t have huge stacks of cash lying about and the publishing game, for them, is a labor of love.

This means you’re on your own when it comes to editing. You will not have someone dedicated full-time to reading your book, making sure it’s both grammatically and factually correct. In a rush to publish, some writers are putting sloppy work out there. Sure, your plot is tight and everything connects in the end, but if the pages are riddled with simple grammatical and factual errors, there goes the reader’s attention. Because, now, they’re playing grammar police, wagging their finger at the pages, thinking: I can do better than this.

Sadly, genre writing already gets enough raised eyebrows, folks. Don’t give the haters all the more reason to hate. My suggestion? Before sending it off to the publisher, send your story to someone you know is going to be brutal. Got a friend who’s always correcting your grammar or usage over a round of drinks? That’s probably the person. In fact, I suggest sending it to someone who’s not really big on plot. Writers, for the most part, are going to focus on the story you’ve laid out, red herrings, plot twists, B stories, and dialogue. Right now, you’re looking for the person who won’t be afraid to call you out when you’ve got, “A car parked over their,” or are returning a family, “there jar of sugar.” Maybe your character is a huge fan of Sid Viscous.

These kind of minor—but embarrassing—errors happen all the time. Don’t make the mistake of trusting your eyes to catch them, either. After you’ve been crafting and editing the same story over and over again, countless times, correcting pace and continuity, your eyes become exhausted, easily glossing over these small kinks throughout the pages.

It’s impossible to know everything. There’s just no way. Even your grammar-cop friend doesn’t know it all. So keep a dictionary or thesaurus nearby and constantly check your work. It’s even easier these days. Just keep a blank tab open on your browser. That way you can quickly check while poring, (not pouring), over your story.

When handing your piece over for editing, give it to someone who’s never read it before. If it can be someone who knows near to nothing about the plot, even better. This makes it easier for that reader to step into the universe you’ve created without feeling something is expected of them. Tell them it’s an homage to Sherlock Holmes stories and they might feel a need to impress you by solving the case before your detective does. What you need at this crucial moment is the high-school-lit teacher ripping your introductory paragraph apart.

In life, we’re told to avoiding sweating the small stuff. Well, when editing, I’m going to advise the opposite. You have to do a close edit of your piece when it’s done. That first edit is the most important, because after that you and your brain are familiar with the story, so, by the second edit, you’ll feel more relaxed and it’ll therefore be easier to gloss over the small stuff. Make sure a quote that is opened is ultimately closed, and vice versa. Ensure punctuation marks fall inside quotations when they’re supposed to. Start a new paragraph when a different character performs an action. Please, regularly tag dialogue throughout a long conversation so it’s easy to keep up with who is saying what. Playing dialogue-tag-Jenga is a huge distraction for the reader. 

I know what you’re thinking: Who is this guy giving me a random lesson on the most basic of editorial rules? I’m no one of importance. Nothing of mine has been published in print yet. My graduate program may even argue I’m not much of a writer.

I will attest to this, though: I care about the writing I’m given to read and edit. I want to see crime fiction and genre writing succeed because I know they get so much shit from academic and literary circles, and I can’t stand it.

The names attached to a lot of these stories are people I know, in some form or another, and that gets me stoked.

Who am I? A guy who just wants to help. Who are you? Someone who wants to put their best work out there.

Now, go to it. And remember, check your, (not you’re), shit.

~ Hector Duarte Jr.

                                                   Visit Flash Fiction Offensive

Face in a Book

By Claire Booth

Last night I had a terrific time at the official book launch for Another Man's Ground. The wonderful folks at Face in a Book, an independent bookstore in El Dorado Hills, California, were kind enough to host it.

There was time for some socializing before things got started, which was great because I was able to catch up with quite a few people, including fellow Do Some Damage author Holly West. Thanks so much for coming, Holly! Then I talked a little bit about where the inspiration for the novel's precipitating crime came from and read a passage from the book.
Then came the actual signing, which also allowed me to talk with everyone individually.
If you've never been to a book signing, take a look around at your local bookstores. They're sure to have something soon that matches your interests. And - trust me on this - it will mean the world to the author. There's no one more valuable or special than readers, and we appreciate every single one of you. Thank you.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Try and Avoid [Squirrel!] Distractions When Writing

Scott D. Parker

This past Tuesday, I got a chance to see Jason Isbell live here in Houston. It was a thrilling experience and I wrote about it the next day.

And there’s where the rub comes in.

Even though it’s summer, I still wake up early to write. When I do, it is usually in a direct line: bed to kitchen (for apple cider vinegar and coffee) to office. Open the laptop and start writing. Don’t check email, don’t check the news, don’t do anything other than write. It helps with the brain and the creativity.

Naturally, Wednesday morning’s session was the time I didn’t write on my current Calvin Carter novel but I used the time to write my thoughts about the Isbell concert. (Loved it, by the way. Y’all really should give him a listen. Here he is in June performing three songs on CBS.) I knew going into the session I was doing this, wanted to do, needed to do it, and that was that.

But what came after proved a distraction.

The opening line of the post reads like this: “Have you ever had an experience when you discover something new to you, it blows you away, and you look around and see if anyone else knows about it?” I was so excited about the show and my piece that I truly wanted other people to read my post and be introduced to Isbell’s music. I put it on Facebook—both my personal account and my two author accounts. I tweeted it, three times, in fact, giving props to Isbell as well as Houston Revention Center and Radio Paradise (the online station where I first heard Isbell).

During my workday, when I have a few spare minutes here and there, that’s when I like to write a few paragraphs on the current fiction project. It is one of the reasons why I can get a first draft of a novel done in under a month. But on Wednesday, when I should have been writing, I was too busy refreshing Twitter and Facebook, hoping that Jason Isbell himself read my post. Oh! I liked one of my tweets! Yay!

Complete blew apart my writing for the day. Words written on Monday: 3545. Words written on Tuesday: 2219. Words written Wednesday: 728. See what I mean? By the end of the day, I was pretty irritated with myself for allowing myself to get distracted the way I did.

Distractions don’t always come in the form of alerts on our phones or computers. They can be purely of our own making. I made my mistake on Wednesday. I corrected myself on Thursday and yesterday, but it was a reminder that I need to maintain the focus of my writing time throughout the day.

Y’all ever get distracted like that?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Service Guarantees Citzenship

The coolest part about being a writer is supposed to be writing a perfect sentence, or seeing your name on a cover of a book - and I'm not saying that isn't cool, but I'm nothing if not honest. And here's the honest truth - the coolest thing about being a writer is meeting other writers. Beautiful, ridiculous, creative, and fun writers who always have side projects going and let you jump in and have fun with them.

I mentioned that I will be at MidSummer Scream next weekend, and I really can't wait - but wait, I must. Lucky for me, my friend Kit Power got ahold of me last week to ask me back to his killer podcast Watching RoboCop with Kit Power. If you're unfamiliar with it - it's exactly what it sounds like. Awhile back I was on to... watch RoboCop with Kit Power, and watch it, we did. We provided our own commentary track, sometimes completely off topic, and had a fucking blast.

If you missed it, you can listen here.

This time, I'll be joining Kit for a bonus episode, to talk about my favorite Verhoeven film - Starship Troopers. I'm not sure when it will air, but you can listen to us wax philosophical about the anti-Oprah in RoboCop in the meantime. This episode should be a lot of fun - I love Starship Troopers, but since Kit and I had thrown the idea of doing this around several months ago, I decided not to give a re-watch. I can't remember the last time I saw the movie, so it'll be a little like the first time all over again.

A preview of things I will more than likely say:
-Something about how Jake Busey was really popular for a moment.
-Something about co-ed showers being considered futuristic.
-Something about the bugs where I used to live looking exactly like the bugs they fight.
-Something about the USMC Commandant's Reading List.
-Something about not fucking remembering that!

And more!

Can't wait to share it with all of you, and/or jump in on your next fun side project.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

And boy are my arms tired...

I recently returned from a 13 day, 2400 mile, 7 country road trip across Europe with my wife Sarah and my friend Johnny the ginger Marine. I did the driving, they did the navigating. We had a great time, and I only visited two bookstores if you don't count museum shops.

The first was a lovely little place in Bruges called Books and Brunch. How could I pass it up? They had waffles AND books! And they had a nice selection of both. I admit only partook of the waffles, but I nearly grabbed a copy of Underground by Haruki Murakami, his interviews with survivors of the Tokyo sarin gas attack. Cheerful reading! I lugged too many books on vacation as usual, so I was given a moratorium by Sarah.

If you haven't seen Martin McDonagh's In Bruges you're missing out on one of the best crime films of recent vintage. It showcases the beautiful city very well, uses the scenery to make it integral to the plot, and stars Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes. Brutally funny.

Here's a look at Books and Brunch.

If you zoom in you can see they have good taste. Megan Abbott, Michael Koryta, Richard Price, all in Dutch. No Dutch Leonard, though. Damn shame.

A few days later we visited our friend Courtney in Maastricht in the Netherlands, and she took us to bookstore that truly worships books... Boekhandel; Dominicanen, a huge bookstore in a former Dominican church. The front door is a rusted metal masterpiece, and inside the vaulted marble ceilings make you reverent, even if you're giggling at a copy of I Love You Dick, by Chris Kraus.

Take a look:

Make a pilgrimage there if you happen to be in the area. It's not far from Aachen, Germany, home of the Aachendom, the church where Charlemagne's throne and grave sit. 

It's one of the most beautiful bookstores I've ever visited. I bought myself a fancy pen to commemorate the occasion. And I bought I Love You Dick. Because no one tells me I have too many books!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Iain Ryan on The Student

In less than 2 years, Australian writer Iain Ryan has put out 5 novels.  He started with Four Days, a fierce novel set in Queensland state in the 1980's, when police corruption was endemic there, and he went on from that impressive debut to his pitch-black Tunnel Island trilogy: Drainland, Harsh Recovery, and Civil Twilight - books in which he continued to explore the intersection between nasty criminals and corrupt cops, with the cops often being more flawed and violent than the criminals. Now he's turned in a different direction, a college campus set novel, though that doesn't mean he's brightened his material. His new novel, The Student, goes to the same dark places his Ellroyesque procedurals did, this time from the point of a view of a university student.  I asked Iain whether he wanted to talk a little about the book, and he said sure.

Here we go.

SCOTT ADLERBERG: After Four Days and then your Tunnel Island trio, four novels centered around the doings of criminals and morally compromised cops, and where those two groups often intersect, what prompted you to write a college campus novel, albeit a very dark one?

IAIN RYAN: In the 2015/16 Australian summer I needed to sit down and write a textbook for my job at a university. This was not a task I was particularly looking forward to and as I started, I soon found that I needed to write a bit of fiction to get the gears turning and warm-up. Of course, I didn't want the book to require more research than I was already neck deep in so I opted for a period setting from my own biography: a rural campus town in the mid-90s. I really love campus novels, especially The Secret History by Donna Tartt and The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis, but I can't really remember the exact motivations for writing a crime novel set on campus. Which is all to say, I made decisions about this book very quickly, thinking the manuscript would amount to very little.

So this was a wing it as you go sort of novel, or did you plot much out beforehand? Sounds like it grew as a book pretty naturally

I always outline but it definitely evolved past the outline more than anything else I've ever worked on. And as my first book for a traditional publisher, there was a full structural edit too and I took a lot of that on board. It's one of the things that's most sold me on traditional versus self-pub/small press. I think 5 or six people ended up working on The Student in one guise or another and I welcome all the help I can get. They definitely improved the book. Definitely.

You envisioned this book from the start as a book for a traditional publisher? How did you settle on Echo Press? And having worked with a traditional publisher, do you see yourself going back in the future to self-publishing or are you going to try to stick with the traditional publishing route?

Oh no, I thought I'd self-publish the book. I came so close to self-publishing it that I had it edited and I had the cover for it. But then I got cold feet. One thing I've learned from the trenches of self-publishing is that standalone books are a tough sell. 

Self-publishing is a commercial marketplace. If you want to succeed there, you generally need to write a series and you need to hit the genre tropes square on. You need a likeable protagonist. You need a clearly resolved ending. You need the book to move quickly forward and for the style to be nonintrusive. The Student didn't really tick these boxes. 

Around this time, Angela Meyer from Echo Publishing read my first book Four Days and despite rejecting it for a local release, she asked me to send her whatever I wrote next. Figuring I had literally nothing to lose, I sent across the manuscript for The Student and that was that. I didn't formally submit anything. My entire pitch was 200 words long -- no cover letter -- and I sent the entire manuscript as an attachment. It was very informal. 

I don't think there's any real lesson for anyone in all this except that this could stand as a gentle reminder that we're not always the best critic of our own work. And that it's foolish to get to indebted to one mode of publishing. The idea that I nearly self-published the book because 'It's what I do' is something that keeps me up at night. It would have been a disaster. 

As for whether I'd go back to small press or self-publishing? I'm sure I'll be back at some point. I love writing. And putting your work out there -- however you can -- is part of writing.

I read Four Days, your first book, and really liked that, in part because you took your clear love of James Ellroy's books and used it to craft a book entirely your own, with your own feel and sound. With The Student I can see some Bret Easton Ellis influence, especially The Rules of Attraction, which you mentioned. But do you think your crime fiction influences came into play at all with this book? It sort of blends campus debauchery novel with a violent grimy crime novel sensibility and it makes for something tough but refreshing.

I still see a lot of Ellroy still popping up in this book. It's more White Jazz than LA Confidential this time round, is all. I'm not sure I'm ever going to outrun his influence. That said, I'm a bit Ellis fan too and I definitely reached for Rules of Attraction when I was planning the novel. I really like how he wrote the teenagers in that book, especially their lack of empathy -- or more generously, their underdeveloped empathy. Which is something I see all the time working with teenagers. Even as a late teen, you're not really set up to process the full spectrum of adult situations yet. In fact, that's kinda what becoming an adult is all about. The links between the two -- between Ellis and Ellroy -- are also not as far apart as you'd imagine. They're both deeply invested in how various elites perpetuate and profit from their sociopathy, be it the nameless bad men of American Tabloid or the despondent rich kids of Less Than Zero.

I never thought of them as linked, not even thematically, but that's a really good point. 

It's a awhile since you've been in college, so in portraying teens and college students, did you draw upon memories primarily or what you observe in college age students now or a combination of the two? And how much of yourself, if anything, did you throw in the mix? I assume you had your share of fun and excess in college.

I think that's it exactly. Nate is a combination of what I remember from that period of my own life combined with the young people I teach. The naivety about the world comes from me. The almost-Stoic self-determination of Nate is more from my students. No one ever really comments on this but late-teens are pretty hard-boiled. I've taught lots of young men and women who view the world as one giant bureaucratic system obstructing them (ala the 'mean streets' of crime fiction). And they don't ask for help. In the novel I put together a fairly detailed subplot as to why Nate doesn't just call the cops but I'm not sure I needed to go to that effort. Anyone who teaches has met that kid that won't ever ask for help, no matter the situation. Nate's one of those. 

As to my own hedonism, all I can say is that when you *really* think back to that moment in your life, you realize it just is a more hedonistic moment. Maybe not you, specifically, but your friends and such. University students don't behave like adults. They just don't. Most 40 year olds don't experiment with new drugs, sleep with strangers and forego any responsibility at whim but this is not overly excessive behavior for a young university student.

What do you have in the works next? Will you be going back to straight crime and dirty cops, or do you have plans to branch out, as with The Student, in yet another direction?

I'm working on another novel. I'm not going back to straight-up crime/detective fiction yet but I'm still firmly working within the genre. Part of me desperately wants to return to the warm confines of straight-up police procedural / detective fiction but my current publisher is really supportive and while I have that support, I want to turn in work that is slightly more adventurous. That said, the crime fiction scene -- even at the trade/commercial level -- is really opening up. I mean, I'm writing this stuff and looking to Megan Abbott's hard-boiled gymnasts and Sarah Gran's Clare Dewitt and Gillian Flynn's multiple POVs and such. I'm not sure I'm capable of a cop novel that can cut it with these people in the mix.

Ha, yeah.  It's always good to be pushed though, right?  Anyway, I'll be looking forward to whatever you have coming next.  

You can pick up The Student on Amazon right here.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Do Girls Bite?

The latest in First World problems sees the internet collectively losing its mind over a girl.

Some people, it seems, think a girl can't be a doctor. Who knew? In 2017, apparently, there's still a list of what different genders are permitted to do. Online articles pulled responses from Twitter to talk about the backlash.

This brought to my mind The Shield. CCH Pounder's character "Claudette Wyms was originally supposed to be a man, but Pounder's agent called creator Shawn Ryan and convinced him to change the detective to a woman. However, Pounder still requested that none of the original dialogue was changed so her character would be able to "hold her own" alongside other male detectives."

Another thing this brought to my mind was the ridiculousness of people who are afraid to write about people of the other gender. People are people. They all have hopes and dreams and fears and likes and dislikes. There's a male in this house more terrified of spiders than any girl that lives here.

I suppose, for me, the idea of true equality means there's a smidge of hope for acceptance for some of us. If you thought sexism was a thing of the past, you only needed to hit the internet yesterday as people were losing their minds over Dr. Who, but the bench of those who perpetuate gender stereotypes is deep. One place I worked at was a perfect example. They were supposed to champion the rights of people with disabilities, but they had a clear preference for female staff who were cutesy and dumb. A supervisor told me early on that I may have a problem because I'd worked in more professional environments in the past.

If I smiled and laughed a little more and thought a little less I'd do fine.

For real. In this decade.

You know what I say to that? Fuck them.

I shouldn't have to be a bitch to be treated equally, but I also shouldn't have to be a little cute and stupid to be liked as a woman. Yet I still feel this is a reality; it's part of how girls are taught to flirt. It's how they learn to manipulate people to get what they want.

There are no spoilers in the first few minutes of this; it starts with episode 1. The critical bit I was thinking of is from 4:48-5:45 approximately; as Sansa is getting her hair done, she moons over a boy.

It's so typical of what's almost expected of a girl when she has a crush; she loses her mind and rushes headlong into her obsession without thinking things through.

It's actually interesting to watch the bit just before that scene, when the king arrives and greets the Starks. Sansa isn't even a name to him; she's assessed on appearance alone. It is Arya, the rebel sister, the one who is more interested in the sound of a bow than the needlepoint in her hand, that earns her identity with the king.

The author behind Game of Thrones has taken a lot of criticism for how women are treated in his stories, but I find nothing to fault him on. He has female characters, like Sansa, who are trying to fit into the mold of society's expectations. He has other characters, like Arya, who have no interest in conformity. Martin said:

The books reflect a patriarchal society based on the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages were not a time of sexual egalitarianism. It was very classist, dividing people into three classes. And they had strong ideas about the roles of women. One of the charges against Joan of Arc that got her burned at the stake was that she wore men’s clothing—that was not a small thing. There were, of course, some strong and competent women. It still doesn’t change the nature of the society. And if you look at the books, my heroes and viewpoint characters are all misfits. They’re outliers. They don’t fit the roles society has for them. They’re ‘cripples, bastards, and broken things‘—a dwarf, a fat guy who can’t fight, a bastard, and women who don’t fit comfortably into the roles society has for them (though there are also those who do—like Sansa and Catelyn). 

 I think that Gwendolyn Christie pretty much nails her assessment of what Game of Thrones has really done with the female characters.

“This was a television show that would put women at the forefront,” the actress, who plays Brienne of Tarth on the HBO series, says in The Top 10 Game-Changing Game of Thrones Moments, a special on the PEOPLE/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). “We were going to explore female characters in a way that conventionally doesn’t happen.”
With characters like Sansa and Arya Stark, Daenerys Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, and Brienne, she says the show’s women are as independent and complex as they are powerful. “They wouldn’t simply exist as the mother role, the girlfriend role, the wife role, or the sister,” Christie explains. “They would be people in their own right.”

If for no other reason, Game of Thrones is actually well worth watching just to see the extent of the character development at work. The women who start out controlled, meek, submissive do not stay that way.

As my husband says, the show is really about the fall of the patriarchy and the rise of the matriarchy, because it's long been clear that the women are asserting control and having the most significant impact on the events that are unfolding in Westeros.

While it's fair for someone to say they aren't convinced about an actor who's earned a specific role, if they refuse to give them a chance just because of their gender, that's sexist.

There's a reason that The Handmaid's Tale entered the pop culture mainstream this year, and has become a symbol of public protests. It's tragic that in this day and age, in the western world, that women working for the White House earn 80 cents to a man's dollar. Not based on credentials. Not based on experience. Based on gender.

This, right here folks, is why my husband has been right in his Disney princess aversion. He never wanted his daughter thinking she just needed to be someone's little princess. He was never so sexist that he called her his princess. She wasn't reduced to being a man's possession.

Instead, they were watching Princess Mononoke.

If western culture is still so backwards that people are financially penalized for having ovaries, then we must cheer for the creators who are putting women at the forefront, showing that they can hold their own and do anything that a man can do. For me, it isn't about dominance. I love a great story about a man; I love writing male characters too.

But thankfully, it's now far more common for people to write about women who are more than some man's eye candy. Those are the women I want to watch. It may be that Game of Thrones is one of the first shows I have a really hard time choosing a favorite character from, but of the top five, only one man makes the list, and it isn't because there aren't a lot of great male characters. The bench is deep, which makes the fact that so many female characters

I personally haven't been a Dr. Who follower in the past, but I say that whether the new actress in the role works on not will depend on a number of factors, starting with the writing, and can only be determined once seen. For anyone that finds it hinges solely on the lead's gender, well, I guess they have to ask themselves why they are okay with perpetuating discrimination.

“And then there’s the whole issue of sexual violence, which I’ve been criticized for as well. I’m writing about war, which what almost all epic fantasy is about. But if you’re going to write about war, and you just want to include all the cool battles and heroes killing a lot of orcs and things like that and you don’t portray [sexual violence], then there’s something fundamentally dishonest about that. Rape, unfortunately, is still a part of war today. It’s not a strong testament to the human race, but I don’t think we should pretend it doesn’t exist... I want to portray struggle. Drama comes out of conflict. If you portray a utopia, then you probably wrote a pretty boring book.”
-- George R.R. Martin

The women on my favorites list have overcome abuse, have overcome rape, have overcome loss. They are not strong women because they've been spared these horrors. They are strong women because they refuse to let others dominate them. They see themselves as equals.

And perhaps, sadly, that's the part of Martin's stories that's more of a fantasy than dragons, because apparently we still live in a world where women need a strap on and flat chest to be treated as equals.