Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Crime and Chupacabras

Scott's Note: David Bowles guest blogs today, talking about his new novel Chupacabra Vengeance.

Guest Post by David Bowles
I’ve long been a fan of hard-boiled crime fiction, cutting my literary teeth on James M. Cain and Dashiell Hammett before moving on to Chandler, Spillane, Thompson, Mosley, inter al. As my circle of favorites has widened down the years, I’ve discovered to my delight that many writers fuse the roman noir with other genres I love, from sci-fi (Dick, Gibson, Murakami) to horror (Hjortsberg, Straub, Barker) to fantasy (Huff, Adlerberg, Barron).  

Indie presses have done an amazing job of publishing books that straddle the stark, ugly realities of crime fiction and the equally bleak irrealities of horror. Broken River Books springs immediately to mind, specifically Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias and Will the Sun Ever Come out Again by Nate Southard, my favorite Austinite blends of noir and the supernatural.
Broken River Books has also released this month my short story collection Chupacabra Vengeance. Though generally speculative, many of the fifteen pieces are decidedly influenced by the sensibilities and tropes of crime fiction, and readers who enjoy that sort of mélange will, I think, find something in those three hundred pages to fit the bill. 

The title story, for example, explores the criminal underbelly of Mexico that preys on transnational immigrants heading north from Central America atop La Bestia, a dangerous train that charges a steep fee in lives and limbs. The muggers and coyotes are just the beginning — those who make it to the border often face human trafficking rings in league with the US Border Patrol. When the chupacabras finally put in an appearance in this story, their violent alien goals seem almost pure in contrast to such cruel corruption.
“Bloody Feathers,” which first appeared in Out of the Gutter, is narrated by a broken man in the vein of many noir anti-heroes. Tormented, ambiguous, cynical, the narrator feels himself pushed into what we would deem horrific, immoral actions in order to save the world from an apocalypse. 
A more overt mystery / crime story is “The Bones of Rio Rico,” in which a middle-aged woman’s investigation of the disappearance of children in 1930s South Texas leads her across the river to a town run — as one might expect in a Continental Op novella — by Mexican mobsters. Even Al Capone shows up in this one, his gunsels helping to stave off a supernatural attack. 
In my sci-fi short “Winds That Stir Vermilion Sands,” I take a look at the interactions a Sephardi scavenger and his teenage son have with yakuza … on Mars. Struggling to escape the shantytowns of the Hellas Region, the boy and his father try to cut a deal with a crime syndicate … and when things go sideways, the teen has to make a terrible decision. 
Set in that same universe, “Undocumented” flips the modern immigration narrative on its head as a young Chicano flees an ice-choked and failing US, crossing a deadly high-tech border with the help of human traffickers. His goal is to reach a colony ship getting ready to blast off from the relative paradise of Mexico, but his illegal status puts him in the path of law enforcement and unscrupulous citizens. 
The other stories, while not nearly as overtly influenced by noir, share many of that genre’s sensibilities, especially the weird/horror pieces. For years, writers and critics have noted the similarities between these two modes — the pervasive sense of bleakness, the cynical and disconnected nature of its outcast protagonists, the preoccupation with explore the dark and hidden things of the world. From that perspective, nearly all of the tales in Chupacabra Vengeance are noir in its most basic sense: black, black as the void that waits at the end of the path. 


Chupacabra Vengeance can be found on Amazon right here.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Talk is Cheap, But Inspiration Can Last a Lifetime

Unlike many of you, I went to bed at a decent time last night and did not watch the Academy Awards show. Like many of you, I'm keenly aware of the "drama" at the end. It's made my mind spin in some odd circles this morning, so bear with me here.

I'm not going to weigh in on whether it a was a legitimate mistake or a carefully crafted ploy to get people talking about the Oscars today. It's Hollywood. It's media types. Already I've seen the jokes on Twitter and Facebook about how this must make Steve Harvey feel better, and if you know what that reference is to then you know why some people may view last night's "mistake" as a publicity stunt.

"Blunders" enter the social media sphere and generate more awareness than the events themselves. It's the cheapest form of publicity that there is, but I can see some people thinking today that if they could orchestrate a mistake they could generate a lot of press for their work.

Is that ooops going to make me watch the Oscars next year? No. Look, if you watch the Oscars it's because you like watching celebrities get dressed up, talk politics, shed a tear or two and you want to see if the host will entertain or fall flat. There's nothing wrong with that. I'm sometimes interested in the winners of a specific category, or a few categories, and I can check online the next day to see who won. Watching four hours of an awards show last night allowed people who did watch to be in on the big talk of the day. "Did you see that?" "Did you see the look on so-and-so's face?"

As Emma Stone said, "We made history."

To be honest, I'm just glad to have something take over the front page of the news this morning that has nothing to do with politics. Okay, well, there may have been some political talk at the Oscars last night, but that's been overshadowed by the need to clarify that the winners list is the real winners list.

And that makes me a little sad about what happened. Not just because the legitimate winner of best picture may have been robbed of a little of its thunder, but because it underscores the lack of trust people have in information now, even when it's being reported by major news outlets.

And that does speak to something political.

I'm going to sidestep that a little bit. I studied journalism in college. I had the opportunity to hear renowned journalists speak. I also had the opportunity to have my feet held to the fire and learn to validate my sources and substantiate my information. I was a huge fan of Sunday Edition and a huge fan of Bob McAdorey's entertainment show on Global.

Right now, I can walk to the next room and put my hands on a Rawlins Cross CD and know that I saw that band live and have enjoyed their music because of Bob McAdorey. That isn't the only band I saw on his show, but it's just an example of an influence that has endured.

Gimmicks get you for a second. Influence can last a lifetime. I know that as authors, many of us struggle to determine how best to promote our work because we want it to be appreciated and enjoyed. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's far more important to focus on the quality of the work rather than promotional stunts. When you do, you'll build an audience that endures and grows through heartfelt recommendation and referral.

While I'm glad the dominant headlines this morning are about anything other than politics, I have to admit that even the 0.0000001% chance that the Oscar blunder may have been a marketing stunt combines with the recent war against the media to make me sad. We've all been reminded of a crucial truth. Just because you heard it on TV doesn't mean it's true. However, we need to verify truths to protect us from falsehoods, and we do that in our day to day lives with world events and policies and politics through the media. It is not up to anyone else to tell us who can and can't be trusted or how to verify a news source. It is up to us to make sure we never take our news from one source nationally or internationally, but that we verify and confirm and that we make our news sources earn our trust so that we can be confident of their authenticity.

We'd really like to think that when an announcer says, "And the winner is..." that they're going to give us the right information. We'd also really like to think that our journalists are giving us facts instead of falsehoods. When we have verified our sources they can influence us on a level that can last a lifetime.  I've made the mistake of seeing a report we thought was legit only to learn it isn't. Last night reminded me of that, and reminded me of the importance of valuing a trusted source of information.

Be diligent. In this era of 10 second attention spans and Twitter marketing go deeper than headlines. Go deeper than flash-in-the-pan writers who use a gimmick to get attention. Go deeper than cheap marketing stunts and superficial fluff. Wherever you invest your time and money, from movies to books to newspapers, make sure you're supporting quality. The best way to ensure more great movies get made and more great books get published is to ensure the ones that really are exceptional get the attention they deserve for the right reasons.

On that note, I leave you with a lasting influence for me that came from a journalist who didn't need a gimmick to get my attention.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Writing With Circles - Two Great Resources

Scott D. Parker

This was a great week for writing advice.

First up was the latest episode of Rocking Self Publishing, one of the essential podcasts if you want to learn what's going in the world of independent publishing. Host Simon Whistler interviewed author Jacqueline Garlick. Over the course of the hourlong discussion, two things emerged.

One was her increase in writing speed. She took inspiration from Chris Fox’s 21-day novel challenge. She attempted the fear and ended up with a first draft in about 15 days. She knew the manuscript would be reworked over subsequent drafts, but getting the story out of her head in a short amount of time was eye opening. She ended up completing 10 manuscripts in various genres last year.

Impressive. Most impressive.

Ever a student of the writing process, Garlick attended multiple conferences and met lots of other writers. She also taught writing. After sifting through all of this information, she conceived the idea of a plot laid out on a clock. The opening is up to 3pm, the middle is from 3 to 9 (with the midpoint naturally at 6pm), the climax from 9 to 11, and the final denouement from 11 to 12. It’s a neat way to visualize a story that was new to me.

If Garlick’s interview solidified some of my own thinking regarding writing pace, then an article Joe Lansdale write really drove home some key points in the writing process. Published in The Strand, Joe’s “The Rules of Being a Professional Writer” proved to be quite the peek behind the curtain. The obvious rule of reading a lot and writing a lot is again reiterated for the thousandth time. It's in the rest of the guidelines that true sneaks out.

Again, an obvious one: be excited about what you write. If you're not dying to get to the next scene, neither will your readers. Keep your day job until you know you can make it as a writer. That one hits home with me, a day job holder who writes at 4:30 am.

The second circular analogy about writing came from this article. Lansdale writes thus: “I don’t plot, at least not consciously. I go to bed, and my subconscious works on it. When I awake, the work is there, and when I finish for the day, I know from experience my subconscious will fill me up with the next day’s work. Now and again it lets me down, but that is rare. For me, working this way, I get to enjoy the creation of a story from soup to nuts, and the passion that goes with it. Some writers need a road map, some a compass. I’m the latter.”

This year, to date, I have not plotted out the two novels I’ve worked on. That's new for me...and fun! I have a general idea of the ending, but I’ve been experiencing the story alongside my main character. Sure, there may be a moment when I know that my hero is going to discover something, but more often than not, my creative voice just landed something on the story I didn’t see coming. My hero is surprised. I just have a big goofy grin on my face and marvel at how great it is to be a writer.

Lansdale's piece just landed itself on my all-time best writing advice list. 

Here are the two links. Enjoy and learn.



Friday, February 24, 2017

On Punk and Writing.

You ever have a moment that makes you feel like a teenager again? I don't mean like you're recently divorced and having your first super charismatic first kiss on the front porch again (though I've had that moment, too). I mean a reigniting of all the energy and optimism, all the big emotions you didn't have words for then, and maybe still don't. I mean like - the first time you heard a song that filled you up and made you want to scream with the joy of being understood and cry at the same time, or the first time you wrote something you were proud of. The way you felt when graduation was only thirteen days away and it was so goddamn exciting that you didn't have time to be fucking terrified of whatever came next.

I had a moment like that last weekend, and the next day I spent the whole day recovering from it just to suit up and head out to do a little book promo at San Diego Comic Fest. The weekend was a whirlwind capped off by finding a big Rubbermaid tub full of shit I kept from high school. It was all there - the good, the bad, the "fuck you, you are never going to see this shit, I don't care who you are." I'm talking about poetry. Poetry written between the ages of fifteen and seventeen. A box full of half formed story ideas, song lyrics, poems, a file I kept on my favorite filmmakers, a few embarrassing photos (I looked really stoned  through a lot of high school even though I was so straight edge I didn't even drink caffeine).

I went through that box and still felt good about myself, which is saying something.

The point is, I feel reignited. On Sunday, our panel was asked when we decided to "get serious" about writing which is always a funny question for me. I've always been dead serious about writing. I spent more time with my headphones in writing longhand than I spent doing literally anything else. I carried my works-in-progress with me all day at school waiting for a free moment to work. At college, with time management firmly in my own hands, I barely pulled a 2.0 the first semester because all I wanted to do was read and write - just not the stuff I was supposed to be reading and writing.

I don't count that as being serious in the context of a career, because I was still writing with that intense need. Scribbling with any pen I could find, no concept of the business side of things, no concept of what was good or bad - just filling pages and feeling good. Of course, being a writer was easier then. Lonelier, too. It was pure energy and everything else was secondary. It was writing song lyrics without knowing how to write music, and writing novels without knowing (or caring) how to outline. It was the feeling that it was important to do it, and everything else would work out eventually.

In a way, that idea worked. I had some pretty low lows, where writing was the last thing on my mind because I spent a fair amount of my early adulthood making decisions on the fly and hoping for the best, only to learn the hard way (over and over again) that there were some upsides to having a plan. The way "everything else worked out" was that I got older, less dumb, and more focused. I learned about the business side, I learned about the craft, I met other writers and started building something more than a Rubbermaid tub full of loose-leaf notebook pages. I'd be lying if I said that all that learning the hard way didn't snuff out a few sparks.
Maybe you read that and you feel a little sad, but remember how this blog post started. I've been riding the high of finding that excited, passionate, crazy ass kid I used to be - blasting my favorite punk rock and getting excited about art and writing, getting excited about possibility for nearly a week now. What's curious about it, but in the context of my life, fairly unsurprising, is I found that spark in the same place teenage me always found it. Riding the barricade at a punk show screaming my lungs out.

I've avoided shows like that for awhile because I've got a bad leg, a bad back, and a kid that requires babysitting. I was thinking I couldn't hang or I didn't belong. I was listening to other great music and only dipping toes into punk music when I felt like I really needed it. But riding that barricade again was like coming home, going to church, and finding a time machine. I've wanted to write about the odd connection aging punks have with crime fiction for awhile, before that I spent hours trying to find the right words to communicate exactly what it feels like to be in a sweaty dark club listening, screaming, mashing bodies to bodies. I haven't managed either - but I think we'll get there. Remembering what was so fucking special about it is a good start.

Oh, and I got a new shirt...

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Keep posting your nonsense, authors

By Steve Weddle

So a couple weeks back, Gabino Iglesias, who wrote one of my favorite books of the 2015, wrote a post for LitReactor about author updates on Facebook.

The post, "9 Facebook Posts by Authors We Don't Need to See in 2017," is worth your time and comments, of course. I'm opposed to someone online telling me what I should and shouldn't post, natch. Don't tell me what I can't post. You're not my real mom.

The world is an ugly place, and these posts are not helping anyone.

Sure. I've seen silly posts on Facebook and Twitter and Snapgrab and elsewhere. And I've seen authors going on and on about their writing habits. They'll tell you that they wrote 1,500 words that morning, had a great call with an editor, or enjoyed a phone interview with a podcaster. Many writers enjoy posting about the "authoring" aspect of writing. I don't have a problem with that.

I do appreciate Mr. Iglesias's points, though, even if he is a little harsh.

You're a writer and you wrote some words, so what?

In his LitReactor post, he argues against a number of posts, including:

  • Vaguebooking 
  • Fake blurbs 
  • Complaining about editing 
  • Play-by-play updates

Like I said, I appreciate that some folks don't care for these author posts. I don't mind them. Here's why.

When I see an author complaining about the editing process, I am happy, at least for a few moments. My energy each day is derived from a careful mixture of bold coffee and bitter schadenfreude. I enjoy seeing other authors in pain. It makes my own pain more bearable. Please, post that you have spent all weekend editing your 80,000-word manuscript. That's great. You probably had to spend all that time editing because your writing stinks. Maybe you write too fast. Maybe you should outline more. Heck, maybe the writing life isn't for you.

And posting fake blurbs? Yeah, I've seen authors posting anonymous reviews of their books or manuscripts telling their friends/fans that "a hero of mine" has just "raved" about the new book. That is great. Please post that. The rest of us see your post and know what you're doing, and we're emailing back and forth about you and laughing our asses off. This is great. It makes me so happy to see that. Please, keep trying to prop yourself up with nonsense. That's wonderful.

Sharing play-by-play updates about each scene that you wrote or that you just wrote some "killer" dialog in your murder mystery? That's great. Keep doing that. If I enjoy what you're posting, then I won't have to read it. It will be like when I read a good review of a book. I usually don't have to go out and read the book itself. If' I've read a thorough, 3,000-word review of your new novel, why would I want to read your novel? The paper/magazine loved it and explained why. That's cool. I feel like I've read it and can now fake my way through a discussion of it at a conference or on a panel or if I ever have to be near you at an event. Same with your posting about a scene you've just written. If I like it, great. And if I read it and I think it's dumb, then I won't have to read your book, either. You're saving me time and money. I appreciate that, champ.

Authors should post whatever they want. If it's dumb, I'll be happy for many reasons. If it's great, I'll be happy for other reasons. The key to having many, many author friends is to be positive and optimistic, the way I am. Cheers.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Someone Murdered Somebody in Brentwood

by Holly West

We finished watching O.J.: Made in America last night. A few things about it surprised me, including the fact that it's about eight hours long. I don't know where I've been these many months since it was released, but I thought it was a standard-length documentary film.

Not that it matters. I just point it out because others might not know, either.

It's important to note that the documentary is not just about O.J. Simpson and his murder trial. It examines race in America and Los Angeles and how it intersects with who O.J. was, who he became, and who he is now. It's a complicated story that at least deserves the eight-plus hours it takes to tell. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

This post is likely to be a bit random, because my thoughts about O.J. Simpson and the murders of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman are, to an extent, random. In 1994, when the murders happened, I was in my early twenties and living alone in a one-room bachelor apartment in the Wilshire District of Los Angeles. My boyfriend was black. The world was captivated by the O.J. Simpson trial and Los Angeles was obsessed with it, but my memories of my life then, including the O.J. Simpson trial, are random, as memories often are.

Random Thought #1

I'll begin by saying that on June 12, 1993, I had a frightening dream culminating in this image: SOMEONE MURDERED SOMEBODY IN BRENTWOOD was scrawled in blood in the center of a street. That's all I remember. The dream itself was random--at the time, I don't think I'd ever been to Brentwood, though I'd lived in Los Angeles several years by then. There was also no event that prompted the dream. All I know is that I awoke with serious case of the heebie-jeebies and a racing pulse.

On June 12, 1994, a year to the day after I had that dream, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered in Brentwood. It's possible I'm exaggerating for effect here, as I'm not 100% sure of the date of my dream, but I do know it was in mid-June the year before. So let's just say it happened on the same day. When I heard about the murders, the dream was the first thing I thought of and I still think of it whenever the subject of the murders comes up.

Random Thought #2

I mentioned above that my boyfriend at the time was black, and about ten years older than me. I loved him, but even then I knew things weren't destined to work out between us. I'm paraphrasing now, because I don't remember exactly how the conversation went, but in reference to O.J. Simpson's trial, he told me he thought maybe the jury should let O.J. off because he was black. Like maybe O.J.'s guilt or innocence was less important than balancing the scales of justice in favor of blacks, for once.

This conversation isn't why we eventually broke up, but I was surprised he'd suggest such a thing. I wasn't a football fan, but I'd grown up seeing O.J. on television and I liked who I perceived him to be. I didn't want it to be true that he killed Nicole and Ron, but I wasn't prepared to throw reality out the door just because I wanted him to be innocent. To me, an acquittal of O.J. Simpson just didn't seem an appropriate response to racial injustice.

Now, having watched O.J. Simpson: Made in America, I realize how clueless I was as to what was going on at the time and to the events (like the Rodney King beating) that led up to O.J.'s eventual acquittal. Granted, I was young, and as a white girl raised in small town Whiteville, I had only the vaguest notions of what racial injustice actually meant. There's no question I accepted it as truth, but I didn't have an understanding of how it plays out in every day lives. I still strive to understand.

Random Thought #3

Around the time of the trial, my mom was having a conversation about it with some coworkers and one of them (a white male) said something along the lines of "that's what Nicole gets for being with a black man." Horrifying, right? My mom set him straight, but I'm still furious when I think about it.

Random Thought #4

There is very little doubt in my mind that O.J. Simpson killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Reliving the trial through O.J.: Made in America hits home just how much evidence there was against him. He's no hero of mine, especially since we also know he routinely abused his wives and probably others. And yet, there's still a part of me that wishes it wasn't him that did it.

Random Thought #5

There were aspects O.J. Simpson's story that reminded me of Donald Trump and the times we're living in now. I'd have to watch it again to be more specific, but just know I saw some similarities/parallels both in behavior and attitude between the two men.

Final Thoughts

It's always difficult for me to write about race because it's a complicated subject and I wonder if my voice is relevant to the discussion. I'm also afraid of saying the wrong thing. I'm aware this blog post isn't any sort of detailed examination of the subject, but I'm not sure I'm prepared (or qualified) for an in depth discussion. I might not ever be. I only want to say that O.J.: Made in America was important for me to watch and I think it's important for others to see, too.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

New Environment

J David Osborne here. I'm housesitting for Scott in beautiful Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. I'm taking care of his dog, this wonderful cockapoo named Sapphire. She's an energetic pooch (she's a puppy). There are also cats, creatures I am not entirely familiar with, who seem entirely indifferent to my existence in their space, save for an incident last night where the orange one decided to knock my books off the shelves while maintaining a very cat-like eye contact.

I'm adjusting to the city just fine. The first few days were tough for me: I'm a kid from Oklahoma, and I've spent the past three years in Portland, Oregon. Portland's got the trees and Oklahoma has the sky, but neither of those environments are enough to prepare someone for the sudden culture shock of New York City.

I had to start off slowly. Little trips here and there: the bodega around the corner, the five minute walk to the grocery store, etc. Before I knew it I'd gotten on the subway. The F train was gone (who stole the F train?) replaced by the D, and so I took the G too far and ended up even farther from my destination (Uptown) than I'd been when I'd started. I corrected it and got to my destination. The lights, the push of people, the horn-honking: I can see how this place could be intoxicating for some. It's easily the most alive place I've been, save maybe Paris.

I've seen friends, I've eaten good food, but mostly I've been thinking about this strange thing that happens when we change our geographies. I know I'm not alone here, but perhaps this feeling is more acute in my dumb brain: any time I move to a new spot, it takes me a long time to adjust. It feels like my brain is trying to fit into a new mold and not quite making it. Overtime, the brain sags down into the mold; things right themselves.

I write in a lot of my books about how architecture and one's surroundings affect their output and their outlook on life. This new experience makes me wonder if there really is something to the idea that there's a thing called a "New York writer." I mean, how can there not be? There's also something called a "Portland writer," and an "Oklahoma writer." We're all products of our environment, for better or for worse.

Anyhow, tune in next week for guest author David Bowles, who writes about his new collection of short stories Chupacabra Vengeance, out this Wednesday from Broken River Books. I'll be fine here, I think. For a few weeks, at least.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Big Love

Tissue paper hearts tucked away in well-loved books. Heart-shaped boxes, at one time teeming with candy, now empty and set on a shelf. Pink. Red. Cupid. Love.  February 14 has come and gone. Safe in our rear-view mirror. The Valentine sweet rush has faded to a drowsy sugar crash.

I’m not a romantic. When my husband bent down on one knee to ask me to marry him, on a pier, under the moon with water gently splashing the sand below, I nailed him in the chest with my fist, pushing him to the ground like a turtle stuck on his back and covered my face. “Yes. Cut it out!”

My septic heart can’t even enjoy the sweetness of young love for long. My daughter, ten-years old, received a chocolate rose with a sweet note from a lovely young man, also ten. This boy has given my girl chocolate for Valentine’s for the past three years. Christmas presents and Halloween candy, too. Just a treat to let her know he thinks she’s special. Aww.

Blech. For some reason, romance has always seemed manipulative to me. Dishonest. Like the lover with the roses in hand is trying to trick me. Trick or treat? It’s a costume or a mask, romance is not real. It’s an imagined version of ourselves presented on a platter. To entice. Woo. Lure.

Valentine’s Day is a pastel knockoff of Halloween. You act differently than you do most of the year and give out candy but you don’t get to dress up in zombie masks, hang reapers from your oak tree or generally scare the hell out of people. Maybe, we paint over all the pink and start calling February 14th Second Halloween.

There are other types of love that are way better than the idealistic, starry-eyed, Valentine’s kind. “The Body”, by Stephen King, illustrates the painful path away from childhood for a group of forever friends, the insane adventure as well as the ugly, life-changing reality.

It. Goonies. Stranger Things. See the connection? Love of friends. Sure, there are romantic threads through lots of great stories. Romance is a catalyst. A starting point for, hopefully, a long and diverse tale.

My dad is suffering from cataracts and is almost blind. He’s completely deaf and because of his rheumatoid arthritis can’t use his hands to grip. Also, due to the RA, he has a hard time swallowing and can’t keep weight so he comes in at a whopping 100 pounds.

My mother survived stage three kidney cancer. She kicked breast cancer’s ass, as well, and recently had a cyborg pelvis put in to replace her own, wonky structure. She too is a wisp, 98 pounds soaking wet. Still, as they bump into each other inside their tiny kitchen, fetching treats for their new kitten, they are laughing and patting each other’s hands.

“We may be falling apart but at least were doing it together,” my mom grins and stares at the wall, thinking it’s me. It’s not romantic but its real and deep. It’s what comes after the beginning.

Romance is like candy. It’s a delicious treat every now and again but a steady diet is sure to play havoc with your brain and body. Cupid’s big day feels a little forced.

Sitting side by side at the doctor’s office, holding hands during a terminal diagnosis. Standing beside each other, weak and full of grief, while saying goodbye to a dying parent. Loving each other through the ugly. Real love. Epic love.

On this February 14, my husband waited for both girls to return from school and they all whisked out the door to pick up a surprise for me. When they returned, arguing about who chose the best present, they screamed Happy Valentine’s day.

My little one gave me a sweet crystal bear holding a red heart. Not surprisingly, I find this knick-knack on her bed side table more often than my own. My husband gave me the world’s biggest Hershey bar because he is very wise and my oldest passed me a pink and red card with a lovely lesbian couple on the front. Yup, we’ve got a big future ahead of us. I’ve got epic love.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

I Really Made That Mistake Eleven Times?

I got the copy edited manuscript for Another Man’s Ground four days ago. This is the stage when a person of exacting standards and keen grammatical skill scrutinizes every word, punctuation mark, and fact in 338 pages of text. This person is my best friend.
I’m reading through everything – accepting changes, evaluating suggestions, answering questions. I’m about halfway through and so far, it’s become apparent that I don’t know how to punctuate around an em dash. And that I miscounted the number of days that transpire between two significant plot points. And that I call one character different names in different chapters (Bill or Lee – pick one!).
This might sound like painful reading, but I love it. I am very, very picky about details and grammar, and I enjoy delving back into my book at that level. It’s great to have a copy editor who has the same (or greater) level of obsessiveness as I do. I also appreciate not looking like an idiot when the book comes out.
And if a book copy editor can keep a writer from looking stupid, that’s nothing compared with what a newspaper copy editor can do. Having a fictional character with two different names is one thing, but imagine spelling the name of the city’s mayor wrong. On the front page. Or mixing up the numbers of a phone hot line that the copy editors catch because they called it right before deadline and discovered it went to somebody’s Aunt Marge and not the animal shelter featured in the news story.
I don’t think I ever spelled the name of a politician in one of my cities wrong, but I did once spend an entire breaking police story writing that a priceless Aston Martin was stolen from an airplane hanger. Now, a “hangar” is where you park an airplane. A “hanger” is what you put a coat on. Thankfully, one of the best copy editors in the business caught it, and my front page story ran error-free.
Who can ask for a better friend than that?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Chekhov’s and Chandler’s Corollary: Character

Scott D. Parker

A writer’s trope, attributed to famed playwright Anton Chekhov, goes something like this: if you show a gun on the mantle in chapter 1, then that gun better go off in some future chapter. It’s the art of foreshadowing.

Another trope, likely attributed to some nameless pulp writer, is that if your story is mired down, have a guy show up in a room with guns blazing. Then your characters have to react to the gunslinger. Okay, so I just looked that up and the quote is attributed to Raymond Chandler. The official quote is this: “When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” Some websites call this Chandler’s Law.

Well, I think the two authors might be interested in knowing a new corollary might now exist: Chekhov’s and Chandler’s Character. I could go with CCC but that reminds this historian too much of the Civilian Conservation Corps from the 1930s.

You see, earlier this week—on Valentine’s Day no less—I was hitting a wall. I was in a necessary exposition chapter, but as I’m writing this novel with my pants on, I wasn’t too sure what would happen next. If I followed Chandler’s Law, I’d have a gunman enter the room. My novel is a western so that’s not too difficult. Instead, however, I created a brand-new character. She walked into the scene—literally—and she solved everything.

In one fell swoop, I had a new character with whom my two railroad detectives could interact. Because she’s a lady, my titular hero, Calvin Carter, a ladies man if there ever was one, suddenly had to make sure his tie was straight and his charm offensive in place. Having Carter charm the ladies is one of the great pleasures of writing the character.

Most importantly, however, Aurora Ashe was able to link the story Carter had experienced up to that chapter and the rest of the story. (I have a decent idea of the ending, but nothing close to 100%.) Her presence unlocked the door that allowed me to walk through it, fingers flying across the keyboard, words magically appearing on the screen. It was rather liberating. The word count reflected the change, too. On Monday, I only eeked out 1274 words. Valentine’s Day was 1591. The 15th saw 2456. With her on stage, I was again on the fast track to the end of the book.

Have y’all ever had that happen in your writing, when a brand-new character you never saw coming suddenly takes over and clears the cobwebs for you?

Friday, February 17, 2017

San Diego Comic Fest!

On Sunday I'm going to be at San Diego Comic Fest to promote Black Sails, Disco Inferno while participating in a fun panel alongside fellow San Diego area writers Tone Milazzo, Indy Quillen, Chad Stroup, Israel Finn, and Lara Campbell McGehee. If you've got a pass, you can come hang out at the Kirby Cafe with us and listen to us discuss the business of writing as authors who, like most people, aren't cashing James Patterson checks.

I've never been on a live panel before, so it'll be a lot of fun. More info on Comic Fest here.

I've been working on my notes for the panel, and I obviously can't get into it here, two days before the real thing, so I'm going to leave you with this video of the band I'm seeing tonight and wish you a happy weekend. Hope to see you Sunday!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

George Saunders

from Steve Weddle

Perhaps George Saunders is a writer more talked about than read, as the saying goes. David Foster Wallace.Virginia Woolf. Thomas Pynchon.

Saunders's shorts have won many awards. Hell, maybe all the awards. And now his debut novel is out, and it hardly seems as if he's a debut novelist. He's already been the literati's poster boy for years, and I've enjoyed many of his stories so far. Nice to see LINCOLN IN THE BARDO getting love.

The AV Club liked the book

Vulture liked the book and talked to Saunders

My Goodreads friend Faith liked it

NPR said it was bizzare

UPDATE: Keith Rawson said a thing

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

That's Entertainment

It is the writer's first duty to entertain.

But that doesn't mean you have to entertain everybody. I found James Joyce's Ulysses incredibly entertaining, because I am a lit nerd and recognized more of the references than some. It drives plenty of people away, and there's nothing wrong with that, them, or Ulysses for that matter. I'm sure writing it entertained the hell out of Mr. Joyce.

If the book doesn't entertain you, how can you expect it to entertain anyone else?

I like to learn. So the books I enjoy most introduce me to new discoveries, concepts, people, cultures, history, and so on. Crime fiction introduced me to the underworld, to New Orleans, to the rough living made by ship-scrappers on the coasts of Africa, and so many other new experiences. And this is how I learned to write; to share my own experiences, the little things I have learned about the world and the weird creatures on it called people, and the inexplicable actions they take every day.

In Blade of Dishonor I researched the Devil's Brigade, the First Special Service Force, a joint command between the US and Canada during World War II whose exploits were never, in my opinion, properly told. Tarantino references them in Inglourious Basterds and there was a forgettable movie in the '60s, but these were commandos who struck terror into the hearts of the SS. So I made the centerpiece of my book about them, and one daring soldier chosen to embark on a suicide mission.... well, for the rest, read the book. You'll be entertained.

I heard an amusing story from my sister, about when she worked for an animal welfare charity, about The Neuter Scooter. And that became "The Big Snip," which Lawrence Block chose for his Dark City Lights collection, and Kristine K. Rusch selected for her Year's Best Crime & Mystery Stories 2016

For Bad Boy Boogie I needed to do much more research. I watched fights from security cameras in New Jersey's Eastern State Prison (aka "Rahway"). I read the Louisiana State prison newspaper, The Angolite, to learn about work programs. I found that the American with the most mechanical repair certifications is currently serving a life sentence in Angola prison. I didn't need to research the daily operations down at the Newark docks, because I worked there for eight years, and the stories I told always fascinated people. So the docks are in the book. I worked next to relatives of Vincent "the Chin" Gigante and Lefty Ruggiero during that time. It was... entertaining. 

And I bet reading about it will be, too...

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

When Attention Returns to Movies

Writer and Broken River Books publisher James David Osborne guest blogs today, talking about his rediscovered appreciation for the movie watching experience.   


               For a time I couldn’t even watch movies. I’d click over to Netflix and look at all the preview images and think “where do I even start?” Then I’d click out of it and head over to Facebook for a nice helping of bite-sized chunks of dog shit.
            Attention is difficult to control. We all do it. Most of us are good at hiding it. Be real for a second, though: it’s hard to pay attention now. Especially with that phone dinging, with the e-mail marching into your inbox, and with the flood of new stuff that all looks so good.
            Maybe “looking good” was the problem. Maybe I liked it all in theory. I liked the movies when they were synopses that couldn’t disappoint me.
            Spending two hours staring at a screen, screens that have trained me to click away from this over to that, to learn as much as I can as fast as I can, well, that made my chest hurt. Add onto that the possibility that the movie might not be any good? Deep breaths, David.
            Didn’t have a problem with books, oddly enough. I could still get into those. In that spirit, I reevaluated my relationship to film. Didn’t I read some bad books? Didn’t I read some great ones? More often than not, though, didn’t I take something away from each experience, good or bad?
            I started a job that afforded me a lot of free time, including the opportunity to watch about two movies per shift. My books called to me from my backpack, but no, I was going to sit down and watch some movies. At that point, I’d seen a handful of films in the past year: Green Room, Elle, Ju-On, and Yakuza Apocalypse.

             I went over to Jedidiah Ayre’s “Hardboiled Wonderland” blog and added his recommendations into my Netflix queue. Overlap: he mentioned Too Late, and William Boyle had also mentioned that one when I talked to him for my podcast. Shot in five long takes and arranged in a non-linear fashion, it’s a neo-noir detective film and if there’s gonna be a movie that makes me like movies again, maybe this would be it. I clicked the play button. Bill had warned me that the first twenty minutes almost made him turn it off. He wasn’t lying.
            Everything I disliked about film came flooding back to me. The dissonance between what was on the page (in this case the screenplay) and how it came out of the actors’ mouths set my teeth on edge. That guy with the pompadour tawkin’ in that fake Suthin accent…make it stop. The hyperreal dialogue and why did they get Rider Strong and NONE OF THIS IS COMPELLING OR MAKES SENSE… Sure, it looked pretty. But goddamn. My finger hovered over the X in the corner. Ready to blow the escape hatch and barrel roll out.
            No. Wait.
            I sat through the whole thing. I hated about half of it. But, look: strokes of genius! How great is John Hawkes? Every second he’s on the screen, it’s worth watching. And look: when he meets the troubled dead woman from the first scene in a flashback, all of a sudden she’s acting fantastically. How interesting, that actors can vibe and play off of each other in that way. Can’t get that with a book. And that musical number at the end of part three. That was great. The whole “redneck boxing” thing: hilarious. Hmm.
            Enough to get me interested, at least.

            I queued up De Palma next. What better way to reignite interest in a medium than to watch a documentary about one of its masters? Did not disappoint. There’s tons of fantastic information, and I loved his uncompromising attitude, and his “so it goes” mentality when it came to his duds and his successes. That one really got me fired up. I had to get a meta-look at the whole thing.

            The Trust followed. I loved the shit out of that one. It moves so smoothly, and Nicolas Cage is so good in it playing every stepdad in history, only psychotic and murderous (which, I mean, maybe still stepdad qualities? Mileage may vary). Once the actual heist kicked in, however, I started losing interest. The tension built nicely, sure, but we know where these things are going. Throw a monkey wrench in it. Okay, there’s a woman in the apartment above the safe they’re trying to crack. We see where this is going, right? One of them is going to catch feelings and it’ll be their undoing. No spoilers here, but come on. We know.
            The whole thing wraps up nicely, though. It’s been my favorite so far. The dialogue is crisp and well-delivered. Some of those shots are things of beauty (the garish tiki bar, the inside of the safe), but we’re touching on what drove me away from film in the first place: the predictability. The fact that story is boiled down to an A, B, and C, and it’s up to the filmmaker to make that interesting. I don’t like the A, B, and C. I want to jump over to Z and work back, skipping all the bullshit letters along the way.

       Which brings me to Dog Eat Dog, a film that pretty much does exactly that. More a series of vignettes than a proper film, I loved the insanity of this flick from beginning to end. It starts off with basically a short film about a psycho looking for a place to stay. The opening ends ugly. And the movie stays ugly. We’re introduced to the band of lowlifes plotting one last score.  Not a moment spent on character development. Well, maybe one. The final scenes, the fog and reds and blues shifting, Cage doing Bogart…it’s all maniacal brilliance. Okay. I’m back to liking movies again.
            What does it say, though, that even though I claim to prefer wild, reckless structure to straightforward plotting, that I liked The Trust better than Dog Eat Dog?
            I’m dipping my toes back in, and I’m not sure what I think anymore. Which is what I like about art in general: it’s ability to make me feel two things at once, to be proved wrong over and over, and occasionally, to utterly disappoint me.
            There are now 25 movies in my Netflix queue. I no longer fear the heavy click.