Saturday, May 13, 2017

Not Writing Because of Grief and Worry

Scott D. Parker

Life dealt the family a blow last Saturday and it affected the writing.

Actually, as the week wore on, I realized it was a good thing I was in the middle of all the little tweaks needed to update the website, create Amazon and Facebook ads, etc. Frankly, I was already in that mindset. T’was a good thing, too. It was very difficult to wake at 4:30am this week. Nearly every morning, I snoozed at least 15 minutes. That ate into the writing time—that precious hour before the day gets started. Since I time every session, I made the decision on one occasion “eh, I only have fifteen minutes so why start now?” I ended up picking up some writing later in the day, but nowhere near my usual output.

But much of the legwork getting some marketing and updating completed should make this coming week more efficient…

…except for the other medical issue we have in the house.

When this month is over, it’ll likely end up being less productive that I expected it to be on 1 May.

But that’s life, huh?

Let’s hear it for there always being another day, week, or month to get back to the writing when life throws obstacles in your way.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Crime & Music: Johnny Cash

Now that the cat's out of the bag, it's time to start getting excited about Just To Watch Them Die, the Johnny Cash anthology being put out by Gutter Books, featuring my story, Thirteen.

I looked and looked for the video where I discovered the song, but I couldn't find it. Here's Johnny himself talking about it briefly before playing it live.

Imagine, just for a second, what a conversation between Danzig and Johnny Cash actually looks like. I have to hope Glenn was wearing makeup.

I love this song and I think (hope) my story does it justice. There are a ton of great stories in the antho and I can't wait until its out and I can share it with all of you.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Rocks Beat Paper BLOG TOUR: Chapter 1.4

We are joined today by someone long-time DSD fans will recall -- Mike Knowles. Mike was our original Sunday voice, back in 2009. His new Wilson novel, ROCKS BEAT PAPER, is out this week. 

A phone call brought Wilson and nine other men to a job in New York. At first, he couldn’t see a way to make the heist work, but the score — millions of dollars in diamonds — kept him looking. Wilson came up with a plan he knew would work . . . until the inside man got killed and took the job with him.
With no way inside, the crew walks away without the diamonds. Alone, Wilson is free to execute the job his way. Wilson sets a con in motion that should run as predictably as a trail of dominoes — except the con doesn’t rely on inanimate tiles, it relies on people.
Wilson pushes all of the pieces across the board only to find out that there are other players making their own moves against him. Everyone is playing to win and no one is willing to walk away because the job is about more than money, the job is about diamonds. And in this game, rocks beat paper every time.

Today, we've got the fourth excerpt from the opening chapter. You can catch up and follow along, by starting at Liz Loves Books for the first Q&A and Crime Book Junkie for the first excerpt.

Excerpt 4 
Rocks Beat Paper: A Wilson Mystery
By Mike Knowles

From Chapter 1

When it was just the two of us, I looked Miles in the eye. “Why are you here?”
“Same reason as you.”
“I’m here to work,” I said.
“Same goes for me.”
“That what you’re doing?”
“What? Those guys are assholes.”
“Those guys are here for the job.”
“So the job is only the job if it gets done. That can’t happen if you get murdered with a pool cue in the middle of a rumpus room.”
Miles clapped me on the shoulder. “So you do think this is a rumpus room.”
“Don’t know. That makes two things I don’t know.”
“What’s the other thing?”
“If this is the only job you’re working,” I said.
Miles went a beat without saying anything. It was long enough for me to let a bit of a grin form on my face and for him to rebound.
“You really comfortable with guys like that watching your back?”
I looked over the group of men as I considered my response. Alvin had gotten to his feet and was giving the room a once-over of his own. He worked hard to catch my eye, but I gave his stare the slip. “You want to work with upstanding citizens, go be a bank teller. The background checks weed out most of the riff-raff. Right now, you’re not in a bank, you’re in a basement with nine criminals. We’re all riff-raff. You’re sitting around hassling two guys because you think they’re not decent human beings. Your only concern should be if they can do what they say they can do. If they can do that, everything else they say gets a pass.”
“So you want me to give them a pass?”
“I want you to shut your mouth and keep your feelings to yourself because every time you piss them off you take their minds off the job and put the rest of us in a bit more shit.”
“You really sticking up for that white-power asshole?”
I nodded. “You want a noble thief, get a library card.”
Alvin gave up on being subtle and spoke loud enough to be heard over the rest of the conversations going on. “We ready to get started?”          
Miles ignored the question; he had one of his own for me. “Do you really think you can trust those two to watch your back?”
I looked over at Johnny and Tony and found them staring at me. I stared back until I got bored. It happened fast. “My back doesn’t need watching. I just need them to do what they say they’ll do.”
“And you think they can?”
I looked back at the two thugs. “I’m going to find out.”

Follow the tour:

Excerpt adapted from Rocks Beat Paper by Mike Knowles. © 2017 by Mike Knowles. All rights reserved. Published by ECW Press Ltd.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Write Like Nobody's Reading

“I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares." -Saul Bass

The great Megan Abbott shared that quote on the famous designer's birthday. If you don't know who Saul Bass is, you've hopefully seen many of his film credit sequences, which are brilliant and iconic:

(click to embiggen)

I'm not here to talk about those gorgeous, minimalist poster designs, but his words. Would you still write, if no one read your work?

We know of writers whose fame only came after death. Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, John Kennedy Toole, Stieg Larsson, Franz Kafka. They tried to be published. Some had little success, but they kept writing. Larsson wrote his entire sprawling trilogy before he sought publication. It was obviously a story he wanted to write. Others wrote one work and let its rejection consume them, like Toole, whose masterpiece A Confederacy of Dunces, one of my favorite books, was only published after his suicide, when his mother soldiered on.

It's upsetting to contemplate, because readers encourage the writer. We shout into the void and even if only a few kindred spirits respond, we know we are not alone. Writing can be a lonely process. I don't write in a coffee shop. I used to walk to my library and sit near the cafe with headphones in, to avoid the temptations of television and cat juggling, but now I seek the solitude of my writing nook to retreat into my inner world. It energizes me to create more, when I hear back from readers, but I know I would write whether other people read my stories or not. Because I used to write in journals long before I sent stories to editors for consideration. I told stories to my sister. I daydreamed to myself, whenever I got a case of the what-ifs? and thought of what might have been, what could be, or what I wish I'd done.

Two weeks ago I mentioned writing fearlessly, and this ties into it. If you would keep writing if no one read your stories, you can write without fear. You do not concern yourself about whether "they" will like it. You trust in yourself as a reader, and a writer. It's not to say what comes out of your pen or keyboard will be treasure, or go unedited, if you choose to share it with the world. You can burn that bridge when you come to it. And you'll come to it with a work that is uniquely yours, that you did not workshop with your own doubts and inner censors. That's what first readers and editors are for.

So to borrow another platitude, write like nobody's reading. (and ignore the snarky inner self's answer to that: "they won't!) Trust your voice, and write with daring. Trust your beta readers. Choose them wisely.

Here's another quote for you:
“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” ―Terry Pratchett

Don't forget that you are the first of your first readers. Write for yourself first, clean up later.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Kelby Losack on Heathenish

For awhile now, I've been hearing good things about the writing of Kelby Losack. I wasn't hearing much in the way of specifics, but since we share the same publisher, Broken River Books, I put stock in what I did pick up. Kelby has an honesty and a way with language, was the word, and his new novel, Heathenish, will be one I'll want to read.  So I asked for a copy when the book was ready, and I haven't been disappointed.  Heathenish is a short fast read, but it's intense.  And I thought why not talk to Kelby about it, to see where the book came from and to congratulate him on being around to tell the tale.

So here's our talk.

SCOTT ADLERBERG: I knew basically nothing about Heathenish going into reading it, so I didn’t anticipate that it’s closely based on your life at a certain time. So, first question, how long ago did these events or the events they are based on take place? 

KELBY LOSACK: The book itself starts in the winter and ends in the middle of summer the following year, something I felt was thematically important, you know – I wanted to have these seasons passing to coincide with the narrator’s personal changes – but that also happened to be the way things went down, as far as events that inspired the book.  And those events took place a little over three to four years ago.

So Heathenish, though it’s not confessional fiction precisely, is fiction where the author bares….a lot. You don’t shy away from showing yourself doing all sorts of illicit and less than respectable activity. What I found impressive was how you did all that, portraying a period when you’re somewhat out of control, and yet wrote with a sense of detachment. There’s no self-indulgence in the book - the usual pitfall for the “young” author writing about himself. You’re in control, writing about yourself being somewhat out of control. How did you get to that detachment, if that’s the best word for it, while writing? Was that something that came naturally to you or that you had to work toward, going through various drafts and editing?

The short answer is it came naturally, but that’s because – in the beginning, at least – I did not want to write this book. J. David Osborne asked me to write it – and I’m glad he did now, because it was very cathartic and seems to be connecting well with people – but it took a lot of mental gymnastics and encouragement from my wife to get the words out. I wasn’t happy with where I came from, what I had very recently separated myself from, and so it was only natural to detach myself from what was going on the page in order to keep myself from sinking in to a deep depression.  I was determined to be honest about it, though.  So it was a tough balancing act of baring my tarnished soul while also being a little cold about it, keeping a safe distance from myself.

On your About the Author page, it says about you, “This is his second novella since his rap career never took off.”  Unusual to see an author implying, even if partly in jest, that they are writing sort of as a consolation activity to their main creative love.  Is that true?  Is writing books a creative thing you fell into because music hasn’t taken off for you, or were you always doing both at the same time?

The joke of it is that I was ever chasing a career in rap. But there is truth in there, yeah. For as long as I can remember, I've been into music. From learning any instrument I could get my hands on to writing songs to figuring out the production and engineering side of it, I've always been obsessed with anything about music. But I've also just always been into art. There was never a decision like, "I'm done with music, I'll write books now," there was just a point where I decided to start writing books and my love of music spilled into that, for sure. The way I see prose is I'm trying to feel out a rhythm, same way I would approach a beat when rapping, which I still love to do. I like to bounce around between creative endeavors. One of these days, I'll probably drop a mixtape. 

Heathenish is certainly about more than the joys and displeasures of the drug life, but it is a good addition to that select library where drugs and intoxication figure prominently. It's an honorable literary tradition, stretching way back at least to the days of Poe and Thomas de Quincey. Do you have any particular favorites, from old or newer books, in the drug lit category? And did any give you any ideas about how to approach this type of material?

Jesus' Son and Trainspotting were each like my bible while writing Heathenish. I love that vignette style that allows the narrative to just jump from one interesting or pivotal scene to the next one, with total disregard for filling in the blanks. That method is perfect for these drug-infused stories, because that's what it's like to live in that state of mind--you're here and then you're somewhere else, and the in-between is often a bit hazy. Let's see, what else... oh, A Scanner Darkly might be my favorite Philip K. Dick. I love the way he turned real life experiences into sci-fi insanity.

While these narratives have seemingly been being told for as long as the drugs they depict have existed, it seems like there's been a recent rise of tales that empathetically represent the low life--sort of a gutter renaissance--maybe enough for it to be considered a sub-genre. Tiffany Scandal's Jigsaw Youth, Troy Weaver's Witchita Stories, Constance Ann Fitzgerald's Glue, and J. David Osborne's Black Gum are recent favorites that come to mind.

Yeah, I definitely thought of Black Gum a little bit as I was reading Heathenish. And that's a good point about the depiction of low-life existence, as you call it. Well-put. One thing: these stories seem often to take place in a kind of semi-urban to rural back drop. The environment is key. Your book captures this very well. Not just what's going internally with the narrator but how he fits into the world immediately around him, how that world impacts him. Want to talk a little about where you grew up and the environment portrayed in the book?

Yeah, man, I've always been in a fight against the pitfalls of where I grew up, which is just south of Houston, near the Gulf of Mexico. This is a place where the more urban areas owe most of their growth to the chemical plant, a place I thankfully only worked at once. The air is polluted, the beach is trash, and good jobs are hard to come by. And there's a small town kind of mindset that is present even in the developing cities, probably because it's just a few minutes of driving before you see feed stores and farm land... towns where everyone knows everyone's business. We have the beach, the woods, and the city in our backyard, all at once. You'd think it's paradise, but growing up, it felt like hell. I don't know, man, it's strange coming up in a place that has no solid identity.

It seems a place where there isn't a lot to do so you have to invent your own excitement. I mean teenagers do that everywhere of course - make their own excitement - but in a place like you describe it sounds like you don't have much choice. It's somehow find shit to do in this nebulous place or you have nothing to do.

That's a spot-on critique of it. The boredom breeds frustration and frustration influences a generation of teenagers to become criminals or artists or both.

That's my personal experience and observation of a lot of people I grew up with, at least. There's exceptions, of course. It just takes a lot of personal responsibility and focus on something positive to not become a product of your environment. That's the constant struggle here, it seems.

Has anyone from that world, people you hung out with, relatives, your parents, read any parts of Heathenish? It'd be interesting to get their feedback on it.

My mom took a long time to get through it. It made her sick to her stomach, but by the end, she said she was glad she read it. I think my dad is waiting for the paperback, to be able to hold it in his hands. I can imagine it's a tough thing for either of them to read. Soon as I put the last word on the page, I gave it to Erika [Kelby's wife] to read, and she spent close to an hour in silence, gave me a tearful hug when she set it down. As far as people I hung out with, there's going to be some that pick it up, I'm sure, because I've still got some supportive friends who have gone on to do better things and make something of themselves, didn't fall victim to the traps. A lot of friends I had to ditch, though, when I walked away from the shit I was getting into. I don't think they'll read it.

One question I find hard to avoid, and which I think a lot of readers will wonder about - the kids. The tension between the narrator's drug-thug life and his fatherhood time is stark. And vividly drawn. You see him trying, young as he is and despite his situation with his ex, the mother, to be responsible and on top of things with the kids. Then (and I don't want to give too much away here), the kids just figure less in the story. Now, regardless of how things with them unfolded in real life, did you worry about how that whole indeterminate scenario with the kids would come across to the reader? As far as how they regard the narrator at the end. Things are looking better for him, cool, but....It's a sensitive and tough area to write about - parenthood and children.

I thought about that a lot and figured, you know what, there are always people who think because they have kids that they are enlightened to all things parenthood and can tell every other parent what to do, and those types will judge no matter how hard a person is trying. But then there are the people who struggle with their kids, but don't want to vocalize that or admit it--usually even to themselves--and maybe if I was just straightforward and didn't dress anything up, those kinds of people would be able to relate in some way, and I'm always more on the side of the underdog than the people with their noses up, so I just put it on the page for people to take how they will. It's a tough subject, but what are we writing for? Why make it easy on the reader or on ourselves? I want to keep people's thinking in the grey areas as much as possible.

You talked about some of drug-lit type books you like and how they influenced Heathenish. What about crime fiction? Are you a crime fiction fan? Any authors in that area you particularly like?

I dig on crime fiction a lot--in books, movies, and music especially. Gangsta rap takes up most of the bytes on my iPod. In books, the type of crime that I'm most interested in are the ones that don't focus much on the crime, but exist in that world. Does that make sense? Like, I just recently watched Moonlight, which feels like it exists in a crime fiction world, but it's not a crime story. I dig those stories. Which, sort of coming full circle, is what initially attracted me to Broken River. I have a feeling you and I might be on the same page with that.

As far as authors I dig... I don't know, trying to think of names is hard, because I know I'll forget some good ones. Elmore Leonard, of course. I like Harry Crews, too. The ones I'm not sure how to define are always my absolute favorite, though, so my favorite crime authors probably aren't technically crime authors, if that makes sense.

It does. Sounds like you're talking about authors whose stories involve crime in one way or another, but not what you'd call genre authors writing within crime fiction categories like the private eye story or the police procedural or whatever. 

I like crime fiction of many types, but we are on the same page about loving a certain kind of less classifiable fiction that has crime in it. No doubt about that. And it's great that there are indie presses like Broken River and others that want this kind of stuff. Really is. 

So, do you have anything in the works or a novel planned? I can't wait to see what you do next.

I'm working on a letter to a family member I no longer speak to in the form of a novel. Experimenting with format with this one--it's in first and second person, at least as of now, but I think it works for what I'm trying to say with it. It'll be all fiction this time, and of course it'll be crime, because when it's longer than a short story, I can't seem to break out of that world. At least not yet.

It's a rich world. And the new book sounds intriguing. You don't find many novels written in the form of letters anymore, so I'd be interested to read a contemporary one.

Well, it's been a lot of fun. I enjoyed our talk and congrats on Heathenish. It took guts to write and it's a compelling read.

Hey, it's been an absolute pleasure, man. Thanks a lot.

You can find Heathenish to buy right here.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Riding Waves or Making Them

Brian and I were chatting on the weekend about selling out. No, I don't mean that we have untold amounts of property of great worth we could cash in on so we could retire on a private island. I mean selling out creatively.

He was saying that, despite the fact that he knew that if he had an opportunity he'd sell out in a minute, he was saying how much he wants authors to swing for the fences, that too many series go on too long and lose their luster.

The risk to the artist is stagnation.

On the flip side, I commented about how often I've given my head a shake over the latest TV star who quits an iconic role because they think they can make it big in movies. Why don't they see they have a good thing going and enjoy the moment?

It struck me as odd that I had opposing views for different industries.

I know how some things work in publishing. Years ago, the shocking truth was revealed at a Harrogate panel; publishers don't want something completely original. They want something that is similar to things that are currently successful because they know how to market that type of product.

The question then, is, how do you become the one who's making waves and leading the charge, rather than the one who's simply riding someone else's wave?

I'm not sure I have any easy answers for that question. There's been some chatter, on Facebook and elsewhere lately, about trends. One discussion was about whether there was an emerging trend towards using small towns or remote settings in fiction. I wonder if it's the Fargo effect. Personally, I find just another New York or Los Angeles story a little dull. It's like the only things that happen in the world happen there. Give me someplace different. Breaking Bad did it. Fargo is doing it. Fortitude is about as far off the map as you can get.

Originality isn't just developed through setting, though. I think one has to be willing to set aside conventions and think outside the box, but also be progressive. There are some things that get tiresome in fiction. I was thinking about that with the start of season 3 of Bosch. In season 2 (run now if you haven't caught that season yet and want to avoid a spoiler) Lance Reddick's character's son is killed in the line of duty. His wife blames him for getting their boy killed. I wanted to throw something at the TV. You let your boy enter the police academy. You watched him graduate. You talked to him about his work on the police force. You didn't tell him it was too dangerous to be a cop. Nope. You were good with it, until the unthinkable happened. And at that point you react irrationally and blame Dad and end the marriage.

Because women are pure emotional reaction, right?

Homeland isn't flawless, but one of the things it does do is portray strong women. I think that they rectified this largely in season 4. Carrie's bipolar had exacerbated her emotional components in earlier seasons, but she really matures in her role in season 4 and is capable of making tough decisions, even when potential personal loss is involved. The US Ambassador is a strong compliment to Carrie's role.

I'm not saying you can't have women of all stripes in fiction, but that's the point; your women should play more than one note. So should your men. In today's increasingly complex world, returning to the same stereotypes and tropes is the equivalent of recycling trends, and in some cases this means recycling trends that aren't even fresh.

On the one hand, I realize that some of my fiction may never find a conventional home because of the limited perspective of what's considered marketable. But on the other hand, I know that if I were to ever achieve the next level of success it will be because I've swung for the fences, and stuck the landing. Ask me what I'm looking for with the stories for the Spinetingler issue, and I'm asking myself, "Has this been done before?" Challenge yourself to bring something new to the table, even if you're writing a procedural piece or a PI story or a tale of romantic betrayal.

For right now, I have the luxury of writing what I want to write, and no plans to write anything that I'm not personally interested in. I hope everything I have that gets published will mark some form of growth, whether it's the growth of writing just one POV, or the growth of crossing genre lines. Hopefully, whether it's in two years or twenty, this will help me reach a point where I produce something that makes my husband proud.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

DSD Welcomes Back Kristi Belcamino

Today I welcome back DSD alumna Kristi Belcamino. Her YA novel, City of Angels, comes out Tuesday, and trust me cuz I've read it, you do not want to miss it. It's gritty and harrowing and packs an emotional wallop. There's more on that below, but first, here's a story about staying true to your writer's heart, a subject that Kristi has mastered.

Cinderella Story
My journey to publication was a slog. A soul-crushing, ego-stomping, uphill battle through the query trenches, amassing rejection letter after rejection letter along the way. It took nearly a year and 100 rejections, but I finally did get an agent. It took another year - and many more rejections - to get a book deal. 
But that's another story. (See here and here for great advice on querying from Kristi.)
Instead of hearing my dreary—albeit somewhat typical story—let’s talk about my friend’s Cinderella Story because that’s what we all want to happen to us, right?
From appearances, my friend’s story truly is a Cinderella Story – she queries agents, gets multiple offers of representation, picks the agent who loves her the very most, said agent sells her book at auction within a few days.
Dream. Come. True. Right?
Don’t believe everything you read.
Behind every overnight success story is the truth.
So, let’s back up and see how all this went down. Keep in mind I am summarizing what really happened in a smart alec way because that’s how I am:
Once upon a time, many years ago, my friend wrote her first book. And then spent years polishing that baby. Making it sing, making it pretty. Until it was so good that her writing group members CRIED IN PUBLIC reading it. (Okay, maybe just one writing group member—who shall remain anonymous—wept in public, multiple times, reading it.) It was THAT good.
Then a year before Glass Slipper time, my friend began querying literary agents. She sends her book to an agent she admires. A super smart, butt-kicking, garnering-huge-book-deals-all-the-time agent. A Big Shot Agent.
Big Shot Agent read her book and said, “I LOVE IT. BUT.” The “but” was that the book was too darn SAD. Too many dead people. Big Shot Agent said, “I think this one dude should live. Then the book would be perfect. If you rewrite the story and the one dude lives I will love it forever and it will be the Best Book Ever.”
So, my friend rewrote the book with one dude living. He lives!
But. Her writer’s group read the new version and said, “We liked it better when dude dies.”
My friend was bummed. Majorly bummed. She’d spent months revising so dude LIVED.
I asked my friend, “So Big Shot Agent, being a Big Shot Agent, could sell your book with Dude Living. But is that the book of your heart? The book you want to see on the shelves at the bookstore when you walk in? Or do you want to see book the way you originally wrote it – with Dude Dying?”
After much soul searching, my friend decided to stick to Dude Dying version and began querying agents again. This time, she got multiple bites. Several agents were chomping at the bit to represent her. One agent said, “I LOVE IT. BUT.”
This agent said it was okay if Dude Died, but that really the whole book should be about something completely different. In other words, she would represent my friend, but wanted my friend to rewrite the entire book. Is this sounding a tiny bit familiar?
Meanwhile, another Really Awesome Big Shot Agent said, “I LOVE IT.”
No “buts.”
He told her the book was GREAT exactly as it was.
My friend did some more soul searching.
She went with the agent who loved it without any “buts.”
Even so, she worried. What if the other agents were right? What if their concerns about keeping it the way it was meant it would never sell to editors?
But this IS a Cinderella Story so we all know that didn’t happen.
Before long, her agent sent it out to editors. In a normal story (see my slog story above) it often takes a few months before editors even get back to agents about books they are considering buying.
Not in this Cinderella Story. In this story, agents began to respond within a few days. Within a week, the book sold at auction.
So, what’s the moral of this story?
Write the book you want to write. Stick to your guns. It’s worth staying loyal to the book of your heart instead of writing what someone else tells you to do. Even agents and editors. My friend refused, despite very heady temptation, to change her story. She gambled on her book never seeing the light of day. And guess what?
She won. Big time.
Cinderella Story.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Well, of course, except for the dude who died.

Kristi Belcamino is a Macavity, Barry, and Anthony Award-nominated author, a newspaper cops reporter, and an Italian mama who makes a tasty biscotti. As an award-winning crime reporter at newspapers in California, she flew over Big Sur in an FA-18 jet with the Blue Angels, raced a Dodge Viper at Laguna Seca and watched autopsies. She is the author of the Gabriella Giovanni mystery series (HarperCollins). 
Belcamino’s debut young adult mystery, CITY OF ANGELS (Polis Books), comes out May 9, 2017. Find out more at or order the book here