Saturday, May 20, 2017

Packing for the Hospital

Scott D. Parker

I had to accompany my wife to the hospital this week. She needed surgery--success!--and I was to spend the night with her. Plus there was the waiting time. Clearly, I needed reading material. I hope I'm not alone in the following packing regimen.

First thing in the bag was the Kindle Paperwhite. It is my go-to reading device when I don't read a paperback. This would account for the novels I'm reading especially at night when the lights were out. Then, if I wanted to pass the time reading some comics, I packed my Kindle Fire. It's the little one that you can hold in one hand. I've got a lot of comics on that thing no matter what my mood. I threw in an old issue of BACK ISSUE magazine I picked up at Comicpalooza last week. These are great magazines that features long articles and interviews about this history of comics and their creators. The latest issue of MEN'S JOURNAL found its way in the bag. And, well, I am a writer so I tossed in the Bluetooth keyboard to link up with my iPhone when I write on the go. Then there was the yellow legal pad with pens.

Hey. I was going to be gone from the house a day.

Now, guess how much I read? Four pages of MEN’S JOURNAL. The rest of the time I was in the hospital bubble be it waiting for the surgery with my mom and sister-in-law or tending to my wife in the immediate hours after recovery. There’s something very pure when it’s just the two of us, alone, no other cares than those in that hospital room, and we just spend time together. Despite the circumstances, I rather enjoyed the time. And I didn’t even miss the reading.

But I packed like I was going away for summer camp. I just can’t help myself.

Surely I'm not the only reader here who packs like this?

(This is the kind of post you get when I'm still recovering from the productive night at the hospital. And by productive I mean the ability to snatch not-enough-sleep in between nurses' visits. More next week.)

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Ted Bundy Movie with the Trainwreck Title

They're making a Ted Bundy movie with the kid from High School Musical, and they're calling it Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Holy crap, that title. Whenever I think of Zac Efron I think of my old roommate's ten year old daughter and her obsession with the Disney movies even though Efron's been "all grown up" for years. I can't stop thinking of him as a pre-teen heart throb, but I wasn't particularly bothered by his casting as Bundy. Bundy gets a rap as being handsome and charming, and Efron can pull off both.

In fact, Zac Efron as Ted Bundy is the thing about this movie I like the most. The title reads like a working title, or, not even that. Like they described what they wanted the movie to be, and decided "Fuck it, let's call it that!" The director is the guy who did Blair Witch 2 (Like... what?!) and the premise is at best confusing. All early press has been Efron playing Bundy, but the film is supposed to be told through the eyes of his longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer. The problem with that is... there doesn't seem to be any casting information on her, and she wasn't actually involved in... well anything. She went back and forth between vehemently defending Bundy against allegations and secretly calling the tip line to report him. I'm not sure what the hell the movie is going to be about if it's told from her point of view. While the story of her internal debates and fear for herself and her daughter may be very interesting, it would seem dismissive to focus on the way he victimized her without getting into the actual murders he committed - none of which she witnessed or was involved in. 

To make matters worse, TMZ interviewed Bundy's lawyer (who is shopping his memoirs around, because of course he is) and ran this: "Efron's background as a charming heartthrob gives him an edge tapping into Bundy's persona -- the smooth talking, good looking guy who seduced young women."

Bundy didn't "seduce" young women, he kidnapped and murdered them. 

It's not a direct quote so I don't know who to put the blame on, but let's all just take a moment to vomit and move on. There's all sorts of buzz about this movie, but I gotta tell ya - there are only two things I think about when I think about Ted Bundy. The terror he caused, and the look of his dead eyes after his execution. Neither give me any comfort, and neither make me think of "seduction." 

I have a personal and professional interest in Bundy and the way he turned being an inoffensive looking young Republican into a way to meet and murder girls - but this movie makes me nervous for a lot of reasons. I hope I'm wrong. It would be really fantastic to see Bundy through the eyes of a woman who trusted him. Kloepfer is another victim of Bundy's when all is said and done.

I don't think the public interest in Ted Bundy is going to quell anytime soon, and this movie is already getting attention from every angle. With Efron as the star, it will probably attract a whole new crew of Ted-Heads who can't help but be charmed by the facade Bundy put out, even as they consume the gory details of the horrible things he did. Of course, that's not the film's fault, nor is it the actor's. It's the strange reality of Ted Bundy, and what keeps him popular. It's what allows his lawyer to refer to his crimes as "seduction."I hope it's a good film. I hope it treats the victims with respect. I'm not holding my breath.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Writing, Self-Promotion, and Real Life

By Court Merrigan, Guest Post

I haven't updated my blog since December 15, 2014, and it's been a lot longer than that since I updated the site itself (where you will still see advertised my collection of short stories, which came out in 2012). At one point I had almost totally torn myself away from social media, ignoring Facebook, never logging onto Twitter for more than five minutes at a time. Then my publisher, Beat To a Pulp, gave me the release date for my new novel, The Broken Country: Being the Scabrous Exploits of Cyrus & GalinaVan, Hellbent West During the Eighth Year of the Harrows, 1876; With an Accountof Mappers, Bounty Hunters, a Tatar, and the Science of Phrenology. So I started tweeting and posting again, sorta. No one's perfect.

This, I am told, is a bad idea. I should be engaging in a continuous publicity process of various sorts and sizes, blog tours, a social media blitz, the whole works. I am sure this is true. Among my other failings, I am failing to expand on my personal brand.

Now, I grew up on a farm in western Nebraska. On this farm, we raised cattle. Every spring, these cattle received a brand, a real one.

Not very romantic, I'm afraid; like this picture,
we used a cattle chute and an electric brand.
So for me, the word "brand" will always carry the scent of burnt fur and flesh, slippery cow shit on your boots, and howling bovines, a day's hard work, dinner well-deserved at its end. Meanwhile, the branded bovines carry the brand for the rest of their (short) lives. That brand signifies a profit-producing commodity owned by you, the farmer. A brand is all business. It is a perpetual motion machine, the perpetual motion supplied by your labor, namely feed and water and medicine until such time as the cow can be converted into hamburgers and leather jackets and cash. There is no whimsy in a brand. Only hard work and reality's barbed wire. The marketplace is merciless. Just ask the cow on the killing floor at the wrong end of the stun gun.

Now, I know publishing is a business (though I doubt very much that David Cranmer, who runs Beat to a Pulp is getting rich ... and if he is, WHERE'S MY CUT, DAVID? WHERE???) and I see that social media and self-promotion and personal branding can be one, too. It just happens to be a business I've never quite wrapped my head around. Like lots of people, more than a few minutes on social media leaves me feeling hollow, confused, and lost. Jealous or, vastly worse, smug with schadenfreude. I feel a lot better about my slice of the world when I'm off social media, the longer, the better.

All of this, of course, is a long preamble to say that you should buy and read The Broken Country. Now that I’m (sorta) back on social media, I’ve been yapping about my book like everyone else. Of course, since I've let my presence slide the last couple years, no one is much paying attention. Certainly not a certain breed of tactless and dull writer who treats Twitter like a Turkish bazaar, hocking their goods nonstop. That’s okay, I’m not paying attention to them, either. I’m just glad most writers have better sense.

That said, I have got some good response (and some preordering action!) from the civilians of the social media world, those who log on to post pics of their kid's dance recital and to ask friends how to keep rabbits out of the garden. Real people, in other words, the ones who, as it happens, need to be  buying your book for it to have any chance of selling in real numbers.

Am I suggesting that the best marketing strategy is to not have one? Certainly not. I'd never presume to hand out book marketing advice. After, all, I'm the guy who thinks "burnt flesh of cattle" when the word "brand" is mentioned, which is not a very 2017 kind of guy to be.

But fortunately for you, The Broken Country isn’t a very 2017 kind of book. It's set in a post-apocalyptic 1876, about as far from our current reality, wherein the device in your pocket stores the sum total of human knowledge, as you can get. (Then again, maybe the Cassandras are right and Trump will lead us over the cliff and The Broken Country will suddenly get a whole lot more relevant. Let us hope not.)

For The Broken Country, I imagined the hardest world I could think, a literal turning-back of the westbound wagon trains as America turned its back on Manifest Destiny. A world where people believe in a pseudoscience like phrenology and a man with a working sixgun is as good as a feudal lord. What sorts of characters would such a time loose on the world, I wondered, and proceeded to write this novel to find out. I hope you'll want to find out, too.

 Get Yours: The Broken Country

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Coming Home to Murder

by Holly West

A murderous timeline
During the summer of 1984, three teenage girls were murdered in my hometown. I turned sixteen that June, eight days after the first girl, a fourteen-year-old who was part of a set of identical triplets, disappeared from the downtown area. The second girl, aged eighteen, disappeared from the same area seventeen days after the first. Their skeletal remains were found in a remote area of the county the following month, within a couple miles of each other.

Four days later, the identical triplet sister of the first missing girl disappeared. Her skeletal remains were found that fall. Though it's impossible to say whether the third triplet was at risk, she was living out of the area at the time, which might've been the only thing that saved her. That, and the fact that a suspect was arrested in November 1984. He was subsequently convicted of committing all three murders and now sits on death row at San Quentin.

All this might be a bit confusing, but I'm not going into further detail because I'm in the process of writing a detailed narrative of the events leading up to the murders, the murders themselves, and the aftermath. But I need to acknowledge my friend Maria Alexander, who wrote a blog post about the murders a couple of years ago. Her memory is far better than mine, because until I read her post, I didn't remember the girls or the murders. You can learn a bit more about the murders from her post if you're interested.

The story is horrifying, tragic, and complicated. I've spent the last two weeks combing through news reports, piecing together what happened and trying to make sense of something that ultimately makes no sense. The district attorney who prosecuted the case seemed to have the same problem--though the suspect knew all three girls, there seemed to be no obvious motive. The DA ultimately came up with one, which was basically that the defendant had taken what we now call slut-shaming to its extreme by executing three girls he'd judged as being "sluts, tramps, and whores."

I don't buy that motive one hundred percent, but the DA centered his case around it and it resulted in the conviction of a man who almost certainly would've gone on to commit more murders. I'll take it.

My own amateur investigation of these killings has taken a personal turn I never expected. Many of you know I moved back to my hometown two and a half years ago after living for nearly thirty years in Los Angeles. While the move has resulted in many wonderful changes in my life, I've struggled with aspects of it: It's much more politically conservative here than I'm comfortable with, I miss friends and colleagues in Los Angeles, hell--I miss people in general since this area is far more isolated than anywhere I ever lived while I was in LA, and I miss the diversity. When I left the city, I lost a big part of my identity, and creating a new one in this new-but-old place has been difficult. Plus, I might've been connected to people in my hometown, but I was never connected to the place.

Somehow, delving into these thirty-plus year-old murders has helped me forge a connection to my hometown that didn't exist before. What began as a closer look at the killings of three teenagers who were about my age at the time (one of them attended my high school and appears in one of my high school yearbooks) has resulted in the rediscovery of a time (my youth) and place (this town) I had no desire to revisit. For a variety of reasons, I wasn't a happy youngster and even as my husband and I packed our belongings in anticipation of the long move from Los Angeles to Northern California, I knew that the boxes filled with cooking utensils and books weren't the only baggage I was bringing along with me.

But if I'm to be happy here, I need to make peace with being back in my hometown. And weirdly, investigating these murders--the events themselves and the context in which they took place--has helped me do that. The reasons are twofold. First, the year the murders took place--1984--was in the smack-dab center of my high school years. It was the summer after my sophomore year and I was miserable. But though I still struggle with bouts of misery (who doesn't) I'm not the same person I was then and as I read through newspaper articles written at the time, I view them through a different lens than I did when I first lived here. I'm here on my own terms now and I'm no longer a teenager with all the bullshit struggles teenagers live with.

Second, my hometown is pretty damned cool. At the very least, it's gorgeous, especially in the spring. I do still miss the hustle and landscapes of Los Angeles, but I can't argue that these green hills aren't a significant improvement over the typical views I encountered in LA (though I miss the ocean so very much). Plus, I love my hometown's history. This is a gold rush town and reminders of that are everywhere. I miss LA and its Hollywood folklore, but I've come to appreciate the quirks of this small town in a way I never did before. Investigating the murders has required a deeper examination of the place itself and that's led to endearment, not scorn.

I'll likely be writing more about my investigation in the future because there are related topics I'd like to discuss. But for now, I'll end this by saying I haven't been this excited about my work in a long time. That, more than anything, might be the reason for my new appreciation of my hometown.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

‘Astronaut Michael Corleone’: Tips for Flash Fiction

Scott's note: Nick Kolakowski has a new novella out, called A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps.  It's his first longer fiction work published, but he's been toiling away for years doing short stories.  Nick is equally adept at longer stories and flash fiction, and through his practice of both, he's honed his craft. You see that in his novella, which is sharply told and briskly paced, a breeze to read.  But here today, Nick in a sense goes back to his roots and talks about flash fiction, making us remember that no matter how long or short a tale is, the basic ingredients that make it work do not change.

Let Nick tell you:

‘Astronaut Michael Corleone’: Tips for Flash Fiction

By Nick Kolakowski

How short can you make a flash-fiction story?
Ernest Hemingway supposedly wrote: “For sale: baby shoes, never used.” Whether or not he really came up with that micro-tale, its six words hint at more pathos than some 1,000-page books. Read it aloud, and feel that faint rustling of sadness in your gut.
So I guess the answer to the previous question is “six words.” Maybe we should frame the query a little differently: how powerful can you make a flash-fiction story?

A Flash-Fiction Story is Still a Story

I’ve been listening to a lot of standup comedy lately. Some of the best comedians—my favorites include Marc Maron, Tig Notaro, and Patton Oswalt—can tell a devastatingly effective tale in two or three minutes. Over the course of hundreds of shows, they use the audience as a whetstone to sharpen their writing and delivery, until the tales are diamond sharp.
(Listening to standup helps with my own writing. It reminds me to craft my story arcs more tightly, and make sure they end with some sort of payoff. During the editing rounds on my new book, A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, I would sometimes take a break and listen to Oswalt’s “My Weakness Is Strong,” which is a masterwork in narrative build-up, not to mention seeming digressions that loop back to amplify his central themes.)
Some aspiring flash-fiction authors, when confronted with the need to keep a story under 700 words, end up neglecting to build a plot arc. While there’s something to be said for a vignette or a short character study, neither of those count as full-fledged stories. Even if you’re limited to a couple hundred words, you should still aspire to give your tale a well-constructed set-up, building action, and payoff. Study how the comedians do it. 

Rushing It
Last year, Ron Earl Phillips invited me to help select stories for Shotgun Honey, which serves up a regular menu of noir flash-fiction. One of the great things about the site is how it caters to many different subgenres: something with a neo-Western tinge one week, a sprinkle of splatterpunk the next, and so on. Sorting through those submissions has provided me with a little insight into what makes flash fiction effective on a nuts-and-bolts level.
Many submissions crash headfirst into the same issue: in their rush to put the story on the page, authors forget to establish the scene. Boom: people shooting other people in an ill-defined space over something and—well, nothing is made clear, even at the end. The other variation on this: the story joining two (or more) characters in mid-conversation, with precious little description beyond the dialogue—hard to pull off well, and many don’t. 
Although throwing the reader headfirst into the action is a nice technique when done right, it’s disorienting when done wrong. Having someone else read your story before you submit is a good way of avoiding this particular pitfall; they’ll tell you (hopefully) if they don’t understand what’s happening, or which character is doing what to whom.
If you want a solid example of pithy scene description, look no further than an award-winning screenplay. Venture over to or and procrastinate with the ones of your choice (it’s incredible, for example, to see how much the filmed version of John Wick differs from the first-draft screenplay, which is excellent in its own right). Thanks to the peculiarities of the screenplay format, screenwriters must do as much as possible with a lot less; scene descriptions are a line or two, action the same. And yet a good screenplay, like the movie it eventually spawns, is more than capable of conveying every ounce of necessary surprise and emotion.

Kill All Clichés

The brevity of flash fiction encourages people to rely on tropes. The serial killer with a day job as a cop; the Italian mobster out for revenge; the femme fatale posing as a meek housewife—the rejection boxes of the world are stuffed with their kind. Instead of resorting to cliché, think of flash-fiction as a relatively commitment-free test bed for your wilder concepts. Take those standard-issue mobsters, and toss them into outer space. (Actually, maybe avoid that one. I’m not sure how well Astronaut Michael Corleone would work out on the page.)
By drowning your clichés (or at least mashing them with other clichés and ideas until they become unrecognizable), pacing your narrative (despite any word-count constraints), and building to a payoff, you can craft memorable flash fiction. All you need is a great idea. What can you do with a pair of baby shoes?

Nick's novella, A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, can be found at Amazon here.


Monday, May 15, 2017

It’s almost time. Noir at the Bar presents the first Noir at the Bar Crawl. It begins this Friday, May 19th. Richmond, Virginia. We have the best local and national noir, crime, and mystery writers ready to give you the creeps. The immensely talented and undeniably charming Eryk Pruitt will be hosting the event. He is as funny as he is brutal. A stunning combination that will keep the evening insane.

The wordy fun doesn’t end in Richmond, however. Ed Aymar and Nik Korpon, aka The Glitter Twins, have organized a Noir at the Bar Crawl, after all. The following night, Saturday the 20th Ed Aymar will be hosting N@B in Washington D.C. Wonderland Ballroom. 7:00pm. Finally Nik Korpon and his Baltimore brood will be wrapping things up on Sunday the 21st. 7:00pm. Zella’s Pizzeria.  We hope you can make it to one of these shiver inspiring events. Visit the event pages below for further information.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Happy Mother's Day

Whether you mother children, pets, the people you work with, or your neighbor across the street, enjoy this day. You deserve it. Happy Mother’s Day.