Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Killing: Seasons 3 and 4

Scott D. Parker

I recently finished watching the Seasons 3 and 4 of The Killing and I got to wondering something: Why do sequels typically go darker than the first?

What makes The Killing interesting is that it started dark and went even darker. Seasons 1 and 2 focuses on a single story (and I flat-out loved it). Seasons 3 and 4 has a common overarching story arc but two cases-of-the-season. Season 3 goes almost full dark from the get-go. It involves the street kids of Seattle and someone who is hunting and killing them. Add to that two characters in Detectives Linden and Holder who already battle their own demons and you’ve not exactly got a joy-filled show. I’ll admit that a few times during the ten episodes I was like “Really? They’re going there?” Yeah, they went there.

Holder is the one character who can turn on and off the charm on a dime. One moment he was jabbing street talk with other characters in his most charming way and the next he’s staring out a window, pondering death. Linden starts season 1 sad and barely rises to a smile. It’s oppressive, to be honest, and it acted as a damper on all of Season 3.

Which is a shame because the most compelling character was Peter Sarsgaard, who plays a man on death row…and Linden helped put him there. He is fantastic, and he frankly steals just about every scene he’s in. As depressing as Season 3 gets, I’d still recommend it…

…Except the last minute. Ugh! Something happens in that last minute of the season 3 finale that aggravated me and propelled the story into Season 4. The case-of-the-season in Season 4 was the brutal murder of a rich family and the only survivor is the teen-aged son three months away from graduating from a military school. If you thought Season 3 had some dark moments, Season 4 went even darker. There are moments that are downright disturbing, enough to make you shift in your chair. Tyler Ross plays the surviving son and he does a phenomenal job with his role. Joan Allen is, however, the star of this season, playing the principal/superintendent of the school. She commands the screen whenever she’s on it with her steely gaze and firm jaw line. The more the aftereffects of Season 3 played on our two detectives, the more I enjoyed Allen’s scenes.

The denouement is one I partly saw coming, odd considering the conclusion of seasons 1 and 2 I didn’t see coming at all. It didn’t detract that much, but it is still surprising. One of the things I commented about to my wife was that The Killing is that particular show that turns the viewers against its lead characters. Not in a big way, but there were a few times when I just wanted to slap them around and make them straighten up.

Then there is the epilogue. I’m still trying to determine if I liked it or not. One the one hand, when I watched it, I had a smile on my face. On the other, it might have seemed too trite. But I certainly understand the point that show runner and creator Veena Sug was after: you find your home wherever you find it, sometimes in the most unlikely of places.

If you read my review of Seasons 1 and 2—especially the length of it—you might question why I’m summing up sixteen episodes in 500 words. Frankly it is because Seasons 1 and 2, all one story, was so utterly compelling and consuming that the writers had a tall order to even match how great that first story is. And it ended in such a way to suggest that the story was done and finished, but the network decided it had a hit on their hands and renewed the show for another season.

It brought to mind the TV show “Castle,” still one of my all-time favorites. When the show runners didn’t know if the series would be cancelled at the end of Season 7, they provided an ending which was tear-inducing, warm, and great. When Season 8 was announced, I was overjoyed. What could be better than more Castle? Well, the answer was mediocre Castle.

Same thing here. I’m almost tempted to tell people to watch Seasons 1 and 2 of The Killing and walk away. My wife, the one responsible for me watching the show in the first place, disagrees, saying the finale and epilogue allow the characters some closure. I see her point and I certainly agree with it considering I watched all four seasons…

…But there’s still a part of me that says the first 26 episodes of The Killing are some of the best television I have ever watched. The next 16…not so much. They are good and there are some incredible moments in Seasons 3 and 4, but none approaching the heartbreaking moments of episode 1. Heck, that one episode is better than any single episode in Seasons 3 and 4.

I’m glad I watched all the episodes and, as a whole, still consider The Killing among the best crime shows I’ve ever seen. But there’s still part of me that wants to caution folks about the dichotomy of seasons 1/2 and 3/4. Heck, the more distance from the series finale of Castle, the more I tell new viewers to stop at the Season 7 finale. I’m pretty sure the more time I get from The Killing, I’ll tell people something similar about Seasons 1 and 2. Stop when you're ahead.

Have you ever had a show like this?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Different Kind of Book Deal

by Holly West

My husband recently signed a contract to write a book about debunking false conspiracy theories, specifically, techniques for helping people who believe in them to stop believing. I debated whether to share the news here since it's not crime/mystery and it's only indirectly related to me, but I think publishing stories in general are interesting so I'm here to tell you about it.

First, some background. My husband runs a couple of web forums dedicated to debunking and has been involved in the skeptic community several years. On occasion, his coverage of conspiracy theories and related subjects intersects with media coverage on the same topics, and journalists often find his websites while researching their own stories. This has led to many media appearances and interviews, which, over time, has given him a fairly large platform as a debunker.

A few months ago, an independent publisher in New York approached him, asking if he'd ever considered writing a book. Of course he had. He'd already come up with a broad outline for one, so now,  he wrote up a formal proposal. The publisher loved it and sent him a contract.

You might be thinking, oh, if only it were so easy to get a fiction deal. In my husband's case, he's written thousands upon thousands of words, conducts endless research, and works tirelessly to keep current on the subjects he reports on. Though it feels like the deal came out of the blue, it truly didn't. There's quite a lot of time, energy, and expertise behind it.

From the outset, I told him he should consider finding an agent to help him negotiate the deal. I, too, got my first book deal without an agent, but used it as leverage to get one. More than that, I needed someone with experience to look the contract over and negotiate better terms where possible. At first, he resisted, but when he had the contract in hand there were some aspects of it he wasn't comfortable with. He decided he wanted to work with an agent.

As it happened, I'd gone to a writing conference the weekend before the publisher sent him the contract and met an agent I thought might be a good fit. She'd negotiated deals with the publisher before and represented several nonfiction titles. I sent her an email telling her he had a deal in hand and asked if she was interested in representing the book. She responded within an hour. A day or so later, my husband had an agent.

It's too early to tell whether signing with an agent is a good financial move. She negotiated better terms in some key areas, so obviously, that's a big win. But ultimately, sales will determine whether it will be worth the price of commission.

Of course, contract negotiation isn't the only reason to have an agent. The agent he signed with is interested in his area of expertise and excited about working with him on future projects. I can say from my own experience that having a professional in your corner feels a lot better than going it alone.

So that's it, the story of my husband's book deal. I'm super proud of him and can't wait to see the finished book.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Shape of Life, Shape of Fiction

Ever read a non-fiction book or watch a documentary film and think to yourself, "If only I could write fiction that strange, that unpredictable, and have it be plausible to people?  If I wrote a story like that, no reader would believe it."  

I had that thought the other day when I saw the Errol Morris documentaryTabloid (2010) for the first time.  The movie documents a story that is not only bizarre, as one would expect from an Errol Morris film, but it also has an overall narrative arc, for lack of a better phrase, that would be hard to pull off in fiction without seeming arbitrary and ridiculous.

Tabloid gives us Joyce McKinney, the American woman who in 1977 was the instigator of the "Mormon Sex in Chains" case.  A former beauty pageant winner, McKinney met young Mormon Kirk Anderson in the United States, where they had a romantic and sexual relationship.  He cut the relationship off abruptly, however, and went to England to do his Mormon missionary work. Distraught at his depature, McKinney managed to put together enough money to go to England in pursuit of him.  She had a male accomplice in tow, and this guy helped her abduct Anderson, perhaps at gunpoint, from the steps of a Mormon meetinghouse and get him into a waiting vehicle.  The pair took Anderson to a cottage in Devon, where McKinney shackled him to a bed and then had sex with him for three days.  Anderson then escaped and went to the police.  He claimed not only that he had been the victim of kidnapping, but that all the sex that had occurred in the cottage with Joyce had been against his will.  Joyce was arrested, but she refuted the charges, saying that Kirk had gone with her willingly and that there had certainly been no rape. The sex had been consensual, and she loved Kirk.  Her accomplice, Keith May, it should be said, took no part in any sexual activity with either Joyce or Kirk, though apparently he lived his life feeling some sort of love for McKinney, a passion that would never be requited through any physical expression from her. Just being close to her, it seems, was enough for him.

That's the basic story, and it became a cause celebre in Britain, amusing fodder for the tabloids there when Britain, otherwise, was going through difficult political times. Among other things, through the betrayal of another previous boyfriend in the United States, the Daily Mirror discovered that Joyce, in order to raise money for her international escapade, had worked in California as a paid dominatrix offering S&M services.  In the end, both Joyce and Keith May jumped bail in England and escaped back to the United States on phony passports they'd acquired.  England never pursued extradition.

Plenty here for one story, and if you had made this up and written it, you might already be straining credulity.  You'd also be getting into the uncomfortable area of woman on man rape.  Joyce is adamant in saying no rape occurred, talks about how much physically larger Kirk was than her, and describes the whole idea of a woman raping a man as absurd. Like "trying to force a marshmallow into a parking meter," she says.

But the documentary doesn't end here, just like Joyce's life didn't end.  Thirty two years later, Joyce reappeared in the news for something completely unrelated to her Manacled Mormon adventure. As she tells it, she became soured on love when it became clear she would not end up with Kirk (though a few years later, she was questioned, back in Utah, for allegedly stalking Anderson), and turned her affections to animals, particularly dogs.  She lived quietly this way for decades.  But then because of bad dog medicine purposely given to her by a malicious veterinarian, a dog she owned attacked and nearly killed her.  The only thing that saved her was the intercession of her other dog, her pit bull Booger, himself killed in his rescue attempt.  She was grief-stricken over Booger's passing until she found out about the possibility of animal cloning, and after more time had passed, she agreed to let Korean scientists take the deceased Booger's cells for cloning.  She was hoping so much the procedure would work so that she could  have a new Booger.  Not only did it work, it succeeded beyond expectation, as the impregnated surrogate mother dog produced five puppies, all clones of Booger. 

And so, in 2008, Joyce  McKinney was cast back into the media spotlight.  She popped up in South Korea as the owner of five cloned baby pit bulls.  She insisted she was named Berman McKinney and denied any connection to the so-called Joyce McKinney of the 1977 Manacled Mormon case journalists kept referring to. They kept making this link because the Berman of 2008 looked a lot like the Berman of sex scandal fame.  She even threatened legal action against anyone who noted that she was in fact Joyce McKinney. Finally, though, she did come clean, and she admitted to the media that she was the person from the 1977 tabloid case. Not that she happily accepted the linking of the two episodes. As she says in the film to Errol Morris, "I don't see the connection between cloned dogs and a 32-year old sex-in-chains story."

Neither do I.  And when you think about it, would anyone?  If you wrote this exact tale as a novel, something you made up, wouldn't you have trouble selling its believability?  It would seem like too many far-fetched incidents piled atop one another.  You'd also have to wrestle with the complete tonal shift from the first media frenzy and what that was about to the second media eruption and what that had to do with. First you get sex, religion, abduction, and obsessive love; later you get a woman pining for the return of the pet she loved, the companion she never found in the human world.  First you have something like a trashy but funny crime story; then out of the blue the book switches gears and becomes a sci-fi tinged tale about scientific ethics and humans tinkering with nature.  You could see a reader saying, "This writer is really straining to give me twists, and I don't believe a single one of them.  Nothing holds together here."

Tabloid is just one example of a true story too implausible to write as fiction. Everyone has their favorites in this area, I'm sure, and there are many more examples.  But I have to say, every time I see or read or hear one of these "truth is stranger than fiction" narratives, I start to wonder how you could get as close as possible to writing a novel with this true to life oddness and downright unbelievability and somehow make it work as fiction. How could you forge a fictional narrative that has the shapelessness yet off-the-wall riveting quality of something like Tabloid?  I'm not sure, yet. Maybe I never will be.  But it's a fun problem to think about and a fun challenge to put to oneself.  It's something to strive for - a way to find a kind of plot that keeps a reader hooked yet has the preposterous, meandering freedom that real life provides.

Monday, August 7, 2017



"Violent, topical and funny as hell. Blacky Jaguar is my kinda guy, and Colón is one of the best new voices in crime." --Jay Stringer, author of How To Kill Friends and Implicate People
                                                                            Blacky Jaguar

Angel Luis Colón is the Anthony and Derringer Award-nominated author of NO HAPPY ENDINGS, the BLACKY JAGUAR series of novellas, and the upcoming short story anthology; MEAT CITY ON FIRE (AND OTHER ASSORTED DEBACLES). His fiction has appeared in multiple web and print publications including Thuglit, Literary Orphans, and Great Jones Street.

I’ve just finished Angel’s most recent release, BLACKY JAGUAR AGAINST the COOL CLUX CULT. What a ride!

In this, the second installment of the Blacky Jaguar series, everyone’s favorite Doc Marten-wearing, ex-IRA human-bomb is running from the heat and gunning for Graceland. Before he can soak in the splendor of the King’s palace and final resting spot he makes a pit-stop in Nillings, Tennessee to pay a debt to sometime friend and sometime enemy, disgraced former FBI agent Broderick Kimbo. Once in town Blacky finds himself in the middle of trouble.

Though Blacky is gruff, often driven by his anger and given to violence, he has a clear eye for justice that is disarming and it’s hard not to appreciate his backbone. Angel balances Jaguar’s bigger than life emotions and reactions with subtle, humanizing tidbits, making him familiar. He has depth and shows so many interesting sides, this character is a true original.

Blacky is not the only interesting personality to be found in the pages of the COOL CLUX CULT, however. Erica, a typical young woman thrust to the forefront of a dangerous social power play, rises as a strong and brave character who manages to touch and move even the battle hardened Blacky Jaguar. Jaguar’s long-time hacker buddy, Tony, is also one to keep your eye one. Genuine and funny, he supplies his own brand of excitement.

This story will bring to mind images of a community divided, images that spring from the pages of newspapers and the talking-heads on television news, but it is not done with a heavy hand. Angel does not preach. He tells a story and he tells it well.

COOL CLUX CULT is fast and riveting, paced perfectly for those who love a good crime story, but there is also a mystery to be solved. Nillings is a powder keg of hate just waiting to explode and someone is methodically stoking the glowing embers, setting a plan for violence and destruction. Blacky’s fight to find the attacker before they can strike big keeps the story moving at a terrific stride.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Grab a chilly beverage, acquire both Blacky Jaguar novellas, kick back on a breeze swept porch and enjoy.

"I sure as Hell hope Angel has more in store for Blacky Jaguar, because this character has more fight in him than can be contained in a single novella." --Bracken MacLeod, author of Stranded and 13 Views of Suicide Woods

Keep up with Angel Colon on Twitter via @GoshDarnMyLife.

Sunday, August 6, 2017


Last weekend, I went to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, which is a fabulous place with a little bit of everything. A rain forest, an aquarium, a planetarium, and a swamp with an albino alligator (more on him later).
This time, there was also an exhibit about earthquakes. We are, after all, in California. There were the standard displays about plate tectonics and fault lines. And there was a room that quaked. It rattled with the strength of the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake, which stopped the World Series and collapsed portions of the Bay Bridge in 1989. And then it got serious and walloped us with the 1906 quake, which famously devastated the entire city and is estimated to have been a magnitude 7.9.
But what really shook me was the wall outside that room. On little pieces of paper were the stories. Big stories. Little stories. Life-changing moments. Written by people who’d been caught in earthquakes. From all over the world. 
Sitka, Alaska, 1964. Magnitude 9.2
Chile, 2010. Magnitude 8.8
Mexico City, Mexico, 1985. Magnitude 8.0
Edmond, Oklahoma, 2016. Magnitude 5.6
New Zealand, 2001. Magnitude 6.2 or 7.1
How their fish tanks sloshed around, or the bed trembled, or they thought at first that a sibling was playing a trick on them. How they hid under tables, or fled into the street, or continue to have nightmares.
I don’t know how long I stood there, reading. I do know that I didn’t want to stop. This is what made it real. The stories. And how little details knit together to form a big picture that you wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.
I could almost feel the gratitude – that someone had bothered to ask, had recognized individual experiences as significant. And the wall reinforced that importance for me. Stories, whether fact or fiction, are integral to the human experience and our understanding of the world around us. So please share yours. Whether it’s in book form, or simply on a scrap of paper dangling from a hook. Because they’re all important.