Saturday, September 30, 2017

Into Uncharted Territory

Scott D. Parker

Come Monday morning, I will be unemployed for the first time in my life.

I started working a day job back in February 1999. Of course, back then, it was the only job. I have worked steadily ever since. As 2017 rolled around, everyone at my company knew the project for which we were hired to work would end. For many of my co-workers, that end arrived back on 30 June. For me and two other technical writers, we got an extra three months. That time ran out on Friday. Actually it was Thursday since my boss decided we three didn’t have to come to work yesterday. T’was a nice gesture and we thanked him for it. Actually, yesterday just seemed like one of my bi-weekly days off. Come Monday, things will be different.

I don’t know about y’all but I love to work. Sure, the paychecks are nice and necessary, but I crave the structure and routine of work. I enjoy working through problems, developing content, and delivering products. I enjoy using my skills to help my company and my clients. I have no problem with getting up in the pre-dawn darkness, knocking out a thousand words, getting the boy out to school, and me to the office. I was fortunate enough to work close to my house, enabling me to come home for lunch with the wife.

Come Monday, all of that remains in place except the office part. Everyone I speak with tells me I’ll find something. I know I will, but it’s the uncertainty that’s new to me. I’m the type of person who is ready to establish a new work/life routine as of yesterday. I’m ready for the next day job challenge and I’m eager to dive into a new set of assignments and delivery high-quality documentation.

But until that next day job arrives, it’ll be time for a new routine. And I think everyone here knows exactly what it will entail. For the longest time, I’ve always referred to my day job as the primary job and the fiction writing job as the other one. Come Monday, that routine will be flipped. I’ll be here, writing most of the day, every day. The early morning part will remain the same: wake, get the boy off to school by 6:25 a.m., and then, instead of hopping into the car to head off to work, I’ll come back here and start my new novel. I purposefully didn’t work on it yesterday or today and I won’t do anything tomorrow. For the near future, my fiction writing job is my day job. I’ll be living (admittedly not of my own choosing) the life of a full-time fiction writer.

It is what I ultimately want, but I’m not ready yet. I’ll make the most of it, but come Monday, I’ll be looking forward to the day in which I can be a full-time technical writer again.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Be Kind

Today is my grandmother's funeral and yesterday I got news that my friend and colleague, Kirk Clawes died unexpectedly. I don't have energy for a long blog post this week, but with these two kind and wonderful people in mind, and knowing all that is happening in this word, I would ask you, members of the crime community who I love, to do a favor for a friend, donate a buck or two to charity, or call someone you haven't spoken to in awhile.

Losing two such kind and wonderful people so close together is a painful reminder to be more kind, so if you're inclined to remember them with me today, please do so by living their examples.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Getting Down to Brass Tacks with Jess and Shannon

Guest Post by Shannon Baker & Jess Lourey

Hi Holly and everyone here at Do Some Damage. Jess Lourey and I (Shannon Baker) are embarking on our second annual Lourey/Baker Double Booked Tour. Jess’s newest in the laugh-out-loud Murder by the Month mystery, MARCH OF CRIME, launched in September and my next Kate Fox mystery, DARK SIGNAL, is slated for October 17. (Pre-order!)

Holly's note: Can't wait for October 17? Forge has released "Close Enough," a Kate Fox short story, available on Kobo and Amazon for .99.

We’ve been on the road a while, so instead of chips and beer, let’s opt for a healthier choice, say, mimosas and celery sticks? I hope you don’t mind if I forgot the celery. Today, we’re here to talk discipline and writing. Strap in.

Shannon: I love to write. I really, honestly do. Every day. Lots and lots of words. Lalalalala.

Okay, I’ll cut the crap. Not every day, week, or even month is Happy Writing Land around my house. In the Grand Plan, I’m committed to writing, or I wouldn’t have stuck with it this long. Since I’m not inspired every day, I’ve had to work out a whole slate of tricks and mind-fuck to keep me plugging along until I catch the wave again. Jess, what are some of your best strategies to fight resistance?

Jess: Since we’re being honest here, I go days without writing. Unfortunately, I’m thinking about writing that whole time, or more accurately, beating myself up for not writing. It’s painful. I do it up until a point where I realize it’d be easier to simply write, and when I reach that low point, I require 2000 words a day out of myself until I get out of that seat. They don’t have to be good words, but they have to be typed words, not “in my head words.”

Shannon: I knew you’d cough up the goods. For me, I begin with the basics. You can’t win if you

don’t play. I have this stupendous idea, deep characters with arcs like rainbows, action to carry us to the moon and back. I may or may not be able to get that down on the page and the world may or may not want to read it if I do. But here’s the sure truth: if I never write it, I sure as hell will never get it published.
Jess: Exactly. It’s much easier to fix a weak story than to fix a story that’s never been written. Are there any tricks or questions you ask yourself to motivate you to slog through the writing process?

Shannon: Who is your parole officer? Find someone or a whole group of someones for whom you can be held accountable. I’m part of a writers group that has been together for over 20 years. At one point, our collective productivity dried up like Tucson in June. We took stock and decided we had to recommit or quit. When the thought of quitting felt like a serrated knife to the heart, we decided to post our word count to each other daily. No judgements, no chastising, because we’re all adults with lives. Simple posting. When we started, I’d post 200. That was pathetic to see, so I upped it, and upped it again, until I was able to post 1200 fairly routinely (I was working a full time day job). Seeing my progress and knowing someone else saw it, too, kept me in the game, and led to my first Nora Abbott book.

Jess: I love that idea. Did you guys post in Google docs? (Shannon here: Google doc? Pshaw. This was when Google was only a gleam in, in, well, the Google inventor’s eye) And you say that there was no shame, but there was a little, right? Shame is a great motivator. I also, weirdly, motivate myself with mental health. I am a happier person when I write. I wrote a book on the science of this process (Rewrite Your Life: Discover Your Truth Through the Healing Power of Fiction), but essentially, writing cleans out the garbage in our brains in measurable ways. Buckets of it. There is a saying that mystery writers are the nicest folks out there because we work out our murder and aggression on the page, and it’s so true.

And I’m so happy to get to call myself a writer. I finished writing MAY DAY in 2004. It was all of 45,000 words long, and I was so green that I figured it was plenty good. It took over 423 rejections—plus adding 15,000 words and writing JUNE BUG so I could sell it as a series—to land my first agent. She had a side business selling healing crystals, and I hope she did well at that because she couldn’t sell my book. We parted ways amicably, and my second agent landed a two-book contract with Midnight Ink.

Shannon, you wrote your first book without a contract, just like me. How’d you finally land your first contract?

Shannon: It’s Who you know. It took me about twenty years to finally get a publishing contract. Along the way, I’ve often wanted to throw in the towel. I even gave it up twice, once when I got divorced, moved, and started a new life, and again for two years when I earned my MBA. What always brings me back are the friendships I’ve made. I love writers! You are wicked smart and witty, interesting and observant. If I quit writing, I might lose the bond that holds me to my friends and comrades. I can’t stand that possibility. So when I’m frustrated by the “homework for life” thing and the insane business, and I want to leave the circus and drink cerveza by the pool every day (who am I kidding? I pretty much do that now) I think about how lonely I’d be without you.

Jess: Haha! It really is homework for life, isn’t it? What have we done to ourselves? In any case, I completely agree that writers are the best human beings. Writing a book is the ticket to the tribe, and it’s not a bad motivator. Shannon, I’d like to talk with you about your writing tricks, but first, I feel like you want to say two words, one a type of metal and the other an office implement. Am I right?

Shannon: Brass tacks.  On a practical level, I do a few things. There is the usual word count quota. That’s generally good. But some days I have more resistance that requires me to be trickier. That’s when I pull out the James Lee Burke game. I heard him speak once and he said he only writes 750 new words a day. And they don’t have to be good ones. He said, (in that melting Southern drawl) if you write 750 words a day, by the end of the year, you have a book. If it’s good enough for James Lee Burke, it’s good enough for me.

A trained monkey can write 750 words. So I convince myself that’s all I have to do. But the magic happens when I sit down to do that, more often than not, when I hit 750, I’m just getting warmed up. I’m so easy to fool!


Come on folks, tell us your tricks. We are each giving away three books on the Lourey/Baker Double-Booked Tour. For every comment you make along our tour stop, you’ll get another entry in the contest.  So buckle your seat belts and come along with us.

September 2 Mysterious Musings
September 5 Janice Hardy
September 7 The Creative Penn
September 9 Write to Done
September 12 Wicked Cozy Writers
September 20 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blog
September 21 There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room
September 23 Femmes Fatales
September 24 Writer Unboxed
September 25 Dru’s Book Musings
September 27 Do Some Damage
October 3 Terry Ambrose
October 12 Jungle Red Writers


Jess Lourey (rhymes with "dowry") is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing "a splendid mix of humor and suspense." She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft's Excellence in Teaching fellowship, a regular Psychology Today blogger, and a sought-after workshop leader and keynote speaker who delivered the 2016 "Rewrite Your Life" TEDx Talk. March of Crime, the 11th book in her humorous mystery series, releases September 2017. You can find out more at

Shannon Baker is the author of the Kate Fox mystery series (Tor/Forge). Set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills, Kirkus says, “Baker serves up a ballsy heroine, a colorful backdrop, and a surprising ending.” She also writes the Nora Abbott mystery series (Midnight Ink), featuring Hopi Indian mysticism and environmental issues. Shannon makes her home in Tucson where she enjoys cocktails by the pool, breathtaking sunsets, a crazy Weimaraner, and killing people (in the pages of her books). She was voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s 2014 and 2017 Writer of the Year. Visit Shannon at

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Diversity Rises in Genre

Richie Narvaez guest blogs this week.  A former president of the Mystery Writers of America's New York chapter, Richie carries himself with a humility that belies a one time head of state.  He is a tireless supporter of other writers and a guy I always enjoy spending time with.  He's also a hardworking writer himself, and one who's quite versatile. I've read stories by Richie in a variety of genres - crime, science fiction, social satire, straight on realism - and he happens to be adept at blending fictional tropes. This year he has a story in a collection of sci-fi and fantasy tales written by Latino/Latina authors, and it's this collection that he'll be talking about here.

So Richie, let's hear about it:

Diversity Rises in Genre
Richie Narvaez

As a doe-eyed kid growing up in Brooklyn, I didn’t actively look for Latino characters in all the buckets of pop culture I was gobbling. But when I came across them, glowing on the screen or speaking to me from a story, it was joyful. Hey, that guy looks like my dad. She sounds just like my mom. Of course, as a Latino, the faces I did find were pretty much limited to Zorro, Chico and the Man, and West Side Story. Still, this showed we weren’t just invisible sideliners in the world. We were a part of it.

One-to-one character identification isn’t necessary for a story to be accessible, of course, but when it’s a character from a group that is usually marginalized, that adds a freshness to an author’s story, and, yes, it’s a nice extra for readers from that marginalized population. Now if I were writing this post last year, I might’ve dared to say that the fight to bring this kind of diversity to pop culture was winning. But after last year’s U.S. elections, it seems that the advantages of diversity need to be brought up again and again.

Realism. Variety. Representation. And empathy, that lessening of fear of the Other. All understandably and logically good things, no?

Literary fiction tackles diversity and the social commentary that is inevitably a part of it, but that kind of book may at best have the air of a “Very Special Episode” or “Important Lesson Here” and at worse creak under the label of “political correctness.” This is why genre writing — mystery, science fiction, and horror — can be so important to diversity. While the primary responsibility of genre arguably is to entertain, some of the best genre writing delivers social commentary wrapped in a plot-driven story, and so like a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down — or, if you prefer, like an undercover cop, a Mak'Tar stealth haze, or a cloak of invisibility — mystery, science fiction, and horror can make a social or political statement subtle, not polemical, illuminating, not mawkish.

Most crime fiction reinforces the status quo of our lives. Justice prevails, crime doesn’t pay, everyone move along back to your homes now. But when there is Latina lawyer as a heroine, or a procedural series is set in Puerto Rico, that says not only that Latinos are part of the world, but also that we can be part of this tradition of crime fiction. Science fiction, through its frequent use of allegory, alludes to the possibilities or change or the consequences of not changing the injustices in our society. Horror also works at the allegorical level, exemplifying some deep fear in the zeitgeist.

I write in all three genres, and I’ve been privileged to have stories featured in several Latino-themed anthologies for crime and speculative fiction. My first reaction when I heard of these type of anthologies was that they were a sad sort of self-segregation. But stories ache to be told, and they will find any damn way they can to be told. Or, perhaps more accurately, their authors will find any damn way they can to tell them.

Recently, I had a story published in Latin@ Rising: An Anthology of Latin@ Science Fiction and Fantasy, the first-ever collection of United States-based Latino/Latina writers in speculative fiction and fantasy. By virtue of a vigorous Kickstarter effort by its editor, Matthew David Goodwin, the book got the attention of an independent publisher, Wings Press, and was published in January.

The anthology contains wonderful examples of diversity and social commentary and great plotting. There is a monster in "Sin Embargo," by Sabrina Vourvoulias, but there is also insight into the verbal-coding endured by immigrants, all taking place during the atrocities of Guatemala's dirty wars. Carlos Hernandez's "Entanglements" involves alternate timelines, but also make a comment on stereotypical notions. In my own story, “Room for Rent,” there are no Latino characters. But there are extraterrestrials who are forced to immigrate to Earth.

Now, one thing about such anthologies, titled as they are, is that they may only be read by the converted. But the (possibly a pipe) dream is that these stories and books won’t have to have labels appended to them forever, that these characters and issues can casually illuminate the experience of everyone, including that little kid who does not yet know the joy of finding a familiar face.

Richie Narvaez is the award-winning author of Roachkiller and Other Stories.  His fiction has appeared in Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery, Plots with Guns, Sunshine Noir, and Spinetingler

You can get Latin@ Rising: An Anthology of Latin@ Science Fiction and Fantasy here.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Failing To Deliver

I can think of at least one person I've let down recently.

I have a couple of author Q&A features that were supposed to run on Spinetingler's website.  The problem? Spinetingler's website had been neglected for so long that in order to do upgrades that Wordpress was screaming at us about it meant backing up content, because there was a chance everything would be lost.

We were so many updates behind that before I could proceed I was going through the site, deleting content that was old and irrelevant (upcoming event notices) and copying things we didn't want to lose.

I finally gave up. Somewhere between family obligations, earning a living and working on a new issue of Spinetingler - our first in a decade - I was out of time and energy. I'd hoped to have the site's system updated early July. Instead, I finally had to prioritize, make peace with the possibility of losing up to 80% of our content, and start pushing buttons.

The site survived the first steps. I still have some more work to do, but there's been significant progress.

And still those author Q&As wait. I don't want to put them up and then lose them, so I need another two weeks.

I understand all the reasons. And I also understand all of the realities. We're in a vicious cycle in our industry, because there's a history of giving away our time and money for free. I don't get paid for what I do with Spinetingler. People have always reached into their own pockets to cover expenses - whether it's been me, a former owner or the current site owner. When I was starting out with Spinetingler many writers were happy to have their work published without a cent of payment because the webzines provided critical exposure to readers.

The problem is that we've helped perpetuate a system of free work and in doing so we've undervalued the services associated with publishing. This means that there are a lot of authors who are trying to fit writing in around their careers and families.

As though that isn't enough, the responsibilities of promoting novels typically falls on authors. Publishers aren't asked for interviews about an author's new title; the author's asked to participate. Then there are bookstore events, conventions and podcasts.

It can be very time consuming.

A few years ago I was asked to contribute a piece to someone's literary blog. I actually knew the blogger IRL. Rare, I know, but at the time I was working in the public school system and I worked at the school where the person taught. I was given a very tight deadline and I couldn't work with the schedule and apologized for that.

They got pretty snarky with me. They were happy to rub in the fact that another author, who was so successful that they wrote full time, had been able to contribute.

I remember making a face. How nice for someone who didn't have to spend hours each day commuting, who didn't then have to come home to pick up the kids, handle homework and school paperwork (my gosh, the notices they got in elementary school!) and make dinner and do laundry and all of those fun things before they could even think about writing for pleasure or for free.

I completely understand the challenge of balancing life and author-related duties.

Now, I'm pretty rusty these days. It's been years since I had a new book out. It's been years since we did an issue of Spinetingler. However, I've been reminded lately of the need for my own structure to prioritize.

My tips?

1. Keep a day planner or a calendar. Mark your deadlines. That way, you won't forget them. Gone are the days when I could recite conversations by heart. I've always had a good memory, but age catches up with us all, and being busy just adds to that.

2. Be realistic. If you try to do it all, you'll most likely fail. Politely declining is always better than failing to deliver. I mean, there are times life goes crazy. Last week in the midst of needing to work and having a tight deadline I found myself considering the serious possibility of packing bags to head out of town because of a family health emergency. Things happened so abruptly that didn't happen, but it's on my mind that Brian needs to see his sister, and we have to make that happen. I'm not talking about emergencies. I'm talking about knowing that if you have plans every night of the week and work full-time that aren't going to have much time for other things.

3. Saying no is okay. I recently sent out emails to a lot of authors about Spinetingler-related things. A reasonable-but-approaching-tight deadline of six days was involved for completion for the first ones I emailed. I never heard back from most authors. Some delivered. Some offered more than was asked and still delivered. Some thanked me for getting in touch but had to decline. I really appreciated those responses, because they helped me plan for content without waiting for the deadline, which is what I had to do for those who didn't reply.

4. There are no small opportunities. I know Spinetingler isn't the New York Times, but I also know writers who credit small venues with starting their career. For us, James Oswald is standing alum. He had his first Inspector McLean story published way back when. He has since gone on to enjoy a six-figure book deal writing about McLean. He's a friend, he's a great writer, and no matter how busy he is, he always finds time for us. I remember years ago, Lee Child invited Cornelia Read on tour. I once heard him asked about why he invited new authors and he said that maybe some day when they were the big name and his career was fading that they'd return the kindness. Like it or not, this is an industry of connections.

5. Know your history. Boy, I need to do a better job with this one. Thank goodness Brian knows so many people involved in publishing. He helps me out routinely when I don't recognize a name. The thing is, a lot has changed in publishing in the past decade and a lot of old connections have faded. The discussion lists aren't what they once were (Rara-Avis) and the new crop of writers coming up don't have the history with the webzines and reviewers and even some of the authors who emerged ten years ago. My husband is smarter than I am and has written far more extensively about the genre than I have. Nothing is funnier than when people try to school him on some Facebook thread about how he needs to learn about noir. He's read more books than I ever will in my life. Plus, some of these people have tried to school Brian by quoting to him from articles he wrote. Hilarious. Just because you haven't heard of a person doesn't mean that they don't know what they're talking about, doesn't mean that they aren't part of the community (Brian has more famous author friends than I do) and doesn't mean that they shouldn't be treated with respect. Google searches are your friend. When in doubt, if approached by a publication or website you aren't familiar with, ask for a little background.

6. Know your promotional window. Brian and I disagree. He thinks that with the online marketplace that small press authors have a wider window. I still think that even web-based publications are more interested in talking about what's coming out than what came out eight months ago. What do you think? No matter what, authors can't and shouldn't promote endlessly. At some point the business of writing needs to happen. As one author told me years ago about skipping a Bouchercon, if you're there every year then nobody will be worried about coming to see you, because you're always available. Make the events you chose to do count. Make people choose your event because it's a special opportunity or regret missing it instead of being everywhere all the time so that seeing you isn't a priority because it's always possible.

Now I have to get back to work so that I can meet my deadline today. Today is for Spinetingler.  Tomorrow, I have to actually try to earn money so that I can pay the bills.