Saturday, October 28, 2017

Mornings With Batman and Other Tales of Employment

Scott D. Parker

Batman may be vengeance and the night, but he’s also a remarkable able companion to while away a few morning hours during unemployment.

Almost a month ago, I wrote about my plans for the month of October. With much more time on my hands, I had glorious dreams of writing a novel or two. I was going to throw in a short story or two, and format and prepare the next book for publication.

Then the reality of unemployment crashed down on me. The cliche is true: looking for a full-time job really is a full-time job. There are lots of places on the internet to look for work…and I probably didn’t even scratch the surface. I would look for jobs directly at certain oil and gas companies and then on various job boards. My daily list grew quite long and extensive.

And I would check it every day, typically in the morning. When a job posting popped up that matched both my experience and my desire, I would produce a new, specific cover letter and send it away.

What I didn’t do much of was write fiction. I had worry at the forefront of my mind every day. And, try as I might, I found unemployment to be the elephant in the room. I did a few things, however. I ordered physical proofs of my four mystery novels and set about updating them. But in terms of brand-new content, I produced next to nothing.

My early morning schedule quickly became consistent. I would get my boy to his carpool by 6:30am and return home. Wash the dishes, pour another cup of coffee, and watch a couple of episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. My daily dose of Batman turned into one of the few parts of the day where I didn’t worry about not having a job. Even on the day I went to an interview, I made sure to watch those episodes.

Well, that interview turned into a job. Yay! I start Monday. For the first time in seven years, I’ll have an actual commute. It’ll likely be 50 or so minutes in the mornings and probably 60 in the afternoons. That doesn’t bother me much at all. I’ve got an Audible account and tons of podcasts. Heck, I might even do the drive-really-slow-near-my-house-so-I-can-hear-the-last-chapter thing more than once. And for those brainstorming sessions, I have a special microphone I can plus into my phone and dictate new fiction. I'll probably start my commutes with Tom Hanks's new book of stories. I considered purchasing the paperback, but when I saw Hanks himself narrated his own book, that sold me on the audio.

As far as fiction is concerned, I’m going to give myself a week to acclimate to the new surroundings. NaNoWriMo starts on Wednesday, but I did that for the first five months of this year, so I don’t need to special month to write a book in four weeks. Besides, Daylight Savings Time ends next weekend, so as soon as that milestone is passed, I’ll start up my 4:30am writing sessions again.

This past week (actually only Wednesday through Friday), with the job on the horizon, I ended up watching extra episodes of Batman: TAS. Boy, is that show great. It was made even greater when one of my book club members selected Dark Knight III: Master Race to read this month. Ugh! The less said about that series, the better. Of nine issues, I think I liked something like 4-5 pages.

So, there you go, folks. Hopefully the last post about employment for a long, long time. I’m happy to be back in the workforce and will jump back into fiction writing very soon.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Punk By The Book

I’ve written about all the amazing things punk rock has done for me as a writer, and I’ve invited others to use my space to do the same. When I first started writing, I tried over and over again to capture the chaotic, frenetic energy of a mosh pit. I tried to get to the heart of what it felt like to have the bass line replace your heart beat in a crowded, dirty room.

I’ve never been able to do it.

It’s one of those inexplicable, full body, total mind experiences that defies any meaningful explanation. That’s okay, I think most of the beautiful stuff is the same way. I can describe falling in love, but you’re never going to feel the way I felt when I fell for my husband. I can describe the moment I held my daughter for the first time, or the day I graduated boot camp and officially became a US Marine. If I do it right, you feel something, but you’ll never feel what I felt.

Is punk rock as amazing and beautiful as those three examples?

Well. Yes and no. There’s opportunity after opportunity to listen to the music, to gather in this crowded rooms, to hear an amazing song by one of your favorite bands for the first time. But I only got to fall for my husband and my kid ONCE. So those experiences were way more powerful. Way more knock you on your ass if you’re not sitting down. But punk’s been there long before and will be there long after.

My heart swells when I catch the kid singing along to Bikini Kill and Anti-Flag. I love getting to enjoy that music with her (and yes, we listen to Tay Tay, too),but the idea of taking her into one of those crowded rooms is a little too intense at her age. Even if she pouts.

But, as she developed a stronger and stronger love for Anti-Flag, and their new album was really hitting her deep - they announced a listening party with an acoustic set near-ish to us. No risk of hearing damage, no mosh pits. And, as we discovered upon arrival - free donuts!

So, you got me. This post isn’t about crime fiction or even writing. Tonight was a really special night and I wanted to share it. If my mind goes with old age, I hope the memory of singing Brandenburg Gate with my sweet little 7 year old and one of my favorite bands is the last memory to go.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Do Writers Even Read Anymore?

By David Nemeth

A few months ago, J. David Osborne, writer and publisher of Broken River Books, posted a photograph of a dog side-eyeing the viewer. Osborne wrote, “When writers only seem to talk about all the TV they’ve watching”. How true. My social media feeds are filled news and views about the latest premium cable series or any of the numerous Netflix series and movies. And things do get heated from time to time. We all lost loved ones during the great Baby Driver Facebook War this summer.

I’m not one of those TV haters. I’m probably as guilty if not more so than some of you. The comfort of grabbing the remote and tuning out is far too easy compared to the physical and mental difficulties of opening of a book. Take a look at your Netflix history. If it is anything like mine and you’ll probably be disgusted. My history had some good shows but there were too many hours spent watching TV from Parks and Recreation to Rectify, from Friends to Shameless, and from The Handmaid’s Tale to New Girl. As I said, I’m as guilty as you are.

I know that reading is a habit thing for me. I get into a groove and I’m able to knock out books as well as reviews, sometimes up to four a week. But when life decides to significantly disrupt my daily routine, it may take weeks if not months to get back into my reading form.

I wondered if there was a trick or two that might help, so I went over to watch some TED Talks because that’s where all problems are solved in 15 minutes or less. But the first thing time management guru Laura Vanderkam said was that there are no tricks to beat time. This was disappointing news.

In her 2016 TED Talk, Vanderkam tells the story of a successful person whose water heater breaks and she ends up spending seven hours in one week working through this issue. Tragic, I know. Vanderkam recommends that we treat all “our priorities as the equivalent of that broken water heater” by focusing on our “three-category priority list: career, relationships, self.” Have I spent the 15 minutes to do this yet? Hell no, remember I was looking for tricks, not actual work. But I got the point, the time is there if I want to use it.

Most, if not all of us, do have time to read. It’s a choice we make not to read. The glowing TV eye is all too powerful, but maybe tonight I’ll just open up a goddamn book and read. But first I have some things to watch that y’all been recommending: Ozark, Mindhunter, The Deuce, Narcos, and Stranger Things 2.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Nanoo Nanoo NaNoWriMo!

Ha! I made the first NaNoWriMo post this year!

I think I make the only one every year... just your annual reminder that the flood of word counts in your social media feed is driven by National Novel Writing Month, where folks who sign up try to write 50,000 words in the month of November and complete a novel.

which makes December National Don't Bother Querying Agents Month, because a flood of new writers often flood the slush piles with unedited manuscripts.

Don't be that writer.

Plenty of pro writers often join in on NaNoWriMo because the energy is infectious, and the challenge is enticing. My first draft of Bad Boy Boogie was completed during NaNoWriMo 2011, which gives you an idea of how good that draft was. It was published in 2016. The first draft was called Beat the Jinx and focused on Tony instead of Jay, who was a ghostly possible antagonist who kept pestering Tony for help. I decided that he made a more compelling hero, and gutted other characters, some who appeared in the manuscript I finished last month, which is a comedy with a very different tone. So, NaNoWriMo can be useful, but don't forget that....

March is National Novel Editing Month. But that's three whole months after NaNoWriMo! Why yes. That gives you time to flesh it out to a larger novel if required, then take a well deserved rest before you read it and make notes before you dig into edits. Stephen King recommends sticking a novel in a drawer for three months, but that's a bit much. A month, sure. Rest, or work on something else. A short story. Catch up on the TV you missed. Read some great fiction in the same bailiwick as yours, so you can catch hackneyed characters and "surprises" that are so old they have whiskers on them.

And then... edit. It's not as if agents are going to be reading lots of manuscripts during the holiday month of December, anyway. And an unedited novel... leave that to the pros. Some can edit in their heads. They often learned to write on a manual typewriter, so they have advantage. I seriously considered buying one, before the typewriter shop in my town closed... two years ago. Sarah (my wife) objected, and I have managed to find other ways to edit as I go, without reverting to 19th century technology. And I was recently vindicated when Reed Farrel Coleman, who considers this a "first draft," says he edits as he goes. That does only produce one draft, but to new writers, saying you only write one draft sounds like the words fly from your fingertips perfectly the first time, which is discouraging when you hit the backspace key with such regularity that you could easily serve as a telegraph operator if you found yourself transported to the past.

An aside--I've never understood the yearning for the past. Can you imagine what the past smelled like? Not for me. It's nice to fantasize about, but, gimme penicillin and human rights, thanks.

I've been chunking away at Jay Desmarteaux #2 at a good clip, using Scrivener and its goal-setting function so I'm done by January. I am toying with the idea of jumping on the NaNoWriMo train and aiming for 1300 words per day in November. It's a bigger challenge than the 800 I need per day to meet the January deadline, but if I finish in December I'll have more time to rest and edit before sending it to my publisher and his editor. And I've been hitting 1500 words a night easily, so why not? As Lawrence Block says about the daily thousand words, "you can't write four lousy pages?"

Well, not everyone can. And there's no shame in it. NaNoWriMo isn't for everybody. It can be a good way to open the floodgates and see what you can write when you free yourself to let the fingers fly. As Joyce Carol Oates says, dare to trust your voice and dare to write from the heart. It may look embarrassing at first, but write for yourself first and foremost. You're a reader. Never forget that.

Next Wednesday, the race begins...

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Death in the Classic Position

I've been watching the television ads for the new adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, with Kenneth Branagh both directing the film and playing Hercule Poirot, and it's made me ask myself a number of questions.  For starters: why are they remaking this movie and who is the intended audience?  Wouldn't most people who want to see this movie at all likely know the solution to one of the most famous mysteries ever written?  And what's more, wouldn't a large number of these people, detective fiction fans, have seen the first movie, at least on DVD or through streaming?  Strange.  Maybe they intend to change the ending so that the "killer twist" mentioned in the ads surprises people familiar with the story.  But beyond that, this sudden appearance of big budget Agatha Christie has made me reflect on something else. 

How many stand out films have there been adapted from works of the so-called Golden Age of Detective Fiction?  How many topnotch flicks come from stories or novels written during that period of narrative puzzles and eccentric detectives circa 1920 through the 1940's?  There have been numerous good to great films derived from the 20th century's hard-boiled fiction side, film noirs and private eye movies, but from that earlier period (which Raymond Chandler ripped into), when murders occurred on country estates and in locked rooms, on trains and in libraries, precious few.  It's a bit odd. Granted, since 1980, when PBS' Mystery first aired, the Golden Age has been well-covered on television.  The adaptations of Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, and company have been impeccable. As far as I'm concerned, David Suchet is the best Hercule Poirot ever on film or television, and Joan Hickson the greatest Miss Marple.  The detail lavished on these productions takes you back to a past era, and usually (there have been notable exceptions) the adaptations are faithful to the plots and solutions of the original sources. But what about up to 1980, when films provided the primary adaptations?  I can think of a handful of films adapted from the Golden Age authors I would call superlative.

The original Murder on the Orient Express (1974), with Albert Finney as Poirot, is quite entertaining, and I enjoyed Death on the Nile (1978), where Peter Ustinov, more restrained than Finney, took over the role of the Belgian detective. Both films are expensive productions with all-star casts, and they capture the quality of the Christie novels well. All the suspects keep looking askance at one another, and nearly everyone who is not Poirot has something to hide.  In the usual fashion, he finds himself on a train or cruise ship where the passengers are a weird lot and the motives for murder plentiful. Neither film gets so broad that it turns comedic, like the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple movies of the 1960's, but neither takes itself too seriously either, keeping the period aspect of things, with the class and racial distinctions, light.  Most importantly, both handle their complicated plots well.  They build up to exciting denouements where the clues have been provided but the sleight of hand deftly done.

The 1945 version of And Then There Were None, directed by Rene Clair, is dark and filled with suspense - a strong movie - but does not follow through on Christie's completely bleak ending. Of course, it's among her most famous books, and to this day, if I had to pick a favorite Christie novel, I'd pick this one (or maybe The ABC Murders). The movie adheres closely to the novel and packs a wallop. The only flaw is that insistence on the somewhat happy ending, which even more recent versions (much weaker movies) have clung to.

But what about Golden Age authors other than Agatha Christie? I'd say the two best movies adapted from this era's detective fiction are not from Christie books.  One, a little creaky but lightning fast, is The Kennel Murder Case, from 1932.  Michael Curtiz directs this Warner Brothers version of the S.S. van Dine novel that features detective Philo Vance, and the movie is like a van Dine novel come to life. There is absolutely no fat, as in 73 minutes, a murder in New York unfolds among the people connected to a Long Island Kennel Club dog show.  The characters have just enough depth to do what the plot requires. William Powell is the suave Vance. The murder involves a locked room, and the movie actually pauses a moment before Vance delivers the solution to give the viewer a quick close-up of all the suspects so that you have a moment to make your guess before the final revelation.  If you haven't seen this movie, don't let its age put you off.  It's a textbook example of how to tell a tricky but fair mystery on film in a minimal amount of time, with absolute clarity. Lots of fun.

But my vote for the top adaptation from a Golden Age mystery novel, without question, is the British film Green for Danger, directed by Sidney Gilliat.  It was made in 1946 and taken from a Christianna Brand novel written two years earlier.  

To begin with, the setting is unusual - a World War II hospital in the English countryside. Germany is losing the war but bombing Britain incessantly.  So immediately the stakes are high, and the story has a connection to reality not often seen with this type of mystery.  Green for Danger is set in a confined location (the hospital) and has its tight cast of characters (the hospital's doctors and nurses), but it doesn't come across as a mere game or abstract puzzle.  At the same time, it is an ingenious whodunnit with two murders and a climax set around an operating table. Each of the main characters, professional people doing stressful work, adults with genuine problems to deal with, is layered and complex, and the script is filled with nuance and humor.  Above all, there is the detective, Inspector Cockrill of the local police, and he is played by Alastair Sim, an absolutely unique actor.  Sim is so good as Cockrill, peculiar, unpredictable, witty, usually brilliant (but not always) that you only regret there were no more Cockrill films made.  It's hard to describe his performance exactly, but imagine a very British version of Lieutenant Columbo's grandfather (who looks a bit like John Lithgow) and maybe you'll get some idea.  Add to that a stellar British cast of character actors who play their parts perfectly, and you have a film that weaves together mystery, humor, atmosphere, and tension about as well as this kind of film can.  I saw Green for Danger recently by renting it on Amazon, and I couldn't have had a more enjoyable hour and a half.  I only wish there were more films like it - a classic mystery par excellence.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Nature vs. Nachos... & a Special Annoucement

Mindy Tarquini is the author of Hindsight (SparkPress, 2016), a gadget slave, and an upmarket fiction writer with a weakness for quirky characters and magical realism. Her second novel, The Infinite Now (SparkPress), releases tomorrow and is available through all the typical venues. Mindy is very excited about the launch. She is celebrating by working on her third novel.

Today she joins us with a guest blog post. Then read on for a very special announcement.

Nature vs. Nachos

Lao Tzu said, Nature does not hurry, yet all things are accomplished.
Who is Lao Tzu? I had the same question. And Google. It turns out Lao-Tzu was a Chinese Philosopher credited with developing Taoism.
Oh. What’s Taoism?

 Living in harmony with the Tao, which is an ordering principle that makes cosmic harmony possible. (Per
Which means what?
That nature doesn’t hurry, yet all things are accomplished. And by their deadlines.
And that’s great if you’re a buttercup. Or a mighty oak. Neither has any ability to fight their natural imperatives. Allowed to proceed without obstruction, they achieve their goals. Not like us.
There’s that Girl Scout meeting we promised to lead, the Bake Sale that needs four dozen Halloween-themed cookies, and, well…it’s Nacho Night.
The phone rings, our texts beep, our damned garage doors let us know they are opening and closing. Sheesh, even my air conditioner feels the need to remind me when it needs a new filter.
The laptop is open, the word processor primed, but Facebook sent a notice. Oh, and that webinar on how to write efficiently starts in 15 minutes, and omg! Is this NOT the cutest little journal for listing my story ideas, my character sketches, store my coupons and chart my weight and calorie goals? Look! It’s covered in butterflies and wistful sayings and comes with felt-tip pens (neon colors!) to highlight my inspirations.
These are not obstacles; they are distractions. And while the distractions happen, guess what doesn’t?
Your novel. Your short story. Your web page. Your social media setups. Your necessary research and reading. Your everything you truly would rather be doing, but for some reason are not.
Because you aren’t Nature. You’re a writer, the protagonist in your own play and so used to putting protagonists through the wringer, you don’t know what to do when your own way forward is not choked with prickly pear.
Just stop.
Do you only have fifteen minutes? Write a page. Do you only have five? Write a paragraph. How about one? Write a sentence.
Do you not have your word doc or Scrivener with you? Then jot down subplots, note the character’s motivations, gather those dangling plot threads. Go ahead, look up something you need to know, then write down what you learn.

But wait, you left the cool bullet-pointed-multi-colored-journal-you-had-a-take-a-course-to-understand at home?
Do you not have a note-taking app downloaded to your phone?
Oh. Yeah.
So long as those ideas and descriptions, those turns of phrases, and to-do lists are bouncing around in your head, they will never be anything more than a frustration. Once written, they become something to work with, either a good idea, or a bad idea, either something to be kept or something to be discarded.
It doesn’t matter their color coding; it matters they are written down, brain-dumped, listed so they can be considered.
The cookies are baking, you have a few minutes. The phone has voicemail, you can pick it up later. And the nachos? That’s what takeout is for. When our paying jobs need attention, we give it, so why do we put writing at the bottom of the list? Our jobs are what we must do. Our writing is what we want to do.
And it won’t get done if we busy ourselves with all the things we think we need to before we can do it, or in order to do it, or to get ourselves into the right headspace to do it.
Nature does not hurry because Nature is always working toward its goal. That’s why all things are accomplished.
How about you?


Spinetingler Magazine announces that it will begin regular publication of a print magazine. The long-running eZine will continue to publish web content between print issues. The first issue will be published in November 2017 by Down & Out Books.

“As is true in life, the events of the past have a tendency to influence our actions in the future,” said Sandra Ruttan, co-editor of Spinetingler Magazine. “It is the support of our readers that has enabled us to return with this print edition. With their continued support we hope to be able to continue to bring exceptional short fiction and features to you for years to come.”

“I am a life-long fan of short crime fiction,” said Eric Campbell, publisher of Down & Out Books. “And when Sandra and Jack Getze, her co-editor, approached me about putting out a print edition of Spinetingler Magazine, I didn’t hesitate. The variety of features and quality of stories is exceptional.”

The Fall 2017 edition of Spinetingler Magazine will feature original stories by Tracy Falenwolfe, Karin Montin, Jennifer Soosar, BV Lawson, Nick Kolakowski, David Rachels, and more. There are author snapshots of Con Lehane, Rusty Barnes, Mindy Tarquini, and others. Book features and reviews fill out the magazine’s pages.

About Spinetingler Magazine: Founded in 2005 by K. Robert Einarson and Sandra Ruttan, the ezine ( was later acquired by Jack Getze and transitioned to an ongoing publication format online. 
About Down & Out Books: Celebrating six years as an independent publisher of award-winning literary and crime fiction, Down & Out Books ( is based in Tampa, Florida. For more information about the magazine, or to request an interview with the editors or publisher, contact