Saturday, December 2, 2017

Writers’ Commiseration

Scott D. Parker

Yesterday, I had an impromptu commiseration session with another writer who said a heartbreaking thing: sometimes, for us writers who have day jobs, we might have to realize that these day jobs are no longer the temporary placeholder until our books take off. It is the reality.

I’m now a month into my new job* at there is another fiction writing in my department. I only learned of fiction about three weeks ago, but we didn’t have a chance to chat until yesterday. We told our stories. Y’all know mine. Hers was on the traditional side. Two books published, one to good reviews, even winning some prestigious awards. She had some agents who did all the right things, landing her books in blog tours and getting some great feedback.

But the success we writers want and need didn’t arrive. She didn’t get the million-dollar checks nor even the constant money she needed to sustain her livelihood. Even with an MFA in creative writing, she found little success to further her fiction writing career.

Which led her to doing other things as her day job. Like me. Maybe like you, too. She lamented the day she realized her day job was the real thing and her writing was secondary. I nodded with her as we stood in the coffee bar, steaming mug of tea in my hand and a yogurt cup in hers. We walked to the stairs, still conversing about books and writing. When we finally parted, I had a spring in my step.

Why am I telling you this? Because we writers, especially those of us with day jobs, need little reminders that writing is an important part of our lives even when it isn’t the primary way we earn a living.

*I now have a 2-hour, round-trip commute. I have begun to assess what I can do, writing-wise, to use that downtime. To date, it’s been plowing through audiobooks, some bad (Dan Brown’s Origin) and some good (Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero). But this week, I’ve been testing the Dragon Anywhere app on the iPhone. I’m hopeful I can use that driving time—at least in the afternoon—to get some first drafts completed. I’ll report on that in the future.

Friday, December 1, 2017

We Need To Talk

Recently, it has felt like every industry has owned up (at least minimally) to the problem of sexual harassment and assault in their own ranks. Personally, I have focused a lot of my energy on the problem of sexual assault in the military and how it affects the women who suffer it. The problems of harassment in veteran circles, and how it alienates. It's close to my heart, it's an experience I know, so that is where I go to force change.

But we need to talk, crime fiction community.

Before we pat ourselves on the back for miraculously being immune to the problems in Hollywood, the military, other genre groups, universities, construction sites, wherever your day job is, and middle schools, let's take a deep fucking breath. If the blinders didn't come off when a member of our community was charged with (and later convicted) of sexually assaulting children - a "nice" guy many of us had supported financially, morally, and even allowed in homes of other writers - then I don't know what to say.

We are not immune. Women are speaking out and not being heard. Most of our conferences and conventions don't even have a way to report misconduct (of any kind, let alone sexual harassment). When an act is inappropriate but not criminal, that means it simply cannot be dealt with. When it is criminal, that means the victim doesn't have the support of the conference if she makes the difficult decision to involve the police in a city she doesn't live in and must leave in a few days.

Further - some of the men who are trying so hard to do better have crossed lines themselves, and they know it. Whether it was blatant sexual harassment or simply sexism in professional circles, we can't trust men who claim to want to "do better" when they have not owned up to when they "did worse", have not apologized, have not made amends. We can't trust the other men who know about these incidents and still choose to be chummy with these guys, who promote their work, who collaborate, who invite the women they've stepped on out to drinks with the man who did the stepping. Responsibility has to be taken. I don't mean to say that there are no second chances, regardless of infraction, but if you don't even privately apologize to those you've wronged, your pledge to "do better" sounds a lot more like a cover than a promise.

Lastly, men who want to help. Thank you. I mean that. But chill the fuck out. This isn't about you. This isn't about how you feel. This isn't about being able to tell yourself you're one of the good guys. When you find out a woman has been the victim of sexual harassment/assault your job is not to investigate her claims (which will make her feel like she is not being believed), it is not your job to excuse your relationship with the perpetrator by telling her "what a nice guy" he is (most women already know  that "nice" guys sexually harass, undermine, grope, and rape women. It's a surprise to you, but probably not her), and it is not your job to tell her what to do.

Ask her if she wants to talk about it. Ask her if she wants to report it. Ask her.

If you are in a position to take some kind of action against the perpetrator, but feel you need her first person account, ask her if she would like to talk to you about what happened so you can take appropriate action. And use those fucking words. Don't ask her for evidence. Don't make it clear that you're "investigating" or that you're dealing with the shock that "such a nice guy" could hurt someone. Because it is not about your heroics. It is about facing a serious problem in our own community that will take women out of your conventions, away from your publishers, and off your social media.

There is a type of man who would be totally okay with this, I hope our community is good enough  to know it's unacceptable.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Goodreads Goes Full Publish America!

By Sam Belacqua

Jesus Christ on a pogo stick. Did you see these Amazon/Goodreads mother fuckers? Check out what these folks say -
Indie authors have fought for years to be considered “real authors” by both the industry and the readers. While progress has certainly been made–namely in the fact that more and more readers don’t care how the book came about so long as it’s a great read–there are still a few holdouts where indie authors don’t garner the same respect or privileges that publishers and their authors can find.
Yes. Yes. Show Dick some respect! Indie authors write books, and readers don't care whether the book comes from Random House or Randy's house. They just want good books. But, wait. I'm being told that INDIE AUTHORS CRAVE MOAR RESPECTS!

Goodreads, which is owned by Amazon, just did a thing. It could be great, according to this headline.

Or it could be crap, according to this one.

That first headline is from a story written by Mercy Pilkington. (If that is a real person's actual real name, I will eat my unshaven balls.) If you like GoogleSenseAds for the "Pay us $2,000 to publish your novel" crowd, you'll love it over there.

The other one is from a story that says, and I'm paraphrasing here, Holy cunt stains, Batman, Get a load of these mother fuckers.

Here's a fun PR statement thingy from another story:
In a statement to The Verge, a Goodreads spokesperson affirmed that indie authors and publishers were an “important part of the Goodreads community.” 
In a statement to the New York Times, a spokesperson for the company affirmed that murder is bad and that the children are our future.

Good grief. Look, basically these mother fuckers who run Amazon and Goodreads want you to pay money to make the shit you want to sell on their site more visible. The easy angle is to say they want to charge you if you want to give away your book for free. OK. Don't clutch them pearls too hard. They want to charge you for using their site to sell your shit. Bingo bango bongo. Amazon and Goodreads are the same folks now, so they want to use that to make money. Good for them. Also, fuck them.

Goodreads giveaways are the dumbest fucking thing outside Alagoddamnbama. Every Goodreads giveway results in the following review of the book you poured your soul into:
"I don't usually read crime fiction, but I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. The vulgar language and all of the crime in this book were just too much. At one point, when a nice policeman gets shot, I just couldn't read anymore. Very graphic. One star."

Fuck Goodreads Giveaways. Click HERE to read their pitch.

So they want to charge people $599 to promote a giveaway? Fine. You know what? I want to charge people $1,000 to come wipe my ass. So fucking what?

Publish America took your money. Goodreads is taking your money. Facebook wants to take your money to "target" folks who might want your book. I did a  Facebook ad once. Pay some money and tell them what location of folks, what age group, what likes, etc. If you set your crime novel in Kansas City during the George Brett World Series, you can target Royals fans, people in KC, people who love mysteries,etc. Sounds good. And you can pay Facebook for that. They tease you, though. You get all worked up and then you come up dry. Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was a big statue of blue balls.

You know, I'm glad Goodreads is charging now. Because that is some dumb shit authors waste their time doing. Now that there's money involved, maybe you won't waste time and money. Authors have time, but rarely money. Why? Because these mother fuckers keep taking it.

Repeat after me: Money flows TO the writer, goddamn it.

Fuck Goodreads. You don't need "respect" from Goodreads. You need to write a good fucking book. Then you need to sell that mother fucker so you can afford to write more books.

Goodreads giveaways have always been dumb. Now they're trying to make money off folks, thinking we're idiots?

Sounds scamtastic! Want to know how to make $99 easy? Just Paypal me $99 and I'll send you my secret. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Why do Meh Books Sell?

by Holly West

Recently, I read a book that pissed me off. Not the subject matter--it was a standard mystery, published by one of the Big 5. I liked it well enough until about a quarter through, when I got to what must've been the most blatant info dump since Dan Brown entertained us with THE DA VINCI CODE.

Side note: I was actually quite entertained by THE DA VINCI CODE. It was a page-turner and I had fun with it.

In the case of the recent book, I got mad. I went to Twitter and complained. I considered not finishing the book. In the end, I forgave it and continued to the end. When all was said and done, my reaction was, "meh." The plot was weak-ish, but as is often the case with whodunits, you don't necessarily see that until the end, when all those lose ends are flapping around and there's nothing you can do about it. The characters weren't exactly cardboard, but they weren't all that compelling, either, though it was clear the author did his best to make them seem that way.

The book did the job, but only just.

I'm not a person who rails against Big Publishing for publishing substandard books. On the whole, I think they do a pretty good job. But in this case, I had to ask myself why this book made it though the gates when there are so many other--better--books that don't.

Reason #1: The author had a strong bio. Not platform, but bio, as in his background makes for good cover copy. Easier to sell books that way.

Reason #2: Better than average writing, apart from the egregious, horrible, obnoxious, lazy... you get the drift... info dump, so-so plot, and semi-annoying characters.

Reason #3: What can I say? I bought the book based on the author's bio and a plot that seemed interesting. Not only that, I finished the damned thing. Obviously, the publisher achieved their goal in getting me to buy it and better yet, finishing it. Who am I to question their choices/methods?

I also think there are many readers who might genuinely like the book in spite of my complaints. It's got quite a few 5 star reviews.

So what can we, as writers, do to increase our chances of getting picked up by a big publisher (if that's what we happen to want)? In truth, not much. Write the best book you can, then do it again and again. Maybe pay attention to trends and patterns and what books are commercially successful (I hesitate to say that for obvious reasons). Just don't write to them, otherwise we'll be subjected to another ten years of GIRL IN TROUBLE hell. Most of all, write the kind of book you want to read.

As my English husband would say, easy-peasy.

In better book news, I'm reading RIGHTEOUS by Joe Ide now and I'm really enjoying it. I like it more than IQ, which is saying something. And I'm listening to THE CARTEL by Don Winslow, a book I'd been told repeatedly how great it is, and it lives up to the hype.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thief of the Unusual

When I was thirteen, fourteen years old and a faithful reader of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, one thing I knew I could look forward to reading every issue was an Edward D. Hoch short story.  And I do mean every single issue.  Hoch wrote over 900 short stories during his long career, and over half of them appeared in Ellery Queen.  Remarkably, at least one story of his appeared in every issue of the monthly magazine from 1973 until his death, at age 77, in 2008.

Hoch specialized in classic detective stories, and among his fortes was the locked-room mystery.  He worked myriad variations on the impossible crime narrative, many in stories featuring Sam Hawthorne, a New England doctor in the 1920's, 30's, and 40's.  In the short form, Hoch wrote police procedurals, espionage tales, western mysteries, and even suspense stories set during the American Revolutionary War. The character of his I've most read, and have returned to recently when I want some light reading, is Nick Velvet, probably Hoch's most famous and popular invention. He's a professional thief who for a flat fee steals only unusual objects.

In structure, the Velvet stories are inverse mysteries.  Somebody hires Nick to pull off the difficult theft of an item that seems worthless or just plain absurd to steal.  He's been hired to steal such things as a used tea bag and a cobweb.  The question becomes why the person who hired him wants that particular object stolen.  Often Nick functions as both thief and detective because he needs to steal the item and also find out his client's motive for wanting that item.  Needless to say, his clients don't always give him a full picture of their situation when they hire him, and as Hoch himself writes, "...he is often called upon to solve a mystery in order to accomplish his mission or to clear himself."

Right now I'm reading The Thefts of Nick Velvet, which contains thirteen Velvet stories. So far in the tales I've read, Nick has been hired to steal a tiger from a zoo, water from a swimming pool, a toy mouse from a movie set, and an entire baseball team from the United States so that they can be brought to play a game against a dictator's team on a Caribbean island.  Each story is ingenious, tightly written, and fast-paced.  I probably don't have to add that they also contain humor.  It's a pleasure to read such well-crafted, meticulously thought out stories.  As I mentioned, I read Hoch often as a kid, but it's worthwhile to return to him as an adult and a writer. Not only is he entertaining, but there's plenty to learn.  One can never not learn something from a writer this precise, this skillful yet unpretentious.  Glad to be spending time again with such a sharp craftsman.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Monday: Thanksgiving means love, turkey skin and Willem Dafoe.

Thanksgiving gives us time-off (maybe), family(yay?), and loads of food.

However, let's be honest about that Turkey-day dinner. Outside the staples of the bird, mashed-potatoes, gravy and rolls some of the fare can seem downright weird. Squished fruit suspended in green gelatin? Cream covered green beans paired with peas, almonds and onions? If you're a kid or a person unfamiliar with a particular clan-related food tradition much of the dinner can seem like a form of punishment.

Hey, with all that time off maybe you'll cuddle on the couch and watch lots of movies with loved ones. Are there any Thanksgiving movies other than Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and Dutch?

And family? Well that's a concept far too complicated for a four-day holiday. Yes, the brown and orange celebration is very nice, but it's no Christmas or Halloween.

Or, is Thanksgiving perfect because the magic that happens is, perhaps, small and completely unexpected? A few of my favorite writers and artists shared some special Thanksgiving memories. Take a look.

Kent Gowran is author of the Pushcart nominated short ".44 Blues." Former Editor at Shotgun Honey webzine and editor for Shotgun Presents: Both Barrels.

My initial thought when Marietta asked me to write a bit about what Thanksgiving means to me was to go into great detail about the year my Aunt Pat poisoned the whole family. After thinking about it a bit more, I knew the story, though there’s no need for visuals, really can’t be told without sound effects.

A little more thought and it seemed there’s one thing I associate more than anything else with the holiday, and that’s going to the movies. I don’t suppose it was sustained for enough years to call it a tradition, but in 1983, on the night before Thanksgiving, we went to the movies and saw A Christmas Story. Yeah, even back then Santa was horning in on the dead bird and potatoes action.

In ’85, like a lot of people, the night before Thanksgiving, we jammed into the beautiful Plitt movie theater in Aurora, Illinois and saw Rocky IV, none of us suspecting that, within the next 24 hours, we’d all be poisoned. Feeling overwhelmed with patriotism, my cousin and I bought tickets to see the movie again.

Tickets for a repeat of Rocky IV in hand, we made sure the coast was clear, and went into the neighboring auditorium to check out a movie called To Live And Die In L.A., a movie we knew nothing about. I can’t speak for my cousin, he slept through most of it, but my mind was blown, and the movie remains one of my favorites to this day. 

I’m sitting here writing this, thinking about how I still can’t stand the smell or taste of turkey, and, for the first time in 32 years, I’ll be going to the lobby on the night before Thanksgiving. We’re going to check out Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which, yeah, may be no To Live And Die In L.A., but I’m thinking it’s going to be good.

Greg Barth is the author of Selena, Diesel Therapy, Suicide Lounge, Road Carnage, and Everglade.
I met my wife on Thanksgiving Day. Actually it was that night, and it was in 1993. I worked a third shift at a convenience store that had a laundromat attached.

My wife came by to wash clothes. She came to the store for cigarettes and we talked for hours. It was a slow night due to the holiday.

Now, every year, we get to celebrate the anniversary of the night we met with a big traditional holiday feast.

Sarah Gee is a notorious squirrel watcher. Known for her opinions on GWAR and Chicago politics, she is also a talented visual artist and writer.

The day my family started cutting cherry tomatoes in half.

“Ya gotta wait til the bubbles on the edge pop- that’s how you know when to flip ‘em.”
My grandpa had been making these sourdough pancakes for ages, so I knew the advice was good. Something in his delivery of the advice made it more palatable to my deeply ingrained “question everything” mentality.  

The rest of the day the men would be soaking up vitamin TV in the living room with me relegated to the kitchen- a powerless interloper in the Battle of the Martha Stewarts that was about to be fought.

The tale of the tape went something like this:

Grandma had seen plenty, survived plenty. The Great Depression chewed up little girls and spat out women like her; steel-eyed women of gristle and thrift. She could feed 30 people with a green bean, I swear. She stunk of periodontitis masked with Scope. The smell of years of self-neglect in her quest for martyrdom.

Her advice was given in frustrated asides and always kicked my “reject everything” lever into overdrive. “Line the beans up three at a time so you can go 3x as fasss- ach, here, let me.” “Peel these over the compost bin so you don’t have to scoop out the scraps from the sink.”

My mom in the other corner of the ring. She’s an artist; tall and gorgeous, and full of anxieties and thoughts of inadequacies.  Really only a kid herself, but a perfectionist. A total Martha doing her best in a critical and hostile environment. 

Time came to set the table, and there’s my mom setting out the plates. I notice she’s put a plate that has a chipped footing at the head of the table where my grandpa would soon be sat. I say nothing and keep plucking the rehydrated green beans off of the baking sheet, putting them into the pan. Mom is now being instructed to leave the cherry tomatoes whole, because that’s how men like them. 

The bird is set out at the center of the table and the feast begins. Split pea soup with ham hocks to start off, and some minor bickering.  I can see my very young brother eyeing up the skin of the bird, but we aren’t touching the bird until the soup has been cleared. Grandpa escalates the tension by noticing loudly “Lou, I’ve got the rocker.” He loudly accuses my mother of insulting him by setting this particular plate in that particular position.  

Little bro is now getting more and more excited with talk of Christmas coming soon. He’s bouncing in his seat and drinking kelly green Kool-Aid from a goblet. My grandpa’s made everyone uncomfortable by now so it is time for the salad and the turkey. They put a salad in front of my little brother. I see him pluck a cherry tomato from the top, expecting it to be a maraschino probably, and pop it into his tiny mouth.

My mom starts to call him by his other name “Jesse be careful” as he bites down hard. A tiny, precise beam of tomato juice and seeds hit his uvula. This is the signal for full on projectile vomiting to his liquid-swollen belly. He unleashes this emerald geyser of soup and bile straight at the object of his affection, the beautiful turkey, smothering it in no more than 3 bursts.

And that is why my family always cuts cherry tomatoes in half now.

Yup. Pure holiday magic.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Treasures in Book Form

Last week, I talked about the wonderful criminality on display during the Sacramento Archives Crawl, where local libraries and other organizations open up their seldom-seen collections to the public. Wanted posters, Folsom State Prison locks, and notorious criminal trading cards were all on display.
But there’s more to these collections than just criminals. Artwork, literature, maps – all sorts of fascinating and beautiful things were out for us to see (but not touch).
The California State Library owns many such treasures, including Birds of America, the towering illustrated work by James Audubon. His artwork was transferred to copperplate etching and then printed on handmade paper. Each engraving was then painted by hand. The printings took from 1827-1838 to complete. And that doesn’t even count how long it took Audubon to do the original paintings in the first place.
It’s astonishing how extraordinary this book is. The library had one volume out, and it took up almost an entire table when open. It was more than 39 inches tall and 25 inches wide. A curator told us it weighed between 75 and 80 pounds. And it are three other volumes in the set. There are only 120 sets known to have survived. The State Library bought its copy in 1866 for $500. Recent auction sales of complete sets start at almost $8 million and go up to more than $11 million. And I can see why. These books would be worth every penny.
Mere feet away was another amazing piece of history. A first complete edition, dated 1788, of The Federalist: a collection of essays, written in favour of the new Constitution …
One of the most prolific authors of the Federalist Papers, as every now knows thanks to a certain Broadway musical, was Alexander Hamilton. This particular copy was owned by his father-in-law. Philip Schuyler’s name is handwritten inside the cover. This had me humming “The Schuyler Sisters” for the rest of the day. 
It’s no surprise that I love books. But what I really love is old books. I have a few in my library that date from the early 1800s, and one from 1794. I even have a copy of The Federalist, (not a first edition) in much worse shape than Mr. Schuyler’s is. That’s why I was thrilled to see another displayed treasure at the state library. A Bible, printed in 1501, that is used by governors and other state officials for their swearing-in ceremonies.
The first to use it was Governor Newton Booth (no relation!) in 1871. The State Library acquired the Bible sometime in the 1850s. I wish I could’ve opened it. There’s nothing like the smell and feel of an old, well cared-for book.
Note the signature on the bottom right.
The California State Library sent out these cards for artists, writers, and musicians to fill out. This one was filled out in 1906 by some guy named Samuel Clemens. He had a nom de plume as well. And so today, I’ll leave you with this. A first edition of the story that first made that name famous. And a piece of California history like no other.