Saturday, February 3, 2018

Same Process, Different Term

Scott D. Parker

I started my next novel on 1 February. And I was rusty.

I’ll admit it’s been a few weeks—months, really—since I wrote new fiction. I’ve been editing things that’ll be published later this year. And I’ve been doing some reading. Lots of it in January.

I woke up at 4:30am. Yeah, with a day job and a 45-minute morning commute, that’s my only time to write. The new book is the latest Calvin Carter, Railroad Detective, novel. I had the scene in my mind. I had conceived of it the previous day. It was a robbery of a stagecoach carrying a wad of cash. And the owlhoot had a very special method of pilfering. What could go wrong?

Well, the words arrived, they just arrived at a slower pace than I expected.

It's a general rule when you work out that if you don't exercise a muscle, it atrophies. The same is true for writing. When I was writing all the time last year, the words flowed and I was merely typing just fast enough to keep up. I expected that on Thursday morning. I didn't get it.

And that's when a term used in the movies came to mind. I actually uttered it out loud Thursday morning when I was getting ready for work.

“I'll fix it in post.”

Didn't immediately know where that came from but then it dawned on me. Earlier in the week, I had listened to Kevin Smith’s Fat Man on Batman podcast, specifically his interview with Armen Kevorkian. Armen is the special effects supervisor for the DC Comics TV shows on the CW.
Naturally, everything For which Armen is responsible takes place after principal photography is done. Literally post production, abbreviate as “post.”

We writers have our own post-production: when we edit. We all know that, but I had never thought of it as “post production.” Same thing; different term.

We merely have to trust the process and know any given writing day may not be perfect, but we must strive to move our manuscripts forward.

Friday, February 2, 2018


Several months ago, when my brother was staying with me, we both got excited about the Psych movie, and realized there was nowhere to stream the series without paying through the nose. I then realized I missed the end of the series somehow, and felt a little crushed.

The day after Christmas I was at my brother's apartment and Psych was on. While I waited for him to get ready to leave I sank into the couch and the familiar antics of Shawn and Gus before realizing, I shouldn't be able to do this.

"Did you buy Psych on DVD?!"

No, it was streaming.

It's sometimes hard to remember what it was like when, if you missed an episode of a show you liked, you just missed it unless you were lucky enough to catch a rerun in the off season. Where, if you missed the ending of a series you really loved, that opportunity was simply gone, but I had been living that reality for years.

Needless to say, I started watching Psych from the beginning. It's fun and silly, and my kid can watch it, so it's on a lot. Folding laundry = watching Psych. Cleaning the living room = watching Psych. Want something to watch over lunch? Watch Psych!  Plus, we recently bought a used elliptical and it's positioned perfectly to get a nice workout while I, you guessed it, watch Psych.

It's hard to pinpoint one or two things that make the show so fun, aside from the fact that it makes Santa Barbara look like a murder capital, which always gives me a smile. But as we've gotten into later seasons, I've remembered one of the most special things about the show - the women.

At the start of the series, the chief is a sleep deprived mom of a newborn, who is still in control and manages to stand up for herself and move from "interim chief" to running the place. She's always no nonsense, she's always in control, and she never falls victim to shitty tropes about women in power. When we see flashbacks to Shawn's childhood, we see his dad doing most of the child rearing, and discover that his mother was a highly successful psychologist who travels the country to do her job. Juliet, who starts out as a new detective, never runs from danger, even when dealing with serious trauma. She holds her own with her hyper-masculine (but still respectful) partner. Even the romantic storylines present positive views of women and their agency.

The show centers on Shawn and Gus, but the supporting cast is full of women in many different situations and personalities - and though many murder of the week shows depend on dead women to prop their stories up, it actually seems like there's a good mix of male and female victims.

I commented the other day that the show was ahead of it's time with Gus's character, who openly speaks about race issues and history without people rolling their eyes or labeling him a problem. But it goes further than that, when the men are creepy to women, the other men call them out. When Shawn gives dating advice he starts with "Treat her like a person first."

And, in the episode we watched last night, when Juliet is shaken and having a hard time dealing with another run in with the show's repeat villain, Shawn does the manly thing and tells her he will protect her. She relaxes, like it was exactly what she needed to hear, and says, "And I will protect you right back."

It's a touching moment, but it's also an amazing one. Shawn's character is routinely threatened by anyone and everyone who is better than him at anything, but when it comes to the woman he loves, he is comfortable and happy knowing that she's a badass police detective. Knowing that they have to protect each other and face the world together - and that's pretty amazing.

It's fun to revisit something I loved and see that not only does it still hold up, but that it's doing better on issues like race and gender than a lot of what's coming out now. While laughing at the antics of Shawn and Gus I remarked, "I wish they were real..." and while they might be less fun in life than on TV, I do hope we see more healthy, affectionate friendships between men on television. I hope we see more dads as the primary caretakers of children. I hope we see more women in positions of power that aren't drawn as ball busters or failures. And I really hope we see more relationships where the expectations of gender are thrown out in favor for mutual respect and protection from this insane world.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Gravy Train

I have a problem.
I'm going to put this out there and fully admit that the problem here is mine, so let's kick it off with:
Tommy has a problem with writers who complain a lot about the biz online.

And I mean, complain about the writing biz, in a public space, where your readers are listening. You want to hash it out with fellow writers, that's what every field does. I fire up a video call with my friend in Josh Stallings in California to catch up, aim our phones and laptop cameras at our pets, and occasionally grouse about the difficulties we've been having. He's one of my mentors, and when I picked up his first Mo McGuire novel, Beautiful, Naked, and Dead, I realized that there were writers out there doing what I wanted to do, so it was okay to do it. I had already read Don Winslow, Josh Bazell, and Hilary Davidson, but they were distant figures at the time. I'd met Josh at Bouchercon, we'd shot shit online, he was real. I have since met Josh and Hilary and they are very real and fine, professional writers who do what every writer dreams of--they write books no one else could, and get them published.

Mr Winslow does that too, and while we've chatted online, I have yet to have the pleasure. Josh Stallings and I are now great friends (that Bazell guy is a doctor, and you have to watch them. They are always looking to steal your organs or experiment on your corpse) and we hash out problems on our calls. And you know what, it's a blessing. It keeps me from ranting online.

Because what do I think when I see someone who has achieved greater success ranting about how terrible their career is? To me, it feels like they are insulting their readers. Who is following you on social media? Most of the time it's other writers, honestly, but hopefully you have some fans who like your books or your stories, if you've been published. And while yes, I have sympathy, this just isn't the place. It smacks of, "Hey yeah, I'm glad you like my book, but maybe if you bought 20 for your friends, I could have the career I dream about." And I know, that's not what writers mean when they kvetch about low sales, or not hitting it big even though they have a book out by a major press every year, but what are you accomplishing by doing this?

And on twitter, you're not allowed to criticize anyone. How dare you suggest that I not expose my every emotion? Hey, you want to do that, go right ahead. But when you're in high school and rave that "you have no friends" ... to your friends, how are they supposed to feel?

Same with, "I don't sell enough books!"

"Um, I bought your book. I told everyone how much I liked it. I reviewed it, too. Guess I'm not doing any good..."

And yes, you're right, I don't have to listen when someone goes off. And usually I don't. And I don't think many other people do, either. And I'm not guiltless here. Back in the day, I was Mister Subtweet. (And I'm sure some are so vain that they'll think this post is about them, but it isn't, really.)  And I was wrong, and I learned. This isn't directed at any one writer. I've seen writers from all genres do it. It's their right to do it, and maybe it makes some readers feel closer, like they're getting the utmost honesty, so I could be completely off base here. I won't apologize, any more than those writers should apologize.

But for me, I'm grateful for the readers I do have, and that's what I prefer to radiate instead of misery. As long as I'm able to write what I do, and people are excited to see a new story or book from me, I promise to be happy. And you can throw this link in my face like a cocktail at the grand writers' ball, if I break that promise. It would be nice to be able to eat a few meals in exchange for those stories. If you can make a living off what you love, you are riding the gravy train with biscuit wheels. It may be tough, but that's the work part.

Have a biscuit dipped in gravy. They're delicious.

You can complain about the biscuits when the cook ain't listening.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

State of the Bookshelf

It's January 30th, and I'm happy to report that the state of my bookshelf is strong.  The solid wooden shelves, built by an excellent craftsman, are not sagging, and with continued rearranging and occasional culling, the shelf as a whole should remain viable for some time.  I'm still upset that the books aren't organized in the precise way I once had them at a previous place I lived - an order I knew and which made finding books simple - but after that, the books went into boxes and storage (for years), and then when I took them out again to put them on this new shelf, I didn't have the time to reorganize everything the way I wanted.  Since then, with work and family life, I never have gotten the chance to restore them to their previous orderly beauty.  New books get added here or there among the others.  It bugs me a little, but what else can I do?  I have sections ordered as I like, but most of the books are thrown together without regard to author name, genre, or classification (non-fiction, history, biography, etc.).  I'll get there, though, to the order I crave; each week, each month, I snatch a few minutes to work toward that goal.  But disordered or not, it's just great to have all my books back with me again, and there are few more comforting feelings than coming home from the nonsense outside - work, failing subways, and whatever other unpleasantness - closing the house door and seeing those books.  Or after an hour or two of watching CNN at night, which I do fairly often, I'll admit, feeling compelled to take in the spectacle, the country's spasms, I'll come upstairs to my books.  Late at night, when everyone else in the house is asleep, I'll flip through pages, browse at random. I'll take a book down from the shelf, read a passage or two, and put it back. Use Play as It Lays as a model.  How did Djuna Barnes write like that? Damn, Thomas Berger is funny. It's amazing how well the Martin Beck series holds up.  

The bookshelf.  It summons me.  I come.  And I'm glad, very glad, on this 30th of January, 2018, that the state of its health is strong.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Dear [Unnamed Wannabe Author Who Thinks They Are God's Gift to Agents]

My husband recently alerted me to a generic letter to agents that was making the rounds on Twitter. I have no idea who actually wrote it, and he didn't either. I tried searching Twitter and didn't succeed in identifying the person.

However, the Internet is where your sins go to die a thousand deaths over and over again because nothing can be truly, permanently eliminated. Screen shots and archival services see to that.

This was the letter:

I am not an agent. However, on behalf of all the decent authors trying to get agents or editors who may be in a justifiably bad mood after getting a submission such as the one above and based on my experience as an editor reviewing submissions, I do have a response.

Dear [Unnamed Wannabe Author Who Thinks They Are God's Gift to Agents]

Please don't be offended that I haven't taken time to read your query letter to the point where you present your name because it's actually better that I forget who you are. NOW. Otherwise, I'd be likely to tell fellow agents and editors of the incredibly unprofessional submission you sent and you wouldn't just be banned from submitting work to me again in the future.

When I was a teenager applying for my first job I didn't photocopy my application form for McDonald's and drop that off at Burger King or Wendy's. I filled out each form. You know why? Despite the volume of applications I was putting out I understood that each place I hoped would hire me had specific application requirements.

A submission to an editor or agent is like an application. The employer has told you what they want to see to evaluate your application to advance to the next round in the publishing industry. You're either going to get a book deal or get one step closer to a book deal than you were before you submitted.

When you don't follow my submission guidelines it tells me several things. You don't respect my time enough to ensure that I have just what I've asked for.That doesn't suggest to me that we'll have a good working relationship.

I did you the courtesy of providing clear directions. You just showed me you can't follow them. That worries me because if I present your work to an editor I need to know you'll follow their directions for editorial revisions. I need to know you'll respect their time. I need to know you'll do your job like a professional. If you don't then the editor won't be happy with me and that can jeopardize my business and my reputation. Right now, you're begging me for my attention and you've given me several reasons to believe that representing you would be a headache and could cost me future business.

Remember how I said I didn't photocopy my McDonald's application and hand it in at Wendy's? I didn't want the managers to think I wasn't that serious in an opportunity at their business. You're sending in so many submissions you can't be bothered to properly format them or send the required material? Have you researched your subgenre and the agents who specialize in that type of content? Clearly you aren't very serious about having me represent you because any one of hundreds will do. I know you aren't concerned with my submission guidelines so I doubt you even know what type of writers I work with.

You clearly think you're too special for guidelines to apply to you but I'm the one who is a gainfully employed professional in this business. While having my ass kissed isn't something I expect I do appreciate being treated like a respected professional.

I'm not sure what you define as a reasonable sample and a reasonable synopsis. I'm also not going to find out. The reality is that on any given day I receive dozens of submissions. This is a very competitive industry and part of how people distinguish themselves is by showing they are ready to take their work as an author seriously. That means doing pesky little things like using punctuation and following submission guidelines.

In sending this response I've actually shown you more courtesy than you've shown me. I've explained why we have submission guidelines. In case you didn't connect the dots, part of what we're looking for is someone who knows how to read well enough to follow directions. How you present your material is an indication of your professionalism, or lack thereof.

For every hundred submissions I receive I may only seriously consider representing three writers. Out of those writers given serious consideration I will only represent a handful. Publishing is an industry that favors buyers rather than sellers. For every book that is traditionally published there are hundreds to thousands of writers who received a rejection letter. Consequently, I'm looking for reasons not to work with someone so that I can devote my time to the writers who have the potential to have a serious writing career.

And those writers are not the people who decided to make a bad first impression by presuming their time was more important than mine, that the rules don't apply to them and that they can do whatever they want and still get a publishing deal. That may be true if your name is Brad Pitt. It is not true if you are a nobody.


The Agent You Didn't Bother To Identify

I've said it before and I'll say it again. If a writer doesn't follow our submission guidelines their work may be deleted without further correspondence or consideration. In some cases, they may find themselves on our shitlist and be barred from consideration for publication in the future.
And as much as I want to discover great new writers and give people a chance I sleep perfectly fine at night with that policy. I've been sworn at too many times by people who were rude, I've given up time with my family dealing with someone who didn't think they should put in the work on their own writing.
No more. No respect for me means you can take your sub and shove it.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Right Writing Tool

I’m just starting a new manuscript, which is a stage that involves much brainstorming. For me, that involves a lot of good old-fashioned pen and paper. I scrawl out lists and charts and random circled notes. And then I re-think things and want to change them. Which is where – in the past – things got messy. I would either have to use pencil - which I don't like - so that my scribbles erased nicely, or scratch out what I’d written in pen.
Then, I found the perfect solution. 
Erasable pens. That actually work! Sure, erasable pens have been around forever, but neither the ink nor the eraser ever really worked right. Then I found these. They actually erase. Completely. And they come in different colors. Now I can easily assign separate colors to different plot points or characters. I can’t tell you how much this has changed my life. I know, this is the point where you’re thinking that I really need to get out more. True. But at least while I’m stuck in my office dreaming up new and creative ways to commit crime, I’ll have the right tools to do it.