Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Writer Becomes a Hero: True Fiction by Lee Goldberg

Scott D. Parker

Many times, we writers invent characters to project our greatest fantasies upon. Wish you were a World War II spy? Invent one. Wish you were a dashing hero in a romance? Invent one. So it came as a fun surprise when writer Lee Goldberg created a different kind of hero: a writer.

As a huge fan of the TV show “Castle,” I’m fine with lead characters being writers. Ditto for any number of Stephen King books. What makes Ian Ludlow different (albeit slightly) is that he doesn’t suddenly become a stud. Say what you will about Castle, but he became more adept at handling situations the longer the seasons went on, despite his constant man-child behavior. Ludlow doesn’t. Granted, this is his first adventure, so who knows what’s down the road for him.

Years before the opening scene of TRUE FICTION, Ludlow and a few other writers were recruited to dream up scenarios that terrorists might deploy to inflict huge amounts of damage to the US or US assets. Ludlow’s brainstorm was a plane crashing into buildings, not in a well-populated city like Houston or Denver or Los Angeles but Waikiki, Hawaii. The definition of paradise. Ludlow thought nothing of the experiment…until a plane is hijacked and crashes into a hotel in Waikiki.

Immediately, Ludlow knows he’d likely be a target. And when the other members of his secret writing group turn up dead, it is confirmed. Margo, the grad student assigned to drive Ludlow around Seattle on his book signing, quickly gets swept up in the action and the pair must escape the attempts by the secret agency who launched the attack.

Goldberg keeps the action moving along at quite a pace as befitting a thriller. But he manages to inject some humanity into Ludlow, who, more than once, wishes he was Clint Straker, the uber-hero of his own novels. Those moments are rather humorous, especially when Margo keeps reminding him of his inadequacies. And the humor sprinkled throughout the book made me chuckle more than once.

TRUE FICTION is a fun romp of a book that’ll keep you entertained from the first word to end.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Stop Publishing Your Friends, Publish Writers You Don't Know

By David Nemeth

There were six of us that Chris McVeigh, publisher of Fahrenheit Press, got together. Six us of who were about to enter the dark and twisted world that McVeigh moves in. Either that or we're going to be judges of an anthology of short crime stories that he wanted to release, Noirville: Tales From The Darkside. Luckily, it was the latter.

What interested most about this project was that we would be reading these stories blind, the author's name unknown to the judges. So if the writer was a friend or someone huge like Lee Child or Lawrence Block, they weren't going to get special treatment. The words were what mattered. The final product played out well because of this. The only writer I knew of in the Noirville anthology was Sarah M. Chen. The rest were strangers and that was really cool to me.

Before I get too far into this thing, let me introduce the other judges. First was Jo Perry, a Los Angeles based writer of Dead is Better, Dead is Best and Dead is Good books, all published by Fahrenheit. There were several UK book reviewer and bloggers: Kate Moloney of Bibliophile Book Club, Gordon McGhie of Grab This Book, Janet Emson of Portobello Book Blog and Verity Wilde of Verity Reads Books. And then there was some Yank book reviewer named David Nemeth from Unlawful Acts. McVeigh could not be expected to get every decision right.

This project was started in August 2017 with a projected released date of Christmas that year. As McVeigh writes in the introduction of the March 2018 release, “So only 3 months late, I’m taking that as a win.” I got through the thirty-five stories assigned to me to in less than a month though I probably was the last one to send them in my ratings. My email to McVeigh went like this, “I hope this isn't too late, Bouchercon knocked me for a loop. I don't know if I was in a bad mood reading these or what.” Oh, I must have been in a pissy mood. We were told to assign values from one to six, one being awful, six being great. Of the 35 stories I was assigned to read, I gave over twenty stories a rating of 1 or 2. Only four stories got the highest rating of 6.

Two stories, I didn’t like made it into the book. Three of the four stories I gave the highest rating were published: “The Icing On The Cake” by Russell Day, “Justin’s Room” by Jen Delozier, and “Washed Up” by Paul Gadsby.

The second round took a lot more time. Thirty-five stories again. This time the rating system was 1 through 10; 1 being horrible, 10 being the opposite of horrible. For better or worse, I only gave ratings to the best stories I thought should be included. I didn’t rate the other stories which was kind of a bitch move by me. Apologies, Chris. Of the 11 I recommended, only 5 made it into the book.

Chris McVeigh should get all the kudos for giving up control of the book and putting into our hands. The anthology writers include S.E. Bailey, Sarah M. Chen, Patsy Collins, Russell Day, Jen Delozier, Paul Gadsby, Joe Guglielmelli, Chris Hyatt, Scott Miles, John Scheck, John Schreier, Alex Shaw, Jeff C. Stevenson, Marc Sorondo, and Glenda Young.

Even though the judges had differing opinions on what is good or not, none of us were swayed by the fact that we had a beer with the writer the night before. If you're interested in making the crime fiction more inclusive and less cliquey, then blind judging is something editors and publishers of anthologies should give some strong consideration to.  Yes, blind judging is more work, but it's free of the incest and weak work that plagues many anthologies.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Whaddaya Mean I Gotta Talk to People? I'm a Writer!

Confession, in the late '90s, until my best bud Johnny got shipped to Iraq, I was one of those tactical wannabe guys who read books by Navy SEALs and trained for the peak oil apocalypse.
I got better.
Helped to have a friend telling me the Joseph Heller-esque charlie foxtrot of the "War on Terror" from the sandbox ... damn, I nearly slipped into that snacktical wannabe mindset again. There's a lot of silliness there. I read a bunch of books ghost-written for SEAL Team Six Commander Richard Marcinko, and met him and Jesse Ventura (right before he ran for Governor of Minnesota) and took them as realistic, even though everything after his Rogue Warrior memoir is fiction. And really childish wanker fiction co-written with a guy who wrote like Penthouse Forum meets Soldier of Fortune.

But there were a couple of gems in there, and one makes for a good analogy to writing research. When you depend on intelligence, there are different types. Human Intelligence, Signal Intelligence, Technical, Financial, and so on. But let's concentrate on the first two. Human intel is gathered first hand, by observing, doing, and talking to people. Signal is reading briefings based on satellite, and so on. That's like when you research by watching YouTube videos,using Google Maps and Earth to scout scene locations, reading Wikipedia pages, watching TV shows set in the city you're writing about, reading books about it, and so on. It is worthwhile research, and gives you a picture that may be different than the one you have prejudged from overhearing about your subject. This is a cornerstone of writing, and I'm not knocking it. But this is only a shaky foundation, and you need stronger research, especially these days when so many more people travel, and your audience is global in breadth and deeper in reach.

You need human intelligence before you write about people and places you don't know much about. If you want to write about France, you don't need to fly to Paris. But you might want to talk to someone who has lived there. Same goes with writing about your own country, if your characters' backgrounds are very different from yours. Sure, you may "know" how your character lived, but if you want the proper verisimilitude, you might want to get some human intelligence.

Talk to people.

Yeah, I know for every gregarious writer there are ten introverts who want to be locked in a room with their own thoughts and emerge with a masterpiece, and maybe that happens. I've read some great short stories set in cities by writers who've never been there, and wrote them before the Internet made some research easy. But I'm gonna bet green money he talked to someone who lived there, or observed them in conversation. I know some research gets done more easily than others. Guys who write about strip clubs have no problem asking the pole dancers questions about the life. You're paying for time, it's a different dynamic than asking a friend or acquaintance, or a friend of a friend, to sit down over coffee and let me ask some questions that may make us both uncomfortable. But that's better than approaching a story with a premise that is only believable if you've never lived like the people you're writing about.

Here's an example, if you live with or around junkies, your shit is going to get stolen. You are gonna get mad, but you won't become Gramma's TV Avenger and shoot the pawn shop guy who gave the guy fifty bucks for it, and stick the junkie full of needles taken from your grandma's tin of Royal Dansk cookies. You're gonna say fuuuuuuck and ask around to find who the corner wino saw carrying a big-ass TV down the hill, and hunt down the guy (or woman! junkies are like ants, they can lift ten times their body weight) to get the pawn ticket so you can get it back for $50 instead of paying $100 that's on the tag. If your bike gets jacked you're gonna be mad you didn't spring for the gorilla chain lock and bought the crap one that anybody with a hammer and a can of Freon could pop. (Or a soft plastic pen, those circle locks were a joke back in the day). Now maybe you didn't know this, but a guy like Dennis Tafoya who wrote Dope Thief because he talks to people. Julia Dahl wrote a few books that deal with the Orthodox Jewish community. She's an investigative journalist, so her books ring true. They are interesting reads, because you may learn things that you did not know.

And let's face it, that's one the best hooks in crime fiction: learning about new people and places. Like the guys who scrap ships on the coasts of Africa, as I recall one of the better stories in Best American Mystery Stories in the past five years or so. That was probably second hand, from a news article, but the characters felt true; I'm betting the author talked to someone from the country that he knew. In my books, when you see the thank you to Cindy Ardoin, Andre du Broc, Les Edgerton, Drake Broussard, and Aresa J'von... it's for the human intelligence.

Here's a little evidence of hands-on research I've done. I went to the Angola prison rodeo, and bought some crafts from the inmates in the fenced area where they can move freely. I bought a buckle fashioned from a silver half dollar from a fellow named Darrell Aucoin, who was reserved and thankful. We chatted a short while.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Sleep or Work?

I remember reading years ago that Jerzy Kosinski had an unusual writing routine. During every twenty four hour period, he would sleep twice for four hours.  This allowed him to work during the quietest times of the night and early morning, and yet he could get the sleep he needed to remain fresh and energetic throughout the day.  

Kosinski had the advantage of being a full-time writer so he could stick to that self-created schedule.  I did something similar in my twenties, when I had a six am to 11 a.m job, and no family.  I would leave work, take a walk outside, and get home by about 1 in the afternoon.  I'd sleep for a few hours, have something to eat, and write from 7 p.m. till around 11:30.  Then I'd go back to sleep from midnight till four o'clock in the morning, before rising for work.  It was a productive time.

Nothing like that is possible now.  During the school year, I wake up at 6:45 or so (in the summer I can sleep an extra hour), and for all twelve months, I'm not back home, on a typical night, till at least 6:30 in the evening.  Sometimes I do write in my office immediately after work, which will put me home around 8:00.  There's dinner and chatting with my wife and son, and so most of the time, I'll get back to the laptop for the night's writing stint around 11 p.m.  It's pretty late.  And yet, squeezed in there, before I write, for 45 minutes to an hour, there is the precious nap.  My version of the Kosinski sleep, however much it's shorter than his.  

I don't go to a dark room and lie down. Usually by 10 at night I'm so tired I can stretch out on my couch with the TV on, my wife in the room, and doze off. It's become such a habit that I usually wake without prompting in the hour or less I mentioned. Sometimes, if I don't trust myself to wake in an hour, I'll set my alarm to do it for me.  Either way, when I do reopen my eyes, I encounter what becomes the most difficult part of the day.  It's that moment, when you're relaxed, when you've been sleeping, when you really would like to simply go back to sleep, that you may wonder, "What the hell am I doing?".  Your eyelids feel heavy, your body leaden, and the effort required to rise up from the couch to write seems too much.  "You can always pick up tomorrow," I say to myself.  "But what if tomorrow I tell myself I can always pick up tomorrow?"  It is, no question, a slippery slope.  Give in one day and how many more days will you give in?  I'm not saying I never give in; sometimes the body refuses to obey the mind's commands and you have to surrender to sleep.  But more nights than not, I do manage to drag myself to my feet and up the stairs to the second floor of our house, and in the kitchen I set about preparing my late night cup of espresso. 

The ritual kicks in.  I open my laptop, sit down, inhale the aroma of the brewing coffee.  One small cup (it is late, after all) and no sugar.  And it may take a few minutes, but soon enough, I'm back into whatever I've been writing. My mind is awake, helped by the caffeine.  I feel refreshed and I'm determined to use the hour and a half to two hours I have to get some words down.  No time to waste, no time to procrastinate, but the funny thing is that with writing time so limited, I find I don't need much time anymore to get myself going and pick up where I left off.  Out of necessity, I get in the writing mood fast.

Then it's time to stop, so I can get some extended shut-eye, and I know that after I return from my job the next day, I'll repeat the process all over again.  I'll have to face that moment after the nap, the moment when I have to make a choice, need to push myself. 

"Sleep more or get up.  Rest or work."  

I'm getting older, and it's not easy, but as I said, the push to work, so far, usually wins.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Monday Question: Do you have a bucket-list for writing?

Bucket lists. We've heard of them. Some of us have one, but do you have a bucket list for your writing?

To have Joe Lansdale read one of my books would be the top item on my list. I'd read Joe's grocery list with breathless anticipation.

Laura Dern, or Lula as Gabino Iglesias corrected, showing interest in a character. Steph Post and I agreed we would pay to watch her eat a sandwich. Hotter that Georgia asphalt.

Writing a television series. Having stories inspire music. Lots of drinking. Here are a few of the interesting and somewhat familiar answers from our favorite writers.


JJ Hensley
Amazon Author Page
"I'd like for a critic to compare me to Raymond Chandler. Except I don't write like him. Or look like him. And I'm not dead. Actually I'm cool with two of those things.

And, a Thriller Award or an Edgar. I'd be completely modest about the award and would have it tastefully put on a chain and I'd wear it around my neck like Flavor Flav with clocks.

I'd love to walk into a Starbucks, Panera, or airport terminal and see some random person reading one of my books. I'd probably approach the person and ask what they think of the book. Then I'd head to a bar if they told me it sucks."

And if they liked the book?

"I'll buy them a drink. Scotch. Maybe beer. Probably Sam Adams."
-JJ Hensley


Gabino Iglesias
Amazon Author Page
"I want to create stories that resonate with folks and that can be easily identified as being mine. I'm a guitar freak and can recognize some tones immediately. I want that; my own, unique tone.

I want blurbs from folks like Joe Lansdale, Don Winslow, and Nnedi Okorafor. To have literary giants recognize you as someone worth praising is great. Getting blurbs from Jeremy Robert Johnson, Paul Tremblay, David Joy, and Jerry Stahl still helps me push forward on rough days.

I want translations. German. French. Spanish again. All of them! I'd love a limited edition hardcover from a press like Thunderstorm Books. That glorious paper and art...

I want to reach a point in my career where I can have a say in all my covers. They will all be Matthew Revert covers.

I wanna make enough money to cover rent. No trips to Venice or expensive clothes or fancy wine, just rent.

One day I wanna start a project like HAAM (Health Alliance for Austin Musicians) but for us broke-ass, uninsured writers. Copping antibiotics from a dealer makes for a funny story, but fuck being uninsured and getting sick. Writers have 0 benefits unless they have a solid day gig. I wanna change that.

I wanna meet all my Facebook friends from horror, crime, and bizarre communities and buy them beers and tacos."
- Gabino Iglesias


Tom Leins
Amazon Author Page
"If you had asked me this question twelve months ago, the idea of getting a book published would have trumped all else. Now, 15 years after my first published story, with two book releases on the way - Meat Bubbles & Other Stories (2nd June, Near To The Knuckle) and Repetition Kills You (21st September, All Due Respect) - that dream is close becoming a reality! I can't wait to see my books filed between Lehane and Leonard on bookshelves - who doesn't love alphabetical filing systems, right?

Regardless of what I go on to achieve - or not achieve - with my Paignton Noir books, I also hope that I can inspire someone else in this town to pick up a laptop, or put pen to paper, and share their own fiction with the world. Growing up in Paignton, it felt like a cultural vacuum, and there were precious few shining examples of people trying to forge a creative path. My style of fiction is pretty abrasive, and I don't expect mainstream success anytime soon, but I hope that I have done enough to convince other small town writers to pursue their own lunatic visions!"
- Tom Leins


Michael Pool
Amazon Author Page
"The top item on my writerly bucket list would be to see on of my books or series of books be made into a television show (Though I'd obviously manage to live it were a movie instead). I just feel like television's season-based format is idea for bringing novelistic storytelling to the screen, because the longer structure lend itself well to larger overall character arcs. It would also be an interesting experience to watch professional actors and directors bring your characters and scenes to life. So, yeah, that's my top writerly bucket list item, a television series!"
- Michael Pool


Steph Post
Amazon Author Page
"I would LOVE to work with composer Trevor Morris (Dragon Age Inquisition and also shows like The Tudors and Vikings. I've been stalking him for a while, but no luck yet...) Also Kerry Muzzey and Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones and West World). I love soundtracks and usually plan certain scenes to go with different tracks, even though the original material may have nothing to do with what I'm writing.

I'd actually love to be with FX, if my work ever gets picked up. I'm the biggest fan of Justified and The Americans. I think FX has been putting out some great shows lately, and, you know, with The Americans ending this year they've got a nice window open for a new show... Of course, I wouldn't say no to HBO, that's for sure.

I tend to 'cast' books as I write them, so I've got a list of actors I would love to work. Rufus Sewell and Walton Goggins are the first to spring to mind. Viggo Mortensen. Gustaf Skarsgard. Eddie Redmayne, though I've yet to write something that I think he would have a role in."
-Steph Post


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Of Spring and Hope and Blooming Eternal

By Claire Booth
I thought today would be an appropriate day to take a breath, and think not of crime, but of peace. My garden right now is brimming with it – color and light and life. All things that for me bring calm and reflection. I hope there’s something that does the same for you. And if you celebrate today’s holiday, the happiest of Easters to you.