Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Shadow: The Shadow Unmasks

Scott D. Parker

(Note: I am busily putting things in order for a big May announcement so I don't have much to add today. I'll be ready to let everyone know what's going in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, here's one of my favorite novels of 2018.)

Hot on the heels of my first Shadow novel, PARTNERS IN PERIL, I have now read my second, THE SHADOW UNMASKS. And I loved it just as much.

In order to kick start my Shadow experience, I decided to listen to the new productions at Audible Studios. They feature a main narrator and multiple voice actors for the cast. Both I’ve heard are fantastic and recommended. As a result, however, I’m reading these Shadow novels out of order, which means what I learned in UNMASKS surprised me.

Up until now, I’ve always thought The Shadow was, in fact, Lamont Cranston. If my memory serves me, that simple one-to-one equation was on the radio shows and it certainly was on the Alec Baldwin movie. As I started in with UNMASKS, I was expecting the same, and it started out that way until the story took an interesting turn.

The main plot of UNMASKS involves a crook named Shark Meglo (great name!). He and his gang have a straightforward plan: find, attack, and kill the buyers of some rare and valuable gems before the buyer can utter the name of the seller. For you see, the master crook behind the entire operation recycles the gems in new settings. Every three weeks or so a new member of the wealthy class dies. All of them had recently purchased gems.

Naturally, the story begins with the most recent murder. The Shadow tries to thwart Shark’s evil plans…but fails. He learns vital clues to what’s going on, however, information needed to prevent the next death. But a distant accident lands on the front pages of New York’s newspapers. A plane accident in England injured a few Americans. The story not only listed the names of the individuals but splashes their photos. There, for all to see, is the real Lamont Cranston. The problem is, especially if you are police commissioner Ralph Weston, who reads the newspaper standing outside the Cobalt Club, is that you are literally talking to Lamont Cranston. Only it’s The Shadow in his disguise. There follows a fun subterfuge as the Agents of The Shadow basically try and convince Weston that he didn’t really see Lamont Cranston but Cranston’s nephew. And the commissioner bought it.

The odd turn the story took for me was when Kent Allard, famed aviator who crashed in the Guatemalan jungle a dozen years ago, has made a reappearance. He arrives in New York to great fanfare and very quickly, we learn Allard is really The Shadow. And, lest anyone (me included) wasn’t hip on how it all shook down back then, The Shadow visits the house of an old ally, Slade Farrow (another great name!) and reveals his true identity, complete with the entire background. The reasoning is spot on—The Shadow uses the identity of Cranston as long as Cranston stays out of New York—but I couldn’t help wondering how many times in this series and, of course, the comic book masked heroes, that the characters revealed their identity to others. It also makes me wonder if, after this August 1937 issue (number 131 overall) if Lamont Cranston was ever used again. Long-time readers of The Shadow: please let me know.

Anyway, after that startling revelation, the story continued until the inevitable end. Two things struck me about this ending. One, the big finale was somewhat low key. I guess you can’t have every novel end in a big shoot-out or something. The second thing was that The Shadow is very much like Sherlock Holmes in that he knows the likely ending far in advance and just moves the various chess pieces along the way, usually with his agents none the wiser.

I’ve now read two Shadow novels and I’m not gonna stop now. They are a blast. And, as a lifelong Batman fan, I’m really fascinated to research more in depth how Bill Finger drew on his love of The Shadow and helped shape the Dark Knight Detective.

So, fellow Shadow fans, where does this story rank in the all-time list?

Friday, April 13, 2018

I'll Be Gone In The Dark and why women are drawn to true crime...

I've been reading I'll Be Gone In The Dark, by Michelle McNamara and the way she seamlessly blends her own personal experiences and relationship with true crime into the narrative of the Golden State Killer has brought up a lot of thoughts and feelings on my own relationship with true crime. We know, and have discussed on this very blog, how many of the consumers of true crime entertainment are women (almost all of them), and this book seems to touch on the reason I hear from true crime aficionados a lot.

We're scared to death. McNamara's introduction to true crime was an unsolved murder in her own town. I've written here about the spate of high profile, terrifying crimes that happened in my home town. Even the podcast, My Favorite Murder features the two hosts repeating how much they don't want to get murdered, how their fascination with these violent and upsetting stories seemed to come after a genuine fear.

While it's incredibly unlikely, in a statistical sense, that I will be targeted by a serial killer or stranger who wants to invade my home to rape me - the truth is even scarier. Most murder victims are killed by people they know. Most women victims are murdered by men they once loved. If that hadn't been hammered home for me in my late teens, watching the parents of Laci Peterson love and support their son in law for weeks before realizing that he murdered their pregnant daughter, the statistics don't lie.

The reason women are the demographic for Lifetime (which has become Murdertime in the years since it was all  Hallmark style romances) and ID Discovery isn't because of some dark side we're hiding - but because we've been raised to believe that these fates await us around every corner. Sadly, it's not fully inaccurate. RAINN says one in six women will be the victim of a rape or attempted rape in their lifetime, and most will happen before they turn thirty years old. So many of the high profile murders that capture the interest of the true crime community involve sexual abuse, or at least, sex. To refer back to Scott Peterson, his motive seemed to be that he was tired of his current wife, and wanted a relationship with the younger woman he was having sex with.

When my straight/bi women friends and I talk about past relationships, each and every one of us has at least one story about a guy who seemed great until the relationship got serious. Suddenly, they were living with, or married to a controlling asshole who tried to tear them down, isolate them, and/or ruin them financially. Live Your Dream states that well over four million women experience intimate partner abuse every year.

So while a well written book like McNamara's would be interesting, if not entertaining without the personal touches she included, the fact that she writes about the effect true crime in general, and this case specifically had on her is amazing. It's time to put a finger on it - a lot of true crime entertainment is considered trashy, or on the same level as soap operas. While I have my own set of criticisms for the genre, I think it's beyond time that we start talking about why women are so drawn to it. No one will look down their nose at a person who reads and researches about health issues that run in their family, so why are we side eyeing women who want to know more about the women, often women just like them, that suffered the fate we're always a little afraid of, even when we're not really thinking about it, somewhere in the back of our minds?

Thursday, April 12, 2018

2018 "Book Blog Awards" Winners Announced at London Book Fair

  • The Literary Edit by Lucy Pearson wins Book Blogger prize at inaugural awards ceremony
  • Instagrammer Faroukh Naseem @theguywiththebook crowned Bookstagrammer of the year
  • Reads and Daydreams by Lauren Whitehead takes home BookTuber award
  • Awards ceremony held at The London Book Fair & presented by Emma Gannon, author of The Multi-Hyphen Method and host of the CTRL, ALT, DELETE podcast
LONDON 12 APRIL 2018: The winners of The London Book Fair’s (LBF) first ever UK Book Blog Awards have been announced today in London, with book bloggers recognised across three categories: Book Blogger, Bookstagrammer, and BookTuber.
The Book Blogger prize was awarded to Lucy Pearson for The Literary Edit. Lucy’s blog offers reviews of books and bookstores, literary guides to cities around the world, and a “Desert Island Books” section featuring some famous names. “The judges really loved the wonderful aesthetic of this blog. It inscribes the book into day-to-day life. Her professionalism shone through with her fresh enthusiastic approach, that seeps through to all her other channels”. Queen of the Contemporary by Lucy Powrie and Choutt by Virginie Busette also made the judge’s shortlist.
@theguywiththebook Faroukh Naseem (32k followers) won the Bookstagrammer award. “This Instagram reflects everything that a bookstagram should encompass”, Judges said. “It’s a wonderful blend of aesthetically pleasing images with obvious sophistication. This really is a wonderful example of the full potential of the Instagram format, and contradiction to many stereotypes”.
Reads and Daydreams won in the Booktuber category, with strong competition from Savidge Reads and poet Jen Campbell. Vlogger Lauren Whitehead uses Reads and Daydreams to welcome her viewers into her bedroom where she offers a candid look at her life and reading list. According to the judges, “The enthusiasm, energy and professionalism was jumping off the screen. You couldn’t but be entertained and inspired by this. The range of books covered was impressively comprehensive.”
The London Book Fair UK Book Blog Awards were held at 2:30pm on April 12, 2018 on the Third day of the Fair at Olympia London. The awards were hosted by Emma Gannon, author of The Multi-Hypen Method, the essential new business book for the digital age, and host of CTRL, ALT, DELETE, a podcast, where celebrities discuss their relationship with the internet.
Jacks Thomas, Director of The London Book Fair, said “Bloggers are now an essential part of publishing, bringing books to new audiences and creating a place for people to share their passion for reading. And it’s this passion for books and creativity from bloggers demonstrated by this wonderful shortlist that blows me away. It’s great to recognise them at The London Book Fair for the first time.”

The full shortlist for the UK Book Blog Awards 2017 is:
Book Blogger:
  • The Literary Edit, Lucy Pearson, Australia  
  • Queen of Contemporary, Lucy Powrie, UK
  • Choutt, Virginie Busette, France
  • @julietslibrary - Juliet Trickery, UK
  • @therusticwindow - Cicely Ford, USA
  • @theguywiththebook - Faroukh, Saudi Arabia 
  • Reads and Daydreams, UK
  • Jen Campbell, UK
  • Savidge Reads, UK

Submitting Your Story: The Cover Letter

By Steve Weddle

From my LitReactor class lecture on writing a cover letter when submitting your short story:

If you’re writing a sci-fi story, you probably don’t want to submit to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. That’s a fairly easy call for you, I hope. Don’t send your private eye noir to Analog, either. But what about Hudson Review? What do they want? What tone do their stories hit? What’s the feel of the magazine? How are stories in the Georgia Review different from those in the Kenyon Review? From Carve?

Some magazines post sample stories online. Check these out, but don’t let them substitute for reading the magazine itself. Of course, if you’re talking about an e-zine, you’re in better shape.

I’m still surprised at how many people submit to magazines without ever looking at them. If you’re serious about your writing – and you are or you wouldn’t be here -- you’re going to want to find the best home for it. You don’t want to have a story you’ve been working on until midnight for three months straight going to an eight-page, saddle-stitched rag with an MS Paint cover.

What if you can’t afford to subscribe to fifteen magazines? Well, then you’re a normal person, because, damn, that gets pricey.

One thing you can do is sample issues, which are usually a little less expensive than the current issue. A word of warning. Don’t get a sample issue from five years back, because editors might have changed, tastes might have shifted.

If you’re near a university library, you’re in good shape as most of those still subscribe to literary magazines. If you’re relying on a public county or town library, you may be less fortunate.
Another option, which I’ve done, is to go in with friends, subscribing to different magazines, then trading once you’re done. A handful of people swapping five or six subscriptions can help build your understanding of the industry.

The Writer’s Market books are valuable resources, too. Check out the short story market books. Often, last year’s edition will go on sale at a steep discount when the new one gets close. I’ve found that a year-old short story marketplace book is usually fairly up-to-date, though you should always check everything – names of editors, reading periods – against the magazine’s website or current issue.

You can also enter writing contests at a literary magazine. I think that’s how I ended up with a two-year subscription to the Iowa Review years ago. You pay your ten bucks to enter the contest and they consider your work and send you their issues. Works great for everyone, as long as you watch the money. Some contests charge $25 to enter and offer a $500 prize. I avoid these as the ratio of fee to reward seems too high to me.

At Needle: A Magazine of Noir, we got wonderful stories about spies in Argentina, famine in Thailand, and once, so help me, unicorns on Planthar. I kid you not. The stories, with the exception of the famine story, were well done. The problem is that they weren’t for us.

Roughly twenty percent of the stories we get at Needle are about private dicks and squirrely dames, falling deeper into some mystery while Peter Lorre waits just off-stage. We’re not specifically looking for period pieces. We’re not a historical magazine any more than Georgia Review is the home for your story set in Georgia. While the Georgia Review might publish a story set in Georgia, that isn’t what the magazine is going for. You have to read the magazine. You have to get a feel for the tone. You have to do your homework.

Sending your short story to a list of magazines without doing your homework is like walking into a bar and offering to do “anything” for five bucks. Or applying to a hundred colleges.

You want to be associated with a good magazine, because you’ve worked hard on your story. You want your story to find the right home. Let’s be honest about it – you’ve probably worked your butt off if you’re ready to send it out. So when your story is ready, make sure you’ve done your homework.

When you’re ready, you need to think about what magazine you want to walk to the mailbox for and open and see your name right there on the table of contents. What link you want to send around to people to say, “Hey, thought you’d like to know about my story at this site.”

And, when you’ve picked the right spot, you’ll need to write that cover letter. A couple thoughts on that ->

You’ll want to address the letter to the editor and offer a quick sentence about why you picked this magazine and why you think your story is a good fit.

“I have enjoyed your last few issues and thought you might find my 2,500-word Elizabethan romance a good fit.”

Of course, you’ve worked months on the story. The last thing you want to do is mess up your bio, right? How silly would that be?

If this is the first real story you’re sending off, then I'd encourage you NOT to say "This is my first real story" or "I've only been writing for eleven days." You've been reading and writing for years.
Sometimes at Needle, we’d get a cover letter that will say something like "This is my first attempt at writing a story. I hope you like it." Please, don't do that. The editor doesn't want to look at your first story. It would be like opening a restaurant and saying "I've never baked a pie before. Won't you try my first attempt?"

In my experience, the writers with the least confidence tend to send in the biggest bios.

If you’re Stephen King or Janet Evanovich, you’re not going to list every publication you’ve ever been in. If you’re John Ryan Stumblebuns, you probably will.

GOOD: Jessica Smith is a short story writer and the recipient of the J. Henry Albert Award for Short Fiction. Her work has recently appeared in Cathode Quarterly and The Imagist. She lives in Chicago.
BAD: Jessica Smith has been writing since she was seven years old. Her first story, “The Trouble with Ruff-Ruff” was published in her family’s Christmas newsletter. She attended Holy Oak College and received a BA in History with a minor in French. During her time at Holy Oak, she was also editor of the literary magazine, Holy Oak Leaves Review, and volunteered at a local pet clinic. Her work has appeared at more than 100 websites, including,, and She lives in a small, teal bungalow outside Las Vegas, with her husband, two dogs, three fish, and a troublesome cat called Mr. Whiskers.

As with everything, THE STORY you write is the most important thing here. Editors will discount some silliness and unprofessionalism in a cover letter, but you want to give the editors fewer reasons to skip past you.

No editor ever has passed on a great story because the author’s bio was too brief. Many editors have skipped a decent story because the writer’s bio made the writer sound like an amateur.

Bonus Linkage:

Another take on Author Bios: No One Cares About Your Life Story: 9 Tips for a Better Author Bio
Stories this editor is tired of seeing: Things I’m tired of seeing in lit mag submissions 
Upcoming LitReactor Courses:

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Ain't No Man Got To Be Common, Pt. 1

"Ain't no man can avoid being born average, but there ain't no man got to be common." - Satchel Paige

Note: I'm rather bored with unpacking and parsing the world's problems. I've resolved to use this space to tell deeper stories for a while. If no one digs it, I'll return to using my mouth full of clouds to storm upon the world. Otherwise, I'm going to spend the next few posts sharing more intimate fare. He who knows the world is clever. He who knows himself is wise 'n all that.


As long as I've been alive, I've harbored a deep yearning to produce extraordinary things. I've only ever wanted what comes from me to mean something more than my own ego. The nonsense started back in kindergarten when the school administrators of our local elementary had me take the Iowa test three times, finally in the presence of my mother, some really nice white lady from the Board of Education, and the principal, who was fierce and black and kind, in that matter of fact way black women who have so many kids slip through their fingers must be.

The nice white lady spoke slowly to me and ensured I did nothing wrong despite my time behind closed doors in the principal's office. Only bad kids went to the principal with their mothers. Only problem kids had to sit with a white lady from the Board of Ed. I wondered what my father would think. If he'd lean into me as he did my older brothers. She told me she was there to watch me take the test. The principal was there because it was her school. Rosalita was there because I had rights, or at least that's what I figured. For me, my mother was Columbia, the Goddess of Liberty as depicted by Phyllis Wheatley in her poem directed at George Washington where she encouraged the fight for freedom while she herself was a slave. That was women for me. Always offering what they themselves could never enjoy. A fount of hopes and dreams that pour from a lonely spigot of quiet suffering.

I liked the white lady's nose. It was aquiline. I knew this then as Ma allowed me to freely rummage through her old art school books. I loved noses. Still do. Aquiline. Roman. Grecian. Sephardic. African. She didn't wear glasses. She smiled a lot. When she spoke she started a sentence looking at me and ended it looking at my mother. She told me not to worry, handed me a big-ass Ticonderoga  #2 pencil, a test book, and an answer sheet where I had to color in the tiny circles which corresponded with my answers. I got it and went to town, never questioning why it was my third time taking the same test in the presence of a bunch of grown-up women. I remember moving so quickly through the test the kind lady with the nose like Gwenivere stopped me and said I don't have to rush. I wasn't. I just knew the answers. Well, I was rushing a little bit. It was springtime in Chicago and my action figures and I had a date to make trouble in the backyard.

I had to leave the room after I was done so I went to the lobby and read Highlights for Children. My favorite was Goofus and Gallant. Goofus always seemed to be having more fun. Gallant seemed like a square. I remember the principal coming to get me as if I actually had a voice in matters inside. I sat down, the young lady from the Board of Education with the lovely nose and nice smile and kind voice thanked me for taking the test yet another time. I told her I would take it again if I had to. The principal seemed tense, but she was a principal, so why wouldn't she be? Then I saw her face. She wasn't smiling. Wasn't speaking at all. It was written all over Rosalita's countenance. Life would change. It had to. Her son scored a near perfect on an Iowa test meant for kids in a far higher grade. It was perfect the first two times, thus necessitating the third time around. Thus necessitating my mother's pain.

There was nowhere for me to go. There was no place for what I could do, at least where my father could afford to send me on a firefighter's salary. I'm almost certain she thought of her own education and how she turned down the Art Institute of Chicago's scholarship because she just wasn't the type to spin her wheels. Instead, she got married and made babies, two of which would plague her until she died and one for which she could do nothing, and he could do nothing for her. Of course, she'd kill to provide for me. She and the old man didn't play when it came to their children. Having a smart kid wasn't such a big deal, so that wasn't the problem. John and Wally also had serious smarts. We never spoke of that day, but if I had to guess, I think her dilemma had nothing to do with me at all. Chicago just didn't have many answers for a working-class family with a five-year-old who effectively tested out of grammar school.

The nice lady from the Board of Ed left after thanking my mother and the principal, who seemed to provide my mother consolation instead than congratulations. Rosalita and I walked home holding hands. I remember standing in front of my house on Green Street and feeling different. She told me to go play while she made me some kind of lunch. She wouldn't notice me watching her cry over the kitchen sink from the hallway.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


I've liked David Hare's writing for a long time, so last week I set aside time to watch Collateral, the four-episode procedural he wrote now showing on Netflix.  It runs four hours and stars Carey Mulligan as Kip Glaspie, the detective inspector who's the lead on a London murder case.  Somebody has shot an Arab pizza delivery man, and Glaspie's investigation takes her into contact with a wide array of people who have complicated ties to each other. While serving as a good mystery, more a whydunnit than a whodunnit after episode one, Collateral adroitly tackles a number of topics relevant now in Britain.  Which is not to say these topics don't have relevance here, and elsewhere in "the liberal democratic West". The story touches on political isolationism, the refugee crisis as it involves countries like Syria, the exploitation of immigrants and refugees, the effects of endless war on those who've served, and the sexual harassment of women in the military by their male counterparts.  It's a heady brew.  And you might think that a detective thriller that incorporates so many hot-button topics would play like an issue movie, with the issues subsuming the thriller aspects. But David Hare is an old hand at this; he's been writing plays and scripts that weave politics and suspense genre elements for a long time. Except for one or two instances, particular lines that come across as didactic, all the political content is woven seamlessly and organically into the plot. Even better, each character, no matter what "side" they lean toward or what their core beliefs are, has some complexity.  This is the type of story where, quite clearly and with background given to each major player, "everybody has their reasons".

The first time we see Kip, she's awakened at night in bed by a phone call telling her about the killing of the pizza man.  She's lying in bed beside her husband, and when she rises from bed to go to work, we see that she is pregnant.  It seems like a nod to Fargo, but since watching Collateral, I've read that Mulligan was pregnant when she read the script and accepted the role.  David Hare, who'd not conceived of the character as pregnant, decided to simply go with her pregnancy.  As he put it, "It seemed to me that it was an ideal opportunity to say that there are women who proceed with their jobs and behave in a completely normal way and get on with it while being pregnant.  All I knew was that I didn't want to make a big fuss about it and that it should just be a fact that she is pregnant."  One of the refugees in the story is pregnant as well, so you have a sharp contrast between Kip, who knows she will be able to raise her baby in secure circumstances, and Mona, the Iraqi refugee, who is held in a detention center and does not know whether she and her newborn will be sent back to her homeland.  There are also a number of mother-children relationships in the story, from an MP's ex-wife and her young somewhat neglected daughter to the woman soldier at Collateral's center and her grieving mother.  An MI5 agent plays a key role in the plot, too, as does a British ex-military man who is a human smuggler. 

Sound like a lot of characters? There are, and I haven't mentioned all of them.  But Collateral unspools smoothly, with scenes taking as long as they need to take and no sense of rush or confusion.  I should add that Kip Glaspie herself is engaging.  A onetime athlete, a pole vaulter, she does her job without histrionics or a pervading aura of gloom.  She doesn't have eccentric tics or a self-destructive habit.  Neither do any of the other police we see her working with.  I've loved recent series like River and Marcella, but it was refreshing to watch a police drama where the main character and her colleagues don't come with exotic psychological baggage.

Is there anything earth-shatteringly inventive about Collateral? No. But is it solid, engrossing, and thought-provoking all the way through?

It is.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Publishing Industry's Head Is Up Its Ass... and So Is Politico's

Politico published an article that threw David Joy into a Twitter rant of epic proportions.

The article claims that, in the wake of Trump's political victory, the publishing industry is rethinking its approach to publishing.
"Its members are asking themselves how literature became so detached from the contours of American life in so many parts of the country. The perspectives of the white working classes and the rural poor, the demographics that handed Trump the presidency in 2016, have been largely absent from the novels printed every year."
David goes on to list title after title

Hell, here at DSD we don't need to look any further than our own Marietta Miles to be able to cite someone who is writing about unconventional protagonists who are poor, desperate and pushed to their limits.

While I have an appreciation for the idea that the publishing industry is waking up to the fact that the self-indulged youngsters who shoe their way in with an MFA and publishing industry connections do not have all that much to say to most of the rest of us who have actually, you know, had some serious life issues and lived, I think the article betrays a lack of awareness within the industry of the full spectrum of publishing. There are a lot of small presses out there doing amazing things and taking risks that the Big 5 will never take because they are solely focused on profit margins and profile.

Frankly, the biggest thing that strikes me about that quote from Politico is the word white. As though making poor white people a new focal group makes them somehow a minority. We aren't. We're the majority. And it concerns me that instead of the publishing industry focusing on its lack of diversity as a whole it's instead focusing on reaching the presumed demographic of Trump voters that it thinks it can make money off of. I mean, in other words, they learned from ABC's move to reboot Roseanne and want to copy the formula.

"On the morning after the 2016 election, a group of nearly a dozen ABC executives gathered at their Burbank, Calif., headquarters to determine what Donald J. Trump’s victory meant for the network’s future.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘There’s a lot about this country we need to learn a lot more about, here on the coasts,’” Ben Sherwood, the president of Disney and ABC’s television group, said in an interview.
They began asking themselves which audiences they were not serving well and what they could do to better live up to the company name — the American Broadcasting Company. By the meeting’s end, they had in place the beginnings of a revised strategy that led the network to reboot a past hit centered on a struggling Midwestern family, a show that had a chance to appeal to the voters who had helped put Mr. Trump in the White House."

The bigger publishers may be on some sort of naval gazing journey that's going to prompt them to think about the heartland for a few months but I expect much of what they come up with will be the educated perspective on escaping the small towns and poverty that they associate with poor white people. And by the time their books hit the shelves the next election will be upon us, with the next social demographic that needs to be indulged emerging and anyone in the industry who only sees this as a wake-up call to focus on poor, white readers will drop that group and move on to the next one. In the midst of the current racist administration let's not forget people who are gay, trans, bi or otherwise. Let's not forget people who are black or Hispanic or Native. Let's not forget Muslims and atheists and Jews.

How about we stop picking the fucking flavor of the election cycle and actually pay attention to all human beings who make up our world?

On the one hand, I'm a stickler for good writing and for technique and I'm my own worst critic on that front. I hate using my phone for things and seeing typos from spellcheck and from my fat fingers end up on Facebook or Twitter.

But I'm almost at the point where I'm not interested in reading a book if the author has an MFA. Publicists, please, don't lead with that. The form letters can be boring enough but if you think education will make me want to read a novel you don't understand me. I'm looking for great stories and authenticity that comes through in the writing. This isn't true of everyone, but studying alone doesn't make you insightful. God in heaven I want the book that is so absofuckinglutely original that I have to read it. I was looking through some review options recently and saw this description:

A romance for sadists. A comedy for sociopaths. It's a male on male urban fantasy tale of horrific attraction between two middle aged men who aren't what they seem. Or what they want to be.

Hell, yes, I want to read a comedy for sociopaths. I want to read something original, fresh, fun. I want to read something that doesn't feel like it's an imitation of anything I've read before. (Just finished the excellent Freeze-Frame Revolution on that score and that was a blast... and who here is talking about Brian Cohn's The Last Detective? Oh, that's right... another book that hasn't gotten its due.)

It's hard to knock an industry for the slim chance that it might be self aware enough to realize there are a bunch of people in this country that don't live in New York City, don't spend 5-7 years in college and couldn't care less about the Oxford comma.

But geez lou-fucking-ise, when are they going to realize that education is not the hallmark of what makes a great writer? The objective is to look for great, compelling stories. The market is there and if they haven't picked that up from movies already I don't even know what to say.

Poor, white woman at the heart of a crime story. 2008. Not 2016; 2008. You'd think with the Academy Award nominations that the publishing world might have noticed...

And I'm sure that between Frozen River in 2008 and Wind River in 2017 there were a ton of movies that could fit into the new demographic the publishing world has apparently just discovered. (edited to add.. What about books like Winter's Bone? Shows like Justified? How can this demographic be a news flash now?)

I welcome all writers of diversity and diverse stories. I don't care if you're with a small press. If you have something new coming out and are seeking some promotion email me via Toe Six Press (sandraruttanattoesixpress I don't care how mainstream you aren't; I just care about great, authentic stories. I will regularly feature books and writers on the site, no matter who published you.

Hopefully, more people in publishing will embrace the same philosophy, but this is an industry that's slow to change.

Look for the small presses to lead the way.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Review - Johnny Cash: Forever Words

Johnny Cash plays an important part in my Hank Worth mystery series – Hank’s father-in-law is a devoted fan, as I am in real life. So I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of the latest Cash album, which dropped Friday. Johnny Cash: Forever Words is a collection of Cash’s writings that current artists have written music for and then performed for the album. Having other voices sing Cash’s unfamiliar words (unlike, for instance, a cover of one of his already-well-known songs) makes the writing really stand out. It reminds you that in addition to being one of the most famous and well-regarded singers of the twentieth century, he was also a hell of a writer.
The lyrics come from the writings Cash made throughout his lifetime, according to co-producer John Carter Cash, Johnny’s son. Carter Cash then chose the specific artists who would set each set of words to music.
Some of the songs feel a little like first drafts or a novel – all the components are there, but how might they have grown if they had a chance for revision? For Cash fans, though, (me included) it’s not just better than nothing, it’s a new and essential addition to his work.
Carter Cash was looking for “an honest connection” between each artist and his father, and the list he came up with is certainly ecclectic. It ranges from country star Brad Paisley to jazz pianist and R&B singer Robert Glasper to folk singer Jewel.
The album very appropriately leads off with a song from two of Cash’s fellow Highwaymen. Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson were part of the outlaw country supergroup with Cash and Waylon Jennings, and the two put music to “Forever/I Still Miss Someone.” The lyrics are a poem Cash wrote in the last weeks of his life. Carter Cash found a folder with letters his father had written his mother, June. Inside were also a few poems. Right in the middle was the one he took to Kristofferson and Nelson. It – like so much of Cash’s work – is profound and heavy without being ponderous.  

Kristofferson said that Cash may be the most spiritual person he ever knew because of Johnny’s consciousness of his own mortality and his own weaknesses.
John Mellencamp and T Bone Burnett have fine up-tempo fun with their lyrics; Carter Cash’s sisters, Rosanne Cash and Carlene Carter, both contribute lovely work.
The best song on the album – the song that is the truest to Cash himself – is the one done by Chris Cornell*. A god of the grunge rock movement, Cornell took the poem, an exchange between two people, and turned “You Never Knew My Mind” into a beautiful, haunting ballad. 

“I thought it was kind of brilliant,” Cornell said at the time, “that he would bother sort of writing a song in its entirety from maybe his own perspective, and then sort of to the perspective of the person he’s writing about – like seeing both sides of it, and going to the trouble of actually writing it out that way.”
Cornell’s voice doesn’t sound anything like Cash’s. But his pain does. He comes the closest of all the artists to Johnny.

In that last poem, he penned a sentiment shared by anyone who creates – whether song, novel, artwork, poetry or anything else.
Nothing remaining of my name,
Nothing remembered of my fame.
But the trees that I planted still are young,
The songs that I sang will still be sung.

*Cornell died in May 2017.