Saturday, April 28, 2018

Scott D. Parker: Storyteller or What I've Been Doing This Spring

by
Scott D. Parker

Hello there. Some of y'all might be wondering why I've been throwing up book reviews these past few weeks and here's your answer: I've been gearing up for May 2018 when all the changes I've been working on go into effect. What changes you might ask? Read on.

Going Wide
For the past year, I have been exclusive to Amazon and the Kindle Unlimited program. While I’ve had zero issue with the program, I have experienced more than a few folks who wanted to read my books but either didn’t own a Kindle or the Kindle app or just didn’t want to deal with Amazon. Well, as I assessed my business this spring, I made the decision to make my books and stories available for everyone, no matter their favorite store or ereader. As a result, starting in May 2018, my books will be available at all major stores (with the exception of Google Play). I want to remove any barrier for any potential reader.

Consolidating Social Media
When I created my “S. D. Parker” western author pen name, I created duplicate everything. I had two Facebook pages, two websites, and two mailing lists. It was my attempt to segment the audience by genre. I figured that western readers might not want to read mysteries and vice versa. But the more I considered my situation—I am only one person minding the store—I made the decision to consolidate all my social media under a single moniker: Scott D. Parker: Storyteller.

I now have a new Facebook page with “Storyteller” as the business name. If you have “liked” either the Western Author page or the Mystery Author page, I encourage you to like my new “Storyteller” page. My scottdennisparker.com website is now my main website with both mystery and western titles featured. Twitter was never split out, but now the page reflects both the mystery and westerns I write. Have a look and see what you think.

The 2018 Publishing Schedule
Probably my favorite thing on the horizon is Calvin Carter. He’s a western hero, a railroad detective and former actor. He is a sort of amalgam of some of my favorite western characters: Brisco County, Jr., Bret Maverick, Jim West, and Artemus Gordon. He’s easy on the eyes, loves the company of beautiful women, and solves all his cases with his own artistic flair. His cases are typically over-the-top and exciting.

The first of six novels will be published in October.

Before that, there will be two new westerns published: THE LAW ALWAYS WINS and ALWAYS BET ON RED.

Mystery lovers, don’t think I’m forgetting you. The third Detective Benjamin Wade novel will be published in June with at least two more mystery books on the schedule for the rest of the year.
And, if you’re like some folks I know who just prefer to hold a physical paperback, all these books will be published as paperbacks.

YouTube Channel
The biggest change is my new YouTube channel. There's only one up there right now, but more will soon follow. One of my favorite things about DVDs is all the extra behind-the-scenes features on how the particular movie was created. I wanted to do something similar for my stories. For every story published, I’ll create a video where I’ll talk about the book’s creation, how I came to write it, the cover concept, how the title was chosen, and things of that nature. Along the way, I’ll be sharing books I love, music I’ve discovered, movies I’ve watched, and almost anything else. I enjoy watching YouTube videos and this is the kind of content I would love my favorite authors to do for me…so I’m doing it for you.

Looking Ahead
In order to get some more discoverability, I’ll be running some Facebook ads in the coming weeks and months. You’ll likely see them in your feeds. If you've read my stories, tell your friends. If you want a sample, head on over to my webpage and sign up for the email list. There are a couple of nice thank-you gifts if you do.

Well, that's about it. Let me know what you think of all the new sites.


Friday, April 27, 2018

We need to talk about Barry...


I want to get this first part out of the way so everyone who loves Bill Hader and loves Barry can read the rest of this blog with an open mind: I love Bill Hader, and I love HBO's new dark comedy, Barry. When I saw the first preview, I knew I was going to love it. Listless hitmen in dark comedies are my jam. Grosse Point Blank remains one of my favorite movies - and Bill Hader? Bill Hader is BILL HADER, he's fucking hilarious.

(spoilers galore -through episode 5)



So why do I feel so conflicted at the end of every episode?

The premise is that Barry is a Marine turned professional killer who has suddenly tired of all the killing and wants to become an actor. Hader explains this in a post show talk as "killing was the only thing he was good at." This trope fucking pisses me off. I'm not going to bother trying to be eloquent about it. Every video game, every movie, every thought someone has about a contract killer has to start with some veteran who discovered that "killing was the one thing I was good at" or "I was really good at killing."

Killing isn't a skill. You can kill yourself by accident. You can kill another person by hitting them with a car. Life is actually fairly fragile. Throughout the episodes that have aired so far, we only see Barry in one situation that looks anything like combat, and both he and the other veteran handle it like shit. He gets knocked out, and his Marine buddy runs in and puts both of them in insane danger. The rest of the time he's killing people in ways that are either fairly easy (with a gun, at close range) or would have nothing to do with combat at all (strangulation). So what they mean, when they repeat that Barry is good at killing, is that he is good at compartmentalizing the emotions that make it emotionally and morally difficult to kill people.

When we accept the trope that hitmen are veterans because veterans are "good" at killing people, we are accepting the idea that veterans are amoral. There's a fantastic scene where the students in Barry's acting class talk about how people who kill on orders from others are damaged and "psycho" and Barry, in a rare moment of real emotion, snaps back at them. He makes a pretty great point about how we view veterans, and the class seems to take something away from it - but the whole thing is undercut by the fact that in this context - the acting students are the rubes. The acting teacher (played by Henry Winkler) makes a joke at the end that reminds us, actually, Barry isn't talking about combat or attitudes toward veterans. He's talking about murder for hire. The point about respecting veterans, or understanding the moral complexities of war is a joke, not a statement.

Of the four Marine vets we spend time with, one has a relatively normal life. One we don't get to know, one is Barry, the hitman, and one is an abrasive, over the top drunk who lives for the opportunity to kill and be put in harm's way. Even the friend with the normal life is supposed to have found this after the military. At times, it feels like the show thinks people join the military, disappear into a black hole where they "lose part of (their) soul" (actual quote from Hader on his character), and have to fight their way back to humanity when they return.

When I was on active duty I lead a relatively normal life for a woman in her early twenties. I worked, I went home, I socialized with friends, dated, went out on weekends, traveled home for holidays. When I was a reservist married to an active duty Marine, we bought a house, got a dog, had a kid. Now, I'm a veteran battling very real PTSD from my time in service (not combat), married to a combat vet who is still active duty, and my life is about as suburban and "normal" as it can get. It is this way for the vast majority of people serving. It's more likely that an active duty service member would get married and start a family at a younger age than the national average.

And maybe right now you're thinking I sound like pedant. Like the gun nuts who write authors to complain about a firing pin being described incorrectly, I'm just mad at what they got wrong on a topic I know a lot about - but that isn't it.

These tropes hurt veterans. A lot of people are okay with that idea because they believe veterans are put on a pedestal in this country, but what pedestal allows for so many vets to live on the streets? Despite the fact that only 34% of adult men are veterans, 40% of homeless men are veterans. And although, only somewhere between 10 and 20% of vets suffer from some sort of mental illness, Americans overwhelmingly believe we are unstable, and mentally ill. Despite the fact that mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of violence, to live on the street, etc. we're viewed as ticking time bombs, or like, in Barry's Taylor character, loud, violent, and ready for a fight at all times.

Despite having less mental health problems than the general public seems to think we do - a lot of us are killing ourselves. Why? We can't get services.  Women veterans are at particular risk, because even when we can get services, they are catered to male veterans (ask me about the horrors women veterans experience in VA psych wards if you feel like you have a strong stomach). Women veterans are TWO TIMES as likely to complete suicide than civilian women. One in three women in the military are raped. That doesn't include other forms of sexual assault or harassment. Of course, women Marines don't actually exist in Barry. Like most popular culture, Barry assumes that all veterans are men, and all veterans served in infantry jobs. None of the characters we meet had a job specialty in the Marine Corps - they're just "Marines."

One benefit of being a woman, is most people assume I'm not a veteran, so I get to hear all the horrible things people believe about veterans first hand. Not that knowing I'm a veteran has stopped people I thought were close friends from expressing incredibly prejudiced and harmful opinions about who "we" are. I have spent years banging the drum that veterans are all different, we are a group of individuals - and popular culture works directly against it. Politicians want you to believe we're a homogeneous mass, even the ones who claim to "love the troops." Popular culture wants a quick shorthand - so we get the same characters over and over again. Barry is a soulless killer. Taylor is a maniac who lives to kill. Servicemembers don't have lives and families. Women don't serve.

It's easy. And when I see it in a show I otherwise love, it fucking sucks. It sucks to work hard to bust stereotypes and then see them employed freely on a show that is otherwise original and inventive. Listening to Hader and Alec Berg talk about writing the show - it's clear they put thought and care into every aspect of Barry's development. But they didn't put any thought or care into the messages they were sending about veterans.

I want shows with veterans who aren't dead-eyed killers or over the top maniacs. I want shows with veterans who have their own stories separate from being broken or damaged by their service. And jesus, I want the scenes about people like me and my husband to play in Barry as beautifully funny as the scene where Hader gives his outrageously upbeat take on the Glenngarry Glen Ross speech.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Noir at the Bar – Crawl

For the last several months, I have been working with Eryk Pruitt, E.A. (Ed) Aymar, S.A. (Shawn) Cosby, Marietta Miles and Nik Korpon to organize the second Noir at the Bar Crawl. It kicks off in Durham, NC, and then moves like a Nor'easter to Richmond, DC, Baltimore and Wilmington, DE. From May 3rd to May 7th it's going to be some dank noir spreading up the east coast.

Writers participating in this year's Crawl are David Terrenoire, Jamie Mason, J D Allen, Michael Pool, Lyndee Walker, Greg Barth, S L Coney, Warren Moone, Shawn A. Cosby, Ward Howarth, William E. Johnson, Marietta Miles, David Nemeth, Eryk Pruitt, Shawn Reilly Simmons, D Alexander Ward, Kim Alexander, Kathleen Barber, James Grady, Matthew Iden, Angie Kim, Ellen Clair Lamb, Jen Michalski, Alan Orloff, Josh Pachter, J D Smith, Dave Swinson, Andrew Novak, Beth Woodward, Damien, Angelica Walters, Michael R. Underwood, Ronald Malfi, Sujata Massey, Scott Adlerberg, Chris Bauer, S A Cosby, Richard Goffman, Tony Knighton, Ed Kurtz, and Lanny Larcinese.

Now, let me turn this over to Eryk Pruitt who has an article about last year's successful crawl and as an added bonus Nik Korpon shares some ideas on how to set up your own Noir at the Bar in your town. – David Nemeth


By Eryk Pruitt

RICHMOND, VA

It’s five minutes to showtime and Marietta Miles demands proficient use of the c-word. She wanders the floor of McCormack’s Irish Pub in downtown Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom, from booth to booth, cheerfully reminding each crime writer in attendance.

“I expect to hear the word cunt,” she says. “Don’t let me down.”

When you look at the motley crew Marietta has assembled for her public reading that particular Friday night in June, it’s hard to imagine she would be disappointed. Despite her own dark fiction sensibilities on display in her debut novel Route 12, a veritable Murderer’s Row prepares to come out swinging.

Noir, indeed.

Richmond is known for the darkness. McCormack’s sits just around the corner from a museum celebrating River City’s favorite son, Edgar Allan Poe. The last vestiges of the War Between the States occurred when Union forces burned the Confederate capital to the ground. Richmond is home to the Bailey Brothers, the Southside Strangler, and perhaps several other serial killers yet to be discovered.

It’s also home to a handful of readers scheduled to appear that night at Richmond’s second annual Noir at the Bar. Among them are LynDee Walker, author of six national bestselling mysteries, including the Agatha Award-nominated Front Page Fatality. Also Mary Burton, the bestselling suspense author, and native son Ward Howarth, author of the historical thriller River City Blues.
“Thank you all for asking me back again this year,” says author S.A. Cosby. Cosby hails from Gloucester, VA, and this is his second time to drive into town from the coast. He’s a soft-spoken man, but his short story “Walking on Grass” will later plunge the room into silence, save for the sporadic chuckle, then eventually the loud clamor of applause. It’s hard to imagine he won’t invited again next year, when Marietta hosts Richmond’s third event.

Marietta is soft-spoken herself. She has a cheery, Southern voice, one you’d expect to accompany a plate of fresh-baked cookies or a minivan full of children off to a soccer game, or slumber party. This makes the delivery of her own tragic tale, “Tell Her,” originally published by Out of the Gutter, all the more devastating. A collective gasp from the room follows her story, then a long moment of reflection that eventually gives way to cheers.

Her story landed.

In all, eight readers perform ten-minute selections of their work. Marine combat veteran Phillip Thompson drove in from Charlottesville to read from the latest of his Colt Harper mystery series, Outside the Law. The Carolinas produced Asheville’s own Jamie Mason, who read from her bestselling Monday’s Lie. Shawn Reilly Simmons took time from her busy schedule in Frederick, Maryland to leave the room slackjawed for the second consecutive year.
They play to a full house. An emcee treats folks in attendance to a raffle which awarded winners with giveaways, such as books, films, and local wine. A few passersby stop for a drink, then find themselves glued to their barstools until the end. Take a quick glance through the audience and find a couple familiar faces: Local actor Jarod Kearney, DC thriller writer E.A. Aymar, and crime fiction reviewer David Nemeth.

“It’s fantastic meeting writers I’ve only known through their books and social media,” Nemeth says with a broad smile. “With all the Southern accents and great stories, it’s like being immersed in a Drive-By Truckers album.”

There is no shortage of darkness. There is plenty of blood. The stories include one lost finger, a gouged eyeball, and a death by a crystal ashtray. Also shootings, stabbings, and beatings. Drinks and more drinks are punctuated with laughter, gasps, and groans.

However, alas, poor Marietta; There is no cunt.

But, cheer up, this is only the first night of a long weekend.

WASHINGTON, DC

E.A. Aymar is one of those guys who can’t leave well enough alone. Since 2014, Aymar has tweaked each Noir at the Bar event in Washington D.C., fine-tuning something which may very well already be perfect. He’s incorporated introductory music for each writer, provided by local DJ Alkimist. He’s offered awards for the best story—one year was an engraved dagger, this time, an engraved machete—selected by audience vote. He’s forever tinkering.

Of course, this has long been tradition across the country. In Manhattan, Denver, Harrisburg,…Durham…folks have looked to put their own spin on the popular institution. Even its current inception was a take on an already existing formula. Peter Rozovsky first coined the name Noir at the Bar for the popular interview series he performed in Philadelphia watering holes, entertaining crowds with a single writer who both read from his own work and fielded Rozovsky’s questions. When St. Louis crime writers Jedidiah Ayres (Peckerwood) and Scott Phillips (The Ice Harvest) attended a NoirCon, they purloined the name and adjusted the concept. Their version mirrors the current, more popular inception, where 4-9 dark fiction writers attempt to one-up each other in a mad medley of dazzle, gore, and gross.

One needs only to investigate the hashtags on Twitter, Instagram, and the like, to find how far and wide the phenomenon has reached since the first days in Philly. One will pop up in Miami. Vancouver has a regular series. Last year found one in Australia. The Brits got wind of it, then it sprinkled across the U.K. There’s rumor of one forming at this year’s Bouchercon scheduled for Toronto in October.
But leave it to Aymar. He refuses to confine his boat-rocking to his own city. For this year’s DC Noir at the Bar, he’s incorporated accomplices.

“I was talking to Marietta and Nik (Korpon) about dates for this year’s event,” Aymar says, “and we decided to do one big weekend.”

And thus was born the first-ever Noir at the Bar Crawl.

Friday, May 19 in Richmond, Virginia. The following night, May 20, at the Wonderland Ballroom in Washington, DC. Then festivities wrap at Zella’s Pizzeria, in Baltimore, Maryland. Let folks choose to attend one, or all three. Promote them as a single event. Spread the news across the Chesapeake.
When word spread about the machete, folks immediately began sharpening their narrative chops. Laurel, MD, crime writer Dana King (Worst Enemies, Grind Joint) penned his hilarious noir “BPD” specifically for the event. Steve Weddle, the author of the acclaimed novel Country Hardball, mined the standing room only crowd for laughs with his rollicking “Love Boat,” an ode to redneck love, both interrupted and unrequited. Baltimore’s Nik Korpon (The Rebellion’s Last Traitor) delivered a sermon a la chicken-fried Jim Jones, complete with rubber snake handling and exploding blood packets. Anthony Award-nominated Jersey girl Jen Conley (Cannibals: Stories from the Edge of the Pine Barrens) offered a memoir from her youth spent smoking hash in London.

“The competition was tough this year,” Aymar said.

Aymar’s competition is tough every year. DC’s central location on the East Coast allows him to select top crime scribes from several communities, not only the Capitol’s rich and varied pool. Despite area celebrities who have read in the past, like James Grady, David Swinson, and Art Taylor,  the annual event attracts award-winning writers from Baltimore, New York City, Virginia, and even North Carolina.

However, not moments after the end of yet another successful Noir at the Bar in DC, Aymar finds himself at a patio table outside the Wonderland Ballroom, cocktail in hand. His eyes are far away. There’s no doubt what’s going on in his mind.

He’s already thinking about next year.

Tinkering.

Ask him who he would like to read, if he could get anyone in the world, Aymar wastes no time.
“Pelecanos,” he says, speaking of George Pelecanos, author of twenty detective fiction novels set in Washington D.C.

And knowing E.A. Aymar, he’s likely to land him.

BALTIMORE, MD

With Noir at the Bar spreading far and wide, reaching taverns across the globe, folks are often asking how they can get one in their neck of the woods. In the words of the immortal St. Louis author, Jedidiah Ayres, who begat the proliferation:

“You have to start it yourself.”

For many, that task can be daunting. How can one person continue the legacy of Philly noir aficionado Peter Rozovsky and transfuse it to a new community? Nik Korpon did it three years ago when he hosted Baltimore’s inaugural Noir at the Bar at Slainte Pub in Fell’s Point. Since then, Charm City has hosted several and, its proximity to Richmond and D.C. made it a natural fit for the final leg of the Noir at the Bar Crawl.

To that end, I’d propose: If Korpon can do it, anyone can.

So for those of you watching at home, interested in hosting your own event, Korpon offers tips to spark your inaugural Noir at the Bar.

1. FIND A VENUE 
“I’ve been really lucky with venues,” Korpon says. “A friend, Dan Morrison, hooked me up with Zella’s.”  
Zella’s Pizzeria serves up tasty pizza, sandwiches, and drinks to the Hollins Market neighborhood in Baltimore, but on Sunday, May 21, it was host to eight crime writers, coming from Baltimore, greater Maryland, Pennsylvania, and even New York. An eager audience came out on a lazy Sunday evening to eat, drink, and mingle while a cacophonous symphony of restaurant work punctuated each symphony. 
“Basically, find a place that has a good vibe, good food, and beer,” Korpon advises. “And preferably, a sound system.” 
2. CHOOSE READERS 
“I try to have as diverse a lineup as possible, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.”  
Korpon achieved that goal for the Crawl. Not only does he make an effort to invite both men and women writers, he also reaches out to a geographically diverse bunch. He’ll also branch out from the typical fiction readings that have become mainstays at these readings. During the Crawl, Anjili Babbar, an Irish folklore professor, delivered a short lecture about Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor series.  
3. PROMOTE THE EVENT 
“I’ll make a Facebook event and design a poster,” Korpon offers. “Most of the people who come know it by word of mouth.” 
Often times, a couple well-targeted press releases help get the word out. Another tactic to get more folks in the door would be to invite readers who tend cultivate a following. Some of the bigger draws in your area might help, as would readers with an active and passionate fan base. But it never hurts to develop a relationship with your local newspaper and community calendars. 
4. CURATE THE READING ORDER 
Korpon’s constructed the perfect reading order. It’s always wise to throw someone up front who knows what they are doing, and who can give the audience an idea what they are in for. Korpon’s Charm City event kicked off with Louis Bayard reading a selection originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. A tough act to follow, sure, but Tony Knighton and Meg Opperman were up to the task. However, just before the break, Angel Colon delivered his raucous, untitled selection about a hapless criminal smuggling exotic fish using…um, unconventional methods. With the audience fully primed, Korpon called for a ten minute break. 
Coming out of break, Damien Angelica Walters read from Sing Me Your Scars, followed by Matthew Iden offered “Plea Bargain,” followed by Babbar’s mini-lecture. All of this led up to the grand finale, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s Erik Arneson’s hilariously deadpan rendition of “Barnyard Noir.” 
“If I have an idea what people are reading,” Korpon says, “I’ll try to orchestrate it like a mixtape or short story collection.” 
5. MAKE THEM A REGULAR EVENT IN YOUR COMMUNITY 
The Crawl was Baltimore’s fourth installment of Noir at the Bar in Baltimore. Korpon is always on the lookout for more talent to continue the tradition.  
“I love doing them,” he says. “My favorite story is probably J. David Osborne’s story about a stripper shooting ping-pong balls from her vagina.”  
Stories like that are what keep folks on the lookout for the next Noir at the Bar. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

It Hurts To Ride The Lightning



Conference season is upon us once again. The other day, while setting up travel arrangements, I found myself nervous. Despite appearances, I'm rather self-critical, regardless of the circumstances. Little courtroom scenes with me as the defendant, defense counsel, prosecutor, judge, and jury play out all the time in my mind. The other day I unpacked some shit that happened thirty-five years ago just to make certain it wasn't all my fault. There is no statute of limitations for incidents of silent self-embarrassment is what I'm sayin'.

My nervousness was related to the state of things in our commonwealth, how that makes its way into my writing, and what I carry around with me as I discuss things with my friends and counterparts in crime fiction. Many times I've walked away from a conversation just to allow respite for those few authors who hold their breath fearing, with my presence, everything is going to be about race? It makes up at least fifty percent of my graceful exits. None of this stuff has simple answers, so what's the point of dealing with it at all? I have the suspicion folks don't have to deal until I walk over. It may be irrational, but if it wasn't, I understand. Hell, I deal with it on my own. A couple of weeks ago, I almost checked a guy for woke-dropping race references to me without knowing what they mean.

***

"It's just like with redlining."

"Redlining?"

"You never heard of redlining?"

He looks at other members of his crew like, "Yooo, this old MF."

"Explain it to me as if I'm a six-year-old."

"It's how they created the ghetto."

"Which one?"

"Thee ghetto, man."

"Ah. Okay. Where do the red lines come in?"

"It's a figure of speech."

"So, there weren't literal red lines on a map that proceeded the establishment of property values in certain areas of…know what? Nevermind. Redlining. Got it. Thanks."

***

I made like Nightcrawler and BAMF'd my ass up outta there. The prospect of engaging in a debate with someone who was standing on a soapbox with only three sides was repulsive to me. I wasn't prepared to teach school to woke types. I took two breaths, left the bartender a bit of a tip, and moseyed. Hey, everyone tosses around terms they don't totally understand. It's how we fatten up casual conversations. That the subject of redlining resonated with my daily experience working on this next novel doesn't mean a thing. I don't have to react as Solemn Keeper of the Black Knowledge. I have no responsibility here. I got shit to do.

The next day, I arrive at a turn in my next novel and I'm really feeling myself in the writing chair. I wrote some lines that flowed so well, they just have to stay in the WIP. Fiyah! I get up, grab a beverage, return and read them again. It's a scathing three-sentence indictment of the black middle class of the mid-1950s. When I say scathing, it's a red-hot, metaphor-free poker up the ass of an entire community that existed twenty-five years before I was born and in times of trouble I doubt I would have survived. A novel ago, I would've left it in. Now, I'm second and third-guessing myself. Is this rational, or shortsighted? Is this an unreasonable take on something that isn't completely related to the progression of my plot? Do I know everything I should understand in order to write with fairness? Is there anyone else who does this to themselves, or am I the only asshole??

The night before, I'm headed back to the crib in the Über thinking just how ridiculous most woke folks sound to me when they harp on about incredibly broad aspects of our societal condition without a shred of nuance. The next day, I'm sitting over my writing thinking, "Delete all that, write 'redlining' and move on," no different than those woke actor types I gave the Irish goodbye.

I guess all this is to say I've begun to feel I'm falling forward into responsibilities I didn't already have, and no one is putting on me. Is that due to my own struggles with the American framework, or is that due to my individual leanings? I'm constantly asking myself am I helping, or imposing? I, too, would enjoy writing a lean 80k words about a retired cop/hitman/sleuth who gets pulled back into the job, type "the end," and rush to social media in self-congratulation. Why do I torture myself with needless depth?

I often remind myself it's really easy to find crime fiction and crime authors who aren't black to read and hang with. I get the odd feeling I don't attract anyone who isn't already interested in what I write about, at least on some level. Otherwise, why would anyone pay attention to me at all? There are far too many books on the TBR pile. David Nemeth says it best: "No One Wants To Read Your Book." Except I want them to want to. I really do. Then that hyperactive 24/7 news cycle is fed once more and events are instantly reported with incredible granularity. "He was what race? And he had what in his hand? And they just shot him? This makes how many in 2018?" I honestly feel as if I'm in a raging sea clutching an old buoy hoping I don't drown. I just don't want all this stuff to matter, but it does, except if it must matter in my life, and I'm writing for mass consumption, where and how and to what degree do I want it to matter for those who read my work? Am I asking for too much? Am I insistent on maintaining a presence in a genre that isn't interested in all that nonsense? Can't I just write a straight story for chrissakes?

I've come up with such pithy ways of explaining it.

"It isn't that my work deals with race and class. Its setting and period are constantly dealing with it."

"Was Raymond Chandler making a point with Philip Marlowe running around Los Angeles during the same period without encountering black folk and black issues at all?"

Cute, right? Now I find myself using them so often, they're feeling worn, and not all soft and comfy-worn, but "You see the holes in those socks?? Throw them out!"-worn. What's going on in America is nasty, messy, greasy shit, and I'm tired of finding pretty ways of putting the point across that helps people feel not so bad about the world we live in. Or maybe not so bad about it they won't want to buy my book. Maybe that's what I'm getting wrong. What if folks just want to open a book and enjoy it and move on? What if my ability to make people stop and think and assess themselves against what I've written isn't a good idea? What if it makes me a jackass?

Last week, I had a really nice time giving a writer for a university newspaper an interview. He asked about my influences for my story in The Obama Inheritance and I was so excited to discuss what science fiction work I pulled from and the difference between a Huxley lens as opposed to an Orwellian, and how if I went Orwellian, the texture of the story would have been totally different. I used the term "tumorous" to describe the current state of American politics. Recognizable as what it once was, but with so many outward growths and pustules, we have to do crazy things to our own minds to ignore how diseased we've allowed it to become. I made some other references I can't remember, but they sounded smart, although afterward, I felt embarrassed for having thought so. He thanked me for my "sage wisdom," which made me somewhat nervous. I hung up the phone. One hour. All about writing. All about politics. Not a word about race.

I returned to my WIP. The current passage was all about race. Tremendously about it. So much about it. I sighed and slumped forward. I remembered all sorts of things I had to do other than writing. I grabbed my PS4 controller, felt like a chump, put it away and got back to work.

Damn, it hurts to ride the lightning.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Give that Detective the Right Ending


I missed it the first time it aired awhile back, but this past Sunday night, after watching an episode of the new series Unforgotten on Mystery!, I saw the final episode of the Inspector Lewis series.  I guess I just can’t get enough of these Brit mysteries series, even though I’ve been watching them since Mystery! first aired back in 1980.


Anyway, in the last show, Lewis basically has to decide whether to let go from his job somewhat – at least enough to take an extended trip to New Zealand with Dr. Laura Hobson who is both his colleague and romantic interest (partner would be too strong a word since his actual investigative partner, Hathaway, really is the only person who deserves that appellation) – or stay on the job without pause until, well, he ends up in a box like the man he once served as assistant for, the incomparable Inspector Morse.  Anyone who followed the Morse series remembers its great final episode, where Morse, on a case and ill with a bad heart aggravated by his years of heavy drinking, dies - but not before uttering, “Thank Lewis for me”.  These prove to be his last words ever, and poignant ones they are since over the years of their working together he often could be rather callous, and even mean, toward his decent, talented, and always loyal underling.  There was no more appropriate way for the Morse series to end and for Morse, the lonely workaholic, to die.  It’s a sad ending but feels just right.


Lewis has a different personality than Morse. As a viewer, I think you’d feel the tone of the ending was off if the series wrapped up in any way like the Morse series did.  Lewis is a workaholic himself but a better adjusted human being than Morse.  He’s a widower and has two grown children. Over many episodes, he’s developed his relationship with Dr. Laura Hobson. He’s someone who should be able to find a balance in life as he ages, and indeed, after a brief dilemma where he considers not going on the New Zealand trip, Detective Sergeant Hathaway talks him round to common sense.  He goes on the trip, and the last we see of Lewis, he’s at the airport with Laura Hobson, heading toward the New Zealand bound plane.  A happy ending, you could say, but, again, the right one.  And it made me think that when a series comes to an end, that’s what I’m most looking for in a farewell to a character – a finale that fits what the character has been like.  The ending can be pleasant and grant the character a hopeful future, as with Lewis, or it can be a death that suits the character, as befalls Morse.  It can also be dark and depressing, (I’m thinking here of the last shots we have of Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison, Helen Mirren walking away from the police station alone, retirement at hand, not even attending the going away party being held for her, facing a lonely and probably alcoholic future), but if that ending is true to the character’s history, it works, and I wouldn't want to see anything different.

When a series is good, you feel it’s so important it end correctly.  After sticking with Robbie Lewis for nine years (and that’s after his years with Morse), I was glad to see that his series did that.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Feast For The Eyes

According to Forbes and other sources, 65% of people are visual learners.

And, as Study Mode Research claims, the human brain processes visual information faster than text.

It's impossible to deny that we're often drawn to people based on how they look. The visual component is very important to most people. Everything from choosing our favorite colors to selecting clothes to buy relates to appearance.

This is part of the reason why it's important for aspiring authors, and all authors, to think visually when they're writing. I spent many years working with creative writing students and one of the things I talked about a lot was writing to the senses.

Visual writing should be eye candy.  It should all speak to my eyes and give me a clear picture so that I can see it in my head. It's your job to make the reader feel as thought they can close their eyes and see what you're writing about.  You can't presume knowledge on the part of the reader that goes beyond the information you give them on the page.  The purpose of this assignment is to evoke a clear image related to the sense - in this case, sight. 
Consider this example:  The beautiful woman crossed the street.  It really tells you nothing, other than that the POV character in the scene noticed this particular woman.  Why?  Was it the long, flowing brown hair?  Was it the long legs?  Was it the sparkling green eyes?  Was it the creamy skin, offset by the flowing auburn curls?  There are so many missed opportunities in a generic statement like this one, because it could have told me how the POV character defined beautiful, what struck them about the woman.  I also know nothing about the street.  Was it a quiet, dead-end street where the pavement gave way to packed dirt?  Was it a busy multi-lane road filled with impatient drivers and honking horns? 

Of course, it was easier for me to tell students this after learning the hard way. It was something I got hammered on in an early draft of Suspicious Circumstances - my characters were blurry heads talking to each other in white rooms.

In other words, I hadn't done enough to generate a clear visual image of my characters or the settings for the reader. Developing visual images in your mind as you write is important because it will help ensure that you create a visual feast with your text that readers will appreciate.

In the years since then I've learned that it isn't just important to think about the visual elements as you're writing for the sake of your story. It's important to think about the visual elements so that you can contribute effectively when it's time to talk about your book cover. Sometimes the author has little input and is left with whatever the publisher offers.

However, many times, publishers are receptive to suggestions, particularly if they're provided in a timely fashion. And many small presses are not only receptive; they welcome or request input from their authors when it comes time to talk about cover design. The thing about your book that will reach more potential readers than likely anything else is your cover. People will see it online, on social media, on your website and on bookselling sites.

I was fortunate. Down & Out not only welcomes input from authors; they request it. They took my suggestions and produced a cover that exceeded my hopes. And today, I can finally share the cover for my new book, The Spying Moon, with you.


Getting a great book cover is better than getting a new outfit for a party. This is the moment authors are working towards. Nothing does more to make your book seem real than getting a great book cover. Infuse your work with great visual elements and you won't just make your readers happy; you'll find the heart of your story represented in the artwork on the cover.

Having a publisher and designer who really nailed the cover is one of my greatest joys in publishing to date.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

New York, New York


I’m headed to New York City on Tuesday for the Edgar Week festivities. The Edgar Awards are named after this guy:
And they honor the best in crime fiction every year. Along with a black tie awards banquet, there is a get-together at one of the nation’s best independent bookstores, The Mysterious Bookshop. There’s also a day-long symposium with panels and interviews featuring many of the authors who are nominated in different categories. I’ll be moderating the Best First Novel panel, and I can’t wait to ask each of the nominees about their spectacular protagonists. Tune in next week for more about that!
As for the Big Apple, I’ve only been once, when I was in high school. And the thing I longed to see? The New York Public Library. 
Are you shocked that I ended up a writer? Yeah, neither were my parents. We ran out of time and never made it to the library, so I’m hoping I’ll have a chance to get there while I’m in town. I’d also like to see The Met, Central Park, the 9/11 Memorial, the Empire State Building, a Yankees game. . . .
I won’t be there long enough to do more than one or two of those things. But those stone lions? They’re at the top of the list.
What’s your favorite place to see in New York City?