Saturday, June 9, 2018

What a Week

Scott D. Parker

It started with the surprising hub bub surrounding the publication of THE PRESIDENT IS MISSING by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. No, it wasn’t the interview stuff surrounding Clinton’s waffling on his place in the MeToo movement. It was among fellow writers on Facebook. Somewhere along the line, some writers think it’s okay to crap on the reading interests of other people. Not sure why.

Jealousy? Probably in some cases. Patterson is a highly successful author who personally authored numerous books before working with a team of co-writers to get the stories out of his head. Can you imagine having so many stories just bursting around in your brain that you can’t write them all fast enough? I’d love half of that energy. So what if the stories produced are ones you don’t particularly enjoy? I never read the FIFTY SHADES books, but I never thought those that did—including my wife—were somehow less than I was. It’s a book, people. And, when you get right down to it, people were reading books instead of not. Shouldn’t that count for something?

Then there was the news that actress Kelly Marie Tran deleted her social media posts as a result of malicious fans who didn’t take too kindly to her being an Asian-American woman playing a role in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Really? I’m guessing these were the same dolts who didn’t like Rey also being a girl or Finn being a black man. This is a working actress who took on a role (likely a dream role; it’s Star Wars!) and, simply for being who she is, gets crap thrown at her. I’m guessing these would be the same type of folks who look down on those of us who read THE DA VINCI CODE or any James Patterson book? Grow up, people. As much as I love Star Wars—yeah, it shaped my childhood, but the prequels didn’t ruin my childhood; that was already over—it’s still a movie made by real people doing their best.

Then there were the two celebrity suicides. I honestly didn’t know Kate Spade, but I sure knew Anthony Bourdain (and wrote about him yesterday). His zeal for life was palpable. He yearned for the whole story, the background of a story, and the story of a people through the lens of food. Specifically, I appreciated his ability to reveal the core truths about what it means to be a human no matter what country you call home. I even created my own version of the Bourdain Quatrain after the famous tagline for his No Reservations show: “I travel. I write. I eat. And I’m hungry for more.”

Sure, he didn’t always waste time with the stuff lots of people loved—he loathed pumpkin spice anything; he hated the TV show “Friends”—but I bet you one thing: he would have gone to the mat defending your right not only to like what you like, but to not be criticized for liking it.

So let’s chill, y'all. Read what you want. Listen to music that makes you smile. Watch what you want. Like what you want.

And for those people you don't know? Be kind to them. Kindness takes so little effort and it goes so much further.

And tell those you love that you love them. Do it every single day.

If you’re reading this and think you are at your wit’s end, please seek help. Life is too, too precious. You are important and meaningful. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Why do we talk about suicide like this?

One benefit of being a procrastinator is, if I have an idea for the blog but news breaks Friday morning that makes me feel I have something to say, I can often switch gears.

I was blindsided by the emotions I felt when I learned that Anthony Bourdain had died by suicide. I don't leave a lot of space in my emotional life for celebrities and people I don't know, but Bourdain's work had meant something to me. His book Kitchen Confidential, remains one of the only mainstream places I've seen Portuguese food described so lovingly, and set as inspiration. His attitude on his shows seemed to make the world smaller, and he never shied away from telling the viewer what was going on in a country he was visiting. I just liked him, and I don't feel I need to justify it, really. He was enjoyable, he hung out with Iggy Pop, he was a loud, angry male voice in the #metoo movement.

It makes me sad that he felt suicide was a better option than living.

But if there is one thing celebrity suicide does, it is show you how the people around you view suicide. Two celebrity suicides in one week will inundate you with the opinions of everyone you know. I hate to see people angry at a person who has died by suicide. I'm choosing my words carefully. I'm not saying "killed themselves" or "committed suicide" because it elevates the role of the victim too much. Suicide occurs, most often, at the end of a long struggle with a debilitating illness. Suicidal depression and other mental illnesses are illnesses. Yes, it's horrible that Bourdain's daughter will grow up without him. But to say he is selfish, or that he didn't think of her is a strange take. Bourdain died at 61 years old. Kate Spade was 55. I don't know much about Kate Spade, but Bourdain had been open about struggles with heroin, self doubt, and other clear markers of depression for his entire career. To say it is selfish to finally lose the battle against an illness that has been with him since (at least) college is crass.

At worst - these ideas add to the stigma of suicide that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for those struggling to ask for help. If your mental illness is already telling you that you're a piece of shit, hearing people say that people who consider suicide are pieces of shit doesn't switch gears. If you believe that only selfish people who don't love their children complete suicide, you may tell yourself you can get through it on your own, because clearly you love your children. Often, with celebrity suicide, we discover that the unthinkable has happened in the middle of a tour, or a filming schedule. When the person has seemed productive and happy. Then, they are alone and they are gone.

Think about that.

People commit suicide for a lot of reasons, and not all of them are directly tied to mental illness. Almost all of them are tied to immense amounts of pain. If you wouldn't say what you're about to say about suicide to someone who's loved one died of cancer, think twice about saying it. What we need is a de-stigmatization of mental illness and specifically suicide, so people can seek help. What we need is to not panic any time someone says they have suicidal ideation, so they can talk about it without being judged or thrown into a hold.

The other thing we need to do, is look at the loved ones of people who have died by suicide and promise ourselves we will not state directly or imply that their parent/lover/friend/family member didn't love them. That we won't call this person they loved and are grieving selfish, or any other ugly term we reserve for people we don't like.

We need to think of the effect our words may have on those grieving (even if they may be grieving over a different person than the one you are talking about) and the effect our words have on those who are struggling with suicide.

Be kind.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

KOKO Returns

By Steve Weddle

The lovely and talented Kieran Shea has a new KOKO book out this week, KOKO UNCAGED. Buy it wherever KOKOs are sold.

Defeating a group of hijackers, Koko returns to earth a hero and gets a job as a personal bodyguard for a CEO. Her plan? To finance her revenge on psychotic bounty agent Jackie Wire. When Koko's boss asks her to participate in a dangerous rally on his behalf for half the prize money, Wire takes her opportunity to attack her nemesis...

I chatted with Kieran this week about the book.

Koko is now a hero? What's going on here?

Well, Koko Martstellar has always been more hero than an anti-hero. Standing back from the three books now, I think it's fair to say the series is about being true to one's nature. Since the first book Koko has tried to deny the killer angel inside her, but at last she has come to terms with this identity.

And Jackie Wire is back? Can't Koko ever get free?

Wire has way more space to breathe in the new novel. In book two--Koko the Mighty--Wire survived her confrontation with Koko so as a tenacious foil it only made sense for her to come back to finish the job. A third round, perhaps one martini too many. We get to see a deeper side of her character, even her romantic side.

This series is universally praised as "madcap fun, filled with profane violence." Will readers get more in this new installment?

Well, why stop now? I mean, I sometimes get static over the comedic violence and the salty language, but I always respond to such criticisms by saying, "Have you taken a good look at the world lately? Or ever?"

How did you go from writing east cost private eye fiction to what's now four published sci-fi romp/heist novels?

I just worked at it and kept reminding myself why I liked writing fiction in the first place. I want to tell a good story. Many people will never understand just how much luck is involved in getting this far, and I am bewildered by my success.

Who is the breakout character of this new novel?

Hands down it has to be Ronald Bailey Hesketh. I introduced him as an escape hatch if I ever get a shot at doing another Koko adventure. Hesketh is a joy to write, a real suave and dangerous bastard. I'd like for him to team up with Koko somewhere down the line. They've a contentious history so I see that partnership having comedic potential.

What's the story you're trying to tell in this new one? What will readers like?

As I said before, I wanted to get Koko to come to terms with who she really is as a killer, but there's plenty of allegorical potshots. Pop culture sniping and political LEADER assholery. There are new villains with bizarre idiosyncrasies, a cadre of vapid sportscasters, a humorless mechanical valet...

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Collected Thoughts on Success 'n Whatnot

When I first dared achieve recognition for my creative output, I was far too young, and not just for the subject matter, liquor license, and trauma. Everyone's heard the myths surrounding famous comedians who started out in their teens and went on to stardom. When we tell their stories, we leave out the parts that make success seem grimy and perhaps not altogether worth it, yet being funny doesn't mean being perceptive. I guess that's at any age. Writing as my third career, it still bugs me out how many things I missed the first and second time around. Human nature-things. Instances of conflicts with my own tendencies-things. Seventeen is no age for a boy to attempt grown-folks business.

There's just a blinder that is permanently there. Comedian/audience. Author/reader. The fourth wall. We're supposed to keep separate and make it seem easy. We openly cry a lot about being broke and being sick and falling apart while doing this writing thing. I'm sayin', I've been injured on the job in my life. Now I write, dig? We ain't bustin' rocks. We can make it look easy. We can wear seersucker and monacles 'n shit. Stick our hands in our front breast pocket and 'pip-pip' 'n whatnot. I'm not a protected class, okay. I just write. I don't need people to see my dirty work. I want no struggle points. I don't want to behave like the unpaid oppressed. I want to look like Langston Hughes. I want to sit on a veranda and sip lemonade and compare royalty statements with y'all. I want us to walk to the bar at Bouchercon as if the world grew under our feet. I'm buying a monocle and calling every one of you "...old boy," and "old girl" when I see you. (I'll work out other gender forms later.)

I know it may feel like death, but we're not dying for writing. Writing is paddling. Writing is treading. Writing is the knots in the rope we use to pull ourselves ashore. Writing is so not dying. We don't die until we stop.

Hip Hop-shit is when you have to leave the United States because of racism, run into one of your black literary elders in a cafe, and proceed to read him over the book you were taught by his generation was canon. Chicago-shit is when you willing to throw hands with another black literary great while you live in exile on the bill of generous white folks because you misread the New York directness when Baldwin told you Native Son was garbage and in Chicago we fight over shit like that.

I like you crime fiction MFs but we need more drunken debates over innocuous things in crowded bars so we can give the papers and Publishers Weekly something to write again. This generation sorely lacks a Walter Winchell.

Kids quit college daily citing the abbreviated educational paths of the Gateses and Zuckerbergs. No one stops to wonder what happened to everyone who probably should have remained in school. Check the treads on the tires of success and acclaim. You're sure to find some lives in there, like bits of road-kill pulverized by excellence metrics. Where the eyes go, the energy will flow.

I think the act of dissecting (or drawing and quartering) a celebrity book project is less about inspection or interrogation and more about examination. As it is oft uttered in the entertainment industry, "Nobody knows nuthin'." We all want to discover an edge. We're earnestly engaged in the same game of writing, so even as we do so from our perches, we're still sorting through all that sinew and bone and tissue and organs trying to see how it all works. Doesn't matter if you sit disaffected in Mr. Meyer's science class. When that baby pig is cut open, you're looking inside. You're going to come away with more understanding, even if you may detest wanting it, which is another thing we do.

Success in the arts is forever a feit accompli. Talent doesn't even appear as such until it's presented next to the success it reaps. I know someone who has an original Keith Haring which was created for him on the spot in a New York City bar with a crayon and a cocktail napkin. He kept it in plastic in one of his sketchbooks which were always on him. Occasionally, he'd produce it in the middle of a conversation and blow everyone's mind. How fleeting it all is.

Quickly, who won the National Book Award last? Whoever waited to buy books until the NBA list is announced?? Things are successful because they're sold as a success. Look at a Patterson book, Danny! It LOOKS like it'll be a NYT bestseller for all the weeks. Belief matters.

I'm a better long-form writer than I've ever been a comedian, but I'm not so much a book snob than a comedy snob. In writing, it's tipping your cap to your influences. In stand-up, it gets you banned. The best pay the price, just in different ways. Every circus has its tightrope.

I wonder if my peers and counterparts think we're all out here in separate fields. My feeling is it's one big arena, and there isn't much time for admiring or critiquing how all these other folks' fight. I'm not sayin' it's a scrum, but it's tight up in here.

Used to be, a talent was discovered and money and time went into developing said talent into a star. Now talent arrives developed, polished, poised and so invested and overextended they're willing to, say, train all over again, each week, as an audience watches. Between the singing, and the commercials, what do they show us? Their sad stories.

We sit at our looms and weave words into worlds. All we need is a magic castle.

I'm for real. I really like these crime fiction MFs.

How Much Distance?

I assume it's a common writer's question.  If you're writing from actual experience in any way, from events that happened to you, how long do you wait before you turn those experiences into narrative form?  I'm talking about for fiction here, not, let's say, for journalism.  With journalism, you might write something during an event or immediately after it, but for fiction, a certain amount of distance is good.  You want to give yourself perspective on what you lived through.  At the same time, you may not want to wait too long.  Events recede; memories dim and what occurred becomes confused in your mind.  Or you think about something for so long (or what's worse, discuss it too much) that you lose the desire to write about it.  There has to be something to explore when you write, but if you've gone over your subject in your head to the point where there's nothing left to explore, then why continue to bother with it?  It's something that's become uninteresting even to you. 

Now it goes without saying that it depends what kind of experiences we're talking about.  Some things we live through, with the depth of the pain they've caused or the grief they've stirred or even the happiness they brought, never become uninteresting to us.  But I wonder (and again, it depends on the kind of experiences we're talking about), what does perspective mean? If you were angry over something once, do you calm down with the passing of time so you can write with a sense of relative tranquillity?  If you were bitter, does an interval of years temper that?  How about sadness?  If time doesn't wipe it away, it may at least mute it and improve the chances of producing a work that hits a number of emotional registers.

How distance from events affects a person depends, naturally, on the person.  And since writers are people (last time I checked), the same differences go for writers.  Some people may get angrier about something over time, or never shed an overwhelming feeling of melancholy, depression.  Perspective, so-called, may not change anything for certain writers.  I find for me that it does, and I tend to follow the general rule that says to let some time go by when planning to write from my own experience. The delay means I won't be too close to the events.  By some time, I mean years, but I'm wondering if that's not too long.  The farther I get from most things, the more I feel inclined to write about them comedically, because what once seemed important or maddening, or worthy of my passion, seems, in retrospect, to hold an element of the ridiculous.  I shake my head and smile at what I once found infuriating.  I also see that people I may have been at odds with could have had reasons for what they did that have a touch of merit.   They may have been misguided, of course, but over time I've come to better understand their point of view. 

So yes, distance is essential.  At least, I think it is.  But it's curious to think about how what you write, the tone you adopt, has a lot to do with your personality and how it relates to the passing of time. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

The End

It's a rare thing for me to know how a novel I'm writing will end.

I'm not a pre-plotter, except when I write short stories.

(I've always found short stories require a discipline and focus that is singular. My problem is my love of subplots and characters who show me they have layers I want to peel back and I get distracted. I can indulge that sometimes in a novel, but I have to use the Star Wars approach to short fiction.

"Stay on target."
"But the tie fighers..."
"Stay on target.")

Although I don't always have the ending carved out in stone, what I have are ideas. They may tie to the book's theme or they may involve the specific outcome for one character. As the manuscript evolves the ending takes shape.

Now, the more I do this, the more advanced plotting I do. I have a longer list of things that I know will come up in the story. This is because I now think thematically and topically about the story before I'm writing and I also think about specific character arcs. I don't consider anything set in stone. If something isn't working I'll change it.

But I have ideas.

Recently, I was taking to Mindy Tarquini, who is far more of an advanced plotter than I am, and I came away from our chat thinking about subverting reader expectations by shifting away from what the reader expects.

There can be something really, genuinely wonderful about delivering what people want, but there's a fine line between fulfilling a long-term arc and offering resolution and being boring and predictable.

I've thought about endings a lot lately, because of the conclusion of The Americans. After 6 years of investing in these characters I wondered how they would resolve things. We speculated about potential character deaths. We talked about witness protection and escaping to a beach somewhere. And even after the penultimate episode I was baffled by how they were going to wrap everything up.

And then that finale.

You know you've knocked it out of the park when people are still talking about it days later. And they are. Friends on Facebook that I didn't even know were watching the show are still posting thoughts. People on Twitter are still talking about it.

I'm still thinking about it.

I've said many times already that none of the things I thought might happen did, and yet it was remarkably gut-wrenching and heart-breaking perfection.

Yes, I'm prepared to call it that. Because it addressed what needed to be addressed. It left the viewer to make up their own minds about some other things. And it delivered an emotional impact that was absolutely shocking.

I'm a bit of an oddity. We stream everything... except we bought our episodes of The Americans each season so that we only had to wait a day to see it. So, on the night an episode airs I'll got on Twitter and see what the buzz is like.

That last episode there was one thing I knew from Twitter. The finale was devastating.

And... spoiler...

They pulled that off without ever pulling the trigger of a gun.

There are things worse than death.

After watching that episode I will think about my endings and I will think about the emotional impact of those endings. And I will think of The Americans, the dark sister of the crime TV world that never really got the recognition it deserved for some of the questions it raised. How far would you go to serve your country? How do you deal with your children being influenced by ideological ideas you don't agree with? How do you cope with being raped and victimized? How do you have an honest relationship when you're not even who you say you are? How do you cope with the loneliness? What about losing family (Elizabeth's mother, Philip's other son)?

How do you live this life and stay true to yourself and who you are?

There's so much subtext in this show and the ending underscored it all. And, for me, it took a series that was strong and solid and typically ranged from a B (season 5) to an A or A- (seasons 1, 2, 3, 4) from season to season and made it be an A++ overall with perhaps the best series finale of all time.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Golden State Killer

The nation has been riveted lately with the arrest of a suspect in the case of the Golden State Killer, who raped and murdered his way through California forty years ago and then disappeared more completely than almost any other serial killer in history.
But the rest of the country’s got nothing on the Sacramento area. This is where he started, breaking into homes and raping women. Known then as the East Area Rapist, he eventually upped his game by deliberately choosing houses where a man was home as well. In all, he was suspected in 27 rapes and five additional attempts here from 1976 to 1979.
If you lived in the eastern suburbs of Sacramento during that time, you have a story. Fathers kept baseball bats by the side of the bed. Families slept together in the living room, thinking it was safer. Gun sales skyrocketed. Children weren’t allowed outside. Each story is personal, not abstract. The fears were well-founded, and present night after night. The monster could quite literally be at your door.
And it turned out he was that close. Joseph DeAngelo lived mere miles from the scenes of the first reported rapes. The 72-year-old was arrested on suspicion of murder April 25 after law enforcement traced DNA left at crime scenes to a familial match in a database. And Sacramento reeled. The alleged killer lived here quietly for decades. And so a whole lot of us – including me – turned out on Wednesday to hear more about the only major book to be published on the case: Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer.
The event was held at ground zero – the Barnes & Noble only miles from where DeAngelo lived in the suburb of Citrus Heights. More than 450 people packed the place. I got in line at 4:30 p.m. for the 7 o’clock event. The prime chair seating was long gone, but I ended up with a semi-good standing spot. 
As everyone who’s paid even a bit of attention to all this knows, McNamara died in 2016, before she was able to finish I’ll Be Gone In The Dark. Her widower, comedian Patton Oswalt, has been on a publicity tour for the book, which was doing pretty darn well when it was released in February. (I’ve started calling this time period B.A. for “before arrest.”) Then DeAngelo was arrested. And now in the A.A. (after arrest) time period, the book and anything associated with the case has gone through the stratosphere.
Oswalt appeared Wednesday with the two collaborators who finished the book after McNamara’s death, researcher Paul Haynes and journalist Billy Jensen. They answered a wide range of questions from the audience, with Oswalt differing the more technical queries to the other two. He focused on his late wife and smiled when asked what he thought she’d be doing with DeAngelo under arrest.
“I’m a clown speaking on behalf of a crime fighter,” he said. “I can’t even begin to list what she’d be doing right now.”
I think she’d absolutely be following the DNA aspect of the case. Because, wow. This has such huge implications. A Contra Costa sheriff’s investigator created a fake profile on an open access DNA website called GEDmatch and uploaded the suspect’s DNA profile, which came from bodily fluids left at multiple crime scenes. (This is very different from well-known sites like and 23andMe, which require an actual saliva sample and not just a on-paper profile, to help ensure fake profiles aren’t created.) There was enough of a familial match in the GEDmatch database for authorities to start tracing a family tree. That eventually led to DeAngelo.
The people who spoke Wednesday night were all clearly for using this kind of investigation to solve crimes. One person blithely dismissed privacy concerns. “Do you think people who feel that way will cause problems?”
“I think there will be some push back,” Haynes said, but within five years he thinks it will become standard. Okay. Having that opinion is one thing, but then he said this: “Who wants to be on that side, waving the flag for privacy and defending a monster like this?”
This is where I pause to catch my breath at the staggering incongruity and conceit of that statement. Being for privacy means you’re defending a rapist/murderer? Um, no. And one more time – hell, no. One does not equal the other. Haynes flat out demonized anyone with a legitimate concern about where this kind of genomic access is headed. This is pretty much brand new legal territory, and no one is served well by such blanket, inflammatory statements.
We’ll all be hearing a lot more on the DNA issue as DeAngelo’s charges proceed to trial, because I guarantee it will be litigated for years. As will the rest of the case. The crimes DeAngelo is charged with make him eligible for the death penalty, although no decision on that has been officially reached. Capital cases in California typically take years to reach a verdict, and this one has the added complication of involving four different counties and four different elected district attorneys with high stakes in where the case is tried and who takes the lead.
DeAngelo is charged with 12 murders. He is not charged with any of the fifty rapes attributed to the East Area Rapist. This was another subject many in Wednesday’s crowd were eager to address. In the 1970s, when the rapist began his serial attacks, the statute of limitations on those kinds of crimes was fairly short. This was, which Oswalt pointed out and I agree with, a generational thing. Those kinds of assaults were not treated as seriously as they are today. Now they’re considered quite serious, and there’s the recognition that technology continues to evolve and could one day crack a case that was unsolvable before (much like DNA has already done).
Haynes said he thought the statute of limitations on rape would change or be done away with in the next 10 years. I wish he’d had the right information, because time limits on rape cases have already been wiped from the books in California. The new law went into effect Jan. 1, 2017, for rapes that occur after that date, or any such crime that occurred before that date where the previous 10-year statute of limitations hadn’t expired. It would’ve been great for the overflow crowd hanging on his every word to have learned the correct information that night.
Afterward, people lined up for signed copies, still talking about the surrealness of a suspect being found almost within walking distance of the bookstore. One woman said she’d read the book at night and was scared by it. Then DeAngelo was arrested. “Then I was more scared knowing he had lived a mile from me my whole life.”
Have questions about this case? Let me know in the comments, on Twitter @clairebooth10, or on my Facebook page, and I’ll answer them next week.