Saturday, July 14, 2018

Control the Controllables

Scott D. Parker

Why is it we writers and creators sometimes suffer from bouts of doubt? In my day job as a technical writer, I’m never without things to do and proper procedures to do them. Dittos for thousands of other skills. But we creators still suffer.

Mine wasn’t horrible or earth-shattering. It stemmed from a couple of things. One was the diminishing of the natural high one gets when completing a story. I submitted a story to an upcoming western anthology and, if accepted, it’ll be published in the fall. And boy do I love this yarn. Enjoyed reading it aloud to my wife who also seemed to enjoy it—not always a given. She’s a spectacular first reader/listener because she’ll tell me like it is, especially if a story doesn’t work for me. The other thing that got me down for a time was the just-as-critical sequel to writing “the end”: what’s next? With my day job, I have a rather long commute and, as a result, my personal time is quite limited. I still carve out time to write, but this week was mostly a failure. It happens from time to time. I used to see how long I could go writing each day. Then I didn’t. Now, I’m wondering if I should just so I can maintain the writing muscle.

On the business side of things, there are always a ton of things to do. Most of the time, I actually enjoy them. In fact, I’m in the middle of planning my fall’s published output and into 2019. It’s a good schedule and one I hope will reap some dividends.

And that’s where some of my thoughts went to this week: the other end of the process. The future reader seeing a story of mine, seeing the cover, reading the blurb, and making the decision to spend money. I can’t remember where I recently heard the phrase “control the controllables” but it reentered the forefront of my head again this week. What do I have control over? The prose of the book itself, the descriptions and all the meta-data, the covers and how they look, and setting the price. That’s it. There isn’t a darn thing else I control. Well, there’s one more thing: where the book is located. I’ve recently gone wide again, so my stories are available in most major online bookstores.

Well, there is one more thing I can at least have a say in: discoverability. I can control how I market, where I market, how much I spend on marketing, and so forth. But at the end of the day, it ain’t up to me whether a person reads one of my stories. It’s all on them. I cannot control their thought pattern and decision making. All I can do—all any of us can do—is put the best product out there and see what happens.

I know this is all not earth-shattering or brand-new, but, every so often, we creators need to be reminded of what we can control. It’s also a good reminder that all of us creatives have those moments of doubt. Just yesterday, famed Batman artist Greg Capullo (@GregCapullo) wrote this tweet:

For those struggling artists out there, know that I struggle too. After decades of drawing for a living, there are days when it seems like I’ve forgotten how to draw! It sucks. You suck, I suck, we all suck! …sometimes.

New DC Comics writer, Brian Michael Bendis (@BrianMBendis) followed it up with “Seconded.”

You see? We’re all in the same boat.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Weird Crime and Writing Prompts

I love a good writing prompt. Some of my best stories were written from prompts in workshops or friendly short story competitions (special shout out to Jessica Leonard, who may be the best prompt writer out there). If I’m ever stupid-rich, after I hire people to do my hair and makeup, I’m going to employ someone to just feed me prompts whenever I hit a wall. Unfortunately, I’m not a self made woman like like Kylie Jenner, so I don’t have “hire people for insane jobs that don’t exist” money in my bank account just yet.

Most of my writer-friends, even the really, really good ones, don’t have that kind of money. Instead of having amazing prompts fed to us by ideas people, we have to look for inspiration and prompts wherever we can find them. I used to think scanning the crime news would make for good writing fodder - but I run into the same problem again and again - if you include something in a story, people have to believe it.

With the news, the more unbelievable it is, the more people want to read it. If it’s silly, even better. But in books and film, things have to make sense. If a criminal in a story is too dumb, people don’t get invested - or worse, they lose their investment the second your hapless protagonist tries to rob and escape room, gets stuck in it, and has to call the police on himself to get out (no, really).

The viral stuff is even worse because you’re the thousandth writer trying to put their own spin on the latest “stupid criminal” or “Florida man” story. Though, now that I think of it, a story inspired by the hot felon that went around a couple years back could be really good - just make it a short story, not a novel.

The best prompts aren’t set ups or plot points, anyway. They’re a phrase, quote, or ominous photo that spark something in the creative part of the brain. A good premise is worth it’s weight, too, of course, but without a great story built around it, a premise is as useless as an unbelievable true crime story.

Oddly, though I really enjoy writing from prompts, I hate prompt books or searching online for “writing prompts” because the abundance of choice paired with trying to force myself to connect with what’s in front of me keeps me from getting into anything at all. I like looking at photos of people and places online, people watching, listening for interesting words or phrases, or even eavesdropping on people who have too personal conversations loudly in public. Those can be too weird and unbelievable for fiction, too, but they don’t all have to be winners.

Where do you look for inspiration and/or writing prompts?

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Great e-Book War

By David Nemeth

When I started my blog, I was a devotee to e-books; they’re cheaper, quicker to obtain, and advance reader copies cost virtually nothing for a writer or publisher to send out if need be. But something changed several months ago and Bouchercon 2017 is to blame. It was in a hotel conference room in Toronto that I fell back in love with the printed word. There were books everywhere. Books in the hands of authors, readers, and publishers. And there were tables stacked with books. It was crime fiction crack.

From those Canadian October days, I’ve slowly made my transition from e-books to the printed word. I discovered an increase in my reading speed and comprehension. I could cherry pick scientific studies that back my observations–they’re there, just Bing™ it–but facts are boring. I know that e-book enthusiasts can find studies on why electronic reading is better, but y'all have to use AltaVista. The war wages on.

I do get there are those that still prefer the electronic medium over the printed page because of ease of use, lack of space to store books, and that they just damn well like it better. I get it, I totally do. One of the things I’m not a fan of reading on my phone. There are just too many distractions: mail, social media, and just wasting time browsing the web as if Facebook and Twitter don’t have a good enough hold on the domain of my wasting time. I know, I know, I could turn off all sorts of notifications, but the world is just a swipe away. I am a weak man.

Whether you read on a portable electronic device or recycled paper, it comes down to personal taste. Either one is okay. God, hopefully, it's all recycled paper, my liberal constitution could not handle it if I were reading words on the remains of a baby Redwood.

I spend my days in front of a computer screen for work or in soul-draining meetings and the thought of sitting by the glow of a book has lost all its appeal. I love the satisfaction of closing a book when finished and even lending out a book that will never be seen again. Almost one year later, I'm forever back with the printed word.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


So who's excited for Thrillerfest this year?

On  Friday, Megan Abbott will be interviewed by Lee Child, and George R.R. Martin will be interviewed by Anne Groell.

Saturday, James Rollins will be given the Silver Bullet award and interviewed by Steve Berry. It's also the chance to see past ThrillerMasters, including Lee Child, GRRM, David Morell, and R.L. Stine.

This is the "biz" convention unlike "fan" conventions, such as Bouchercon. And as such, it's the time to ask all the questions you may have about the craft and the business.

I will be on a panel Friday morning, hosted  by Ed Aymar, about editing anthologies, with Joe Clifford, Kathy Bennett, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Johnny Temple, and Wendy Tyson. It should be a good time, if you've ever had any questions about editing one yourself. It's not as easy as you think, and the term "thankless" gets thrown around.

So, hope to see you there Friday!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

What Editing My Ten-Year-Old Novel Taught Me About Writing

Scott's note: There's a guest post today by J David Osborne.  Not that he needs an introduction, but David is both a fiction writer and the publisher who runs Broken River Books.  Two of David's earlier works have just been re-issued, and he's here to tell you about them.  He's here to tell you about what he learned by going back and revisiting, re-editing, books he wrote years ago. 

It's good stuff, so let's get to it:

What Editing My Ten-Year-Old Novel Taught Me About Writing
By J David Osborne

About a year ago my former publisher, the powerful and immortal Swallowdown Press, closed up shop. The rights to my first two novels reverted back to me. I enjoyed having them out of print. It felt good to let them rest for a bit. They went up (and up, and up) in price on Amazon. I had written “collector’s items!” Demand grew. Once I felt the time was right, it was time to republish those bad boys.
In going over the books to proof them before release, I went on a journey back in time. Separated by nearly a decade and a few hundred freelance editing projects, I felt like I was reading books by a different author. Considering you’re a whole new collection of cells every seven years, I guess they were by a different author.

By the Time We Leave Here, We’ll Be Friends is about a group of prisoners in a Siberian gulag who must escape. In order to make it across the vast expanse of barren tundra, they must bring with them a “calf,” or a person to eat when they run out of food. It’s inspired by Silent Hill video games, James Ellroy novels, and David Lynch films.
            Especially David Lynch films. Around the time that I wrote it (2009 or so) I was obsessed with Mulholland Drive. I loved the mystery surrounding every scene, and how it felt like there was this whole weird world beneath what was happening on the screen. I enjoyed being confused, and how the film made me feel something that I couldn’t put words to.
            So I did the “smart” thing and attempted to put that wordless feeling into words. I did a ton of research for the book, sticky-noting Anne Applebaum’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag for the juiciest, ugliest shit that I could find. I acquired the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia Vols. 2-3 in order to learn the language contained within those tattoos and the hierarchies of the gangsters who wore them. I lifted stuff from Solzhenitsyn and The Long Walk.
           The challenge in re-editing this book related to younger-me’s stylistic decision to make BTTWL a puzzle. I gave all the characters big backstories, then cut them away, leaving a few key details. For example, there’s a bit throughout the book about a missing photo that, if you figure it out, makes everything about a certain character even more sad. No one’s caught it yet, in eight years.
Of course, I had to remember all this shit, too. At times, to be honest, I couldn’t. But I left it alone, no matter how annoyed with my past self I became. He was so satisfied with himself and with this novel. I’m not satisfied with anything, anymore.
            I took the “puzzle” element way to far, to be honest. There are entire stretches of sentence fragments that are nearly impossible to parse. Sentences switch from concrete descriptions of otherworldly things to otherworldly descriptions of concrete things and metaphor gets all tangled up in story and, oh, by the way, see if you can juggle four or five storylines going simultaneously in this manner for about a hundred pages. There’s also like, subtext and stuff, bro.
            The people who loved this one really loved it, and the folks who hated it really hated it. Just check the Goodreads reviews. I don’t blame any of them, though I think it is, wait for it…pretty good.

       Low Down Death Right Easy is about a pair of brothers who find a severed head while hand-fishing for catfish. “Noodling,” it’s called in Oklahoma. The brothers run afoul of a local enforcer who is losing teeth and talking to strange gods. The new publisher, King Shot Press, and I decided to rename this one (based on the fact that I spent the past six years or so getting blank looks when I’d tell people the original title). We’re calling it Blood and Water.
            I didn’t have the same problems with this one that I did with By the Time. The story was much more straightforward, and around this time I’d been kicked around enough that I’d stopped being satisfied with writing needlessly obtuse prose. I still fucked around with the sentences a bit, to be honest. It’s difficult not to.
            There’s this temptation to “George Lucas” these books, to add in elements that I should have put in in the first place, and to take out the stuff that I should’ve left out. And like I said, I did that juuuust a little bit. But overall, editing these novels has allowed me to see myself from a detached point of view. I edited coldly, like I would any other freelance project. And I learned that I am nowhere near the writer I used to think I was. But I’m also not as bad as I currently think I am.

           If I were to give myself an assessment, like I was my own client, it’d go something like this: “Easy on the metaphors. Give the reader a bit more of a lifeline. Slow down. Let things flesh themselves out. Take your time on the endings. Really work on sticking those landings.”
I’d say, “Write for your smartest reader, sure, but don’t write to confuse your smartest reader.”
            It’s a great exercise, and one that I recommend all writers do at one point or another. Painful though it might be, reach into a drawer and pull out a novel from ten years ago. As an exercise, re-edit that little bastard until present-day-you is happy with it.
It got me writing like crazy again. To be able to see yourself outside of yourself is an asset to a type of person (I’m talking about writers here) who live inside their head. Gets you that much closer to objectivity. And sure it’s narcissistic…but what about this entire profession isn’t?
You’re not as good as you thought, but you’re not as bad as you think 


By the Time We Leave Here, We’ll Be Friends you can get at

Blood and Water you can find on Amazon here.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Monday morning in Thrillville with Will Viharo

Will Viharo is a unique and vivid voice in a rather shadowy genre of storytelling. Shocking. Satirical. Personal. Today he tells us how and why he continues to create his vibrant works.


Q: You have created your own boutique publishing house, Thrillville Press. How and why did you embark on this major endeavor?

A: I’ve been self-publishing since 2010, after my twelve year career as a film programmer/theater publicist suddenly went bust when the company I worked for, Speakeasy, abruptly folded, despite its popularity as a local institution. Along with freelance writing products, I picked up a novel I’d abandoned in favor of this full time job, called A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge, and finished it. Of course, the dozen or so years I spent presenting vintage Grindhouse and B movies had irrevocably warped my brain, and what began as a modest little neo-noir took a hard left turn into deeply disturbed, and disturbing, psychedelic, psychotronic territory, where I felt most creatively comfortable. This lurid, surrealistic style, heavily influenced by hardcore exploitation cinema as well as my own bizarre personal life story, became the hallmark of my work ever since. While I was at it, I also went back and finally published a number of manuscripts that had been buried in a trunk for years, going back to my very first, Chumpy Walnut, completed when I was 19. Fortunately I knew a lot of great artists from my networking experiences as an event producer, and employed them for the cover art. Still, like most writers, I was a lousy editor of my own work, and eventually let these titles lapse out of print, embarrassed by the technical errors. But not the work itself. I’m very proud of the stuff I decide to share.

Then in 2014 or so a startup small press I won’t publicly name approached me about republishing these books. I suggested reissuing them in volumes called “The Thrillville Pulp Fiction Collection,” and the editor agreed. I wound up doing most of the work, from commissioning the cover art to proofreading, though he helped me out with the latter. His enthusiasm really sold me. I thought he’d be my John Martin, the founder of Black Sparrow Press, which discovered Bukowski after he toiled in utter obscurity for years, with no hope of success.

Long, sordid story short, the guy wound up being a crook and a charlatan, one of many I’ve been suckered by over the years, and the whole enterprise went belly up shortly after these books (and others by different authors, including Danny Gardner) hit the market. The rights immediately reverted to me, and since I had all these files complete for upload, I decided to just slap my own trademarked logo on them, and immediately reissue them under my own brand, so all that hard work wouldn’t go to waste.

Like many if not small and medium sized presses, this one published on demand via CreateSpace. I had access to the same online tools they did, with decades of experience as writer, editor and publicist under my belt, so why not just do it myself? I simply purchased unique ISBNs for each title, and I was back in business.

The Thrillville Pulp Fiction Collection is comprised of the novels A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge and Freaks That Carry Your Luggage Up to the Room (Volume One); Lavender Blonde and Down a Dark Alley (Volume Two); Chumpy Walnut and numerous short stories spanning three decades (Volume Three); and the unpublished sequels to Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me: Fate Is My Pimp, Romance Takes a Rain Check, I Lost My Heart in Hollywood, and Diary of a Dick (Volume Four). I’ve since published the recent works Vic Valentine: International Man of Misery and the erotic horror noir novella Things I Do When I’m Awake, inspired by the life and death of my tragic mother who suffered from schizophrenia. Currently I am working on the latest, Vic Valentine: Lounge Lizard For Hire, which may be the ultimate “Will Viharo Novel,” due out this fall.

Q: What is your big vision for Thrillville?

A: Well, that’s been my “brand name” for about 20 years now. It started out as a live “cult movie cabaret” I programmed, produced and hosted down in the Bay Area for many years. Once that gig ended, I decided to reinvent my established reputation as a B movie/burlesque impresario into a platform for my fiction, my first and true love, which I’d put aside to devote myself full time to cultivating my “Will the Thrill” lounge lizard persona.

The irony is, I was asked to create this show by the owners of the Parkway Theater in Oakland, who had also published my novel “Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me” via their first business venture, Wild Card Press. The idea was to generate buzz for the book by promoting myself as a local personality. The show - which started out as “The Midnight Lounge” in 1997 but was rechristened “Thrillville Theater” when it moved to prime time in 1999 - instead took on a life of its own, and my lifelong literary goals were put on the back burner indefinitely.

Then in 2001, the theater office received a letter from representatives of Christian Slater, who had discovered a copy of “Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me” in a L.A. bookstore and wanted to option it for a film, in which he’d star as well as direct. But that’s a whole other epic story with a sad ending, well documented and not worth repeating here.

Over the years I’ve had several very close calls with mainstream success. For over a decade I had an agent with Curtis Brown Limited in New York who didn’t do a thing for me. In the early 1990s, I was nearly published by celebrity editor Judith Regan, who took a keen interest in my work before unceremoniously dumping me after two fruitless years. I’m 55 now, so frankly, as the saying goes, “I’m getting too old for this shit.” I’m tired of putting my faith in people, only to have them let me down, so I’ve taken the reins of my own career, or whatever’s left of it at this point.

The upshot is, “Thrillville” has come full circle, since it’s now the name of my own imprint. My “vision” is simply to preserve my body of work for posterity. I am no longer a slave to my own ambition, so I have no commercial agenda. I am not competitive with any other authors or presses. I just keep my head down and do my own thing my own way, confident that staying true to myself distinguishes myself from the crowd. I tune out all the online noise and listen solely to my inner muse. I don’t care about awards and accolades, not anymore. I have always written primarily for myself, and nothing that happened to me over the course of my so-called career has changed that. If someone else is on my wavelength and digs my work, great. If not, that’s cool too. I aim to please no one and nothing but my own heart.

Q: Tell us about your next book, Vic Valentine: Lounge Lizard For Hire.

A: My first published novel, Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, was reissued by Gutter Books in 2013, when the movie deal was really hot. My editor was Joe Clifford, who taught me a lot about “killing your darlings.” He also edited Hard-Boiled Heart, published by Gutter in 2015. It was directly inspired by the failed movie experience, and it was my first Vic Valentine novel in twenty years. Since Gutter was a crime fiction house, I kept the book fairly straightforward as a noir narrative. I was so distraught about how everything had fallen apart right when a lifetime of hard work about to pay off that that I had no plans for ever writing another novel after this, much less one featuring this character.

But then I was asked to be a guest instructor at a writer’s retreat in Costa Rica, and after this unique experience, I decided it would be fun to put Vic Valentine in that unlikely setting, since we both hate travel and the sun. The result was Vic Valentine: International Man of Misery, but since I published it via Thrillville Press, I no longer felt constrained by convention. It’s a genre-bending trip combining dog-walking (my full time day job, which I love), zombies, voodoo, hallucinogenic drugs, espionage, guns, and as usual, lots and lots of graphic sex. In short, not your typical “crime novel.”

I was so artistically satisfied with this work, dedicated to the Writer’s Retreat of San Buenas, that my new one, Vic Valentine: Lounge Lizard For Hire, is going even further. It’s full-on ultra- meta-gonzo, combining elements of all my books, not just the ones in the Vic series, which up till Man of Misery were fairly realistic, but also my favorite, A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge, which distills the whole concept of “Thrillville” to its retro-porno horror-noir essence. In fact Chumpy Walnut himself, who is only a foot tall, has a cameo! It’s essentially a plotless, totally twisted, psychologically complex, erotically charged, existential fever dream. The central “mystery” is the secret of Life itself. I’m not sure if anyone else will dig it, but I am having a blast. 

Q: What are you working on right now? 

A: I'm working on a short story for an upcoming horror noir anthology I am not at liberty to publicly discuss yet, and I have another story called "Fish out of Water," my take on what could've been the fourth "Creature from the Black Lagoon" film (which I wrote long before "Shape of Water" was released), coming out in another horror noir anthology later this year. Horror noir is my thing. Cheers.