Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Shadow: Partners in Peril

Scott D. Parker

(Note: I encountered household plumbing issues last night. By the time y'all read this, I'll have the roto-rooter guy at my house and unclogging my drains. But that also means I have to post a re-run. Upon review of my past posts, however, I don't think I posted this one here at Do Some Damage. So, here you go, from January 2018. Besides, last Saturday of Batman Day, so what better way to celebrate that 'holiday' (a week late) than to present a story that inspired the first Batman story. Enjoy.)

Well, it took a while, but I finally read my first Shadow novel.

I think like most of us, I’ve known about The Shadow for a long time. I first discovered him back in the late 70s when my parents purchased some old-time radio episodes on cassette to listen to on vacations. Ten years later, some of those episodes were broadcast on local Houston AM radio on Sunday nights and I’d listen to them as I returned back to college in Austin. And I’d even began collecting the wonderful reprints by Vintage Library to say nothing of some of the comic adaptations. Actually, up until now, the only time I’d encountered The Shadow in print was the two times he guest-starred in Batman comics (my reviews here and here).

Interestingly, it was because of Batman that I first wanted to read PARTNERS IN PERIL. The good folks a Vintage packaged PARTNERS along with LINGO and commissioned a couple of article about how PARTNERS and The Shadow influenced Bill Finger and Bob Kane to create Batman. The historian in me always gravitated to the historical commentary before I read the stories, and this collection is fantastic with not only historical commentary by Will Murray and Anthony Tollin but an introduction by Jerry Robinson, co-creator of Robin and the Joker. But today, the focus is on this November 1936 story.

Reed Harrington calls the police with a desperate situation: he’s been marked for death at midnight. For over a week, Harrington has tried to evade the mysterious caller, but every time, the mystery man finds him. With no one else to turn to, Harrington asks the police for help. Detective Joe Cardona is assigned the case and he’s there in the room when Harrington receives a call just before midnight…and falls dead! In short order, Arnold King arrives at the dead man’s apartment with the same incredible story. What links these two men? Well, they both were former partners of the Milcote Chemical Corporation. Armed with police protection, King holes up and waits…until he, too, falls dead. King dies of electrocution; Harrington of poison.

Enter: The Shadow. He directs his agents to discover the identity of other partners of the company and land on three: Simon Todd, Thomas Porter and his son, Ray. But what complicates the mystery is that Harrington, King, and the two Porters all are former partners of the chemical company. Who would want them dead? Perhaps it is sinister agents of a foreign power out to discover the secret formula for the new chemical weapon created for the United States to use in the next war.  Perhaps it’s something else, but you know before you even read the first word that The Shadow will emerge triumphant.


First of all, I really enjoyed this story. I liked how the action played fairly quick and straight. I have since learned that the author of PARTNERS wasn’t Walter Gibson but Theodore Tinsley. In fact, PARTNERS is Tinsley’s first Shadow novel. I read he studied Gibson’s writing style and aimed to achieve a certain verisimilitude with the prose. Today, I can’t say if he did, but the prose flowed well. An aspect of the writing that was likely a product of the times was the omniscient narrator where you rarely got into the characters heads, much less The Shadow. That was likely intentional because Tinsley has us readers (and certain characters) witnessing a thing only to reveal later that The Shadow had already performed a different task. It was very much like the movie serials of the time.

Speaking of The Shadow himself, I enjoyed his disguises and his ability to blend into his surroundings. He appeared both as a young and old workman and Tinsley treated us readers to a classic sly wink as the disguised hero vacated a scene just as another character paused and frowned in odd recognition. A surprising aspect of The Shadow’s character was when he constantly seemed to be five steps ahead of events. Like Sherlock Holmes who knew, for example, the villain in the The Hound of the Baskervilles before he even left London yet sent Watson on errands anyway. The Shadow did the same thing with his team which consisted of Burbank, a man who communicated the plans to other agents, reporter Clyde Burke, and Harry Vincent, who acts as The Shadow’s second-hand man. Ironically, just like Doc Savage’s compadres, Vincent gets himself in trouble and The Shadow has to rescue him, but Vincent proves an able partner.

I listened to PARTNERS from a new all-cast recording up on Audible. It was fantastic and I got a definite old-time radio vibe. There were no sound effects,  but there was soft jazz music at the end of each chapter. A funny aspect of the narrator was his slight pause every time “The Shadow” was mentioned in prose. Another note on the recording: they edited out much of the attribution. Since I had the hard copy and there was a particularly great action sequence, I marked it to re-read and study. It was then, while the audio was playing in my ears, that I noticed they were leaving out some words. As an avid audiobook listener, I wish other productions would do the same thing.

I thoroughly enjoyed PARTNERS IN PERIL and I’ll be quickly moving on to more Shadow novels. THE SHADOW UNMASKS is the only other full-cast recording while THE VOODOO MASTER and THE BLACK FALCON are narrated traditionally.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Switchblade Event!

Switchblade Magazine has been putting out killer crime fiction and putting on killer events for awhile now, so if you’re unfamiliar with them, I’m not sure what your excuse is. I’ve got a story in Issue 2, every issue has been jam packed with your favorite crime fiction writers and voices you may not have heard, AND Stilleto Heeled, their all women, woman edited edition is coming out soon (I’ll be kicking myself for a year for missing that submission deadline).

So if you’re in Los Angeles next week, come see the latest Switchblade event at the Echo Park Branch Library at 6pm on the 27th. Not just because I’d love to see you there, but because we’ve got a killer line up. Featuring: Alec Cizak, Rex Weiner, Lisa Douglass, Rick Risemberg, Scotch Rutherford, and myself.

Be there or be somewhere infinitely less cool. 
Here’s a picture of my cat in the laundry because I can’t get Blogger to upload the flyer from my phone, and he’s pretty. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Your Fight Scene Sucks, Fight Me!

When watching a movie, if I can, I'll fast forward through a fight scene, otherwise, I'll get all glassy-eyed until it is over. Don't even get me started on comic book movie fight scenes. When reading, I'll usually scan through the paragraphs of a fight scene to see if anyone happens to die and then I'll catch up with the story in its proper place. Why? Because fight scenes suck.

I probably should have said, "Most fight scenes suck because they are too long and there are usually no ramifications for the characters afterward." Characters need to get injured in their fights and these injuries need to be long lasting, not forgotten by the next chapter. Also, fight scenese are way too long. I really don't know if "way too long" even covers it. Go to Youtube and search for "street fights" and you'll see that most fights are only seconds long and usual end in some sort of grappling, fleeing, or one-punch knockouts.

What fight scenes should not be are chapter-length episodes that one might read in a typical New York Times thriller. Let's join Jack Reacher after 778 words of fighting and beating three opponents in "Night School": "By that point the clock in Reacher’s head told him the fight had been running a little over four seconds." That's almost 200 words a second! Yawn, so much yawn. And there are still five more bad guys for Reacher to take down. I'm aware that these superman characters are supposed to be all that but having a fight drag on like this is as boring as it is preposterous:
Reacher exploded at the guy and got there three inches into the bat’s forward swing, which gave him time to catch its sweet spot in the meat of his palm, and jerk it away, and add his other hand, and stab the knob of the handle at the guy’s head like a rifle butt, and connect, like a ferocious punch through a single knuckle.
James Bond is infamous for its crappy fight scenes.

# # #

But why do fight scenes suck? JD Stanley has an interesting article on this topic. Stanley breaks the problem down into three sections: No Injuries, Too Much Dialogue, and Most people aren't Rambo. Stanley also gives a few suggestions on how to make your fight scene work.

Here's a fight scene that worked, it's from JJ Hensley's "Bolt Action Remedy" (Down & Out Books).
“I’ve talked enough,” he said as he raised a fist and stepped forward to put me within striking distance. 
Snapping my left foot forward, I managed to kick a heap of snow into the larger man’s eyes. He instinctively raised his hands to his face and I took one long stride and used my right arm to deliver a solid straight punch to his diaphragm. People engaged in hand-to-hand combat often make a mistake by focusing on hitting an opponent in the head. But if you ask any experienced fighter, he’ll tell you that he’d rather take ten punches to the head than one good shot to the body. 
The human torso contains all sorts of important organs and most of them are protected by little more than thin rib bones. But most importantly, every fighter needs one very important thing to keep fighting: oxygen. If you take your opponent’s oxygen, you take your opponent. I took Mark Letterman’s oxygen and it was going to take him a while to get it back.
The fight continues a little bit afterward, but Hensley has this fight end almost a quickly as it started which is one of the reasons why it worked. The other, it was basically over with one punch. Maybe the fight lasted two seconds long which comes out to maybe 90 words a second which as a reader I appreciated–my eyes didn't have a chance to glaze over.

The other week, Hensley also had a good piece about how to write a successful action scene over at The Thrill Begins. This guy knows what he's doing.
Every time I write a fight scene, I think of the judo class I took or my first experience with boxing. Every…single…time. Each time, I can feel the leather of the headgear on my face and see the white strings dangling from the boxing gloves. Details like that make action scenes more authentic and relatable to the reader. 
Are you writing a car chase scene? I bet at some point in your life you’ve smelled rubber burning and can describe it to the reader. 
Do you have [a] character being chased down a spiral staircase? What do the echoes sound like? What does the railing look like? What does it feel like? How hard is the character breathing? How can you relate?
So please when you are writing a fight scene keep it short, keep it realistic and for god sakes have people get hurt. Otherwise, I might just tell you that your fight scene sucks. ;-)

I reviewed Hensley's "Bolt Action Remedy" last month over at Unlawful Acts and Hensley's latest book, "Record Scratch" (Down & Out Books) comes out in late October. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Early Morning Flow

By Danny Gardner, Author

I realize I may owe everyone some clarification. I've missed a few posts, one unintentionally and one or two an intended act of self-care, which is unprofessional, but until I get myself some staff for this sort of thing, it really was the writing equivalent of being on empty in a bad neighborhood waiting on AAA to find me with a gallon of fuel. Like, "Oh, no, ma'am. No need to keep me on hold. A nice team of Black Gangster Disciples have arrived. I'm sure they'll be able to help me."

Okay, perhaps not that dire, but sometimes things got mean, and I felt bad, and then I had doubts which so many of you helped me soothe with reassurance I could work through it for the good of my writing. Thanks for that, my friends.

Still, no one else is able to string a few no-call/no-shows together and keep their position. I'm aware I am repurchasing your attention with my account of two controversies of the past few months. Sara J. Henry, my editor for the next Elliot Caprice novel, is expecting a chapter per day. I got my marching orders an hour ago. I don't have enough time to lie or otherwise juice this up. I've got to hit it and quit it and get back to what matters most. Please forgive my stream of consciousness-style takes. I just want to close the matter on a couple of things in this space so maybe I can be less afraid to fill it.


PLEASE NOTE: No official confirmation from the Bouchercon board for any nomination for my book was ever received. What I did receive doesn't seem unofficial, but it doesn't appear to be some communique from an organizing body. Just one of the really nice people who have a lot to do to pull off the conference for us every year. He or she may make themselves known if they see fit. Please just know they were trying to cushion the blow.

Going on the assumption I was disqualified from the best first novel category, with apologies to the nominees in that category, I never said anything because I knew it wasn't my year anyhow. I never wanted the disqualification to get out because I knew Jordan Harper and Kellye Garrett wrote books that changed the game. The Anthony went to Kellye, and it was written all over her from the moment we met in person. My granddaughters have flipped through Hollywood Homicide, attracted to the beautiful black woman with the look of mischief on the cover painting. My daughter and Kellye met. They could've been cousins. Kellye made her feel welcome to be her friend. After she was off to the next get-down, Ashley said, "She's working hard, daddy."

I said, "Three times as hard, hm?"

Ashley nodded, slowly.

What truly matters is there was room for me to be disqualified and another book by an author of color win. That's a far cry for there only ever being one black author of the moment. We have a long way to go, but a way is plain, behind Kellye Garrett and her wonderful book.

There is no controversy. Y'all could've nominated Raymond Chandler. He'd have lost, too. Kellye Garrett's book changed the game. I have my predictions it'd be a hit to soothe me. I knew she was fast on the come up, and her vector is holding. Congratulations, Kellye! Best to your team and your family!

Now, if it's still of interest to anyone:

The Double Life Press edition, however brief in its life cycle, was the thing that denied me the Anthony nomination this year. As has been openly speculated by folks more hip to the game than me, it likely was the cause of the lack of a shred of a snowball's chance in you-know-where of getting on the Edgar shortlist for A NEGRO AND AN OFAY.

With respect to the Anthony, it's a blessing to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I received from my friends, fans, readers, and even some foes who respected my hustle, enough Anthony Award-nominations to have been short-listed for at least one category for my novel. It was a goal of mine to work hard enough and do enough good to be recognized with such an honor. Although rules are rules, and multiple publication dates are indeed grounds for disqualification, kind people backstage found me crying in my dressing room and told me I got a standing ovation and I should be proud.

I am. Thank you for allowing me to have that in my heart. It was a deep kindness and really soothes the hurt. I'll work hard to write another book worthy of the Anthony ballot. I agree with my disqualification and respect the matter as closed. Thanks for caping for me, y'all. It means everything.

A special note of thanks to my agent, Liz Kracht, and everyone at Kimberley Cameron and Associates, for going hard in the paint for me—all Liz on that one. She took every foul, and made every free throw. She was Scottie Pippen, basically. Last time I felt this supported, I lost the oratory competition at the ACT-SO awards in tenth grade. That was a really tough weekend. I saw one judge's scorecard. They dinged me on appearance. Prolly why I spend so much on clothes, now. Anyhow, my speech team coach wasn't nearly the help you were through all this, Liz. Not as tough, either. Thank you.


My one takeaway is it took a significant length of time for folks to consider I may have been hurt or felt attacked and needed to prioritize my own well-being and chose leaving a situation I tried improving for 35+ minutes because I needed a safer space. I have, at this moment, still not found that space within crime fiction. This part has to change for the good of all these people who are coming behind Kellye Garrett. They won't be white, either. We have to dialogue this out. I'm down for a beer summit, if you don't mind me having root beer. We have to start talking.

So, many thanks to Erin Mitchell and other Bouchercon insiders for offering to unpack my experience of the panel. For the record, my only experience is, after agreeing to sit on the panel as a trusted professional, I ended my participation prematurely and, thus, behaved unprofessionally.

I also neglected to recognize that Paul Marks was standing next to his spouse during our exchange at the base of the stairs leading to the lobby. I would not have wanted a member of my own family to look upon our discussion. For that, I apologize. I should have recognized it wasn't appropriate to continue, and excused myself.

Speaking to the mass body, crime fiction definitely has some things to talk about, but we seem to be talking, or attempting to talk. Thanks for your concern, whatever concerns you may have. Alas, I shall only add I commit to frank and honest discussion with the Bouchercon board as I serve them in an advisory capacity for issues related to award nomination policy. I shall also be assisting with solutions for diversity and inclusion. I graciously thank Erin Mitchell for her foresight and I'll strive to be useful.

I hope this clarifies things from my point of view. I'm willing to discuss further. I'm completing my next novel at a fast pace, so my responses may be somewhat delayed, but I'm present. I promise to respond in due course.




For those interested in the works to which I frequently refer, check out these titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Tayari Jones on Finding the Story

This past Sunday, I went to the annual Brooklyn Book Festival, and at one of the panels there, I heard an author talk a bit about story creation.  In about five minutes, she told an anecdote that I found valuable to listen to and think worthy of repeating.  The author was Tayari Jones, editor of Atlanta Noir and four novels, including An American Marriage.

In response to an audience question that, if I remember correctly, had to do with finding story ideas, Tayari Jones related how at one point in the recent past she had a grant to do research on wrongful incarceration in the United States.  During the course of her work, she collected lots of data about wrongful incarceration. She found herself with loads of statistics.  But in all these facts and figures pertaining to this grave problem, she had, well, no story.  How from all this information, socially relevant and compelling as it was, would she create a narrative?  

Then one day around this time, in Atlanta where she lives, she was walking through a mall.  In the mall, she saw a couple talking, a man and wife of about the same age, well put together.   

The wife said to her husband, "You know you wouldn't have waited on me for seven years."

Now I can't replicate how amusingly Tayari Jones told her story at this point, but essentially she said that when she heard this, and as she observed the couple, one thing was crystal clear.  She knew that the woman was speaking the truth.  There was no way that the husband would have done for his wife what the wife had done for him - wait seven years.  Tayari Jones said something like, "I knew he wouldn't have waited, the wife knew he wouldn't have waited, and the husband also knew he wouldn't have waited. Everybody knew he wouldn't have waited on her for seven years."

But then the husband said, "What are you talking about?  This wouldn't have happened to you in the first place."

And that, Tayari Jones said, was the genesis for an idea that turned into a novel (An American Marriage).  It's when she has characters who each are partly right that she can see a way into exploring a subject.  There had been no story, no ambiguity, not the complexity she needed, in the data she amassed on wrongful incarceration.  It is what it describes, she said: "Wrongful." We know that.  Yes, but a story revolving around a wrongful incarceration told from the perspectives of a husband and wife who each have their takes on the matter? That, not so cut and dry, she could work with.

As I say, I found this anecdote Tayari Jones told entertaining and instructive (as did the audience, which applauded), and now, in addition, I really do want to read An American Marriage. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

You can't keep Beau Johnson down.

You can't keep a good man down, but you can crush him like a soda can and drive him towards inspiration. Beau Johnson tells us how he bounced back from a few bad breaks.


You got that right.  I mean, there I was, my first book, A BETTER KIND OF HATE, just about to be released and my publisher asks me: so I guess the question becomes what’s next?  Truth be told, I never expected such a question, always figuring myself a one and done type of guy.  The reason for this is because I seriously believed I was finished with Bishop Rider, the main protagonist from my collection and a Dude so fuelled by hate.  Hadn’t heard from him in over a year is what I mean to say. 

And then this question from my publisher as to what comes next. 

Gobsmacked, I said what any insane, rational writer would say: I’ve been working on some things.

                Enter ultimate Frisbee and a family function in the summer of 2017. 

               Long story short, my oldest boy, Donnie, wanted to try this game with his cousins, brothers, Uncle, and father.  Sure, why not.  It’s part Frisbee.  How hard could it be? Perhaps some of you sense where this is heading.  If not, little hint: pain. 

One of my nephews throws far and wide, over my head, and seeing as you cannot let the Frisbee touch the ground or lose possession in this game, I decide to run like I am twenty-four instead of forty-four.  Going down I try the old tuck and roll.  The earth and my left shoulder would have none of this, however.  One cracking snap later I stand, walk two feet, and feel my collar bone fall apart.

                Should I explain the pain before they put in the metal and screws?  Fuck no.  I’ll leave that to your imaginations.  Maybe envision glass though, shifting each and every time you go to fill your lungs.

                Anyway, this injury lands my bum in a recliner for eight weeks where I proceed to gain forty pounds, re-watch all of Friends and Lost on Netflix, and use my one good arm to write stories on my phone.

Write, you say?  How so?  I thought you believed you were a one and done type of guy?

Well, as the title says: a funny thing happened on the way to THE BIG MACHINE EATS.  Bishop Rider started speaking to me again.  Might be because I was bored as hell.  Might be because it was meant to be.  I’ll never know for sure.  Not really.  All I do know is this book, this version of this book, would not be here without my son and a sport I have now retired from.  It was the first time I’d ever played ultimate Frisbee, sure, but hey, you take your wins where you can get them.  Somewhere down the line I might have been able to put another book together, but the way most of this one occurred, how it’s so far from anything I could imagine, I now think I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

The pain.  I’d backspace the shit outta that part for sure.

Hell, wouldn’t we all?

Sunday, September 16, 2018

People I Wish I'd Known, or the Power of Obituaries

Today I’m going to start an occasional feature called PEOPLE I WISH I'D KNOWN. I read the obituaries every day (yes, I still get the actual physical newspaper on my doorstep every morning). Every life is interesting, but there are some that stand out. Maybe it’s the photo, where you can see a sparkling personality shining through. Maybe it’s the military record, men and women who served in World War II or Vietnam. Maybe it’s an unusual life story.
Whatever aspect draws my attention, I’m privileged to glimpse a little bit of these people’s life stories. And a lot of times, they are lives that I wouldn’t otherwise be fortunate enough to be exposed to.
The first thing about Jack Barnes that caught my eye was his Milton Berle smile. And oh, does that seem to fit. (To see the photo, click here.) Here's the obituary his family submitted to the Sacramento Bee. The writer did a wonderful job illustrating his life, and makes me wish I’d known him.
                                                * * *
Jack Hollister Barnes, Sr. passed away on September 5, 2018. He was 94 years old.
Jack was born in Oklahoma on May 30, 1924, and then grew up in Placerville, CA where he attended high school. At 17, he enlisted in the Navy during WW2, where he served as an Aviation Machinist Mate, working on airplane maintenance on the USS Pine Island in the South Pacific. During this period of his life, in addition to serving his country honorably, he also fixed a major boxing match between Army & Navy, convinced a nurse he was a French Spy, got a belligerent drunk foreign sailor tattooed with a US Army flag on his chest, and any other number of ill-advised adventures which required his superiors to ship him out early. Repeatedly.
He wrote a book, about this period of his life, entitled "By Your Leave, Sir," which is a bit scandalous and not to be read by the faint of heart or the easily offended but it is a fascinating look at the war era and immediately after, through the eyes of a complete and utter, scamp.
After the war, he lived in Alaska, started shoveling coal on the Alaskan Railroad, and then worked his way up to be the youngest Engineer on the Alaskan Railroad. He also flew his small airplane as a bush pilot. Upon returning to the Sacramento area, he worked at Mather Airforce Base as an airplane mechanic. August 1, 1959, he married the love of his life, Mona West, and later they moved to Oregon where he lived for many years working as a Farmer, Soil Conservationist, Real Estate Agent, and later a Real Estate broker with a chain of offices. In the mid-1980's they moved back to Sacramento area where they both finished out their careers working for the government as civilian employees.
Jack was a member of the Fort Sutter Motor Cycle Club and after he became a Christian, and Deacon of the West Sacramento Seventh Day Adventist Church. He is survived by his wife, Mona; and his three stepchildren who he helped raise, Harold Smedley Jr., Larry Smedley, Sr., and Jeanie Wilhelms; his children from his first marriage to Barbara Keaton, Eileen (Neelie) Nelson, and Steve Barnes; his adopted son, Singh Hoang; and his two children with Mona, Laurie Blanchard, and Jack Barnes, Jr.; as well as too large a number of grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews to list, all of whom loved and respected him. He taught us to be ethical, keep our word, to be generous and kind, and to face adversity with bravery and a sense of adventure. This world is a much less interesting place, without him in it. His last words were, "Let's wrap this thing up. I'm ready to go."