Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Lunch Hour

Scott D. Parker

There’s a reason why some of us stop writing a project when we encounter a barrier. But there’s also the reward when you just start forging ahead: The flow.

This past Monday, I started my latest book. It’s the sixth adventure of my Calvin Carter, Railroad Detective, series. I’m launching it in January and I wanted to have all six books completed before I start advertising, mainly because I wanted to be able to include all six covers in the campaign. Plus I want the ability to make and keep a promise to readers of a new book every other month.

For whatever reason, after I completed the fifth novel, the sixth one was difficult to crack. I had chapter 1 done and notes on how to proceed. But other writing projects kept getting in the way. It happens. Life happens. We all know it. And a large part of the life thing for me was my day job. I had a contractor job and lots of uncertainty. The commute was an hour each way. I’m a 4:30am writer so I tried valiantly to keep that schedule. I did, for the most part, but two hours in a car began to wear on me to where 4:30 slid into 4:45 and then edged to 5:00. With a hard stop at 5:20 to get me and my boy ready for the day, it didn’t leave a lot of time to write.

Now, since August, I’ve got a  new job! Salaried position writing for an oil and gas company. The co-workers are great, the work is stimulating, and the commute is down to about 25 minutes each way. I’m much happier going to the job. Even my boy noted I’m happier nowadays—which was weird because I’m usually really good at leaving work stuff at work. Guess I let a little of it seep through. Speaking of the boy, his school day starts later. I now don’t have to get him up until 5:50 am. You can do the math there. Even if I sleep in until 4:45, that’s a solid hour of writing before the day even begins.

Additionally, I have a lunch hour. The best thing about being a contractor was working through lunches Monday through Thursday and being able to leave at noon on Fridays. Well, that’s not an option now…but I love the alternative better. Now, armed with my boy’s half-working Chromebook—literally, only half the screen works and company wifi prevents me from accessing Google docs—I find a nice, quiet space in my building and dive into the words.

I’m almost instantly in the flow. You see, as of Monday, I was all in on this story. Whatever was blocking me had vanished. Not sure what it was, but glad it is gone. And while I have more overall time to write, I’m still locked into certain time frames. Mornings from 4:30-5:50 and lunch hours from 12:15-1:00. [I call and chat with the wife every lunch hour, too.] With hard stops on both writing sessions, time is at a premium.

Perhaps that fact serves as a catalyst for the writing flow. Perhaps knowing, subconsciously, I have limited time and I want to get as many words as possible down—my record so far is 1681 words at lunch—to move the story forward, all barriers are removed. Not sure. But it’s a gas.

Another benefit? With two separate writing sessions averaging approximately 800 words each, that’s about 1600 words a day. Sixteen hundred words over 31 days is just at 50,000 words. That’s a book.

Lunch hours. As if you needed any other motivation to use them for writing, here’s another one. Use the time you have, and it’ll pay for itself in the long run.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Interview with Kelby Losack

By David Nemeth

Kelby Losack is the author of "The Way We Came In" (2018) and "Heathenish" (2017), both published by Broken River Books. I wrote that "Heathenish" had the "the clarity and importance of a dream forgotten" and in my review of "The Way We Came In" is "sharp, descriptive and beautiful". You can buy the books directly from the author or from Amazon. Let's go on with the interview.

Kelby Losack (Photo by Erika Losack)

David: Congratulations on the recent Broken River Books publication of “The Way We Came In.” Though there are crimes occurring in “The Way We Came In”, I wouldn’t consider it solely crime fiction. Could you tell the readers something about your new book?

Kelby: It’s definitely not crime fiction in the way Raymond Chandler’s or even Frank Bill’s novels are crime fiction. I call it hoodrat noir when I’m trying to define it, though the “noir” part is mostly thrown in there because it sounds cool. I don’t think of my work as dark at all. I actually approached "The Way We Came In" as a comedy when I started writing it. It’s about twin brothers – one just released from prison – trying to settle a debt with their landlord to avoid being evicted.


I take back what I said about approaching it as a comedy. When I first first started this one, the idea was it would be a spiritual letter to the Sean character in Heathenish, who is based on a real life family member I had a falling out with a few years ago. I wanted it to be about a relationship between brothers because “Sean” and I had come up like brothers, and I was hoping it would be a sort of release for my conflicting feelings towards him – the love I still have in spite of feeling betrayed. That’s why it’s written in second person, like the narrator is speaking to his brother, but it quickly evolved into a thing of its own. The characters sort of took over and I just let them. I think I got over what I had initially wanted to do with it and it became this story of class struggle, I guess. I think that’s what it is, at least. I never know much about my own work.

David: I was blown away by your first book, “Heathenish”, so much so I added it to my best of 2017 list. I was re-reading my review of your book and, as much as I loved it, I found it “fucking soul crushing.” “Heathenish” tells the story of a young man’s fight with drug use, of trying to be a father, and getting his life back. You’ve talked about how this is a fictionalized memoir. I’m not concerned with how much is true or not, but how did you go about divorcing yourself from the subject matter which was you? What kind of difficulty did this present in the writing?

Kelby: I think it’s easier to write about personal experiences with a sense of detachment than it is to write with that same level of distance, but from perspectives of characters I’ve made up. Like, I know who I am, but it takes a lot of emotional investment to get in the head of a fictional person. So, I don’t know. There’s a coldness to "Heathenish" that I think just comes from capturing the emotions of that time in my life that I was writing about. At that time, I was doing a lot of things that altered my levels of consciousness, on top of just being depressed, so I often felt empty and cold. It came naturally, writing it with that distance from myself, because I’ve always sort of kept myself at a distance. Until recently, at least. Now I’m out here trying to open my third eye and communicate with the universe and shit. The detached narration, though, looking at it from a literary rather than a personal standpoint, could have also been a matter of not wanting to come across as sentimental, because I can’t stand that corny shit.

David: While I was reading “The Way We Came In”, I asked myself if the characters where white or black. After a few paragraphs, I realized that wasn’t important as you are telling a more universal story ­as both of your books focus on the lives of the working poor and the working class. In my review I wrote that the protagonist wasn’t living paycheck to paycheck, he was living day to day. In the States we live in isolated pockets of the same people and we’ve gotten really good at putting our blinders on to others who are different than us. I know there’s a question in here somewhere. I guess I’m not asking you to solve all the problems of the world, but could you talk about the class divide in the States and are you trying to give a voice to those who are really struggling?

Kelby: Working and lower class people are frequently misrepresented across all forms of media. It sucks, but that misrepresentation is prominent in crime fiction, too. If I have any kind of agenda with my writing, it’s definitely to bring an authentic voice to the scene, and not from a place of fantasy escapism or ignorant sympathy, which are both equally disgusting approaches to writing about poor people and street hustlers. I come by this shit honestly. I’ve been poor. I’ve sold dope. I’m not going to tell the suburbanite white dudes what they can or can’t write about, but I am going to be a part of balancing out the playing field. It’s happening, man. There’s people who’ve come up from the gutter who are writing about these things out of personal experience. Gabino Iglesias immediately comes to mind. I think there’s going to be a major shift in the crime fiction scene within the next few years, hopefully not just among the authors, but the reader demographic, too. I’m writing for people I grew up with and people on the corner and people out there grinding to get that bread.

David: You write in vignettes, some a page or two long and others, several pages. How did you come about discovering vignettes? Why did you choose a vignette style rather than straight narrative prose?

Kelby: There’s several reasons I like using the vignette style. I have ADD, for one, and vignettes allow freedom to jump around in time and place. You don’t have to stay on track, which is something I have trouble doing, as I’m sure parts of this interview might be examples of, haha. Another thing I dig about the style, though, is just the aesthetic appeal. There’s something about a single small paragraph on an otherwise blank page. Also, I work a lot – usually sixty hours a week at a manual labor job – so I have to make the most of my writing time, and I’m not patient enough to keep coming back to the same chapter every time I pick up a work-in-progress. I want to finish a chapter every time I sit down to write. As for where I discovered vignettes, I’m not going to front and pretend I was reading some ambiguous avant garde author. Really, I think I picked it up from reading my peers, especially Rios de la Luz and Troy James Weaver. Both of those cats can say so much in one short paragraph.

David: Give me five books or authors to read, genre doesn’t matter.

Kelby: Bud Smith is probably my favorite short story writer at the moment. Dude’s got this style and voice that just feels so real, even when his stories get weird (and they do get weird, like, sewer wolves and sentient seashells weird). His collection "Double Bird" is gold.

I recently read "Tampa" by Alissa Nutting and loved it. It’s dirty and so, so wrong and, yeah, I just loved it.

Everyone should read Ottessa Moshfegh.

Poetry is going through its own sort of punk era, I think, or at least there seems to be a wave of poets breaking into the scene at the moment that are pretty punk rock, and what I mean by that is they’re genuine, honest – they show the ugly parts of their souls and don’t pander to anyone. "Cheap Yellow" by Shy Watson is a good example of what I’m talking about.

The homie J. David Osborne has cooked up some magic with "A Minor Storm". He’s rediscovered (reinvented?) his voice, I think, and it’s fast, ugly, hilarious, and human. “Ugly” and “human” are redundant, I guess, but whatever. This book’s got a mystic Juggalo, quotable dialogue, and a diarrhea scene that made me laugh out loud.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Crime Fiction's Economic Imperative

Crime Fiction's Economic Imperative
By Danny Gardner, Author

Public perception of crime rate at odds with reality

Majority of voters say crime has worsened since 2008

Put plainly, at a time when the biggest news in mystery is an annotated edition of The Big Sleep, I’m not seeing many opportunities for anyone with a new voice in our genre. Everyone knows the entire industry is worried about its future while there is what I firmly believe to be untapped demand for new voices, from both authors of color and those whose politics don't reflect the era of recognized canon. Reaching back through the past to reissue books lost to the strictures of racially stratified history mean economic opportunity, as will the books that will be built upon an expanded canon that includes those who have served as the face of crime for America since our inception as a nation.

This data expresses, in my worldview, an economic imperative in crime-mystery-thriller, which will continue to carry all of the American publishing industry through 2025 (IIRC, those numbers from Pew may have changed since I last read them,) and somehow charts similarly to Pew's research on attitudes toward crime in America. This Guardian article sums up many of my points about the global market, which has different attitudes toward minority writers of all colors than we do in the US:

As a smart business professional, my dollars in the future are intended for those crime-mystery-thriller concerns that recognize the value of this untapped potential and grow our market larger and more robustly. There's room at the intersection points for a lot of economic value to be had by all. I'm looking forward to participating in this growth.

I'm excited to discuss how these points of data correlate and even intersect.


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

My Favorite Memoir

No matter what period you're living in, who doesn't, on occasion, like to block out the news and escape to a different time and place?  Nothing can provide this better than reading, and it's remarkable how effective memoirs from the past can accomplish this. A memoir I love, and which I've read a couple of times, is Far Away and Long Ago by W.H. Hudson.  Published in 1918, when Hudson was living in England and 77 years old, the book describes the author's years growing up on a different continent.  Among other things, it's a book that now comes across as unusual because - get this - it's actually about what used to be called a happy childhood. 

Of course family trauma and the abuse of children have existed since the beginning of time, so the fact that Hudson experienced neither is not because he lived in the past.  He happened to be fortunate. His childhood was a particularly rich and interesting one spent with loving parents but few restrictions on the wild stretches of the Argentinian pampas in the 1840s and 50s. His Anglo-American parents had settled as immigrants in Argentina and that's where he was born. Though his father's attempt to make a living were struggles (he had to give up sheep farming and a grocery store he opened later also failed), Hudson loved where he grew up. The house was full of books, and the only formal education he got was from traveling schoolteachers and tutors who would turn up sometimes at the house and stay for awhile.  After catching rheumatic fever from being out in a hailstorm while herding cattle, the pre-teen Hudson was given the freedom of an invalid, though, in fact, he was hardly that. This meant little was expected of him and he didn't have much parental supervision. To his heart's content, he could wander alone out on the plains, ride horses, and study the animals, birds and plant life of the region. He was also a close observer of the people in the area--this a time when real gauchos were out and about and Argentina was chock full of eccentric immigrants and untamed characters. Hudson himself says he could hardly have asked for a freer childhood, and there's no doubt that those impressionable years studying nature helped turn him into one of the world's great nature writers and naturalists, something he became as an adult when he moved to England and settled there. In England, Hudson would also become a charter member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Hudson wrote Far Away and Long Ago when the world he was describing had already pretty much vanished.  He had not been back to Argentina for over 40 years. The book has a poignant tone that is really moving yet not without humor, and the descriptions of the landscape, the wind, the sun, the flora, the animals are vivid and precise and lyrical. As a number of people have commented, from Jorge Luis Borges to Joseph Conrad to Virginia Woolf, Hudson ranks among the very greatest stylists of English prose; his sentences flow with an effortless ease and clarity. I was taken away to a totally different time and place when I read this book, and when I'd leave my room after some reading, I felt as if there was nothing I wanted to do more than go back to the mid-eighteen hundreds, as a child, and take a walk through the Argentinian pampas. I happen to like reading memoirs very much, and Far Away and Long Ago is the one that would get my vote for my all time favorite.  It a great memoir to sink into, an enriching read during any period, even - yes - the one we are living through.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Into the light.

Why victims of sexual abuse and assault hide in the shadows.

There are a million different ways to hurt. And there are a million different ways to deal with suffering. I believe it is small-minded and careless to judge another human on how they deal with the unimaginable. Many victims have well-founded reasons for not coming forward.

How you will be treated.

When a victim of sexual abuse or assault finds the strength to come forward and report the offense they are often questioned over their own behavior leading up to the abuse. What were you wearing? Were you alone? Were you drinking? They are made to feel they had a part in their own attack. They are not only questioned over circumstance, but how seriously they tried to fight back. Did you push him away? Did you hit him?

During Bill Cosby's trial his victims were questioned about why they took drinks from him or why they went to his apartment. Similar questions were put forth in the Harvey Weinstein cases. Fact is, if a person did not say yes to something and it was done to them against their will, it's assault. No matter where you take a meeting. No matter what you’ve had to drink or if you happen to wear fitted pants or high-heels.

If you go to the police you’ll be asked if you were penetrated and if yes, how many times? What position were you in? What happened after the rape? What did they say? If you choose to take a rape-kit you will be put through a physical exam. Samples taken. Pictures taken. You may feel violated all over again.

How you will be seen.

Elizabeth Smart was abducted at 14 years of age and held for nine-months by her tormentors. Smart once said at a human trafficking and sexual violence conference at Johns Hopkins University, "I felt like my soul had been crushed. I felt like I wasn't even human anymore. How could anybody love me, or want me or care about me? I felt like life had no more meaning to it, and that was only the beginning of my nine months of captivity."

Shame and confusion are chains around the neck of many victims. Sexual assault is a dehumanizing act. Invasive and humiliating. It makes you feel broken. Ashamed. The need to hide is overwhelming. Maybe you wear bigger clothes, heavier jackets. Perhaps you stop going outside. You are so lost and afraid you forget to how to be human.

Those who don't believe you.

As a secretary in a small, cut-rate dress studio in NYC I was in charge of phones, keeping the showroom and clothes neat and clean, and keeping the owner on schedule and well-caffeinated. One afternoon, while hanging the new summer dresses, the owner’s driver was waiting in the studio. We were the only people in the office. Trapping me in a corner, he forced himself on me and only stopped once I started to tear up.

At the time, my direct supervisor was the designer. She was a single-mom, excited by her first job and generous with her knowledge, often giving me creative assignments. When I told her what happened with the driver she immediately waved it off. Said it was nothing. Said he must like me.

A few Mondays later I showed up to work to find the offices locked tight and the lights out. The company had finally gone belly-up. I never got my final two checks and I never heard from the owner or his driver again.

Weeks later, the designer called me at home. She cried and told me that the driver was known for his sketchy behavior and she should have spoken up. She wanted to help, but the owner owed her several paychecks and she was afraid he would never pay her if she said anything. Two people too afraid to speak up.
The cost and the worth.
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), citing Department of Justice, Office of Justice, Office of Justice Programs and Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey 2010-2014, for every 1,000 rapes reported, 994 of perpetrators will walk free. When your voice doesn't seem to matter, many who suffer won't see the value in coming forward.

Why don’t the wounded come forward? Because they don’t want to be victimized again.

If victims of abuse and assault will be expected to come forward immediately after a crime, as recent government rulings would suggest, coming forward needs to become a safer experience. We need to provide people and a process that will help the victim feel as if they are taken seriously. There needs to be dignity and there needs to be justice.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Me and Murphy

9 p.m. every Monday. All through high school. You could find me without fail in front of the TV, watching Murphy Brown. Those are, of course, formative years, and no fictional character impacted me like Murphy did.
She made me want to be a reporter. She was loud and aggressive and smart and independent and successful. She even walked like she owned the world, one high-heeled foot thrown in front of the other, striding over everything in her way.  
In TV and books—hell, in life—those traits usually got women chastised, ostracized, hurt. But not Murphy. Those qualities got her the story. And it made me want the same thing and know it was possible that I could have it.
So off I went off to college to study journalism. There were additional reasons I chose that career; I love to write, I'm curious to a fault, and I ask more questions than a Trivial Pursuit game. I decided early on that broadcast journalism wasn’t for me. I liked print. I liked the physical words on a page; I liked the permanence; I liked the byline. But the Murphy didn’t leave me. I wanted to do the pin-you-to-the-wall interviews, the big investigative pieces. That broadened as I went through school and started working. I wanted to do stories that helped people through tragedy or confusion, let them know about important issues, or commemorated significant events.
Murphy Brown’s 10-year run coincided with high school and college and my first few years as a reporter. My viewing got a little sporadic as time went on and I entered the working world with a crazy schedule and very little time off. I'm still insanely busy, but there will be no way I’ll miss a single episode of the new series, which premiered Thursday on CBS. It’s the same cast playing the same characters. Now they’re trying to make it in the 24-hour cable news cycle, instead of on the staid 60 Minute-ish show Murphy worked for the first time. 
Thursday’s episode was good. It was heavy on the exposition and a few of the jokes felt a little too broad, but I think everything will settle down quickly. There are a lot of plot possibilities with Murphy’s son, now an adult, and his career in journalism. He has his own cable show on a conservative network that competes directly with Murphy’s new one on a rival channel. There's also the perennial comedic promise Murphy's inability to find a good secretary, which continues with this first new episode.
But the revived show’s greatest potential is the same one it had all those decades ago: that young people, women especially, will watch it and decide that if Murphy can be complicated, fierce, ass-kicking, and successfulso can they.