Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Crime fiction resolutions

Have you broken your New Year's resolutions yet?

They aren't the best way of changing your behavior, but so what? Everyone does it, we might as well join them. I have a list of resolutions I'll keep when writing crime fiction, and I hope you will join me:

Stop typing "cordite"

Unless you are writing about World War One, no. "Gunpowder" is what gunshots smell like. If you've never smelled gunpowder, it's not too far off from firecrackers and the like.

Glocks are now banned.

Just say "pistol" for John Browning's sake. I read one story where "glock" was not capitalized. So Glocks are the new bandaids or kleenex, they are what people who've only seen guns on television call a gun.

The Hayes Code

Crime cannot pay! Sure it does. Ask the President. I am sick and tired of the sheltered, middle-class perspective in crime fiction, where the thieves can't get away with it and anyone who uses drugs that aren't prescribed by a bartender or doctor must be a bad person. It only shows how sheltered you are. Yes, a junkie will steal your television, and then help you go look for it, but look at the statistics on drug use. Find me a teenager who hasn't copped Adderall for finals week. This was on The Sopranos season one, written twenty years ago, but I'm still reading stories where we know someone is untrustworthy because their jacket smells like cannabis smoke.

Police State Fan Fiction

If your sleuth washes their hands like Pontius Pilate once they turn in their suspect, do you read the newspaper? Have you heard about stop & frisk, and how prosecutors pile on charges to force innocent people to plea bargain and avoid serious prison time? There are good cops and justices out there, but unless they acknowledge the widespread injustice, you are perpetuating the Blue Wall of Silence that protects police who are violent toward minorities, and prosecutors who make their careers by railroading people. Chicago police went to prison for running a torture room that coerced black men to confess to crimes they didn't commit. Texas prosecutors have served time for hiding evidence. Show me sleuths who work for The Innocence Project, or at least recognize that the system has serious problems. One darling P.I. character sent the victim of a pedophile to jail for killing his molester, and assured us that a good cop would make sure he was safe in juvenile prison. In Louisiana, where they don't even fund public defenders any more. I threw that book across the room. I train with police, I like stories about police, but if you trade puff pieces for access on ride-alongs, you are a hack.

Classism and racism gotta go

I just read a story where a white guy who loves Japan kicked a yakuza's ass in a fight, and also got a respectful nod from a Japanese native for knowing how to speak the language. Hello, the '30s were over a while ago. Enough with the patronizing Orientalism. This is like those '80s ninja movies where we had to watch Sho Kosugi lose to some white rando. Pardon me while I put the scene where Bruce Lee breaks Chuck Norris's neck on repeat forever. When I wrote Blade of Dishonor I made Mikio the best fighter because I grew up watching kung fu and Jackie Chan movies in Chinatown, and we all laughed at guys like Steven Seagal who never got hit in their movies. My favorite Seagal fact is when he trash talked a real fighter and tried to claim he was the reason for Ronda Rousey's success, Gene LeBell choked him until he pooped himself.

High School BS

Speaking of people taking for others' success... grow up. It's a hard enough road out there, without back-stabbing self-serving narcissists parachuting into the genre and demanding that we recognize their genius. I try to help newer writers when they ask me, and sometimes I miss when they are users who will badmouth people behind their backs, tell lies, and then side with them for personal gain. Reality usually catches up with these guys, after no one will deal with them and they have to start their own press "to keep it real" (meaning: forget everything they said when they were drunk). Unfortunately they often hurt the careers of new writers who don't know better. Here's a hint: if all someone ever talks about is themselves, and claims they love your work but show no evidence of having read it--or anything written after 1940--maybe walk away. Just don't turn your back.

So, happy new year! Write better, not more. This garden's full of roses, just watch out for the pricks.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Those Who Keep it Brief

To divert my brain at my job yesterday and to fill it with something interesting, I took a pause from work and went, as I'll do from time to time, to Wikipedia.  I decided to read about one of my favorite composers, Erik Satie (1866-1925). The Frenchman, of course, is famous for his musical "miniatures", short compositions such as the three Gymnopedies for solo piano, and the six Gnossienes, also for piano.  Brief as each of these pieces are, between one and four minutes long, I never get tired of listening to them.  Over the years, I've listened to them, as well as other Satie pieces, countless times.  For all their brevity, they have a quality that never ceases to beguile me.  They seem so simple as music, but in actuality, they're complex. They somehow sound playful and melancholy at the same time.  They're rich, beautiful, slippery, mysterious. They're not quite like any other music that's ever been written. This, to me, really is art of the highest sort - endlessly fascinating work done with maximum economy. 

Satie had his own views on the matter of size and duration in art and expressed them well (words that I think apply to writing as much as they do to music and which, in writing, I do my best to put into practice). To quote how Wikipedia puts it: "Generally [Satie] would say that he did not think it permitted that a composer take more time from his public than strictly necessary".

Now I doubt Satie, an artistic innovator and experimenter if ever there was one, meant there should be literal prohibitions on how people produce their art, but as a general principle to follow, when it comes to taking time from the public (your listeners, your readers, whoever) he was dead right.

But I think I've already gone too long and so... 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Holiday Reading Review

By Marietta Miles

Joe Clifford


My first step into Joe Clifford’s gritty and poetic world was 2013’s JUNKIE LOVE. I recall chilling on a family vacation, sitting by a crowded pool, hopeful about an interesting new read. While everyone laughed and played in the sun, I was caught up in Joe’s dirty tale, shaking my head, dropping my jaw, and needing to read more.

JUNKIE LOVE is bleak, vivid, and, at last, inspiring. Joe’s ability to see the smallest, yet most telling, side to a character paints this story with heartbreaking or uplifting detail. Each thoughtful touch, and there are so many, in JUNKIE LOVE is another stone in the path Joe has purposefully led you along.

This is an important book for those who like to be moved by what they read. Ambushed and haunted. By reflecting personal experiences within the world of addiction, Joe Clifford reaches beyond genre and shakes the reader awake. The book is literary shock and awe.

Yet, Joe has also delivered the expertly written Jay Porter series. This collection is classic mystery, with a rural-noir setting, and surprisingly dark enough to appease even my murkier leanings. Each installment is expertly paced and planned to incorporate individual themes and overall story. Porter’s attempt to save his junkie brother. The search for a missing journalist following the trail of more wrongdoing by Porter’s hometown enemies. The storylines are imaginative and deep, his characters are flawed enough to seem real, two important aspects to a great book. It’s good to remember, for all of his “Wild Card” persona, Joe has spent a large portion of his life learning and honing his craft and the Jay Porter series shows his hard work.

Now Joe Clifford has jumped head first into a terrifying, psychological thriller, THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY and this may be his best, yet.

I could not put this book down. Joe has an unmatchable knack for building backstory and developing interesting personalities, so it’s a gift when are introduced to new creations. Alex Salerno might just be one of my favorite leads. She is tough, but fragile and flawed by the light of day and her story is remarkable. A survivor.

Burdened with a tough childhood and nearly destroyed by a traumatic and brutal assault, she pieces her life together day by day just to get by. When a tenacious young college reporter asks to interview her about her abduction and her escape for a school paper, the project sets off an emotional and dangerous chain of events.

The interview leads Alex into an investigation of a seemingly unrelated murder case in her hometown. A teenage girl has been missing for years, and though a body was never found, a man suspected of her murder was identified and sent to a mental hospital. Things aren’t as they seem, and Alex begins to think the suspected killer, a mentally-challenged man named Benny, has been wrongfully accused.

The story, for the most part, is told from Alex’s perspective, but we are also given the chance to see events from Benny’s point of view and this enriches the story, keeps the pace quick and fresh, and allows your heart to break for the indignities he has suffered.

If you enjoy thrillers with a psychological bend, Alex’s apprehension over returning home is well detailed and her very real fight for sanity is clear, you are going to love THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY. If DARK PLACES and THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW sent shivers down your spine and drove you to search for more such writing, THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY should be your next read.

The Reasons to Read Female Authors

By Sandra Ruttan

I was at home, reading a book the other day ...

And I read myself right into a wall of boobs.

Everything seemed to happen at chest level. Although there were the odd moments when the gaze drifted down to the legs, boobs were the focus.

The protagonist never saw a pair of breasts he didn't like, and for a guy who described himself as lacking ambition, down on his luck in the midst of a prolonged dry spell, he sure ran into a lot of boobs. Not 14% of the way in he was bedding the first woman, so at the time the story should have been having its call to action, he was calling for God.

The story's first turning point? Him bedding another woman. The reader isn't even at the 30% mark before the protagonist has had sex three times. With two of those occurrences at significant story markers I was starting to wonder if the book had been mislabeled mystery instead of erotica.

Then I picked up this other book and when something bad happened, the male author had the girl feel longing in her breasts. Let me tell you something; when something bad happens I may feel like my heart sinks or my stomach drops, but in no way are my boobs involved in responding to my emotions. Boys, they don't even naturally perk up when a handsome man walks into the room.

There were a couple of things I took away from those reading experiences. One was the clear conclusion that the author is a breast man. The other was that I couldn't straddle the gender line anymore.

I made a vow. I will read more female authors, and there are plenty of reasons I can think of for all people to set this goal.

  1. We aren't obsessed with boobs. The world is far more than peaks and valleys for us.
  2. Our protagonists don't send dick pics.
  3. We can go more than 5 pages without thinking about sex.
  4. We see men as creatures to be understood, not simply ridden.
  5. We don't trip over our dicks on our way to telling a good story.
  6. Our stories are more than recaps of our mastubatory fantasies.

Now, I may have started that oversimplified list of cliches as a way of venting over the absolute crap I was being subjected to (a low-level older guy who's amounted to nothing in his life and is nothing special to look at doesn't even have to try to have women just throwing themselves at him within a couple minutes of meeting him, legs spread - talk about a fantasy) but my resolve was serious.

I took my tongue out of my cheek and actually asked the question. Why should people read more female authors? And, while an exploration of the benefits of reading one gender risks reading like a criticism of the other gender, it wasn't hard to see that there were some very good reasons to consider author gender when selecting books. I had a draft of a rough post pulled together, and then I decided to do a little google search, and found that I wasn't alone in my thinking.

Why should everyone read more female authors?

1. A lot* of male writers are focused on their own self-importance. And just in case you need that opinion validated by a man:
"(M)any male writers, particularly younger ones, approach their work as if they – and not the books – are what’s important. They obsess about establishing a reputation, while ignoring the importance of just writing something good. I recall one highly ambitious young man telling me all the awards for which his first collection of stories would be eligible and rating his chances of winning each one ... He never mentioned that he’d like his book to make a connection with readers and speak to our times. All he wanted was prizes." 

2. Solidarity. Women haven't been given the same acceptance as men, so the female readership must right that wrong and help correct the imbalance an industry built on sexism created and continues to perpetuate. Studies have shown that it's common for male authors to command as much as 68-75% of review and feature coverage provided to authors by literary magazines and review columnists in both Britain and American. The New York Review of Books "shows a stronger bias. Among authors reviewed, 83% are men." The New York Times Book Review was notably better, with men only dominating 65% of the review space.
"I’ve been publishing novels for almost 20 years. In that time, I’ve become increasingly aware of similar double standards in the industry. A man is treated like a literary writer from the start, but a woman usually has to earn that commendation.
"Last summer, I attended a literary festival where a trio of established male writers were referred to in the programme as “giants of world literature”, while a panel of female writers of equal stature were described as “wonderful storytellers”.

3. Female authors tend to  focus on the quality of the work. Face it, when chances of getting nominated for any awards are slim to none, why worry about that? When the reviewers aren't going to focus on your work anyway, because you don't have a penis, you don't write for them either. You write for the readers.

"Female writers, on the other hand, seem more concerned with just writing good books ... Female novelists in the same situation are usually more interested in talking about books, in engaging with their readers and in sharing a platform with another writer rather than trying to dominate it. They seem grateful for the opportunities publishing has brought them, rather than accepting it as their due." 

4. A lot* of men are writing stereotypes, while women are injecting the breath of life into real characters, regardless of gender. "It’s in their depictions of both genders that female writers have the edge. I’ve grown weary of reading novels by men that portray women in one of four categories: the angelic virgin who manages to tame some quixotic lothario who’s spread so many wild oats that he has shares in Quaker; the pestering harpy who nags her boyfriend or husband, sucking all the fun out of his life; the slut who eventually gets murdered as payback for her wanton ways; the catalyst who is only there to prompt the man’s actions and is therefore not a human being at all, just a plot device. I find female writers are much more incisive in their writing of men, recognising that several billion people cannot be simply reduced to a few repetitive strains."

My recent read is far from the only book I've encountered where female characters seemed to be included for no reason other than to serve as a sexual pincushion. Do these men look at their young daughters and anticipate the moment when some man is leering at them for nothing more than their body parts?

Don't reward these male writers by keeping them in print. They need to go. NOW.

"(I)f the men in a novel behave as if women are simply there to have sex with or to tell them how brilliant they are, what does that say about the novel’s relationship to gender?"
5. Men have something to gain by maintaining the status quo, so many aren't concerned with any need to get women right or alter their approach to women in their work, while women tend to "get" men and present a more realistic perspective of gender and society.

"Having been expected to bring up families while running a home and catering to society’s expectations of what women should be, they have a better grasp of human complexity. My female friends, for example, seem to have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in men’s heads most of the time. My male friends, on the other hand, haven’t got a clue what’s going on in women’s."  

This actually brings to mind the controversy over George Pelecanos' By The Book piece, where out of over two dozen authors of influence noted, not a single one was female. I had my say on the topic - with statistics and sources to support my claims about how women aren't treated equally in publishing or in the mystery/crime genre  - and don't want to simply rehash all of it. But in the same way that I emailed my favorite author recently about a quote I recall from about a dozen years ago, some things stay with me more than others. In the wake of the Pelecanos fall-out it was the attitudes of some male authors I know that grated on me and caused more ire. The fact that they just couldn't be that concerned about it, like it was no big deal, betrayed their comfort level with a system designed to keep women at least a peg below their male counterparts. In the same way that not recognizing that being white has afforded generations of people more opportunities and benefits that people who aren't white haven't enjoyed, the very definition of white privilege, not recognizing that being male has provided access to opportunities women have been denied is gender privilege. That saying, 'If you aren't for me, you're against me' applies. If you aren't willing to recognize the issue and actively work towards equality then you are perpetuating gender inequality.

Why yes, everyone is allowed to like what they like and read what they want. Even a white supremacist is afforded the freedom of speech that allows him to proclaim himself superior because he's pasty. And every decent person's freedom of thought is allowed to consider him scum for saying as much.

In the same way, a man who lives solely off the influence of other men (and insults the only woman he references in his NY Times piece) is fair game to be criticized and questioned for being sexist and by defending him you align yourself with his sexism. The most honest words are actions. If a professional writer can't bring themselves to think of one writer of the opposite gender they can say something good about, there's a problem, and it's indefensible.

If you aren't reading strong novels by black authors, you aren't looking hard enough. If you aren't reading great works by Indigenous authors you aren't looking hard enough. If you aren't reading worthy literary offerings by Hispanic authors you aren't looking hard enough.

If you aren't finding great works by female authors the problem isn't with the women.

6. Female authors cover all genres and subgenres. Women write hard-boiled and noir stories, and women write erotica and women write westerns. While I was taught when studying journalism that a good writer can write anything, given the facts, women actually do write everything.

7. Women are certifiable bestsellers. Since 1940, the percentage of women making the NY Times bestseller list has reached par, and this is in spite of a system that actively works against them by prioritizing review space for male authors and hiring more male writers than female writers. This means that they write great stuff that a lot of people are willing to pay money to read.

8. Our daughters. Let's model a world of achievement for them, instead of perpetuating one of gender limitations. We do this by showing them that they can do anything, that they belong everywhere. We show them this when the words of a woman sit in the hands of a man who isn't ashamed to read a female authors. We show them this when women are consistently (and equally) nominated for awards and when they win these awards. The future is what we make of it, and our actions convey messages to a watching world. Ladies, if not for yourselves, then tell the next generation of women that they can accomplish anything a man can.

9. Only women truly understand the intricacies of gender dynamics for women and how they manifest themselves in our day to day lives. It may sound simplistic, but in the same way that men were hardwired to fight to slay beasts and best others to show their worth as a mate and provider, women were being hardwired to compete at what we might call the feminine arts to elevate their chances of marrying well so that they could be provided for. These days are over. Women no longer need a man to bring home the bacon or give them permission to get a new dress, and yet much of the cattiness generations of conditioning has produced remains as girls compete with other girls for the affections of men. Hell, ladies, why do you want a man you have to "win"? Don't you want a man who worships the hell out of you because he loves you for you, not because you were prettier than the other girl or made yourself fully available when nobody else would?

I've lived this. I was in grade 9 and developed a crush on a particular boy. Not the first, certainly not the last. Unbeknownst to me, another girl liked him. Given that he did have free will, it really should have been down to him to decide if he liked either of us, but the other girl happened to be friends with some pretty tough girls I knew by reputation only. I met them the night they cornered me outside a dance and my 5 on 1 experience was of being beaten until my jaw was permanently damaged. A very decent guy stepped in and pulled them off of me.

I never hit back. And that doesn't make me weak. It makes me better than. But it also taught me that girls see other girls as rivals, instead of allies, and it's made it hard for me to make friends with other women, which is my own problem.

10. Besties before testies. I'm putting it on a T-shirt.

I've been open about the fact that I've had a tendency to read more male authors. I was always a bit more of a tomboy and I grew up with primarily boys my age in close proximity, so if I wanted to go outside and play much of the time I was playing street hockey with the Townsend brothers or fort-building with Ed.

Perhaps the cattiness and viciousness of so many girls I knew deterred me from embracing other female authors as quickly as I should have, for those personal reasons I mentioned. I get books sent all the time with covers that strike fear in my heart, of pages of fashion references and make-up tips and hair primping, and I thought about reaching out to female authors to ask them to recommend other female authors and realized I didn't even know enough that I could approach to get a worthy list together. It's a shame, but I also don't need to be friends with anyone to come up with my own list of writers I recommend.

The more female authors I've read, the more I've appreciated the depth and scope of their work. I have no doubt that when I pick up a book by Val McDermid that I'll lose sleep. Every character she writes compels and her stories are entertaining, shocking, intriguing. The same can be said for anything I've ever read by other bestselling female authors, but I can go far off the conventional bestseller list and name plenty of other female authors who have given me hours and hours of reading pleasure. B. Fleetwood wrote 2 early contenders for my favorite reads 2019 list, since I read them too late last year to consider them for 2018. Imogen's Secret and Imogen's Journey had me up all night. I read them back to back within a couple of days. Other books on my favorite reads list from last year included Hannah Moskowitz's Salt, which was a fantastic YA story about family and redemption and monsters. With all due respect to Joe R. Lansdale (Hap & Leonard!) Terror is Our Business: The Dana Roberts' Casebook of Horrors would not have been the same without the contributions of Kasey Lansdale. Rebecca Roanhorse knocked it out of the park with Trail of Lightning. Another favorite from last year was Nancy Springer's The Oddling Prince.

What I note looking at some of my choices is that, no matter whether the women were writing male protagonists or female protagonists, all of their characters were ones I wanted to spend time with, ones who resonated. I could go even deeper with my reading - Mindy Tarquini's Deepest Blue is an entertaining folktale that looks at family secrets and grief over loss. Jenn Stroud Rossmann looked at ethnicity and identity and what defines family, as well as grief, in The Place You're Supposed to Laugh. Creatures of Want & Ruin by Molly Tanzer pulled back the layers of gender stereotypes in the 1920s and gave us real women who were heroes in the face of evil, and they didn't need no stinking man to take care of them.

Sara Gran's Come Closer is one of my all-time favorite books. While others celebrate Lucy Maud Montgomery for her obvious literary contributions, I'm a sucker The Blue Castle's Valancy, who defied gender expectations for her time and decided to - shock, gasp! - do what made her happy.

I was thoroughly entertained by every story I read in The Dame Was Trouble - a collection of Canadian female authors writing female protagonists in settings contemporary and futuristic. And let's not forget two of the best short story writers I know - Patricia Abbott and Sandra Seamans. Everything they write is superb, made all the more impressive by how hard it is to write great short stories.

There are men well worth reading. The last thing I want to do is attack gender stereotypes by perpetuating other biases. I love men. I married a fantastic one, who has inspired me to read a wide range of works by authors of all ethnic groups, genres and genders.

However, I'll be looking hard at the men I consider reading in the future. If I have a reason to believe there's bias on their part I won't be spending my time with them. I am anxious to embrace diverse authors and read widely in the years to come, and I will not knowingly support any author who perpetuates a system intended to hold back others because of their race or gender.

And if you get women wrong? I'm out of there. Particularly in crime fiction circles, we all know the majority of mystery readers are women, so it's long overdue for male authors to get off their horny horse and have protagonists that look at women with respect, in their eyes, instead of at chest level. Male authors that can't do that need to at least be honest with themselves and their readers and go write erotica.

*I've said 'a lot' because I don't want to paint all male authors with the same brush. With generalizations there are always outliers. My goal is true equality; however, I also realize that in order to equalize things, sometimes the pendulum has to swing the other way for a while before it levels out. So for the next several years we should see more diverse authors being published. We should be seeing less from white males. It's part of the equalizing process, and it is essential to align publishing with the population; if we continue to ignore an increasingly diverse society that does not adhere to the same biases we cease to be relevant. White men will still be published, and read, but it will be a little harder and the wheat will be separated from the chaff. If this means that the racist and sexist authors get swept curbside, then that's a great thing.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Widows, by Jess Montgomery

I’m delighted to welcome Jess Montgomery to Do Some Damage. Jess and I met at the 2017 Bouchercon in Toronto, and it immediately felt like we’d been friends forever. Her novel, THE WIDOWS, hit stores on Tuesday. It’s set in southern Ohio in the 1920s and has two strong female main characters (one of them a trailblazing female sheriff), union organizing, coal miners…everything you could want in a historical fiction. It didn’t start out that way, though. Here’s Jess to talk about how a secondary character turned into something much more. - Claire Booth

By Jess Montgomery

THE WIDOWS is set in 1920s Appalachia, as two women investigate murder and fight for their community.

One of the women is Lily Ross, inspired by Ohio’s true first female sheriff in 1925—Maude Collins, who became sheriff after her husband was killed in the line of duty. There was no mystery around his death in real life—he was killed while stopping a man to serve him a warrant. Maude, who had worked as her husband’s jail matron and lived in the county-owned sheriff’s house, was asked to fill in for her husband. She then went on to win re-election as sheriff in her own right in 1926.

In THE WIDOWS, Lily doesn’t buy the story of her sheriff husband Daniel’s murder—that a prisoner he was transporting got the best of him and escaped. Even before accepting the role of sheriff, she begins digging for the truth.

Marvena Whitcomb is the other narrator in THE WIDOWS. At the novel’s start, Marvena is already a widow of a coal miner, a union organizer, a long-time friend of Daniel’s. Her older daughter is missing and she goes to find Daniel for help, not knowing he’s dead. At his house, shortly after his funeral, she meets Lily for the first time.

The women start out regarding each other with understandable wariness. Daniel has never told Lily about Marvena, so this childhood friend—who he had been helping since the death of Marvena’s husband—raises a lot of questions. What’s more, in addition to being a union organizer, Marvena is a moonshiner, scrabbling to make ends meet for herself and her two daughters. Lily is not quite sure what to make of Marvena.

Marvena, meanwhile, regards Lily as soft and spoiled—a woman with a respectable position, living in a fine house in Kinship, the county seat, with a high school education and protected by Daniel.

As the women work together and get to know each other, their views of one another deepen and thus change. Marvena realizes that Lily has a lot more depth and strength than she thought, while Lily comes to understand the tenderness underlying Marvena’s tough character. They grow from wary, to working together by necessity, to true friends. Only together can they solve the intertwined mysteries of Daniel’s murder and the missing daughter, and ultimately face the challenge of saving their community from a bloody battle between rebelling miners and the more well-armed hired guns of the coal company.

I knew from the beginning that THE WIDOWS is primarily Lily’s story. But as I wrote, and tried to crack the enigma of Daniel’s character, I realized he had this childhood friend, Marvena. She quickly grew from being a mere mention, to a minor character, to a secondary character, to a dual narrator along with Lily.

Part of that was practical—Marvena knows details that are key, that Lily can’t know. In addition, Lily is a grieving widow from the end of chapter one on. So, I wanted to provide a bit of relief to the reader, as well, and give Lily some time and space to transition from shock to determination to find out the truth.

But as I kept writing, I also realized I wanted to explore the friendship between these two—as well as the strictures that might otherwise keep them from being friends, and how they overcome that.

It’s ultimately their willingness to see each other as individuals, and to allow their friendship and trust to develop, that enables them to solve the mystery together.


Jess Montgomery is the author of the Kinship Historical Mysteries. Under her given name, she wears several other literary hats: she is a newspaper columnist, focusing on the literary life, authors and events of her native Dayton, Ohio for the Dayton Daily News; Executive Director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop at University of Dayton; and is an adjunct mentor in the Seton Hill University Low-Residency Writing Popular Fiction M.F.A. program. 

THE WIDOWS is available through IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, or order it from Aunt Agatha's Bookstore, where it is January's Book of the Month.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 2

Scott D. Parker

The first full week of 2019 saw two interesting things. One was business related, the other involved writing.


The big news this week was the arrival of the paperback proof of EMPTY COFFINS. On sale in ebook form since 1 Jan, the paperback lagged behind, largely because of the holiday schedules of both me and the POD companies. But Ingram Spark did a great job at getting me the hard copy proof and it arrived Thursday.

First of all, as a writer, there are few things better than getting a paperback of your book in the mail. It never gets old. But as soon as the pride beamed through me, I inspected the book.

And found flaws. The text on the spine is not precisely centered. The text on the back cover is a tad too large. The cover, on the other hand, looks great and exactly as I planned it. Inside, I scanned the intro pages, then the back. Sure enough: I found a few errors. One of them was in the “Also by” section where I switched two covers. I also read through my “Origins of Calvin Carter” essay and found a few tweaks I needed to make. Oddly, on my “About the Author” page, I noted the actual links to my Facebook and Twitter feed were missing.

It’s all the little things.

As an indie writer and publisher, you are responsible for every aspect of your business. Sure, you can outsource some parts of your business, but you’d still have to QA whatever the third party did. Or not. You can trust the third party completely, but would you really do that? Wouldn’t you just want to make sure on your own?

I’ll be making the cover changes today. I made the interior changes on Thursday night in the Vellum program.


I noted the Call to Action in the paperback had my request to join mailing list and receive WADING INTO WAR as a free gift. Well, if you read my post from last week, you’ll know I’ve changed that. So I need to update all my ebooks. All of them. Four mysteries, six westerns, and EMPTY COFFINS. Eleven files in Kobo; eleven files for Amazon, and eleven files for Draft2Digital. Yes, this makes the case for having a service like D2D be the sole source, but as I wrote last week, there are reasons I want to keep a direct line open to Kobo and Amazon.

But this time, I’ll have my Call to Action be more generic, and direct all traffic to my webpage. Then, if I change what I offer, it’ll only be at the website, and not 33 different ebook files.


I am having great success writing this new book. Until late this week, I’ve been using my old draft as a jumping off point and using vast swaths of that content in the new draft. It works welluntil it didn’t.

Twice this week, I felt my new creative voice stymied by the urge to go in a different direction. Usually, these little nudges consisted of adding a sentence here or there. Very low key. But what was pulling me this time was a new direction for the story, a direction my newer, more seasoned creative voice was telling me I needed.

Turns out, the creative voice was correct. One thing it said was the story needed a prologue. That thought drifted into my head when I was writing chapter 7 and it went on for way too long. Something in the back of my head whispered a prologue could solve lots of problems.

So I wrote a prologue. Boy, did those words spill out. Almost in an entire session at lunch this week. And they were pretty good. I read the prologue to my wife—a fantastic first reader because she’ll call out anything that takes her out of the story. She liked it.

I learned to trust the creative voice and, from this point forward in writing this newly re-written novel, don’t be such a slave to the existing original draft. Let the story flow.


When it comes to writing, you can get a degree from a traditional college. For writing and selling fiction, however, there are tons of resources out there. Like I mentioned last week, I created my own curriculum in fiction writing by reading lots of blogs and listening to tons of podcasts by writers who are ahead of me on the writing journey.

Dean Wesley Smith is one of the best. A veteran of the writing business for over forty years, Smith has likely seen it all and written it all. In just the last decade, he has made the jump to independent publishing.

And he’s never going back. He lays out what he’s learned and how we writers can navigate this new landscape. He’s great for blowing up the myths surrounding the writing business—note the second word—and encouraging us writers to take ownership of our careers. His daily posts are almost the first things I read every day *after my writing is complete.* He had some great posts today, one of which I sparked. Smith’s blog is literally a graduate-level course. You could learn so much just from reading and studying what he himself practices.

Give him a read. 

How has your week gone?

Friday, January 11, 2019

Introduce Your Kids to Crime Early and Often

Writers talk a lot about which books or films influenced their passion for crime fiction, mystery, and thrillers. Maybe you picked up a Chandler book from your uncle's book shelf, or like me, ran across Elmore Leonard on a long afternoon at the library. Maybe your mom was a big Patterson fan and you read all the Alex Cross novels before graduating high school.

Or,  if you're a few years younger than me you say... Finding Nemo.

Oh, you don't? Maybe you say you're current favorite mystery is Zootopia?

Kids movies have been playing with big themes ever since Walt sent Snow White into the woods to live with a bunch of workaholic short men, and it's only getting better. Here's a short round up of some of my favorites.

Finding Nemo

Call me crazy if you must. A couple of my friends and I saw this one in theater when it came out - we were the only adults without children. Remove the adorable animation and you've got a gritty, sometimes stomach wrenching thriller. A father is knocked unconscious in a brutal attack and wakes to find his wife and all his children but one brutally murdered. The incident turns him overprotective, paranoid, and broken.

Then, one day, the unthinkable happens. His son is kindapped by traffickers and no one will help. After teaming up with a woman who suffers from severe short term memory loss he goes on a race against time battling everything from "reformed" serial killers to electric shock, not knowing that his son is on borrowed time, waiting to be turned over to a sadistic killer.

Yeah, you let your kid watch it because of cartoon fish, but tell me I'm wrong.

Shark Tale

This movie is literally about a gambling addict who gets in trouble with the mob. The layers aren't even hidden. Throw in an accidental death that looks like a murder, a dead mob boss, a faked death, and all the trappings of any other mobster movie involving Scorcese (yes, he does a voice in this one), you've got yourself one of the most blatant crime movies for kids. This one never really took off, maybe because we already had a fish-thriller we knew and loved before it came around.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

This one has it all. Fox is a career criminal turned straight by the love of his partner in crime, but, like the old trope goes, he can't resist the temptation to pull one last job. The job goes wrong, as they always do, which leads to another heist, that goes wrong in a different way. The very people they were robbing are after them and will stop at nothing. One of the farmers (clear allegory for mobsters) is wearing Fox's severed body part as a necktie to taunt him. The kids pull a heist - a kidnapping! Revenge plot! Chase scene! Murder!

In the end the only thing that saves Fox and family is their willingness to band together with the other victims of the farmers' (mob) rule over the land, and make a stand criminals vs. organized crime. A movie that makes you root for the criminals? Hmm. Sounds familiar.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

1923 Is Ours for the Taking

For the first time in twenty years, as the Atlantic points out, a whole year’s worth of copyrighted works will enter the public domain in the U.S. on January 1, 2019. Under the terms of the Sonny Bono Copyright Act, works first published in 1923 will enter the public domain, meaning anyone can re-publish them, or chop them up and use them in other projects, without asking permission or paying the old rights holders. You can record new versions of the musical compositions; you can show the movies for a profit; you can even remake them. Amazon can sell you the ebook and keep all the money, and Project Gutenberg can give you the ebook for free. (Lifehacker)

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

To Boldly Remain

by Danny Gardner, author, A Negro and an Ofay

In Q3 2018, after an eighteen-month start-up phase, I quietly founded a publishing house with a brand-centric focus, rather than genre-centric, to respond to readers' desire for stories that are told according to the blended lives of mystery, crime, suspense, romance, and adventure we're already living. To publish at a standard high enough to earn our readers' respect and dollars, and return them to the creators they admire, all so the magic continues. A publisher of the people, for the people, publishing books for the children of the woods, mountains, desert, and concrete, delivering them to bookstores other folks wouldn't, handing them to readers many think we shouldn't. To start conversations across oceans of perception, we've chosen to be a publisher that brings people closer together, so the gaps may be crossed within the span of a few good stories, and if not, then we'll print more, as long as folks keep crossing.

The going canard is we're a diversity player, which is one way of viewing the venture. Bronzeville Books' founder is African American. Women such as Renee Pickup, Sara J. Henry, and Erin Mitchell, make up its publishing leadership. Our inaugural class of authors reflects much of this diversity, thus, "we good," as we say out Sout'.

We're excited to present to our readers the results of diversity, in function. You'll feel it in our choice of books to bring to market. Hooking up readers with great stories and the folks who create them, irrespective of the limits in perception, is what we do. Selling great books. Loving those who read them. Honoring and supporting those who write them. It's as old as publishing. Nothing untried and untested about it.

The seven of us who lead Bronzeville are in it for the work. We want the responsibility for rewarding readers and the authors who work hard for them. It's why I sacrificed personal possibilities in artistic merit to shift focus on the community. Our business intent is to establish new metrics based upon a commitment to not only write of a better world but contribute actively in creating it, a mission we'll achieve as long as we pluck the best and the brightest from the places where they're overlooked and place them upon our platform. If you're a writer, watch for our submission announcements. If you bring your best work and your courage, you just may achieve your dreams. To be an author is to have a hand in shaping folks' lives. A better person has a better bookshelf, and we want you on that better person's bookshelf, with the Bronzeville "B" on the spine.

Bronzeville was the neighborhood of my birth, and the place books first came alive for me. We want Bronzeville Books to make reading come alive for you. If you're a reader or a writer, and you feel ghettoized by those who currently set the tone, roll through Bronzeville. You'll see how beautiful the ghetto can be.

Danny Gardner, Founder
Bronzeville Books
An Allied Gardner Company

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Telling Lies to Find the Truth

Scott's Note: I'm happy to have S.A. Cosby here this week to talk about his debut novel, My Darkest Prayer.  In it, he introduces Nathan Waymaker.  Waymaker lives in a small Southern town and starts his tale by saying, "I handle the bodies".  He does, in fact, work in a funeral home.  He also happens to do a number of other things in his town, and as an ex-Marine, he's known as a guy who can help people whose attempts to get help elsewhere have failed.  In My Darkest Prayer, a local church minister is found dead, and some of his parishioners come to Nathan for help when they feel the town police aren't doing all that much investigating.  Cosby's book is a remarkably assured debut, but he didn't get to this point without a lot of work and sweat.  It's that effort to get this far that he talks about here.

Mr. Cosby, if you will...


If you were to ask my mother, she would probably tell you I was a fabulous liar. One of her favorite past times is regaling friends and family with anecdotes about me lying, getting caught in said lie then doubling down on that lie. It seems even from an early age I liked making up stories.

It took me a little while to find my niche when it came to this writing thing. I was always a fan of horror, sci-fi and fantasy. I idolized the greats. King, Asimov, Tolkien. My first forays into serious writing were gentle pastiches of the work of my favorite authors. These works were…. not good. I was trying to sing a song with someone else’s voice. A song that I wasn’t really that skilled at interpreting.

Crime fiction speaks to me in a language that I understand. It is the prism through which I can examine aspects of my own identity and the identity of those around me. But that doesn’t mean I thought I could actually write a whole book. I had tried and failed to finish a crime novel several times. To me writing a short story or a book is like finding a point of egress into a house. When it came to a full-length novel, I could find nothing but a locked door. 

I wanted to write a detective story that incorporated some of the tropes that defined the noir style while incorporating some of my own observations about race and class. I also wanted to move the setting from the fog-shrouded streets of the concrete jungle to the dusty, dirty roads of the rural South.  That's where I'm from.  That's my home.  A place of startling beauty and disturbing vulgarity.  One of the reasons I did this was to show that the South doesn't belong to the last remnants of the Confederacy holding on to a Lost Cause.  Southern heritage is not a battle flag.  It's the inexorably complex relationships and social constructs that define the land that bears America's deepest scars.

That doesn’t mean I stuffed the pages with a lot of overt messages and pedantic soliloquies. I’m a firm believer in the idea that if I have to tell you what I’m trying to say on the page then I’ve failed. It’s there between the bar fights and the shoot-outs. Some people will get the subtext and some people will just enjoy the action. Hopefully, you come for the ultra-violence and stay for the themes.

This book was a learning experience for me in more ways than one. My Darkest Prayer taught me about the artistic side of writing and the business side. I found a groove that allowed me to stretch my wings beyond the confines of the short story. It wasn’t easy, but about fifty pages in, I realized I was going to finish it. I didn’t know if it was going to be any good, but I knew I was going to finish it. When it was done, I was blessed enough to find an agent. And this was where the business lesson began. My Darkest Prayer was rejected a lot. Over 30 publishers passed on it. I was told it was too niche, too black, not black enough, too country, too rural, too southern. I got lovely ¾ rejection letters that praised the dialogue and the characters, then in the last ¼ lamented the fact it didn’t fit into their catalog. The agent and I parted ways(amicably), and I put My Darkest Prayer on the shelf. Metaphorically speaking. A year later I ran into some of the folks from Intrigue Publishing at a Noir at the Bar event and they decided to take a chance on me. I say all this to illustrate a point that was made clear to me by a dear friend.

Hustle beats talent every time.

I won’t beat that old drum about never giving up. That shoe doesn’t fit everyone. I just thought this was a story someone would enjoy. I poured a lot of years of love and hate into My Darkest Prayer. I’ve said before that I’m not trying to re-invent the wheel but I want to tell the truth. The truth about the South. About being black in the belly of what used to be the Confederacy. I wanted to tell the truth about crime and murder and what it looks like when everyone has a secret symbiotic relationship with everyone else within the county lines. Most importantly I wanted to tell the truth about the people who do the things you and I can’t. The ones who sometimes even the scales in the dark.

I sincerely believe any writer worth their salt is telling us a fabulous lie in an effort to show us an uncomfortable truth. I hope that people who read My Darkest Prayer will enjoy the lie and understand the truth behind it.

You can get My Darkest Prayer right here.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Top Five Daddies in Crime Fiction


       1. Jedidiah Ayres
       Who better to top this list than the man who co-purloined Noir at the Bar from the Top Daddies of 2018, Peter Rozovsky? If you’re wondering why he belongs here, you obv haven’t seen him in his tightie-whiteys. Jed was the man who gave birth to some of the greatest noir collections of all time (D*CKED, Noir at the Bar Vol 1 & II) as well as his own hardboiled novel Peckerwood. For the last several years, his website Hardboiled Wonderland has been the go-to spot for crime fiction flick aficionados. Rawr!

       2. Steve Weddle
       Yes, this Country Hardball author is soooo cranky but that’s because we haven’t done enough to make him happy. Good luck getting this daddy to smile! His short fiction recently appeared in Playboy , but you can get all the Weddle you want and more on his Do Some Damage podcast. Plus, he’s a ginger and I have it on good authority that the carpet indeed matches the drapes!

       3. E.A. Aymar
       This host of DC’s Noir at the Bar chapter will get it done inside the Beltway. Just imagine those dreamy eyes and purty mouth telling you it’s time to go to bed with the lights off. Aymar also heads up The Thrill Begins, writes for the International Thriller Review and his latest novel, The Unrepentant will be published in March 2019. All of this PLUS his social media feeds are the daddiest jokes of them all. Here’s hoping daddy still has time for you!!!

       4. Benoit Lelievre
       This Quebecois book reviewer for Dead End Follies is the perfect daddy to cuddle up with during a snow day! No stranger to Canada’s brutal winters, Benoit can help weather the storm with his thoughts on some of the darkest crime fiction while he tucks you into your warm bed at night. And this papa will do it all with a French accent! Oooh la la!

       5. S.A. Cosby
       This newcomer to the crime fiction scene proves that you don’t need a kid to be a daddy. He divides his time between the mortuary and the gym, so while there’s a lot for you to love, it’s all rock hard muscle. Don’t blame yourself if daddy is hitting the sauce a little harder this month; it’s only because his debut novel My Darkest Prayer has just hit the shelves and has been received very well! Extra bonus: Cosby is from the country so he knows all the back roads. Daddy like!!

       Who do you think is the best daddy in crime fiction? Leave your answer in the comments below.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Things I'm Looking Forward To

By Claire Booth

Happy new year! Otherwise known as—the holidays are over, and now there’s a long horrible slog until things warm up and we see the sun again. This has prompted me to think about things I’m looking forward to during these dreary months.

Here they are, in no particular order:

On the Come Up, Angie Thomas’s follow up to 2017’s amazing The Hate You Give. This one’s about a 16-year-old aspiring rapper who has to make it in order to save her family from eviction. (Feb. 5, 2019)

The Wrong Boy. Cathy Ace’s new novel is psychological suspense, which is a departure from her two great detective series, which are lighter in tone and absolutely delightful. Her plots are always twisty and surprising, so I can’t wait to see what she does with this darker novel. (Jan. 9, 2019)

The Border, the final book in Don Winslow’s Cartel trilogy. Following The Power of the Dog and The Cartel, this one should also be bloody and brilliant. (Feb. 26, 2019)

The next season of Shetland. Fellow DSD writer Scott Adlerberg turned me on to this BBC series. It’s based on the fantastic Jimmy Perez novels by Ann Cleeves. I finally decided that I can’t wait anymore for this, so I am now a subscriber of the BBC/ITV channel BritBox, which means I don’t have to wait for it to show up on Netflix here in the U.S.

The Widows, a new historical mystery inspired by the first female sheriff in Ohio (which happened longer ago than you might think). Author Jess Montgomery will be stopping by next week to tell us more about it. (Jan. 8, 2019)

And finally, there’s A Deadly Turn, the third in my Sheriff Hank Worth series. I’ll have more to share about this as the release date get closer. For now, I’ll just say that I’m looking forward to getting it out into the world! (March 1, 2019)

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 1

By Scott D. Parker

Happy New Year! I hope your holidays were safe and fun. 

For readers of this particular blog, I hope to provide something new.

I’ll admit: there are days in which I ponder what I’m going to write every Saturday. Sometimes, I’ll scour old posts and re-post them...which isn’t horrible because we’re always getting new readers. But I think I have something special for 2019.

I’m an independent writer and publisher. I enjoy it that way, accepting all the challenges that come my way as learning experiences. I’ve mapped out a rather interesting plan for 2019 when it dawned on me that I have a perfect medium for new, engaging series of blog posts every week: write specifically about my experiences as an independent author over the course of one year.

Ambitious? Yes. Doable? Also yes. Exciting? For me, yes, and, I hope, educational for those fellow writers in the publishing world. Over the past four years, I have learned a lot from those writers ahead of me on the writing/publishing journey. I’m thinking of Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Katheryn Rusch, Joanna Penn, the guys at Sterling and Stone, the interviewees at Kobo Writing Life, and dozens more. I’ve learned a lot--and I keep learning--but I thought it might be interesting to catalog what goes on here at the home offices of Quadrant Fiction Studio for a calendar year. At the very least, it’ll give me a record of everything I do. And, in the future, I can collect these essays and publish them in a book.

So...let’s start.


I have a rather ambitious publishing schedule for 2019. I am introducing railroad detective Calvin Carter over six books this year. The first, EMPTY COFFINS, was published on New Year’s Day. Here’s the link to the main book page where you can see the cool cover, read the description, and have a look at all of Chapter 1. I have to admit: it’s one of my favorite chapters I’ve written. You get a good sense of who Carter and his partner, Thomas Jackson, are and how Carter conducts his investigations...with flair.

I have five-and-a-half books written, and they’ll be published every other month starting in January. 

In addition, I have other books complete and ready to go. I’m still making decisions on when they’ll be published, but there’s a good chance I’ll be publishing them on the even-numbered months. 

Busy, busy year.

And I’m still writing. Just started a new book on New Year’s Day. My goal is to publish it in August. 


I use the following three methods for ebooks:

Kobo Writing Life for Kobo ebooks
KDP for Amazon ebooks
Draft2Digital for everything else, including Apple and Barnes and Noble

Why not just use Draft2Digital for everything? Ease of use. Kobo and Amazon are really straightforward when it comes to preparing files for publication. Plus, I’m a part of Kobo’s promotional program, and the KWL folks are wonderful with any questions I have. D2D is also straightforward--maybe even the simplest out there--but I’m comfortable with the systems so I’ll just keep on this way unless circumstances necessitate a change.

Late in November 2018 (barely six weeks ago), I got word from Draft2Digital and Kobo that, due to the holiday season, if writers wanted books published in early 2019, final files needed to be submitted by early December. That took me by surprise, so I quickly stopped writing the sixth Carter novel and jumped on prepping EMPTY COFFINS. It took a few days, but I got all the files in on time.

But what about the paperback? Well, I’m trying IngramSpark for 2019. I’ve never used them before, but for extended distribution reasons, I thought why not give them a go. I used CreateSpace for my existing four paperbacks over at Amazon. I’m slowly converting them over to KDP Print.  

So far, I’ve been very pleased with IngramSpark. One great thing is being able to purchase an ISBN number via their system. Not only is it cheaper, but it avoids the issues that came up in 2018 with the existing provider of US-based ISBNs. All I had to do was create a print-ready PDF, get the proper page count, submit all the metadata, and create a title in their system. What you get back in a template you can use to create your paperback cover. 

Here is where Ingram shines. The template is easy to use. I just insert it into Affinity Designer and created my cover with little headaches. I submitted the files to Ingram...and it got rejected. It seemed some of my text ran into the no-fly zone. I fixed and resubmitted. Viola! Accepted. Unlike with CreateSpace, there is a $49 charge to set everything up at Ingram, but I think that’s a small price to pay for greater visibility. I’ve approved the e-proof and am awaiting the paper proof. When I see it and see how everything lays out, I’ll be more likely to simply approve the e-proof in the future. 


On 31 December, I updated my website to include Calvin Carter. I’ve posted the covers of all six novels. Between you and me, there’s a chance a couple of them might change. That’s the beauty of being independent: change at will.

I use Houston’s Host Gator to host my website and WordPress to run it. I’ve also purchased the Divi theme because of its WYSIWYG nature. Thought everything was good…

...until I checked the links New Year’s Day. All were wrong. So I spent an hour that morning fixing everything. Again, not difficult, but time consuming.

That’s the theme for much of what I do as an independent. Most of the tasks are not difficult--or just a Google search away for the answer to most questions--just time consuming. As a person with a day job and a family, time is precious. But every now and then, you just have to knuckle down and fix links.


I have not been as diligent with my mailing list as I should be, but that changes in 2019. I plan on being quite active with my newsletters, building up the list, and interacting with readers along the way. 

I have a specific goal of discovering 100 new subscribers this year. It’s a discrete, doable goal with specific metrics: 8-10 new subscribers per month. 

Most authors give away a free book as a thank-you gift for joining a mailing list. I did that, too, but I had two lists, one for mysteries and one for westerns. With Calvin Carter--a character who can bridge both these genres--I decided to merge the lists into one. But if I have potentially two audiences coming into the one list, what kind of incentive could I offer? Mystery readers might not like a western, and vice versa. 

So I created a catalog sampler. In this ebook, I have my four mysteries, the opening chapters of my six Carter novels, and excerpts of my existing western stories. It is my hope that readers will read through the samples, find a few things they like, and read more.

And I threw in a couple of incentives. If a reader buys a book of mine, let me know and I’ll provide them with a free book. Buy one, get one free. In addition, if an existing subscriber gets another person to subscribe to the list, the existing subscriber earns a free story. So, potentially, for the price of one book, a person can get three stories.

Is that a good idea? Not sure, but that’s the best thing about being independent: I can experiment and figure out what works, what doesn’t, and adjust. I see few downsides to this equation. 

Want to join? Head on over to my website.

To distribute the free catalog sampler, I use BookFunnel. I upgraded to mid-list plan so I can have multiple pen names and numerous books on file. From there, I can create various landing pages with various giveaways all the while collecting emails for my newsletter. Win-win. 


So that’s how I’m starting 2019. It’ll be interesting to see how it all pans out, but I’m excited. I know there will be slumps of enthusiasm along with mountaintop highs, but that’s all part of the marathon that is writing and publishing in 2019. 

Each week, I plan on updating everyone with my weekly accomplishments. If y’all’ve got questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll address them. Or you can always head over to my author Facebook page and interact there.

Here’s to a fanTAStic 2019!

What are your goals for the year?