Saturday, February 16, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 7

Scott D. Parker

It can be the little things that help you along.


Remember a week ago when I wrote about how WADING INTO WAR was getting purchased but the subsequent books in the series were not? My quick solution was to place links to the other books immediately after "The End," explaining the next book and where it fit in the chronology. I republished both the Kobo and Kindle versions of the ebook.

I checked the data yesterday morning and imagine what I saw? A sale of ALL CHICKENS MUST DIE, the second Ben Wade mystery?

Coincidence? Possibly, but I prefer to chalk up my small tweak as a win. If I got one new reader based on a small restructuring at the end of the book, then I'll follow through with all the other versions of the ebook published by Draft2Digital.

As a reader myself, I would immediately wanted to know what the next book of a series is. The Audible app does that with audiobooks. Why not ebooks? No reason. If the reader didn't like the story, they'd just close the electronic cover and never look back. But a road map? I'd want one as a reader, so I'm providing one as an author.

Interesting but unprovable observation: I made a sale of WADING and CHICKENS both on Lincoln's birthday. That's 12 February. WADING is more of a novella. I can't help but wonder if both of those sales were the same person. How cool would that be?


On a corollary note, ULTERIOR OBJECTIVES is the first book to feature Sergeant Lillian Saxton, US Army. It's a thrill-ride of a book (probably my favorite to date) that was a joy to write and tell people about. It takes place in May 1940 so it qualifies as a World War II novel.

I own a Kindle and there's always an ad on the lock screen. I never gloss over what's on display because sometimes, you can find something you can use.

There is a book titled THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS by Pam Jenoff. It showed up on the lock screen and its great cover caught my eye. I read the description. Not only did it draw me, but it had a World War II connection. I downloaded the sample and am reading through it.

But as an author, I took note of the authors featured in the Also Boughts as well as the Sponsored Links. Seeing an opening, I quickly wrote down all those names and created a new Amazon ad with those author names as keywords. I let the ad go into the world. I think that was about ten days ago.

Well, something happened. The KENP pages read for OBJECTIVES went from 63 on 6 February to 493 the following day. This after weeks of nothing on the KENP chart. It seemed some eyes finally noticed my book, its cover and description, and took a chance. Now, there were no actual sales of the book on those days which might have showed the story was good enough for someone to buy and finish the book. Can't do anything about that, but it is certainly worth noting. There was one sale, on the eleventh so perhaps...

By the way, if you're not using author names as keywords, start now.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK #1: Practice, Practice, Practice

Dean Wesley Smith was at it again this week. On Tuesday, he dropped a video "Tip of the Week #57...I'm too young." Basically, it's his discussion about yet another myth, the myth of being 'too young' in the business. That is, too little time in the chair writing. His basic response is "Yeah, I might be better than other writers...but that's only because I put in the time practicing the craft." By his own admission, he writes north of a million words a year. James Reasoner does this, too, and has for over a decade.

Just imagine how good any of us would be at ANYthing if we practiced the equivalent of a million words a year. Imagine how much better our writing would be if we put in that kind of time.


A few years ago, I read a quote that got me off my butt and in front of the computer:

"A year from now, you will have wished you started today."


When you look at successful authors ahead of you in this long game, you might feel yourself getting frustrated or depressed that you are not at their level. You might also think they've solved all the writerly problems.


In this week's "The Creative Penn" podcast, author Joanna Penn talked about her own self-doubt. Specifically, Joanna talked about her self-doubt in the process. Like she said in the intro, it doesn't go away the more successful you get. You just have to trust the process and move forward.

And try to avoid Comparisonitis as much as possible.


I'm in the middle of my own self-doubt on the current novel. It's not moving forward as briskly as I would have liked. In fact, ever since that health issue I had, I've barely touched the novel.

So I segued to a short story. It was the opening of a story I sent to Dean when I took his Depth in Writing workshop. The short story features...Detective Ben Wade. This one is different, however, because I'm writing it in third person. The three Wade novels are written in first person. The style doesn't matter. What matters most to me is getting back on the horse and writing.

And wouldn't you know it, the more I'm writing this short story, certain lines of creativity have opened in my brain. Not only is the story coming along swimmingly, but I'm starting to think about the novel and what the logjam in my brain is. So, when I get Wade's little tale done, I'll likely jump back onto the novel.

Trust the process. Trust what I've done before, knowing I can do it again. Same for you. There are always struggles. Heck, I sometimes struggle in the day job writing. Happened this week, but I worked my way through it.

For more on this topic, check out some of the comments on Dean's Tip of the Week.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK #2: Jason Bateman's Speech

In case you didn't see Bateman's acceptance speech at the recent SAG awards, it's well worth your 2-3 minutes. What he says about work and the next job is priceless. Apply it to your writing.

JOY OF THE WEEK: Alan Alda's Clear and Vivid podcast

Growing up, M.A.S.H. was that show my dad watched in reruns when he got home from work and watched live on CBS. I didn't understand all the humor and war conditions, but by the end, I was old enough not only to tape the final episode and watch it more than once, but I cried just about every single time. It is a powerful piece of TV that stands the test of time.

Alan Alda hosts a podcast called Clear and Vivid. It's about good conversation and how we can better communicate with each other. A couple of episodes ago, he brought together the surviving members of the MASH cast, including Loretta Swit, Mike Ferrell, Jamie Farr, and Gary Burghoff.

Let me tell you: within moments, they were laughing. They reminisced, told stories about their time on the show, the cast who have passed away, and generally what the show meant to them.

The warmth, the humor, the camaraderie are all on display for your ears. It is so good to hear them talk with each other and be the fly on the wall. It was the best thing I heard all week.

How was your week?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

What To Do About Otto

By David Nemeth

After a few weeks thinking about Otto Penzler, I believe there are a few ways writers can act to show that Penzler's behavior will not be tolerated anymore.

  1. Writers should no longer use The Mysterious Bookshop on their book tours.
  2. We should ask Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Mariner Books to remove Penzler as the series editor of the "Best American Mystery Short Stories" annual.
Two simple things. And if Houghton Mifflin Harcourt won't remove Penzler then if they want to publish your story in 2019, decline their request and tell them why.

If you're not a writer what can you do? No longer shop at The Mysterious Bookshop and stop buying the "Best American Mystery Short Stories" annual until Penzler is removed as series editor.

* * *

How did I get to here? A couple of weeks ago I saw a post by author Kellye Garrett and she said, "Once again the crime fiction industry proves we have such a long way to go to truly be an inclusive space..." I had no idea what was going on. More reading later and I found this, "Otto Penzler, Pegasus Books Team to Launch Suspense Imprint" (Publishers Weekly).
Otto Penzler, noted founder of the mystery and crime house Penzler Publishing, is teaming with Pegasus Books to launch Scarlet, a joint publishing venture specializing in psychological suspense aimed at female readers.
How dumb is Pegasus Books? How dumb is their publicist? There's much wrong with this, but let's talk about what a dumb idea it is to have a man to team up with a publisher with the intent of "specializing in psychological suspense aimed at female readers" in the throws of #metoo and female empowerment. Does Pegasus Books know how to read a room?

But with Penzler, there's more.

After the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) rescinded their award to Linda Fairstein, Penzler wrote a letter to the MWA. If you can't take a moment to read the letter yourself, I'll give you a few quotes.
Regrettably, I have only recently become aware of this disgusting turn of events. I was not in New York and had no cell phone service when you cowardly and reprehensibly snatched the Edgar Award from Ms. Fairstein, evidently cowed by racially charged and utterly misinformed letters from Attica Locke and Steph Cha.
This is a thing we white people do when confronted by people of color, white people hint at (or blurt it out) that the people of color are the ones being racist. It's our thing. Watch a few hours of Fox News and you'll see I'm right. The letter goes on with phrases like "stupefying ignorance", "noxious article", and "a cowardly stance". He also went on to defend Fairstein and the convictions of the Central Park Five. He finished his letter stating that the MWA "are no longer welcome in my bookshop." Nothing like digging in when you're on the wrong side of history.

But with Penzler, there's more.

Back in 1991, The Chicago Sun-Times wrote an article about Sisters in Crime, which was founded in 1986 by Sara Paretsky, author of the V.I. Warshawski series. This quote from Penzler shows that the infamous MWA letter of 2018 is not a one-off. It shows how the man thinks.
And then there is The Mysterious Press` Otto Penzler, long a major figure in mystery writing and long a critic of Sisters in Crime, a stance, he admits, for which he has been pilloried. Of course, the Sisters would point out, he is also a male. 
''It`s a negative, flawed concept,'' says Penzler. ''It`s an organization that espouses non-sexism but is sexist. They loathe the old boys network in publishing, but they`ve become one. It`s a divisive organization. Some of its members are strident and achingly boring on the subject of sexism. 
''But they are very effective. They are political, well-organized and effective at getting their agenda publicized. And they have become the very thing they say they are fighting.''
Attica Locke, Kellye Garrett, and Steph Cha are telling us something is wrong. We've been ignoring them and going on with our lives. This has got to stop. We can move forward to a world where men like this no longer have sway over careers and lives. All it takes a little effort such as:

  • Writers should no longer use The Mysterious Bookshop on their book tour.
  • We should ask Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Mariner Books to remove Penzler as the series editor of the "Best American Mystery Short Stories" annual.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

This All Seems Familiar

Thomas Pluck here, your usual Wednesday writer. From now on I'll be splitting duties with S.A. Cosby, author of the powerful debut novel My Darkest Prayer, and hard-hitting noir tales such as "The Grass Beneath My Feet" , which was my introduction to his work at Tough Crime. Shawn writes with strong chops and a lot of heart, creating characters cut from life with an expert's scalpel. We had a discussion at the Bouchercon bar over whisky about locked room mysteries, and his knowledge of the genre is as formidable as his skill with the pen. Please welcome Shawn Cosby to Do Some Damage.

knock 'em dead.


By S.A. Cosby

A trope is defined as a " a figurative or metaphorical use of a word or an expression.
A cliche is defined as " an opinion or phrase that is overused and lacks original thought."

I call them both valuable tools.

Let me explain.

There is a comfort in familiar things. A pair of old shoes. A favorite coffee cup. A weathered seat on the midtown bus. We seek the familiar because it grounds us. It gives us an anchor that allows us to feel safe. Humans beings are nothing if not ritualistic. When it comes to writing and especially when it comes to writing crime, noir and mystery tropes and cliches can give us , the reader, a comforting sense of place and familiarity. It lets us know that we have been here before and we know the steps to this particular dance. That's not to say we don't want to be surprised but the surprised is even more impactful when we have been lulled into a false sense of security by the good ol' fashioned familiar trope. This is when crime fiction actually elevates itself to another level. Books like Indemnity First by Sara Paretsky  take the usual gumshoe PI trope and use it to tell the story of tough,female detective V.I Warshawski. Devil in a Blue Dress similarly takes the trouble shooting PI trope made famous by John D. Macdonald  and turns it on it's head with it's African American protagonist Eazy Rawlins. These books and hundreds like them bring us into their world with familiar , often used tropes and yes cliches but then upend our expectations through the machinations of the plot and the unique voice of their main characters.

Of course some tropes are best left on the dustbin of literary history. The helpless dame, the fearful domestic person of color(Chandler was very fond of that particular one) the detective who is so tough he spits out nails and can take hours and hours of a beating without any lingering effects later in the story. These tools have lost their usefulness as we have moved past the antiquated thinking they represent.

However the trope of the detective in over his or her head after taking a case that promised an easy pay day. The crime story where that one last job leads to tragedy. The mystery where the solution was hidden in plain sight the whole time. writers continue to use variations of these themes because they do what they are designed to do.

They make you turn the page and keep reading. 

So don't be afraid to embrace the cliche and the trope. They are not poison. They are at worst a necessary evil. At their best they are bricks in the foundation of a larger tale.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Sticking It to the Man

It’s always nice to be part of a good project, and I’m glad I’ve been able to contribute to the second of the pulp history books edited by Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre.  Their first was Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1959-1980.

Now comes Sticking It To The Man: Revolution & Counterculture in Pop & Popular Fiction, 1950-1980. The book contains features, reviews & interviews about pulp & popular fiction covering civil rights and Black Power, the New Left, gay and lesbian liberation, feminism, and anti-war movements in the US, UK and Australia. It also has vigilante-driven fiction that echoed the Nixonian backlash and the coming conservatism of Thatcherism and Reaganism. It’ll have lots of really pulpy cover photos. Contributors include. Woody Haut, Gary Phillips, Michael Gonzalez, David Whish-Wilson, Brian Greene and many others. The thing I wrote for it is a 7,000 word piece on Chester Himes.  I talk about his Harlem Detective series from A Rage in Harlem through his unfinished Plan B as well as his non-series New York City novel about a black man stalked by a murderous white cop, Run, Man, Run.

It should be a hell of a book, and I’m looking forward to wading through all the pieces myself.

Here’s the cover:

PM Press is publishing the book in August, and it's already available for pre-order: 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Every Ending is a New Beginning

My nephew looks so much like my sister it's spooky.

I know this could be where I insert a joke - poor kid - but that's the wrong direction. Sometimes, we look at our parents or our children and we see where the blue eyes came from or the red hair.

And sometimes we're left to wonder.

My sister and I have both always been issues oriented. We grew up poor. Now, by the time we were teens I guess it would have been middle class, but when we were young we were poor. I remember asking my dad once how much money he made and he said $20,000 a year and I thought it was a huge amount of money.

Um, just to clarify that, that was $20,000 Canadian. So about $1.55 U.S.

I don't think my parents could afford to think about issues. They were too busy building a business and dealing with day to day. That's why in our house, when food was put in front of you, you damn well sat your ass in that chair until it was finished.

Waste of anything was a luxury we just couldn't afford.

I see it now, years later, in a way that I couldn't see then. By the time I was a teen we were comfortable, I guess. We'd traveled through the States, we'd built an addition to the house.

And I had the luxury of my issues.

Thanks to social media, there's always an issue. Today I saw this tweet:

"I tweeted today about quitting jobs and following dreams. It's one thing that strangers compared me to the Unabomber and wished me dead. Literally. But now someone tracked down my mom to harass her. This is SO FUCKING out of proportion. Move on to your next outrage, please."


I'm burnt out on outrage.

There are times it is totally warranted, but haven't the last two years of politics in the U.S. and U.K. been enough to instill fear in our hearts about complacency, about racism, about real serious issues?

I know Heller suggested people quit their jobs and write ... and I know how people responded to that.

The thing is, when I first became aware of the controversy, the person had linked in not from the start of Heller's thread, but several tweets down, and this is what I read:

I 100% agree with what Heller is saying here. Taking creative risks is a choice.

But it is also dangerous to move to the safety of complacency, and that is where so many writers are today. They try to capture the latest trend and ride it, or find a level of audience and won't take the risk of publishing something daring and different for fear of alienating readers.

There's a glut of mediocre books published every year that don't mean much of anything to anyone beyond the writer who penned them.

Sometimes, for there to be that radical new beginning, there must be an end.

I would rather fail spectacularly than never have the balls to take risks. And that is why today is my farewell to Do Some Damage.

I'd originally planned to take a bow later this year, and brought it up with Steve in December, but over the past few weeks there have been a lot of things going on - online and behind the scenes. Some will be known in time, some perhaps never shared.

Like ... an anthology project is finally coming out. Soon. But I'm not giving details until I have a confirmed date, so don't ask.

What I have found is that the people who I have the closest kinship with are mostly lurking in the shadows, unhappy with the current state of social media 100% rage, but unwilling or unable to combat it.

We can still have our kinship. Email. Text. Catch me on FB - I don't just generally friend even authors with loads of mutuals anymore, but the Sandra Brian account will friend anyone. I'll still be posting reviews and such at Toe Six. I'm accessible. Those who want to find me can. Those who don't don't matter. ... I'd rather spend the time I put on this blog on actual communication with real people. Nobody should feel alone because everything has become a sequence of impersonal interactions.

Those who know my pseudonym will see me most active there. If you don't ... well, get in touch privately. When the time is right I'll tell you.

I leave with a couple final things.

1. Read outside your genre. Recent reads? The See-Through Leopard. If you love animals, wow. If you're dealing with grief, wow. It ought to come with a 'Kleenex required' warning on the front.

2. Write outside your comfort zone. Take some risks. Do something different.

3. Ask yourself if how you're spending your time is wise. Like, seriously, it's the same # of people reading week to week on a blog or twitter or wherever. They can be a great way to stay in touch with friends, but don't kid yourself and think it's selling loads of books.

4. If you want to be an author, then go do that. Stop putting the promotional cart before the creative horse.

5. STOP SAYING YOU'VE FOUND YOUR TRIBE. All the talk about diversity and racial sensitivity doesn't mean SHIT if you only consider the people who are in the community. I reached out and asked a Native friend about writers using this term. His response?

"How do you suddenly or otherwise "find your tribe"? That sort of "identity discovery" reeks of privilege and manifest destiny, doesn't it?"

Just stop with that insulting crap. I have been guilty in years gone by, hence bringing it up a few weeks ago.

6. Pick your outrage with care.

Seriously ... does anyone in the book world read anymore? Why is it so hard to find great recommendations? Oh, right, wading through bitchfests and controversies, where even the legit controversies are watered down by the manufactured rage.

7. And leave Jason Heller and his mom alone.

Seriously, when did it get so hard to disagree respectfully? Don't agree, fine. Attack the person? Attack their mother? Only 45 supporters can get me to that level of irrational anger. Writers? This has got to stop. It isn't normal, healthy, or okay.

And for the people locally (Mason-Dixon Line) who mocked my great love of Canadian music, because they were too small to understand anything  I give you the artist who penned the song "For You" that was recorded by Dave Matthews and Johnny Cash. The man I saw in concert a lifetime ago at the PNE, who felt uncomfortable with girls heckling him. The man who wrote a song that is open to interpretation ... happy or sad? That's up to you. A man who worked as a pediatric nurse, who (along with his wife, who went to school with an ex-boyfriend of mine) founded #NotInMyCity "which advocates and facilitates on behalf of women and children who are sexually exploited and trafficked in Canada." #Respect. (My cousin, Grammy Award-Nominated songwriter Deric Ruttan, penned a song Paul recorded. Just more for the 'small world' files.)

I do love a road trip.

"Gonna be just fine."

On that note, to new beginnings.

And one more for the kids, because it was always their favorite Paul Brandt song:

Sunday, February 10, 2019

How to Promote a Book Without Actually Talking About It

I want to thank Claire Booth for inviting me to post on Do Some Damage today. I’ll admit to missing the crowd over here lately, so her request came at a good time for both of us: She was having trouble coming up with a topic for this week’s post and I have a book coming out soon. It was kismet, I tell you.
It feels weird to say I have a book coming out when all I did was edit it. The authors who contributed the stories did most of the heavy lifting. Still—and a few of the authors might tell you this—I was a hands-on editor, maybe too much so. If you ever wonder how much of a control freak you are, take a stab at editing a short story anthology.
Two paragraphs in and I still haven’t told you what the book’s called. I never said I was a genius at book promo. MURDER-A-GO-GO’S: CRIME FICTION INSPIRED BY THE MUSIC OF THE GO-GO’S will be published on March 25 by Down & Out Books, but the good news is you don’t have to wait until then to buy it! You can pre-order it here or wherever impossibly cool books are sold.
Now that you’ve pre-ordered MURDER-A-GO-GO’S we can move on to what I really want to talk about today: TV. It’s my topic on the Do Some Damage’s podcast, “7 Minutes With,” hosted by Steve Weddle, with Jedidiah Ayres talking film and Chris Holm talking music. But we’ve been on hiatus for several weeks and I have stuff I want to—no, need to—discuss NOW.
A brief aside: Writers who admit to watching TV sometimes get some flak for time-wasting. Like I’d have already written the next best seller if it weren’t for all the TV I watch. It’s fair criticism, but I waste far more time on the Internet than I do watching TV. I say that as if it somehow justifies my TV consumption. It doesn’t—I just thought I’d mention it.
First up is Netflix’s “Abducted in Plain Sight.” I’m not sure how to adequately prepare you for it because it’s the most crazy-pants thing I’ve seen in ages, and chances are, I’m not the first person you’ve heard say that. I’d seen it as I perused Netflix’s offerings but never stopped to watch it until a friend texted me: “I’m watching the most fucked up documentary on Netflix right now…” Jeezus, she was not kidding.
At first glance, it appears to be the story of a perfect family living in an idyllic community until their world is torn asunder by a sociopathic neighbor who abducts their oldest daughter. On its own, a horrific event, worthy of a closer look. But the details, my God, the details. I don’t want to say too much because each WTF moment is more insane than the next and you need to experience its unfolding for yourself. Just remember that the child at the heart of the story was a victim in all senses of the word and the adults responsible for her well-being utterly failed her. Utterly.
My husband just brought me a glass of rosé, so now we can really get talking. Since today’s topic is crazy-pants TV, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Fyre Festival documentaries making the rounds. We watched the one on Netflix but there’s one on Hulu, too, and I’ve heard they’re both interesting. The Fyre Festival, if you recall, was supposed to be THE event of the decade that turned out to be an absolute shit-show. The one where attendees paid tens of thousands of dollars to see Blink-182 on a remote Caribbean Island and ended up sleeping in water-logged tents and eating bread-and-salt sandwiches. It’s interesting to see how it all went wrong (it’s pretty clear from the get-go it’s not going to end well) and how “influencers” fueled the race to get tickets.
Which brings me to my final entry: “The American Meme,” also on Netflix. My inclusion of this documentary isn’t necessarily an endorsement, because honestly, your life will be just fine if you skip it. It profiles social media stars Paris Hilton, Josh Ostroversky (The Fat Jewish), Brittany Furlan (famous for her Vine videos), Kirill Bichutsky, and several other influencers, as they openly discuss the peaks and pitfalls of their fame. This glimpse beyond their vapid, often offensive, online personas isn’t enlightening so much as sad-making. Not sad for them so much as for the society (ours) that has enabled their fame. I’m not victim-blaming here, I’m only saying that we’re all complicit and it gave me a lot to think about with regard to my own consumption of social media and the Internet in general.
But not TV. I still love my TV.
Holly West is the Anthony Award-nominated author of the Mistress of Fortune historical mystery series and the editor of Murder-A-Go-Go’s: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of the Go-Go’s. She lives in Northern California with her husband and two dogs. More at