Wednesday, February 27, 2019


Last year at Bouchercon I attended a panel where the brilliant Christa Faust responded to the inevitable question that always seems to creep up in any gathering of writers and readers. Someone asked her about whether or witht he METoo movement should writers abandon stories where female characters are the victims of crimes. Especially sexual crimes. I'm going to paraphrase her answer here but essentially what she said was :
"You can write whatever you want. But I don't think we need that type of story written by a cisgender man anymore. We don't need that anymore. If it's going to be written let a woman write it." 
I thought about her answer for a long time. This week it seemed especially prescient after I watched GREEN BOOK  win the Oscar for best picture.
I know , I know GREEN BOOK isn't a crime film. It's not a noir film. Although changing the plot to include a heist would have been interesting as hell. I mention it as an example of what Christa was getting at. There are certain themes and stories that should fade into the annals of history. 
 A cozy English mystery that depends on a swarthy "foreigner" as a plot device. Dame Agatha used that one ad nauseam . The hooker with a heart of gold. The overly exuberant  LGBTQ  character. I could go on but I think you get the point. 
Certain types of stories have a shelf life. That shelf life drops significantly when those stories are interpreted by individual without a vested interest in accurate representation. 
I can hear some people screaming at their computer screen or phone
"But a movie like GREENBOOK is great because it  has representation! The black guy is the white guy's boss!"
In theory yes. GREEN BOOK  is based on a true story. The script was written by the son of Dr.Don Shirley's driver.  It's inherently slanted to unfold the story from the point of view of Tony. Because the screen writer had no vested interest in making sure the story presented both men as equals. GREEN BOOK is marketed as a buddy story but it plays out like a one man show. And yes the great Marshela Ali won an Oscar for his performance. I think that says more about the prodigious talent of Mr. Ali than it says about the nuances of the script.
 Look I 'm not standing on my soap box and screaming at you about what you want to write. I'm not advocating censorship. All I'm saying is if you choose to write a story featuring themes or characters that you may not initially have a deep understanding of or a vested interest in please make sure you are doing the due diligence to represent those ideas in a forthright and honest way. Tell the characters story not yours. 
And if you can't do that leave it to someone else who can.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

What's the Agenda?

As a father of a 13-year old, I find it interesting, to discuss books, movies - art in general - with my kid.  I assume the same goes for most parents who have any interest in these particular things. In the case of books or films he likes, I talk to someone who experiences a book or film with the kind of uncluttered enthusiasm you don't often see in adults.  Not that we can blame adults for being, well, adults.  Everyone can remember the intense excitement or absorption you felt as a child with certain books and movies - stories and characters that were new and surprising and changed how you looked at the world.  As you get older, experiences of that intensity don't die away completely (I hope) but become less frequent.  You still love certain books or films, and can be moved immensely by art (I hope), but let's just say that you don't have childlike wonder anymore. You also have more critical tools at your disposal, obviously, and use them to engage with whatever the book or film is.

But beyond all that:

In these fraught times, when it's difficult to say anything about anything without others judging it through a political lens, when one receives, in social media and elsewhere, lectures and admonishments on an hourly basis, I find it enjoyable to talk to someone who likes or dislikes what he likes or dislikes without an agenda attached. That's a prerogative, I suppose, a kid can have. Or you could say (using reading as an example) that a child reads with enough ignorance, with a limited enough view of things, that other things related to the book or story don't matter.  It ties into something Gabino Iglesias said in a Lit Reactor piece recently.  He talks about reading H.P. Lovecraft when younger: "I know Lovecraft was a racist...but I didn't know that back then. His writing made a lasting impression. It showed me what horror could be."  In Lovecraft, as everyone who has read him knows, you can see the racism clearly in some of the tales, but the point is there may be a value, odd as it sounds, in having a time in life when you can read absent of certain knowledge that might otherwise affect how you view what you're reading. There's time enough later for agendas and ideologies to form, or just for your education to fill out the picture of who might be behind the work or what the circumstances were behind the work.  Then you can engage with the work from a more complete perspective, but you will first have engaged with what's only on the page - the words, the sentences, the ideas stated and suggested by those words and sentences - not by what's beyond the page.  

I know I reveal my own biases here.  And I'm not talking about willfully keeping a young reader in the dark. If my kid read and liked, The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle, it would be quite fair to get into how Doyle upholds British imperialistic ideas about East Asians, people of color.  If he read, let's say, Ernest Hemingway (he hasn't, but if he did), we could talk misogyny.  We can get into the unexemplary life an artist might have lived or the terrible actions an artist might have done while still producing great art.  My goal, though, is to encourage a young reader to read as broadly as possible, from now or any era in the past, from all types of people from everywhere, and to let those works (with their faults and their flaws and their great and wonderful aspects) speak to him.  That is to say, as much as it's humanly possible, to stress reading works from the inside out and enjoying what you happen to enjoy and letting the works themselves speak to you (agree or disagree with what's in them as you will) without imposing onto them outside agendas and pre-set ideologies. 

If he asked, I guess I'd have to admit that's my agenda. 

"And that is, pop?"
"An agenda that stresses to read with an open yet skeptical mind and beware of any and all agendas."  x

I sound quaint, I know. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Curious Case of Dr. James Barry, Military Surgeon

by Dharma Kelleher

A Man of Mystery

This past week, I learned a little bit of history. In the early 1800s, there was an Irish-born surgeon named Dr. James Barry, who served in the British Army in South Africa. Of his many accomplishments, he is credited as the first European to perform a cesarean section procedure in Africa in which both mother and child survived.

However, something else was discovered about Dr. Barry shortly after his death. He was transgender. That is, while he identified and presented as male throughout the entirety of his adult life, he was assigned female at birth. This discovery was made despite his specific instructions that his body NOT be examined after his death.

Sadly, that revelation would not be the last time his wishes and identity would not be respected.

A Troublesome Book

Just this past week, Publishers Weekly announced a book deal between publisher Little, Brown and author E.J. Levy, who has written a novel about Dr. James Barry's life. Problem is, Levy insists on misgendering Dr. Barry as female. As it turns out, Levy is what is known as a trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF), someone who refuses to acknowledge that trans people are who they say they are.

TERFs routinely harass and spread misinformation about transgender people. They fuel violence and discrimination. Most recently, they have been aligning themselves with the far right wing to further efforts to pass transphobic laws.

This book, which misrepresents who Dr. Barry was, contradicting his own journals about how he identified, is a classic example of erasure by cisgender (non-trans) individuals to deny the historical existence of trans people. It is also an example of misappropriation of trans culture.

Imagine if a member of the Ku Klux Klan wrote a biography about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Or a serial rapist wrote about the women's suffrage movement. Absurd, right? And yet Levy, in her cisgender privilege and hatred toward trans people, has taken upon herself to misrepresent the identity of a courageous military surgeon.

A Community Speaks Out

Fortunately, thousands of transgender people and allies have spoken up and contact Little, Brown to cancel this book deal. As yet, there has been no response.

Personally, I think it would be foolish of Little, Brown to follow through with publishing the book. After all, who would buy it? Not transgender people or their allies. We will be speaking out in favor of a boycott. And not those who oppose transgender people. Why would they want to read about a transgender surgeon? So where's the market for this book? Is Little, Brown foolish enough to invest time in editing, design, layout, printing, and marketing for a book destined to fail? Time will tell.

There is also a movie in the works about Dr. Barry's life and work. But sadly, Hollywood has once again snubbed its nose at the transgender community and chosen to cast Rachel Weisz in the title role. While I am a big fan of Weisz (loved her in the Mummy movies, The Constant Gardner, Constantine, etc.), casting a cis female actor to play a trans male role is another example erasure and misappropriation.

We're Here, We're Queer, And We Demand Representation

cover art of Bound to Die
Too rarely are trans people cast even in trans roles, much less cisgender roles. And yes, there are lots of trans actors including Chaz Bono, Laverne Cox, Ian Harvie, Asia Kate Dillon, Jamie Clayton, Ruby Rose, Elliot Fletcher, Michelle Hendley, etc. Personally, I think Ian Harvie would be perfect for the role, though Asia Kate Dillon wouldn't be a bad choice either.

I don't mind when cisgender authors write stories with a transgender protagonist. Laurie Rockenbeck is a cis author who has written two great mysteries featuring a trans male detective. She gets it right and tells great stories to boot. Bound to Die was a nail-biter. And I could hardly put down the last one, Cleansed By Fire.

The important thing is to do the proper research and treat trans characters and trans people with respect. Respect our identities, respect our pronouns. No one knows better than us who we are.

This is why so many are calling for authors, editors, and publishers to utilize sensitivity readers, not to coddle to our feelings, but to ensure that the portrayal of trans people is realistic and respectful. Levy and Little, Brown have failed in this matter and done so with contempt.

At a time when murders of transgender people are at an all-time high, when trans suicides are soaring, when we are met at every turn with laws that prohibit us from being treated with the same respect as everyone else, that refuse to allow us to have access to life-saving medical treatment, that block us from correcting identifying documents with our correct names and gender markers, we still face forces trying to whitewash our history and erase our existence.

It is one of the many reasons why I write crime fiction with trans people as heroes rather than just victims, and why I choose to do it as an indie author. Because I refuse to be erased. Because we as transgender people deserve to tell our own stories to reflect the realities we face in everyday life. Because Trans Lives Matter.

As one of the few transgender authors in crime fiction, Dharma Kelleher writes gritty novels with a progressive bent, including the Jinx Ballou bounty hunter series and the Shea Stevens outlaw biker series. Her work has appeared on Shotgun Honey and in the upcoming Murder-A-GoGo’s anthology. 

She is a former journalist and a member of Sisters in Crime, the International Thriller Writers, and the Alliance of Independent Authors. She lives in Arizona with her wife and three feline overlords.

You can learn more about Dharma and her work at

Sunday, February 24, 2019

A DEADLY TURN in the Right Direction

It’s finally here. A Deadly Turn hits shelves this Friday. It’s the third in my Sheriff Hank Worth mystery series, and I’m really excited for people to finally have the chance to read it.
The first two books in the series came out almost exactly one year apart. This one took longer because I switched publishers, so it’s been a year and a half since the last Hank book. I’m beyond thrilled that I have readers who’ve told me how much they’ve missed him.

If you’re familiar with the other books, you’ve probably noticed a substantially different look to the cover of this one. That’s because Severn House, my new publishing home, decided to take the artwork in a more realistic direction instead of staying with the oil-painting look of the others. I gotta say, I love it. That overturned car is absolutely perfect.
Working with Severn House meant a few other changes as well. The company is located in London, so I had to calculate an eight-hour time difference, instead of the easily handled three-hour difference with New York. I finally settled on emailing him in the evening, so he would get it bright and early the next morning. If I waited until my “next morning,” he’d be heading out the door to go home for the day.
The email version of jet lag was worth it, though. The people at Severn really “got” Hank and his two deputies, Sheila and Sam—Hank with his wry humor and often overwhelmed attempts at managing a sheriff’s department; Sheila with her no-nonsense demeanor and quietly confident knowledge that she’d be a better boss; and Sam with his puppy-like eagerness slowly giving way to savvy adult. A writer’s greatest fear (well, my greatest, at least) is to land an editor who sucks all the life out of the book. That didn’t happen with A Deadly Turn, and I’m happy to let it out into the world.
Here’s a little more about it:
Hank Worth thinks he’s performed a good deed when he pulls over the car of six teens caught speeding on a Saturday night and lets them off with a warning and instructions to go home. When he responds to an urgent call minutes later, he realizes he made a fatal error of judgement—every teen is dead. Struggling to come to terms with his role in the crash, Hank begins to suspect foul play. While notifying the parents of the children involved, his suspicions grow when an unidentified body is discovered in one of their homes and a teenage girl is found after apparently attempting to commit suicide. Hank believes the incidents are connected, but those around him disagree. Is Hank right, or is his guilt making him search for answers where there are none?
You can find A Deadly Turn at any of the following booksellers.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 8

Scott D. Parker

Are you prepared to talk about writing?


I had jury duty this week, and a couple of things struck me. One is that you probably already rolled your eyes. “Jury duty. Ugh.” Believe me, I understand. We all understand. It’s one of those things that we have to endure, right?

But have you ever thought about the alternative? What if we didn’t have to go to jury duty because we didn’t have trial by jury? Not sure I’d want to live in a society like that, would you? So I’ll take the occasional jury duty as the easy payment for the freedoms we have in this country.

Besides, it really isn’t bad as long as you brought a good dose of patience with you to the court house. Oh, and a book. I brought my Chromebook and knocked out a few hundred words on the latest story before we all got called into the courtroom.

Now, as a writer, I’m all for new experiences. When we got into the courtroom—all eighty of us or so—we saw the defendants. Seven of them by my count. Two panels were seated. Yeah, I was selected. Sixteen out of eighteen in panel 1. My group consisted of 8 men and 10 women, all a nice cross-section of citizens in my precinct in Houston, the largest in the state. One by one, the defendants were called to the back room, their cases settled. As the judge told us, often when a person asking for a jury trial actually sees us ready to render judgement, it becomes very real and they settle.

The potential jurors who didn’t get selected were excused. Then panel 2. Lastly we eighteen in panel 1 were released. It was a painless experience. Heck, I even stayed late to chat with the bailiff, the judge, and the clerk. It was very nice.

You know what else was nice? Talking about my writing.

Okay, so I’m a nerd and I pulled out a steno pad and started making observations. When the judge started telling us facts about our precinct, I jotted those notes down as well. As you can imagine, my actions were noticed. The nice lady sitting next to me and I started talking. Turns out she’s a medical professional. She mentioned she enjoys spy novels and name-dropped Daniel Silva and Vince Flynn among others. Right as she was leaving, she asked for my name and a recommendation of one of my books. To date, my favorite book remains ULTERIOR OBJECTIVES. When I mentioned it was a World War II thriller, she got excited. Based on my Amazon sales report, a copy of that book was sold on 20 February, jury duty day.

Can I be sure it was she who purchased the book? No, but there is strong circumstantial evidence. I didn’t catch her name, but I thank her, no matter if she bought the book or not.

But you know what made the entire event not 100% professional? I didn’t have any business cards on me. I had to write my name on a piece of paper.

Sigh. I now have extra cards in my wallet.

If you are a pro writer, always carry business cards.


Chalk writing a Lenten devotional as something more difficult that you'd imagine.

I was assigned a passage from Mark by one of the pastors at my church. By way of guidelines, she told us contributors to aim for a word count from 250 to 350.

Listen: I can bust out a consistent 1200-1300 words per hour when I'm firing on all cylinders writing a novel. Initially, I thought it would be easy to get up to 350 words.


Five drafts later, I managed 366. Hopefully they'll make the cut--or my pastor will edit it down or ask for a re-write--but those were some difficult words. Go figure.


The more I write and the more I study the habits of writers, the more I realize writing is really a blue-collar job. Sure, we're not digging ditches or laying brick, but the process of writing has little magic to it. Other than the imagination, you sit in a chair or stand at a counter and pound your fingers on a keyboard. There really is no other alternative to getting a story out of your head and onto paper or a screen.

Which brings me to the words of Daniel Roebuck. He was the guest interview subject on The Ralph Report by Ralph Garman. On Monday, when the first part of the interview dropped, I was like "Who's this Roebuck guy?" Only when I pulled up his photo on Google did I realize "Oh, he's that guy. Wow. He's been in a lot of things." Yeah. Thirty-five years worth of consistent acting jobs. Quite the successful tenure. And he's got a great quote on his Twitter page.

How, might you ask, did a boy from Pennsylvania who drove out to Los Angeles with no connections become have the career he's had? By a simple realization.

"I knew I'd be a supporting guy. I'll be the James Whitmore or the William Windom and I set my sights on just being someone who worked. And so I'm completely satisfied." "I never had a false sense of my destiny. My destiny was never standing on stage giving a speech, getting an award. My destiny was being turned into a [movie] monster. That, in itself, makes me happy." "I never take a moment of it [acting work] for granted. I still audition…I go in there and try to win. Every day I wake up, bring it on, man. Give it to me. Give me a chance to do what I do."

When I heard those words, I knew I’d found a guy with a philosophy I could understand and admire. Because I try to be the writer version of Roebuck every day. I sit at my Chromebook twice a day (4:45am and 12:00pm) and write new words. I craft stories as best as I can. The yarns entertain me. I hope they entertain others. For me, the large majority of the joy I get from writing is that part, the part I can control. Control the Controlables. In the professional writing world, there are few things better than those hours spent writing.

BTW, if you read yesterday’s column by founding member Jay Stringer, you’ll remember he said much the same thing.

How about y'all? How'd your week go?

Thursday, February 21, 2019


By Jay Stringer
Remember me? Legend has is that DoSomeDamage was started ten years ago, on a bet between Steve Weddle and I, to see which of us could go grey the fastest. Well, jokes on you, Steve, because I'm going bald. Ha. I win.


(Maybe I approached this all wrong.)

But seriously. Ten years. That's a long time. And I've learned a lot in those years. (Like, never kill the President of Paraguay with a fork.) Many of my earliest posts on the site were about craft. I look back on them now, and wonder how I really felt I'd earned any of my early opinions. How did the younger me get to go around telling people that writer's block was myth? How could I start talking about structure, and character, and plot, when I'd written the sum total of one book? And that one was written by accident.

(Seriously, it was a short story that ran long.)

In the intervening years, I've learned to mostly avoid giving out writing advice. The most important, and consistent, help I can ever give, is to tell you not to take writing advice from the type of people who offer you writing advice. And that includes people who would use the word 'advice' four times in one paragraph. There's a dangerous power in giving advice (five). Somebody new to the scene might not have had the time, or resources, to scout out ahead and see who is worth listening to. If you pass on an un-earned opinion as a truth, even if it's well-meant, you might be damaging the prospects of the person you give it to.

I do have knowledge on craft. Believe me. I study it. I work on it. I'll sit and discuss it for hours with people whose opinions I trust. I'm pretty good at my job. Never good enough, but always improving. And to that end, if people really want them, I have my own rules of writing. They work for me, I guarantee nothing for anybody else.

There's a tendency, to my mind, of focusing way too much on discussing how to write and not enough on how to be writer. That is, on how to carry ourselves. How to make decisions. Who to listen to. When I start a job at a new company, sure, there's going to be someone who'll show me how to do the job. But once they've done their bit, I'm going to get on with figuring out my own way of doing it, through trial and error. What I'm really looking for is someone to come and tell me how to work in that place. Who can I go to for help? Who is a grumpy piece of shite? Is there a knack to the bathroom door? Are there any unwritten rules about the communal fridge? How long do I need to leave it before nobody gives a shit about whether I'm sticking to the dress code? What's the best time of the year to start putting in holiday requests?

So I've been thinking about this. If I were to sit down with the younger me, the version that was fresh in the door ten years ago, what would I tell him?

1. Know What You Want. Pick Your path. Commit To It.

There are many different career paths you can take as a writer. They're all valid, as long as you choose the one that's right for you. Don't head out to a sushi restaurant and get angry that steak isn't on the menu. A large advance is great for some people, but can be a trap for others. Small advances may not set the literary world alight, but can help you build a career and make a few mistakes along the way.

Do you want to write purely for yourself, or do you want to entertain a crowd? Do you want to write niche noir stories that you know have a small audience, or do you want to try and be the next Lee Child? Are you interested in finding an agent, and playing the game, or do you want to self-publish and do everything your own way? Are you interested in awards? Do sales figures matter to you? Is this something you want to make a living out of doing?

There are honestly no right or wrong answers in any of that. But be aware of the decision, take the time to think about it, and save yourself from walking down one path and wishing you were on the other. This is honestly the root cause of so many issues I've encountered from friends and colleagues over the years. Anger that their uncommercial book wasn't being picked up straight away. Frustration that their publisher was struggling to sell a work about six medieval goblins who pull off a bank heist.  Feeling slighted that their high-selling commercial procedural novel got overlooked for awards.

And if you do find yourself in that position, it's probably not too late to change, but again be aware of what's causing your frustration. Re-think, make the necessary changes, and go for it.

2. Be In The Moment.

Be in the moment? What kind of hippie bullshit is this? What's next, the joke about the Buddhist who asks the hot dog vendor to make him 'one with everything?' The one where he hands over a twenty and waits for money back, but the vendor says 'change comes only from within?' 

The truth is, there is very little we can control. Even once you've made the decision I mentioned above, and you've stepped boldly onto the correct path, there are precisely zero guarantees that you'll get success. And the worst part about that? It's nobody's fault. Publishers can do their best, agents can work their asses of, marketing people can market their hearts out....and sometimes people just don't want to buy the book. Or they buy it, but the wind is wrong and they don't engage with your words. You can work away on a project for ten years until it's the best book anyone's ever written, but if the right agent don't read it on the right day, it might not get you picked up. And none of that is the fault of the agents who passed. They're human, just as you are, and we all need a million things to go the right way just for us to wake up each morning and keep on breathing.

And faced with all of this, how the hell can we work in this industry without going insane, or growing bitter and jaded?

Be in the moment. Draw pride from how you manage the things you can control. Pull your self-worth from the work. Draw your strength and happiness from what you're doing right now. Do the best writing you can, every time you sit down to work. And on a day when the words aren't coming? Go find something else that makes you smile. Hang out with friends. Play with your kids. Fuss your pets. Ride a bike. Then come back to the page, and put your heart into it. Don't postpone your happiness. Don't pin your self-worth on something you hope might happen further down the line.

The work we do is one of the only two things we control. That means it matters. Do the best work you can. Every. Single. Time. And draw pride from that.

3. Never Use Exclamation Marks. 

4. Be Patient. Be Specific. 

The other thing we can control is how we interact with people. Be patient whenever possible. Be specific every time. Specificity, I'm learning, really is the key to so many things. Always be clear on what you're asking for. Always be clear on what you can deliver. The more specific you can be up front, the less chance there is for confusion (or being taken advantage of) further down the line. Get things in writing. Know what you're being asked to do, and when.

Sure, I could've led with more hippie stuff about being kind. And truly, being kind is so damn important. We have a choice with every single interaction. And the decision matters. This is a small industry. If you're a dick, people will know. If you're a liar, people will know. If you say one thing in public, but another in private, people will know. But 'being kind' on its own, can lead to making well-intended promises you can't keep. Or it can lead to other's trying to take advantage. And there comes a point where you need to be as kind to yourself as you aim to be to others, and it can be very easy to miss that turn-off. What's the best way to be kind without over-promising, or making assumptions, or doing yourself harm? By always being patient, and always being specific.

We all come from different places. Different backgrounds. We've all had to achieve a different standard to be here. There are going to be people who've had to climb over near-impossible hurdles just to get into the conversation, there are others who rolled out of bed one day and found themselves working in publishing. We might pretend like we're all on the same page, but we're not. Be conscious of whether you're holding people to different standards. Be aware that someone might not have been prepared for the unwritten social rules of the job. Keep in mind that opportunities aren't handed out equally. And on top of that, we're all bullshitting most of the time about how comfortable or successful we are. It's an industry built on imposter syndrome, and we all want to look like we know what we're doing, rather than breaking down in tears about how hard it is to cover the rent or pay for cat food. And faced with all of this, the only thing to do is be patient.

And there's an added complication, in watching the way you deal with people. And that is watching the way people who deal on your behalf treat others. If your agent is rude to your publisher, that reflects on you. If your publisher is rude to a convention organiser, that reflects on you. Of course, you can't dictate how other people act, especially when you're not around. And everybody has an off day sometimes (hey, be patient...) but we can all spot the signs, if we look. Treat your representatives the way you want to be treated, and if they're treating other people differently on your behalf....think long and hard about that professional relationship.

5. Be Willing To Say 'No.'

This one feels counter-intuitive, doesn't it? We're told the story of the actor who, when asked whether they can ride a horse, says "I have a saddle in the car." We're told to say yes. We're told to embrace every opportunity. But this approach can be a trap. It can lead us down the path I wrote about above, of over-committing, of starting something without knowing what the end-point looks like. To approach this from a cynical point of view, it can allow people to load their responsibilities off onto you. And there are understandable fears behind this. We're all nervous about the future. If I turn this chance down, will I get another? But what if you take this one, and that leads you to missing a better one? There are times when the best thing to do is say 'no.' There are times when politely declining an offer is the most professional thing to do, and might lead to you being held in higher regard than taking on too much and crashing.

Be bold. Be ambitious. Always look upwards. Take on writing projects that scare you. But also be brave enough to look after yourself, and your workload, and your reputation. I guarantee you, the biggest names in fiction -across all genres- are people who are accustomed to picking up the phone and saying 'no'.

There's something else that comes with no. Power. As writers, we don't always value our power. We join in conversations about social change without really being clear what we can do to enact it. The debates rage about representation and diversity and we think can I do something? It can be hard to see the power that we have. Especially at the bottom of a blog post that's told you there are so many things in publishing that are out of your control, am I right? But I've also preached about being specific, goes.

Panels. Events. Fans and readers turn up to panels to hear authors talk. We have power there. We don't always see it, because we've paid to be at the convention, and we're accustomed to feeling grateful for whatever platform were given. But there are two things here. Firstly, once again, we are the draw. Not all of us in equal measure. Frankly, I'm fairly low on the draw-factor myself. But the event doesn't take place if we're not there. And secondly, in the convention model, we are paying customers, and customers have power.

If you're a man offered a spot on all-male panel, refuse. I've made this suggestion before and been met with howls of derision, why should it fall to me? Well, first, it's 2019, and it falls to all of us. Second, I guarantee you, losing out on that panel is not going to make or break your career, it's not going to impact the quality of your book, and, unless you're already a draw, it's not going to lose you many sales in the book room. If you're on a panel without any writers of color, or writers with a disability, or writers from the LGBTQI community, consider (politely) asking why. I say politely because I've done convention programming twice now, and the people putting the panels together are, ultimately, restricted to the list of registered authors. These are restrictions that hopefully will fade as time goes on, and we manage to open up the conventions to people from a wider variety of backgrounds. But in the short term, you can use your power to ask if there are reasons why your panel is all white, or all male, etc. Whether you're happy with the answer is down to you, but let's be willing to ask the questions.

Okay. Peace, out. See you in another ten years. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Visit to the Nation's Oldest Bookstore... and Waffles!

By Thomas Pluck

This weekend we had a craving for Waffle House, Sarah and I. That dineresque Southern institution with a supply chain so sturdy they assist FEMA with logistics during hurricanes and other national disasters, and a menu so simple and comforting that "smothered & covered" is shorthand among enthusiasts, many of whom never order an actual waffle from the storied establishment. Those not in the know sneer like this is a Denny's or a Perkin's, but every Waffle House I have visited holds muster alongside your average New Jersey diner, and I've never had a bad meal there.

When you live north of the Mason-Dixon they become scarce, and they can crush your dreams. When Sarah and I were driving home from Bouchercon Toronto, one popped up on the GPS map in Stroudsburg PA, a city I haven't visited since a track & field tournament in high school, where I nabbed 3rd place in the freshman shotput relay. It hasn't improved much. As we veered off the interstate onto a main drag sided by every franchise you can think of, we looked for the familiar Scrabble tile yellow sign declaring WAFFLE HOUSE, but saw none. I even made an illegal U-turn to see if we'd missed it. And we had. Because the sign was there, but the lights were out.

I'd never seen a Waffle House closed before. Being the Yankee that I am, I've only endured two major storms and a power grid failure, and I had heard from Sarah that down South they know how bad a storm is by what the local Waffle House can and can't serve--road closures and power outages disrupt the fresh produce supply chain, so you can't get your hash browns smothered (with grilled onions) diced (with tomatoes) or capped (with mushrooms) when the storm is bad. You can nearly always get a waffle, but why would you do that?

We were heartbroken by the out of business sign, and this further cemented the terrible reputation of Pennsylvanian taste in our minds. So much that when we heard there was a Waffle House in nearby Bethlehem, PA--also home to Moravian Bookshop, the oldest in the nation and second-oldest in the world--that we double and triple checked that it was indeed open, before setting off on our little road trip. It was a lovely if frigid day, perfect for flying across Interstate 78 over the Delaware River. It is extremely difficult to leave New Jersey without paying a toll. This one was a buck, not so bad. Directly over the river, the geniuses of Pennsylvania DOT cut the road to one lane and create a massive traffic jam, but it is worth enduring to get yourself a Texas Cheese Melt with smothered covered hashbrowns. Trust me.

We visited the bookshop first. It was established in 1745 by the Moravian Church, and moved to its new digs on Main Street in Bethlehem in 1871. The town itself begins as industrial wasteland akin to Billy Joel's "Allentown", and you can sing "Bethlehem" to it, and annoy your driver, like I did

Well we're living here in Bethlehem
Where people think that we like them
But no one taught them how to drive
when to brake, signal or arrive
Oh they drive like shit in Beth-le-hem

(Forgive me, Pennsylvanians! Most of the bad drivers had Jersey plates. Most.)
Once you pass the Sands casino, which uses an abandoned railway bridge for its sign, you see the massive Hoover-Mason trestle and the Steel Stacks museum. It's like driving into mecha wasteland from The Dark Tower books or a Miyazaki film:

You need to cross another river to get to the quaint bits, which are quite nice. We parked and found a coffee shop that sold homemade chocolates, my favorite being coffee cups, which are like Reese's peanut butter cups but filled with espresso ganache. Addictive.

But so are books!

Moravian Bookshop sprawls through 14,000 square feet, has a lovely children's section, and sells Christmas ornaments all year round, it being the Christmas burg and all that. The store is part of Moravian College and is run by Barnes & Noble College Stores, but somehow has a smaller, if well-curated selection, than most B&N stores. I picked up Marlon James's Black Leopard, Red Wolf , as well as The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye--loved her adventure Jane Steele and Hotel has great word of mouth--plus Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, who blew me away with her Salvage the Bones, and Jerome Charyn's The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King, a fantastical retelling of Teddy Roosevelt's life up until his presidency, from the author of the Isaac Sidel mysteries.

A good haul! The store is friendly but does lack character, thanks to its corporate overlordship. I didn't even see a "Staff Picks" shelf, but I may have missed it. Sarah picked up Dumplin' by Julie Murphy--we liked the NetFlix movie--and Maddadam by Margaret Atwood. We're both fans of her work, too.

I haven't read those books yet but I did read We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, a brutal satire of a black father trying to protect his son in a future that's a hair's breadth from our current madness. If you liked The Sell-Out by Paul Beatty, Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, or Pym by Mat Johnson (a real classic) this delivers a gut punch in between belly laughs that nearly make you cry. Because it's not really funny. The nameless narrator is a black man at a white law firm who wins the diversity chair position by humiliating himself more than this colleagues, and he wants the promotion so he can afford to "demelanize" his biracial son so he can pass. The City can be any; I'd assumed New Orleans, but it's just "the City," encompassing all. There's an equivalent to the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia here. Ruffin makes it work. Sad villains are tough but he aces it.

The Adjustment is a book I had signed by Scott Philips at Bouchercon in 2011 and promptly misplaced for years. I'm glad I found it. It's one of the best crime novels I've read in a long while. It's actually about a criminal, and I don't mean a sad drunk cop who breaks the rules, but Wayne Ogden, a fixer for a rich drunk ass who used to be his hero. Ogden becomes his Iago. In 215 pages, Philips packs in a lot of story and no filler. Ogden is utterly reprehensible, but charming company for those pages, even as he sabotages the lives of all around him for his own pleasure. There's no villainous rubbing his hands together to show how bad he is. He just does what he wants, and knows how to get away with it. His privilege helps, and he knows it. I'm told this is a sort-of prequel to The Ice Harvest, so I'll read that next (I loved the movie).

Okay, back to those hash browns. The Waffle House is situated, like many of them, right by the onramp to the interstate, which made it perfectly convenient for us to sup there after satisfying our chocolate and book joneses. It's a nice little clean spot, was nearly full, and the service was good. We got our food very quickly, and part of the joy of a Waffle House is the open kitchen. You get to watch the short order cook whip it all up and run that grill like an air traffic controller at JFK during a snowstorm. Having slung hash in my past, at the night cafeteria for a defense contractor, I admired his work. These cooks are unsung heroes. Our hash browns were perfectly crisp, my biscuit grilled to delightful buttery char, my little patty melt delicious. Sarah always gets the Texas Cheese steak, which whomps the butt of Pat's or Gino's in my book because Waffle House uses this thing called "seasoning".  I never get the cheese steak myself, opting for hash browns all the way and biscuits, or in this case, a patty melt. Then we trade bites. Somehow, tasting the cheese steak one bite every few months or years makes them taste even better.

The portions are just right for a drive home without a rest stop, too. Even Anthony Bourdain buckled and praised Waffle House after trying them, because they do what they do very well. It's comfort food served honestly, not overdone or "elevated," it's simple and good. And when it's a short drive from the nation's oldest bookstore, it's the perfect finish to a lovely winter day.

If you need a good read, sadly you missed out on the limited edition hardcover of At Home in the Dark edited by Lawrence Block, which includes my mob fixer mystery "The Cucuzza Curse," and Joe Hill's novella "Faun" which was picked up by NetFlix. You can pre-order the Kindle version, and LB will be offering a trade paperback in April, but it's not up for pre-order yet.

And you can pre-order Murder-a-Go-Go's edited by Holly West, a collection of stories inspired by the songs of The Go-Go's, all proceeds of which go to support Planned Parenthood. I somehow nabbed "We Got the Beat" for my story, and I can't wait to introduce you to The Beat Girls. The Kindle is only $3.99 before publication, so grab it now.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

As the Cities Change

By Scott Adlerberg

Unless you were in winter hibernation, you must have heard last week that Amazon scrapped its plans to open a so-called second headquarters in New York City.  Among the points the whole issue involved was gentrification.  How would Amazon's opening of a so-called corporate park in the middle of an already rapidly gentrifying neighborhood - Long Island City, Queens - affect that neighborhood? 

There have been some good pieces written recently about crime fiction and gentrification and how, though gentrification is not a new topic to crime fiction, it is right now a major one that merits deeper exploration.  Nick Kolakowski, who lives in New York, wrote a good piece about this a couple of weeks ago - How Gentification May Force Crime Fiction to Change -  and there's an insightful piece Sam Wiebe wrote last year about the changes going on in his hometown of Vancouver - Expect No Mercy: Crime Fiction and Gentrification.  As they say in these pieces, both of them use their books to get into the problems and dilemmas raised by gentrification, Kolakowski in his newest, Main Bad Guy, Weibe in his, Cut You Down.  

On my bedside table now, planned as my next read, is the coming novel from Richie Narvaez, Hipster Death Rattle.  

Narvaez, who grew up in New York, tells a murder mystery set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. As the book's description says, it's a story set against a backdrop of rapid gentrification, skyrocketing rents, and class tension. I'm eager to read it, and to be honest, to read more crime fiction set in the present that gets into these areas. As someone who lives in a Brooklyn neighborhood, Bed-Sty, that has been gentrifying for several years now, it's a subject, I realize, that I've thought about a lot but for some reason haven't sought out much in fiction. That will change. And for the foreseeable future, as the once abundant seedy parts of many large cities continue to shrink, as these cities only get more and more expensive to live in, I imagine that gentrification and its attendant issues won't be a subject for urban crime fiction that will be getting stale any time soon.