Saturday, March 2, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 9

Scott D. Parker

Sometimes, the little things are the most difficult.

Evolution of a Book Description


Writing a book description is difficult. I can write a 50,000-word novel with little effort yet to come up with a 300-word description *that doesn't tell the whole story*, well, that's an art. For better or worse, here are the three drafts (that made it onto the computer. There were more on paper.)

Draft 1

Outlaw Angus Morton and his gang have made a crucial mistake: they upped their antics from robbing stagecoaches out west near El Paso, Texas, to murdering a railroad agent and burning down a way station. Detectives Calvin Carter and Thomas Jackson are tasked with bringing justice to Morton, one way or another
Along the way, Carter meets beautiful Laurel Peel. She’s running from an arranged marriage, but when she’s kidnapped from a train right under Carter’s nose, he discovers the secret documents she hoped would earn her freedom. The papers reveal a machine that beggars belief: a machine armed not only with a Gatling gun but a means to shoot fire. 
But Carter must push aside his curiosity about the enigmatic Peel and locate Morton. The people of El Paso fear Morton and when he might strike next. Rumors float about a fire-breathing dragon capable of utter destruction.  
As a former actor, Carter knows a tall-tale when he hears one. He also understands the reality of death. Every person who witnessed the most recent attack is dead, except for the fetching reporter Aurora Ashe. 

Not bad, I thought to myself. One you're supposed to do with trailers is whet the reader's appetite and not give too much away. I included a few key phrases that would have drawn me in as a reader--"secret documents"; "kidnapped from a train"; "Gatling gun".

I changed a few words to tighten things up.

Or so I thought.

Draft 2

Outlaw Angus Morton and his gang have made a crucial mistake: they upped their infractions from robbing stagecoaches near El Paso, Texas, to murdering a railroad agent and burning down a way station. Detectives Calvin Carter and Thomas Jackson are tasked with bringing justice to way or another
En route Morton's last known location, Carter meets beautiful Laurel Peel. She’s running from an arranged marriage, but when she’s kidnapped from a train right under Carter’s nose, he discovers the secret documents she hoped would earn her freedom. The papers reveal a machine that beggars belief: a machine armed not only with a Gatling gun but a means to shoot fire. 
Pushing aside his curiosity about the enigmatic Peel and the strange contraption, Carter focuses on finding Morton. The outlaw has the citizens of El Paso terrified, wondering where next he'll strike. Rumors abound a fire-breathing dragon capable of utter destruction, a monster which could lay waste to the city. 
As a former actor, Carter knows a tall-tale when he hears one. But when witnesses to the most recent attack turn up murdered, Carter must confront his doubts. Maybe there is something to those rumors. A local newspaper reporter thinks so, and she's out to prove it. But when Aurora Ashe puts her life on the line, Carter comes to her rescue. But who will rescue him when he comes face to face with...the Hell Dragon.
A little better. Maybe a little tighter.

Then I got some outside feedback. My wife has the unique way of cutting through all the stuff and getting to the core of a problem. She quickly said there were too many names and too much story. Okay, I said, maybe I can just remove all names except Morton and Carter. And tell less story.

A co-worker of mine at the day job read Draft 2. She took home a printed version and returned with the sheet full of notes. And questions. Valued questions for which I mostly had answers. But the mere fact she posed so many questions also meant the description was not doing its job.

The sole job of a book description is to hook the reader and compel them to buy the book. Or in the case of ebooks, at least download the sample and read it. Clearly, this description was flawed.

Back to the drawing board.

Draft 3

Outlaw Angus Morton and his gang have made a crucial mistake: they upped their crimes from robbing stagecoaches near El Paso to murdering a railroad agent and burning down a way station. Detective Calvin Carter and his partner are tasked with bringing Morton to justice. 
One way or another. 

When Carter arrives at Morton's last known location, he finds the town on edge. The bandit has the citizens terrified, wondering where next he'll strike. Even stranger are the rumors of a fire-breathing creature capable of utter destruction, a monster which could lay waste to the city. 
As a former actor, Carter knows a tall-tale when he hears one. But he also knows a few things are not make believe:  
Witnesses to the most recent attack turning up murdered.  
Carter himself attacked. 
And the deep, metallic churning sound of an infernal machine approaching...

That's what I went with. It has way less story. Actually, it only has the part of the plot that gets Carter and his partner going and out to El Paso to investigate. All the other stuff is still in the book, but now, folks will be able to see how they all fit together while reading the novel.

Is it the best description? Probably not. But then again, the great part about being an indie writer is being able to adjust on the fly. If HELL DRAGON doesn't sell well, then perhaps there's a problem with the description.

Or the cover. But as soon as I found that upper image, I knew it was going on the cover.

Speaking of cover, here it is.

Lesson Learned


Speaking of doing things on the fly, I had forgotten how soon before 1 Jan 2019 I delivered the files for EMPTY COFFINS to Amazon. It was probably around 27 Dec. Here's the weird thing: December has 31 days in it. Not sure you knew that. Came as a shock to me, too. So when I uploaded the Amazon file of HELL DRAGON on 27 February, I was informed the book would go live not on 1 March but 3 March.

So, Amazon folks, you'll have to wait until Monday, 3 March, to snag your copy of HELL DRAGON. It's available for pre-order, so you'll have to make your Monday marvelous with the new book.

And, looking to the future, I've just learned April has only 30 days, so I'll be sure to have the file of AZTEC SWORD up and ready well before 1 May.

[shakes head]

Star Wars Trailer by Topher Grace

I have been a Star Wars fan since 1977. I've loved, to a greater or lesser degree, every live action movie since. Star Wars has been an integral part of my life. I'm a founding member of the Star Wars Generation.

Topher Grace--yes, that Topher Grace--has drawn content from all 10 live actions movies to present an overarching trailer of all of Star Wars to date. Have a look.

Not only does this trailer to justice to the greater story, it is incredibly emotional. Goosebumps rippled over my arms and neck when I hear Yoda's "There is another" comment and it's the fantastic scene from The Force Awakens when Luke's lightsaber vaults into Rey's hands.

So very, very good. A perfect way to ready ourselves for this year's Episode IX

Rogue One


Speaking of Star Wars, I had a hankering to watch Rogue One again. I went to Netflix, but the movie was gone. Enter Half Price Books. Armed with a new blu-ray DVD, I watched this show again, the first time since it's debut in 2016.

Boy does it hold up well. It's a true war film in the Star Wars universe. Like all real-life heroes who know the thing for which they fight is larger than themselves, the actions of Jyn Erso and company are commendable.

The movie even made me tear up over a robot.

And that Darth Vader scene? The one thing I really hoped for going into the movie back in 2016 was to have Vader be bad again. Really bad. And dang, if he didn't deliver.

If you haven't watched it in a while--or ever--treat yourself.

What I'm Reading


I’m a member of the Men’s Adventure Paperbacks of the 70s and 80s. So is James Reasoner. He posted on this group the cover of the new book he’s publishing: Faraday: The Iron Horse. Well, the cover alone grabbed me. The concept solidified it. And the reading, so far, is exactly what I’ve come to expect from James.

Here’s the link to his blog where he gives some background. I’ll have my review up next week (most likely).

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.