Saturday, March 23, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 12

Scott D. Parker

One event dominated this week. Another was just fun.


Being the Bronze Age kid I was growing up, the comics of the 1970s are the ones that shaped what I like about comics. The Jim Aparo Batman is my favorite Batman. He's the one I think of almost always first when I hear the Caped Crusader's name.

I own a ton of comics and I started re-reading some of the Batman titles I have, and a small run of four issues caught my attention. Published in 1976 to coincide with the Olympics that year, the Underworld Olympics find criminals from all over the world converging on Gotham City to try and best Batman.

Yeah, really.

I read these four issues (272-275) and, naturally, I wrote about them. Here are the links.

Batman 272
Batman 273
Batman 274
Batman 275


Wednesday night here in Houston, my wife and I were treated to something very special. A group of folks from David Bowie's touring bands now put on shows that showcase and marvel at the music of the Thin White Duke. Spearheaded by pianist Mike Garson, A Bowie Celebration is just that: a celebration. No, it isn't a tribute band, so don't think that. Heck, even writing those words does this group an injustice. These are professional muscians interpreting Bowie's music but adding their own individual spins on the songs.

It truly was something special. How special? Well, the length of my review pretty much says it all.

A Bowie Celebration Exceeds Expectations

Oh, and what do you think? Does Charlie Sexton resemble Bowie's American cousin?


I am readying the next story that'll be published on 1 April. By this time next week, I'll have the description ready. Boy, sometimes these are tough. One book among many I use to help is Dean Wesley Smith's HOW TO WRITE FICTION SALES COPY.

I'm also looking ahead to May when the third Calvin Carter novel, AZTEC SWORD, will be released to the world.


Here in Houston, if you look past the giant plume of black, chemically laced smoke, the week was one the chamber of commerce wishes would happen more often. The sun was bright, the sky mostly clear of clouds, and the temperatures ranged from the uppers 70s to the low 80s.

It was picture perfect. (Truth be told, I'm sitting outside my office on a picnic bench, table umbrella shading my screen, and loving that winter is finally in our rear-view window.)

With the change of seasons comes a change in what I prefer consuming. When the sun's out, I like action/adventure stories. Tales bigger than life. Beach reads, if you will.

I'm still reading Brian Daley's HAN SOLO AT STARS' END for my science fiction book club. And APOLLO 8 is still on my Audible.

But the book I will be finishing this week is the latest by "Richard Castle." CRASHING HEAT is the latest (last?) inspired by the TV show, "Castle." We all know who the real-life author behind the Richard Castle moniker is, and his prose is effortless. I learn a lot from how he structures a story, breaking down the book. I'll do it for CRASHING HEAT as well as soon as I complete my initial read.


The cover story of the March edition of TEXAS MONTHLY features the genesis of Buc-ee's, the chain of stores dotting the Texas landscape that have become destination spots for all travelers. I really enjoyed learning of its origins as well as the man behind the empire.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Dead.... and loving it


By Derek Farrell 

I've been raving about Jo Perry’s Charlie and Rose series – centring on a ghost and his sole constant companion, an emaciated phantom red setter dog – for years now, even getting my blurb ("Like 'The Wire' meets 'The Tibetan Book of The Dead,'" in case you're interested) quoted on the books and the lady's website, and have given copies of the books to friends and family and anyone who I think will love the mix of crime, metaphysics, and cynical humour.
That cynicism, I'm increasingly sure, is based not on pure negativity but on the idea that a cynic is an optimist who's been disappointed once too often; but Perry and her protagonist seem, as the series progresses, to be coming close to rediscovering some optimism: The world may be a seemingly bottomless pit of grim, but there are still good people occasionally. And dogs. Always, there are dogs.
The series is on its fourth outing this time round and shows no signs of series fatigue. Rather, it's getting better and better. If the first three novels (Dead is Dead is Better / Best / Good) gave us links to Charlie’s life pre-decease, but always focussed on people we feel might have liked if not loved him, this time the book is focussed on his “Shit brother,” a venal unpleasant bully who made Charlie’s life a misery, and who’s life is now about to become far more, shall we say, challenging.
Also in the mix is a homeless woman who’s vileness is brilliantly portrayed. This woman and her seemingly hopeless search are proof that despite the surreality of the concept, Perry writes real, complex, contradictory characters who feel alive. Even when they’re dead. Her story arc in this one is absolutely heartbreaking and – without spoilers – the ultimate outcome of both hers and Shit Brother’s stories are wonderfully drawn, genuinely touching and still edged with that ambiguity that is the mark of true Noir.
The other thing Perry has always been good at, but which really comes to the fore in Dead is Beautiful, is comedy. Here she mixes it with some amazing dramatic set-pieces, and the meld is never jarring, with one leading seamlessly and almost inexorably into the other.
A scene of an owl attack on the hapless brother, and its aftermath, had me literally crying with laughter, the intelligently written slapstick and foul mouthed tirades loosed in the aftermath like a wildlife documentary “When Owls Attack” scripted by Larry David, and the description of a natural disaster – the surreality heightened by the fact that the event is witnessed and described to us by a man who’s been dead for years – is chilling in its power and destructiveness, and cinematic in the writing (unsurprisingly, perhaps, as Perry has been a Hollywood writer on TV and movies in the past).
And this familiarity – with Hollywood, with (as she calls it) Beverly Fucking Hills – makes for a really entertaining read. Here is an understanding of some of the less loveable inhabitants of that town, an anger at the greed profligacy and venality, but ultimately – as happens with Charlie – a recognition that there are many good people trying to live good lives amongst them, many decencies lost in the noise, and that people can go astray. And, in some cases, be found again.
If crime novels are Redemption stories, either about the achievement of redemption or – in the absence of same – about the impact that a life lived without the possibility of some elevation has on the individual and those around them, then these books sit squarely in the cannon of great crime novels.

And if Netflix needs something in the lines of “Dirk Gently” but with a red setter and a corpulent dead guy who’s not only, in his afterlife, learning more about himself, the people he loved and the world he once inhabited; but about what it means to be human, to be afraid and, when all’s said and done, what it means to be truly alive, then they should definitely be talking to Perry’s media agent.

Highly – and genuinely – recommended.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Anthologies and Collections, Investigations and Love Songs

This year there is no Anthony Award for Best Short Story Collection or Anthology. Let me get this out of the way: there's no grand conspiracy, and the outcry is so great that there will certainly be one next year. Many attendees reached out to the Bouchercon board and steering committees, and they were surprised at the response.

I'm glad they will be back next year, because anthologies are a great way for new writers to reach readers without hiring a publicist. Not every publisher can rent the ballroom for a big gala at a major convention, but presses big and small publish anthologies of various themes, with big names as bait and writers you may not know yet. For example, Rogues edited by George R.R. Martin was a big one a few years ago, capitalizing on Game of Thrones and luring readers who might think every story was about their Dungeons & Dragons style level 2 footpad into reading a crime story by Joe Lansdale. Not that Joe is new. Scott Lynch was new in comparison to the other writers in the roster, and may be a better example, even if his Gentleman Bastard series is quite popular.

Crime fiction anthologies aren't quite as popular as horror, science fiction, and fantasy, but there are several great ones every year, such as The Highway Kind, or Alive in Shape and Color, edited by Lawrence Block, which I happen to have a story in next to giants like Lee Child and Joyce Carol Oates. It doesn't only feel good, but you get seen by more readers than you ever have before. LB's first art-themed anthology, In Sunlight or in Shadow, was even bigger, with Stephen King and Lee Child, plus newer writers like Warren Moore. It introduced me to writers I didn't know, such as Nicholas Christopher, whose story still haunts me. They are great for established writers and new.

And so are short story collections.

Some folks plain hate short story collections. I asked their reasoning, and was told that as soon as you like a character in a short story, it's over. So that's why "linked story" collections are more popular. And readers who don't have time to sit and finish a story have trouble keeping them straight, while in a novel, you can usually pick up where you left off more easily. I understand, I even prefer novels myself, as much as I love a great short story. It really can be like Forrest Gump said, a box of chocolates, where unless you get the Russell Stover Cherry Cordials, you just never know what you're gonna get. If you happen to just like the hell out of candy, you'll be a happy reader.

I have a dog in this race, because my first Anthony nomination was as editor of Protectors 2: Heroes. And a lot of my favorite lesser-known writers have had nominations for short story collections and novellas, such as Jen Conley, Chris Irvin, and Angel Luis Colon. Readers got to see their mugs in the Bouchercon program, and maybe they read their books. Story collections and anthologies introduced me to countless writers in all genres, from Octavia Butler and Vonda McIntyre, to Scott Philips and even Megan Abbott (her story in L.A. Noire is a killer!). So don't underestimate a story collection or a themed anthology. The themed ones seem to do best, and old pros like LB know the score. That's why his latest, At Home in the Dark, is themed around the dark outlook inspired by O. Henry's last words. And Holly West, editor of Murder-a-Go-Go's, themed hers around the music of the band The Go-Go's.

What's my theme around those? I happen to have a story in each of them, "We Got the Beat" in the Go-Go's antho (I had "This Town" in mind until no one took their biggest hit song, then I grabbed it) and "The Cucuzza Curse," in AHITD. LB has Joe Hill, James Reasoner, Joyce Carol Oates, and more in that one, so my readers can be introduced to them. Ha, ha. Joe Hill's novella "Faun" has already been picked up by NetFlix for adaptation, so hopefully we'll get a lot of new readers meeting Joe Cucuzza with this one....which was supposed to drop on April 30th, but is now available to order in ebook or paperback.

Since we can't vote for best anthology or story collection at Bouchercon, what were your favorites of last year? Florida Happens was a blast. You can always nominate individual stories! I don't have any published this year, but there were plenty of fine ones written.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Losers (But Not Really)

In fiction, we spend so much time with people who don't get what they want or who "lose" in some fashion. These stories hold appeal on many levels.  Among other things, those who strive but fail in some way are often more interesting as human beings than those who attain victory.   Also, those who "lose"  are more like us, you could say, since anyone who's honest understands that way more of life is about not getting what you want, not achieving success quite as you envision it, than getting what you want.  For every big so-called win, there tend to be innumerable small (and sometimes even big) losses. And then, of course, there's crime fiction, noir fiction in particular, which frequently explores loss, downward spirals, and destruction. If you like those kind of tales, or even if you don't, there's a good chance you'll enjoy the new Netflix series, Losers.

Losers, created and directed by Mickey Duszjy, is a spin on the sports documentary genre.  There are eight episodes of about 30 minutes each.  Each episode is about an athlete or team that in one way or another, in their particular sport, whether in one game or event or over the course of their career, failed. Duszjy grew up a Detroit Lions fan (which explains a lot), and he says, "It always struck me that everybody says that we learn more from our failures than we do from our victories, but that doesn't always manifest in popular culture or in conversations." 

Now let me say straight out that you most certainly do not have to be a sports fan type person to enjoy this series. Losers takes eight narratives about failure and turns them into fascinating character studies. They are also tales with wild reversals, twists and turns, and a good deal of humor.

There's the story of Michael Bentt, who in the 1990's, very briefly was a heavyweight champion.  As he explains, the knockout he suffered to lose that championship was the best thing that ever happened to him, and if he looks familiar to you, it might be because you've seen him since his time as a fighter in movies such as Michael Mann's Ali.

The epic saga of continual defeat and fight for survival that is the history of forth rate English soccer team Torquay United makes for an episode that is both poignant and very funny, and it has an ending that definitely rates as a "you could not make this up" classic.

There is a wonderful episode about Italian policeman and endurance athlete Mauro Prosperi who literally became lost in the Sahara Desert during the 1994 Marathon of the Sands and one about that Canadian obsession curling and how curler Pat Ryan took a shocking loss he suffered at the hands of legend Al (The Iceman) Hackner and used it to remake himself as something else within the sport.  

Actually, the only story I was familiar with was the one about figure skater Surya Bonaly, from France, since I remember her well from watching her skate during two or three Olympics. As a black skater in a lily-white skating world, whose athletic superiority over her competitors was clear, it's great to see how she has gone on with her life after all the years of frustration that came from judges underscoring her.

What's great is how each episode looks at failure from a different, unexpected angle, so that even the word "failure" takes on a quite nuanced meaning.  You never ever know where something major that happens to you will lead in life, and this series shows that in absolute spades.  It's marvelous storytelling, and the way it's done, with warmth and appropriate levity, mixing event footage with interviews and amusing animation, is great.  I had a wonderful time watching this series and would say again that whether or not you're a sports person doesn't matter. Losers is for anyone interested in good stories, life's oddness, and other human beings.

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Magic of Miraculum

Steph Post spins a dark, mysterious tale.

Steph Post is known for her gritty, rural sagas. Having been a fan since the Hart family tale in A TREE BORN CROOKED, I, like so many others, jump with joy when she delivers a new book. 

I find it impossible not to be drawn in by her authentic and striking way of presenting a story.  Her purposeful way with words and intentional cadence, elements that perfectly illustrate a clear command of her massive talent and be sure, these skills are hard won through years of learning and teaching the art of writing. Immersing herself in the dark mystique of Southern Noir. Watching the world turn.

Her Judah Cannon series, LIGHTWOOD and WALK in the FIRE, is thick with characters living a hard life in north-central Florida, existing hand to mouth, desperate, and willing to do the unthinkable. These stories are packed with crime, violence, and greed, and a family dynamic that will remind you of the best mob tales. Only a writer with true talent can sew all these patches together.

With her latest release, Miraculum, Steph Post delves into magical and fantastical realms while using her Southern Gothic sensibilities for flavor. Post takes us to the Florida of 1922, after the Great War and before the Great Depression. We are introduced to Pontilliar’s Spectacular Star Light Miraculum carnival. 

We meet our main character, Ruby, daughter to the owner of the carnival, the snake charmer whose body is covered with tattoos. Ruby is a tough survivor trying to work past her secrets and lowly life, daring to dream of a life outside the carnival. We come to see what Ruby wants and what she fears. We get close to her.

Soon we meet a tall man by the name of Daniel, a fastidious man in an immaculate black suit who joins the carnival as a chicken-biting geek. He quickly charms the carnival troop, everyone except Ruby. As accidents and calamity befall the carnival Ruby begins to wonder if Daniel is more than he seems and what he may want with her family and friends.

Steph Post brings her characters to life with an extraordinary sense of detail. Her way around dialogue is tight and it is apparent she did her homework in researching the time period and the lifestyle of traveling carnivals. All of your senses are brought into play.You will feel transported.

The same striking aspects of Post’s previous works are present in Miraculum; atmosphere, action, and storyline, but she has followed her imagination and enlarged her world. Under Steph Post’s lyrical knack, Miraculum dances in the weird, creepy, and supernatural. An awesome read, this is a magical book that will leave you enthralled until the last word.