Saturday, March 30, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 13

Scott D. Parker

Well, let's call this Bat-Week, shall we?

Yeah, I know I posted four blogs last week about a 1976 four-issue run called Batman's Underworld Olympics, but this was the true Bat-Week.

The Caped  Crusader is now eighty years old, and man, if he doesn't look a day over twenty-nine. I wrote my Gen-X life with Batman and me, while I reviewed Detective Comics 1000 on Thursday.

A Podcast Worth Your Time

Not sure how many Generation Xers we have in the audience, but yesterday, I wrote a piece about one of my favorite podcasts. TechnoRetro Dads is a clean, positive ray of sunshine celebrating the glory days of our Gen-X childhood, a reminder of how good we had it back then, and how awesome we Earbuds have it today.

And they've inspired me to  eat some sugary cereal. How? Read the review.

Book Descriptions

Back in Week 9, I discussed the challenges of writing the book description of HELL DRAGON, the second Calvin Carter adventure. Well, this coming week, I'll be publishing "Amber Alert," a short crime story set in the modern day, and it's just as difficult.

But I tried something different this time, and it proved to make the process just a little bit easier.

Without thinking too hard or too long, I let my fingers fly over the keyboard and, before I knew it, I had crafted five descriptions. Each were slightly different. With each new variation, new light began to shine. I started to hone in on the best words to convey the character and the plot.

Then, I started cherry picking sentences. A bit like the technique of writing songs using cut-up pieces of paper like David Bowie or Bob Dylan.

When you write a book description and the focus is on a character, one method is to show the character as he is, present the problem, and leave with a choice that should compel the reader to keep reading. That's the format I chose for this description.

I ended up with the "As He Is" from the third, the "Problem" from the fourth, and the "Choice" also from the fourth.

Thus, we ended up with the following:

Griffin Lynne had locked away his old life and thrown away the key. He used to be an enforcer, hurting people and enjoying it. Now, he holds down an honest job as a carpenter. He rides a motorcycle, reveling in its freedom. He even found God. 
In short, Griffin's life is about as perfect as could be for an ex-con.
Until he sees the Amber Alert sign. Kidnapped child was bad. Worse, based on the license plate number, he knows the kidnapper and where to find him.
Griffin knows what he has to do. But to find the little girl, he'll have to find that old key and unlock the evil. 
But when his old life reemerges and takes hold of him, will Griffin Lynne be strong enough to hold them back?

The title of this little tale is "Amber Alert" and I'll have an excerpt later next week.

New Month. New Story

Monday starts a new month and a new quarter. I plan on completing at least one novel and one novella this quarter. It might only take me one month, but I'll allow myself at least six weeks to get those things wrapped.

What are your plans for the month of April?

Thursday, March 28, 2019

A Western Primer

By David Nemeth

Like everyone, I have gaps in my reading, one of those gaps is Westerns. Given the long relationship between Westerns and Crime Fiction and that I've loved Western movies, I've put together a To Be Read list of Westerns. You'll notice that my view of Westerns is more than cowboys and I limited the list to books published last century.  Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated.

"My Ántonia" by Willa Cather (1918)
I've never read Willa Cather. I know I should. It's either "My Ántonia" or "Death Comes for the Archbishop" (1927).

"The Ox-Bow Incident" by Walter Van Tilburg Clark (1940)
I read this in high school which was a long time ago.

"Deadwood" by Pete Dexter (1986)
Al Swearengen.

"Love Medicine" by Louise Erdrich (1984)
Read in college. Not as long ago as high school, but long enough that it'll be new to me.

"God's Country" by Percival Everett (1994)
Described as "a wonderfully strange and darkly hilarious brew of Kafka and GarcÌa Marquez, of Twilight Zone and F-Troop, with cameo appearances by Walt Whitman and George Custer thrown in for good measure." I'm sold.

"Riders of the Purple Sage" by Zane Grey (1912)
The first Western and he lived up the river from me.

"The Big Sky" by A.B. Guthrie, Jr. (1947)
One of the many books I've never heard of but discovered in my search. So, why not?

"Warlock" by Oakley Hall (1958)
Considered a classic. Thomas Pynchon loved this book, but I won't let that deter me.

"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" by Ron Hansen (1983)
It's either this or "Desperadoes" (1979). Probably both.

"Legends of the Fall" by Jim Harrison (1979)
I've read this before . . . before the movie, I swear. "Dalva" (1988) is another choice.

"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" by Dorothy M. Johnson (1953)
Okay, this is a short story, but I loved the movie. Johnson also wrote another short story that was made into a movie, "A Man Called Horse" (1952). Decisions.

"The Fast Red Road: A Plainsong" by Stephen Graham Jones (2000)
Not the previous century, but Jones is someone I need to read.

"The Time It Never Rained" by Elmer Kelton (1973)
Another classic that's on everyone's lists.

"Hondo" by Louis L'Amour (1953)
This L'Amour book is on all the lists even though it's a novelization of a film based on his short story "The Gift of Cochise" (1952). Maybe I'll read the first Sackett book instead.

"Hombre" by Elmore Leonard (1961)
Elmore Leonard.

"Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy (1985)
I've never read this book from McCarthy.

"Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry (1985)
Saw the mini-series.

"House Made of Dawn" by N. Scott Momaday (1968)
Read in college. Time to do so again.

"Nightland" by Louis Owens (1996)
Crime fiction by a Native American.

"True Grit" by Charles Portis (1968)
I've seen both movies.

"Close Range: Wyoming Stories" by Annie Proulx (1999)
Short stories including that famous one, "Brokeback Mountain".

"Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down" by Ishmael Reed (1969)
I did not know this book even existed.

"Shane" by Jack Schaefer (1949)
Another movie and supposedly a great book, though there is "Monte Walsh" (1963) too.

"The Shootist" by Glendon Swarthout (1975)
Another book, another movie.

"The Virginian" by Owen Wister (1902)
Still trying to figure out how this is a Western.

"Riders to Cibola" by Norman Zollinger (1977)
Showed up on several lists.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019


I've articulated my love of certain tropes in crime fiction over the years in various forms of communication. In essays, in reviews , at the bar as the light comes on but today I'd like to talk about one particular trope that is near and dear to my heart.
  I like to call it the Benevolent Psychopath.

In the early days of noir  or hard boiled crime fiction the private detective or master criminal was a lone wolf.  a solitary figure whose silhouette stood out in sharp relief against the backdrop of corruption and nearly insurmountable odds. However as time passed many writers started to give their detectives and master thieves an associate. A sidekick who was unwaveringly loyal and incredibly skilled in various arcane endeavors so as to allow the main character to get on with the act of detecting or stealing or whatever the plot of the story required. These sidekicks were sometimes comic relief. Inspector Queen  or Archie Goodwin come to mind. Other times they were capable partners who lacked the protagonist charm or wit  so they offered a counterbalance to our hero. A ying to their yang as it were.

      As crime fiction and specifically hard boiled crime fiction grew darker and more nihilistic a new sidekick emerged to help our hero deal with the mean streets and the sleazy characters they would encounter. This new breed of sidekick was willing to do things the MC couldn't or wouldn't do. The Benevolent Psychopath was born out of a malaise that seeped into the pages of crime fiction in the early Seventies.
  The great Lawrence Block didn't create this archetype  but I think he was one of the earliest writers to fully understand it's potential. The gregarious Iriah criminal Mick Ballou  is Matthew Scudders best friend, a saloonkeeper and when it's called for a blood thirsty psychopath. One of my simultaneously favorite and most horrifying scenes in the Scudder series is when Mick cuts the head off a criminal who is the son of a criminal he also killed. The garrulous Irishman remarks how much the two dead men look alike.  Mick set the template for the great crazy/cool sidekick who doesn't mind getting their hands dirty. He's fiercely loyal to the MC and he is really really good at killing people.
   Robert B. Parker took the template and gave it an upgrade with the creation of his character  Hawk.
The mononymous  hitman, is as cool as a glacier and as smooth as an onion. He and Spenser share an almost unbreakable bond whose foundations are hinted at but never truly completely explained. This is another facet of the modern benevolent psychopath in crime fiction. We only get hints of as to why the psycho is so devoted to the principal character. Theirs is a friendship forged in blood and darkness.
     I want to mention two more  BP's then I'll let you get back to rage tweeting

       Robert Crais Joe Pike is the benevolent psychopath taken to the Nth degree. A character so taciturn he barely says twenty words in any given book he nonetheless makes his intentions known. Carrying a terrifying name recognition akin to John Wick Joe is not a man to be trifled with and yet he is besties with Elvis Cole a character who never met a corny yet endearing joke he didn't like. Joe is the blunt hammer to Elvis's scapel like wit.
      Walter Moseley upped the ante when he created Mouse. Where Joe is nearly a mute Mouse is a whirling dervish of snappy one liners and barely controlled insanity. He loves Easy but he might just shoot him if he's drunk enough. Yet he won't let anyone touch a hair on the head of his childhood friend. Mouse takes the BP out of the role of sidekick and into a full fleshed unpredictabilty  that makes him unique in crime fiction.
    There are other notable loose cannons in crime fiction. Bubba Rogowski in the Kenzie/Gennerao Dennis Lehane. LuEllen in the Kidd series by John Sanford.. Twitch who appears in the Junior and Boo novels by Todd Robinson.
  When done well the benevolent psycho is a living breathing line of demarcation for our MC. He or she lives in the shadows where our protagonist fears to tread. They are demons that climb out of perdition to do the dirty deeds that must be done but not by our hero. They are the whispering voice of chaos that push our MC to do what the police or the crumbling artifice known as society can't.
  They are the blunt hammers that break down the doors of morality and bade our hero to cross that threshold. And I for one can't wait to see what happens next.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Nappuccino Experiment

I don't know why it's taken me so long to hear of this and maybe some people reading now already practice this technique, but yesterday morning on NPR I heard something that I told myself I need to try.

It's the nappuccino.

You could also call it "the coffee nap".

As I've mentioned here before, my usual time to write is at night. On weekdays, I rise at about 6:30 and then go through the work day before coming home to eat and chat and so forth.  By the time I get to work writing, it's about 10:30 or even 11.  I'll write for two or two and a half hours and go to bed around 1:30.  Now what made this work for years was my ability to nap in the 10 to 11 o'clock time range, then rise, make coffee, and work.  But over the past few months, I've been finding that rising out of bed from this nap has become more and more difficult.  At first I thought that maybe I'm getting too old to do the nap and rise thing.  It was just becoming too draining.  I'd find myself waking from my nap when my alarm goes off, turning off the alarm, and then falling right back to sleep.  Or I would turn off the alarm and sort of doze on and off for a good while before arising, not getting to my laptop till around 11:30 or midnight, which left me precious little time to work.  I got worried. The nap has long been an essential part of my writing routine, and writing without the nap is definitely not productive: the brain just does not operate well at 11 at night when you've been up since 6:30 in the morning.  I do sometimes try to go to sleep early and write first thing in the morning, but that means getting up around 4 on weekdays, which doesn't suit me.  What to do?

I gave the whole matter some thought and came to the conclusion that over time I've gotten too slack in my nap discipline.  I went from taking 25 minute night time naps to naps of 45 minutes.  Somehow I got to thinking that a longer nap would more fully refresh me, forgetting that too long a nap puts me into a deeper sleep than necessary.  The deeper the sleep, the harder it is to wake up.  So, I decided, I'd have to make a real effort to get back to the briefer nap, and just as I was thinking along these lines, I heard the NPR piece about techniques to "catch up" on sleep.  Not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, having too much you need (or want) to do - these are common problems for many nowadays, no doubt about that.

So anyway, napping, or more specifically, the nappuccino. How could I not have known about this?

It's a simple procedure:

1) Just before I'm ready for my nap, I drink a cup of freshly brewed coffee.
2) I lay down in my quiet dark room and set the alarm for 25 minutes. (Science has definitely shown that 10-20 minutes is the optimal amount of time for napping. More than that, and you tend to wake up, as I've discovered, groggy. Then it takes some time to get to an alert state of mind.)
3) You sleep.  (You're tired and caffeine takes about 20-25 minutes to take effect in the body, so falling asleep should not be difficult.)
4) The alarm goes off and you wake up. You're quite refreshed.  The nap has allowed your brain to rest, and the caffeine is just kicking in, giving an extra boost.
5) Time to work.

I'm writing this now after a coffee nap.  It's late.  I went to bed feeling tired and awoke feeling alert.  So I'm off to a good start with this technique, and I'm hoping it helps me get back on track with energetic late-night writing.  Obviously, I need to do this consistently for a few months to see if it works long term, but I love the idea and I'm going to give it a shot.

The nappuccino: glad I discovered it.  If in the future I make any interesting findings about its effects, positive or negative, I'll report back. 


Monday, March 25, 2019

Just a Crime Fiction Author and Her Lock Picks

In my previous post a couple weeks ago, I referenced the fact that I know how to pick locks. Several of you were curious about how I came about this skill. So today I decided to share that little story.

Just as a caveat, this is a post about my experience with locksport, which Wikipedia defines as the sport or recreation of defeating locking systems. It should in no way be an encouragement to anyone to attempt defeating locks for the purposes of trespass, theft, or any other unlawful activity.

Lawrence Block Burglars Cant Be Choosers
My initial interest in lock picking began when, as a teenager,  I started reading Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr cozy series about a cat burglar who occasionally stumbles upon dead bodies. If you haven't read any of this series, I highly recommend them.

I was instantly fascinated with how dear Bernie could take a few pieces of spring steel and tickle the tumblers into giving up their secrets.

I so wanted to be able to do this. Not to steal from anyone, but for the sheer challenge of defeating a lock and exploring places where I'm not supposed to be. Bad Dharma! I know.

A few years later my curiosity in locksport rose again. I don't remember why. Maybe I started reading some more in the Bernie Rhodenbarr series.

It was the early 1990s, and I had no way to buy an actual lock pick set. But I did have other tools. A library card. A letter opener. Aluminum cans. You'd be surprised how simple everyday items can be used to defeat locks.

I confess I did use my limited skills to access some places I shouldn't. My mother's car. My manager's office at the radio station where I worked. A neighbor's apartment. I didn't steal anything. It was all about the thrill.

Photo by Ye Jinghan on Unsplash
Let me reiterate this point. Don't break into other people's private spaces without their permission. It's illegal.

Also, alarm and surveillance systems have become much more sophisticated. The thrill isn't worth spending a few years in a medium security prison. Trust me.

For reasons I'd rather not get into here (read: serious consequences), I put my love of locksport on hold for a long while.

And then about five years ago, I was working out of Gangplank, a collaborative workspace in Avondale, Arizona. The building had been a bank originally, then Avondale City Hall, then the West Valley Arts Council, before becoming Gangplank, whose motto is "Be Dangerous."

Because of its various incarnations over the years, the building had a few interior doors with keyed locks for which we did not have keys. This became a problem one morning when a member's kid locked one of the meeting rooms, leaving us with no way to open it.

Fortunately one of our other members' wives had a lock pick set. But she didn't have time to pick the lock. So while we waited for her to show up with her bits of spring steel, I went on YouTube to brush up on my lock picking skills.

The pick set arrived. I set to work, and five minutes later, I had tickled the tumblers, turned the cylinder, and opened the door.

Hurrah for Dharma, that hero and rapscallion!

Some months later my skills were called upon again to access the broom closet which some doofus had accidentally locked.

I still love practicing on defeating locks. But I no longer try to access places I have no legal right to be in. Locksport isn't about breaking and entering. It's about problem-solving and creative thinking. And it's just a whole lotta fun.

If you're interested in learning more about locksport, you can visit Locksport International or search for videos on the subject on Youtube. Be aware that possession of lock picking tools is illegal in some places. Familiarize yourself with the laws where you live.

As one of the only transgender authors in crime fiction, Dharma Kelleher brings a unique voice to the genre, specializing in gritty crime fiction with a feminist kick. She rides a motorcycle, picks locks, and has a dark past she’d rather forget.

She is the author of the Jinx Ballou bounty hunter series and the Shea Stevens outlaw biker series. You can learn more about Dharma and her work at

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Mapping a Story

I’m currently plotting my next book. I don’t mean plotting as in story ideas. I mean getting out a map and figuring where to put things.
This part of writing always brings up questions that can get trickier than whether my character should live in Oakland or Berkeley. The most consistent is whether I should stick with reality or make something up. The answer varies depending on the needs of my story—and my need not to get sued.
If the scene calls for a bustling restaurant in a busy commercial district, I’m probably safe using a real one if my characters are having a nice meal while gossiping about their co-workers. If they need to find a dead body—or worse, a rat infestation—I’m definitely better off making up an eatery and being vague on the location (the crowded restaurant was on Solano Avenue).
The same goes for where characters live. It’s not advisable to use an actual address, but saying “The house was a restored Craftsman on Elm Street” will work fine, unless Elm Street has only one Craftsman that can be easily identified in real life. If that’s the case, I can broaden it: “A restored Craftsman in the South City neighborhood.” Or I can consider making up an entire street. This can be really freeing—I can set an apartment building on fire, or turn a house down the street into a drug den, or do anything else I need to help advance my story.
Sometimes, though, real buildings are necessary. Maybe a story absolutely has to have a character live, say, in the famous Dakota apartment building in New York City. In a situation like this, I would probably make up an apartment number. That would get me a real place with just enough distance for fictional freedom.
Sometimes I really have to search for what I need. My current hunt is for a deserted, middle-of-nowhere location that still is within a specific distance from my character’s home. This is turning out to be tougher than I thought it would be. (And yes, I realize I wouldn’t be having this problem if I hadn’t set the book in the seven-million-resident Bay Area.) So for this, I dusted off the real, honest-to-goodness paper maps. For me, they work much better as I spatially orient myself. They’re also wonderful for writing on, which makes it a lot easier as I go back again and again the further I get into my manuscript.
When you write, how do you decide on your locations? Do you fictionalize? And when you read, do you check to see if the locations in the book are real?