Saturday, April 6, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 14

Scott D. Parker

The To Do just keeps getting longer and longer

New Quarter. New Writing Cycle Begins

Monday marked the start of a new month as well as a new quarter. The entire quarter consists of ninety-two days. If you wrote 1,000 words a day for the entire quarter, you'd have 92,000 of new fiction. Imagine what you could do with that amount of new words. I wrote about it earlier this week, but here's a hint: you can do a lot. And you'd have anywhere from one to, say, eighteen items you can then offer to readers. It's an exciting time to be a writer.

To Do List Grows

I wrote what I needed to accomplish in the month of April. The more I thought about it, the more things landed on the list. Prepare AZTEC SWORD, the third Calvin Carter novel, for publication on 1 May, both the paperback and the ebook. Upload the ebook with enough lead time to land it on the first day of May. Layout both AZTEC SWORD and HELL DRAGON in paperback. Finish the novella I'm currently writing. And then keep writing.

Not complaining, but when you're a company of one, you do everything, and you have to plan it all.

Getting to a Schedule

I work for an oil and gas company, and we're gearing up for the Offshore Technology Conference here in Houston. It always is set for the first full week of May. As you can imagine, there are lots of things to do to prepare all the marketing efforts my company does. Lots of things.

I still take my lunch break and I still write. Mostly, I'm pretty good at blocking out the day job stuff for a hour so I can do some writing. However, this week, I discovered my brain didn't 100% turn off from the day job during the lunch hour.


But, as the week progressed, I think I might've found a solution. These blogs I have started writing every day don't always take a lot of time and I can write them without too much thought. As much as I would love to have both my 4:30-am writing sessions and my lunch-hour writing sessions both be devoted to my fiction, I'm thinking I'll let the lunch hour be the blog writing time. That'll leave the morning sessions for fiction. I'm fresh at that time, with the cares of the day not yet invading my thoughts.

So, starting Monday, that'll be the schedule I try. Hopefully, it'll work well.

Two Very Different Books

I reviewed a couple of books this week. CRASHING HEAT by Richard Castle and HAN SOLO AT STARS' END by Brian Daley. Enjoyed them both to different degrees.

The Matrix at 20

Last Sunday, The Matrix turned twenty. Yeah, really. I watched the movie again and wrote a few thoughts.

The Author Newsletter and a Surprise

I try and send out too many newsletters to the good people who have subscribed to my mailing list. I don't always get too many responses, but this week, I did. They were nice and encouraging.

What surprised me was the initial response to Chapter 1 of "Amber Alert." It's a different type of story for me. I wasn't sure how folks would respond. Judging by some of the comments, the old adage of a writer not being the best judge of his own work seems to be true.

I encountered a few issues this past week, but "Amber Alert" will be out this week.

Shazam Soars!

I saw Shazam last night. I'll write a full review tomorrow but here's what I wrote on Facebook:

There is so much happiness, charm, and heart in SHAZAM! Hilariously funny with a real whiz-bang vibe about it. But there is one moment that brought me—and others in the audience who applauded—so much joy it actually got me emotional. Didn’t think I’d ever see it it. And I did. SHAZAM knocks it out of the park!

That's about it for me. How was your week?

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Another Hundred People

Another hundred people just got off the train
and came up through the ground
While another hundred people just got off of the bus
and are looking around
at another hundred people who got off of the plane
and are looking at us
who got off of the train and the plane and the bus
maybe yesterday

Those lyrics appear in “Company” by Stephen Sondheim, and they are (for me) the most perfect encapsulation of midtown in New York City on a fall morning at about 8 a.m. The commuters flood from the subway filling the streets around Times Square, the Bridge & Tunnel brigade who’ve come in to Penn Station trek four or five streets over to jobs in the Garment District or the Theatres or further over to the palaces of Madison Avenue, while those who came into the Port Authority by bus join their fellows in the same trek.

At the same time, an army of tourists, jetlagged and bedraggled from their red-eye flights, drag wheelie-cases behind them and stare around with a mixture of awe and exhaustion, and the locals – the one’s who were once this wide-eyed – tut and swerve around them, occasionally muttering “It’s a fuckin’ sidewalk Bozo. Keep movin'.”

And amongst them all – coming by train and plane and bus – are the people who aren’t visiting on vacation, who don’t live here yet, but who have arrived, and who have decided that this, right here, is where they were always meant to be.

I love New York City. It’s the place where I am most energised, most creative. I have a friend - an actress - who lives in Britain. Every few months, she throws her arm across her eyes in a decent approximation of Theda Bara and announces that she needs to “Go to Glastonbury to recharge my batteries in the solitude,” which I used to lightly mock as the affectations of a creative til I realised I do exactly the same in the buzz of NYC.

And I have a lot of creative friends in NYC who – like almost every single person I know in that great city – came from somewhere else.

Some came for a one-off project three decades ago and are still there.

Some followed a lover, and many of those can barely remember the lovers they  followed there.

Some of them moved in search of fame or fortune, and for many that fame and fortune never came, but still they stay, working away at day jobs, meeting friends for coffee, making art, making contacts, having moments of ecstasy and despondency and just, as my mother would have said, getting on with it.

And I think about this – about the insanity of living in a place like New York City when The Big Success is someone other than you – from time to time.

Actually, I think about it a lot.

My first book was published three and a half years ago. It was a one-off about a gay everyman forced to solve a murder, and it was set in South London (a far less glamorous milieu than Manhattan, but one I felt more comfortable writing about). And just before it was released the publisher asked when he could expect “The next in the series.”

I had an idea for another story of course, but I’d simply assumed that there would be no need for the next in the series; because this first one – Death of a Diva – would be a Gargantuan international success, translated into two hundred languages, optioned for Movies, Stage productions, a musical version would be written by Kander & Ebb (or, if John and Fred were otherwise engaged, Andrew Lippa), a computer game would sweep all competition away, and the graphic novel would be acclaimed as great a piece of work as the Sistine Chapel, and I would use the income from my masterwork to end world hunger, crowsfeet, fascism and to employ a fleet of Swedish personal trainers.

Long story short: That didn’t happen.

My fourth book just came out and I’m working on my fifth.

And in that time, another hundred people and another hundred people and another hundred people just arrived and staked their claim. And some of them have had debuts that were international hits, generated millions of dollars, will soon be made into dreadfully miscast movies and none of them are me.

It’s easy these days to become despondent. The world is melting, the Fascists are not only on the streets but in some cases in government, young boys and girls are told that “Influencer” is a valid career choice, racism is resurgent and everywhere LGBT rights are either stalled or under threat of being rolled back.

And it’s easy to become bitter. Especially when the latest MISS (that’s Massive International Success Story to you) isn’t your book, and isn’t actually as good as your book, and isn’t even written by a decent person.

But easy isn’t what we do. If it were, we would never sit down in front of a blank page and write. We would never stand up from the dinner table, stretch, and leave our families to go to our workrooms and create. If easy was what we did, we would consume the creations of others, never taking that terrifying leap into the unknown to make our own art.

So what – if we’re trying to avoid falling prey to the easy dismissive cynicism of the modern world – can we do?

I’m a therapy bore. I never realised how much of who I am and what I do was encoded without me knowing until I had therapy a few years ago. I saw the temptation to compare, the natural impulse that probably had the first protozoic slime going “I’m not staying here with these losers; imma grow legs and drag my slimy arse out of this swamp.”

I recognised the insecurities that mean that no matter how hard we try we – in many cases – will not ever feel entirely good enough.

And I saw the structure of a capitalist society that places an inordinate amount of value on wealth. Oh don’t get me wrong – I like money. I like nice things and the freedom that money brings. And if Netflix wanna option The Danny Bird Mysteries for a vast sum of money I will not argue.

But I also see that the danger of many of these constructs is that one fails to see success in terms other than those defined by others. And, at times like that, I remember finishing the first draft of my first book, and feeling like I had achieved the impossible. I remember selling that first book, and feeling like my life was about to change. I remember reading at my first Noir at The Bar and afterwards Jay Stringer of this parish telling me he’d loved my reading and that I’d sounded like I’d been doing it for years, and the glow of that – someone who had no need to acknowledge let alone compliment my work doing so and doing so very generously – is still with me.

And I look at the fourth book in my series – Death of an Angel – which has had the best reviews of my career so far (ahem Netflix, ahem) and at the plotting post-its for the fifth book, and at the fact that I’ve been booked for NATB in Newcastle in May, that I’ve been asked to be on a panel at the NewcastleNoir Festival, and to read again at Morecambe in September, and I know that these are all Successes, and more importantly all my successes.

And while I’ve been writing this, another hundred people just got off of the train/plane/bus, and some of them will have the MISS I wouldn’t say no to, and some will never even complete their manuscript, but there’s room for all of us, because the being here, the being in this hive of creatives, the staying here and working long after the project / lover / dream that lead you here has gone, is perhaps the biggest success of all.


Derek Farrell is the author of Death of an Angel and three other Danny Bird Mysteries.

The books have been described as "Like the Thin Man meets Will & Grace," like MC Beaton on MDMA," and - by no less an expert than Eric Idle - as "Quite Fun."

Farrell is married and lives with his husband in West Sussex.

They have no goats chickens, children or pets, but they do have every Kylie Minogue record ever made. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Tired: Psychopaths. Wired: Narcissists!

by Thomas Pluck
Anyone else have psychopath fatigue? What scares me more than someone without conscience is someone with a conscience who can subdue it to get what they want. It bothered them a lot to strangle their spouse and children and dump them in an oil field, but they couldn't run off with that sexy millionaire otherwise. Eggs in the omelet, you know? And the worst are narcissists.

At Left Coast Crime, we had a great discussion at Josh Stallings's panel "Writing Dark Fiction with Heart." Narcissists make great villains in psychological suspense stories because we've all seen them in school, or at work, and social circles. They weaponize people against each other for their own benefit. They can be the worst kind of bully, the emotional kind. The one who gaslights you, turns your friends against you, and gets away with everything because they take advantage of sympathy.

I said that we need to move past the stereotype of the "big bully." Most bullies are of the emotional kind. Physical violence is rightfully unacceptable in society, but many bullies know how to use this to their advantage, especially the narcissist bully. They tease and humiliate their victims, who may be physically larger and easily taunted. Then when they get a reaction, they can tell on the teacher and get their victim suspended from school, or hated in the group for being "crazy." Did you see how she went nuts on me?

I got this a lot from a kid in fifth grade who whispered fat jokes until I yelled at him to stop, and then was punished for disrupting class. Mrs Macaw never believed that Pranav could say such things. I had to be exaggerating.... stay after class and learn to behave, Thomas. It's a classic narcissist move, turning everyone against their chosen victim. Congrats, you've been gaslighted. The target can the subject of the narcissist's envy, or they can see them as a convenient stepping stone for rising in the pecking order, or they can be grooming them as a toady. Or they can be practice.

I grew up with a drunken narcissist, I know the game. I don't hold it against the suckers who fall for it. I still fall for their bullshit now and then, they are good at what they do, and writers are suckers for a compliment. They start by "negging" their victims, belittling their accomplishments, or taking credit for them:
"Hey, you only got that nomination because I was disqualified, and I told them to give you my votes."
"Congrats on that award! When I wasn't nominated, I created a secret voting campaign to make you win."
"You should let me have that position you were given, you're just going to be nervous and mess it up. I'll pave the way for you."

Stuff like that. It's as pathetic as it sounds, but it works on us when we are vulnerable. Look at what scumbag Ryan Adams did to young women after he told them he "made their careers." The victim can't talk to the people who've bought into the lies, because they are the "crazy" enemy who is "attacking" their friend with accusations. This is the same weapon all abusers use to silence their victims.

Another way narcissists gaslight people is to offer to "shake hands" when they owe you an apology (which you will never get, because they are never wrong; their ego is paramount, and you wounded that ego by not buying into their false self-image). This way you look like the bad guy by refusing to make peace. Abusers do this all the time. "I just want us to be a family." This way they can claim victimhood, which to them is "winning."

Here's an example:
A drama llama wanted to "have it out" with me at a bar once. Saturday night may have been declared all right for fighting by Elton, but one thing I have learned in fifteen years of fight training is how to not get into a fight. This may not make for exciting stories, but it's a good skill to have.

Because there's no way to win a fight.

Fights are generally performative masculinity, like bower birds dancing for mates. They accomplish little. Especially when you are the big guy, and you have nothing to prove, and therefore nothing to win. For example, if Goliath broke David's neck, no one would be talking about him today except as a monster. But little David with his sling, even if he stood up to the big galoot only to be squashed like an insect, would be the hero. This plays right into a narcissist's martyr complex.

Even if it's a "debate" or a heated discussion, it can only be used against the narcissist's target. That's how abusers operate, they create scenes of drama to gaslight their enemies and show themselves as the aggrieved victim to people they haven't hurt yet. The narcissist needs an audience, the ones who tell their victims how nice they are, so if they hurt you, it's your fault, you must have misunderstood.

That's why trolls like Ben Shapiro want to "debate" real journalists and politicians, to legitimize their bullshit careers. They might as well be asking someone to "step outside". If you take the fight, you roll in the mud with the pig. If you laugh at them for the joke they are, you are "cowardly". They love games like this because they have everything to gain, and their target has everything to lose.

And unlike in fiction, there is rarely a moment of exposure where the bully and narcissist is exposed for what they are. People have too much invested in them, they go down with the ship. It's why the flood of articles exposing pathological liars in power accomplish nothing. They usually self-destruct and drag down others with them, and often have a track record of abject failure (or bankruptcy) and backstabbing people who supported them once they can no longer be used.

Try not to be one of them.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Scapegoat by Adam Howe and James Newman

On March 29, 1987, a momentous event occurred in the world of professional wrestling.  I'm talking about Wrestlemania III, which took place before over 90,000 people at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan.  The main event featured WWF champion Hulk Hogan defeating then villain Andre the Giant to retain his championship belt. If you liked or followed professional wrestling to any extent during this time, you were aware of Wrestlemania III; it was the high point of the 1980's pro wrestling craze.  It also figures as the backdrop for the new horror novel I just read, a collaborative work from Adam Howe and James Newman called Scapegoat.

Mike Rawson, one time metalhead from West Memphis, Tennessee, has married and had a child. He has settled down in a small town in his home state.  For a little rest and relaxation, though, he's agreed to go on a road trip with his two high school friends and former bandmates, Lonnie Deveroux and Pork Chop.  Lonnie has an RV, and on March 29, 1987 he's set to drive the three of them up to Michigan for Wrestlemania III, which he and Pork Chop especially can't wait to see.  They all have free tickets waiting, courtesy of the guy Lonnie is delivering a shipment of counterfeit wrestling merchandise to.  In the RV with them, they have plenty of beer and hard liquor, and there's also a bottle-blonde woman named Cyndi, wearing shorts and a HULKMANIA tube-top shirt, who Lonnie knows from his local bar.  Cyndi seems ditzy at first, but we'll soon discover she is really named Rhonda, and she's an undercover FBI agent working to track the counterfeit merchandise to the main guy behind those operations.  Neither Lonnie nor Pork Chop, still adolescents in every way except their actual age, are the brightest guys in the world, and it doesn't take family man Mike long to regret having signed up for this ridiculous trip.

Because of snarled up traffic on the interstate, the group takes a  detour through the Kentucky backwoods.  Anyone desperate to get someplace might make such a move, but the reader knows, from what we've seen earlier, that something awful, a grotesque ritual, has been going on in this area. Mike himself has his doubts about the route they're taking: "Mike muttered something about how he'd seen enough horror movies to know nothing good ever came from a shortcut through the woods."  And Mike's instincts are right.  As the day wears on and the group's prospects of getting to the Silverdome become dimmer and dimmer, the quartet run smack into a teenaged girl whose head is shaved and who's carved head to toe in religious symbols.  She's oozing blood from the wounds all over her body.  Horrified, the group decides to help her, laying her down in the RV, but that only makes their situation worse. She has escaped from a crazy religious cult, and the cult and its insane leader will stop at nothing to get her back.  As far as they're concerned, if they don't get her back and she is not sacrificed in the way they deem necessary, an ancient evil that's been contained for centuries will be unleashed on the world. Hunted by the crazies, Mike, Lonnie, and Pork Chop, led by FBI agent Rhonda, wind up in the fight of their lives.

I've been a fan of Adam Howe's for a while now, having read and really liked his two previous books - Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet and Tijuana Donkey Showdown.  Like those works, this book mixes horror and a lot of humor just about perfectly.  How a British guy who lives in London captures so well, in story after story, a certain slice of trashy Americana (and from different eras) I still can't quite understand.  And though James Newman, who lives in North Carolina, is new to me, it's clear that he too is in his element: he has a long list of horror novels to his credit.  Whoever was responsible for what in this book I don't know, but I do know that this collaboration works. The writing is polished, the pace fast, the jokes irreverent and funny.  Gore is wonderfully abundant in the manner, say, of a Lucio Fulci film. Action and characterization are in balance.  Mike and Rhonda you root for throughout, and even dopey Lonnie and drunken fool Pork Chop take on depth as the menace around them intensifies.  And the cult itself?  Believe me, its members are suitably frightening and off the wall, but that doesn't mean that everything they believe will happen can't possibly happen.  

At the end of the book, Adam Howe talks about some of the movie influences behind Scapegoat.  And indeed, if filmed by someone who knew what they're doing, this would make ideal B movie fare.  As a novel, Scapegoat is a fun, compulsive read, a horror thriller with energy to burn from the tag team of Howe and Newman. 

It's from Honey Badger Press and you can get it here. 

Monday, April 1, 2019


Hard-hitting, timely short stories give voice to feminist movement

Acclaimed fiction author Eryk Pruitt (Dirtbags, What We Reckon) has announced that he is editing a #MeToo inspired crime fiction anthology with ten of crime fiction’s top authors. The collection, expected out in October, 2019, promises to “give voice to a serious problem affecting society.”

Dennis Lanana’s “Not On My Watch” features a kick-ass female protagonist who tells her boss #TimesUp when he crosses a line. Joseph T. Miller showcases a kick-ass female protagonist in his short story “Cook Your Own Dish Best Served Cold.” And Thomas Catton brings a fresh, new perspective with “One Of The Good Ones,” about a well-meaning man who is falsely accused of something horrible.

“We have to accept that, in 2019, women have a place in fiction,” says Pruitt, who was nominated for the prestigious Anthony Award in 2018. “We are so lucky to have found ten authors who can give a voice to a demographic and a situation who have previously been kept silent.”

Joe Peterson, whose story “Femme Fatale Attraction” features a kick-ass female protagonist who turns the tables on a man with whom she had been carrying on an affair. While many people think this story may mirror an actual event in his person life, Pruitt is quick to shrug that off.

“You have to separate the art from the artist,” Pruitt says. “If we held people accountable for all their past actions, then we’d have no one eligible to tell the stories of these kick-ass female protagonists.”

So far, no one has responded to Pruitt’s offer to publish the anthology.

“Traditional publishing may not be ready for a hard-hitting anthology full of kick-ass female protagonists,” says Andrew Heyrman, whose story “Murder in Stilettos” features a kick-ass female protagonist who turns the tables on a catcaller who crosses a line.

Pruitt will not be fazed. “Readers are ready. Crime fiction has been silent for too long. Time’s up.”

The New Mystique will be released in Fall of 2019, in advance of Bouchercon, the crime writer convention held in Dallas, Texas.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Four Days in Vancouver

By Claire Booth
I’ve spent the past four days at Left Coast Crime, a convention focused on crime fiction about and by authors from the West Coast. It’s one of my favorite conventions because of its atmosphere. It’s homey and welcoming to everyone, even if the subject is serial killers (which was an actual panel).
This year, we had the added bonus of a rare sunny week in March in Vancouver.

When not out enjoying the staggeringly beautiful scenery and artwork, there were dozens of panel discussions to chose from. The most fascinating one I attended was about dyslexia. Three writers and an editor with dyslexia spoke about how they think and how they weren’t diagnosed until much later than they should have been.
                              Me, Stephen Buehler, Renee, Amy S. Peele, and Sam Wiebe
I moderated a panel called “Our Past as Inspiration.” I talked very briefly about my background as a reporter and moved quickly to the others, including fellow DSDer Renee Asher Pickup. It was alternately moving and humorous to hear stories of how authors backgrounds play into their writing and choices regarding characters and plots.

I ran into AJ Devlin, who dedicated readers will remember guest posted on DSD about this time last year. His debut novel, Cobra Clutch, was up for the Lefty Award for best first novel. (It’s about a semi-pro wrestler and a kidnapped snake. Go read it. Trust me.) I met AJ at the Bouchercon crime fiction convention in Toronto in 2017. His novel hadn’t come out yet, but we stayed in touch. It was great to see him again and fantastic to see his success.

That’s a lot of what these conventions are about. First and foremost, they’re about connecting with readers. But they also allow us writers to reconnect with one another. It’s a job with an awful lot of solitude built into it, and so an opportunity to socialize with people who understand what you do is something to be treasured.