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.

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?

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.