Saturday, May 4, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 18

by
Scott D. Parker

One of the ideas we had when we created Do Some Damage ten years ago was to talk about the writing process. We've done that, and continue to do so, but sometimes there's some advice so good, you just walk away from your keyboard.

Advice from a Veteran Writer


The Monday post on Dean Wesley Smith's blog was a fantastic way to kick-off the week. With permission, Dean shared writing advice from Joe Lansdale. A fellow Texan who lives in Nacogdoches, Lansdale lays out his philosophy of writing in a multi-page post from Facebook. I know it's multiple pages because I printed the thing out to have near at hand when I'm feeling low about writing.

Read it. Just read it.

A couple of days later, Dean excerpted a paragraph from Joe's piece. Pay attention to the last sentence.

“Write like everyone you know is dead. To hell with everyone else’s opinion when you write. Write for yourself. I don’t have a perfect reader in mind. That works for some, but it makes me write for them which means I might not be writing for me. I have no idea what anyone else will like. I only know what I like, so I write for me. It’s a wonderfully selfish moment. When I’m done, and the book or story is out there, then I hope a lot of folks like it. But face it, you can’t be universally admired, so don’t try to be.”

Yet More Writerly Advice


On the most recent episode of Fatman Beyond, writers Kevin Smith and Marc Bernardin took questions from the audience. Usually, it's about the movies and comics and such. This time, we had a guy ask about writing advice. Paraphrased, here is what I captured from each of them.

Kevin: Your voice is your currency.

It's my voice. Like it or not, but it's me. Tell your story at all costs. That's what you've got. Live and die by your voice. You can't guarantee success, but you can make it perfect for you. So if no one else comes to the show, it's still you.

Nothing bad ever came from you doing you.

Marc: Always be making something. You'll get better at it. You'll keep making mistakes, but you'll learn, and then make new ones and then learn from those.

Iteration is what it's all about. Because someone may not buy your first or second or whatever thing, but when they finally sit up and take notice, you'll have a "barnful" of stuff that you've been making all the while.

You can't get better by reading or listening, but by making the thing. Make that thing true to who you are.

Encourage Others Because It Comes Back Around


How often do you talk to other about your writing career? For me, not often, but when those moments occur, I try to make it worthwhile.

I've got a new co-worker at the day job. Yesterday, she mentioned she wanted to write a book. I asked her what held her back. She came back with the same kinds of barriers you frequently hear, but it boils down to this: the critical voice keeps getting in the way and the idea of writing an entire book is so daunting, one just doesn't begin.

I chatted with her, giving her the pep talk I give to other writers--and sometimes myself--about writing with abandon and joy, track your daily word count as a default cheerleader, and keep that pesky critical voice out of your head.

I also told her that writing "The End" on drafts never gets old, but the first time is a Cloud 9 experience.

I also mentioned she out to set a start and end date (Memorial Day to Labor Day) and let that be her bookends.

She got excited. I did, too, because talking about writing and encouraging others is a thrill.

Peter Mayhew


Hats off to Peter Mayhew, arguably one of the greatest cinematic sidekicks/partners in all of moviedom. Met him once here in Houston, late on one of the days, might have even been a Sunday. He was tired. My boy and I were, too. I'm not a huge autograph guy, but I wanted to meet Mayhew and be the millionth person to tell him how much I enjoyed his work. He was nice and gracious. Based on what I've been reading, that was how he was all the time.



That about wraps things up for another week. Hope y'all have a good weekend, and tune in next week when I'm going to review five of my favorite podcasts starting on Monday.

May the Fourth be with y'all. And go get some comics today!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Writing in the Phonepocalypse

Writers are taught about the Inciting Incident. The grabber. In ye olden days you had fifty pages to come up with one. Then twenty-five. With so many devices competing for readers' attention these days, I'm not sure we have even that. And the inciting incident itself may not be as important as the hook, and a compelling opening line or paragraph.

I read fifty to a hundred books per year, and if they don't begin strong, I move on. I am more forgiving with older books, as they were written before what history will call the Phonepocalypse, where even action movies are losing to the dopamine hits fed out by scrolling down your social media feed. Matt Zoller Seitz wrote about how the Marvel Universe and Game of Thrones have changed how we view visual stories, and this is an important read for all writers and creatives. Endgame was criticized for a three hour running time, and people said their bladders couldn't cope; Titanic and the Lord of the Rings trilogy didn't get that kind of response; people aren't worried about going pee-pee, they are jonesing in anticipation of not looking at their phones. But that's a whole 'nother discussion. I need a mousetrap phone case to dissuade me from looking at Twitter, even when it's mostly boring and negative:

So books have it tough. Donald Westlake knew how to start a book, whether it was as Richard Stark, with his infamous "When..." sentences that start the story in mid-action, or with a great hook, like this one from Dancing Aztecs:
Everybody in New York City is looking for something. Men are looking for women and women are looking for men. Down at the Trucks, men are looking for men, While at Barbara’s and at the Lib women are looking for women. Lawyers’ wives in front of Lord & Taylor are looking for taxis, and lawyers’ wives’ husbands down on Pine Street are looking for loopholes. The hookers in front of the Americana Hotel are looking for johns, and the kids opening cab doors in front of the Port Authority bus terminal are looking for tips. So are the riders on the Aqueduct Special. So are the cabbies, the bellboys, the waiters, and the undercover narcs. 
He goes on for a while with this, and it's catchy. He captures all eight million stories in the stark raving naked city in a page. I was hooked.

A novel from last year that grabbed me with its opening line was Black Swan Rising by Lisa Brackmann:

They'd found her new email address.
The next line is brutal, but I'll leave it for you to find. This one was enough. They found her. That's enough. This scene is set in an office meeting, which can't be more boring. But Brackmann loads it with tension, we are afraid for her before we know who she is.

Another favorite novel of the past few years was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. A literary novel! Those are boring, right? Wrong. This one reads like a thriller, all 500 pages of it. The opening line?

History has failed us, but no matter.
Ooh, that's a deep one. How can history fail you? And that resolve. The narrator don't care. And the story is about a honey badger of a woman fighting for her family, so it fits.

Cate Holahan's upcoming One Little Secret starts with its hand slowly closing on our throat:

Drowning can happen in two inches of water. All the parenting books she’d consumed during her pregnancies had contained that warning, often on the first page of the bath-time section. Children could die in a kiddie pool. The sink. The toilet. Life began in an amniotic sac, but it could end in the shallows. Her life could end in these shallows.

We've all heard that first line, and if you have kids this probably sent a chill down your spine. I don't have kids, but I've nearly drowned, and it's somewhere down on my list of least favorite events, above "lunch meeting" but below "pre-meeting for a lunch meeting." That's a grabber of an opening paragraph without resorting to gunshots.

All books that I've read or want to read (One Little Secret comes out in June). Now I'm not going to name and shame books that didn't grab me, but they have a few things in common. They take a long time to introduce the character, who doesn't happen to be doing much of anything, or talking to anyone. If your character isn't somehow naturally compelling, it helps to have them doing or saying something out of the ordinary. I don't know how many books I've put down because they were trying to show me that the protagonist was a regular everyman or everywoman, who had problems a lot like mine, and was just as stressed and exasperated about them as I am. Then they get home and get a terrible email or phone call, or maybe a terrorist has their kid in a headlock, or they would if I read that far, I suppose. (If you're going with that plot, watch the 1985 movie Commando. We meet everyone over the credits, and in five minutes Arnold has blown the head off the first bad guy and is chasing them down the mountain.)
In the words of my friend Libby Cudmore: Get to the damn point!









Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Crime in Many Forms

Time does go by fast.  I remember quite well seeing Boyz n the Hood when it came out in 1991; I saw it in a theater in Manhattan that has since been torn down.  No need to go into how impressive a debut film that was by twenty-three year old director John Singleton or how that film's success shadowed the rest of his career.  Make that strong a movie on your first try, and at such a young age, and people compare every film you do subsequently to that debut.




I liked Singleton as a director.  Above all, I got the sense he tried to put as much of himself and his concerns as he could into every film he made, regardless of how personal the material was to him.  And he certainly made crime, in one form or another, central to his work.  He dealt with it in a serious and realistic fashion, like in Boyz n the Hood, and he could handle it in a more over the top popcorn entertainment kind of way, like in Four Brothers (a film I enjoy every time I see it, especially for Chiwetel Ejiofor's performance as the bad guy, Victor Sweet).  On Shaft, there was contention on the set involving Singleton, Samuel Jackson, and Richard Price after the producer brought Price in to rework Singleton's script, but this is another film that, while no masterpiece, is fun to watch. And again Singleton showed his talent for casting great actors as his villains to help make the dramatic stakes high: in Shaft you've got both Christian Bale and Jeffrey Wright (as the wonderfully named Peoples Hernandez) as the nasty ones Shaft has to take down.

Overall, and though he makes some changes to the historical record, I think Rosewood is Singleton's most gutsy and ambitious film. I remember being amazed, when the film was released, that I had never even heard of the 1923  massacre in Florida, a case where a mob of whites, after a white woman accused a black man of assault, destroyed the primarily black town of Rosewood.  Many town residents were killed and the town was all but burned to the ground.  Rosewood is the film in which Singleton works on his largest scale, with a big cast, and asks people, in the most serious way, to grapple with American history at its ugliest. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's not a film that did well at the box office, and Singleton never really tried to make a film that ambitious ever again.  But it's well worth seeing if you haven't seen it yet, and it doesn't take much insight to say that it definitely remains a relevant film.

RIP John Singleton



Monday, April 29, 2019

Monday Review - THE UNREPENANT by E.A. Aymar









From the first line THE UNREPENTANT grabs the reader’s attention and does not let go.



A dark premise.



Outside Baltimore, quiet army vet Mace Peterson witnesses the abduction of a young girl. Unable to ignore someone in trouble and relying on his military training, Mace intervenes, freeing the girl from her captors.



However, the girl is stronger than first believed. Eighteen-year old Charlotte Reyes is a runaway, having already escaped an abusive home, she has been tricked and unwittingly taken across country. Victim of a sex-trafficking ring.



Having evaded the immediate threat, both Charlotte and Mace face far more danger as the criminals behind Charlotte’s suffering continue to track them down.



The depth of these characters draws the reader in deeper and deeper.



Mace, despite his army past, is fragile and unsteady, struggling with divorce and a family history of mental illness and suicide. Charlotte is a clever, but hardened ass-kicker, who has learned to take care of herself and looks forward to serving up revenge. They are both haunted, tortured characters, alone and lost.



Charlotte Reyes is a truly original character and Mr. Aymar has written her beautifully. A fighter. A survivor. Her strength is physical, emotional, and mental. The holy trinity. Capable of doing what it takes to endure, the reader watches as she manages the abuse she is given. Ceding at times, but never giving up. Surrendering only so she might live another day.



THE UNREPENANT also presents the reader with several absolutely disgusting antagonists. Brothers looking to make a buck and stay away from their own abusive family. A crooked cop used as muscle and speed. And the predatory, greedy, and often violent leader Barnes, who decides the fate of everyone involved.



This story, in the hands of any other author, might turn bleak or succumb to hopelessness.



Written as a thriller, but far deeper and more emotional, this is a story of courage and compassion. Revenge. Aymar seasons the tale with enough dark humor to alleviate the overwhelming weight of the subject manner. He neither downplays nor embellishes the violence and abuse, but offers it as a terrible truth. Each word flows to tell a multilayered tale that will sit with you for a long time to come.



“Charlotte’s experiences, while not unheard of, are exaggerated for dramatic effect in THE UNREPENANT. Most women don’t come to prostitution the same way she does (although some do), but the suffering and subsequent trauma are often similar. And while this is a thriller and a work of fiction, I certainly didn’t want to employ suffering as a plot device or diminish abuse. I wanted Charlotte’s pain to reach you, like a hand stretching out of the pages.”E.A. Aymar

THE UNREPENTANT is a brutal and unsettling story. A hardboiled and gut-wrenching read.


🗡🗡🗡


E.A. Aymar appears monthly in the Washington Independent Review of Books, and he is also the Managing Editor of The Thrill Begins, ITW’s online resource for aspiring and debut thriller writers; he also serves on the Board of ITW as the Vice President of Author Programs. In addition to ITW, he is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and SinC.

Ed also runs the Noir at the Bar series for Washington, D.C., and has hosted and spoken at a variety of crime fiction, writing, and publishing events nationwide. He was born in Panama and now lives and writes in the D.C./MD/VA triangle.


Other titles by E.A. Aymar



THE DEAD TRILOGY

I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead

You're As Good As Dead

As Co-Editor with Sarah M. Chen and Contributor




Sunday, April 28, 2019

Symbiosis, or Bringing Book Lovers Together


 
James L'Etoile and I at the Local Author Expo crime fiction table. He brought the crime scene tape, which I loved so much that I considered stealing it. He's retired law enforcement though, so I thought better of it.
I spent yesterday being part of the perfect symbiotic relationship. The Folsom Public Library had a Local Author Expo, with dozens of writers from all different genres and age categories under one roof.
I’ve always found book fairs that include all genres to be really beneficial. I’m reaching readers that I wouldn’t necessarily find otherwise. Even if they wouldn’t touch crime fiction, they walk by my table and suddenly remember their relative who loves mysteries and has a birthday coming up. I went to the Bay Area Book Fair a few years ago to sell my books and maybe pick up a few mysteries to read. Instead, I fell in love with a chef I heard speak while just killing time before my next stint at the sellers’ table. Her cookbook is now in my kitchen (chef Samin Nosrat, Salt Fat Acid Heat—I found her before Netflix did!).
Having this kind of a event at a library heightens this collaboration exponentially. You get the traffic that is there specifically to meet authors, and you get the folks who didn’t even know the expo was happening; they’re just there to check out some library books. But hey, they’re not going to pass up a chance to browse some more books, right? And if that means they end up checking one of my books out of the library, that’s just as much a win for me as if they’d bought one.*
And that’s what happened yesterday. Foot traffic was pretty steady all day. And about halfway through, I left my display in care of my friend and tablemate (see action photo above) and wandered around talking to authors myself. This was great—I got a few good publicity tips, met friendly, interesting people and saw great books I otherwise wouldn’t know about.

Here are a few:



LaDonna Plays Hoops by Kimberly Gordon Biddle. Girls! Basketball! Sheet music for a song written specifically for the book! Visit the author here. Buy it here, or ask your local library to order it*.






The Girls Survive series by Nikki Shannon Smith. The third in the series, set during the Civil War, comes out in August. Visit the author here. Buy the books here and here or ask your library to order them. I'm serious here. Even if you don't have a child yourself, I think your local library should carry all three, don't you?
* If you’re a library patron, and your local library doesn’t have a book you’re interested in, don’t hesitate to ask them to order it. Look on the library website; often there’s a form you can fill out to request a book purchase. Or talk to a librarian in person. They’re the nicest people on earth. They might figure out how to add it to their collection, and this leads back to the exponential thing. You’re helping authors A LOT. Sure, that book results in one sale. But it gets our books into the hands of tons more readers. So if you can’t buy a book—for whatever reason—consider asking your library for it. The library, and the author, will thank you.