Saturday, May 18, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 20

Scott D. Parker

It's all in the details.

Proofing the Hardcopy of Aztec Sword

Always, always order a hard copy of your books printed by Amazon.

When you create a paperback via Amazon (or IngramSpark), you are provided with a template. On the template are the bleed areas and the bar code space. It is incumbent on you to design your cover with those lines and boundaries in mind.

Amazon also has a great online viewer where you can proof your book electronically. It's good, because it has all the borders marked. But sometimes, you just need the paper.

Because of mistakes like this.

That's all on me. I got this text as close to the bar code as possible in my design program. Clearly, I got it too close. The spine's text also was misaligned, so I've got more than one thing to fix.

The interior is good. Vellum is a good program that takes care of all the little details so you don't have to. It also makes ebooks, so this is a key piece of software for any independent writer.

Oh, and Amazon now puts this banner across the whole cover.

The End of The Big Bang Theory

Strangely, I didn't watch this show out of the gate. I don't hardly watch anything live at 7pm CST. But when it finally landed on my radar, the family and I bought the DVDs and caught up. Ironically, we didn't watch live, but we watched both episodes on Thursday.

For many of these long-running shows, the characters face some big change and move out of the apartment or bar or whatever. But what I loved about the series finale of TBBT was that we now know things will continue just as they have for the past twelve years...we just won't be seeing their lives. Babies will be born, children will grow up in this wonderful make-shift family, and they finally have a working elevator. Come on. That's not a spoiler. You knew going in the thing would finally work.

Anyway, loved the finale. Well done.

Game of Thrones: Leave the Creators Alone

I love being a geek who has seen very little of this series. It just didn't do it for me. My wife enjoys it and, up until this month, always watched the shows via binging when HBO offered a week's worth of free programming. But for Mother's Day, I bought her HBO so she could watch the end live.

And I actually sat in for most of last week's episode. I'll also tune in tomorrow live. I think by Sunday, I'll have watched something like six or seven full episodes. With my wife's running commentary, I get caught up.

As a Star Wars fan who loved The Last Jedi and groused about those fans who signed petitions trying to get Disney to remake Episode VIII, I rolled my eyes this week as GOT fans wanted a do-over of this season.


I can imagine one day we'll have some famous author write a blockbuster book and they'll be fans demanding the publisher re-write it to their tastes. Sigh.

Always Have an Answer

Last week, at Houston's Comicpalooza, a friend of mine asked me why I haven't written any genre stories that would find a home at a geek convention. It was an honest question and one to which I didn't have a good and ready answer. I fell back on my humorous answer as to how I came up with my western hero, Calvin Carter: Growing up a SF geek kid, I discovered mystery fiction as an adult, so naturally I ended up writing a western.

It prompted me to examine my writing to date and I arrived at an answer: I enjoy writing thrillers, mysteries, and westerns.

But I think I'll be trying my hand at some SF before year's end. It might even be this summer.

Podcast of the Week

Blockbuster. It's fantastic. It is an immersive podcast, completed scripted like a radio show, about how Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, with John Williams, created their massive films of the 1970s. How good is this series? When Lucas and Spielberg face challenges to their productions, you can't help but be worried for them...and we KNOW the answer! Check it out.

Book of the Week

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe. I bought this on Audible when it was a daily deal, but highly recommended...and I'm not even finished.

Song of the Week

Could it be anything other than the second single from Bruce Springsteen's new album? Just listen to the lush orchestration. And the chimes!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Editorial Statement

When we set up Do Some Damage ten years ago -seriously, ten years, what?- we came out of the gate promising to pull back the curtain on crime fiction, and to provide a platform to as wide a variety of voices as possible. We also came out of that same gate as seven white guys, representing both the bearded and un-bearded male communities. We were called out on this, and listened. As time went on, we aimed to do better, and we're proud of the work the site has done over the years to platform new voices and be as inclusive as possible. Never perfect. Never 'right'. Never finished. But always listening to criticism and aiming to learn.

As part of our approach, we adopted the editorial line of not having an editorial line. We provide the space, our posters provide the opinions. Sometimes we all agree with each other, sometimes we disagree. We've always been willing to host anonymous essays, and to allow anonymous comments in the discussions. One shift that's happened in the last ten years is the conversation moving elsewhere. It used to be, the conversation would all stay in the comments below the post. Now it goes all over. Facebook, Twitter. The responsibilities are shifting, and blogs need to recognise it's no longer just about maintaining our own little corner, but in the part we play in the wider conversation.

On recent posts, about important issues, we've been made aware that anonymous comments have made people uncomfortable. And, of course, we hosted an anonymous essay that has generated a lot of conversation elsewhere. We think it's important, in the current climate, that conversations need to be open, transparent, and as close to 'face to face' as we can manage in the social media age. If we are to continue having the important discussions, we need to put our names to things. It wouldn't be fair of us to retroactively change any rules. Previous confidences will be respected. But moving forwards, Do Some Damage will not accept anonymous posts, and any unsigned comments will be deleted.

Thanks for your patience, and thanks for sticking by Do Some Damage for ten years.

Steve & Jay.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Stop begging for diversity

By A.C. Sorrell*

Now that the brilliant Walter Mosley has graciously accepted the 2019 Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for his magnificent novel Down the River Unto the Sea, it appears all of the sturm und drang over last year’s MWA nomination of notorious “Central Park 5” prosecutor and megabucks mystery writer Linda Fairstein as “Grand Master” has, at least in the short term, been mollified. As a direct result of this mollification, quite a bit of the heated discourse aimed at Fairstein and her madcap defender—Mysterious Bookshop owner and seemingly perpetually pissed off gadfly-about-town Otto Penzler—appears to have gone from volcanic diatribes to tepid whispers. Yes, there remains the volatile subject of diversity in mystery/thriller publishing and welcoming of Writers-of-Color into the genre.  But for the moment, we rightfully shine the spotlights of Decorum and Statesmanship on Mr. Mosley who, as a wise teacher to a recalcitrant student, calmly told the MWA membership in his Edgar acceptance speech, “You’re learning.”

And all the haters on both sides of the Fairstein/diversity issue politely took their seats.

I have no doubt, however, we’ll soon get back to our acidic vilification of Otto Penzler, as I have no doubt we’ll resume our raucous j’accuse mock-trial of the publishing industry as a good-‘ol-boys-‘n-girls bastion of white privilege.

And when we do return to clinched fist condemnations of both, at least a quiet few of us WoC will once again shake our heads in disbelief and discouragement while thinking, “You’re focusing on the wrong things. You’re demonizing the wrong people.” In fact, for a few of us, I would dare say this:  Otto Penzler is not the enemy. He’s simply the loudest clown in a really fucked-up, generations-old circus.

And Linda Fairstein?

She’ll continue to be a wealthy bestselling mystery writer who remains unapologetic about her prosecutorial past. Her bright, smiling countenance will continue to adorn millions of book jackets from here to Scandinavia and beyond; a diffused light, L’Oreal look that says, “Controversy? Darling, what controversy?”

And Mystery Writers of America?

Well, ain’t no party like a Mysterious Books party!

So where does all of this leave the overarching discussion on WoC in the world of mystery/thriller publishing?

To begin with, it’s my observation that the publishing world has made a subtle yet no less disturbing shift in its age-old sub rosa question “Do black people read?” An idiotic yet long-standing question used to justify apocryphal “information” and mythical “data.” A question that finally comes down to the accounting and marketing departments asking “How much do we want to spend this year on colored folk?”  (You can apply this same question to most any American minority including LGBTQ+, but if we are to be honest here, the question was born, breast-fed and raised to answer the perceived anomaly of black people in publishing/being published.)

The 21st Century world of publishing appears to have swung to an almost begrudging acknowledgment of black readership and market viability. However, this acknowledgment comes tagged with the new question, “Will anyone who is not black read black writers?”

And it is this question that should be of central concern to WoC.

This is the question that potentially leads to lower advances offered to WoC. It is the question that may affect how aggressive your agent is in getting you that deal, that advance. It is the question that may ultimately keep your work from being equally and vigorously represented in foreign markets. And it is the central and damning question that continues to segregate, ghettoize, and render as unequal a disproportionate number of WoC.

Smaller publishing houses have emerged with the stated mission of addressing the inequities of a less than diverse—never mind inclusive--book industry. While many of these start-ups are honorable, I would surmise they have yet to achieve the economic clout needed to publish a wide and deep catalog, achieve effective distribution, enact consistent multi-platform marketing and piquing international publication interest. (And, to be honest, a few of these new “champions” of diversity in publishing seem nothing more than dodgy pay-to-play houses, draining the author’s wallet without a thought or a care to an honest residual return on the writer’s invested dollar.)

The bottom line is you already know what and where the real battlefront is—and it most certainly isn’t petty skirmishes with irate bookstore owners or pearl-clutching multi-millionaire mystery writers. The battle is advancing your own career and getting the right team behind you to build and sustain that career, beginning with an agent that shares your vision, smartly engages publishers and fights like a junkyard dog for more than just another 15% paycheck. Your goal is to monetize your talent, initiative and sweat-equity worldwide!

Listen: Ms. Fairstein and Mr. Penzler are not the ones who recently gave alleged con-man, liar and Handsome-White-Privileged-Poster-Boy Dan Mallory, aka A.J. Finn, a lucrative million-dollar advance for a mystery novel whose authenticity of originality is still up for debate (The New Yorker, February 4, 2019, “A Suspense Novelist’s Trail of Deceptions” by Ian Parker). And they are not the ones who, from time-to-time, issue “definitive” lists of “America’s Top 100 Novels”, “America’s Top 100 Authors” or “Top 100 Books Everyone Should Read” which almost always exclude black, Native, Mexican-American, Asia-Pacific American authors—even Mr. Mosley.

They are simply gargoyles on the publishing castles’ ramparts.

Stop wanting, hoping and begging for “diversity.”

Your fight is now and always has been for inclusion.

Because regardless of a publishing industry that continually whines about an ever-dwindling bottom line—it’s still a big, juicy, multi-billion dollar, worldwide pie.

And you like pie, don’t you?

* A.C. Sorell is a pseudonym. This was written before the recent all-white 2019 Strand Critics Awards nominees were announced.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Climb the Black Mountain

Every year we hear the P.I. story is dead. 20 years ago, George Pelecanos told then-young writer Dave White, "The last thing the world needs is another P.I. story." And Mr P wasn't disparaging the genre, he was telling Dave to put his heart into it and make it his own.

I have a love/hate relationship with the subgenre of crime fiction, because I disagree with the conceit that it is about "returning the world to order." Whose world, and whose order? I have little patience with middle-class centered fiction where anyone indigent is suspect; look for the foster kid, the drug user, to be the villain, the poor friend who cuddles up to the John Hughes heroine because she lusts for her "normal" family and wealth... really, just go fuck yourselves with that shit, you sheltered baby.

Rene Denfield recharged the P.I. story with her masterpiece The Child Finder, and her sequel The Butterfly Girl comes out on October first. Her heroine Naomi Cottle was fostered by a woman who taught her to survive, and her own history makes her the perfect bloodhound for missing children. Denfield does not flinch from the ugly reality of abduction, but is never salacious. She knows her material, and writes with the dreaminess of fairy tales. I haven't read the new one yet, but the first blew me away.

Another great series in which the sophomore effort was recently released is Laird Barron's Isaiah Coleridge novel, Black Mountain. If you haven't read the first, Blood Standard, get thee to a bookery and do so. He takes the trope of the worn-out mob hitman turned manhunter and refreshes it with the Irish-Māori Alaskan Coleridge, transplanted to upstate New York by way of the Chicago mob, trying to recover from physical and existential wounds on a farm run by eccentrics familiar to anyone who's been upstate or in New England, good people of diverse backgrounds who come together as a family and just want to be left alone.

This one I have read. I burned through it in a couple of days, savoring the scenes between Isaiah and his hitman mentor Gene K. pondering the ruthless beauty of nature in the Alaskan wilderness, and the clods who come to kill for sport and think they are hunters when they are really prey. Barron cut his teeth writing cosmic horror (his work inspired the best parts of season one of True Detective) but also contributed to Licence Expired, a ChiZine Canada anthology that took advantage of James Bond's copyright expiring north of the border, and his excellent Pynchonesque novel The Croning played with government conspiracies that reminded me of Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke.

When we met Coleridge, he was trying to find the missing daughter of the friends who took him in, and sparring with multiple drug gangs, of Native and white supremacist variety, while appeasing the local mafia who are none too happy to have a contract killer chilling in their bailiwick. Our man is a well-read warrior, a self-effacing gentleman thug who can clean & jerk more than I can deadlift, but can't shrug off bullets or fisticuffs like a Hollywood action hero, and eschews killing because of its psychic toll, not out of any moral code. Now we find him courting Meg, sharper than he is upstairs, and playing father to her son Devlin, as he tries to become human again.

Which makes the request from the friendly local capo to follow up on a gruesome murder of two knockaround goons a favor he'd like to refuse. It leads him to a legendary contract killer and sadist known as The Croatoan, who seems to have walked out of a Vietnam-era government program with shamanic death powers that make cold stone mafia killers shiver in their ankle boots. The hunt is puzzling and we're never quite sure what is real, as if the shadowy corporations and nameless government entities have redacted not only documents but reality itself, by wiping out the institutional memory of anyone who might know the true history of Coleridge's target.

While fans of Barron's cosmos will find comfort in his familiar tones and themes, this is not cross-genre like George C. Chesbro's "Mongo the Magnificent" novels, though he does tease us a little. You can't have amoral mobsters whisper about a killer with strange powers and not make us wonder if he's a walking death god, but Barron loves the crime genre and respects it, never dipping into pastiche as he pays blood tribute to what first-person P.I. novels do best. Coleridge is as witty as Elvis Cole and as brutal as Joe Pike, all wrapped in a hulking and handsome Jason Momoa package. His weaknesses are a reliance on his strengths, and his fierce sense of purpose as a wolf who hunts men: Even wolves can be trapped.

The cast is well rounded this time with a deliciously acerbic femme fatale who dances burlesque and cavorts with dangerous men, and Leonard returns as the chummy ex-merc barfly who reminds cool Col that he's not immortal. Barron spins a gripping tale without resorting to tricks and formula, hooking us with a baffling, gruesome mystery as bleak as the dying factory towns pocking upstate New York, but the pleasure here is the company. Like all the best before him--Keller, Nicolai Hel, Easy Rawlins, Cass Neary--he has the gift of gab, and is good company, at the arm's distance of the page.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Dead to Me

Anybody watching Dead to Me on Netflix?  I had fun watching it last week, and one thing that struck me about it is its tone.  A comedy that deals seriously with anger, loss, and grief is tricky to pull off, but Dead to Me does it well.

I don't want to give too much away here, but if you haven't seen the show, you need to know a little bit about it.  Dead to Me centers around the friendship between Jen Harding, a mother of two boys whose husband was recently killed by a hit and run driver, and Judy Hale, who has her own issues.  The two meet at a grief support group.  Christina Applegate plays Harding and Linda Cardellini is Hale, and both sink into their characters with gusto.  Is Linda Cardellini, going back to Freaks and Geeks and through her Sopranos role and her Bloodlines role and a number of other roles, not what you might call a subtle chameleon?  

The creator of the show, Liz Feldman, calls Dead to Me a "traumedy".  That about sums it up.  It is indeed a comedy about trauma, a trauma affecting not just Harding and Hale but Harding's two children. And as I was saying, it is a show that relies absolutely on achieving the right tone.  Screw the tone up just slightly, and the show would lose all plausibility.  It would have no emotional credibility and veer off into sheer silliness. 

As I watched the series' 10 episodes and the plot unspooled with its series of revelations, Dead to Me also came to serve as a reminder of just how much a tiny tweak of a story's tone could make it something related to what it actually is but in fact entirely different. Dead to Me has two strangers come together over a single event but in a somewhat complicated manner, and let's just say, one of those two characters becomes enamored of the other in a way that could be downright creepy.  I'm being vague here on purpose because I don't want to indulge in spoilers, but twist this show's tone a little bit, shift its emphasis, and you'd be dead smack in Patricia Highsmith territory. The basic way the characters interact with each other, Jen Harding and Judy Hale - JH and JH, each with her own emotional baggage - is right out of Highsmith.  So to some extent are the secrets and doings of Judy Hale's ex and Harding's husband when he was alive. On top of my pleasure from watching the show, I came away wondering whether Liz Feldman is a Highsmith fan. 

Not that it matters. The show's creators and actors do their own thing with Dead to Me and make it work.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Mother Writes Best

Today I am highlighting three writers that have had a tremendous impact on my creative process. Even more than the sheer talent and intelligence, these women created and broke stereotypes while they cared for family. A balance I struggle with quite often. For inspiration and record, I wanted to present the women writers I hold as hallmark.

Mary Shelley, FRANKENSTEIN or THE MODERN PROMETHEUS - Though Mary Shelley began her classic Gothic-Horror tale when she was just eighteen, finishing it when she was twenty, she had already lived through several personal tragedies. Mary’s own mother died shortly after giving birth to her daughter. Years later, after meeting Percy Shelley and beginning a romantic relationship with the poet and philosopher, Mary lost her own daughter and thus began a sad cycle of birth and death for the young woman. Mary had four children, only one of whom survived, and was surrounded by death, natural and otherwise, most of her life. Though many believe Mary’s husband held heavy influence on FRANKENSTEIN, about a mad doctor and his new Adam, it can be understood why Mary might have an obsession with death and bringing back the living.


Kate Chopin, THE AWAKENING – Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Kate Chopin was educated in strict Catholic confines at The Sacred Heart Academy where she discovered her talent for writing. After her father’s death, Kate lived in St. Louis with grand and great-grandparents; several generations of strong, fierce women. She was taught to be strong, though her family faced much loss, including the death of most of her siblings. She eventually married Oscar Chopin and moved to his home of New Orleans. Within eight years she gave birth to six children. After twelve years of marriage, Oscar passed away, leaving Kate Chopin in debt and destitute. After years of managing the businesses of her late husband she returned home to St. Louis. There, Kate’s physician and friend suggested Kate begin writing to ease her depression, focus her energy and perhaps, bring money to the family. Her writing was accepted and reviewed as local and folkish in turn. However, years later, after her death at age of 54, Kate Chopin’s work would be looked upon in a different light. Hers were stories of oppression, sexism, freedom, and regret. Now we see Kate Chopin as one of the first female authors to highlight freedmen education and rights and the emergence of feminism. Kate Chopin’s stories were the realities of women. 


Shirley Jackson, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE- Shirley Jackson, master of horror and suspense, composed six novels, two memoirs, and over 200 short stories during her life, all while raising four children with her husband on a farm in New England. After writing "The Lottery", which tells of the dark underbelly of a small, bucolic American village, received quite a bit of notoriety. Throughout the 1950’s Shirley Jackson continued to write short stories and essays, publishing with some of the biggest literary magazines at the time. Some of these short stories were collected and organized in novel form, making her two darkly comedic books LIFE AMONG THE SAVAGES and RAISING DEMONS. In 1959 Shirley published THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, a horror story relating one long weekend where psychics visit a very haunted house to discover its secrets. THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE is considered by many to be one of the best ghost stories ever written.