Saturday, May 25, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 21

Scott D. Parker

Boy are there a ton of anniversaries this week.

Thursday alone saw the 24th anniversary of Chicago's Night and Day album, the 35th anniversary of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and the 40th anniversary of KISS's Dynasty album. I reviewed the KISS album, but wanted to re-watch Temple of Doom before I review it. That post will be coming next week.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade's 30th anniversary was yesterday. Same thing: want to re-watch it and review it. This movie kicks of the Summer of 1989 at 30 series that'll run throughout the summer as I re-watch and revisit the incredible films of 1989.

Today is forty years since Alien was released.

Lots of fun to experience these things again and, in some cases, share them with the family for the first time.

Podcast of the Week

Same one: Blockbuster. The last of the six episodes dropped on Tuesday and it is incredible. I updated the review I wrote when I first heard twice, once to include Episode 5 and again for Episode 6. It is one of my favorite things of 2019. I listened to the last episode on Tuesday morning on the way to work and prompted donated money when I got there. Give it a listen and see what you think.

Later, when I tweeted how much I loved it, the folks a Blockbuster picked it up and included none other than Mark Hamill. That moment of thrill I experienced when I thought Hamill might actually read something I wrote was fantastic. He liked my separate tweet about it.

Made my day.

TV Show of the Week

Elementary returned for its last 13-episode season. I have loved this show from day one. If we can agree that Jeremy Brett is the epitome of the traditional Sherlock Holmes, then Johnny Lee Miller's Holmes is my favorite non-traditional version. He has been allowed to have Sherlock grow over these past seven years. That's made all the difference. I will sincerely miss this show when it goes for its final bow. (see what I did there?)

The Summer Writing Session Starts

Monday marks the opening of Summer 2019. Labor Day is 97 days later. This is perhaps my favorite writing time because of the clear bookends.

What are you going to write this summer?

I have to finish the proofing and editing for the fourth Calvin Carter story, Brides of Death, but I aim to try something new. Something different. I don't know what it is yet, but I intend to have fun writing.

Memorial Day

Lest we forget, here in the United States, Monday is Memorial Day, and it is dedicated to all the soldiers over our history who have given their last full measure of devotion to our country. They will forever have our gratitude.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The raisins pod, in case you missed it

Welcome to Season 2 of the "7 Minutes With" podcast, brought to you by, with your host Steve Weddle.

This is episode 4 of the second season.


Apple Podcasts:

As always, Jedidiah Ayres talks about film, while Chris F. Holm suggests some music, and Holly West discusses TV.

Chris F. Holm:
Holly West:
Jedidiah Ayres:

Jedidiah Ayres->
The Bouncer/Lukas
The Crew

Holly West->
State of the Union
Dead to Me
Cook this:…ives-and-raisins/

Chris F. Holm->
Fig Dish
Stiff Little Fingers
that zombies story:…gest-con-in-rock
Music from
"District Four" by Kevin MacLeod (
Licence: CC BY (


Apple Podcasts:

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Books That Made Me - Part 1

Jupiter, Pete & Bob. My best friends in childhood.

I had an exchange of views on Twitter last week. No, not one of those I-can-scream-louder-than-you, or My-outrage-is-better-than-your-outrage exchanges so popular on that Hellsite. This one was about a particular series of books and why they -The Three Investigator Novels – were the most successful gateway drug in history. And finding out I was not alone in my love for these books, or in  my firm belief that they made me a better person and helped create the writer I am today made me very happy.
And since I figure there aint enough happy or simple joy in the world these days, please forgive me a thousand words or so of complete Stanning...

I was a quiet kid, with an obsession for books of all kinds.
I loved the anthropomorphic cats and bears in Richard Scarry’s works, read the Famous Five books, enjoyed The Hard Boys and Nancy Drew, and then something amazing happened:
My Dad bought me one of the Three Investigators books. It was The Mystery of The Laughing Shadow (Book 12 in the series).
My dad and I loved Alfred Hitchcock movies, and the books – in an early approach to celebrity endorsement / branding – were introduced by the Auteur, who often featured as a character in them. By the time I was introduced to Jupiter Pete and Bob, the series had already been running for 13 years, having commenced in 1964 when Robert Arthur – who had previously edited several short story collections attributed to Alfred Hitchcock – sold the idea of a series of teenage mysteries to Random House.
Over time, other writers had contributed to the series, principally William Arden (who wrote The Laughing Shadow amongst others), Nick West, and Mary Virginia (MV) Carey, who wrote many of my personal favourites.
The head investigator, Jupiter Jones, lived with his Aunt and Uncle in a vast salvage yard, and had built – amongst the scrap and salvage – an operations centre with hidden entrances; a true boy’s den. The boys, too young to drive, were driven around – thanks to a competition win – in a chauffeur driven limo, while the animosity between the boys and their sworn enemy, the perma-cocky Skinny Norris, whose bullying attempts to spoil their plans felt, so often, like a replay of my daily life, resonated with me.
But unlike my life, the boys got to hang out with Alfred Hitchcock; they seemed, permanently, to be on some extended school vacation; and they lived in Southern California.
Many of the normal mundanities of life – school, homework, the general depressions of a childhood in 1980s Dublin – could simply cease to exist for as long as my nose was buried in a Three Investigator book.
I stopped buying them in 1986 when I moved to London and began working. I guess I figured I was grown up now, and it was time, as they say “To put aside childish things.”
But some years later, on a visit back to Dublin, I packed my entire collection into a suitcase and brought them back to London with me, their presence in my flat symbolising the fact that I had settled, that where I was – now that The Three Investigators were there with me – was finally home.
The investigators are lead by Jupiter Jones, a chubby, smart mouthed intelligent kid, who is a former child actor named "Baby Fatso” (although he hates it when people mention this). Jupiter is a prolific reader, often rubs his peers up the wrong way and is driven by his own morality and belief in the power of logic and creative thinking (So: not much psychology required there to figure out why I fell for this series).
Jupiter was joined by Pete Crenshaw, the athletic leg of the trio, more likely to be the one who tackled the escaping criminal to the ground, though Pete was never drawn as being pure brawn without brains; he was as capable of challenging assumptions and of suggesting possible motives or viewpoints as the lead investigator.
Bob Andrews made up the trio. The researcher, who – in pre-Google days – would scour newspaper morgues, school libraries, and interview witnesses face to face, produced, often, the killer clue that Jupiter and Pete would then extrapolate into a solution to the mystery. Bob did all of this, in the early books, while wearing a leg brace to heal multiple leg fractures, thus – in late 60s / early 70s fiction – presenting a differently abled person as a positive independent and equal contributor to the endeavour, and doing so in a way which never felt shoehorned in.
In fact, the boys also faced off against menaces which, whilst entirely present in much of today’s YA market, were definitely unique at the time.
I can barely imagine any of Enid Blyton’s detective gangs facing down someone trying to swindle a Mexican family out of their ranch purely because of their race, let alone the Secret Seven dealing with obsession or the supernatural (Whispering Mummy), and in “The mystery of The Magic Circle,” Carey dealt with the sad isolation of faded Hollywood Fame in the same stark fashion as ‘Sunset Boulevard.’
The books were written by the various authors in a style that could be described as Pulp-Lite. The story started almost on the first page (if not the first line), the writing was snappy and direct. There were outlandish titles (“The Secret of Skeleton Island,” “The Mystery of The Moaning Cave,” “The Mystery of The Headless Horse” to name a few) designed to pull the readers in, and reveals that – at the end of the book – made absolutely perfect sense in light of what had been planted through the plot up to that point.
Chapters ended, mostly, on cliffhangers, and the danger was real. In “The Magic Circle,” for example, Bob is bashed on the head, knocked unconscious, dumped in the trunk of a car in the middle of a scrap yard in Southern California, and left to die of heat stroke. Beat that, Hardy Boys.
And now I write books. Mystery books. Books peopled with characters who run the gamut from loveable to quirky to monstrous, and who are all (or mostly) comfortable in their own skins.
I owe Robert Arthur and MV Carey particularly a great debt, and one I hadn’t fully realised until recently.
The books have been somewhat bogged down in legal wrangles in recent years, but I still firmly believe they have a place in the pantheon of great often overlooked crime writing and can’t imagine my life – as a kid, as an adult, or as a writer of crime fiction that entertains and celebrates life in all it’s difference – without The Three Investigators.
So: What are the books that made you? Which childhood favourite has stayed with you til today, and which parent, relative, librarian teacher turned you on to the sheer joy of a brilliant story well told? I'd love to know.

A small selection of my most treasured posessions.

(Portions of this post originally appeared on the blog

Tuesday, May 21, 2019





The world of crime fiction has always been a place for the outsider. It's a palace where the halls are haunted by the benighted. Hitmen, grifters, rumrunners, dealers , women and men of the night are all welcome denizens of the shadowy streets where noir,hard-boiled and cozy mysteries intersect. However even among the outsiders there are characters and plots that exist in that hallucinogenic undiscovered country that exist on the fringes of the fringe. These characters are brought to life by authors who push against the stifling constraints of genre and the staid rules of narrative. Whether you call it bizzaro or transgressive or grand guignol it's crime fiction at it's most raw and experimental. It's the type of writing that dares you to expand your mind and reevaluate what the definition of crime fiction really is. I'd like to take a moment and introduce you to three writers who are among some of the most talented guides to the outer limits of noir 


Will Viharo is a man who is as much a character as the people in his books. His life story could be it's own noir tale. A former resident of that modern Babylon Los Angeles Will now resides in Seattle where he spends his days as a dog walker and his nights as a bon vivant hep cat cocktail drinking raconteur. In his spare time he writes. Will's books are a deconstruction of the noir archetypes and motifs while at the same time a reimagining of a specific time and place in American pop culture that isn't so much an alternative history as it is an alternative reality. In his work Yakuza assassins might fight demons, beautiful femme fatales are living statues and the world weary private eye is losing his mind one martini at a time … or is he? The truth is what you fake it in Viharo's world and the line between dreams , nightmares and the mundane is as frayed as your favorite lounge lizard's tie. Viharo is a talented wordsmith who takes his readers on a Lynchian tour of his own fevered psyche. In the hands of a lesser writer the end result might unravel under the weight of it's own surreal logic but Viharo has a knack for the moribund and the maniacal that keeps his stories afloat long after reason has been abandoned like your inhibitions at a party in the Hollywood Hills. Check out "Vic Valentine Lounge Lizard for Hire " to get a taste of the wild world of Will " The Thrill" Viharo. Bring a strong stomach and an open mind. 


Jessica McHugh is an energetic emotionally honest writer with a masterful command of language and pacing. 
She also has a sick and twisted imagination that would make William S. Burroughs blush. Her writing is an exploration of the darkest corners of the everyday experience. Her characters are people living in a world where morality is pliable and every sensation is a visceral journey to the edges of sensory perceptions. Her novels runt he gamut from experimental fantasy to splatterpunk horror to nihilistic noir fiction. Her style is fearless and uncompromising. She can't look away from what her characters are doing to themselves and each other and she won't allow you to look away either. To read one of her books is to bear witness to the not so shocking depths of depravity that human beings are capable of and sometimes revel in. It's like reading Hubert Selby if he woke up in Baltimore and listened to musicals. Raw and raucous her stories are not for the faint of heart but for those that are brave enough you will come out the other side with your brain seared by her commitment to the truth , as her characters see it. Pick up her novel "Rabbits In the Garden " for an introduction to this amazing author.


The term renaissance artist is bandied about with as much care as a carafe of wine at a Russian wedding reception but when it comes to Ed Kurtz the title is warranted. An author, a narrator an audiophile Kurtz is a writer who excels in any genre he chooses to put his considerable focus on. 
"Horror and crime are kissing cousins." is something I've heard Mr. Kurtz say on more than one occasion and he has proved the veracity of that adage time and a time again in his writing. Combining the world weary , biting down on tinfoil whiskey soaked milieu of the crime novel with the stomach churning , nerve wracking body horror of a supernatural tale Kurtz has carved a unique niche for himself in the writing community. Fast paced snappy dialogue and existential dread run throughout his work hand in hand taking readers on a nightmarish trip through the mean streets and the graveyards. His book Nausea read like the Friends of Eddie Coyle directed by David Cronenberg. Kurtz is a master of his own subgenre. Horrific Noir. Pick up "Nausea" for a taste of the macabre and the maddening.. You won't be disappointed. 

This is just a sampling of the talented and unique authors who are kicking down the walls of conventional crime fiction. These and many other writers are not pushing the envelope . They are shredding it to bits and using it as confetti. These kinds of novels aren't for everyone but if you are a reader who yearns for something truly different …
Free your mind.....and pick up one of these books today. 

Engaging with Representation from the Past

On Saturday night, I was watching Turner Classic Movies and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Ava DuVerney is co-hosting "The Essentials" series this year.  Along with TCM regular host Ben Mankiewicz, DuVerney has been hosting the series for a couple of weeks now, but Saturday was the first of the films I caught her talking about before the movie played - the 1943 musical Cabin in the Sky, notable for being the first film ever directed by Vincente Minnelli -- Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), An American in Paris (1951), The Bandwagon (1953), and many others, a great director -- and for having an all-black cast. 

Cabin in the Sky had been a Broadway musical before it was a film.  Appearing in the film from the show's cast were Ethel Waters and Rex Ingram.  The film also starred Eddie "Rochester" Anderson and Lena Horne.  Besides perhaps Lena Horne, none of these names are well-known now, but they were, at least to black audiences, at that time. Ethel Waters, for example, in 1939, was the first African-American to star in her own television show, something called The Ethel Waters Show on NBC.  It was a short - 15 minutes - variety special.  Also popping up in Cabin in the Sky is Louis Armstrong, as a demon no less, and there is a climactic big musical number led by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra.

I wouldn't say Cabin in the Sky has a great story.  In folk tale like fashion, it concerns the fight for the soul of a man named Little Joe (Eddie Anderson).  Shot and near death, almost claimed by Lucifer for Hell, Little Joe gets a reprieve and has six months to amend his ways.  A kind of good angel called "The General" tries to guide him one way while Lucifer Jr., Satan's son, tries to guide him the other.  In terms of women, of course, there is one good influence on him and one bad. On the good side is his ever loving wife (Waters) and on the other side is a temptress (Horne).  Anyway, the plot is not the point here, not watching the film nowadays. And as Ava DuVerney says, though the film is well-meaning and put together in superb MGM style, it does present some representations of African-Americans that are, well, "challenging" (her word).  So why watch it?  Here's a film that may have been somewhat progressive in its day in that it had an all-black cast (meaning certain US theaters would not even show it), but it's a film that was made entirely by white filmmakers with their own particular conceptions about black people.

DuVerney gives a few reasons to sit down and watch it, and I couldn't agree with her more.

For one thing, it's fascinating to see actors who appeared all too little on screen during their careers have major roles.  Where else are you going to see Ethel Waters sing on screen and in such a prominent role?  Or Lena Horne in a leading role?  Cabin in the Sky is like documentary evidence of what these two and others could do. It reminds us of what they could have done if they'd gotten the chance in film, during their careers, to do more.

As well, the film deals in broad types just short of caricature - an early version of what DuVerney points out someone such as Tyler Perry would do years later.  It's an interesting film from that historical perspective, to compare representation then to now, and by whom, along a kind of continuum. 

And most of all, besides even the film's leads, there is the large cast of talented black actors and dancers who fill the film.  Again to cite DuVerney, one wonders, as one watches that big club scene at the end and the remarkable dance number in it, whatever happened to all the marvelous people who bring that scene to life. There's such energy and joy and skill to behold.  And here in Cabin in the Sky was a chance for all those artists to show themselves doing their thing at their best.  Where did they all go afterward and what did they do?  You assume they danced and acted elsewhere, but did any of them ever get a stage to play on as bright and large as the one Cabin in the Sky afforded?  Probably not.  To watch the movie is to pay a bit of homage to all those people. 

I happened to be flipping through the channels this past Saturday night when I caught the TCM promo saying that Cabin in the Sky was coming on with Ava DuVerney introducing it, and I'm happy I stopped my flipping there.  For all the challenges it presents, the movie is pretty fascinating.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Regarding "Stop begging for Diversity"

by David Nemeth

Over the last four days, I have stayed out of the social media fray regarding the post, "Stop begging for diversity" (Do Some Damage). If anyone directly asked me about my role in the essay, I was forthcoming with a response. However, I chose not to respond to supposition and innuendo. And since you're probably asking right now, I did not write "Stop begging for diversity".

You may wonder about the length of time for this response and that is due to several factors including "Stop begging for diversity" being hosted on this website of which I am only a guest and having multiple people involved. All of this only slowed down communication.

Below is my recounting of the events that transpired over the last several days.

On Thursday, May 2, I received an essay that became "Stop begging for diversity". I asked the writer if I could post it and they said they’d have to think about it. If it was published, they told me, they might want to do so under a pseudonym.

On Tuesday, May 14, after the Strand Critics Award nominees came out, I got in touch with the writer and asked if I could publish the essay. They agreed but under a pseudonym. I respected the author's request for anonymity which encompassed both business and family reasons.

Later that day, I got in touch with Steve to check with him about posting it under an admin account. My reasoning, however faulty, was that by not publishing under my byline, the focus would be on the essay rather than me. That line of thinking proved wrong and for that I am sorry.

On Friday, May 17, Steve and I chatted about a response to concern in social media regarding the essay. We traded versions back and forth. I thought a statement by me might put pressure on the anonymous author. This statement has the same problem I was trying to avoid. I agreed with Steve that a Do Some Damage editorial response was warranted.

We can argue about the essay's newsworthiness or the author's anonymity, but I will not ask the writer to out themselves nor will I reveal their name. I will keep my word. 

Writing While Trans Part 2: Figuring Out My Brand

As many of you know, I am a transgender woman. But that's not all I am.

I am also a living kidney donor. I'm a wife. I'm a professional caregiver. I ride a motorcycle. I'm a desert dweller. I'm a recovering alcoholic. I'm a rape survivor. I've also been a goldsmith, a librarian assistant, and a web developer.

One of the things that drew me into writing was the fact that the vast majority of queer fiction were coming out stories, romance, and erotica. But there is so much more to life as a queer person than coming out, falling in love and having sex. Where were all the adventure stories, the sci-fi operas, the urban fantasies, and crime dramas with queer protagonists?

Cover art from Iron GoddessMy first series, which was eventually picked up by Random House's digital-only imprint, Alibi, was about a lesbian outlaw biker. Think Sons of Anarchy meets The L Word. Pretty fucking awesome, right? I certainly thought so. My agent thought so.

But before Alibi said yes, publisher after publisher passed. Not because they didn't like it. The vast majority said they loved it, but didn't know how to market gritty biker crime fiction with a lesbian protagonist.

Turns out they didn't understand how to market a thriller with a lesbian protagonist unless it was a coming-out story or had a romantic subplot. God forbid anyone writes about lesbians who actually have a career and a life outside of a relationship.

When Alibi decided not to extend the series beyond the first two books, I realized I had to now start focusing on a new series. With a lot of input from my wife, I decided to write about a modern day bounty hunter who happened to be a transgender woman.

This time I didn't bother going the traditional route. I was going indie. If publishers didn't get crime fiction with a lesbian protagonist, they certainly wouldn't be interested in a thriller with a trans protagonist. Even when the story wasn't about her being transgender. The story was about her tracking down someone who jumped bail. You know, crime fiction.

Now I was faced with the question about how to market my stories. Do I disclose in the book blurb that the Jinx Ballou the badass bounty hunter is transgender? Will that potentially turn away readers who might otherwise enjoy the story and not really care if Jinx is trans? If I don't mention it and readers learn about her past during the middle of the story, will they be turned off then?

Time Magazine cover featuring Laverne Cox
One the one hand, since Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the covers of glossy magazines, the media has finally started to treat trans people as human beings worthy of respect. There's been a sort of trans chic thing going, much like there was a lesbian chic going on in the 1990s. And I'm not ashamed to take advantage of it.

And the crime fiction community tends to be very inclusive and welcoming, anyway. When I reach out to media, such as podcasts who want to interview me, part of my pitch is that I'm one of the few (just me and Renee James, as far as I know) crime fiction authors who are trans.

At the same time, when it comes to the decision to buy, white heteronormative readers tend to stick with what they're familiar with: white, heteronormative protagonists. Not that they're overtly bigoted toward other kinds of protagonists. There is simply a subtle bias, a subconscious resistance, perhaps a fear of the unfamiliar.

Since the launch of Chaser and Extreme Prejudice, the first two books in the Jinx Ballou series, I have tried a wide range of approaches. Disclosing up front that Jinx is trans. And not disclosing she's trans, except in the book. I find the latter the more productive of the two.

Cover art for Chaser
I don't feel the need to disclose everything about who my character is in the Amazon book description. The book description is supposed to hook the reader into the story. And that's what I focus on. A bounty hunter who runs into trouble while pursuing a fugitive and chaos ensues.

Occasionally I will get a review or even an irate email complaining that while they loved the story, they don't care to read about queer characters. I once got a three-star review from a Trumpster who didn't appreciate the liberal agenda that crept into the book. Honestly, I was tickled the little shit gave me three stars.

Bottom line, I don't write queer fiction. The stories aren't about transitioning or falling in love with someone of the same sex. Few if any of my stories have a HEA as far as a romantic subplot is concerned.

Instead, I write crime fiction from a queer perspective. Or better yet, I write gritty crime fiction with a feminist kick. Like Sara Paretsky. Like Stieg Larsson. Like a lot of successful crime fiction authors who aren't afraid to challenge the patriarchy in fiction.

As one of the only transgender authors in crime fiction, Dharma Kelleher brings a unique voice to the genre, specializing in gritty thrillers 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, May 19, 2019

Ode to a (Fresh) Prince

I’m going to go all generational on you today and talk about my age group’s first global movie superstar. Because he returns to the screen this Friday. Will Smith stars in Aladdin.

I’m looking forward to it and I’ll tell you why. Not because I’ve been secretly dying for a live-action remake of this movie, but because I love Will Smith. He was the first big star—bankably huge, face on every movie poster, nobody scheduled a release opposite him—from Generation X. It was like, we have arrived. In the form of a skinny, wise-ass black rapper from West Philly. Oh yeah, this is going to be fun. And I felt like I’d discovered him. He was a ball player I watched on the farm team of TV, pointing at the screen during The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and saying “He’s going places.”

He took his persona—our Gen X persona—into feature films and not only succeeded, he blew everyone else out of the water. Independence Day, Men in Black, Wild, Wild West, Men in Black II. Just those films alone grossed more than $2 billion. All were vehicles for the Will Smith charm. Then he, like us, grew up. He took parts where he got serious, he got prestige, he played Muhammad Ali. The charm was still in there somewhere, but the fizzy fun—the I’m-having-such-a good-time-I’m-going-to-talk-you-into-coming-along-too—was diminished. Wait a minute, how did I wake up one morning and suddenly be middle-aged?

This brings me back to Aladdin. I think it might have some fizz. From the clips I’ve seen, it’s got some of that circa-1990s Will Smith verve going on. I hope so. He’s said that he couldn’t hope to match Robin Williams’s take on the role. He wanted to be “in a different lane, versus trying to compete.” He decided that bringing a hip-hop flavor to the part and putting his own stamp on the music would be one way to carve his own path. Just like our generation has been doing all this time.
And I can’t wait. A rapping, wise-cracking, middle-aged grantor of wishes.

It’s the genie that America needs right now.