Saturday, June 1, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 22

Scott D. Parker

Lots of good writing things this week.

Dana King Asks an Important Question

On his blog this week, author Dana King asks the questions we all ask: why don't my books sell better? It's not meant to be a "whine" as he states, but a clear-eyed observation. He makes many points, but this one struck me hard:

"A few years ago I realized both my current series read like novels based on 70s crime movies. I love 70s crime movies, so to me this is not a bad thing. Of course, 70s crime movies were popular forty to fifty years ago, so having that as my wheelhouse is a distinctly limiting factor."

You see, I'm the same way...but my reading wheelhouse is old pulp fiction. So some of my writing is for tastes now 80 years old. Like Dana, I'm fine with that, but I've also come to realize the audience for the kinds of books I've, to date, written, are older.

Read his post and comment.

JA Konrath Ponders a Certain Type of Book

JA Konrath's lengthy post on Wednesday is how he may have come to revisit the old adage about writing things people want to read: "Don't write shit."

It is a fascinating deep-dive exploration into our reading habits, review numbers, and writing. Read his post and comment. Be sure to read the comments and JA's responses.

These two posts pose honest questions about the life of a writer, what we produce, and how the public reads.

A Back to the Future Post

While Dana and JA were asking serious questions, I was aglow having watched the entire Back to the Future trilogy. It was a suggestion my boy made on Memorial Day weekend and I happily took him up on it.

I got to thinking about George McFly and when he knew his son was a time traveler. Maybe it'll make you think differently about the series. And I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Calvin Carter Paperbacks

I took a few hours over the holiday weekend to revise and fix up my paperback files for both HELL DRAGON and AZTEC SWORD. This is one of the more tedious aspects of doing covers. A few of my text pieces were not inside the approved borders (not according to my graphics files, BTW), but not according to the folks at Amazon and Ingram Spark. It was lots of backs and forths, tweaking this and that, resaving, re-uploading, resubmitting, and waiting for the review cycle to finish. It was off and on all week long. But, in the end, the paperbacks are now live at Amazon. I'm still in the review process with Ingram, but it'll be over soon. Then, I'll be able to order copies of those books for sale.

The Summer Writing Session: End of Week 1

Fourteen weeks of summer. Fourteen weeks to get writing project(s) done. I'm in end-of-school mode this week and proofing the next Carter book, BRIDES OF DEATH, so I didn't get any new writing done. But today starts a new month. New fiction is on the horizon.

How about y'all? Got any cool writing projects for the summer?

Friday, May 31, 2019

Seven Minutes With Erotic Thrillers

The new episode of our 7 Minutes With podcast is up.

Soundcloud link:

Apple Podcast link:

This is episode 5 of the second season. 

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:

Chris F. Holm->
Sad About the Times
Bill Callahan (musician, not coach)

Holly West->
State of the Union
Jedidiah Ayres->
In the Cut
Romeo is Bleeding

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Remembering Sandra Seamans

By Albert Tucher

Sandra Seamans, one of the anchors of the crime fiction community, passed away in her home in Clifford PA on May 23.

I found out earlier today, when I went to Sandra’s blog, My Little Corner, to see if she had any new publishing opportunities to share with us. Her last post came on May 16. I had reacted to previous silences by sending her an email and asking if she was okay. Usually she reported computer trouble or a period of illness. If I remember correctly, she had a spell of difficulty after Superstorm Sandy that prevented her from posting.

But one silence came after the death of her husband in 2015. According to her obituary, she had been unable to return to her own writing since her great loss, but she kept seeking out new opportunities for us. Since I trace about ninety percent of my successes with short fiction to information from Sandra, I like to think the benefits of her efforts went both ways. If giving to the writing community helped her in her grief, that would be entirely characteristic of the Sandra I knew.

I knew her online only. We never met or spoke on the telephone, and I don’t believe she attended conferences or joined writers’ organizations. But a thoughtful, generous woman came through in the opinion pieces she posted on her blog. Over the years she acquired a large body of knowledge of the publishing industry, including its bad actors. Nothing aroused her ire faster than the exploitation of the writers she considered under her care.

Sandra specialized in short crime fiction. She once told me of an agent who sought her out and asked her to send him a novel to consider. She declined with thanks. In my Kindle I have a copy of her short story collection Cold Rifts, which I am told is now a collector’s item.

I will treasure it along with the memory of its author, gone too soon.

Fahrenheit Press FTW

By David Nemeth

Some great news this week from Fahrenheit Press, if you purchase paperbacks directly from them, they will throw in the e-book version of the book as well.

Wow! This is big. If you're interested in a Fahrenheit Press book, now's the time. Sure you might have to pay a few bucks in shipping, but you could do without one latte.

In a world where Amazon is viewed as a necessary evil, this is a small step to rip away their dominance.

Chris McVeigh, the publisher of Fahrenheit Press, wrote:
This has been an issue publishers have been trying to ignore for years but one that readers have been getting increasingly annoyed about. We live in a world where TV series stream in their entirety on Netflix and the rebirthing of Vinyl records has been fuelled by the inclusion of download codes in every album sleeve - publishing is looking more and more out of step with our reader's expectations. We've been thinking about doing it for a while and in the end we knew bundling the download with the paperback was the right thing to do. We gave ourselves a hard look in the mirror and we just couldn't reconcile NOT doing this.
McVeigh went on to say that he hopes other publishers will join in.
We hope now that we've broken the dam other publishers will follow our lead - though I won't hold my breath. It'll take readers moving their allegiance en masse to publishers who adopt bundling to force the industry to stop the charging people twice for the same book. 

I, too, am also hoping that other publishers will follow suit.

Below are some of the reactions:

Note: I was a judge for Fahrenheit Press's "Noirville" (2018)

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Godfather by Mario Puzo: a Coppola crime writers read the classic novel (pun for Dave White)

Dave White, best known for the Jackson Donne series and his relentless barrage of terrible puns, said he was going to read The Godfather, because he had not. Neither had I, so I said I would join him. I'm about 120 pages in. I'm not sure if Dave has opened the book. He's too busy grilling ribs, watching Rutgers basketball, and trying to come up with a pun about it.

The Godfather novel gets a lot of crap. Even Francis Ford Coppola compares it to Harold Robbins in his introduction, in an edition published after Mario Puzo's death, which is about as classy as suing a child star who was raped by director Victor Salva to make the victim complete a film, which is something Coppola also did, so let's not expect any sort of integrity from the guy. I've read several takedowns of the novel. The most memorable states that the opening of the book "obsesses on a woman with an oversized vagina". 

I've read past that part. The opening chapters are set at the wedding of Don Corleone's daughter, and practically mirror the film adaptation. Coppola begins with Amerigo beseeching the Don, because "I believe in America" is a great opening line. In the book, there are a few others who take advantage of the Don on the occasion of his daughter's wedding, including Johnny Fontaine. And Sonny, who is described as a swinging dick not only in attitude but in endowment, has a tryst with the aforementioned woman, who happens to be the maid of honor. She seeks out Sonny because after her single previous sexual encounter, her uncouth partner complained that is was like parking his Karmann Ghia in a two-car garage. Sonny packs a stretch Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham, and they are made for one another. This takes a page, perhaps two.

Is it necessary? Probably not, but starting off a book with a bang, whether from a pistol or a pistola*, is a time-honored tradition to grip the reader, and since it's another hundred pages before someone is beaten to a bloody pulp with brass knuckles or a horse is decapitated, Puzo decided to go with establishing Sonny's character, or lack thereof, by having the married son of the Don have passionate sex with the maid of honor at his sister's wedding reception. Tom Hagen has to interrupt him to being him to the Don's side. It sets things up for Sonny's downfall later on. His passions will get the better of him.

So I don't think it was that gratuitous. If anything, Puzo was playing up the passionata of his people. This was 1969, when Italians were only a decade from being Hollywood's go-to juvenile delinquents in films like 12 Angry Men. We were known for big noses, garlic, La Cosa Nostra, and being passionate lovers. He describes the mountains of food, too. The novel will focus on our people's least admirable stereotype as violent underworld goons--one still mined deeply in crime fiction today, even by the wokest of the woke; like Russians, we're okay to use as your criminal cannon fodder--so he may as well dwell on one of the "good" stereotypes, that we're all good lovers. 

As I said, I'm only up to the infamous horse head scene, but so far the book is like the working script for the movie, so I think Mr. Coppola doth protest too much. He's got a chip on his shoulder. He also mentions an encounter with some cafone in the street who grabbed him by the lapels and said, "you didn't make him [Puzo]! He made YOU!" (Come on, we know this isn't true. Coppola had made the immortal Finian's Rainbow and Dementia 13 before The Godfather fell in his lap.)

He's kind enough to praise Puzo's "terseness," in his introduction, recalling the scene where Clemenza is cooking Sunday sauce: Coppola wrote "Clemenza browns some sausage..." and Puzo scratched it out, writing, "Gangsters don't BROWN! Gangsters FRY!" This edit obviously stings Francis over forty years later. He also praises Puzo's skills as a collaborator, when they worked together on The Godfather, Part Two which is cobbled from unused storylines from The Godfather and Coppola's own desire to show a back and forth story of father and son at different ages. I won't argue that the sequel is a great film. They also worked together on The Godfather III, which Coppola wanted to call The Death of Michael Corleone, and he is at least respectful enough to not blame the film on his dead co-author. He also seems to think the problem with that movie is the name, so I'll leave the value of his critical faculties for you to judge.

Next week I'll let you know how the middle of the novel holds up, and whether Dave White has begun reading it, or if he's The Clodfather.

* the cavo donna. the cazzo dura. Google Translate is your friend.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

No Villains Necessary

Intrigued by the trailer, which was funny, and aware of the good reviews, I went with my son this weekend to see BooksmartHe was into going having seen the trailer also and because he seemed to have no problem taking a break from films (and shows) involving superheroes or fantasy.  Plus, at 13, being that he's wrapping up his 8th-grade school year, he had no reservations about seeing a film whose characters are high schoolers.

First of all, I will say that it's a terrific film, a teen comedy that ranks with the best of them. Olivia Wilde makes an impressive directing debut, and the two leads, Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, make a memorable comedy duo, their chemistry just about perfect.  This is a film, I have a feeling, I'm going to be watching from time to time as the years go by.

And there's something else. Booksmart is a particular type of comedy that you come across sometimes: it has no antagonists, no villains.  As I left the theater, that struck me, maybe because I read so much crime fiction and have of late been watching movies (and shows) that involve fantastical villains, characters trying to dominate worlds, alter universes, control matter itself.  Comedy - so odd - is one of the few forms of storytelling that can pull you in and carry you along without having an antagonist of any kind.  That's not to say good comedies never have villains; of course they do.  Comedies have villains (only comic ones) just like non-comic drama does.  But in comedy, it's not essential to have an antagonist to make the story work, and Booksmart hews to that line.  It's not a teen comedy that has a character anything like, for example, Rachel MacAdams' character, Regina George, in Mean Girls.  What the two leads in Booksmart encounter during their last day in school and then during their nocturnal odyssey to get to the coolest party in town are people who are silly, eccentric, conceited, self-involved, vain, ruthlessly honest.  But the script doesn't treat anyone as nasty or malevolent, even in a humorous way. It winds up accepting, in some fashion, just about all of its characters. That it does this and still manages to be a bracing film, with no treacle, no sentimentality, is yet another thing it has going for it.

But about that kind of comedy in general, the comedies that don't have antagonists, only protagonists and the obstacles they meet or protagonists and the people with foibles whom the protagonists encounter: Isn't that a lot like regular life?  In a way, it seems to me, comedies without antagonists reflect day to day reality quite closely.  Malevolence may lurk everywhere; all you need do is listen to the news for thirty seconds to get evidence of that.  But in daily life, it's more the dealings with other people's egos and vanity and pride and laziness, their self-absorption and inattention, their wealth of insecurities, that one bumps up against.  The times you meet actual evil, evil like a villain in a story has, are rare.  Day to day, month to month, year to year, it's the frustration and the ridiculousness of encountering average human foibles that can drive you nuts.  And let's not forget your own misreadings of other people, a point that's quite central to Booksmart; the limited scope of your own vision doesn't help matters either. Certain comedies capture all this better than any other type of story, and they don't require a "heavy" to do it.

The best comedies, however contrived or artificial the surface of their plots may be, are at bottom a highly realistic mode of fiction.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day

If you choose to spend your Memorial Day Weekend reading, here are a few novels you might consider.

Charles Frazier's debut novel, set in the Civil War-era rural South, follows the quest of wounded Confederate soldier Inman. Having seen the horrors of battle, Inman leaves his post and begins a long walk home to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Ada, Inman’s love, struggles with war-time realities on the home front as societal norms change with the destructions and hardships of war.
As the great conflict comes to an end, Inman and Ada, at last, find each other, but the realities of war and violence promises to change them both forever.

This 2012 book by Ben Fountain is a sharp satire that points a harsh finger at the politicians and companies hoping to capitalize on the very real people of our military forces.
Iraq war soldiers, home for a brief leave, are given a hero’s welcome during the Super Bowl. Through the eyes of our main character, Billy Lynn, we see the boisterous and the absurd as sincere feelings and emotions mix with opportunism.

Erich Maria Remarque, a veteran of WWI, wrote about the brutal details of war. The story follows an ordinary man; a German soldier on the Western front during WWI named Paul. The tale presents the ugly reality soldiers faced every day. It also details the horrific toll war takes on both the physical and mental.
We see Paul swing from enthusiastic and patriotic in the face of coming war to broken and sad in the reality.  This classic reflects on an entire generation, once full of hope, beaten by conflict. This title is considered by many, a true anti-war story.

Slaughterhouse Five is Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 anti-war novel. Though we are presented with Vonnegut’s personal experiences as a prisoner of war during the bombing of Dresden in World War II, this novel is largely told from the perspective of fictional character, Billy Pilgrim. Billy bounces through time and we see important moments in his life, however most of the book takes place in Europe during WWII. Through the futility and brutality of his own imprisonment and the characterizations of the people he confronted at the time, Vonnegut clearly outlines the useless nature of war.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Review: Elementary

The seventh and final season of Elementary is here, and it’s about time. The first of the thirteen episodes premiered Thursday night and made the move I expected—from New York City to London. I’m fine with that as long as I get my Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu.
I was skeptical when the show began in 2012. Did the world really need another Sherlock Holmes adaptation? Perfection had already been reached with the Benedict Cumberbatch-led Sherlock, also set in the modern day. I grudgingly watched the first episode in 2012. It scored points for shaking things up—moving the setting to New York City, making Dr. Watson a woman. Interesting, but not enough to hook me. But then . . . then came Jonny Lee Miller. Visions of his seminal performance in Trainspotting flashed through my head; they were quickly doused by his complete transformation into Holmes. He took the characteristics—the brusqueness, the condescension, the indifference to social norms, the brilliance—and made them his own. The interplay of these traits with other characters guarantee that, at least once an show, I’ll laugh out loud. That’s a tricky thing to pull off in a drama, and Miller does it every episode.
Lucy Liu as Joan Watson and Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock.
Miller and show creator Robert Doherty also did something that other adaptations either ignore or gloss over. They confronted Sherlock’s drug addiction head-on. Arthur Conan Doyle showed the detective using cocaine throughout his short stories; Elementary took that and turned it into a full-blown, life-devastating disease that Holmes has continued to battle every season so far. It adds a layer to the series that I think makes it, despite its American setting and female Watson, the most realistic of the many Sherlock interpretations.
The show also has fun with the canon—Holmes’s love, the mysterious Irene Adler, appears, as does his brother Mycroft, newly slim and a successful restauranteur. And it includes, in a wonderfully surprising way I won’t spoil here, the ubervillain Moriarty.  
These characters drive recurring storylines that have been the most enjoyable parts of the series. The cases-of-the-week, on the other hand, can sometimes be too neat and tidy and hastily resolved. Thursday’s season seven premiere was one of those. The resolution was a little too pat. I’m hoping the episode is just getting viewers set up for continuations of some of those overarching storylines. I’ve got my fingers crossed that we’ll see the great John Noble as Sherlock’s immoral businessman father again. I’d also love to see their twist on Doyle’s Inspector Lestrade, now that they’re in London.
John Noble as father Morland Holmes.
Elementary airs Thursday nights on CBS. Previous seasons are available on Hulu.