Saturday, June 8, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 23

Scott D. Parker

Sometimes it's the smallest things that can have a big impact.

Fiction Writing Stalled

Over the past month, the new fiction writing has been in a bit of a holding pattern. While I'm still proofing and re-reading the next Calvin Carter novel, BRIDES OF DEATH, there's no new stories flowing from my keyboard. And I've pretty much zeroed in on the culprit.

Blogging. I kind of fell into a blog-per-day schedule by accident. When I finally realized it, however, I wanted to keep the streak going. Why? Because it's a streak. Yes, I was enjoying it, but lots of my writing energy was focused on getting out the next day's blog vs. new fiction. My recent trip to Corpus Christ corresponded to 1 June and I made the decision not to force myself to write something every day. I will develop a schedule--likely Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday--but I want to make it memorable and consistent. If something jumps to mind or there's an anniversary, I'll write more. But my main focus should be writing new stories, not always new blog entries.

Planning the To Be Read Pile for Vacations

A key part of planning for any travel is to decide what I'm going to read on the trip. The family and I went to Corpus Christi, Texas, this past week. We frolicked in the Gulf of Mexico, fished, toured the city, and ate seafood every night. T'was a great week.

Leading up to the vacation, I had meticulously planned out the items I would bring. I brought my Kobo ereader, my iPad for some comics, a small pile of actual comics anchored by the newest Star Wars comics #108 (a continuation of the original Marvel Comics run), the latest issue of Men's Journal, the latest issue of Back Issue focusing on the 30th anniversary of the first Tim Burton/Michael Keaton Batman movie, and a Time Magazine anniversary issue on D-Day.

I was going to be gone for six days.

What did I actually read? Half of Men's Journal (night one), about 75% of the D-Day magazine (every morning), and that was it. Everything else didn't even leave my bag.

Because I bought a few paperbacks: The Scam by Linda Evanovich and Lee Goldberg, First Counsel by Brad Meltzer, two Longarm novels by James Reasoner, and a Shell Scott sampler by Richard Prather. I read four chapters of The Scam and that was it.

Funny how meticulous planning can go off course for the best of reasons: spending time with the family.  Look, I love reading and read something every morning, but after days of touristy things, I was pretty tired.

Oh, and I wrote zero words of new fiction despite bringing the Chromebook. It was truly a reset time.

Happenstance TV Watching

What we did each night was watch some TV. During the regular TV season, the wife and I have a few staple shows we watch together and a few we watch separately. Down in Corpus, we watched together every night while the boy entertained himself with YouTube and other streaming shows.

Now, we subscribe to Netflix and Amazon and the streaming-compatible DVD player in the rented condo likely could have been programmed with our passwords, but each night, we opted to "just see what's on." One night was a DVD my wife bought from Half Price for $2. It was for a show called "Maggie," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. It wasn't great. One night was a 1983 Charles Bronson film "10 to Midnight," a markedly better movie but by no means great. We both chuckled about 80s action movies/police movies, especially considering the abrupt ending. The other nights were unmemorable except for the bulk of Lethal Weapon 2.

As I've written before, as nice as it is to have so much content available at our fingertips on demand, it's kinda neat to just channel surf and land on something.

That One Little Thing

So how does all this non-writing relate to writing? Well, it happened on Thursday morning on our way out of town. I specifically brought some old proof copies of a few of my books to leave in the condo. Instead, I delivered them to one of those free-standing neighborhood library pop-ups. Seeing as how these were proofs copies, all my marks-ups were scattered through the pages. So I penned a note inside each book letting future readers know what these books were, why they were marked up, but hoping they'd enjoy the story.

And I signed them.

That one little thing sparked the proverbial pilot light in my writing soul that had been too long at a low flame. Why? If I hazard a guess, it's because I was ultimately sharing those stories with others. As much as I enjoy spinning these yarns, I really enjoy sharing them. Yeah, I know ALL writers enjoy sharing their stories, but that doesn't make it untrue.

Moreover, the writing portion of the equation is the one thing over which we writers have 100% control, as JA Konrath so brilliantly pointed out this week.


I've written here about controlling the controllables. Well, earlier this week, prolific author JA Konrath discussed marketing plans by writers. He has a sobering verdict: most are bad.

However, he offered a ray of light to all writers (or all creatives) in the form of a message he'd send to his younger self:

"One brand, one genre, stop experimenting, stop being a perfectionist, and just write five good books a year in the same series. Make sure they are professionally edited and formatted, have great covers and descriptions, keep length under 75k words, and make sure they have updated, clickable bibliographies in the back matter, pre-order pages for the next release, and newsletter sign-up forms."

Head on over to the main post for his in-depth pathway that led him to this conclusion. It is chock full of details.

That's it for this week. A non-writing week full of barely reading. But that's not bad right?

Thursday, June 6, 2019

No guilt. Just pleasure.

By Derek Farrell

Two weeks ago I posted an appreciation of a series of books I’d loved as a kid.
The three investigators series (or, to give their full name Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators) meant a lot to me and I wanted to celebrate these books that filled my long summers, that I retreated to bed early with in winter and that were my escape from life in general.

I nearly didn’t publish the post.

The piece was gentle and fond and I felt, at the last minute, that it might be seen as a cop-out. The world, let’s face it, is a dumpster filled with shit, soaked in kerosene and set alight. Fascism is on the rise. Sexism, racism and homophobia are debated in terms that suggest there may be something to actually fucking debate, transphobia is, once again, fashionable, money appears to have won the war, our politicians appear corrupt or compromised, and the gulf between those with power (money) and those without is vast and increasing every single day.

I felt a fraud posting a piece about some out of print books I loved when there was so much else I could be challenging or addressing, and debated whether to just can the post and think of something new.

Which was when one of the editors of this site looked at the piece and opined: “It’s good. I liked it. You should run it.”

And I did. And I am so very very glad that I listened to him and that I ran it, because the response was really quite touching. And by touching I mean I cried several times in the days that followed. Not bitter ‘I’ve been had at by the Trolls’ tears, but really happy melancholic ‘Every time Carrie’s mom convinces me I’m alone the universe conspires to prove to me that I am absolutely not’ tears.

I had tweets, retweets, comments on the post, a surge of signups to my website ( join my readers club and get an exclusive free Danny Bird Mystery. <salespitch off>), book recommendations and people sharing their own appreciation for and reviews of the series, and – all told – a real outpouring of love.

And it really touched me. Too much of my life these days is caught up in and by the things I hate, or the things I’m afraid of, and it can feel sometimes like retreating to the comfortable is both dangerous and cowardly, but this week reminded me of some things I wanted to share:

Finding out the thing you love is also loved by lots and lots of random people feels amazing. It actually feels (to be honest) more amazing than finding out you share a foe.

Letting yourself revel in some positivity, some nostalgia, some good old fashioned geeking out is as valid and healing a form of self care as any other.

My rights are being debated on TV like they are things the debating of which is even valid, and at the weekend – on virtually the first day of Pride month - a British politician – who’s party recently polled over 30% in European elections – suggested that Science might one day be able to come up with a solution for the problem of Gays.

Imagine that. Imagine people openly debating whether slavery had some valid points; whether people of colour have too many rights, whether women are too independent and might benefit from a more patriarchal society.

Actually, scratch that: You probably don’t need to imagine it, cos you’ve probably heard those debates, those ‘we have to give every crazed bigot equal air time like their bullshit is of equal value to basic human decency.”

So: discovering that there is positivity out there, that there is commonality, that books I loved are a unifier with people I would never imagine I have a link to, and that my passion is reflected back was, for me, a hugely positive and reaffirming thing.

There’s no lesson here (it’s not the Waltons, folks). I just wanted to keep the joy going a little longer and remind everyone that loving what you love shouldn’t be a guilty pleasure. Celebrate it.

(And the cat? The cat’s not even my cat. I’m not even a cat person - I’m much more dog.  She belongs to a neighbour, but she comes to my house and sits with me when I read or when I write. She lets me pet and play with her. She takes great joy in shredding my forearms and pretend-sinking her fangs into my calves if I’m wearing shorts; and she’s here because she reminds me of the value of loving the moment, of slowly and deliberately getting your doze on in any spot of available warm sunlight and knowing when to stop play-fighing and sink your fangs into something worth sinking them in to).

Thanks for reading.


Derek Farrell is the author of The Danny Bird Mysteries which have been described as “Like Will & Grace meets AbFab. With Bodies,” “Like MC Beaton on MDMA,” and - by no lessan expert than comedy genius Eric Idle - as “Quite Good.”
The books are available on Amazon or direct from the publisher here (where each paperback comes with a free EBook download).

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Jen Conley on Writing YA Fiction

Scott's Note: Jen Conley, author of the superb story collection Cannibals, has a new book out.  It's a YA novel, and her first YA book of any kind.  But wait.  Young Adult?  From an author who, up till now, has produced a body of emotionally dark, quite unsparing adult crime fiction? What's going on?  I asked Jen if she'd like to talk about what prompted her to write YA, and she said she would.

Let's see what she has to say:

Seriously, What Am I Doing In YA? 

My novel, SEVEN WAYS TO GET RID OF HARRY, is about 13-year-old Danny Zelko who comes up with seven ways to get rid of his mom’s cruel boyfriend. The book is considered YA, meaning Young Adult, a book for older kids and teens. I consider myself an adult writer because pretty much everything I’ve published so far has been for adults. So what am I doing in YA?
I have no idea.
It just seemed like a good idea at the time when I came up with it.

The origins of this book go back a few years. “Seven Ways To Get Rid Of Harry” was the title of a short story I’d written for Thomas Pluck’s anthology, Protectors. It was for adults, not kids. This gave me the free reign to be psychologically brutal because the story is about psychological abuse, and some physical abuse too. Harry is the boyfriend of Danny’s mom and he’s not just cruel, he leans towards the sociopathic--which can be pretty terrifying. When I finished writing the short story, I was proud of it and proud to have it published in Tom Pluck’s anthology. Then I moved on to write more stuff.

But that kid, Danny Zelko--hyperactive, punky, mouthy, tough, annoying, lover of Pink Floyd--kept hanging around my brain like a pine fly. (If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting a relentless, annoying, painful NJ pine fly, please, take a trip to the Pine Barrens. Enjoy.) The boy wouldn’t go away. Sort of like some of my students.

Students: “Hey Ms. Conley. Whatcha doing?”
Me: “This is my break! I’m off the clock! Go away. Find a friend!”
Students: (cackling) “Someone’s having a bad day.”

So why does one write a YA novel when they’ve always written for adults?

That’s easy. I’m a teacher. I’m around middle school kids all day, particularly 12 and 13-year olds. I know what they’re like, right down to their isms and language and most of all, what they’re afraid of: the vice principal’s office, being ostracized or embarrassed by their peers, losing their parents, nuclear war and, more recently, school shootings. But I also know what they love: snow days, their cell phones, candy and gum, friends, dogs and cats, some of their teachers, and humor. Because I’m around them all day long, eventually a character like annoying and knuckleheaded-at-times Danny Zelko would set up shop in my head. 

In the beginning, many writers try out different genres but eventually declare a favorite in a timely manner. Not me. I had to wander around many genres and make writing more difficult for myself. Writers are marketable when they stick to one ballpark area. Readers expect it. And although I lean towards crime, I like other things too. I like Nick Hornby. (I’d like to be a darker Nick Hornby.) I grew up loving Judy Blume and there was a time I was going to write Judy Blume-esq books. I adore the horror novels Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, and I spent a little time trying to write horror. Yet my favorite storyline leans towards the working class American who doesn’t have the money to make the choices that would change their lives for the better. So they go for broke, take that risk, plan a crime or fall into one, and the ending is usually bleak. A Springsteen song basically. But Young Adult doesn’t really fit with the hopeless world of a classic Springsteen song. 

Or does it? I never wanted to write YA because I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a Young Adult writer (and I still don’t) which is why I dodged Danny Zelko for a few years. In addition, how could I turn a sad, broken adult story into something hopeful and funny for kids? And why risk it? Risk being known as a YA writer when you really want to write for adults too?

I don’t know. I’m not really good at the business end of writing no matter how hard I try. I mean, I get the business end but it’s so, well, frustrating. Like buying a new car you don’t have the money for. All I can say is when a character stomps around your head day and night, you go for it. And I liked this kid. He’s mouthy, punky, and a pain, but he’s also very self-sufficient and deep down, kind. Still, he’s in a bad situation. He misses his dead dad, and worst of all, he knows he’ll spend the next few years enduring and fighting Harry’s sociopathic harassment until it turns physical. Because it will. It always does. I have empathy for Danny, like I have empathy for all my students in tough family situations. For the kids right now who live Danny’s life, and for the adults who once lived with a Harry.

When you write YA, you should leave the novel on a hopeful note. You don’t have to, but you should. Kids are too young for bleak endings, or at least I think so. Danny has hope that he can outmaneuver his situation because, well, he’s thirteen, still full of hope. In addition, he’s also an underdog and a survivor, which I think is very important for the genre of crime fiction. The best crime fiction stories are about underdogs and survivors. Maybe that’s why I’m in YA with this book—I’m mixing the hard knocks of crime fiction and the optimism of a good Judy Blume book. Maybe I’m trying to capture that moment before it all goes to pot for Danny. Because I know Danny’s life is going to be one of hard work, little money, broken hearts, broken dreams.
Or will it? He’s got a lot of spit and grit.
I have hope that he’ll break out of a grind and do something great. Or justified. Or drastic.

I think I’d even like Danny in my class. Sure, I’d be pulling him out in the hall and giving him a talking to every other week, and maybe send him to the vice principal when he hit my last nerve. He’d hate me at times but I think eventually, like all my Danny Zelkos, we’d arrive at a truce. He may even ask me to sign his yearbook. 

That'd be in June, though, when our time together has come to an end.

You can find Seven Ways to Get Rid of Harry right here:

Monday, June 3, 2019

Writing While Trans, Part 3: We Deserve to Be Heroes

Here is the evolution of trans representation in crime fiction created by cisgender people:

STEP ONE: Trans people? Do they really exist? Nah!

STEP TWO: Trans hookers, always good for a laugh (not) or awkward moment.

STEP THREE: Dead trans hookers. Oh how tragic. And still a little awkward. Oh well.

Beau Bridges as a trans cop on The Closer
STEP FOUR: Trans cop or lawyer reunites with former colleagues for awkward laughs. Usually played on TV by cis men with embarrassing dialogue and stumbling around on heels. Lots of misgendering and use of transphobic slurs.

STEP FIVE: Dead trans person, but not a hooker. Look how woke we are! Still lots of misgendering and focus on body parts.

STEP SIX: Wait, is there a step six yet?

And that's in the television arena. I can count on one hand (with fingers left over) the number of times I've read a trans character in a crime novel written by a cisgender person in any of the above scenarios.

There is an assumption that because I'm transgender, I write transgender fiction. That my stories are written for trans people. Nope. Traditional publishers tried to stick me in that box and I walked away and started Dark Pariah Press instead.

I don't write coming out stories or transition stories or trans romance or trans erotica. I write gritty crime fiction, but from a trans point of view. Because we deserve to be represented as more than the tired tropes of sex workers and murder victims. We deserve to be heroes.

We deserve to be represented as people with agency, people with dignity, people who fight back against injustice. We deserve to be the lead detectives in police procedurals. The private eyes solving the crimes. And in the case of my Jinx Ballou series, the badass bounty hunters.

June 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, when queer people of all stripes (including trans women) fought back against years of police brutality. And while we have made some progress, so much has been pushed back since Trump took office.

I can't stop the horrific actions that Trump and his vile supporters are doing to actively and viciously make life even harder for queer people. Stripping away what few rights and protections we briefly enjoyed.

But I will continue to write exciting, balls-to-the-wall, hard-to-put-down thrillers from a transgender point of view. I write them not just for trans people, but for all fans of gritty crime fiction, to give them a glimpse of the realities faced by my community.

And I'm not alone in my quest for trans representation in crime fiction. I highly recommend Renee James's Bobbi Logan series (starting with Transition to Murder) and Jennifer Finney Boylan's recently released Long Black Veil.

And as proof that cisgender people can write fabulous trans protagonists, I also recommend Laurie Rockenbeck's Bound to Die.

So after all that, here is Step Six.

STEP SIX: We deserve to be heroes.

P.S. In honor of this historic LGBTQIA Pride Month, CHASER is on sale for only 99 cents until June 8. Get your copy now!

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