Saturday, July 13, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 28

Scott D. Parker

Another slow week from the offices of Quadrant Fiction Studio but there was a great highlight of the work week.

Making a Connection

I've known Paul Bishop digitally a few years now. I contributed to the brand-new 52 Weeks - 52 TV Westerns, out just this month. Here's a link to the paperback copy.

This week, I got to have a Skype chat with him. It was over my lunch hour at the day job. I found an empty conference room, fired up my iPhone, and he and I talked for almost the entire hour. It was wonderful to actually see and speak with a fellow author. I don't know about y'all but if I hear an interview with an author and I can hear their voice, then I can "play" it in my head when I read an email or a comment said author makes.

But Skyping is so much better! We had a good conversation about the writing business, what he's doing, what I'm doing. I left that particular lunch hour on a high. Thanks, Paul.

The New Project

The new book is going well. I didn't make as much progress and I'd have liked to this week, but that's okay. I'm not rushing it. I want to take my time with it and make sure it is the best it can be before I start talking about it in earnest.

Out of the Blue Reading Choices

I started two new things this week, both out of what I typically choose to read. First is the latest Sandra Brown paperback TAILSPIN. Why? Well, the cover caught my eye at the grocery store last Sunday. Curious, I read the back cover blurb. Sounded good. But I've never read a Brown novel.

Still not quite sure, I ended up returning home and downloading the preview on my Kobo ereader. By the time I reached the end of the free content, I was hooked. I ended up buying the book. And dang if I'm not enjoying it. Who knew?

The other interesting reading choice is a trade paperback of ARCHIE: 1941. While the Archie comics started in 1941, they often took a pass on the important issues of the day, according to the introduction. With this modern comic, Archie and his companions actually face World War II. I've only read chapter/issue one so far, but I'm hooked.

Apollo 11

Starting this Tuesday, 16 July, the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing begins. Think about this while you go through your week. Apollo 11 launches on Tuesday. It doesn't land until 20 July, which is Saturday this year (it was Sunday in 1969). Imagine being in that space ship from Tuesday until Saturday. Three full days plus. Could you do that? I think it would be, um, difficult.

Anyway, enjoy this anniversary this week. I know I will.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

You'll never break THE CHAIN: an Interview with Adrian McKinty

 The Chain

--Thomas Pluck

The writing game is a tough one. The worst day in writing is still better than the best day in construction, but we don't see the struggle of most writers. We assume that writers whose work we love, who garner many awards, are doing well. This isn't always the case. For example, Adrian McKinty, author of the beloved Sean Duffy crime series set in '80s Northern Ireland, wrote recently about losing his family's home and driving for Uber to make ends meet. After 20 years of writing in the midlist, he was set to quit. He's won many awards, and everyone I know who reads his wonderful novels loves them. I bought the whole series when McKinty and fam moved to New York, and I met him at Noir at the Bar Queens. But according to him, those books only sell two or three thousand copies.

Now the writers reading this might scoff and wish for such sales. In the name of transparency, I've sold about the same with my books, and I've only been published for six years and have written two books. I'm not a name like Adrian. I was stunned, because I know what the royalties translate to. It's not a living. But there's good news for The Great McKinty. His new thriller THE CHAIN has great reviews--including my own, here at Criminal Element--and a seven figure movie deal. I spoke with him about the Duffy series, the new novel, and his exquisite musical and literary tastes. Here is our interview. 

Tommy P: The Chain is set to be this summer's blockbuster. First: Congratulations! I loved the book. Let's get the question you've no doubt been peppered with out of the way. What inspired the fiendish premise?

Adrian McKinty: I was in Mexico City working on another book about the murder of Leon Trotsky and I read about this concept of exchange kidnappings whereby a family member exchanges himself or herself with a more vulnerable family member while they raise the ransom… I combined that with the chain letters from my childhood and came up with the concept which initially I wrote as a short story. The morality underpinnings of the story has of course many precursors such as ‘The Button’, ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ etc. So its not terrible original in those terms but it is a spin on these ideas.

TP: When writers pivot to thrillers, they often dumb it down or think it's somehow "easier" than other forms, but The Chain doesn't have that problem. Your style is quick but not simplified, but your allusions and references to poetry and literature remain. Did it feel freeing to leave the first person point of view of Sean Duffy and write several characters, including the villains?

AK: I’ve always preferred standalones to series titles exactly because of that freedom! I love the fact that in a standalone everyone could die in the final chapter. I’ve done books like that which end like Hamlet the stage covered with blood and bodies. I do really prefer the freedom of going anywhere!

TP: I loved the Massachusetts setting, and I'm familiar with the Quabbin area that you reference with the little nods to Lovecraft. You made it as realistic as your novels set in '80s Northern Ireland.  Have you lived there? What made you choose it as the setting?

AK: I know Northern Mass really well. My wife is from there and I’ve spent about 20 summers there and a few winters too. I love that part of the world and yes I love the fact that’s Lovecraft country.

TP: I was flabbergasted when I learned that your Sean Duffy series isn't printed in the U.K. It's one of my favorite series, and I am generally not fond of police procedurals, which read like police state fan fiction. Duffy is more like a hardboiled P.I. Do you have more in store for Sean, and we will see more standalones? Perhaps set in Australia?

AK: I love the character of Duffy and writing books set in that milieu but its been a very hard sell trying to get people to read books sent in 1980s Belfast. Its not the readers fault of course. Its my fault.

TP: How are you handling your new level of success? Because while the Duffy novels aren't as famous as they deserve--here's hoping they soon will be--I won't say they weren't "success." You will always be a writer's writer to me, no matter how well known you become, because you respect the genre while bending it to your literary will. 

AK: If I do get money for The Chain it’s going to make me a better writer. Constantly worrying about money as an anxiety I do not need in my life. Stress kills creativity in my opinion.

TP: What are your favorite books of the past year? I put The Overstory by Richard Powers on my list because you raved. 

AK: Overstory and Milkman were probably my two big favourites. Boy they were great books. And they were both up for the Booker Prize which proved it was a good year for fiction. Every once in a while Will Self will write an article in the Guardian declaring the novel to be dead and I’m like did you read the Booker Shortlist? The National Book Award shortlist? The Pulitzer Shortlist? The Edgar Shortlist? The Hugo Shortlist? I mean holy fuck mate there’s so much amazing stuff out there…

TP: Have you watched Derry Girls? I liked season one, but I have no idea how true to life it is. 

Derry Girls is a bit broad for me. I’m happy that people are looking at Derry through new eyes and I’m happy that people are finally understanding that Ulster people have a sense of humour. But its not really my sense of humour. I’m a wee bit dryer.

TP: As a disclaimer, thank you for blurbing my novel Bad Boy Boogie. What crime fiction novels have excited you lately?

AK: You took my blurb off the cover and replaced it with someone more famous didn’t you? One does not forget such slights. I just read two BIG novels. Winslow’s The Border and Ellroy’s This Storm both of which were fantastic.

It deserves to be on the cover! But my publisher couldn't make it fit. --ed. (Not Ed. Tommy.)
TP: I'm an I.T. professional, The Chain didn't require any willful suspension of disbelief for me. It takes the internet-strangled lifestyle of the past decade and makes it our worst nightmare, without being fanciful. Have you taken extra online precautions, after writing this? Are you surprised at how much information people share that could be weaponized by their enemies?

AK: I’m not on Facebook so I didn’t know if what I was going to say in the book was bullshit or not. But my wife is and I spent a couple of days on her account going through her friends’ accounts. I was absolutely astounded and horrified by the amount of information people put online without thinking. Casually mentioning that their back door is broken and doesn’t close and when they’ll be leaving the house etc. etc. Horrifying…

TP: Without ruining the surprises, I loved that The Chain wasn't a techno-thriller, despite depending on tech for its premise. I've known catfish, and I'm glad someone made a villain that is based on the reality of internet obsessives who know how to use it as a weapon. Have you ever had a frightening online experience from a stalker or troll?

AK: Funnily enough for this book I’ve had a few angry Duffy obsessives giving me 1 star reviews and saying that they hadn’t read the book but would keep giving me 1 star reviews until I bring out the new Sean Duffy novel. To me that is not very nice behavior on the part of a “fan”. It hasn’t gotten weirder than that thank goodness.

That's terrible, and I will tell fellow Duffy fans that The Chain is as great a read as any of the series novels.-Tom (aka ed.)
TP: Last one--the Duffy series wouldn't be the same without his record collection, but that's limited by the constraints of the period setting. What new music do you like, if any? If Sean makes it to the modern day, what would he spin on his turntable?

AK: Sean and I don’t have exactly the same tastes. I’ve often wondered what he would make of the 90s? Would he be on board with grunge, Radiohead etc? I dunno. For me I’ve liked new stuff from Joanna Newsom, James Holden, Nine Inch Nails, Tyler The Creator, Max Richter, VNV Nation etc.
Back to all Tommy, all the time---
I'll be adding those to my playlists. For me, Dragon Inn 3, The Haxan Cloak, Jucifer, Santigold, and the new albums by L7 and the Lunachicks have been on my rotation. Love 'em to death.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

You Can't Choose How Your Writing Mind Works

I recently had dinner with a friend of mine who's a writer.  He was talking about how he almost never writes now without a screen on his laptop open to the Google homepage, or some page of the Internet.  He uses the Internet constantly while in the act of writing; it's an essential research tool for him, and with it he can find exactly what he needs, no matter how obscure, to make a particular detail he's presenting unexpected yet authentic.  I found this frequent and ongoing use of the Internet by a writer I very much respect interesting; he said that it's difficult for him to put down something on the page without knowing quite a lot of background about it, and one can delve into these backgrounds more thoroughly and easily than ever now because of the Internet.

Whatever works for you, do it, I thought. And my friend's describing how he needs to know so much about what's behind every detail he's writing down reminded me of a literary story I love.  It involves the great writers Paul and Jane Bowles, who were married, and originates from Paul's 1972 autobiography, Without Stopping.

The two were living as expatriates in Fez, Morocco in the nineteen forties.  Both were working on novels.  Each morning they ate breakfast in bed in Jane's room, and afterwards, Paul would go to his room and they would each write.  Between the two rooms, they would keep the door open in case they wanted to talk to each other.

At some point, Jane called out, "Bupple [her pet name for Paul].  What's a cantilever, exactly?"

Absorbed in the last chapter of his novel, Paul said something that seemed, to him, fairly accurate.  He didn't think about Jane's question after answering and went right back to work on his book.  He kept making progress. But after 3 or 4 days, hearing little typing from Jane's room, he realized that Jane was not making progress on her book.  She was still stuck trying to get a character in her story from one side of a gorge to another.  Paul writes, "I got up and walked into her room.  We talked for a while about the problem, and I confessed my mystification.  'Why do you have to construct the damned thing?' I demanded.  'Why can't you just say it was there and let it go at that?'  She shook her head. 'If I don't know how it was built, I can't see it.'"  Paul was flabbergasted.  He never had thought that considerations such as Jane's would preoccupy any writer. 

I told this story, while we were eating, to my friend, and he laughed.  He nodded his head.  He said he understood where Jane was coming from and said he was "totally down with that."  I laughed as well. The mental makeups of writers are so different and there's no telling what they need in their minds in order to get words down on a page, and I can't think of an anecdote that shows this better than the one about Paul and Jane Bowles.

I should add that over their lifetimes, taking their methods into account, that Paul was much more prolific than Jane.  Then again, sadly, Jane had a stroke at the age of forty and died well before Paul did.  He wrote four novels, many short stories, travel books, and his autobiography; she produced one novel, one play, and one collection of short stories.  But both, quite different as writers, have bodies of work of remarkable quality and originality, so pointing out this contrast of methods is not to say one beats the other.  Any writer can write only as he or she must write. 

But, still, it does make one wonder.

Who are you more like, if you had to pick -- Paul ("Just say it was there and let it go at that.") or Jane ("If I don't know how it was built, I can't see it.")?

Monday, July 8, 2019

Writing While Sober

Recently, a friend posted on social media about how the trope of the alcoholic cop or PI is overused and tired. In many ways it is. It's a cliché to an extent. But so are a lot of things in crime fiction.

We have the discovery of the body near the beginning of a murder mystery. Cozies have their crime-solving cats (or dogs) and their amateur PI pastry chefs. The Cabot Cove syndrome where every week someone is killed in a small town. There is the trope of the serial killer, including the serial killer protagonist with a code. There is the quirky mentalist (ala Sherlock Holmes) who can know all about a person with a single glance.

As it happens, I'm working on the third draft of A BROKEN WOMAN, my latest Jinx Ballou bounty hunter novel. And this one starts with Jinx Ballou in a deep, alcohol-fueled, suicidal depression as she struggles with the trauma of having lost a loved one at the end of the previous book.

I found myself wondering if I should scrap that part of the story. Ultimately, I decided to keep it in. And here is why.

For starters, this is not an ongoing thing for Jinx Ballou. She didn't have a substance abuse problem in the first two books, nor do I plan to have it be a part of the plot of future stories. This is simply her character arc in this story--a woman struggling through trauma and grief.

Secondly, I am intimately familiar with using alcohol as a way of trying to cope with trauma and grief. Just yesterday, I celebrated my 23rd sobriety birthday. I'm a survivor of multiple suicide attempts, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, and a whole host of other mental issues. So I'd like to think I bring a level of authenticity to this story arc that perhaps other stories relying on this trope do not. (BTW, I live a very peaceful, rewarding life now, so yay for my sobriety.)

Finally, tropes in genre fiction exist for a reason. In short, we love them.

I enjoy watching The Mentalist, Monk, Psych, Elementary, and Sherlock, even though they are reinventions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Why? Because they're fun.

Romance readers insist on a happily-ever-after (HEA) ending to romance novels. Sure it's a trope. The stories are recycled over and over in infinite retellings. And some of the sub-genre tropes (e.g. the reverse harem and the secret baby) almost seem ripped from the tabloids. But fans of romance love these. And that is totally cool.

So what makes a popular trope entertaining instead of cliché? In part when a writer can find a way to take that trope in a new direction.

Going back to the Sherlock Holmes trope, we have Patrick Jane from the Mentalist who is funny and often unexpected in how he manipulates people, while driving his coworkers insane. Adrian Monk's quirks and phobias also add freshness to the trope, while showing how a disabled person can use his uniqueness to his advantage.

Will I be able to pull off the alcoholic investigator trope in this latest Jinx Ballou story? I hope so. By recognizing it as a trope, I am conscious of the risks and motivated to push it in new and entertaining ways. I can draw on my personal experience to bring a deep authenticity to the character's journey through her trauma.

Ultimately, you will be the judge when A BROKEN WOMAN: A JINX BALLOU NOVEL launches in December. So stay tuned.

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