Saturday, July 27, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 30

Scott D. Parker

Prolific writer Dean Wesley Smith calls summer the Time of the Great Forgetting. It’s that part of the year in which all those New Year’s Resolutions authors made to write more content slowly fades away. Come Labor Day, they’ll wake up, realize they blew a 97-day time to progress on their work, and likely feel depressed. Smith has a cure for that here.

For me, it’s not so much a great forgetting as a dividing of focus. There’s a project I’m working on—the same one I mentioned last week, the one about a filmmaker’s work—that’ll go live the first full week of August. It’s grown more than a bit, but it’s a blast to do. Looking forward, the bulk of the work on this project will be done by mid August, and from then on, it’ll just be rolling out on a weekly basis.

And there might be a video component. Stay tuned.

But said filmmaker’s body of work has also inspired to write a novel that is completely different than anything I’ve ever written. I’m making slow but steady progress on it, with an aim for publication this fall. I’m not forgetting.  Are you?

One Name to Rule Them All

Back in 2015 when I started publishing my mystery novels, I used my full name. When I came around and started publishing Westerns, I kept full name. Over time, as I listened and learned how other writers conducted their businesses, I decided to segment my books with a separate pen name for the Westerns, S. D. Parker. The idea was Also-Boughts and the algorithms churning underneath the facades of all the various online bookstores. Made sense at the time.

But over time, my thinking has evolved. When I ask veteran writers the question about pen names, almost all of them suggest using a single name, no matter then genre. As long as the covers are genre-specific with genre-specific SEO and blurbs, it’ll ultimately be better to have a single name and put everything under it.

I was leaning that direction, but over the summer, I have decided to bring the Westerns under the Scott Dennis Parker name. It’s not a big deal, really. All it means is that I’ll have to de-list the S. D. Parker books, slightly change the covers and internal front matter, and then republish.

If someone finds my work via Westerns and they like mysteries, they’ll have an easy transition. The reverse is also true.

More importantly, however, is the idea that a business can change as trends and new ideas emerge. Nothing wrong with that.

Having everything under one name will make all grunt work of file management much more streamlined.  I’m even contemplating bringing all my stories under the Draft2Digital universe. I’ve got most of them there now and they truly make it a no-brainer. just this week, I’ve been sending them questions about the procedures for changing my author name. They get back to me with personalized answers within a day. Customer service goes a long way.

Anyone else use Draft2Digital? If not, I certainly recommend them.

Interview of the Week: Paul Levitz

Dan Greenfield, over at the wonderful 13th Dimension website, re-posted his 2015 interviews with Levitz in honor of the longtime editor/writer’s induction into the Eisner Hall of Fame at Comicon this year.

They talk about his tenure as the sole Batman editor starting in 1978. Great behind-the-scenes stuff.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Some Ideas About Running a Noir at the Bar

By David Nemeth

Noir at the Bar, Wilmington DE, (July 21, 12019)
I'm still learning how to do organize this whacky thing called Noir at the Bar. But here are some things I try to do. Any other suggestions would be appreciated.

1. Find the Sweet Spot for Number of Readers

It's not as easy as one thinks to get this number right: is it 6, 8, 10, 12 – even odd numbers are okay. For me in Wilmington DE, the number is 6. For Eryk Pruitt in Hillsborough NC, his number is 8.

2. Get a Host for the Night

If you've done enough already organizing the event. It's not like you're going to chilled and relaxed during the N@B, but give yourself one less thing to do. (Stolen from Eryk Pruitt)

3. Publish Bios of Writers Prior to the Night

You already collect the bios for the host to introduce the writers, use them ahead of time and published them on Facebook the week before. The writers get excited about a little promotion and it's a great reminder through the week that Noir at the Bar is upcoming.

4. Have an Audience Favorite Award

The audience loves it and the writer that wins the award really seems to like it. You can get anything engraved on Amazon. (Stolen from Ed Aymar)

5. Adapt to Your Location

Stoney's British Pub was recently on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. The clientele has changed a bit over the last few months–more kids in with their families. I'm going to have to begin asking writers to have two stories: the regular story and a PG version.

6. Get a Good Mix of Local and Out-of-Town Writers

Local writers bring in family and friends. Out-of-towners, well, they're usually just trouble.

7. Coach Writers on How to Use a Microphone

Please, writers, don't be scared of the microphone. Put it right up against your mouth and do your business.

8. Make a Poster

Make sure the poster works well on various social media.

9. Make a Facebook Event

Yeah, yeah, you hate Facebook. Get over yourself and embrace Satan.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Camp NECon 39 report: oh joy of joys

Last weekend was the 39th year of Camp NEcon, the NorthEast Writers Convention. I had heard of it from fellow horror writers, but didn't go earlier because I don't write that many horror stories, and wasn't sure I'd fit in. Horror is a broad genre, the horror fans at NEcon are a welcoming bunch, and crime writers and fantasy writers and SF writers and well, all writers will feel right at home there. It's like any other convention, a bit nerdy, but not so much that you won't speak the language. The Booth family has run the event for 39 years and their experience shows. It was one of the best run conventions I've ever attended.

It was unfortunate that one of the guests of honor, Megan Abbott, couldn't make it this year. She was missed, and we had conversations about how well she writes about class distinctions, the dangerous obsessions of groups--whether they be competitive cheerleaders, parents of gymnasts, lab chemists, cozy suburbs, or high school cliques--and how her work fills us with unease. I hope Megan can attend another year! Guests of Honor included John Langan, author of The Fisherman and many unsettling short stories, poet Linda Addison, artist Reiko Murakami, and writer Grady Hendrix, author of My Best Friend's Exorcism, We Sold Our Souls, and the mass market horror boom retrospective  Paperbacks from Hell.

I arrived Thursday afternoon after a hellish drive north up I-95 through the remnants of Hurricane Barry, which made for a six hour trip. So, I was extremely grateful to be welcomed at registration with not only my badge, but my hotel room key. After dumping my duffel of goofy shirts and books to be signed in my room--a dorm room, a little threadworn but quite comfortable, and included in the registration price--I bumped into authors Bracken MacLeod and Errick Nunnally, two friends I first met online. They are the Frick and Frack of NeCon, seasoned veterans of the event, and great ambassadors for both NeCon and their genres. Bracken is the author of the creepy Arctic thriller Stranded and the crime thriller Mountain Home; Errick has written horror such as Blood for the Sun and an intriguing superhero novel that comes out in September from ChiZine Publications, Lightning Wears a Red Cape.

We immediately hugged, talked shit, and whiskeyed up. I was introduced to more people in less time that in the famous scene in Goodfellas, and everyone was genuine and friendly. Unlike a lot of genre cons, NeCon has no hierarchy of writer-publisher-fan, everyone is on the same level. Over the course of the weekend I would have long conversations with fans, editors, publishers, and authors at the same tables or huddles, everyone from editor Jaime Levine, authors Dana Cameron, Laird Barron, Paul Tremblay, GoH John Langan, con organizers Dan Booth & family, new writer Chris Nova (who will have a story in Angel Luis Colón's upcoming Puerto Rico anthology, ¡Pa'Que Tu Lo Sepas!), artist Dyer Wilk, and so many more. It's an inclusive con. They have an orientation on day one to help new attendees, and they are helpful to us folks with social anxiety. They also have a final panel on Sunday to hear suggestions on what people want to see, and what they can do better.

NeCon operates differently than most. They take over an entire dorm at Roger Williams University, and your registration includes half a room and three meals a day at the fully staffed cafeteria, with a chef who will make vegan, allergen-friendly, and other meals if you have such needs. There is also dessert. A cold brew coffee fountain. And on two nights, they have weenie roasts of local hot dogs called "Saugies," which I'd never had before. They're a good dog. I'll stick with Usinger's as my personal favorite, but they were good, and they had vegan dogs too. All included in the $475 registration. Now, you have to share a room. But you can sign up with a friend, ask for a quiet or a party room, get a first floor room if you don't like stairs. Sharing a room is what made me anxious until I scanned the guest list and asked people I knew if they were free. The con organizers are very helpful and answer questions via email. If you absolutely don't want to share a room, there are local hotels, but they fill up fast during the summer season, and you will miss some of the camaraderie. They offer day passes without rooms and food. I nearly went for this method but I'm very glad I didn't.

Thursday is mostly for meeting old friends, and they have a Saugy roast and a Scotch tasting, so we rushed to the local liquor store and I grabbed a bottle of Jura, a smooth entry-level Islay scotch. I'd brought a bottle of Laphroaig for those of us who enjoy a shovelful of ashes in our mouth, but felt that was cheating--it would be the least tippled bottle--and I didn't want to be a schnorrer, so I bought a fresh bottle and none of it came home. Dana Cameron brought two, including a Balvenie she bottled herself at the distillery, Bracken brought Japanese whisky, and I don't remember much after that. People who don't like whiskey had wheated bourbon, a Chinese sorghum liquor, and those who don't drink alcohol had sweet tea and lemonade from the cafeteria, and were welcome to sniff the smoky Peat Monster and gym sock aroma of the sorghum booze.

Starting a con with 12 or 14 tastes of whiskey is not advised. But I was there for the 8:00am breakfast. I ate all the bacon and eggs they had. By 7pm and three huge tumblers of iced cold brew coffee, I was feeling human again, and I paced myself better. The panels were nicely varied, with new authors alongside seasoned pros like Christopher Golden, and they had a noir panel on Sunday--noir can't catch a break, but isn't that sort of the point? It was well attended, to my surprise. These con-goers back each other up, and I dig that.

This one has a feel more like the cozier regional crime cons like Left Coast, with no competing panels, so you don't have to choose between friends or talk to an empty room because you're up against the Guests of Honor. They don't give awards, so there's no competition anxiety there, either. They roast one lucky person on Saturday night, but it was good-natured fun. And they don't roast you in a giant Wicker Man, thankfully. There are just enough events that you have plenty of time to talk with people; you can sign up for mini-golf, foosball, ping pong, RPG playing, and much more. Or you can... not. The dealer's room includes the art show, and you can sell your own books at the Meet the Authors event where the writers take over the cafeteria and lure readers to their tables with candy, tchotchkes, and their cosmic hypnotic mind powers.

The con is held in Portsmouth Rhode Island, with some nearby beaches, parks, a classic car museum, and a cannabis dispensary across the border in Massachusetts. It's near Providence, which lends itself to Lovecraft tours and trips to the art museum, and it's an hour or so south of the Edward Gorey House, if you want to visit. My Gashlycrumb Tinies shirt went over well, he's beloved in the horror genre. I was witness to no drama. Strangers were friendly and happy to introduce themselves and talk, or you can read, write, or thumb your phone and be left alone, if you needed it. There's a koffee klatsch room for discussions of the best books, movies, and TV of the year, which is a good way to meet new people.

I bought a lot of books. My goodie bag included The City of Lost Fortunes by Bryan Camp, but I picked up everything from Frozen Hell, the newly expanded version of "Who Goes There?"--the short story that inspired The Thing--by James Campbell, to books by Grady Hendrix, Paul Tremblay, John Langan, Bracken MacLeod, and a chapbook with teaser chapters of Errick Nunnally's new novel and Craig Wolf's The Queen of the Nightbirds, an art print of a cover Jill Baumann painted for Jack Williamson's creepy classic Darker Than You Think, and a forged iron twisty dagger dingus by John Harvey:

I was sad to go before the "how we doin'?" panel and the farewell picnic, but I was eager to return home and be harassed for affection from Louie Loaf, and to jump into the building's pool to assuage the Perfectly Normal Heat Wave that is melting Siberia and the Arctic and That Is Totally Fine.

I did get to say thanks to the con runners and the folks to made me feel welcome at my first NeCon, before embarking on the haunted giant lizard spine of Interstate 95 in Connecticut, who are unarguably The Worst Drivers in the Western Hemisphere.

See you next year at NeCon! It's not a Midsommar ritual sacrifice, I promise!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Where There's Sun, There's Fright

I caught up with Midsommar over the weekend, having done my best over the last couple of weeks to avoid hearing any details about the story.  Hereditary I certainly found effective so I had high hopes for Midsommar and most of the feedback I got from friends and acquaintances was good.  Well, I wasn't disappointed.

I like all sorts of horror movies, but when they work, there's no horror I like more than the slow-building kind, where tension and dread gradually build, uncanny and disturbing detail following uncanny and disturbing detail, the mousetrap getting tighter and tighter for the characters. That Ari Aster loves the films of Roman Polanski and Stanley Kubrick is apparent, but he has his own sensibility and he seems like one of those directors who emerged, as it were, fully formed. Two feature films in, and he's good with story development, mood, tension, the actors, the sound design, the camera -- pretty much everything.  And so far, in those two films, he has plunged right into focusing on grief and trauma and mourning and the horror that can come from family ties -- no fooling around with tongue in cheek horror or horror that has a meta quality. I have no quibbles with that.

Among my favorite folk horror films to date are the ones most horror film lovers mention: Witchfinder General with Vincent Price (1968), the weird and nightmarish Blood on Satan's Claw (1971), and of course The Wicker Man (1973), with Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee.  There have been others, and I would certainly throw in Ben Wheatley's Kill List (2011), which doesn't seem to start as a horror film at all but turns into something terrifying.  

Midsommar is now added to the list.  

Ari Aster knows quite well how to blend the mundane and absurd with the dreadful.  He can be funny in the most unexpected places, an ability that helps keep the viewer off-balance, and it would be hard to find a better example of how to wring tension from brightness. Once the story reaches Sweden, is there a shadow in the film?  Maybe one or two, no more.

Do you know where Midsommar is heading as you watch? Basically, yes.  Of course.  But the pleasure resides in how the trippy story unfolds, the tension and unease along the way, the many small surprises.  Florence Pugh in the lead role is great, and I liked the idea of the character of Josh, the black guy there in Sweden with the others doing his thesis on the odd folk rituals and customs of the group.  Everyone has seen countless movies where there's a white person exploring some unusual or "exotic" clan or cult in some far-flung part of the world, and without making a big deal about it, Ari Aster reverses that device here.  Nice.  Now whether that guarantees Josh's safety...It may, it may not...

Monday, July 22, 2019


Recently, I was approached by a podcast that records audio versions of the first chapter of books, with the author's permission, of course. They expressed an interest in Chaser, the first book in my Jinx Ballou bounty hunter series.

I said, "Sure, sounds great." I'm already planning to do the full audiobook later this year, so I thought it would be great.

A little while letter, I received a followup email. The podcast was concerned about maintaining it's non-explicit rating with Apple, etc. And well, my writing has a healthy dose of profanity. They wanted to know if it would be okay to cut out or substitute the naughty bits.

I have to admit, it gave me pause. And here is why.

For starters, I have a storied past. I'm a recovering alcoholic. I grew up being bullied, abused, and harassed for being different. For being transgender. For being gay. I am the outsider. We use profanity. A lot. Because when you have to put up with so much bullshit in life, you learn to use the words that fit. To people who've been where I've been, words like fuck and shit and goddammit are just words used to express emotion. And using euphemisms just seems silly.

I write gritty crime fiction. It's full of obscenities. I'm not talking about curse words. Sure, my work has those too, but they're not obscene. Shit and poop mean the exact same thing. Poop doesn't smell any better than shit. It's the same shit. Neither word is obscene.

Is gosh darn any less profane than goddamn? You're cursing either way. The intent is the same. Is motherhumper any less profane than motherfucker? The meaning is the same. You can get just as pregnant by humping as you can fucking because it's the same act.

But my work is full of obscenity. Chaser starts with the obscenity of a man beating his wife. The story moves onto the obscenity of murder and the obscenity of child abuse. My work also references such obscenities as sexual assault, human trafficking, hate crimes, corruption, racism, misogyny, queerphobia.

It amazes me how some readers will read about murder and cruelty without batting an eye. But have a character say fuck--or actually have two characters fuck--and suddenly readers get their bloomers in a twist.

And portraying queer characters in a positive light, showing the realities of the oppression they face, oh dear heavens! Oh, the humanity! I've had reviews that say "I loved this book, but why does there have to be so many gay and trans characters?" Maybe because I'm gay and trans and that's what I write about.

 Honestly, most of the readers who object to curse words or sex on the page are the same ones who attend churches where children get raped or queer people are treated like abominations or who support locking immigrants in cages. These are the real obscenities.

One of my concerns about this podcast creating an abridged audio version of the first chapter of Chaser is that listeners might then go and buy the book and SURPRISE! Naughty words. I don't need any negative reviews from readers who are okay with child abuse but give me a one-star review for the occasional use of the word fuck.

We eventually came to an agreement. The producer of the podcast would put a notice on the podcast and in the show notes advising listeners that some words have been changed for sensitive listeners. Personally, those sensitive listeners can go fuck off for all I care.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Moon Shot

With yesterday’s anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, I thought I’d take another look at the book that first got me interested in space. And honestly, I read it not because I was fascinated by space exploration, but because I was fascinated with Tom Wolfe. He of the narrative journalism and dazzling prose. He published The Right Stuff in 1979, and not only was is a serious piece of important journalism, it was a crackling good read. A novelistic read. It was the perfect combination of everything I love—in-depth reporting that takes you inside people’s heads and hearts, and the ability to do it in a way that takes you into the story as if it were fiction.
There are two things about that book that have stayed with me. First, the concept of “the pyramid,” where there is one person in a profession who rises above all others. Obviously that wasn’t original to Wolfe, but he used it extremely well to illustrate how the values in the space program changed over time—from hot-shot test pilots to careful scientists. And that brings me to the second thing. Wolfe notes that there was a point in the mid-20th century were you couldn’t board an airplane without the pilot having a very particular kind of drawl. It was a West Virginia accent that had filtered down from the top of the pyramid. Test-pilot extraordinaire Chuck Yeager was from that state, and his legend infused anyone who flew a plane. Pilots at every level started copying his drawl. Ever since reading that, I listen for it every time I’m on a plane and the pilot welcomes people aboard. I hear it more often than you’d think.
That’s the sign of reporting that makes you think and details so good they stay with you years later. Isn’t that the kind of great writing we all aspire to? And it remains particularly appropriate that Wolfe chose as his writing subject the beginnings of the moon shot—one of humanity’s greatest achievements.