Saturday, August 31, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 35

Scott D. Parker

Well, summer's at an end. The weather won't agree with that statement, but the calendar says otherwise. It also means we're at the end of Summer Writing, the 97-day bookended time block I touted on Memorial Day.

I didn't do nearly as well as I wanted with fiction writing. Sure I made progress on multiple projects, but I only completed one thing: the short story I submitted for an anthology later this fall. There's a reason Dean Wesley Smith calls this the Time of the Great Forgetting.

But even though the fiction writing faltered, the non-fiction maintained a steady momentum with the blog writing. And there there was the out-of-the-blue moment this past week that has me wondering if I might not also have a non-fiction book in me.

Ask the Question Because You Never Know the Answer

Next weekend, the Son of Houstoncon IV is happening. Long-time readers might remember my write-up for it from 2017. During that review, I commented about seeing one of the giants of fandom and collecting here in Houston. But I didn't spend too much time talking about the guy who resurrected the Houstoncon itself, Don Price.

Earlier this week, a fellow SF book club member emailed me asking if I'd be up for attending Son of Houstoncon IV. I said yes and I sent him the link to my 2017 review. I mentioned I was interested in interviewing Price, but my friend made another point: it would be great to interview all the other long-time collectors who call Houston home.


So, literally throwing the proverbial hail mary, I sent Price an email: would he consider doing an interview? I also bent his ear about something else: what about a book detailing the history of fandom in Houston? I'm a degree historian, a native Houstonian, and a comic book and SF geek. Why not?

Why not indeed.

Price returned with a yes he's up for an interview. He was also interested with the possibility of a book. He's already shared some interesting tidbits on past Houstoncons and a photo. Hopefully, we'll get the interview completed and posted later this coming week leading up to Son of Houstoncon IV on Saturday. Even if things don't work out this week, I think the interview will certainly be on the way.

And I'm already planning on how to approach the other long-time fans and collectors here in Houston. The scope of the project will likely be larger than a novel, but no less doable. I mean, I've written a thesis, so I can do history. This time, it's just closer to home.

Lesson learned: never be afraid to ask. The worst thing could be a 'no,' but just imagine the possibilities of a 'yes.'

Movie Recommendations

Last Saturday, I watched two films. Both are pitch perfect in their chosen genres.

Hobbs and Shaw is a perfect popcorn summer action film.

Olympus Has Fallen is a different kind of thrill ride that left me without any fingernails.

Album of the Week: Midland - Let It Roll

I can’t remember the last time—if ever—I went to the store to buy a brand-new country music CD on the day it came out. But Midland is no typical country band. They are a wonderful throwback to the classic sound of country music from the late 80s/early 90s. This album is fantastic, and I've been listening daily since last weekend.

If you're interested, their website has lots of videos featuring the songs of the new album as well as their 2017 debut.

By the way, it was "Drinkin' Problem" that was the tune that made me sit up and take notice. Have a listen.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Researching London

The Danny Bird Mysteries are set in Contemporary London, which I treat as both a real and a fantastic place.
When I started writing the books I looked around for a part of London that I knew well enough to be able to sketch it, but I deliberately wanted an area I would not be tempted to overdescribe. I wanted to be free to write the ‘sense’ of the places I was talking about rather than slavishly reproducing them. This was, after all, fiction rather than documentary.
Back in the 90s, London had a thriving Gay Bar scene. There were the big glittery places in Soho, but there was also a thriving local Bar scene in places like Earls Court (Bromptons and The Coleherne), Bethnal Green (The wonderfully named Cock & Comfort), in Islington (The Edward) and in Borough, where an old backstreet Boozer named The Gladstone Arms stood.

I used to go to The Gladstone every Friday and apart from the pile of QX magazines in the corner, the Terence Higgins Trust collection tin on the bar, the glitterball by the loos and the six foot four drag queen on the postage-stamp sized stage, it felt like nothing had changed since the place opened in 1920.
And so when I wanted a bar for Danny to try to restart his life in “Death of a Diva,” it seemed only logical that I would take The Gladstone, dial the grime and general roughness up by a factor of fifty, and set the bar – renamed, with a deliberate eye on Irony – The Marquess of Queensberry in the same area.
I then messed with the geography. The Marq is set on a long street that once housed a (now defunct) street market. There are shops (though few – so far – have been occupied) and at the end of the street a railway bridge connects London Bridge station with Brighton.
The real Gladstone Arms is not.

I deliberately retained the neighbourhood. I particularly loved Borough/Southwark/Elephant & Castle because they allow for huge wealth to sit next to council houses, and for city traders to cross London bridge and mix with Market traders at lunchtime, for the nearby Terminals of London Bridge and Waterloo to encourage a flow of people in and through and out of the areas and thus for the stories to believably retain elements of the traditional ‘Cozy’ structure without ever having to explain why so many disparate people are turning up in what is, essentially, a small village.
And having decided on the base location, the research was simple: I walked around.
Many times.
Sometimes deliberately building in pub crawls to get a sense for the bars in the area (not recommended, to be honest, as one’s research notes tend to become less readable as the day progresses), sometimes, just going up to the area and walking street by street.
And then, when I had literally walked every single street in “My Manor,” I could happily forget it all.

Because here’s where the ‘Fantastic’ comes in: A city is a living breathing beast. A huge scaled dragon that can hold you protectively, or crush you with a swipe of it’s tail. And like a dragon, it’s constantly changing, so that if I were to write “I walked two hundred yards down Lant road then turned Left into Borough High Street, stopping at the Kebab shop by the bus stop for a Doner and Chips,” someone would doubtless ensure to drop me a note to let me know that there is (a) no bus stop on that stretch of Borough High Street or (b) no Kebab shop (though there is a Korean Deli).

So far my research has taken me to some interesting places

·      I’ve had tea at The Savoy, just like Danny & Caz do in “Death of a Devil
·      I’ve viewed some Luxury Flats* on the South Bank for “Death of an Angel (*I may have suggested I was interested in buying one, but I’m a writer – we lie habitually)
·      I went to see some Berkshire Mansions so I’d be able to describe one in “Angel
·      I didn’t need to go to see Piccadilly by night as I spent my teens and twenties there, and the Mayfair nightclub that a Gangster owns and which comes to a very unfortunate end in “Devil” was a combination of several such spaces I’ve been to - all gloss in the public spaces, and grimly office-like backstage.
·      I’ve spent lots of time in a flat on the Old Kent Road that a mate of mine used to live in. It’s a high rise and there’s a balcony and if you’ve read the opening chapter of Death of an Angel you’ll know that I used it for something rather dark and disturbing, so I’m hoping I haven’t been banned for life.
·      And I made use of time I spent on the contemporary art scene in the 90s to create a totally fictitious gallery for the denoument of “Death of a Nobody.”
·      And I’ve been back, several times, to TheGladstone Arms. It’s still there today, by the way. Having been closed, boarded up and near to demolition, it’s been resurrected by a trio of cool youngsters who now have the place as a live music pub with good food and a very different, more eclectic and modern vibe to the Glad of old. But the sense of that old inter-war place where locals and outsiders, people passing through and people with nowhere else to go, a place which could be a local boozer, a gay bar, a live music venue and a gastro pub without very much actually changing in the building, the décor or the surrounding environment, is still there.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Mechanism

A few weeks ago I did a post here about the Brazilian documentary film, The Edge of Democracy, which I saw on Netflix.  It's a movie about recent political events in Brazil, and a lot of it has to do with how those events were shaped by the huge criminal investigation conducted by the Federal Police of Brazil called Operation Car Wash.  

In essence, Car Wash is a corruption scandal of immense proportions that has involved scores of Brazilian politicians and business people.  It actually did first get uncovered at a car wash in Brasilia, where laundered money was changing hands, and grew from there.  Much of it centered around the huge semi-public Brazilian oil company Petrobras and how Petrobras officials colluded with nearly every major large contracting company in Brazil to overcharge Petrobras for construction contracts that led to bribes and kickbacks. The wealthiest and most powerful business figures in Brazil were involved as well as politicians from various parties.  The investigation eventually led to the impeachment and removal from office of one Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, and the jailing of her predecessor, Lula da Silva, though whether the lead judge in the investigation, initially considered a hero by many in Brazil for helping to bring down so many rich and powerful figures, retained his impartiality throughout the process is another question. It's a very complicated story, and as a matter of fact, Car Wash, after 5 years, remains ongoing.  A telling fact is that in September of 2017, the Miami Herald reported that when the Car Wash investigation started, 10,000 electronic monitoring bracelets were in use in Brazil for home detention purposes.  By late 2017, more than 24,000 electronic bracelets were in use.

I had followed the events of Car Wash a bit through the news the last few years, so I knew the basics about it as I watched The Edge of Democracy.  After watching the film and posting about it, I read up on it more.  I also got a text from a friend asking whether I knew the series, The Mechanism, and when I said no, he described it as a Brazilian procedural with a historical backdrop that dramatizes the Car Wash investigation.  Well, now I just finished watching the series - 2 seasons, 16 episodes - on Netflix, and I enjoyed it immensely.   

Shot throughout Brazil, The Mechanism (O Mecanismo, in Portugese) was created by Elena Soarez (a co-writer for the series) and Jose Padilha. Padilha I knew of course from his Elite Squad films, his great doc Bus 174, and his Robocop remake. He is also a producer of NarcosThe Mechanism has a large cast, - people portraying business figures, politicians, black market bankers, cops, judges, prosecutors, family members of politicians, children and spouses of cops, and so on -  and every person cast is spot-on in their role.  Despite the convolutions of the various plots, which reflect the complexity of the schemes that Car Wash uncovered, the series proceeds with an impressive clarity and speed. Each episode starts with a disclaimer saying that the series is loosely based on a true story, but it is in fact quite easy to connect the characters and companies depicted to real people and companies from Car Wash.

One interesting thing: if you have not seen The Mechanism and have any interest in doing so, I'd recommend watching The Edge of Democracy first.  The Edge of Democracy presents the political events that were enmeshed in Car Wash from a certain vantage point (which to me was persuasive), but The Mechanism does not view some of the key players in the drama, or the entire scandal itself, in precisely the same way.  While The Edge of Democracy has a leftist viewpoint and posits that Car Wash became, in part, a way for the right to oust the left from power in Brazil, The Mechanism insists that, as Padilha says, "The whole thing is corrupt.  Anyone who defends one gang against the other gang, because we're talking about a war of gangs, it's not a war of ideology or political parties, so anyone who jumps on the bandwagon of one of those gangs for ideological reasons is just naive".

Who is right?  I can't answer that definitively.  Perhaps both the documentary and the series present something that is true - a scandal that involved both the left and the right in Brazil, though within that scandal there maybe were yet other corruptions of power and perversions of justice that led to a political result that one party aimed to achieve.

Regardless, if want to watch a really good procedural that does have a fascinating political/historical backdrop, watch The Mechanism.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Acts of Love and Civil Disobedience

My wife and I in 2005. Oh so young!
This week my wife, E (abbreviated for privacy reasons), and I celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary. We've been legally married far longer than most same-sex couples in the United States. In fact, when the Obergefell v. Hodges decision was issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 (legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide), we were about to celebrate our 17th anniversary.

So how did we accomplish this act of love and civil disobedience? And in a conservative state like Arizona, no less?  Well, that is a funny little story.

When Dharma Met E

E and I are both transgender. Both assigned male at birth, but knew that's not who we were. I transitioned and underwent gender confirmation surgery before we met. In fact, the first time we met, I was married to my now ex-husband, R.

A group of mutual friends, most of us trans, met at a local Cajun restaurant. I was doing a lot of complaining that night because everything I ordered was super spicy, including the potato salad and the coleslaw. E's first impression of me was that I was the grumpy girl who didn't like spicy food.

When we met again a year later, I had separated from--but was still married to--my ex-husband. R was abusive, and I had finally hit my limit. I probably would have divorced him right away, but I was focused more on maintaining my newly found sobriety and didn't need the drama of a divorce to distract me.

The same group of trans friends was supposed to get together, but at the last minute, everyone but E and I canceled. So the two of us went out to dinner. Turns out our friends had conspired to put the two of us together. Sneaky bastards!

One thing led to another and by April, we were dating, then living together in June. I decided it was time to get divorced. R and I had been separated for some time, had no children in common, so the divorce would be cut and dried. He opted to hire an attorney. I didn't need one. The date for the court hearing was set for late August.

We Fought the Law and We Won

Meanwhile, E had scheduled a date for her gender surgery in early September of that year. We joked about the possibility of getting married since as far as the state was concerned, she was still male, even though she lived full-time as a woman and had since before we met.

My wife on our trip to Mt. Rainier
So in early August, E and I went to the court clerk in Phoenix to try our luck at applying for a marriage license.

When we told the woman behind the counter what we wanted, we were immediately rebuffed. "Two people of the same sex can't get married," she said.

We explained our situation, providing copies of E's birth certificate assigning her as male. The woman looked at it, then said, "You'll have to talk to my supervisor."

We waited an hour for the supervisor to get back from lunch. We provided our documentation, including E's birth certificate, legal name change, etc., never mentioning that I was transgender as well. As far as the State of Arizona knew, I was female and always had been. I had had my birth certificate changed shortly after my surgery.

Finally, the supervisor agreed and took us into a room to do the paperwork. We filled out the forms and then she typed them up.

"Please review this to make sure it's accurate," she said.

We looked at them. They were not accurate. They had E's old name, what we in the trans community call a deadname.

"Excuse me," said E. "That's not my legal name. I changed it per this court order." She again showed the supervisor the court-issued name change decree.

"We can't put two women's names on a marriage certificate," insisted the supervisor.

But my E, she's brilliant. She replied, "If my name were Farkle, could we get married or not? Show me the list of names that can and can't get married."

The supervisor thought about that for a moment and then conceded. "Okay, fine."

Ten minutes later, she brought us the corrected typed form and we all signed it.

Cutting Things A Little Too Close

We scheduled our wedding for the weekend before E's surgery was to take place in Bangkok. It also happened to be five days after the court date for my and R's divorce. We knew it was cutting it close, but weren't worried.
My beautiful wife on our 15th anniversary

On the morning of our divorce hearing. I showed up. R showed up. The judge was there calling cases. But when our case was called, R's lawyer hadn't shown up with the paperwork.

I was freaking out and was pissed. There was no reason to have gotten a lawyer involved in the first place, but R being the control freak he was had insisted since I was trans. And now his lawyer was MIA.

If he didn't show up, R and I couldn't get divorced that day, which meant E and I couldn't get married the following Saturday.

The judge agreed to continue calling cases. Shortly before he reached the end of his docket, R's lawyer showed up. He had forgotten about the case and had been spending the morning with his kid. Asshole!

Happily Ever After

Fortunately, all's well that ends well. R and I were pronounced divorced. Five days later, E and I got legally married, then traveled to Thailand where she got her surgery. And we've been a happily married same-sex couple for 21 years.

After more than two decades, we are still like two lovesick teenagers. To this day, every time I look at her, my pulse races. Happy biochemicals flood my brain. I am so crazy about this woman. And she is crazy about me.

Dharma Kelleher writes gritty crime fiction with a feminist kick series and is one of the only openly transgender voices in the genre. 

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, August 25, 2019

Brought to You By the Letter S

I have a favorite letter. It’s "S." How do I know what my favorite letter is, you ask? Actually, the first question you probably have is, why do I know this—why would someone with bills to pay, and dogs to walk and work to do (you know, an adult) spend even a second of time pondering a favorite letter?
Because it keeps popping up despite my best efforts. I have to come up with probably twenty new names for every one of my books. Some of them are only minor characters. Others are even less than that; maybe I only mention them once. And without fail, the names that pop into my head usually start with S whether it’s for a person, place, or pet. And this isn’t good, because one of the cardinal rules of novel writing is not to do that. Names that look similar can be hard to keep straight, and I don’t want to accidentally confuse my readers. (I want to confuse them on purpose, with red herrings and deliberate misdirection.)
I have taken steps to decrease my dependency on the letter S. I keep a name journal (which I’ll get into for next week’s blog post), but the most immediately effective thing I’ve done to help name those minor characters, streets or businesses is to write out the alphabet. I put it on an index card and have it up against my desk lamp. 
My razzle-dazzle, high tech naming assistant.
I tend to be a very visual thinker, and seeing it listed out helps tremendously as I bat away the S names floating through my head and reach for something else. Hmm, haven’t used an F in a while, how about Frank? It’s totally rudimentary, I know, but it helps. Sesame Street would be proud.