Saturday, August 24, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 34

Scott D. Parker

This was what you might call a coast week.

Last week, I turned in a short story to an editor for an anthology to be published this fall. This week, I returned to my slice-of-life novel and made some good progress. What made that progress possible was the call sheet.

The Call Sheet

In movies and TV, the call sheet is the list of actors and crew who need to show up for a given day's shoot. For my story, I have a growing cast, most of which--other than the four main leads--I make up as I go. But these four men all have spouses or girlfriends or ex-wives and children. I couldn't keep all the names and characterizations straight.

So I wrote it all down. I formatted it in such a way so that it all fits on a single sheet of paper. That paper fits neatly between my Chromebook's folded halves, so when I'm here at the day job, I have easy access to the data. When changes happen, I can make them on paper and then transfer back to the electronic version.

I know this isn't rocket science, but for the longest time, I've been writing longer works with characters I already know. Ben Wade, my PI in 1940, looks and acts a certain way. Ditto for Calvin Carter and his partner, Thomas Jackson, both railroad detectives in the 1880s. With those tales being historical, it's the little non-character details I sometimes have to research. The irony is that my new book is set in 2019 and all the setting and world building are's just the characters are difficult to keep straight. But this is the first quarter of the book. By the time I write "The End," I'll know them very well.

The Chasing Amy Response

Week 3 of my "I Finally Watched Kevin Smith's Films" series was this week. It was Chasing Amy's turn. My normal procedure is to get the blog posted, then cross-post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I check Facebook frequently, but not necessarily for feedback to my stuff. But when I checked on Instagram late on Wednesday, I had over a hundred likes on my post. I actually thought the app had malfunctioned. I rarely, if ever, get a hundred likes on a post.

But I did with Chasing Amy. I think it's a testament to how good and how different this movie is, especially the Smith ouevre to date. As a friend of mine wrote on Twitter this week:

It was by far my favorite of the first three. I like the unhappy ending and the truth that young men can be stupid and immature while loaded with arrogance which can be a toxic and dangerous combination. Rarely do you see that written so well.

Of the eight films I've seen so far, there are four I want to revisit when I'm done with the run. This is one of them.

Heart in Houston 

I wrote a review of the Heart concert here in Houston yesterday. It was a really good show, with a song choice in the encore I initially questioned, then realized was a great choice.

Here's the link to the entire review.

The Mandalorian

Is that not an awesome trailer. IG-88! Are you kidding me? Just take my money now!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Talking Indie Crime Fiction at The Regulator Bookshop

Eryk Pruitt and Katie Munger talking at The Regulator in Durham, NC.

Eryk Pruitt, author of "Townies" (Polis Books, 2018) stops by Do Some Damage to talk about a series he ran on crime fiction this summer. - David Nemeth

By Eryk Pruitt

If you’re an independent crime writer, then it comes as no surprise to you anymore that it’s difficult AF to get your books into the bookstores. I can remember my early days as a novelist when I thought all I had to do was publish a book and the independent bookstores would clamor to stock my words on their shelves. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA yeah, I remember that.

One time, I called a bookstore and asked them if they would stock my first novel DIRTBAGS. Her answer to my query was “I’m sorry,  but we don’t stock self-published books.”

To which I replied, “Oh, it’s not self-published. I have a publisher and I can put you in touch with them.”

“If that were true,” she told me, “then you wouldn’t be the one calling me.”

She hung up.


Yes, many bookstore owners can be complete dicks.

Many, but not all.

One of the incredible exceptions is Durham’s Regulator Bookshop. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy two book launches (WHAT WE RECKON and TOWNIES) at Regulator and they keep all four of my titles on their shelves. So imagine my happy surprise when they called me up and asked me to plan some events with them over the summer.

I spoke with Elliot, Land, and Amy, who told me they wanted some crime-related events to help spice up the summer. Keeping in mind my past experiences and the very talented pool in which I’ve been fortunate enough to swim, I proposed the following:

The Summer Independent Crime Fiction Series.

We had three Thursdays over June, July, and August. In each sitting, I was joined by some very good friends and writers that I’ve made along the way. Each month, the bookstore stocked three titles that were recommended by me, and the audience was invited to either read them beforehand or pick them up from the store and read them after.

In June, we were joined by DSD contributor David Nemeth, as well as Jeremy Stabile, publisher of ABC Documentation Group, and Shawn Cosby ("My Darkest Prayer"). July saw a visit from Nemeth, Steve Weddle ("Country Hardball)", and Dana King ("Ten-Seven"). In August we featured the novels of Benjamin Whitmer ("Pike"), but also celebrated the book launch of Katy Munger’s latest Casey Jones novel, "Fire and Rain".

We’ve heard lots of talk about how a bookstore should foster a community, especially when those stores are facing down the reality of Amazon. It’s especially awesome to see one step up and actually do it, the way Regulator Bookshop did.

Those books that were featured this summer are still on the shelf in their mystery room. You should run down and buy them now.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Reading Me, Reading You... there is nothing we can do

Oops, used a doodie word... this here's a family website where we talk about wholesome things like murder.

Recently, I expressed the desire to read author Ottessa Moshfegh, who apparently has written a few books that thriller writers wish were called thrillers. I was dissuaded from reading her books by a fellow crime writer, because "she won't read yours."
Now, if I only read books by people who read my books, not only would I be a selfish ass, but I'd have a very narrow set of books to read. I'm sure there are writers out there like this, because writers can be terrible, but that's not what Fellow Crime Writer meant. They meant that Moshfegh (I love saying her name! Mosh Fegg! It sounds like a mosh pit in a dismal bog!) is a literary writer and doesn't read thrillers. In fact, she's quite outspoken about pretty much everything, and said that, “most people who pick up a book labelled ‘thriller’ or ‘mystery’ may not be expecting to confront troubling ideas about women in society … I couldn’t be like, Here’s my freak book … So I’ve disguised the ugly truth in a kind of spiffy noir package.”

Cue the outrage!

Okay, are you done?

Good. Because crime writers say this all the time, in a nicer way. When Dennis Lehane calls crime fiction the home of the social novel, he's saying he's hiding his message in an entertaining story. When someone calls their work a Trojan horse, that's what they are saying. Yes, she neglected to leave sacrifices at the shrines of Chandler and Hammett to appease the fandom, so she must be shamed, but Jo Nesbø has said exactly the same, and mystery bookstores still carry his Hairy Hole books because they sell.
Moshfegh (mosh!!! fegggg!!!) also said, “My writing lets people scrape up against their own depravity, but at the same time it’s very refined … It’s like seeing Kate Moss take a shit.” So all is forgiven. I wish a crime writer had the stones to say that in a big interview instead of how much they love books written eighty years ago, or how they only read their own genre. Charles Willeford might have said that, or Maggie Estep, may she rest in peace.

I am sure that many legends in the crime genre would never, ever read my books. Am I supposed to not read theirs? I love many crime novels, whether they are in the Mystery section or the Literature section. Song of Solomon has a lot of crime elements. Maybe we're so defensive about our genre not because the best of the best don't get no respect a la Rodney Dangerfield, but because like comic book movies, we're a victim of our own success.

Thrillers are the best-selling genre. They are the blockbuster, which means even books that publishers know will never break out must adhere to the conventions, lest the audience be alienated by having to taste green eggs and ham. "I couldn't relate to this." Well, maybe live a little and stop subsisting on comfort food. All fandoms become toxic, and I don't see much difference between fans in a lather because Spider-Man has organic webshooters and "outsiders" writing successful thrillers and rightfully pointing out that non-fans see our genre as formulaic, full of misogynistic tropes, and easy to replicate and parody. Just like non-comics fans see a bunch of Tom of Finland caricatures with no genitalia when they open a superhero comic. Both genres are much more than those simplistic parodies, but when you read terrible examples of Men Writing Women, so many are from our genre! So which is it, is the genre the blockbuster full of terrible writing, or the underdog who needs defending?

That's from Desperate Measures by Stuart Woods, published 2018 from Penguin Random House. Don't feel bad about your writing,  Publishers Weekly called the Vagina Purse Mystery “[An] irresistible, luxury-soaked soap opera,” and BookList said, “Woods creates another action-packed thriller for his readers to devour, with plenty of interesting twists and turns that make for a nonstop, can’t catch-your-breath read.” And it's a bestseller, of course:

So... still want to defend the genre as a whole?

There are as many crap lit books as there are thrillers, if not more. (There's GuyinYourMFA for literary excesses, and lit writers nearly always sweep the Bad Sex Writing awards).

We shouldn't disparage crap. It makes things grow. Like beautiful flowers in the manure, many great books of all genres rise above the earthy-smelling firmament, and couldn't exist without it. So I don't really care what Moshfegh reads. I'm reading Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison right now, it's incredible, like Paris Trout meets A Lesson Before Dying--both books that came after it--and I really don't care if Morrison loved Chandler, or would have sniffed at the synopsis on the back of my books and dropped them like a hot turd.

It's odd, you rape a kid in a hot tub, marry your daughter, beat a few women, put a few innocent kids in prison, and we're supposed to "see the art not the artist," but if you disparage The Genre, then damn, then we strike you from the book of life. And trust me, those people aren't reading your books either.

And really, do you care what other people think?
I like Abba. If Terence Stamp told me to change the channel I'd kneel before Zod and show him monkey-steals-the-peach.
Try that for size, Limey! Right in the Billy Budds!

I think mid-listers are angry that Ottessa Moshfegh took her own twisted style to a genre that sometimes needs an enema, and succeeded. Maybe a publishing model that demands we rush out a book every year doesn't work for everybody. It certainly works for some, and I am envious of them, but no one calls Daniel Woodrell a poseur because he takes five years to write a great book. In an incredibly conservative genre, the old story from a new perspective feels like progress, but is it? Or are we just catching up to thirty years ago? Something to chew on. Once we can't accept criticism of our genre, we become boring cultists and get boring books.

A rolling stone, no, a pooping Kate gathers no Moss....

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Writing as Refuge

It's odd, but as the writing years go by, I increasingly find that writing is a refuge from much in life.  I don't mean that writing is any easier than it has ever been or that it takes less effort or concentration or anything like that.  But I find myself less and less on board with people who talk about the stress and difficulty of the writing life or how they so often dislike the act of writing which requires such effort and brings, for most, so little reward.

Here's where I am:  I happen to be a house owner, and as anyone who owns a house knows, the main thing that comes with owning a property, aside from whatever comforts and security one may get living in the place you own, is aggravation and the unexpected - something breaking or leaking or wearing away.  Repairs never end.  Frustrations never cease.  Owning a house is a constant reminder of the Second Law of Thermodynamics - that there is a natural tendency of any isolated system (your house) to degenerate into a more disordered state.

This is all magnified when a house you own has tenants.  Now, as it were, there are more chances for things in the house to go wrong.  And a kind of stress develops.  Your cell phone pings, and every time it does, no matter the hour, wherever you are, you think, oh no, it's one of the tenants, something went wrong, something needs to be fixed....again.

Then there's work, of course, the grind of the job, with all its daily attendant annoyances and the general financial worries that come with having one son in college and one about to start a high school that, though great, will cost a hell of a lot.  

Now, clearly, none of what I'm saying here is bad in and of itself.  Owning property, a kid about to enter a topnotch high school -- this is not stuff to complain about.  And there's no blame to ascribe: as far as the younger son goes, it was both my and his mother's choice to put him into the pricey high school.  It's been our choice also to make the property purchases we did.

What is true though is that it's this same stuff -- a couple of houses to keep up, tenants to deal with, school tuitions to budget for -- that creates most of the tension in my life, the anxiety that rises inside me from time to time.  Writing, by contrast, has become the escape.  Writing's the thing to look forward to.  By the time I've dealt with whatever came up that particular day and sit myself down at the laptop in the quiet of my room, I can't wait to get to work and push ahead on the piece or story or novel I'm writing.  Often enough those two or three hours of writing are the most enjoyable thing I do all day.  Those are the hours when one can dream while awake. You can put all the bilge and pressure of the everyday world out of your mind and lose yourself in the world you devise.  Fiddling with sentences isn't fun like, say, going to the beach is fun, but what a pleasure playing with sentences is in comparison to daily pressures and exasperations.

And what about rewards?  The minimal rewards, as people put it, that come with writing.  The response to that is obvious.

The act of writing, making something, experimenting, how this all fully engages your mind as you do it, becomes a reward unto itself.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Something a little different.

This week I have to do something a little different. 

I typically like to post about new books or movies. Pop in pictures and links. Currently. I don't have access to bells and whistles and so I'm going a little weird today and just running through what is in my head.
Like a journal.

See, I don't journal. I just write stories. Everything I think or feel goes into my stories. Somehow I make it all fit.

My computer gave up the fight several days ago. No complaints though,  warranties rock and we will be receiving a new one soon. This post is coming from my phone.

Still, I'm embarassed by my reaction to this momentary displacement of a rather unnecessary item. 

Embarassed by how much I miss my computer. 

I've read Ray Bradbury did much of his writing at the library. I love Ray Bradbury. I love my local library. Off I go, let's get down to business and cue the MULAN music.

You know who also goes to the library? People who actually need the library.

People sending in job applications. People who can't afford a computer or the internet. Checking email. Playing Mjnecraft. People who arrived at the library on the bus or had to walk. 

Plenty of older folks. These folks often pick up their groceries on the way back to the bus stop. We see them. Waiting at the stops, no chairs, just a pole to lean on. Holding bags with canned stew and tuna.

We should take better care of our old folks.

My Dad had a heart procedure this week. He's 79. Weighs about 100 pounds. It was scary, but he kicked ass. 

So did my Mom. She spent the entire day at the hospital. She's a little hobbit, as well. She's beat bladder cancer, breast cancer and had a portion of her spine replaced with metal. What an awesome woman. Robo-Nana.

Of course, these are just the physical challenges they deal with. They do their best to stay positive. They choose to be happy.

While Robo-Nana and I waited at the hospital, we met a family. Two pre-teen boys, a little girl and a very pregnant mom. All waiting for their father who was having a serious heart procedure.

Only the oldest boy spoke English. They were crammed into the admitting office. The children looked terrified.

As more patients came in, the area became tight. 

The administration secretary kept poking his head round the corner, looking. Twice he gave the family a flyer that told them where they should go to wait.  A nicer, larger waiting area. But, he didn't speak to them.

He was quite good at the stink-eye. 

Every time the little boy who spoke English would ask for help, the grownups would talk over him. 

The nurse working on their father came out to grab another patient. The young man took his moment, and spoke in a near whisper.

"Yes sir. We don't know how to get to the waiting room."

The nurse put his hand on the boys shoulder.

"Good Lord! No one told you how to get there?"

He took the five minutes to walk them down the hall and ask if they were alright. Such a great nurse.

It took most of the morning for someone to take a little extra time and calm this poor family.

Can you imagine how afraid they must've been. Their father gravely ill. They don't understand. People who are supposed to help them and their father seem unhelpful, if not angry.

Good Lord, indeed.

We should help others more.

School is starting  soon. This is the darkest part of the year for me. I'm going to miss my kids. 

However. I remember, not too far from where we live, two teen girls were shot and murdered last year. The father to one and uncle to the other arrested, but those girls are gone forever.

A few miles away, just this year, a little boy picked up his grandfather's gun and accidentally shot and killed his young sister. 

This summer, at a park in the city, during a neighborhood picnic, a little girl was shot and killed when a fight escalated.

All gone forever. The sadness for their mothers and fathers will be neverending.

It feels like we'll never stop the killing.

This world is in such a bad way.


It's morning when all these thoughts, and so many more, collect in my head. Roosting. 

And it is morning when I wish to sit at my computer, and for a bit, excercise these thoughts.


Sunday, August 18, 2019

Review: Dead to Me

I sat down to watch Dead to Me recently, the Netflix limited series starring Christina Applegate. I thought it looked interesting when I first heard about it—a woman tries to cope after her husband is killed in a hit-and-run car accident. But instead of a meditation on grief, I got a masterpiece of suspense. Ten episodes of perfection, each a perfectly paced jewel.
Applegate is amazing—fully adult in a way most roles don’t let her be. She’s allowed to look all of her beautiful, lined, lived-in 47 years. And she gets to be a realistic woman—you know, complicated. Funny, sarcastic, loving, furious. Desperate to help her kids. Desperate to track down who killed her husband. Desperate not to be weighed down by a woman she meets at a grief support group.
That’s really what kicks things off, and the other woman, Linda Cardellini, becomes more of a friend than Applegate’s character could ever imagine. Cardellini’s character is as complex as it gets. She does everything a good character is supposed to do. She evolves. She surprises. She makes you unsure whether you love or hate her.
These two women drive the story, and it’s a joy to watch them tear through such an expertly crafted plot. They’re supported by a love interest played by the terrific Brandon Scott and a mother-in-law played by Valerie Mahaffey, one of my all-time faves.
And then there’s James Marsden, the boyfriend. He’s great, but I’d love this casting for the irony alone. Marsden’s often been pigeon-holed in exactly the sort of way women usually are. A beautiful face given one-dimensional roles. He’s more than just eye candy here, because no character is relegated to cookie-cutter status.
Honestly, there isn’t a single one-note character in the whole series. (Wait, I take that back. Ed Asner. He’s a one-note old guy in a nursing home. But hey, he’s Ed Asner. He’s given us enough notes over the years. He’s earned an easy paycheck.)
That’s the sign of a deft and confident vision, and that’s thanks to show creator Liz Feldman, a comedian who’s written for 2 Broke Girls, Ellen, and other shows. She doesn’t condescend to her characters or her viewers, and I hope that this is the first in a long string of huge successes for her.