Saturday, October 5, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 40

Scott D. Parker

You know you've reached a certain age when some of your favorite network TV shows air on CBS.

Granted, one of them, the Patricia Heaton-led Carol's Second Act, is aimed squarely at middle-aged folks like me. (Wow. I'm not sure I've ever written a sentence like that before.) There's a moment in the pilot episode where Carol thinks she's about to be reamed out by the head doctor for disobeying orders. "I'm good because I'm old. My age is what is going to make me a great doctor."

Right on, I said to myself. As a middle-aged man, I know so much more about life and other things than I did at twenty-five. But when it comes to writing and selling books, I'm still a baby. I started my company in 2015, and it will turn five next year, so I'm constantly learning about the business of selling stories even when I'm mired in a non-creative funk.

I started thinking about the stories I've written to date and tried to imagine the type of reader who'd like them. It got me thinking about the demographics of targeted ads. At my day job as a lead product marketing specialist, buyer personas are one of the factors we consider when developing collateral. Who would buy our products?

Some writers ask that question when they write stories. Nothing wrong with writing to market. I don't do that too often, so I face the question of to whom do I sell these completed stories.

Since I've only been writing professionally for about five years, that means I was around forty-five when I started. Thus, my sensibility is that of a middle-aged person. It doesn't mean folks outside this demographic won't enjoy my tales, but the writer was a middle-aged dude.

Who might want to read the stories I write? How might I spread the word about my yarns? I have a plan to find out via targeted demographic advertising. It'll be trail and error, but I'm willing to try things, analyze results, and make additional decisions based on data.

So, have y'all tried demographic ads?

Thursday, October 3, 2019


I want to write about the last coiuple of weeks - I got into my stride with the new book, and read at a Polari Salon at a great little crime festival in the seaside town of Morecambe.

But I'm currently in hospital for an MRI scan (remember those migraines I mentioned a few weeks back) so instead of waffling on about me (to be honest, I'm still trying to make sense of the past couple of weeks) I wanted to share my love for a new book that gave me all the feels (including making me stand on a train platform crying).

I don’t know if the Icelandic language has a word for Puzzle-box, but if they do, then it would perfectly describe this novel.

This last act in the trilogy which began with Snare (2017) and proceeded with Trap (2018) isn’t another unnecessary sequel featuring the characters you’ve loved through the previous books (hello David Lagercrantz) but an author asking what’s next for characters who have been put into – and removed from – the crucible.

It’s almost impossible to talk too much about the plot of any of these books without giving away spoilers, but I’m going to try by saying that the first two books focussed on the efforts of Sonja, a newly divorced mother, to regain custody of her son Tomas whilst escaping the grip of a global drugs syndicate who have been using her to smuggle drugs into Iceland. This story was threaded delicately alongside that of Agla, a Financier who’s legal but morally dubious behaviours – alongside those of her fellow Banksters – have resulted, just before Snare begins, in the Icelandic financial crash and whose romantic relationship with Sonja precipitated the latter’s ugly divorce. Woven alongside were the stories of an honest customs officer placed in an unbearable position, crooked lawyers, corrupt politicians, drug smugglers, gangsters, junkies, lawyers and their extended families.

The whole – if it had stopped at two books – would have been a brilliant tapestry that used a gripping, pacey crime novel structure to present and consider an entire culture at a moment in time (Think Ibsen’s “A Dollshouse,” but with cocaine and a tiger in a cage). But the third adds a whole new layer, and completes a trilogy which in thematic scope and detailed consideration is a true Saga.

The same witty and incisive consideration of the culture is there, the same people in impossible situations, and the same realisation that – as in the best of fiction – the knowledge that not everyone will be getting out of this story well. But this time, the novel also grapples with questions of redemption and corruption in ways that I found really powerful.

Basically, in Cage (which opens six years after Trap ended) everything has changed. People who were previously heroic are now soiled, their engagement with the world having sullied and (in some cases) possibly ruined them, whilst others who had appeared villainous in earlier books are shown, here, to be paying for their crimes and (again, in at least one case) reconsidering their paths.

The plot is yet another tapestry that encompasses new media, commodity fraud, more drugs, the rise of right-wing populism and racial hatred, corruption, the relationships between parents and children (I heard the ABBA song ‘slipping through my fingers’ in my head often during some sections of the book) and home-grown terrorism. But it manages to keep all of these threads not only spinning brilliantly, but weaves them together  – solidifies the whole into a hugely satisfying single tapestry  - so well that I read the last thirty pages in a breathless, eyes-glued-to-the-page state that meant I almost missed my train stop.

I got off the train, finished the last three pages standing on the platform at London Bridge, and promptly burst into tears.

Cage – like Trap and Snare before it – is a wonderful book. Something – like a puzzle box – that seems straightforward and entertaining but which has many depths, many surprises and which will stay with you long after the last page is turned.


Derek Farrell is the author of 6 Danny bird mysteries. “Death of a Diva,” “Death of a Nobody,” “Death of a Devil,” and “Death of an Angel” can all be purchased from the usual e-stores or directly from the publisher here. The fifth, “Come to Dust,” is available exclusively as a free download from his website . The sixth - Death of a Sinner - is on Fahrenheit Press's fall 19 slate. 

His jobs have included: Burger dresser, Bank teller, David Bowie’s paperboy, and Investment Banker on the 80th floor of the World Trade Centre.

He’s never off social media and can be found at.
Twitter: @DerekIFarrell (
Instagram: Derekifarrell (

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Why Write?

No, this isn't meant to be a dispatch from Eeyore moping about why bother in a world going to crap or anything.
But if you need an answer for why we must not despair, and must keep fighting:
Despair is a privileged act. The rest of us have to keep working lest we be ground into meat slurry to feed the beast.

I was depressed about writing for the last month or so. I put aside the manuscript I'm editing. I had a half dozen excuses. Who cares if I finish? My last book sold well for a small press publication, better than some big five imprint books, but the numbers are relatively small. Less than the attendance of some Bouchercons. It was dispiriting. I have bigger, better ideas! But they won't change the world, so why bother? I can write a story, but no one pays much. Why bother?

Because writing is supposed to be fun.

This gets lost in the toxic bullshit whiny humblebrag dysfunctional online writing culture, where we must gnash our teeth about how hard writing is. And yes, writing is work, and it can be exhausting, but in the end, it has to be enjoyable. At least in the same way that solving a puzzle, or exercise, or hiking up a hill to see a beautiful view is. Those are all work, but we enjoy them. If writing is torture, maybe you like pain. Not here to kink shame. (I nearly typed "solving a pizzle," and that's it's own puzzle, a sudicku, if you will).

Writing the first draft was fun. Editing it is harder, but should also be fun, when you see the results. The online culture of constantly seeing other writers' accomplishments, whether it's a word count or a major award or milestone, can make us forget why we got into this. And yes, I am coming from a privileged place. I kept my day job. I don't need to write. At all. It pays for the cat's vet bills, and for that I am very grateful.

The problem is being competitive when you don't need to be. I never thought of myself as competitive, I've always been more of a peacemaker, collaborative, a team-builder. Until I started fighting. That brought out a competitive streak that taught me my limits, when I trained with fighters going pro, and boxers from the Marines who turned my face into Rocky's at the end of the first movie. But I held my own, and I finished without a towel getting thrown. Then I went light with a UFC fighter my own size and got schooled. That's Keigo Kunihara. He playfully cracked my sternum. I lived, and I still train with people way above my skill level, and have fun doing it. Sometimes you have to learn to enjoy taking a beating and showing you don't quit.

Applying that to writing takes some pretzel logic, but hear me out. The struggle of writing a damn good story, like "Truth Coming Out of Her Well to Shame Mankind," which Library Journal called "stunning," is a lot like slogging through a tough fight knowing you will lose on points, but get to stand up there with the champ as the ref raises their arm. It was a month of work, and released to little fanfare—most anthologies are—but when I hear veteran short story writers tell me it was a breakthrough for me, I know it wasn't for nothing. (The fat check told me it wasn't for nothing, either).

Writing "We Got the Beat" for Murder-a-Go-Go's was no less a struggle, but in the end it was fun. When I read that story and get to "become" Artie, the girl who nicknamed herself after Artemis the hunter, part of a girl gang who kicks creep butt, the joy of creating her and the smiles in the audience are the fat check.

Would I have written it for myself? If no one would read it?

I've asked this question online, and most people say no.
But I used to write this way, for myself alone. It worked for Emily Dickinson. We've bought into the bullshit that a story's value is like a widget's in the capitalist machine. And it's not. Writing a story should be its own pleasure. This sounds like the talk from people who want stories for free, and I don't mean it that way. If we're in a capitalist economy, we should get paid. But that's not the point. The point is creation should be its own pleasure. Not the idle leisure of the gentry, but the childlike joy of creating for its own sake. We sold our finger paintings for a quarter, but we enjoyed making them. The candy money was gravy.

For most writers, that's how it should be. Please yourself first. Remember, you're a reader! Unless you're one of those bitter cranks who think everything is crap and "you're gonna show 'em how it's done," writing a story that pleases you is a good sign that others will enjoy at least some of it. Saul Bellow said, "A writer is a reader moved to emulation." I began emulating Harlan Ellison, Frank Zappa, and Alan Dean Foster. The internal editor is necessary, but can be the monster who throttles the baby in the bathtub, if it gets in the way of your voice. For example, I spent a lot of time on the voice for Bad Boy Boogie. And then I found an old unpublished story I'd written decades ago.

Guess what it sounded like? The voice I thought I needed to carve with the delicacy of alabaster. Before I saddled myself with worry, that voice came naturally. Other writers have said the same: they struggle with editing a paragraph and find the perfect addition, and then...see that it was already there, one paragraph ahead.
Don't get in your own way.
Trust your voice.
Enjoy writing.

flip off all the people in your life who make writing feel like a chore.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Know Your Own Writing Tics

Does writing fiction ever get any easier?  I've done it for a long time, and I can't say I find it any easier to do now than when I first started doing it years ago.  I haven't done a study or taken a survey, but I would bet most writers feel the same way.  If nothing else, the longer you write, the more you come to expect of yourself and what you produce.  You may become more ambitious and want to write longer, bigger books with a larger cast of characters than you ever tried to put into a story before. Or you may want to apply everything you've learned from years of writing to create leaner books and say in 250 pages what you once said, when you wrote in a more expansive way, in 350 pages.  If you're a woman, you may try for the first time to write from a man's point of view, or if you're a man, from a woman's point of view. You may set your story far in the past when up till then, you've always set your novels in the present.  Every time you try to do something new in your fiction, something you've never done before, you find yourself contemplating a new set of problems and challenges.  I'm sure it's similar with painting for painters and sculpting for sculptors and playing music for musicians.  

Still, you learn things from experience. It's not as if you're entirely reinventing the wheel every time you start a new short story or novel. I would say that over time, a key thing I've learned about my own scribbling is that I use certain words with way too much frequency, particular words and expressions, and that when I go back and revise, I find myself cursing at myself dealing with these repetitions.  You wonder how, without being aware of it, you can keep using the same words and constructions.  It's easier than ever to find them now because you can use "Find" or "Control F", or whatever you prefer to call it, on your computer, but there are times I dread tapping "Ctrl" with "F" and a specific word since I know it will reveal to me the apparent skimpiness of my vocabulary and, worse, my lack of facility and inventiveness with language.

But that's where the learning from experience comes in.  It's taken long enough, but now I've come to know which words and constructions I overuse.  Here's a list I compiled when I was working on my last novel, Jack Waters - words and phrases I used with monotonous regularity and that took up a lot of time when I was editing:

one of
two of
most of
any of
in front of
none of
put it
at last
and now
right now
part of
saw it
that’s what
no idea
ponder ways
nothing to do
out of

A great deal of these are words that, when you go back and re-read what you've written, prove to be weak or unnecessary altogether: many, several, some, most.

Others you wonder what is it about your brain that you keep using them.  Why do I keep writing "He started to" or "She began to"  when I can just say what the person is doing.

But my point is that with time, you learn your own writing quirks.  I've noticed that from book to book, I tend to keep overusing the same words and phrases.  The sample from Jack Waters is not all that different from the words I overused (before revising) in the book before that.  Now, at long last, I've become more pro-active and I'm on guard against myself, in first drafts, from overusing "start", "began", perhaps", "maybe", "one of", "almost", and so on.  That awareness is a big help and means less revising of a certain type later.  Naturally, I have to be on the lookout for other phrases I might come to overuse - one can never relax - but being on the lookout for them helps me find these repetitions faster than I used to when I was not so cognizant of them.  

Does writing ever get any easier, even if you do it for years? No, I would say, not overall. But you can become aware of your tics and patterns and the habits you fall prey to unconsciously, and learn how to catch them before you slip into them and thus save yourself time and aggravation.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Banned Books

By Marietta Miles

As another Banned Book Week comes to an end, I wanted to take a look back at the most banned books of 2018 as compiled by the American Library Association. The American Library Association was founded in the 1800s to assist in the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services, librarians and to ensure access to information for all citizens. 

Banned Books Week was launched in 1982. In its 37-year history , over 11,000 books have been challenged. The ALA tracked 347 challenges to library, school and university materials and services in 2018. A total of 438 books were challenged or banned last year. Below you will find the books and the reasons they were banned.

George by Alex Gino

This title was banned, challenged, and relocated because it was believed to encourage children to clear browser history and change their bodies using hormones, and for mentioning “dirty magazines,” describing male anatomy, “creating confusion,” and including a transgender character.


A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller

This book was banned and challenged for including LGBTQIA+ content, and for political and religious viewpoints.

Captain Underpants series written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey

This series was challenged because it was perceived as encouraging disruptive behavior, while Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot was challenged for including a same-sex couple.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This much lauded book was banned and challenged because it was deemed “anti-cop,” and for profanity, drug use, and sexual references.

Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier

This title was banned and challenged for including LGBTQIA+ characters and themes.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Certain school districts banned, challenged, and restricted this title for addressing teen suicide.

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and certain illustrations.

Skippyjon Jones series written and illustrated by Judy Schachner

The series was challenged for depicting stereotypes of Mexican culture.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This book was banned and challenged for sexual references, profanity, violence, gambling, and underage drinking, and for its religious viewpoint.

This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten

Challenged and banned for including LGBTQIA+ content.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

This book was challenged and banned for including LGBTQIA+ content.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Review: Revisionist History, the Podcast

I do a lot of driving. Most of it is in small chunks, so I’ve never really gotten into podcasts, because really, how much can I do with an episode in 10 minutes? On a few longer drives over the summer, I did become acquainted with Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History, a look at “things overlooked and misunderstood.” I took another infrequent long drive last weekend and queued up some more episodes. I’ve now thrown my short-time-period refusal out the car window and have been listening every chance I get, even if it’s just during a quick trip to the corner store. I probably need to stop—I’ve found myself narrating my life with Malcolmite phrasing and Gladwellian pauses. 
My copy of Gladwell's latest, with the bookplate. Only mere mortals sign the actual books.
Just as with his books, Gladwell’s genius lies with drawing conclusions no one else would think of, linking topics that no one else would ever even consider together. Take Season Four, Episode 8, “In a Metal Mood,” where he explains how crooner Pat Boone is like Taco Bell. Yes, you read that correctly. It also addresses Elvis Presley and the heavy metal genius of the band Dio. How do they all link together? I won’t spoil it, but trust me, it’s worth 42 minutes of your time. 
Then there’s season two, episode five, “The Prime Minister and the Prof,” where he argues that Winston Churchill’s policies during World War II helped cause the famine that killed millions in the Bengal region of British India during the war. I’m embarrassed to say I’d never heard of the famine. I’m glad to now have the opportunity to learn about it.
 Sometimes Gladwell does stretch a bit too much. His take on the Boston Tea Party (season 4, episode 3) overshot the mark, and I didn’t buy his conclusion on the Toyota braking scandal (season 1, episode 8) where the brake systems of Toyota models were supposedly failing.
But back to the good stuff. The first season has a staggering three-parter on higher education that’s an absolute must-listen. The middle episode starts off with the cafeteria food at Bowdoin College. It connects the gourmet fare to the exclusive school’s need for full-paying students and contrasts that with Vassar College, which has decided to do the exact opposite—serve standard less-than-stellar dorm food and use the savings to provide academic scholarships. It’s a Catch-22 and Gladwell hammers home the brutal choices that schools are having to do to keep their doors open.
But not all schools. In the last of the three episodes, he talks to the president of Stanford University. Yeah, that Stanford. With its gazillion dollar endowment. Gladwell presses the guy about why his university is taking so much gift money when it doesn’t need it, and when it could be used more effectively (i.e. make much more of a difference) at smaller schools. Here’s the link—a guy named Hank Rowen donated $100 million to Glassboro State University in New Jersey. Which then built an entire engineering school that’s affordable for kids from blue-collar families. Which will get them good-paying jobs in fields that desperately need them. Listen to it if for no other reason than to hear a snooty Stanford guy get taken to task.
My long drive last weekend took me near there—to San Mateo, a city just south of San Francisco—to hear Gladwell speak. He’s on tour for his latest book, Talking to Strangers. The even was sold out at 1,500 people, and this was one of his smaller venues. It was also definitely the closest to the gazillion dollar-endowed Stanford. He said he’d walked around the campus earlier that day and noticed the university’s Center on Poverty and Inequality. He couldn’t resist a crack, saying he was glad to see that Stanford had a sense of humor.
His books are much the same as his podcast, drawing connections and conclusions that others haven’t. He is, as always, not afraid to pass moral judgement. Even if you don’t agree with him, he gives you enough information to form your own opinions. I haven’t had a chance to dig into Talking to Strangers yet, but I’m sure parts of it will fascinate me, parts of it will probably piss me off, and all of it will be worth reading.