Sunday, September 20, 2020

The World's Biggest Crime Fiction Convention: Coming to a Screen Near You

By Claire Booth

I’ve missed a few Sundays and I thought I’d explain why. For the past four years, I’ve been involved in planning the 2020 edition of Bouchercon, an annual crime fiction convention that draws people from all over the world. The location is different every year, allowing attendees to experience cities throughout the United States (and Canada, too). This year, it was supposed to be in my hometown of Sacramento, California.

And you know what happened …friends moving GIF

So our little organizing committee has had to pivot—from an in-person convention with two hotels, dozens of author panels and book giveaways, a bar with poolside seating that had created a special cocktail just for our group, and a farm-to-fork awards dinner held under the stars—to a completely online format that doesn’t come with food or drinks or hugs with friends.


And you know what? It’s going to be fabulous. A new kind of fabulous, to be sure. But what isn’t new right now?

The Bouchercon Local Organizing Committee hard at work. How many of us were in pajama pants? We'll never tell.

We’re going to have two days of live events, plus multiple taped features that attendees can watch at their leisure. We’re taking advantage of the format; for instance, the Guest of Honor interviews will not only have the standard interviewer-interviewee interaction, but also glimpses into their creative lives that aren’t possible when everything takes place in a hotel convention center. We’ll have live panels full of authors who wouldn’t have been able to attend the in-person convention but can do this virtual one. And audience members will still be able to ask questions (from the comfort of their living rooms!).

Now I’m not going to lie—having to cancel the in-person convention was a gut punch. We all were really looking forward to welcoming the world to our city. But with the new format, one of our hopes is that this virtual convention draws people who haven’t been before. This is a great way to try it out, get to know new-to-you authors, and have some fun.

To register or for more information, go to 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Humble Index Card


Scott D. Parker

Like many a wordsmith, I've tried multiple ways to get a story out of my head and onto paper. I've outlined, planned, and written stories without and outline. I've even tried the index card method, but it has been a long time since I employed this method.

But I'm trying it again with my current book.

What is the Index Card Method?

The way I do it, one index card equals one scene. It's not necessarily a chapter a scene, but I know that some scenes will be long enough to be a chapter. I've read a few books in recent years that have something like 125 chapters and I know that every scene is a chapter. I'm not a huge fan of short-as-a-page chapters. I prefer to group them together into larger chapters. You?

Anyway, the beauty of index cards is the ability to see the story laid out on your table or on a corkboard. You can lay them out any way you, but I've done mine this way just about every time I use this method. The scene number is in the upper left. The upper right is the setting, while the middle top line is the POV character. In this case, Keene is my main character. 

In the body of the card, I list the action. I am using a blue ballpoint pen for the first time in forever. Not sure why, but I started that way and I'm running with it. Every time a character appears on stage for the first time, I use all caps and underline the names. You can see that listed here with a pair of HPD detectives. 

For this card in particular, in pencil, I wrote a question to myself. It's a guide for my thinking about the story and whether or not this scene is actually needed. If it's not, I can discard and not bother writing it.

With the "NEED" comment, that's also a note to myself. When I get around to writing this chapter in a few days, I'll need to work in that little comment. 

The "EXPAND" comment refers to the 1.0 version of this book that's already written. I'll likely not simply rewrite/retype this chapter when I get to it, but I'll revise what's already written in my 1.0 manuscript. This note, in red ink, serves as a reminder to expand on something that's already in the text. 

Every morning, after I've poured my coffee, I'll lay out the existing cards and move forward. I'm up to scene 27 so I don't necessarily have to lay out the first dozen scenes or so, but I lay out the last dozen. I'll follow my thought process and then start writing new scenes. I have a comp book in which I write additional notes, mainly about structure and overall thinking. Together, I have an ongoing mindmap-type thing that I can re-read along the way. Also, when this book is done, I can re-visit all my thought processes, especially if they veer away from the index cards.

Yeah, it can happen.

Do you use index cards? If so, how.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Tom Leins tackles carnies and killers

This week, Beau looks at Repetition Kills You, by Tom Leins.

Repetition Kills You is an experimental noir. A novel-in-stories. A literary jigsaw puzzle.

The book comprises 26 short stories, presented in alphabetical order, from ‘Actress on a Mattress’ to ‘Zero Sum’. Combined in different ways, they tell a larger, more complex story. The narrative timeline is warped, like a blood-soaked Möbius Strip. It goes round in circles—like a deranged animal chasing its own tail.

The content is brutal and provocative: small-town pornography, gun-running, mutilation and violent, blood-streaked stories of revenge. The cast list includes sex offenders, serial killers, bare-knuckle fighters, carnies and corrupt cops. And a private eye with a dark past—and very little future.


Ben LeRoy is back

 The return of The Ben LeRoy Show

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Locked-Room Pleasure

For the first time in decades, I have found myself returning this year to the locked-room mystery, a particular favorite of mine when I was reading mysteries in my teens.  John Dickson Carr was my favorite Golden Age mystery writer when I was that age, and earlier this year, I re-read and wrote a piece about The Crooked Hinge, one of his best Gideon Fell puzzles.

Maybe it's the year we've had, the mess we're all in.  There's the virus, the political situation, climate catastrophe, the so-often repellent and stultifying discourse on social media.  But the locked-room mystery, perhaps most of all types of mystery stories, represents a wonderful way to escape.  When well-done, they provide a great puzzle that promises an ingenious (though often surprisingly simple) solution.  They provide closure.  They satisfy the mind and soul in a way most traditional mysteries do, but perhaps to a more extreme degree because they are so much about the intricacies of the puzzle itself.  When you read something as complicated and marvelous and flat-out brilliant as Soji Shimada's The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, you are in a world where the most grotesque and impossible crime can actually be solved through reasoning.  Clear vision and lucid thought, put to a worthwhile purpose, win.  What world is this?  Not the one we're living in, obviously.  But therein lies much of the attraction.

To end this summer, I felt myself in the mood for a locked-room novel, but I wanted something on the more modern side.  I thought at once of Adrian McKinty, who I've met and had a swig or two of whisky with at a couple of Noir at the Bars, but who I had never read. I've always really enjoyed his quite entertaining readings at Noir at the Bars, though, and decided to read In the Morning I'll Be Gone, from 2014, the third of his Sean Duffy books.  

By the way, if you haven't read it, you should read McKinty's list from a few years ago of his favorite locked room novels ever.  It's in a couple of places, including his blog, and you can Google the list easily.

As for In the Morning I'll Be Gone, I found it a perfect end of summer read, satisfying on every level.  I'm sure a lot of people reading this have read it.  But in how it mixes a play fair with the reader locked-room puzzle, a murder in a pub, with its look at the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, it was a riveting read.  Classical mystery meets modern-day procedural meets thriller.  What's particularly great is how the locked room case is something Duffy has to solve to get on with the rest of the case he is working on.  He can't proceed to his main goal without solving the pub murder.  I'm trying to think, but I don't recall ever coming across a crime novel structured precisely this way before, and McKinty makes it all click.  That it's also sharply written, with great descriptions of mood and landscape and weather, and quite often funny only add to the pleasure of reading it.  I have to say: I wasn't in the least surprised it's frequently humorous. I expected that from the times I've heard McKinty read.

Anyway, this proved to be just the book I was looking for to end this somewhat frustrating summer, and  now I find myself eager to read more Duffy cases, including Rain Dogs, McKinty's other locked-room (or locked-castle, in this case) novel.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Michelle Garza is kicking down the door.

"Michelle Garza is a force of nature. She’s one of the strongest voices in the new wave of horror fiction. Michelle is a positive influence on the scene, a leading voice in Latinx horror, and a huge supporter of other writers. More importantly, she’s a hustler who gets it done. 

Yeah, she’s online and at home and everywhere else, but she sits down and creates worlds all the time. I have a lot of respect for her work ethic, and listen attentively to anything she has to say. I know writers love to tell stories, but sometimes the best thing we can do is shut the fuck up and listen so we can learn and grow. I suggest you do just that right now because Michelle has something to say. Listen up."
-Gabino Iglesias, author of ZERO SAINTS and COYOTE SONGS.



Michelle Garza 

I was recently watching a documentary about the Golden State killer and what struck me to the core was a female detective who, in an attempt to protect women from this vicious predator, instructed them to stop being so polite.

Stop being polite? That’s an interesting thing, isn’t it?

It was a tactic to stop women from coming into contact with strange men on the street, men who could be a sexual predator and/or murderer, and having a seemingly polite exchange become an open door to the women being victimized. She was asking them to go against their raising in order to keep them from being raped or killed by refraining from engaging men they didn’t know in conversation and if they were confronted with possible danger to defend themselves with all of their strength and to forget the social restraints of being a proper lady. That meant tooth and nail combat, and putting him out of commission by any means possible.

For many girls growing up they are taught, whether by direct instructions, or by learning it from watching the adult women around them, that we shouldn’t be too assertive, or come off as aggressive. It is taught that our best defense is to try to keep a smile on our faces and a soft voice when interacting with men. And this isn’t always because our mothers and grandmothers wanted to raise perfect little ladies, but to protect us from the reactions of some men. Women are taught our politeness will shield us from violent outbursts from men who feel rejected, rebuffed, or made a mockery of.

But that isn’t always the case, especially for women of color and women in the LGBTQ community who face the danger tenfold when not responding to men in a way they believe they deserve.

Sometimes politeness doesn’t protect us at all.

Predatory men see politeness as an open door to further harass and push the boundaries of women and it’s also an excuse for later when they could be called out for being pieces of shit. They just claim their victim was open to their behavior. I think I just vomited in my mouth, and not because I’m the toughest bitch in the world that has never been victimized, but because the old fall back excuse of she acted like she was cool with it is sickeningly familiar to me. Many women and girls have had to laugh off comments or actions of men because they fear retaliation by the perpetrator themselves, or a certain group the predators are members of. The power to discredit and turn the situation around on the victim is the threat too many women live in the shadow of and it needs to stop. If a woman doesn’t reciprocate the pass made at her that’s big red flag, a stop sign stating that whatever was said to her has been uncomfortably laughed off. And that’s when the one-sided flirtation needs to end.

“NO” is a complete sentence, it doesn’t require an explanation. It doesn’t mean convince a woman otherwise or try to change her mind. If any type of coercion, or threats have to take place in order for a woman to accept a sexual advance, it isn’t consensual, and that’s abuse.

The detective wasn’t calling for women to band together in rude bitch gangs, who spat in men’s faces or flipped them the bird when they innocently asked what time it was, or for directions, even though I think she would be way cooler if she had. She wanted women to stop feeling the pressure to be mousy, smiley (even when they didn’t want to be) or accommodating to strange men who intruded on their personal space, men who thought they were owed a moment of a woman’s time or her response to whatever bullshit questions he had. This advice was coming from a woman decades ago and yet I believe it holds up today. Who the hell are these men who think they are owed anything?

Here’s a little secret, and I’ll share it for free…women don’t owe you shit, buddy.

Women are criticized for not smiling, not seeming warm or inviting, for not appearing caring enough to, get this, complete fucking strangers. Who the fuck do you think we are? Bitches from toothpaste commercials? Your mothers? Your servants? Being polite simply means to display behavior that is respectful of other people, it doesn’t mean I have to walk around with a giant grin plastered on my face like a damn psychopath, it doesn’t mean I have to coddle your ego or fulfill your requests. It also doesn’t mean I am obligated to respond to someone I don’t feel comfortable responding to.

These creeps act like we should be grateful of their attention or that their opinions of us are what keep us waking up every morning? Nope. And I ain’t even sorry saying it, your opinion, especially about our appearance is as welcomed as a raging case of food poisoning. You can scream and call us whores, cunts, bitches, prudes, all that negative shit after we exile you to fuckoffville but we really don’t give a rat fuck what you like or what you don’t about us. We don’t give a shit if you think we are fat, if you don’t like tattoos, or if you don’t like how we cut our hair, or if our eyebrows are the shape you like on women. I’ll shave your fuckin eyebrows off and you can see how simple it is to draw them back on, fuckin’ line-crossing-motherfuckers. And don’t get tough with me, I’m a big girl and I’ll fuck you up and if I can’t I’m calling some heavy hitting motherfuckers who will make sure you have to check the toilet for your teeth after every time you take a shit.

Okay, I better get back on topic before someone screams I’m just a hysterical hag. *has pen and paper ready to jot down names of those who do so I can lure them into my hag cave and boil them into a soup after making bread from their bones and fashioning decorative, yet cursed, candles from their body fat.*

Whether you want to believe it or not, probably around eighty percent or more of women have been sexually harassed, or worse, in their lifetimes. The writing community isn’t immune to it, it is plagued by it, nearly every female I have befriended on social media has a horror story to tell and many of them are far worse than any fiction we write. It sickens me, it enrages me, it makes me want to morph into a beast and gorge my hunger for revenge on the flesh of these men and their enablers.

Enablers, they are a special type of asshole, right? I’ll tell you a personal story, something I haven’t really spoken of to many people in years. My sister and I were harassed by a certain breed of mama’s basement dwelling scum, the type of guy who would fight to be the superstar of a press that didn’t pay authors for their work. He was actually feuding with one of our other friends and he dragged us into the war. I’m not going to go into great detail about it because there was a firefight over it on Facebook about five years ago or more and I don’t want to give this piece of shit anymore limelight from it. When we were going through all this shit, I was a member of an all-female horror writers group and I thought that would be a safe space to speak about this guy who was writing really disgusting things about my sister and I, but to my shock there were two women in the group who shared what I was saying with him. One even went as far as to question who we thought we were to mess with this guy, and let me remind you this guy was a guy who didn’t pay people for their work and was known for being a douche bag. Just because we weren’t well known, does that give this guy the right to sexually harass us? Ummmmm….no, bitches, it doesn’t. And people wonder why victims don’t speak up? They wonder why we are apprehensive about even telling other women.

That’s okay, though. I look back now and I tell myself neither one of those enabling bitches have been nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, so in this case I chose to dust myself off, hold my head up high (along with my middle fingers) and bury them in my success. If a woman speaks up, you listen, simple.

We are tired of being shamed and blamed for being abused, and the same old shit always being whispered when the story unfolds of our victimization. You have probably already memorized them all by now; they have been repeated a million times and etched into the hearts of any woman who has ever walked the face of the earth to haunt them when they think of speaking out.

“Well, what did she do to him to make him do that?”- WRONG, we are all adults. What kind of a fucking response even is this? You think women seek to be humiliated and harassed? If you do then you’re piece of dog shit. These men have no concept of what back the fuck off means, that’s the problem. We didn’t hypnotize them with our vagina magic to act like an animal in order to slander them.

“What was she wearing?”- WRONG, a woman can wear anything or nothing at all and that isn’t an excuse to treat her like shit or creep on her. Women dress to make themselves happy, not you, so get your ego in check, not everything is about pleasing you, pendejo.

“She led him on.”- WRONG, women have the right to think you’re an okay dude and change her mind at any time without owing you anything, motherfucker. And just because someone laughs at your joke or agrees a movie is cool doesn’t mean we want to see your wiener. Pump the brakes and think about how a simple conversation isn’t a request for anything sexual from you. Surprise sexting isn’t attractive at all, women don’t like that shit. We want to know you respect us and we have many different ways of telling you what we want; we don’t need anything from you unless we directly request it. And further more if you’re one of those vile piles of pig shit who use past flirtations or pictures to pressure a girl into things she doesn’t want to do then you need to be tied inside a bag of rattlesnakes and set on fire.

“She was drunk or high.”- WRONG, any time consent can’t be given of sound mind then that’s called rape, fuckface.

“He was drunk.”- WRONG, there’s an old saying that only drunks and children tell the truth but it’s not completely true. They speak their truth, as in what they say has already been in their mind, it wasn’t magically conjured there by alcohol. People don’t say and do vile shit just because they get drunk, they don’t become a racist or sexual predator because of a few too many drinks. The behavior or thoughts are already there, they just feel emboldened by alcohol to speak them out loud, whether it’s right or wrong. I once sat in a baby swimming pool fully clothed then jumped out and smashed a cardboard box fort my nieces and nephews made (sorry kids) and breakdanced on it while smoking Marlboros that had gotten wet from the pool water so I had to break the filters off and smoked them like a joint. On my fourteenth birthday I got so drunk on cheap wine that I fell asleep on a riverbed next to my dog, Cookie. I once had a dance-off with my sister’s husband on my mama’s back porch and he won because he could do the worm but I couldn’t, but I have never groped someone or sexually harassed them because I was drunk. Parties and conventions can get crazy but it’s not an excuse, they shouldn’t be a breeding ground for rape. If you are the type of person who gets so out of control you don’t remember what you have done while intoxicated, then you need to lay off the booze. You’re not a werewolf, you shouldn’t awaken naked in a field the day after partying and worry if you have done irreparable damage to the people around you, that’s totally not cool. Don’t make people not trust you around women, children, or farm animals.

“She is promiscuous.”- WRONG, a woman can do whatever she wants with as many people as she wants and that doesn’t give you the right to touch her or verbally abuse her. She can actually have a consensual encounter with a man once and decide he ain’t getting it ever again. Just because she was down with it once don’t mean you get a lifetime pass to it. Consent is something that should be clear all the time PERIOD.

I personally prescribe to the Salt-N-Pepa view about a woman’s sexuality…IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!

After so much shit has come to light, I have seen quite a few men begin to reflect on their actions, and how they speak to women and make them feel. I think that is definitely a good start to stopping this cycle. It needs to continue until the day when we see a woman struggling there aren’t any people trying to defend the man who made her feel like shit. There may be men who are remorseful to how they once behaved and would like to change, good for you, continue on that path. It’s the only way to make this community a truly safe place for everyone. There are good men out there, men who don’t act like scum, look to them as an example.

We all joke about resting bitch face but guess where the need for that came from? Oh that’s right, the stone-cold don’t-fucking-speak-to-me look came from the thousands of times women have smiled in a polite way at the wrong motherfucker and they came back at us thinking we wanted to see pictures of their dangling nutsacks…WE DON’T WANT TO SEE THAT SHIT! Put them away before we start cutting them off and forcing you to eat them. We’ve been pushed to this, so if you want to keep your packages intact then heed this warning. We are beyond done with your shit.

Until the day comes when we don’t have to teach our girls they need to be careful wearing a skirt to school instead of teaching our boys they need to respect women no matter what they are wearing, that women aren’t property or prizes like shiny little pennies they can pick up and claim as their own, and control like robots, then this cycle will only continue.

I don’t care if you read this and think I’m exaggerating or I’m hysterical, you obviously don’t know the depths of exhaustion women feel after so many years of this. I’ll be forming my own rude-bitch gang, and I don’t need any applications. If you’re a woman who is sick of this shit then let’s do this. I’ll bring the switchblades because it’s time to shut these motherfuckers down. And if you’re a man, one of the good ones, one of those heavy hitting motherfuckers I referred to above, even if you are too far away to make some asshole pick up their teeth, do it virtually. It’s time to stand united against this tidal wave of misogyny and sexually abusive behavior. It’s time to say FUCK BEING POLITE.

-Michelle Garza

Michelle Garza is one half of the twin sister writing team Sisters of Slaughter. Their debut novel, MAYAN BLUE, was nominated for a Bram Stoker award in 2016. Their cutting and vicious tales have been published by Thunderstorm Books, Bloodshot Books, Death’s Head Press, and Sinister Grin. 

Currently they are rabidly working on a story for the WE ARE WOLVES charity anthology!  A collection of tales inspired by and in response to the real life horrors of objectification and discrimination. On top of that, they are working on a few longer projects and next year they will present a collection of their most popular classics.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Cherishing a New Bruce Springsteen Song

 A couple things occurred to me on Thursday when I heard the new Bruce Springsteen song, "Letter to You," from his forthcoming album of the same name.

The most obvious one was that there was a brand-new Bruce Springsteen song! Just a day after the rumor started, the official press release drops as does the first single. It is always a great day when there's a new Springsteen tune, especially in 2020 (a damn good year for music). It struck me, however, that this one was slightly different. 

Not only was it a record with the E Street Band, but it was by an artist who had already reached the age of seventy. The Boss is seventy? Seriously? And then the video shows the entire band recording the songs for the album. It was like seeing old friends gathered again, smiling, laughing, working, creating, all in its black-and-white glory. 

The song's lyrics are mature and nuanced, deep with emotion. Hearing them, reading them as they played across the screen, I'll admit to a bit of emotion. Not nearly as much as last year's "Hello Sunshine" debut, but it was there. Why? Well, the meaning of the lyrics, of course, but also the echo of a question I hated to admit at the time: how many more days will we have that feature a new Springsteen song? 

He's seventy and the rest of the band ain't getting any younger. Unless Springsteen releases an album and unequivocably announces it is the last one, chances are we'll never know which day was the last to hear a brand-new Springsteen song. We'll be able to look back and note it, but not on that actual day.

I swept those thoughts away from the front of mind, but confess to thinking them and just relished the song.

Know what else made it special? The person I was with when I heard it.

I wake early every morning to work on my fiction writing, so I had already been alerted that the new song dropped. I had read the press release, seen the album cover, and read the tracklisting (which means little ahead of hearing the actual album). I was ready to hear the song. Last year, with "Hello Sunshine," I had listened to it about five times before my son got out of bed.

But on Thursday, I waited. My son, a college freshman, likes a few Springsteen albums and I know he'd want to hear the song before he drove to school. Well, *I* wanted him to hear it before school, so I made sure he did. Perhaps, on an unconscious level, the thoughts about The Boss not getting any younger played a role. I can't say, but I wanted to share the experience.

And it was all the more special.

It also made me think of all the other musicians, authors, and actors who I've grown up with. Some have already passed on but most of my favorites are still with us. Made me cherish them and their work all the more.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Beau, Barron, Blood


This week, Beau looks at some Laird Barron.

Isaiah Coleridge is a mob enforcer in Alaska--he's tough, seen a lot, and dished out more. But when he forcibly ends the moneymaking scheme of a made man, he gets in the kind of trouble that can lead to a bullet behind the ear. Saved by the grace of his boss and exiled to upstate New York, Isaiah begins a new life, a quiet life without gunshots or explosions. Except a teenage girl disappears, and Isaiah isn't one to let that slip by. And delving into the underworld to track this missing girl will get him exactly the kind of notice he was warned to avoid.

Listen to a sample from the book: SoundCloud


Praise for Blood Standard and Laird Barron

“Laird Barron has so much fun with this character, who admires Humphrey Bogart’s take on Sam Spade and tosses off one-liners that bring the spirit of Dashiell Hammett into the 21st century.”—Raleigh News & Observer

“The action is fast-paced, the characters well drawn, the settings vivid and the hardboiled prose quirky in the manner of a writer who cut his teeth on horror and poetry.”—Associated Press

“Singular and excellent…Blood Standard sets a standard that will be hard to match.”—

Grab your copy

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Class Action Park

What was the most dangerous amusement park ever?  Among them certainly has to be Action Park, in Vernon New Jersey, open from 1978 to 1996, and what went on there, in all its crazy 1980s glory, is captured in the documentary Class Action Park, now showing on HBO Max.

It's certain that six people died as a result of going on rides at Action Park.  The overall number of injuries suffered, serious and less so, was countless.  And yet, of course, the danger was a part of the park's allure, and the movie tells the story of the park's history and popularity, with many who worked there and went on its attractions remembering what things were like.  Action Park was an experience shared that those who partook of it will never forget, like, well, a war.  A war that was fun and that you're fortunate enough to have survived.  For the first hour, the story told is mainly amusing to hilarious, and then about an hour in, the tone darkens, as the mother of the park's first fatality victim tells how her son died at the park and how the park's owner --  quite a character himself -- lied to the press and public about the incident.  

I don't want to give all the great anecdotes in the film away.  But let's just say that the thinking behind Action Park was to have a place that essentially had no (or very few) rules.  Teenagers, some underage and most with no training, comprised the staff; drinking was rampant; safety definitely not a priority.  Everything you did at the park you did at your own very high risk, and as it turned out, the park operated without any liability insurance so that if you were hurt, you really didn't have much legal recourse.

Where the film perhaps is most interesting is how it gets at how childhood was so different back during this time.  I grew up primarily in the 70s, just before the heyday of Action Park, but if I wanted to show one film to my own 15-year-old to give him a quick encapsulated version of what a certain type of childhood was like back in those decades, I might just show him Class Action Park.  It perfectly captures a period that is perhaps the last of its kind. It is a period when as a kid a large portion of your life happened without your parents knowing anything about what you were doing.  Your parents could be entirely loving, and yet supervision was often...lax.  This is something I talk about with friends of mine from childhood, how great it was not to have the kind of constant parental involvement kids (including my own) get now.  How much fun you could have on your own.  Outside the house, you didn't need your parents for much of anything. Just show up for dinner, eat your meals, wash, sleep, do your schoolwork, and more or less, everything is fine.  And yet, even if it were possible nowadays (which it isn't), would you want your kids to grow up in the way kids did in the 70s and 80s?  

The fun and sense of freedom so many who went to Action Park had is apparent from their stories, but as one guy laughingly says, he'd never want his kid now to go to a place like Action Park.  When you indulge in nostalgia, how much do you weed out from your memories?  As one former park visitor says, "In the 80s kids were running free. They were running outdoors. They were scraping their knees. They were going to Action Park. We look back at our childhoods. It's carefree. We didn't have jobs. We didn't have to answer to anybody. We could do what we wanted, right?...So when you're nostalgic for Action Park, you're nostalgic for childhood, you're nostalgic for freedom. You're not nostalgic for being hurt. You're nostalgic for everything else."

As another says of this time: if you ask people who went to Action Park, "Do you think the way you grew up was healthy for a kid, they'll say 'no'.  We laugh about it cause what else are we going to do, but we don't think it was healthy...You were swimming in pools where the lifeguards didn't pay attention. You were going on rides where people got hurt all the time.  And we felt like we were on our own. We felt like the world was an unsafe place. But it's what we got, so fuck you."

Class Action Park is very entertaining and makes you think about the double-edged quality of nostalgia.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Who is E.A. Barres and what has he done with Ed Aymar?

E.A. Barres has a new thriller coming out November 10. Are you ready?


In this intense and edgy tale, two very different men are murdered. In the same fashion and on the same night. Soon after the shocking murders their desperate widows must discover how the men were connected and why they were killed before a similar fate befalls what remains of their families.

One of my favorite writers working today, Barres builds deep and thoughtful characters organically and emotionally, all while playing up the gritty, furious pace. This dark novel is filled with greed, corruption, brutality, and shades of dark humor. A matrix perfectly suited to Ed’s talent and personality.


Some might find it hard to believe that a writer with such a turn for the brutal is actually kind, thoughtful, and one of the most inspiring and helpful people in the writing industry. So, how did this lovely man come up with such an unrelenting and vicious novel.

“I've been writing toward They're Gone for a while now. My work has always had a vigilante streak through it, and female characters who, in some way, have been done wrong. The idea of a dual female narrative, featuring women in response to the men around them, and then subverting that control, was a natural but unplanned progression.

And I wanted to write something commercial. The response to The Unrepentant has been lovely, but more than a few people have told me that it was a hard read. I understand that, and I understood the type of book it was going to be as I researched and wrote it. I wanted to write something that had commercial appeal, but was still something I identified with.”

Ed Barres (Ed Aymar) 


"As much as it pains me to admit it Ed Aymar (E.A. Barres) is one of the most insightful and nuanced writers working today and he fearlessly steps outside his comfort zone on a regular basis. He is constantly challenging himself and his readers.” 

Author S. A. Cosby won the 2019 Anthony Award for Best Short Story "The Grass Beneath My Feet", and his previous books include BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE, MY DARKEST PRAYER, and the recent and highly acclaimed BLACKTOP WASTELAND.

“I was glad to receive an early copy of this book, and I was riveted from page one. This novel is filled with all my favorite things: diverse characters, strong women, interesting insights into domestic relationships and the complexities of grief. And I particularly love this author’s brand of crime fiction: gritty, darkly humorous, sensitive, and sprinkled with violence where necessary.

In his new novel, E.A. Barres masterfully weaves together the stories of two very different women and their burning desire to learn the truth about their murdered husbands. They’re Gone is about secrets and marriage, betrayal and grief, and will leave you questioning whether you can ever really know someone. A stunning, dark, evocative thriller.”

Jennifer Hillier, author of six novels, including JAR OF HEARTS, which won the Thriller Award, and was shortlisted for the Anthony and Macavity Awards. Minotaur Books released her newest psychological thriller, LITTLE SECRETS, in April of this year. 

"Ed has a way of bringing people together. We met at a book signing and shortly afterwards he invited me to read at my first Noir at the Bar event, where I met you! Ed is very supportive of other writers and has a knack for highlighting the talents of others, women in particular."

Shawn Reilly Simmons is the author of the Red-Carpet Catering Mysteries. Shawn is on the Board of Malice Domestic, is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Crime Writers' Association, and Mystery Writers of America. An accomplished short story writer, she’s won an Agatha for “The Last Word.” Shawn is also an editor at Level Best Books, publishing crime fiction anthologies and novels.

“The thing I love most about Ed Aymar’s (E.A. Barres) writing is his voice. While a lot of folks are good at making a reader unable to look away from a train wreck of a situation unfolding on the page, Ed has a knack for making you glad he brought you along for the ride. It only takes a page or two for me to be hooked into whatever story he’s telling, and in five I care about the characters so much I have to see how it turns out. That kind of talent can only come from a guy with a huge heart—and anyone who’s lucky enough to call Ed a friend will tell you he has one of the kindest hearts in publishing. I can’t wait to dig in to this new novel.”

LynDee Walker is the Amazon Charts bestselling author of LEAVE NO STONE and the national bestselling author of two crime fiction series. The Faith McClellan series and the Agatha nominated Nichelle Clark series.

E.A. Barres/E.A. Aymar's newest novel, THEY'RE GONE, will be published in November 2020. His other books include THE UNREPENTANT, and he co-edited and contributed to THE SWAMP KILLERS and THE NIGHT OF THE FLOOD. 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Recognizing Progress in Your Own Writing


Scott D. Parker

Should I or shouldn't I re-read a completed manuscript before picking it back up again to work on it?

I debated with myself for longer than you'd expect, but let me give you a little backstory.

I wrote and completed the 1.0 draft a few years ago. I particularly enjoy the premise and the characters in this mystery/thriller. I remembered how the story started and the very end, but not a lot in the middle. I had vague memories but nothing crystal clear. Maybe it wasn't that good?

So a year or so ago, I attempted to write the story again *from scratch*. That is, do not read the old manuscript, but just rewrite the story. I changed some of the focus of the story, but ultimately shelved the 2.0 version in favor of books I've already published.

But I really like the tale. I decided it would be my Fall 2020 writing project. And that should I or shouldn't I question kept swirling in my head. On the one hand, were I to pick up the 2.0 version and just keep going, I might leave some cool stuff out that I didn't remember. Yeah, I know that if I don't remember something, it must not be memorable, but I don't subscribe to that idea. There are plenty of things about which I can remember my personal reaction but not quite the details. The end of Redshirts by John Scalzi is one.

I finally came down on the side of re-reading the 1.0 version. This was over 500 manuscript pages and, as of yesterday, I have about 100 pages left. Two things struck me.

One, there were indeed some cool scenes and moments in the book. I found myself actively reading and enjoying the story anew. I'm still time constrained in the mornings before work, and just about every day, I cursed the alarm that signaled it was time to get ready for the day job. I was into it and glad I decided to re-read the 1.0.

I read it with my yellow legal pad next to me, outlining the story as I read it. I noted POV, settings, character names, and general flow. All of this was in blue ink.

It was the red inked notes that told me just how far I've come as a writer.

These red notes are ones where I'd say "Need more description" in a scene where I'd introduce a character, but then give either a cursory physical description or none at all. I know, right? Other times I'd write "Need new option" when the 2020 me, reading the story, could see the next step a mile away. 

The biggest thing I noticed was how easy the characters had it. In more than one spot, I'd have a challenge and the next thing I knew, they had solved it. Really? I mean, if I'm irritated that they had it so easy, you know other readers will fire off a 2-star review.

I'll finish my re-read of the 1.0 version this weekend. I'll follow through with a re-read of the 2.0 version (about 75 pages) and do the same outlining. Then, with my improved storytelling skills, I'll craft the 3.0 version.

Have you re-read old material and realized you've improved your skills?

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Beau Goes to College


This week, Beau takes a look at Satan's Sorority by Graham Wynd.

In the fall of 1958 Sandra Delites is packed off to college in Connecticut after an ‘incident’ with another girl.

Her father thinks a small town university will be just the thing to straighten her out, only he hasn’t reckoned on the sisters of Sigma Tau Nu. Not just any sorority, their rites are bloody and the girls are hot – but not for the boys! President Trixie Faust sees a lot of potential in the newest pledge and Sandra is eager to learn: the thrill of the kill is just the beginning for these college girls gone wild.

Halloween will be extra scary this year. Forget black cats--you don’t want one of these sisters to cross your path.

"A refreshing change... For those more learned than me there are plenty of literary and occult references in this story.  Putting a twist on Goethe’s famous character by making it female was interesting and also made the ending more surprising.  I enjoyed the ending, even if it was more of a beginning. Sometimes when I read a book I find a single line sums it up perfectly. The poets often claimed that death wore a mask, but they never said it wore a sorority pin. Not yet anyway."  -Tony Lane


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Writers' Room Wednesday: Lucifer

Post from @chris_rafferty -> 

Where it all begins — the Writers Room. Where we create something out of nothing. After days & days of hard (& fun!) collaborative work, we turn this giant whiteboard into a fully mapped-out story. Here's the board for #Lucifer 508 #SpoilerAlert. #behindthescenes #LuciferSeason5 

Original post on Twitter and IG:

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

An Interesting Questionnaire

On social media and to friends, I've mentioned how much I like the French writer Patrick Modiano.  He's a master of emotion and mood and mystery, and few, if any, of his thirty-plus novels run as long as 200 pages.  He grew up in post World War II France and had a very unusual relationship with his father, who, during the war and although of Jewish descent, apparently was a Nazi collaborator (Modiano's mother was a Belgian-born Flemish actress).  Modiano himself never seems to have learned precisely what his father did during the war, but it's clear that his father never wore the star Nazis demanded all Jews wear and that he didn't surrender himself when the Paris Jews were rounded up to be taken to concentration camps.  His father spent the war, from what Modiano could gather, making a living on the black market and socializing with Gestapo agents in Paris.  He survived the war unharmed and in sound financial shape.  Modiano's first book, La Place de l'Etoile, is a World War II time novel about a Jewish collaborator, and -- talk about parents not supporting your literary efforts -- when the book appeared, it so upset his father that the man tried to buy up every existing copy.

Shady fathers, aloof fathers, fathers with secrets, fill Modiano's books. He is obsessed with memory and its elusiveness, and in novel after novel, he explores the enigmas of memory.  A good profile of him in the New Yorker, from 2014, describes how he "has returned again and again to the same themes: the pull of the past, the threat of disappearance, the blurring of moral boundaries, 'the dark side of the soul'."  That's an accurate description, though it doesn't convey the sheer pleasure of reading Modiano.  His plots are filled with menace and suspense, and that he loves detective fiction and noirish fiction is obvious from the plots he concocts and the remarkably evocative atmospheres he creates.  He makes you work to piece puzzles together and prefers suggestion and somewhat open-ended resolutions to tidily wrapped up narratives, but of course, when you explore memory and moral ambiguity, not everything can be fully answered. 

The other day, I finished reading my sixth Modiano book, Paris Nocturne, and I'd say it's a wonderful place to start reading him if you haven't already. It involves a car accident, a weird hospital, a woman who vanishes, ether, a search for the vanished woman, an odd and poignant dream, and much wandering around Paris as a man tries to put together confusing fragments of memory he has. Told in the first person, as all the Modiano books I've read are, it has a distinctly noirish tone mingled with a sweet melancholy.  Much of the story takes place at night, on dark streets, but glimpses of light always seem to be just around the corner.

Well into the book, the narrator mentions remembering "a rainy afternoon in the Latin Quarter, a fellow with a jawline beard in a grey trench coat was handing out leaflets.  It was a questionnaire for a study about young people."

The questionnaire has questions pertaining to family life, and then it asks three questions I found interesting.  I found myself stopping for a moment in my reading to mull the questions over.  The questions, as posed in the book, are these:

1) "Would you prefer to be part of the revolution or contemplate a beautiful landscape?"  

2) "Which do you prefer?  The depth of torment or the lightness of happiness?"

3) "Do you want to change your life or rediscover a lost harmony?" 

The narrator answers like this:

1) "Contemplate a beautiful landscape."

2) "The lightness of happiness."

3) "Rediscover a lost harmony." 

In responding to question three, he does add, in reference to "lost harmony": "These two words were the stuff of dreams, but what could a lost harmony really consist of?"

Good question, as they all are, I think, and I found myself wondering how I would answer them.  I also wondered, considering that in the book these questions are directed toward "young people", whether I would have answered differently when the narrator's age, around 20, than I would answer now, at age 58.

For question one, I know I would have said "be part of the revolution" when I was 20, but now...I have my doubts.  I'm talking about actual, full-blown revolution here, whatever that even means, not merely the specifics of the current moment and the coming presidential election.  Not that I don't think a revolution of a particular sort, with lethal implications, shouldn't come down on a large swath of people, but I'm less optimistic now about the fallout from revolutions than I was, say, 40 years ago.  After the optimism and change, the usual reversion, by those in charge, to power grabs and repression and corruption.  Or so I tend to think nowadays.  Revolutions will happen and at times need to happen, but all things considered, would I rather just stay to myself and contemplate a beautiful landscape?  At this point, though I'm not one hundred percent certain about this, I probably would.

Question two:  Not even a semblance of a doubt for this one. Once I might have said I opt for the depth of torment because isn't that what writers and artists of all stripes, as history has shown, are supposed to be like? Nonsense. I completely come down with a preference now for the lightness of happiness. Anyway, by now I realize that the whole equating of depth with torment is silly.  The lightness of happiness! I even like the phrasing. It's not easy to achieve, though.

And question three: change your life or rediscover a lost harmony.  I'm with Modiano (or Modiano’s character) again here.  Sometimes, obviously, you need to make changes in your life, but as the novel’s narrator says, lost harmony is the "stuff of dreams".  It's a sense you have that may not even be based on anything real.  What lost harmony?  Did a harmony ever exist?  I don't know, honestly, but somehow reading Modiano, I knew exactly what his character meant by saying he would love to rediscover it.  If nothing else, that's a great reading moment, a feeling of harmony shared with an author you find simpatico.  And that's nothing to be frowned at.

Anyone have any thoughts on what they would answer to these three questions? 

Monday, August 31, 2020

The Lessons of Crime Fiction

Teaching about the Black Lives Matter movement offers many opportunities. Opening the classroom to conversations about racism, justice, activism, and healing allows a teacher to touch upon a multitude of lessons and helps create resolution and positive action. Perhaps surprisingly, crime fiction can play a part in these lessons.

Dr. Anjili Babbar and Dr. Myron T. Strong consider how crime fiction can be used to explore racism, its history and its current incarnation. 

Dr. Anjili Babbar

 Dr. Myron T. Strong

In June of this year, as protests erupted across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, our students were actively discussing Dashiell Hammett’s short story, “The Gutting of Couffignal,” in their online discussion board. This story follows the Continental Op as he tries to get to the bottom of a seeming riot on an elite island. He eventually discovers that the perpetrators are formerly wealthy Russians, forced to flee their country after the Communist Revolution, now living in destitution. “This really relates to the Black Lives Matter movement,” one student noted. “The Russians have been disenfranchised, and they’re voiceless. When people aren’t heard, they turn to methods that can’t be ignored. Like the protests that led to riots in Baltimore after Freddie Gray. Martin Luther King said that ‘A riot is the language of the unheard.’”

Was this Hammett’s intention in the story? It’s difficult to say. On one hand, Hammett had sympathy for the Communist movement, and the Op does not hesitate to use violence against the ringleaders of the Couffignal looting. On the other, Hammett’s inclusion of the Czarists’ motives suggests a willingness to consider responses to injustice—whether real or perceived—as ubiquitous, common to all people. In the classroom, the imperative point was that the story inspired the students to situate current socio-political events in a broader context.

Later in the semester, the same students read Sarah Paretsky’s “Skin Deep,” in which V.I. Warshawski maneuvers a discriminatory criminal justice system on behalf of her Black friend, who has been falsely accused of murder. Even with this premise, the students were disappointed by the main character. “She doesn’t see the forest for the trees,” one student asserted. “She tries to pressure her friend’s boss to help her by threatening to expose the undocumented immigrants working there.” Not only were the students broadening their context of specific social concerns; the approach had become second nature to the extent that they were criticizing a character for not doing the same.

The obstacles to approaching diverse perspectives in the classroom have long been the elephant in the room of undergraduate academia. The curriculum long offered little diversity in readings and assignments, instead focusing on canonical white, often male, writers. That has shifted in recent years, but approaches remain problematic. Some students report discomfort about white professors guiding students of color in discussing their lived experiences, and about a focus on oppression narratives, at the exclusion of other lived experiences of marginalized people. Following nation-wide responses to the murder of George Floyd, academic departments across the country have scrambled to find better ways to promote “own voices” narratives and to address systemic racism and corruption – yet professors of crime fiction have been tackling these topics for decades, even as their focus has sometimes been dismissed as “genre fiction,” rather than “real” literature.

The use of crime fiction to explore diverse perspectives and systemic social challenges overcomes many problematics. Rather than being spoon-fed interpretations that might seem restrictive or alienating, students can apply critical thinking skills to analyze issues of justice invoked by crime fiction narratives and draw their own conclusions. Likewise, these narratives naturally encourage students to recognize specific social issues as part of a broader socio-historical framework, and thus to approach justice-related concerns outside of the contemporary biases of political discourse. This, in turn, helps them to develop empathy for disparate perspectives – an empathy which is underscored by the inclusion of marginalized characters who are individuals with agency in the pursuit of justice.

In our classes, students discuss gender-socialized power dynamics (Nikki Dolson); they discuss “othering” and its relationship to criminal justice (Peter Robinson, Agatha Christie); they discuss police discrimination and reform (Adrian McKinty); they discuss immigration (Angie Kim), classism (Colin Dexter), racism (Walter Mosley), and the politics of war (Anthony Horowitz). By examining these topics outside of the contemporary, location-specific contexts to which they are habituated, students can approach them on their own terms, at least partially unconstrained by the politically-charged discourse that surrounds them on social media. In turn, they are able to build the tools to return to these specific, contemporary issues with the wisdom, logic, and critical thinking supplied by a broader context. 


Dr. Anjili Babbar is a writer, scholar, and professor of crime fiction, British and Irish literature, and folklore, and president of the Dashiell Hammett Society. Upcoming publications include Finders: Justice, Faith, and Identity in Irish Crime Fiction (Syracuse University Press) and “‘This Isn’t F*cking Miss Marple, Mate’: Intertextuality in Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy Series” (in Guilt Rules All: Mysteries, Detectives, and Crime in Irish Fiction, edited by Elizabeth Mannion and Brian Cliff, Syracuse University Press).

Dr. Myron T. Strong is an award-winning sociologist and writer, whose areas of expertise include the sociology of race, gender, Afro-futurism, and comics. He is Academic Outreach Coordinator for the Dashiell Hammett Society, Executive Council Member for the Eastern Sociological Society, and Co-Chair for the Committee on Community Colleges of the American Sociological Association. Recent publications include the co-authored textbook, Sociology in Stories: A Creative Introduction to a Fascinating Perspective (Kendall Hunt).

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Caught on Tape

By Claire Booth

My last tape player died this month. It was random and rarely used—our 2004 Honda CRV came with both that and a CD player. Maybe that was the year Honda couldn’t decide whether to switch over to the newfangled CD technology. Give ’em both, make everybody happy.

I hadn’t used it in quite a while; it was my husband who was cleaning the car, found two dusty tapes in the glove box and decided to pop one into the player. No luck. Did I want him to throw them away?

God, no. Those were—are—precious. They were gifts that required both thought and time. Given to me back when there were no algorithms pointing to similar songs, no already curated playlists, no point-and-click-and-you’re-done convenience.

Back when a mix tape was a declaration of love, or a gesture of friendship, or a reward for beating someone at a certain beverage consumption game popular on college campuses.

My two tapes have more miles on them than the Honda does. They took me across the country multiple times: Missouri-to-California and back; Missouri-to-Washington, DC, and back; Missouri-to-Florida; Florida-to-Seattle; and Seattle to the Bay Area. It’s a miracle they didn’t give up and curl into a tangle of weary ribbon somewhere in the middle of Kansas. I couldn’t possibly throw them away.

So now they sit on a shelf—obsolete but essential. I’m going to get on iTunes and put together a playlist of all the songs, even though I know them by heart. But I’ll keep the brittle plastic, too—as a reminder of all those miles, and the extravagant effort someone put into keeping me company along the way.