Thursday, December 3, 2020
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
Brooklyn, where I live, is not bad when it comes to having independent bookstores, at least by today's diminished standards. I have a few that by bike I can reach in ten to fifteen minutes. Earlier this year, I was happy to see that in downtown Brooklyn, in a mixed-use complex called Citypoint where there are stores, bars, lots of eating places, a Trader Joe's, and an Alamo Drafthouse movie theater, a new large indie bookstore was being readied for opening. This store is McNally Jackson Books, of which there are four in New York City, two in Manhattan and two in Brooklyn. Before the pandemic hit, I went to Citypoint, for a bite or a drink or a movie, all the time, and when I saw that an indie bookstore I know and like was coming there, I was excited. Like, I suppose, nearly everyone, I buy a large number of my books from Amazon, and I promised myself that I'd frequent this McNally Jackson store -- near me, no excuse not to go often -- on a regular basis.
The long-awaited opening happened the first week in March, but before I even had a chance to stop by, the coronavirus lockdown went into effect and the store had to close. It was open then for 11 days. The bookseller's other three locations were able to reopen in June, when the lockdown eased, but this particular store at Citypoint, because it is in a mall, did not get clearance to open. That didn't happen until September, and I didn't realize the store had reopened until I swung by Citypoint several weeks after that. Like most people I know, I don't go out much these days.Well, a couple Saturdays ago, I finally bicycled over to the new location, and as soon as I stepped inside, I felt both at home and regretful. At home because it's a lovely and spacious place, lined wall to wall, floor to floor, with books, and regretful because I don't make the effort to go to independent bookstores often enough.
I realized almost at once how much I miss going to bookstores frequently and just doing the one thing you cannot do through Amazon in a way that's comparable: browsing. Spending an hour or two in a store, flipping through any number of books, finding a book you didn't know about and getting lost in it for awhile, is something I used to do so often and now, not so much. And this goes back to before the pandemic, my falling out of the bookstore going habit. I can't blame it all on Amazon either, because Amazon has been around for years and I used to go to bookstores a lot well after Amazon came on the scene. I'm not sure why I go to bookstores less than I used to; if I had to pick a single reason, I'd say it's because I have so many unread books at home, I think to myself why go to a store to pick up yet another book (unless it's a book I'm going to buy and know I'm going to read immediately).
Regardless of the reason, I had a wonderful time in McNally Jackson that Saturday and spent a good hour and a half there. I actually took my time and browsed. No need for something I so essentially enjoy to feel like a retro experience, but it did, a little bit, though that's something I can change by going more. And I intend to. We all know how much indie bookstores like this need our support. The store was nearly empty the whole time I was there, and I couldn't help but wonder what business is like. The store is in what should be a good location, but because of the pandemic, one worries. I hope very much the location can make it.
Did I buy anything, or only browse? I bought something, of course. Only one book for now, because, as I said, with far too many unread books at home...
The Promise, the final work, years in the making, by the great Argentinian writer Silvina Ocampo. This was plucked from the Latin American and Caribbean fiction section, where I could camp for months and months and thumb through the books if someone brought me food and water. So much more to explore from there (I mean that one section, not to mention other sections), and that exploration will continue next time.
As I said after paying at the register, though in a friendly, not a Terminator, voice, "I'll be back."
Sunday, November 29, 2020
Fatal Divisions is here. The fourth book in my Sheriff Hank Worth series comes out Jan. 5, 2021, and I just got my copies. There really is nothing like opening a box and seeing the actual physical book.
Here's what's on the inside flap, which was by far the hardest part to write of the whole process. It's distilling a year of work into three paragraphs—so difficult every time. This one took a lot of back and forth with my editor Carl Smith, but I think we nailed it.
Hank Worth has always been committed to his job as Branson
sheriff, so getting him to take a break is difficult. But to everyone's
surprise he agrees to take time off after a grueling case and visit a friend in
Columbia, Missouri, leaving Chief Deputy Sheila Turley in charge. She quickly
launches reforms that create an uproar, and things deteriorate even further
when an elderly man is found brutally murdered in his home.
As Sheila struggles for control of the investigation and her insubordinate deputies, Hank is not relaxing as promised. His Aunt Fin is worried her husband is responsible for the disappearance of one of his employees, and Hank agrees to investigate.
The search for the missing woman leads to a tangle of deceit that Hank is determined to unravel . . . no matter the impact on his family.
I've never had a book come out at this time of year, so here's my pitch: pre-ordering it for someone you love would make a fabulous
Christmas or Hanukkah gift! If you can, consider ordering from an independent bookstore like Face in a Book or Book Carnival. You can also order through Indiebound, or Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Saturday, November 28, 2020
Scott D. Parker
One of the standard guiding principles for second seasons of TV shows is the same but bigger. That principle is alive and well in season two of Sweden’s Before We Die.
After finishing season one last week, the wife and I decided to forge ahead with the second season without taking a break. At only eight episodes (to the first season’s ten), it wasn’t difficult to watch the entire season by Thanksgiving night.
Season two picks up six months after season one ends. Hanna (Marie Richardson) has taken down the Mimica crime family a few notches—they went from running a fancy restaurant to a pizzeria—but she still doesn’t know the identity of the police officer who works directly for the Mimicas. To ferret out the leak, Hanna’s boss assigns her to the Organized Crime division. There, she and her partner, Bjorn (Magnus Krepper) stumble upon a group of corrupt cops dubbed The Circle. These folks are pretty darn bad, killing and stealing at will, all with a diffuse organization not easy to discover and even harder to bring down.
All of this would be difficult enough, but throw in the return of Christian, Hanna’s son, from his exile at the end of season one, and you get another complication. That is, until Bjorn and Hanna decide to let Christian try and infiltrate the Circle. He didn’t come back with Blanka, the daughter of the Mimicas, and he doesn’t want to talk about what happened down in Costa Rica.
Now, I’ll admit that as soon as the plot became another infiltration by Christian into a dangerous group, I was a little irritated. We had already seen this kind of thing in the first season. And some of the scenes between Christian and Hanna, Bjorn, and the police captain were just as irritating. “We should bring him in, get him out,” they’d say. “No, I’m really close,” Christian would counter. And then he’d go back. But the ingredients in this story were just different enough that I quickly moved past my difficulties and just went with the flow. It didn’t help that in the Twitter posts from last week (about season one) a user commented that the second season wasn’t as good as the first. True, but it was different enough to stand on its own.
You see, Christian infiltrates the Circle really, really well. Lena (Maria Sundbom) takes a shine to the young man and things get hot. Yet he has to keep this aspect of things secret from his mom and the other cops, so you end up having the young man (Adam Pålsson) alone playing all sides. Palsson does a good job here, especially considering the other things the character is fighting.
Second seasons always bring in new characters and one of the best is Laura (Shada-Helin Sulhav) as one of the Mimica’s foot soldiers. Laura is cold, calculating, imaginative, and resourceful in her quest to do what’s asked of her. My wife and I both hated the character…which just meant it was an excellent one. Laura’s primary goal is to befriend Blanka, who has returned to Stockholm and is looking for Christian.
If there is a plot point that was irritating—and I mean Kim Bauer in “24” getting caught by that mountain lion irritating—it’s Blanka befriending Laura. It’s smack-your-head stupid, but hey, whatever.
What really holds Before We Die together are the relationships and the push/pull each have against the larger story. It’s fun to see just how far each one is willing to go to achieve a goal.
There's another couple of scenes in which the characters speak English. Having spent so long reading the sub-titles, it was a fun surprise to realize "Oh, I understand that." Which brings up an interesting question: why English? Is English always the default second language for most of the rest of the world?
Oh, and do yourself a favor: don’t look this season up on IMDB or whatever. Just leave yourself open to the show as it unfolds out over eight hours. We did that and the surprises—almost always in the last thirty seconds of each episode—will be that much better.
Season two of Before We Die doesn’t quite reach the level of the first season, but, taken together as one long 18-hour story, it’s still highly recommended.
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
“While cause-related anthologies aren’t unusual, what clearly separates Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas from the pack is the diligence and care the contributors obviously put into their work, and how deftly Angel Luis Colón curated the writers and their stories. This is an important, necessary, lovely collection, one that plunges the reader into the variety of cultures and beauty within the LatinX community. Truly, Sepas is magical, and filled with magical writing. A must-read, now and always.” —E.A. Aymar, author of The Unrepentant
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Scott's Note: Richie Narvaez returns to Do Some Damage to guest blog today, dispensing some blunt wisdom he has picked up during his years in the book world.
Your Book Cover May Suck
by Richie Narvaez
A bad book cover will hurt your book. It’ll stop people from taking it seriously. And worse, they might not even buy it. How do you know if your book cover sucks? Well, if it looks like any book covers featured on LOUSY BOOK COVERS or TERRIBLY BAD BOOK COVERS, that’s a pretty good sign.
Many authors are so giddy that their baby has a face, they don’t think that maybe baby’s face shouldn’t have cheap clip art on it. This generally doesn’t affect Big 5 babes, of course, but many indie press and self-pubbers are plagued by poorly designed covers.
If you’re a self-pubber and your cover stinks, you haven’t done all your homework. If you’re with a small press, and their designer presents you with a turd, you might lack confidence in your aesthetic chops and let it pass. Don’t. A good cover is worth fighting for.
In another lifetime, I was a freelance book cover concept developer, which sounds fancy but just means I summarized books and came up with a list of salient images and cover ideas for illustrators and designers who didn’t have time to read books. Case in point: the Robert Barnard book cover shown here, designed by Gail Belenson and illustrated by Greg Harlin.
This job paid the bills for a while and, while I’m no expert, it taught me a few things about what works on a book cover and what doesn’t.
Your cover has to pop — at a distance
At Zoom meetings, you often see people’s bookshelves behind them. It’s a better background than the exercise bike doubling as a drying rack or the near-empty liquor cabinet. Sometimes book covers will be turned toward the camera. A good cover in the background gets a free shoutout. A bad cover remains a blur.
Remember also that people shop for books via handheld devices with small screens. Your cover has to make an impression even when it’s tiny. That means the text has to be legible. So, avoid fancy script typefaces, and if your lettering is thin, it has to pop out against the background.
Look at Hilary Davidson’s Don’t Look Down, the title type is clear at a thousand yards, and its pyramiding of size and placement high above a city view creates an unsettling sense of vertigo. Or look at Angel Luis Colon’s Hell Chose Me with that perfect pig next to giant type on a background of unpleasant pink that signals that this is not going to be a conventional read, and it’s not. Brilliant cover.
Your cover is an advertisement
You won’t be there to boast of your book’s virtues when the reader is at the bookstore or scrolling on the crapper. What’s your book about? Your title carries some of this weight—puns for the cozies, sinister-sounding double-meaning idioms for the thrillers. But the reader looks to the type and the image to tell them if the story will have blood, brutality, or banana bread recipes.
The cover should signal the genre and highlight themes from the text. Look at any of the covers in Alexia Gordon’s Gethsemane Brown series or L.A. Chandler’s Art Deco series. They’re all perfect ads for what’s inside. No one wants to open a box of Cheez-Its only to find circus peanuts.
Your cover needs a clear focal point
Think of your cover as a cool t-shirt you want to show off forever. Not like the Hootie and the Blowfish concert tee you only wear around the house. The best way to achieve that longevity and memorability is a strong central image.
The image must also be graphically interesting. Not a plastic bag or a dust bunny, for example. With crime fiction, we deal a lot with blood and weaponry. Blood can work on a cover, but a little goes a long way. And highlighting guns can feel too much like an endorsement. But if there’s a cat, by Bast, show a cat. You can use more than one image, but avoid collages—they’re very hard to pull off well.
To make it noir, Zach went black for the background, but that was too similar to another book the publisher had out recently (¡Pa'Que Tu Lo Sepas!—check it out), so then he went against expectations with a bright but still muted color. Then, to really make it noir, he crushed it. The frog, that is.
It’s my most t-shirtable book cover yet. Frankly, I’ll probably get more compliments on it than the text inside.
You can get Noiryorican right here.
Saturday, November 21, 2020
Scott D. Parker
If you need something else to be thankful for this month, let it be that services like Amazon make available foreign TV series as good as Before We Die (Innan Dor) from Sweden.
Released in 2017 and aired on PBS prior to landing on Amazon, Before We Die centers on Hanna (Marie Richardson), a police office with a jurisdiction in financial crimes. She's a straight arrow, so much that she sent her own son to jail for dealing drugs. I think you can imagine how much of a wall this act puts between mother and son.
Flash forward two years and Hanna has a lover, a fellow cop, Sven, he of Organized Crime. As the show opens, Sven is investigating a motorcycle club in Stockholm. This club is at odds with another group, a Croatian family who has a restaurant in the city. As you can imagine, the Mimica family is not all what they seem.
Neither is Sven. He's actually carrying on a secret investigation into the Mimica family, and he's got an infiltrator by the name of Inez. They communicate via old-fashioned cell phones. Things go bad for Hanna when Sven disappears.
The first few episodes deal with Hanna and her team searching for Sven. Later, she'll become more involved in his investigation, digging deeper into what he's uncovered and how it all fits together.
There is a lot to love about this show, but it all centers on Hanna. I'm not familiar with Marie Richardson but holy cow did she ground the show. As a middle-aged guy, I really enjoyed the lead character in my age bracket. It was a joy to watch her grapple with what she discovers, including the true identity of Inez. Okay, minor spoiler here, but you can probably kinda guess it (and it is revealed in the last seconds of episode 1). Inez is her son, Christian. He's working with Sven having garnered a job as a dishwasher for the Mimica family. Their tumultuous relationship plays out over the entire ten-episode run of season 1 in splendid fashion.
Christian is the only actor I recognized. He is played by Adam Pålsson. Americans will know him for the titular character in Netflix's Young Wallander. He does a fantastic job as the ex-con who is taken in by the family and given more and more responsibilities in their criminal activities. Christian makes some interesting choices, and Pålsson sells the blow back very well.
One of the fellow cops Hanna brings in is Bjorn, played by Magnus Krepper. He's a tough, rough, no-BS kind of cop. The one who'll bend the rules if it leans toward justice, or at least as he sees justice. Krepper shows Bjorn as intense yet the veteran cop is about to be a new dad.
Any good crime drama is nothing without a compelling villain, and Alexej Manvelov, as Davor Mimica, is wonderfully restrained yet terrifyingly deadly. He, too, has a secret that he keeps from his family, including his sister, Blanka (Sandra Redlaff). She's engaged to non-family member Stefan but she also has eyes for Christian, so there's some jealousy going on.
I'll admit that some of the themes and ideas and plot points you've seen before. I know I have. There were a few story beats I guessed, but there's one, late in the series, I didn't. It's one of those revelations that, like The Sixth Sense, will make you want to re-watch the show from the beginning.
But those story beats do not diminish this excellent show. My wife (who selected it) and I thoroughly enjoyed the series and are eagerly anticipating diving into season 2 this weekend.
Thursday, November 19, 2020
Barlow Vine just killed a man - his lover's lover. Now he's heading from Spain back to his hometown to escape his actions in the vain hope they won't catch up with him. Never Go Back is a wild ride featuring nurses, strange kids, in Edwardian garb, one blinding headache, and dead-eyed killers who want to use him for their own ends.It's a cold, murderous homecoming - and he'll need the luck of every bastard to survive.
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
From its start, Marcella has been a crime show of the sort where the detective has as many, if not more, mental problems than the people she is pursuing. River, with Skellan Skarsgard, was another example of this. Anna Friel must love playing Marcella; she gets to play an absolute, brilliant mess of a person in a way most roles don't offer. What's interesting is that over the course of the series, instead of showing us a person who makes progress with her issues, or learns to sort of limit or compartmentalize her issues, as Skarsgard's John River in fact does, Marcella in certain ways only seems to be getting more unbalanced with each new season. We've learned a root cause of what has created such guilt and anguish and mental imbalance in her, and in Season 3, she is fighting with herself as fiercely as she is struggling to keep her machinations against the Maguire family from going awry. While all of this does, at times, strain credulity, it makes for a dark and tense drama. Will Marcella destroy the family or implode? Can she keep things together enough to do her job. She is a brilliant cop, no question of that, but she is also, in some ways, her own worst enemy. Self-destructive tendencies in the tormented detective is nothing new, but Marcella at times takes these tendencies to a whole new level, and after the way Season 2 ended, on such a harsh and unexpected note, you really do feel that the makers of this show may take Marcella to the point of actual no return.
Sunday, November 15, 2020
By Claire Booth
I recently finished Deep Cover, a podcast that bills itself as “marijuana, motorcycles and mayhem.” I call it a nine-episode masterpiece.
Journalist Jake Halpern begins with an FBI agent investigating local biker drug gangs in Michigan in the 1980s. He ends it with the overthrow of a Latin American dictator. And yes, everything in between is linked.
Along the way, he connects the dots all the way up the illicit business chain. I sat there listening to some of these people and thinking, “How are you not dead or in federal prison right now?” I won’t spoil the answer to that question, but I will say that Halpern’s interview subjects have nothing left to lose, and the podcast listeners are the winners. They all tell great stories—how to smuggle several tons of marijuana into the United States; how Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee ruins things; and how one guy had a guard pig (not a dog—a pig) that was high on meth. If I haven’t sold you on it with that last one, well then I give up.
The nine-episode narrative arc is all held together by Timmons, who spent years undercover. He’s the kind of guy who could’ve easily tipped the other way in life and become a criminal. Instead, he becomes the next best thing. A pretend one, backed by the power and resources of the FBI. Timmons is a great interview—blunt, honest (probably), and willing to be a little self-reflective. Halpern talks to colleagues and Timmons’s ex-wife to fill in the rest.
The whole podcast is full of fantastic narrative storytelling from Halpern. That isn’t an easy thing to pull off with non-fiction. This story could’ve easily been a jumpy mess of separate parts that didn’t cohere. But everything hangs together perfectly. I recommend you download it now.