Saturday, January 11, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 2 AKA You Know You've Integrated the Indie Writing Lessons When...

Scott D. Parker

This proved an interesting week, evidence yet again that life is full of daily surprises.

When it comes to Christmas decorations, no matter when they go up, they always come down by New Year's Eve. The family has adopted my wife's idea that you don't start a new year cleaning up the mess from the old one.

Well, I didn't follow that advice in terms of my writing.

I've been reviewing my existing-yet-not-finished stories at the beginning of this year. The good thing is that all this reviewing is helping me see what each story needs and all the tweaks along the way. The irritating thing is that I didn't do this in December. Or finished them in 2019.

Be that as it may, I wanted to wrap up these outstanding stories before tackling a brand-new one here in January. But something else sidetracked my review.

The E-mail

I received an email from a relative on my wife's side. Turns out there are a couple of writers in the family working on various books and the relative was wondering if I'd have a chance to offer any advice on the publishing and writing business.

Happily I agreed. I'm always eager to help writers no matter if they are far ahead of me in the business or just starting out. I've made course corrections along the way based on advice from veteran writers.

Wins and Losses?

Here's the thing about the writing business: it's competitive, but not always against fellow writers. It's a competition for the eyes and attentions of readers. We don't rack up wins and losses against other writers. And if you have that mindset, well, there's a better way to look at the business.

Think of it as a learning experience.

Let's say you've written a thriller. You've done your research and you have a book with a good cover, decent blurb, and is available in all the channels. It goes on sale on New Year's Day. You advertise in whatever form you choose. Yet there's another (actually a lot more) thriller book that was released on the same day.

And that other book is the one that's most popular with readers.

You'll get frustrated. You might even get upset. But you can't control what happens when you release your book into the world. You can only control that which you have direct control: cover, blurbs, and the book itself.

If you think that other author "beat" you, do some research. Buy that other book. Read it. Figure out why it is resonating more with readers than yours. If you see something, feel free to learn from that other book and incorporate those learned lessons in your next book. Nothing wrong with that.

Just don't fixate on wins and losses. The only person who loses there is you. And your potential readers. Just continue to be yourself and readers who like your stuff will find you. It'll take longer, perhaps, but avid readers are the best.

Internalized Lessons Learned

Back to the e-mail. So my relative put me in contact with the other writers and we emailed back and forth. The writer (also a she) shared some details about where she is and a choice she's contemplating. It's whether or not to sign a contract for a publishing firm not based in New York. Not one of the Big Five.

Indie that I am, I started listing the reasons I went indie and continue to stay that way. I discussed all the things I've had to learn over the five or six years I've been doing this side hustle: how to make covers, where to find editors, how to make paperbacks, how to format ebooks, etc. My response back grew longer and longer.

And I didn't even have to reference anything. I realized I have internalized all the indie author/publisher lessons so thoroughly that I can just spout them off at will.

It was a nice feeling...and it really made me want to get started with my 2020 publication schedule. It also helped me realize I enjoy the challenges and the rewards of an indie writer life. Still would appreciate the opportunity to do fiction writing full time, but the life I've carved out for myself is pretty grand.

Article of the Week

So, all of what I've described occurred prior to Thursday's post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. She has had a decades-long writing career, both in the traditional and indie world, and now preaches the good talk about the indie life. Every Thursday, she posts about the business of an indie writer.

This week is title "Fear and Publishing." It is very insightful and well worth the time to read.

Book of the Week

The first novel I'm reading in 2020 is now four years old. It's ORPHAN X by Gregg Hurwitz. This series, about Evan Smoak, a highly trained assassin, has been on my radar for a couple of years. I saw the fourth book at Barnes and Noble over the holidays (in paperback) with a fifth book coming out this year.

Why not start?

So I picked up the first book and have really enjoyed it. How much? Well, I'm reading an actual book (bought the paperback) and have carved out time specifically to read. I get most of my books via audio, but I aim to have 2020 be the year in which I read at least a book a month and listen to another book a month.

I'm only a hundred pages in, but I'm really digging this book. What's even more ironic is the timing: My NaNoWriMo 2019 book involves a character who is off the  grid like Smoak or Jack Reacher (also not read any of his books either). The sands of time and interests, every now and then, come together.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Digging graves and books with Beau and Eric

Beau Johnson takes a look at Eric Beetner's DIG TWO GRAVES.

Dig Two Graves is a novella-length piece about Val, an ex-con who thinks he has figured out the trick to continuing his bank robbing life without ever getting caught. Except then he gets caught.

It’s not his plan that backfires, oh no. There’s a rat somewhere and Val is pretty damn sure who it is – Ernesto, his prison lover who has joined him on the outside as his partner in bank robbery.

Val stalks the city night on the hunt for Ernesto to exact revenge for breaking the ultimate criminal code: you don’t rat out a partner.

Along the way Val wrestles with his feelings for another man. Was it a prison infatuation born out of necessity? Or is it something more? And which makes the betrayal sting worse?

Populated by small time losers and petty crooks, Dig Two Graves is tough and stripped down like a fight without gloves. The humor is strictly from the gallows and the pace is relentless, plowing through one furious night like burning hate coursing through veins.

"Dig Two Graves" is the product of a diseased mind, and I mean that in the very best way. If you like stories about revenge and criminals fucking up their own shit, this one's for you." -- Scott Phillips, author of The Ice Harvest and The Adjustment

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Interview with Matt Phillips

You Must Have a Death Wish
by David Nemeth

Late last year, I chatted via email with Matt Phillips. I wanted the conversation to focus on writing. Hopefully, we did that.

Nemeth: Your new book "You Must Have a Death Wish" is out of Fahrenheit 13, an imprint of Fahrenheit Press, what's it about?

Phillips: "You Must Have a Death Wish" is about a hustler named Moonie Sykes inadvertently finding his calling as a hit man. You might imagine some of the mistakes a rookie hit man could/might make––let's just say, Moonie has some trouble. The book is also about wealth and power, the trappings of greed, and one's slow realization of mortality. Set in San Diego, the book is a fast read––comedic and violent and addictive all at once.

Nemeth: You received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Texas at El Paso. How has your MFA experience helped you in your writing and writing career?

Phillips: Yeah––I do have an MFA. I see the degree as a professional credential. It gave me some time to focus on writing and reading as my daily priority. It was valuable in that way. I used to make valiant attempts at writing 'literary drama.' In one of my courses I wrote a chapter of what would become my crime novel, 'Three Kinds of Fool.' My professor at the time––a well-known poet who lives in Paris––basically told me to stop writing the other crap and to focus on crime and noir. She could tell it was what I wanted to write...That conversation helped me a great deal. The MFA also encouraged me to read widely––from Lydia Davis and Eduardo Galeano to Foucault and Barthes and the list goes on...Just encouraged me to read stuff I otherwise wouldn't have read. Besides all that, the MFA has helped in negotiating my day job salary (I currently work in academia) and it has gotten me into some minor teaching gigs. As I publish more books, I think the MFA will––perhaps paradoxically––become more valuable from a career standpoint. In my academic writing I managed to incorporate my love of crime fiction by studying and writing about books like 'Beast in View,' 'Fool's Gold,' 'A Rage in Harlem,' 'Fight Club,' 'The Expendable Man,' and 'Cry, Father.' As I transition to more and more teaching (fingers crossed), I expect to include more contemporary noir/crime in the higher ed curriculum. That's my secret plan, anyway.

Nemeth: Can you give me an overview of your daily (or weekly) writing schedule?

Phillips: Well, I work at the day job after dropping my son at daycare. Rush home after work and play cars or baseball or ride bikes (whatever he wants me and my wife to do). We get him to bed about eight (god willing) after dinner, etc. Generally I try to write for an hour and a half or two hours after that. Then I'll read for an hour, hour and a half. Might watch a film occasionally. I'll squeeze revision in on the weekends or during lunch breaks. Same with reading––every spare moment, basically. As a parent I've been forced to revise what I consider substantial progress. Some days, 250 words is what I get. Others, I might bang out 1,500. I just try to move the story forward. I'll take sick days or vacation or a weekend to finalize a writing project if I need to. In fact, just took a Friday off to bang out a final novel revision on a rural noir. I take breathers to watch sports or a film now and then. I also do revision while watching sports––a habit I picked up from working in a newsroom. In short, I squeeze my art in wherever/whenever the hell I can. Frankly, I wish I could focus solely on my writing and storytelling––until that day, I just have to grind it out.

Nemeth: When writing a book, are you working towards the end line or do you step back and revise a previous day's work?

Phillips: Great question! I like to revise my work from the day before. This helps me get back into the story and take up where I left off. The best, for me, is to end a day of writing at a chapter's end. But, of course, that doesn't always happen. I like finishing a chapter because it truly measures progress for me––that's a big part of feeling like I am moving towards the finish line. I think to be a writer you have to push yourself to finish projects. If you don't finish, you don't have anything to revise. Nothing to revise? That means you have nothing to submit to a press or agent.

Nemeth: I believe you are a pantser, is this still true? How much of an idea, do you have before you decide that you will begin working on a book? Do you have many false starts?

Phillips: Oh, man. Yeah––I tend to write without an outline. For me, it's about discovering parts of a story as I write. At some point, if I write enough, the ending of a story will kind of emerge. I love that discovery...That said, I have had a lot of false starts. And I have some projects in limbo. Like with any 'method,' writing without an outline has its issues. I think doing the opposite, too, has its issues. Being a writer (or a film director or a musician or a painter) is certainly about craftsmanship and vision––it's also about making decisions and choosing directions. Some writers choose to start with the events of a story (outline). I prefer to start with character exploration and development. I simply care about that more than I do the events of a story. Both things are important, but a writer––I think––has to choose a method that works for them. And, by the way, that doesn't mean I can't change my method in the future. Or right this second, for that matter.

Nemeth: If I understand correctly, before you start writing, you give some thought to your main characters? Their motivation or even backstory?

Know Me From Smoke
Phillips: I'm not certain if I think about them before I start writing. To me, it's like I'm thinking about the character as I begin to write. They're growing as I write and, somewhere along the line, they're fully formed. I think of it like a seduction––the reader should be seduced by a character. They should find themselves caring about the character. That rarely happens with one paragraph of back story, let alone a chapter of back story. I'm not sure if I answered this question very well...Another thing I can say is that many of my characters are composites of people I know or have met. Or, I'll build parts of people I know into unique characters. Stories people tell me are great for injecting into a character's mouth or their personal story/history. Of course, I'll transform those stories into something new. Anyway, that's kind of how I think about and approach characters.

Nemeth: Have you had the chance to read "Story Genius" by Lisa Cron? She writes about the importance of character development before you even start thinking about plot points or even writing. Crone writes, "Story is about how the things that happen in the plot affect the protagonist, and how he or she changes internally as a result."

Phillips: Never read it, but I agree––largely––with the quote. I'd extend it and say that story is also about how the reader is changed, or not, by the characters and conflicts and worlds they encounter while reading. Story, in general, is actually about telling and archiving our collective human story. No story is simply about itself––each story, to me, is part of our collective journey. Being a writer is an important profession because it represents a responsibility to archive the world, a feeling, a trajectory of logic or illogic, moments of joy or desperation or epic failure. The medium itself helps others enter into these archives. and––I hope––be changed in some meaningful way. And the writer, too, is changed for their work. If there's one book that might help a novelist (or potential novelist) see writing as a calling, it's "Letters to a Young Novelist" by Mario Vargas Llosa. He approaches the novel form in a way that is inclusive of every genre, and he touches on the most important parts of a story, parts that live beyond mechanics. I don't know...Maybe this is all too confusing. I do know this: The super-short story "Borges and I" by Jorge Luis Borges is what I read when I want to be reminded of the importance of this work. Like Borges writes of himself, "It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition."

Nemeth: When do you start sharing your work with other people? What kind of feedback are you looking for during this process?

The Bad Kind of Lucky
Phillips: Man, I'll be completely real here: I rarely, if ever, share my work with others. Back in the day, I used to ask people to look at the work because I wanted to verify it was 'good enough.' I think that fact, in and of itself, says that I wasn't ready. I needed to write more and fail more. At this point, I'm confident enough in my abilities to create what I intend to create. I know there are people out there who have beta readers and the like––I just see that as a whole bunch of admin work. I'm sure it's useful, but it ain't for me. You're better off finding one person you trust and working with them. The first people to see my work are the people I want to publish/edit the book. In my case, that means about three freaking people who I know––based on their work––have an expertise in the genre. I've been incredibly fortunate to work with Chris Rhatigan at All Due Respect Books and Chris Black at Fahrenheit 13. Both those guys have their fingerprints all over my books––seriously. I feel like the initial work, though, is my own unique creation. And that's because I haven't solicited a ton of feedback. Sure, there's some weird shit in my books, and most of it would have been flagged for changing by beta readers. But then my books wouldn't be the unique creations they are. There's one other person I may work with, and that's because I respect the work this person has put out into the world. I'm getting to the point where I'm searching for an agent or a manager, but I'd love to maintain the luxury of free expression as I write new books. It's important to me that my work be unique to me––like my fingerprints on the world.

Nemeth: Lastly, how do you know when you're done with the book?

Phillips: I know it's done when the damn thing hits the shelves! Until then, there's always a chance it'll sit on a hard drive somewhere. As far as drafting, I don't know––its a gut feeling with the ending. Like, I got it right...That's how this ends. And, like I said above, people who know what they're doing can help you get to the true finish line.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020


          There is a great line from the epic caper film Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels that goes
"Guns for show, knives for pros."
The fact that the line is being spoken by a character who is most definitely not a pro adds a bit of irony that I sincerely hope was intentional.
       Crime fiction has many many sub genre's and tropes. I've talked about a few on this site. One trope that I personally love is the professional criminal. Now some might say that is a nonsensical title. Surely there is nothing professional about an individual who makes their living breaking the law. But I beg to differ. Some  of the best crime and noir novels or films tell the story of a criminal or group of criminals who takes their job seriously. One of my favorites films in this vein is Michael Mann's masterpiece(say that five times fast) HEAT.
      HEAT is the quintessential  crooks as pros movie. Robert De Niro's Neal McCauley is the consummate professional. He doesn't have a code he has a set of rules that he lives by and that shape his heist. Of course since this is a movie events conspire to force him to break his rules which leads to his downfall.(sorry no spoiler alert, if you don't know the plot of HEAT you're on the wrong site.). It's Neal's methodical business like temperament that I find fascinating. De Niro plays Neal as a kinder gentler Parker but still not a man to be crossed or trifled with in any way. A cold blooded killer who will absolutely destroy anyone who gets in his way but never makes it personal.
    Until he does.

       Speaking of Parker , so much has been written about the pros's pro by better authors than me that I won't belabor his importance to the crime genre or how perfect a character he is but suffice it to say Parker is the ultimate craftsman of crime. A near automaton when he is planning or executing a job Parker has no attachments, no loyalty and no mercy. Later in the series he gets a steady girlfriend and later wife but as a reader I always got the notion he would not lose any sleep if he had to " take care" of her for some reason.
       The pro is the height of the fantasy that draws some of  us to a crime novel. He or she is the Michael Jordan or Serena Williams of their chosen vocation. The suspense of seeing someone who knows exactly what they are doing meticulously plan the score of a lifetime is only topped by the thrill of seeing how they adjust on the fly when the heist invariably goes off the rails. Its like watching a high wire acrobat walk across the Grand Canyon. You know they have the skills but you still watch through your fingers because anything might happen.

          On the opposite end of the spectrum is the amateur. These are the folks that find themselves drawn into a dangerous underworld, usually against their will. These kind of tales provide a different vicarious exhilaration . We are the amateurs. Most of us ,if we are lucky, have never been a part of a crew or had to knock over a bank to settle our debt to the local mob boss. But we like to think if we were for instance, Michael Williams, Nic Cage's character from the classic neo-noir Red Rock West, we would be able to hold our own against as crazed Dennis Hopper. (was there really any of kind of Dennis Hopper?)  Or we watch with a bit of supercilious arrogance as we watch Mike Swale, Peter Berg's character in the phenomenal film The Last Seduction, fall prey to the lustfully dangerous Bridget Gregory safe and secure in the knowledge we'd never fall for that!. 
Or would we?
John Ridley created one of my favorite amateur criminals in his wonderfully dark and wacky novel Everyone Smokes In Hell. Paris Scott a lonely and depressed convenience store clerk finds himself in possession of not only the last recording of one of the biggest rock stars in the world hours after his death but also inexplicably a huge cache of drugs that belong to a vicious dealer. Ridley sets this dizzying tale against the backdrop of 1990's Hollywood where everyone bleeds technicolor and love is a racket. Paris moves from one life threatening encounter to the next surviving on dumb luck and a stubborn refusal to realize he is in way over his head.
       Personally I'm partial to the pros. There is an artistic purity in their deliberate machinations. That being said I'm not opposed to a well written novel with a hopelessly out of their depth amateur at the helm. Ed Aymar's Better off Dead or Johnny Shaw's The Upper Hand comes to mind in addition to the aforementioned Everyone Smokes in Hell. Read all three. YOLO.

 Regardless of whether the main character is a cool and precise professional or a harried and terrified amateur if the writer or filmmaker is skillful enough we are drawn in and become invested in their success or watch and meditate on their failures.
      Either way you son of a bitch I'm in!

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

No Slack for Howard Ratner

The other night I went to see Uncut Gems, the Safdie Brothers film.  Though I'd wanted to see it since viewing the trailer months ago, I was wondering going in how much, or if, I would like it.  It’s not that I disliked their previous film, Good Time, but I wasn't as crazy about it as a number of people I know.  I liked its energy, the soundtrack, and the feeling I had of being on a strange odyssey, yet I found myself irritated by its use of an overused trope -- one semi-competent criminal getting into deeper and deeper shit in order to help a person he cares for, in this case his brother, who is developmentally disabled.  Robert Pattinson gives a memorable performance, but I found myself watching his character's frantic movements and frequently dumb choices with an emotional distance, though the very foolhardiness of his choices is something that gives the film verisimilitude.  Most criminals in real life are more like Pattinson's character - not geniuses by a longshot - than they are models of planning and intelligence.  The Safdies do present him without judgment or moralizing, and that is something I appreciate: don't tell me what to think about a character, as so many movies and TV series do; don't try to nudge me in a certain direction regarding a character; just give me the characters' behavior, and let me decide what to think about them.

Well, Uncut Gems does this completely, giving us Adam Sandler's gambling-addicted, New York City diamond dealer Howard Ratner along with an assortment of hectic, striving characters, and about not one of them do the Safdies pass judgment.  Nor do they push you to think a certain way about any of their characters.  In a way that's reminiscent of Martin Scorsese, they give you complicated people, warts and all, and let you deal with them as people. You get behavior and that's it, contradictory, unpredictable, at times self-defeating, and you read that behavior according to your own lights. It's something I thought clicked to near perfection in Uncut Gems.  

Have I said how much more I liked this film than Good Time? It's a quantum leap forward, an immersive experience that had me hooked and on edge for nearly the entire movie.  As a New Yorker, and I mean this in a good way, the film is like a stressful day in the city when things are not going well.  Maybe I'm so used to this as a lifelong New Yorker, I felt at home with it? I don't know.  But this is a film with a headlong intensity few films have, and while it's a focused character study, it also manages to be remarkably messy.  Or more accurately, the Safdies are able to do something rare: create the illusion of lifelike messiness in a tale that's actually simple and tight.  It's hard in a drama to create mess and continual surprise and keep incidents tinkering on the edge of chaos without falling prey to the fallacy of imitative form - the story itself becoming unhinged and chaotic - but they succeed with that difficult balance here.

What else? It's always fascinating to see a comedian do a straight role, and you get a particular jolt when it works. Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, Steve Martin in The Spanish Prisoner, Lily Tomlin in Nashville.  How can you beat Jerry Lewis as Jerry Langford in Scorsese's The King of Comedy?  As Scorsese said back when he made the film, he saw something dark in Lewis underneath all those slapstick roles, and he wanted to tap into that for The King of Comedy.  And did he ever!  I never was a Lewis fan as far as his comedy goes, but he gives a great performance as the talk show host kidnapped by Robert De Niro and Sandra Bernhard.  

In Uncut Gems, Adam Sandler matches Lewis and then some, showing total commitment to the role.  I've read comments from some people that they couldn't stand his character, Howard Ratner, because he's so stupid or because he's not likable, but I didn't see him that way at all.  He makes too many bad choices to count, true, and he's not precisely what I'd call an ideal husband, yes, but somehow, and much of this is due to Sandler's performance, I was continually rooting for him.  I was rooting for him even though you know that someone with this substantial a gambling addiction is never going to "win" in the end.  And the Safdies do something unusual with him. They give you a person it's clear they like, with all his excesses and energy and appetite, but at the same time, they don't cut him any slack.  When his wife (Idina Menzel) tells him, as he's begging for her to give him another shot in their marriage, that he's the most annoying person she's ever met and has the most stupid face she's ever seen and that she doesn't even want to touch him again, I laughed because that's exactly what her character would and should say to him considering how he is and everything he's done.  The Safdies like Howard Ratner but don't let him off the hook for anything at any time.  They give him to us with what you might call unsentimental love.

Uncut Gems - a kinetic experience, a nerve jangler, funny, unruly, ridiculous, exhausting, and a New York movie par excellence. I'm sure I'll be rewatching it over the years.  

Sunday, January 5, 2020

About last year...

With the start of the new decade we have quite a few worries top of mind. It seems that we, the human race, just can’t get it right. At least, this is the way it appears. Truly though, we have made a few steps toward bettering our world. Albeit slowly. Often begrudgingly. From strides in human dignity to a home for every dog, our world experienced pockets of good in 2019. 

For instance, MARIYA RUSSELL BECAME THE FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN TO RECEIVE A MICHELIN STAR! Michelin stars are a restaurant rating system found within the well-known and somewhat fancy Michelin Guide. For more than a century, the guide has shaped the success of chefs and restaurants across the world. Earn a Michelin star, you are a star. MARIYA RUSSELL is the first African-American star in ninety-two years.

HOLLAND BECAME THE FIRST COUNTRY WITH NO STRAY DOGS! It wasn’t easy and took total, bipartisan agreement but they got it done. They were able to spay and neuter more than 75% of their stray dog population in a matter of months.

Strays were given veterinary checkups and vaccines, helping stop the spread of communicable diseases like rabies or parvovirus. The country also implemented animal welfare legislation that granted all animals, including stray dogs, the right to a healthy and quality life. Campaigns worked to drive home the idea that adopting a pet is saving a life.


A bipartisan bill, the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, was signed into law this past November, making animal cruelty a federal crime. 

Our 116th Congress had the biggest number of female members ever. Close to home, THE GREATEST NUMBER OF WOMEN WERE VOTED INTO THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY IN THE HISTORY OF VIRGINIA POLITICS. Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn became the first woman nominated for Speaker of the House in Virginia. 

A Malawi female Chief named Theresa Kachindamoto, whose lineage made her suddenly and unexpectedly senior chief to more than 900,000 people, made her opportunity and quickly ANNULLED 850 CHILD MARRIAGES, a practice she had publicly denounced for years.  The custom was then made illegal and the girls she rescued sent to school. 

The World Health Organization, WHO, will be making LIFE SAVING BREAST CANCER TREATMENT ACCESSIBLE TO WOMEN IN POOR AND FRAGILE COUNTRIES. Over 2 million women contracted breast cancer in 2018, with 630,000 dying because of late diagnosis or lack of access to affordable treatment. WHO has recently cleared the drug Trastuzumab, a highly reliable but expensive cancer treatment, for procurement by national health authorities, meaning more women will have, relatively, easier access to the drug.   

There have been positive strides for our LGBTQ citizens with MANY STATES BEGINNING TO BAN CONVERSION THERAPY! Conversion therapy claims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. States prohibiting the dangerous and debunked practice this year include Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and Utah. Puerto Rico also banned the practice.

Of course, there is more to do. So much work ahead. Let’s hope we usher more positive changes into this new decade.

Dolly Parton, 50 Years of Creative Mastery

Welcome back after our holiday break. I get the honors of ringing in the new year with one of the first Do Some Damage posts of 2020, and I thought I’d start the year off right by talking about something just about everyone can agree on.
Dolly Parton.
Yes, the same Dolly Parton whose first album was released in 1967. The same one who starred in 9 to 5 in 1980. The same one who wrote “I Will Always Love You,” which hit Number One twice and later became one of the top-selling singles of all time. She’s never stopped singing, composing, or acting—but it seems like lately, she’s everywhere.

Dolly Parton's America
I’ve been riveted by Dolly Parton’s America, a podcast hosted by a young Tennessean who wondered how it is that a decidedly Southern, bewigged, seventy-something musician can draw together fans who range from church-going Baptists to LGBTQ couples, from college graduates to high school dropouts.
Host Jad Abumrad and producer Shima Oliaee do a good job with this over the nine-episode series (the last episode dropped just this past week). They address topics like how she refuses to be drawn into politics, the removal of the word “Dixie” from her Stampede dinner theater show, her Dollywood theme parks, and whether she considers herself a feminist (that topic is in the first episode, “Sad Ass Songs.”) 
They also delve into three of her biggest successes and their cultural impact with individual episodes on the movie 9 to 5 and the songs “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You.” (Side note and blow-your-mind-trivia tidbit: Dolly wrote those two songs on the same day. Most ordinary creative genuises would count themselves lucky to write two such masterpieces in their entire careers.)
I’ve been talking to anyone who’ll listen about the podcast, and some get it confused with the other Dollyverse venture currently playing. Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings is an anthology series on Netflix that takes the inspiration for each episode from one of her songs. Dolly also appears.
Image result for ultimate dolly  parton
A greatest hits album. Not definitive, but a good place to start.
It’s a fine series, if a little too Lifetime-ish for my tastes. Which leads me back to the podcast—which is definitely journalistic enough for my tastes. One reason I’m enjoying it so much is because it focuses on Dolly as a writer and as a businesswoman.
And it seems to me that people in any kind of creative business would be smart to pay attention to someone as savvy as she is (and who has the talent to back up every thing she does). Dolly turned herself into a brand before brands were a thing. She’s been teaching a master class on the subject for more than 50 years, and we would do well to pay attention.