Friday, January 31, 2020

Beau in a Tub

Today, Beau takes Paul Greenberg into the bathtub with him.
Dead Guy in the Bathtub is a collection of crime stories with a dark sense of humor and irony. These characters are on the edge and spiraling out of control. Bad situations become serious circumstances that double down on worst-case scenarios. A Lou Reed fan gets himself caught on the wild side. A couple goes on a short and deadly crime spree. A collector of debts collecting a little too much for himself. A vintage Elvis collection to lose your head over. A local high school legend with a well-endowed reputation comes home.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020


Let's talk about sex shall we?  Come now we are all adults here. Well we try to be adults. Now we are not going to talk about graphic sex or over stylized soft focus erotica. I want to talk about sex and how it it used in mystery and crime novels. Noir novels specifically. Because for me sex and lust are one of the main pillars of the House of Noir. Countless letters have been arranged into a multiplicity of  configurations that examine the idea that noir fiction is about ennui and misanthropy but I posit sex and how it is expressed in fiction is just as important as the malaise of the soul that permeates both traditional and neo-noir.  

In Eliot Chase's classic novel BlACK  WINGS HAVE MY ANGEL, sex is a metaphor for the feral freefall of the main character. Tim Sunblade and Virginia have a relationship that is equal parts lust and  lassitude. They are partners in crime but they are also desperate shipmates on a voyage of self-destruction. Their frenzied couplings are physical manifestations of their shattered psyches. Their sex is not intimate. Its the blind idiot wind that blows two lost souls over a cracked rainbow. 

In George Pelecanos criminally underrated NICK'S TRIP the main character Nick Stefanos is a bartender and part time PI who is asked to search for a friend's missing wife. On the surface it's your basic paint by the numbers PI novel but look deeper. Nick's trip is a not only a bristling crime novel but a brilliant deconstruction of the PI as Lothario. Nick is approached by a friend to help her and her partner conceive a child. Sex in this book becomes nearly mechanical. It's intimate but almost in a platonic way. Nick does indeed have sex with his friend and we can only guess if she is with child but it feels like a favor akin to helping a friend move a couch. Juxtapose that with Nick's remembrances of his wild and fun filled youth. Specifically a trip he took with his friend Billy where sex became just another indulgence among a summer full of vices. By the end of the book we realize that long ago summer trip never ended for Nick. He is stunted as most protagonists in a PI series become. But we don't see Nick as a spoiled man child. We feel an immense sense of empathy for him. Or in more coarse language, Nick gets laid but he doesn't really get to enjoy it. And that is a projection of his current station in life. 

TAMPA by Allison Nutting is the idea of lust and sexuality taken to Nth degree. An unsettling and at times disgusting novel about sexual obsession and the lengths someone will go to feed their obbession TAMPA's first person narration insidiously draws us into the narrators disturbed psyche. We are essentially co-conspirators in this abhorrent crime. And yet we can't look away. Its like watching a car wreck in slow motion recorded on  a dashcam. Sex in TAMPA  is disturbing. It's base and ugly but it is also our clearest window into the damaged mind  of our narrator. The fact she is unrepentant only ratchets up the tension and our desire to see her held accountable for her actions. It is a testament to Nutting's skill that you are not really sure if her narrator will actually get her comeuppance. I'd posit that the physical act's in TAMPA are not really even sex. They are acts of violence.  The fact it's called sex by our narrator says a lot about our society as a whole. 

In the Kenzie/Gennaro series Dennis Lehane masterfully uses sex as a short hand to show us how his characters are growing and evolving. Patrick and Angie get together, they break-up , they find new lovers hook up with old ones and ultimately come back to each other and create a family. Lehane weaves stories about true intimacy that arouses us but also warms our hearts not just our loins. Patrick Kenzie is one of the more well adjusted protagonists in crime fiction and his relationships with the women in his life bears this out. Even when the physical connection is severed the women that have come into Patrick's bed and his life are still important to him. They may not all be his friend but none of them are his enemies. 

Sex ,like violence in a crime novel is only as necessary as the story demands. Gratuitous sex makes us roll our eyes. But earned intimacy makes us care about the characters. It creates a connection for us as readers and it adds layers to our protagonists that otherwise might be ignored. 

In essence we all get lucky. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Fiction is Not a Thesis Paper

When a fiction writer states a reason why he or she wrote a certain book and says something like, "I wanted to talk about the [blank] experience" or "We need to see a different side of [something]", I tend to become disinclined to read that person's book.  I get the feeling that the writer conceived the book with a particular thesis in mind and then tried to figure out how to create characters and a plot to fit that thesis. Or I suspect that the writer feels, with a heightened sense of self-importance, that he or she has to tell their story on behalf of some large group of people whose perceptions about a subject, as the writer sees it, need alteration. They assume there is a "we" that they, the writer, represent.  Who this "we" is to the writer becomes clear from the tone and perspective of the book.

It seems to me that these are among the worst ways to go about conceiving a novel.  The writer is starting, in essence, with the general and working toward the specific. This procedure is perfectly acceptable, even expected, in non-fiction, where a writer is writing about a specific subject or subjects and often wrote the book in the first place to illuminate certain facts, statistics, trends, ideas.  The writer started with a thesis, an argument if you will, and then writes a book to support that thesis. Specifics are presented to buttress the general argument.

Fiction, the best fiction, works exactly the opposite way.  Obviously, writers feel passionate about any number of issues and problems in the world, but the good writers start from the specific  -- an idiosyncratic character, an unusual situation, a mere image -- and build their story from there.  Flaubert says he wrote Salammbo, set in ancient Carthage against a lunar desert landscape, because he wanted to convey a sense of the color yellow.  From that idea, with a large cast of totally individual characters, he weaves an epic tale of war, love, sex, death, betrayal, ambition -- you name it.  

Or take a book like Clarice Lispector's The Hour of the Star.  It tells the story of a woman named Macabea, an ill-educated typist who lives in utter poverty in the slums of Rio de Janeiro.  In part, this novel is about the struggles and suffering of the poor, the forgotten, the nearly nameless.  But first and foremost, you read about the external and internal life, the daily grind and spiritual journey, of one particular woman.  And that woman is so well-drawn, so clear to the reader, odd as she is, that, yes, you can expand from Macabea and say that perhaps she does represent a certain type and that it's a type that's universal. Poor people, poor women like Macabea, exist all over Brazil and all over the world.  But Lispector starts with one human being she invented and who is not like any other human being. Macabea is the farthest thing you could imagine from a stereotype.

In the various critiques I've read of American Dirt, the writers have pointed out a slew of books you can read instead if you want to delve into narratives having to do with the US-Mexico border and the issues related to it.  But again, the good ones will work from the inside out, as it were, beginning with real people and not working from the outside in because, as the American Dirt author puts it about migrants, "We seldom think of them as our fellow human beings."  As has been asked by many, who the hell is "we"?  Again, beware the writer who tosses around that word.  "We think this and we think that."  Really?  Do we?  Speak for yourself, author.  No wonder you're likely to produce contrived abstractions instead of complicated, nuanced characters. 

I got no sense, to cite one example, of a writer overtaken by a "we" complex when I read Yuri Herrera's Signs Preceding the End of the World.  Here's a book of power and vivid imagination that explores the Mexican-US border world through the eyes of Makina, a woman whose crossing and dangerous quest is at once unique to her and mythological in scope.  Or to recall one of Herrera's inspirations, the great Juan Rulfo.  His novel Pedro Paramo gives us a picture of a Mexican town, a ghost town actually, that is like nothing else in the world of fiction.  That town is a Mexican town, with a specific geography, no question.  But the people in it, most of them poor, could be people anywhere. 

It bears noting, by the way, that neither Lispector's book nor Herrera's nor Rulfo's are works of social realism.  They all tackle the social issues they deal with through brilliant elliptical language or through magical realism.  Not that one can't tackle social issues head-on in fiction.  It's done, and often.  But perhaps to some extent, these books carry power because they are products of the writers' individualistic visions, not self-appointed mandates to tell people "stuff" the author thinks they need to know.

Unfair to compare anyone's book to Lispector or Herrera or Rulfo?  I don't think so.  If the great writers are not the standard, what the hell is the point?

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 4 AKA How Best to Sell Direct and Book Murder

Scott D. Parker

Other than my typical writing and publishing books this year, the big goal is to create an online store in order to sell my books directly to readers.

The thing is, how best to do it.

Why Sell Direct?

I've had a few folks ask me why I'm creating a website to sell books and other products directly to readers? Aren't there enough other places--sites like Amazon or Kobo or Audible--where users are more accustomed to go? Yes, there are. But there are some compelling reasons to try.

One, naturally, is money. Minus the transaction fees assessed by the companies like PayPal, I would keep a higher percentage of each sale. Nothing wrong with that.

Of more importance, however, is the bond between buyer and seller. As it is now, readers can buy my book via an online store and they will get the book. The store takes its cut and I get the rest. But the store is the middle man, and the middle man can make any rules he wants.

Take ownership. Right now, when you purchase an ebook from an online retailer, you only purchase the license. If the online store negotiates a new deal with a different company, then the book you paid for vanishes from your device. It happened this week with the game Tetris and it happened last year to owners of ebooks purchased via Microsoft's store.

A key component of any store I create is ownership. When I reader buys an ebook from me, they get the digital file. It'll be theirs to keep and do with what they want. Kind of like a paperback. Ownership. It's a fundamental thing for me, even though I still purchase ebooks via online stores. But at least I know it going in.

One might say, for example, that it'll never happen to Amazon because they're too big to fail. Well, so was AT&T in the 1980s.

Which Platform to Use?

When it comes to the selling platform, there are a wide range of choices. A friend of mine started up an online business in the last few months and he selected Shopify. They take any payment method he knows about and the onus is on Shopify to collect payment and distribute the money to his bank account. Now, you might think this contradicts my ownership argument, but when it comes to money, that's a whole other thing. Better to let Shopify, Stripe, or Apple take care of that.

Shopify has a decent number of templates you can use to get the store started. The minimum viable product, the MVP, or the 1.0 version of the store. I am simultaneously getting my store started while helping my wife get hers up, too. We can tweak as we go, so it's better to get it up and running.

Late this week, however, I learned about Payhip. Joanna Penn (as J.F. Penn) uses it and I dove into a bit of research about it. Payhip enables sellers of digital products (ebooks, software, music) to sell direct to customers. In terms of an MVP, I can enable Payhip on my author website with little effort, so I might try it first while I get the store setup.

I'll admit: I'm leaning to Shopify for many of the same reasons my friend used to start his store. If the new store grows rapidly, I can always upgrade along the way. It's remarkable the number of tools and services available to use creatives to distribute and sell what we make.

For any writers reading this, do y'all sell direct? I'd love to hear some real-world tales, pros and cons, about the various services.

Book Murdering?

As it does multiple times a day, the internet exploded when a tweet was launched into the world. As best as I can discern, writer Alex Christofi posted a photo on Twitter of a few paperbacks that were ripped in half. The reason: better portability.

I love physical books: the smell, the feel, the shelf appeal. I have long taken pencil, pen, and highlighter to the pages of books I'm reading. Always in the Bible, often in non-fiction, and occasionally in fiction books when I see a particularly good piece of storytelling. I dogear pages if I don't have a bookmark or if I don't have any post-it notes handy. Basically, I view the book as mine and I can do with it whatever I want in order for me to get the most out of the reading experience.

Maybe it's the ebook reader in me, but I can't imagine ripping books in this manner. Granted, I don't have a commute via mass transit where carrying a heavy tome is something I do. I do all of my physical book reading at home where this isn't an issue.

But I can't imagine ripping a book like this. I don't find it particularly abhorrent. See my rational for book ownership above. But if Alex or other use this method to get the most out of the words on the pages--the real reason you buy a book in the first place--who am I to judge.

They would look weird on the shelf, however. Then again, you'd know exactly which books you've actually read.

TV Show of the Week: Modern Love

Just got around to seeing this show. Holy cow, is it good.

Modern Love, on Amazon Prime, is an eight episode series showcasing not only excellent acting and storytelling, but the various ways in which people love each other. From romantic love to familial love, old love to happenstance love, this show is a wonderful reminder that kindness and love can pierce through the mundane and the sadness we too often see in our world. The full review is here.

Highly Recommended

Friday, January 24, 2020

Beau Is Back

Once upon a time, Laura Park was a normal college sophomore with her best friend at her side. A year later, Laura was on a deserted road on the outskirts of Las Vegas killing a man. 
She didn’t expect to get away with it but she did with the help of a stranger named Simon who took her in, liquored her up, and broke her down. 
Soon the ambitious Simon introduces her to Frank Joyce, a man who would teach her how to become a stone-cold professional killer. 
Laura learns her deadly trade and earns her money. Twenty-six years old and she thinks she’s found her happily ever after. Sadly it all falls apart when Simon leaves her for another. Now some other woman, blonde and polished, all shiny and new, is living Laura’s happy life.
Heartbroken, but knife always at the ready, Laura waits for any opportunity to get Simon back. The question is, when she gets her chance, will she take it? 
In Laura’s world anyone can become a target, loyalties can shift in a blink of an eye, and when everyone is homicidal, people are definitely going to die.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Last Thrift Store on the Left

By S.A.Cosby

Growing up poor in the South a lot of  things that others take for granted were either out of my grasp or foreign to me. There was no bakery or pizza place on every corner. The closest grocery store was five miles away. When I was a kid our town had one department store that sold off brand clothes. We used to call the sneakers they sold "blanks" because they didn't have any symbols or names on them. We didn't have access to a lot of what could be termed modern conveniences and even if we did we were too poor to take advantage of said conveniences. I didn't walk into my first actual bookstore until I was deep into my twenties. That being said my town did have two great outlets for broke nerdy kids like me. A great library and a thrift store.

The library was a bastion of hope and peace for me in those days. Even today the concept of a library blows me away. You will literally give me all the books I can carry and all I have to do is promise to bring them back in two weeks?  As my granddaddy would say that's crazy as a bag of cats. Despite how much I enjoyed the library it was a bit...sanitized. it was after all a library in the South in a town so steeped in the Confederacy and  religion they once tried to make Robert E. Lee our patron saint. Conservative would be an understatement when talking about their fiction department.

However... the thrift store was where the action was. Our local thrift store benefited from numerous estate sales and abandoned storage units. They were the happy recipients of the overly abundant detritus of  unfulfilled lives and lost dreams. They scavenged the bones of the body electric with the thoroughness of grave beetles. They wasted no part of the animal. A big part of the animal were books. All kinds of books. Books that a twelve year old probably shouldn't have been perusing. Among the dusty shelves and haphazard piles of polyester pants I discovered books by authors I knew and loved and authors I had never heard of but found interesting. I found books that were way over my head at the time and books that I understood so intimately it made my heart ache.

This was where I discovered Kerouac and Burroughs, Eldridge Cleaver and Richard Wright , Anais Nin and Henry Miller. Jim Carroll and Alan Watts. This was where I was hopelessly confused by The Story of O.( My poor mother thought it was an educational book when she glimpsed the cover.)  But it was crime fiction that I was really able to immerse myself in as I walked the long aisles of  the Forgotten Treasures Thrift store. I found the complete works of Agatha Christie next to a huge stack of Mike Hammer novels. A Rage in Harlem lying next to Lord Peter Wimsey Omnibus. I stumbled upon a book that had a short story from the magnificent Edogawa Ranpo, whose work I would devour in the coming years. I learned about obsession and desire from Cornell Woolrich. I scooped up The Bride Wore Black in a pile of books that included a bunch of 87th Precinct novels and a few books by Barbary Neely.  The thrift store was my own private MFA program. I not only enjoyed a rarefied education in the best crime fiction the 20th century had to offer I also got glimpses into the lives of those who had these books before me. Cryptic inscription, Lovingly rendered dedications, the random address or scribbling of a  kid not much older than me when they were presented with a copy of Edgar Allan Poe's collected works. I often wondered what happened to the boy who wrote "This book is the property of Sam" on the front flap of  By Reason of Insanity by Shane Stevens.

I hope you enjoyed that book Sam. I'm sorry you had to let it go. But I'm so happy I found it. That's the true magic of a thrifts store. We become pieces of a shared tapestry that is made of imagination. We are all dreaming the same hazy dream at different points along this chaotic timeline.

Think about that the next time you find yourself in a used book store or thrift store. You're the next link in a chain that goes all the way back to  cavemen gathered around a fire.

Nom nom noms

MWA Announces the 2020 Edgar Nominations

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Energy Usage

I think there comes a certain point where you realize not only that time is precious and limited, but so is energy.  Your own energy. Everyone can say something similar to this, I'm sure, but I remember when I could stay up late hanging out with people at my local bar, drink there, get about 6 hours of sleep, wake up and play two hours of morning tennis - singles - and then come home and write for four hours before going to my night job.  Not so anymore, though I still do average about 5  to 6 hours of sleep a night, on weekdays at least.  I reserve more time for sleep on weekends.  

But my point: energy.  It's difficult to do at 57 what you could do at 37 (which is the period I'm talking about with the hanging out and then getting up to play tennis, etc), and anyway, that was before marriage and kids.  Then mornings are completely taken up for years, and you might find yourself, as I did, squeezing in hours whenever you can after dinner and after everyone has gone to sleep.  That's tough, and I've touched on it here before, methods employed like drinking coffee late at night, napping briefly right after the coffee, and setting the alarm for 20 minutes later when the caffeine is kicking in.  It works, though it can be difficult to shut yourself down later at night and get back into bed for the sleep needed for a coming day of work.  

Regardless, my routine has changed once again, thanks in large part to the new availability of early mornings.  Now the onus is all on me to get to bed early enough (11 to 11:30 is good) so that I can wake by 5 to 5:30 to get in some work before I go to my job.  I have to stop myself at 8 usually to be at my job on time.  I have the coffee machine loaded, the timer on, and all I need do when I get up from bed is pour myself a mug.   

Are there days when I find it hard to drag myself from bed so early even if I went to sleep on time?  Of course.  But this early morning routine, writing when the mind is clear and the energy level is high, beats the exertions I sometimes had to go through to get anything done at the end of a day.  I carry the same principle over to most weekend days, though I don't have to get up and get to my laptop quite so early on a Saturday or Sunday. 

Listen to your body, a lot of athletes say.  For a while now, I've been able to do that, by working early mornings instead of late at night, and I'm enjoying this more productive use of whatever energy I have.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

In Praise of Elizabeth Wurtzel

“But for all intents and purposes, the deeply depressed are just the walking, waking dead.”
Elizabeth Wurtzel, PROZAC NATION

The author of “PROZAC NATION: YOUNG AND DEPRESSED IN AMERICA” and “BITCH: IN PRAISE OF DIFFICULT WOMEN”, Elizabeth Wurtzel died, far too young at 52, on January 7 from metastatic breast cancer.

The New York writer published her best-selling memoir PROZAC NATION when she was only 26.

The book chronicled her long struggle with depression and her eventual treatment with a laundry list of medications, including lithium and the often-mentioned and maligned Prozac, when she was still a college undergraduate. Twenty-six years ago.

Stop for a moment. Think of the people in your life who have acknowledged battling depression. 

Imagine the number of people Elizabeth Wurtzel persuaded with her memoir. 

With her honesty, intelligence and palpable talent, Elizabeth Wurtzel changed the way we see depression and mental illness. She helped ferry depression from shadows and shame to the light of day, from an uncomfortable, misunderstood disorder to a mainstream condition that can rest itself on anyone at any time. And, perhaps hardest to accept for those not familiar with the suffering, depression can happen for no “good” reason. It influences the brain and impacts how you think, feel and act. You can’t wish away depression with affirmations and positive thinking.

“That's the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it's impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key.”
Elizabeth Wurtzel – PROZAC NATION

Extreme. Self-indulgent. Needy. Attention-seeking; terms often whispered behind the backs of those working through depression, those who are forthright and brave enough to share their pain. Their experiences. And these are the terms those unmoved and unimpressed by Wurtzel’s work use to describe her writing. Wurtzel was aggressively open regarding her mistakes and bad habits. Her selfish side. Thoughtless side. Her manipulative and shifty side. By opening and exposing herself, she showed how depression is actually the height of absence. Emptiness. Yes, she was hard rock. Edgy. Unapologetic. Not for everyone. But her talent cannot be disparaged. She unabashedly captured readers with her words.

“If PROZAC NATION has any particular purpose, it would be to come out and say that clinical depression is a real problem, that it ruins lives, that it ends lives, that it very nearly ended my life; that it afflicts many, many people, many very bright and worthy and thoughtful and caring people, people who could easily save the world or at the very least do it some real good, people who are too mired in despair to even begin to unleash the life spring of potential that they likely have down deep inside.”
Elizabeth Wurtzel

She lived a big life. Sex. Rock and roll. Battled drug addiction and crippling depression on a near-daily basis. Overcame a fragile and unsure childhood. Rose above the black wave that threatened to drown her. Lived with the ridicule so often thrown her way in light of her candor and willingness to share.

In the end, after the shock and awe of her tumultuous life, Elizabeth Wurtzel helped so many people.

“That’s all I want in life; for this pain to seem purposeful.”
Elizabeth Wurtzel

Do Not Pass Go

The book censors are at it again. This time, instead of groups taking aim at specific books (Harry Potter, To Kill a Mockingbird, Two Boys Kissing), one Missouri legislator is gunning for an entire set of people. Librarians.
Republican Rep. Ben Baker has just introduced the “Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act,” which I will henceforth refer to as POOPLA because that’s what it is—a complete shit law.
The proposed legislation would establish local parental library review boards that could ban any book that has “age-inappropriate sexual material.” Any library personnel who don’t cooperate will be convicted of a misdemeanor and either fined or imprisoned.
Each board would be made up of five members who must be residents of a library’s geographical area who bother to show up at a specific meeting and garner the most votes from those present—so not all voters in an area, just the folks who are in the room. To me, it seems like it’d be pretty easy to stack a meeting with people who have a lot of time on their hands and censorship in their hearts.
As a reporter, I’ve covered governments that do this. An item gets added to the agenda at the last minute; put as the last item of a long, boring meeting; and when it finally gets addressed, only the few people in the know are still around to vote. It’s classic circumvent-the-public governing.  
Now I can just hear POOPLA-ists saying to all of us pesky free-speech, equal-access harridans, “Well, if you really cared, you’d make the effort to show up and try to get on the board.” Well, Ol’ Ben thought of that horrifying possibility and has surgically eliminated his biggest threat. He specifically excludes library employees from serving on the boards. For good measure he throws in anyone who works the state or any of its political subdivisions. That’s not very many people, right?
Librarians across the country are condemning the proposed legislation—loudly. The Missouri Library Association points out that public libraries already have procedures to help patrons protect their own children while not infringing upon the rights of other patrons or restricting access to materials. “Missouri Library Association will always oppose legislation that infringes on these rights,” the organization’s statement says. I’ll echo that with my own words—feel free to parent your own children, but do not try to parent mine.
“This is a shockingly transparent attempt to legalize book banning in the state of Missouri,” James Tager, deputy director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America, said in a statement. “This act is clearly aimed at empowering small groups of parents to appoint themselves as censors over their state’s public libraries. Books wrestling with sexual themes, books uplifting LGBTQIA+ characters, books addressing issues such as sexual assault—all of these books are potentially on the chopping block if this bill is passed.”
Baker is just a year into his first term as a Missouri state representative. He represents a district that’s only about 90 miles west of Branson in the southern part of the state. The whole region is very conservative, but his move seems like it might be too severe a move for even this area.
“We are against censorship in every way,” Carrie Cline, the director of Baker’s local library, told the Neosho (Mo.) Daily News. “It is YOUR job to parent your children. We will not tell you or your children that you cannot check something out … we are very proud of our collection and will fight to preserve your right to read whatever you wish for your family.”
If you live in Missouri, please contact your representative and let her or him know that you support free speech, equal access, and the rights of librarians. You can enter your zip code here to find your legislator’s contact information.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 3 AKA Are Blogs Outdated?

Scott D. Parker

Kind of an ironic question to ask in a blog post, huh? Well, I have my answer, but let me tell you why I pose it.

A Conversation

A good friend of mine recently opened a new online business here in Houston. Ever since, we both talk about our respective businesses. This week, I asked how his business is going. A trickle was his report. Ditto for me. He made an interesting observation regarding the magical secret to make his business a real income stream. He said the secret might be don't sell something millions of other people already do. Fellow authors: can I get a show of hands of folks who agree with this?

When he asked how my author business was going, my response turned into a single, long reply. It was culmination of weeks of thought about where my business is, where I want it to go, and what steps I need to take to get there. Now, when I say long, I'm talking just north of 1,300 words.

Bless my friend, he read it all. And responded.

I appreciated all his responses--some of which apply only to my own situation--but part of it I want to share today.

Are Blogs Outdated?

Let me summarize his points.

-All authors should have a personal website, not for being discovered by new readers, but for folks who are fans and want to keep up-to-date with what the author is doing.
-But a personal blog feels outdated.
-The Author Page on Amazon is probably good enough.
-Social Media is a better means for letting folks know what we're up to.
-90% of our potential audience is on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
**But everyone's on social media, and what is social media anyway but microblogs.**
-He follows creatives, but rarely checks out their sites.
-Via Social Media, he know the types of people they are, upcoming projects, and where to go should he want to purchase anything.
-If he likes their personality on social media, he'd consider checking out their stuff.
-"I don't visit blogs anymore. I don't know people who do."

The double asterisks indicate a concept I hadn't thought of. Interesting.

Now, my friend is a few years younger than my fifty-one. And he's only one guy in a sea of ideas and thoughts. But it got me to thinking: are blogs outdated?

A Defense of Blogs

I have been writing at my own blog since 2007. I have now published over 1,000 posts. I'm very proud of that accomplishment. At DoSomeDamage, I'm in my eleventh year of constantly publishing a Saturday column. Again, very proud of that accomplishment.

But is it worth it?

I still say yes.

My friend dubs blogs to be  time machines. And, as a degreed historian, I agree. I like that I have various markers based on date and specific events. What is my take on The Last Jedi or John Carter? There it is in real time for anyone to see.

And over time, my personality emerged via my blog writings, both on the personal site and at DoSomeDamage. Want to know who I am if you've never met me? Just take a look at the blog titles and the blogs themselves. It's all there.

Maybe it's my age, but I read through dozens of blogs a day. Granted, I don't read them all, but I have a feedly feed that collects all the blogs I want. Everyday, I scan through my feedly, reading the blogs whose titles intrigue me and skipping others. Skipping lots more than I read.

But yeah, I still read blogs. And in our short-attention spans selves, I think there's a place for long-form posts to go along with the microblogs of social media.

I might, however, be an outlier. What are your thoughts on blogs? Do you read them or skip them in favor of social media?

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Blues for Outlaw Hearts and Old Whores

I've been meaning for some time to read more contemporary crime fiction from Italy.  Besides the Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri, I've read very little of it, but recently, I received a Massimo Carlotto book to review, his 2017 novel, recently translated for Europa Editions, Blues for Outlaw Hearts and Old Whores.  When I requested the book to review, I was wondering to myself, Is Carlotto the one who...?  And indeed he is.  

There's a good documentary from BBC Four on recent Italian crime fiction which I watched a couple years ago and where I learned Carlotto's story.  I've included the doc here if anyone is interested.  It's an enjoyable hour, full of good interviews with Italian crime authors as they give their thoughts on Italian noir and how it has developed over the last 25 or 30 years.

But back to Carlotto's story: in 1976, during the "Years of Lead" in Italy, a period of violent political strife committed by both the Left and the Right, Carlotto was a 19-year-old student and left-wing activist.  A 25-year-old-student, Margherita Magello, was found dying in his home with 59 stab wounds in him.  Carlotto is the one who happened upon the body.  As he says in the doc, he went to the police to report the murder, but because he was a "political militant of the revolutionary left-wing movement", he was quickly arrested and charged with murder. Carlotto insisted he was innocent, and in his first trial he was acquited for lack of evidence by the Criminal Court of Padua.  Upon appeal, however, the Court Call of Venice sentenced him to 15 years in prison, a sentence upheld by the Italian Supreme Court. 

Carlotto fled, becoming a fugitive first in Paris, then in Central America.  After five years on the run, he was captured in Mexico - where police tortured him - and then sent back to Italy and prison.  This began a long legal battle to clear his name, a saga that involved a large segment of the public taking up his cause and many prominent Italian figures signing a petition on his behalf. Due to the case's many convolutions, Carlotto became, in his words, "the most prosecuted Italian citizen for a single crime", and the case made him into a famous case - The Carlotto Case.  The case dragged on for years.  Carlotto's health suffered, and he went through a lot of psychological stress.  Finally, in 1993, with public opinion on his side, the Italian President pardoned him, and Carlotto was released from prison.  

Il fuggiasco, The Fugitive, in 1995, was Carlotto's first book, a novel based on his time on the run.  That was made into a successful movie.  Now he's 15 or 20 books on, and I'll be getting acquainted with him through the one I mentioned, Blues for Outlaw Hearts and Old Whores.

Well, great title for a book and quite a background for a crime writer.  Can't wait to get started reading...

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Jess Montgomery's Historical Mysteries

This week, I’ve got a treat for you. Jess Montgomery joins us with a look at the second book in her historical Kinship Mystery Series. In the books, Kinship is a town in the Appalachia region of Ohio, and it has very unique law enforcement for the 1920s.
The Hollows will be released on Tuesday and I can’t wait to read it. Jess’s first book, The Widows, was fantastic. If you haven’t read it, Jess is offering one lucky Do Some Damage reader a free ebook of The Widows. Just leave a comment here, or on Jess's Facebook page, Do Some Damage's Facebook page, or on my own Facebook page--by the end of Wednesday, Jan. 15. She’ll draw the winner! –Claire Booth

By Jess Montgomery
In THE HOLLOWS, Sheriff Lily Ross is running for election as county sheriff in her own right in 1926. In real life, Ohio’s first female sheriff, who is the inspiration for my character Lily, became sheriff to fulfill her slain husband’s term. When she ran in her own right in 1926, she won by a landslide.
Of course, I’m not going to make the election quite so smooth for Sheriff Lily… (I won’t say here if she wins or not; you’ll have to read The Hollows to find out!)
In any case, Lily’s campaign is interrupted by a murder, an elderly woman dying near a train track in a remote part of the county. The woman is unidentified, and certain clues imply she is not from the area. But Lily is determined to investigate as thoroughly as possible.
As she does so, her friend Hildy Cooper is pulled into the case. Both women find their friendship tested during the investigation, and both must deal with past haunts and hurts—personal as well as in their hometown’s history—in the course of their sleuthing.
Hildy, a childhood friend of Lily’s, was a secondary character in my Kinship Mystery Series debut title, The Widows. In that novel, she served as a foil to Lily. Whereas Lily is brave, physically strong, and not afraid of confrontation, Hildy—who had been engaged to Lily’s older brother before he died in the Great War—has always been quiet, reticent, and (in modern parlance) a people pleaser.
While these attributes enabled her to offer great support and comfort to Lily in the first novel, I realized that I wanted to test Hildy in the second novel and bring her more to the forefront of the story. In The Hollows, Lily and Hildy are dual narrators. Some of Hildy’s decisions and actions in The Hollows would have surprised me when I was writing The Widows (had I known, of course, what was coming).
And that’s one of the aspects I love best about this pattern I’ve landed upon, if you will, for the Kinship Mystery Series. I anticipate that each novel will have dual narrators—Lily and another character we’ve met in past novels as a secondary or even minor character. In this way, I’m hoping to keep expanding the world of Kinship, with Lily at the center, and all the other characters interconnected with each other as well as with Lily. 

Jess Montgomery is the author of the Kinship Historical Mysteries. Under her given name, she is a newspaper columnist, focusing on the literary life, authors and events in her native Dayton, Ohio, for the Dayton Daily News, and is the former executive director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop.

You can order The Hollows through IndieBound , Powell's, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Books-a-Million.