Saturday, February 8, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 6 AKA Gregg Hurwitz Week

Scott D. Parker

Who knew this week would turn out to be Gregg Hurwitz Week for me?

The week started with Hurwitz's author event here in Houston. He showed up at Murder by the Book to promote his latest novel--and latest Orphan X thriller--INTO THE FIRE. Much of the author talk was typical--here's my full post--but I really appreciated the answer to one of my questions.

Since Hurwitz is new to me, I asked him how he scored his gig writing Batman comics early in the 2010s. His answer proved instructive to any creative, myself included.

After a brief stint at Marvel, DC Comics wooed Hurwitz with a tantalizing offer: you can write anything you want. Thinking of how THE KILLING JOKE is often referred to as the definitive Joker story, he wanted to write the definitive Penguin story. He got his chance, and, in 2011, PAIN AND PREJUDICE was released. The mini-series got such good press and fan reaction that DC offered Hurwitz a writing gig for one of the monthly Batman books. By opting for a true passion project, new opportunities opened up.

I told this story to my book club group on Tuesday, and one of my friends made an excellent point: you never know when a break might arrive, so you'd better have something in the hopper you can trot out when that break happens.

A day after my post, I put up my full review of ORPHAN X, the debut of Evan Smoak. I enjoyed it for being a different of thriller. Some of the best scenes in the book are the ones not to include action sequences. They are the ones in which Evan merely talks to people who live in his building, his daily life in his apartment, and fixing a drink. Weird, I know, but that's what makes ORPHAN X different, and makes me look forward to diving into the second book, THE NOWHERE MAN.

I closed out the week by reading the Penguin mini-series, PAIN AND PREJUDICE. I wanted to see what a definitive Penguin story looked like and did Hurwitz achieve what he set out to do. In short: yeah. The long version: my review.

A Positive Message About Being a Writer

I've mentioned how every Thursday, Kristine Kathryn Rusch publishes a post on the business aspects of the book business. This week was something different. Entitled "Business Musings: Optimism And The Writer," Rusch extols the virtues of having a positive attitude in this business, both behind the keyboard as you write, and in public as you talk about your stuff. Read the whole thing, but here's a portion of it.

The most optimistic among us do play and make things up for the rest of our lives.
The realistic optimists, that is. The ones who know that being the best at our job requires us to keep learning, keep trying, and keep striving. Who know that the best is just around the corner.
We believe this even when our luck is bad. When events have gone poorly for us. When life conspires against us. When we get that awful diagnosis that reminds us that our time on this earth is finite.
When we can see the end.
We still keep moving forward, and trying to be the best we can be.
Because writers—professional writers—are optimists. Realistic optimists, fighting against the odds, knowing that someone gets to succeed—and if someone does, it might as well be me. At least I’m trying.
And to tie it back to Hurwitz (you know Gregg Hurwitz Week) is this quote from Wayne Gretzky via Rusch:  “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Rusch continues:

The core of any unusual profession—from writer to hockey player—is embodied in that quote. The math is pretty simple: You can’t succeed if you don’t try.
But what gets you to try? Optimism. That tiny thread of hope that this time, it’ll work. This time, the stars will align, the final bit of craft will come together, the last bit of effort will pay off.
And if it doesn’t—we’ll try again.
And again.
Until the end of (our) time.
Easily written. Sometimes difficult to believe and internalize.

Late in the week, I ran across an interview with Scott Snyder about writing comics. He said this:

"You can only write the story today that you’d like to pick up and read the most. It doesn’t have to be the smartest, it doesn’t have to be the most action-packed, but whatever it is that would change your life today that you would pick up and be like, “I love this story,” that’s the one you have to go write."

See how it all ties together? Write the best thing you can possibly write at any given time--the one thing you'd like to read--and have fun with it. Repeat.

Music of the Week: Texas Sun by Leon Bridges and Khruangbin 

Yesterday, a four-song EP dropped featuring this new soul singer out of Ft. Worth, Texas, and this three-piece band from Houston. They toured together last year and ended up making some music. Lots and lots of influences you can hear, from early 1070s Miles Davis and Marvin Gaye to dreamy psychedelic pop. Been hearing the title track for a month now. Five dollars at Amazon gets you the digital tunes, $4 if you like what you hear and want to purchase direct from Khruangbin.

Here's the title track.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Beau, Gabino, Fernando

Beau is back.

With the American Dirt lunacy and the Barnes Ampersand Noble "diversity" travesty, now seems like a good time to revisit ZERO SAINTS from Gabino Iglesias and remind you of how things ought to be done.
Enforcer and drug dealer Fernando has seen better days. On his way home from work, some heavily-tattooed gangsters throw him in the back of a car and take him to an abandoned house, where they saw off his friend's head and feed the kid's fingers to...something. Their message is clear: this is their territory, now. But Fernando isn't put down that easily. Using the assistance of a Santeria priestess, an insane Puerto Rican pop sensation, a very human dog, and a Russian hitman, he'll build the courage (and firepower) he'll need to fight a gangbanger who's a bit more than human.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Rene Magritte and Rex Stout

I always love making unexpected discoveries in regard to crime and mystery fiction.  I made one just the other day, and to be honest, I can't believe I didn't know this before.

Rene Magritte, the Belgian surrealist, is one of my very favorite painters, an artist I've loved since I became enamored of the surrealists -- Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, Yves Tanguy, Leonara Carrington, and many others -- when I was in college. I remember with great fondness when, in 1992, The Metropolitian Museum in Manhattan had a huge Magritte retrospective. It was the first Magritte retrospective in New York City in 25 years.  I got there on the very last day, and though the museum was crowded with people there to see the Magritte works, I still loved wandering around and taking in the faceless men in bowler hats, the eyes called mirrors, the lovers kissing with shrouded faces, the mysterious assassins in suits.


What I just found out, while reading something, is that Magritte was a mystery fiction fan and liked Rex Stout in particular.  It's not a shock that Magritte liked mysteries -- he also read Dashiell Hammett and Georges Simenon -- but that he liked Stout so much, or at least liked the titles of Stout's books so much, that he used Stout titles to give titles to some of his paintings.  His attorney and friend, a man named Harry Torczyner, wrote that Magritte named a number of his paintings after Stout titles.  So far I've only found one Stout title of which I know this is definitely true, the second Nero Wolfe novel, The League of Frightened Men.

A painting Magritte did in 1942, Les compagnons de la peur ("The Companions of Fear"), takes the title The League of Frightened Men had in France when published there a few years earlier by Gallimard.

It's this painting:

What does this painting have to do with the novel, or how does this portrait of plants turned to owls reflect this specific Stout title?  I doubt the painting has anything to do with Stout but suspect that Maigrette, as a Stout reader, simply loved the title and decided he could use it for one of his typical paintings in which the nature of perception and how we look at art is questioned.  He's an artist who has a lot of titles that seem to have no direct connection to what's seen on the canvas.

I don't know the other titles that Magritte supposedly took from Stout, but I'm looking into this. I'm looking simply because I'm curious and never would have suspected a connection between these two formidable creators who make such entirely different types of art.

Did Stout know Magritte read him and liked his books?  Did he know Magritte cribbed titles from him?  Learned as Stout was, I'd suspect he knew all of this, and I wonder whether he was pleased. Tickled.  I don't see any reason why he wouldn't have been.  It would have been funny if Stout had put a Magritte or two on 35th Street in Manahattan, in Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin's flat. 

Or did he?  I haven't read enough of Stout's books to know,  but if anyone does, please fill me in.

A famous Magritte quote says this: "Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see."

These are ideas Magritte applied when creating a painting, and when you think about it, they also describe how a detective views the world.  You have to see beneath the surface; you have to see what's hidden.

Through Nero Wolfe, Rex Stout did that, and so, through his paintings, did Rene Magritte.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Let’s get the week started with a look back.

 News from inside our crime writing community.

Jedidiah Ayres and Hardboiled Wonderland will be publishing a new series. MY FELONIOUS VALENTINE is a two-week look at romance in crime films. Be on the lookout for some of your favorite writers. The series started Saturday and featured Dennis Tafoya, author of POOR BOYS GAME, THE WOLVES OF FAIRMOUNT PARK and DOPE THIEF and continued yesterday with Kelby Losack author of HEATHENISH and THE WAY WE CAME IN. Be sure to check out this killer series. 

Ed Aymar, who hit the top of the Amazon Crime Noir list this week for his book THE UNREPENTANT, and Sarah M. Chen, contributor to the Publishers Weekly acclaimed THE FAKING OF THE PRESIDENT, just keep kicking ass. Sarah and Ed announced THE SWAMP KILLERS (3/16/2020), the follow-up anthology to THE NIGHT OF THE FLOOD. Expect this new anthology to be released in March from Down and Out Books. The cover was revealed this week and it is a perfect fit. Congratulations to everyone involved and I can’t wait to read.

Shawn Cosby, author of MY DARKEST PRAYER and the upcoming BLACKTOP WASTELAND (7/14/2020) is enjoying well-deserved praise for his soon-to-be-released book. Steve Cavanaugh, Lee Child, Jennifer Hillier, Dennis Lehane, Alex Segura, and LynDee Walker all have high praise for BLACKTOP WASTELAND. Make sure you give Shawn a good read. “Sensationally good―new, fresh, real, authentic, twisty, with characters and dilemmas that will break your heart. More than recommended.” ―Lee Child

Nikki Dolson is one of my new favorite writers. With her latest, a collection of hardboiled love stories entitled LOVE AND OTHER CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR (4/2020), the super talented Nikki shares stories about the many different ways to love—and the many different ways love can kill you. The book is due in April, but Bronzeville revealed the amazing cover this week. Take a look. Make room on top of your TBR pile for Nikki. BTW, catch more news about Nikki in the Shotgun Honey section.

Beau Johnson received an amazing blurb for his soon to be published (2/24/2020) ALL OF THEM TO BURN from a man everybody wants on their cover and in their corner. Poetic crusader, Gabino Iglesias, as Beau puts it, “is the ultimate Hustler and boon to the writing community.” Gabino has great things to say about Beau’s latest. Congratulations Beau! “Come for the blood and viciousness and stay for the electric dialogue and outstanding last lines. I promise it’s all equally fun.”- Gabino Iglesias 

Gutter Books founder and The Flash Fiction Offensive creator Matthew Louis has established and launched a new website for all Gutter content, including FFO. Everything Gutter can be found at Read dark and disturbing stories. Submit your own. Buy books. Do all things in the gutter. It’s just that easy.

Steph Post brings her Florida noir series, featuring Judah Cannon, to a wild conclusion with HOLDING SMOKE. Released in January, HOLDING SMOKE is already setting the book world on fire, earning a Star! review from Publishers Weekly. PW hails her a “born story teller.” That ain’t chicken feed.  Cheers to Steph! “Post expertly weaves these disparate plot strands into a wholly satisfying if inevitable ending.” – Publishers Weekly

Alex Segura is contributing to the iconic and entrancing Star Wars universe with his upcoming novel FREE FALL, focusing on the early life of Poe Damron. What an amazing opportunity! Very happy for Alex. Even happier for Star Wars fans. Alex is a talented writer, with a particular gift for character and story development, and will surely satisfy the most particular of Star Wars devotees.

Lean and Mean, Shotgun Honey recently introduced a few new team members. Nikki Dolson, author of ALL THINGS VIOLENT and the upcoming LOVE AND OTHER CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR, along with acclaimed short story author Paul J. Garth, whose work can be found on Shotgun Honey, most recently with “Eulogy”, have joined SH as Submission Editors. Led by the keen-eyed Hector Acosta, this team is asking for submissions. Head over to Shotgun Honey for more information. 

LynDee Walker takes home half of the TWO WRITERS YOU SHOULD READ crown in Ed Aymar’s “Mainly crime fiction…” newsletter this month. The latest installment in LynDee’s popular Nichelle Clarke series, HIDDEN VICTIMS, will be available in April. LynDee chose THE WOLF WANTS IN by Laura McHugh as her must read partner for the month. Take Ed’s advice, read LynDee and Laura.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Will the Real Claire Booth Please Stand Up

Nothing makes you feel quite as ordinary as setting up a Google alert on yourself.
I did this years ago, when my first novel came out, to make sure that I didn’t miss any reviews that came out. An alert is very handy for things like that. But it also picks up all those other Claire Booths. Turns out that my name is a dime a dozen.  
One of them I’ve been aware of for some time—one of Great Britain’s premier opera singers is a soprano named Claire Booth. She, understandably, also has a social media presence. There are occasions when her fans don’t look too closely when they tag her. I’ve been touted for appearing at music festivals and thanked for my stunning vocal performances. (If you’ve ever heard me try to sing, you’ll know how hilarious this is.) I love when this happens. I feel like I’m keeping up with her career.
While that’s funny, having another Claire Booth lurking out there can be the opposite. Someone with my name wrote a book last year. It’s categorized under “motivational business management” on Amazon. It pops up right next to my books in the search result, muddying the waters for my readers. I had to jump through hoops with the folks at Amazon to get them to remove this book from my author page, where they’d put it without asking, naturally.
Now, all three of us are jockeying for placement on Google. Photos of the all three of us come up on the right side of the page. All three web sites are listed in the search results. If someone’s looking for my books (or her opera recordings, for that matter), I hope they stick with it long enough to figure out who’s who.
The only good thing about our three way tug-of-war is that it’s knocked Clare Boothe Luce clean off the first page of results. Back when my very first book came out in 2008, she was the first one to come up, even though her name is spelled differently. She was a congresswoman in the 1940s, a playwright, an ambassador, and the wife of Time magazine founder Henry Luce. My information had a hard time breaking through her substantial presence.
That’s the search results, though. A Google alert dives much deeper, finding mentions in things like newspaper articles and company press releases.
Other Claire Booths I’ve discovered include: a relative of someone killed in the Manchester, England, concert bombing; a teenage competitive curler from Red Deer, Alberta, Canada; a senior sales manager for Broadsheet Media in Sydney, Australia; a pediatric immunology expert in London; and the mother of a dog-attack victim near Glasgow, Scotland.
The most recent blip on my radar came this week when Claire Booth, a day nursery manager from Lincoln, England, who was vacationing in France, told The Guardian how she felt about Brexit (against it, thank you very much).
What I love about these alerts is that they encompass everything. An ordinary job move. High school athletic achievements. Tragedy. Success. Political opinions. You know, life. So I’m going to make the active choice to keep enjoying the alerts and not dwell on the first-page-search-results confusion. Who knows, in a couple of years, all three of us might be swept aside by the Canadian curler.