Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Virtual Noir at the Bar

One of the great things about Noir at the Bar is how it continually develops new wrinkles and variations.  This week, it will be taking on a new form, thanks to Alex Segura and an idea he had: this Friday, April 3rd, at 7 PM, will see the first Virtual Noir at the Bar take place, with a great lineup of readers.

It's an event aimed at helping a great independent bookstore in Queens, New York, the Kew & Willow, a bookstore that has hosted Noir at the Bar events numerous times.  The owners of the store are great and always carry small and indie press authors as well as bestsellers and large press authors.  I've been there to do readings, attend readings, and, of course, just to browse, and it's pretty much everything a local, independent bookstore should be. With the store closed due to the global pandemic, this virtual Noir at the Bar is a way to support a place that truly deserves that support. And maybe if you hear something you like during the readings, you'll be tempted to order the book directly from Kew & Willow.  If you do, they'll ship it to you for only $1 in additional shipping.

So that's Friday, April 3 from 7:00pm to 9:00pm. You can watch from your house, wherever you are in quarantine, and have a drink and enjoy a bunch of darkly entertaining stories.

The link to RSVP to the livestream is here:

Hope you can make it.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Ending Women's History Month On A High Note

What do you do when you know a plethora of smart, strong, and brave women? You ask who inspires them.

This amazing group of women got together recently and enjoyed an evening of discussion with Pam Stack over at Authors on the Air. Please give it a listen:

Holly West

Holly West is the Anthony Award-nominated writer of the Mistress of Fortune historical mystery series. She was nominated for the Left Coast Crime Rosebud Award for Best First Novel. Her short fiction has appeared online and in numerous anthologies, and her latest story, “The Best Laid Plans,” appears in Florida Happens, the 2018 Bouchercon anthology. Editor of Murder-A-Go-Go’s, a crime fiction anthology inspired by the music of The Go-Go’s. Proceeds from which go to Planned Parenthood. Her novella, The Money Block, is out right now and available where books are sold.

“I was a thirties radical,” Doris Bartlett said.

My neighbor divulged this information only after I’d revealed my own politics, which are liberal. Her words lacked gravitas because I didn’t know what a thirties radical was, but the statement marked the beginning of a treasured friendship. I was in my early-thirties, she was in her late-eighties. Before her death at ninety-two, she let me in on a few more of her secrets. Read Holly's entire essay:


Shawn Reilly Simmons

Shawn Reilly Simmons is the author of The Red Carpet Catering Mysteries featuring Penelope Sutherland, an on-set movie caterer, and of several short stories appearing in various anthologies including "Burnt Orange" in Passport to Murder: the 2017 Bouchercon Anthology (Down & Out Books), and "The Prodigy" in Mystery Tour, the Crime Writers' Association Anthology (Orenda Books).

Growing up, Julia Child was often on our TV, an odd yet comforting voice in the background of activity that was my mom’s kitchen. My sister had decided she wanted to be a chef when she was eight years old, and my mom always supported whatever path we chose whole heartedly, so we spent a lot of time cooking and learning as much as we could from Julia Child’s show The French Chef. 
Read Shawn's entire essay:


Cindy Rosmus
Cindy is a Jersey girl who looks like a Mob Wife and talks like Anybodys from West Side Story. Her noir/horror/bizarro stories have been published in the coolest places, such as Shotgun Honey; Megazine; Dark Dossier; Horror, Sleaze, Trash; and Rock and a Hard Place. She is the editor/art director of the Webzine Yellow Mama.

I’ve always been a big Carson McCullers fan. She was transgender before her time. I read somewhere that, deep down, she always knew she was a man. She loved men, and women, and knew so much about love, and loss. Read Cindy's entire essay:


Sandra Ruttan
Sandra Ruttan had her first newspaper column at the age of 13, studied journalism and education in college, and has gone on to have several crime fiction books published. Clive Cussler described her writing style as spellbinding. Her works have been translated and published overseas. She also founded Spinetingler Magazine and was among the first to publish many rising stars in the crime genre. She is a full-time writer and freelance editor. 

Hindsight can make it easy to see that a person is a hero or a leader. The truth is, there are many inspirational women making a difference every single day right now, and one of those women is Alicia Elliott. Read Sandra's entire essay:

Mia Manansala
Mia P. Manansala is a writer from Chicago who loves books, baking, and bad-ass women. She uses humor (and murder) to explore aspects of the Filipino diaspora, queerness, and her millennial love for pop culture.

Her debut novel, LOVE, LOSS, AND LUMPIA comes out 2021.

I have a thing for warrior princesses. Oddly specific, I know, but they appeal to the part of me that appreciates a really nice tiara as well as the side that wants to f#*$ things up.

One of my faves is Urduja, a legendary warrior princess from the Philippines who was quoted as saying that she will marry no one but he who defeats her in battle. Other warriors avoided fighting her for fear of being disgraced. Sounds like my kind of woman. Read Mia's entire essay:


Renee Asher Pickup
Renee Asher Pickup is Marine Corps vet and mellowed out punk living in Southern California. Renee writes fiction about bad things happening to flawed people, nonfiction that is critical of the status quo, and truly believes From Dusk Till Dawn changed her life. She is an acquisitions editor and publisher, a frequent writer of short stories, and loves to talk. Her novel with Andrez Bergen: Black Sails, Disco Inferno is available now from Open Books.

Sir Lady Java is a woman who made history but seems to be fading from it, even as she lives and breathes in Southern California. Born in the 1940s, Lady Java was a black trans girl who started her transition before she hit her teen years – something that is controversial now, but was almost unheard of at the time. A gifted performer with amazing costuming, she hit the nightclub circuit in New Orleans as a teenager and had set up shop as an in demand celebrity in Los Angeles by her twenties. Decked out in outfits ranging from full white feathers head-to-toe to sequined bikinis, she was so hot she was hanging out with Sammy Davis, Jr and performing at Red Fox’s club before long. Read Renee's entire essay:


Dharma Kelleher
Dharma Kelleher writes gritty crime fiction with a feminist kick and is one of the only openly transgender voices in the genre.

She is the author of the Jinx Ballou Bounty Hunter series and the Shea Stevens Outlaw Biker series. Her work has also appeared in anthologies and on Shotgun Honey.

I’ve been inspired by so many women. But the one who inspired me most is Kaay Grosso.

When we first met, I was only a few months sober, following a suicide attempt. She ran an informal group of women that met on a weekly basis called Garden Club. But it wasn’t flowers or other plants we were growing. We were growing ourselves. Read Dharma's entire essay:


Jen Conley
Jen Conley's short stories have appeared in Thuglit, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Crime Factory, Beat to a Pulp, Protectors, Pulp Modern, Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen and many others. She has contributed to the Los Angeles Review of Books and is a former editor at Shotgun Honey. She lives in New Jersey.

There are so many women I admire, but I think the one who really inspired me was Judy Blume. As a kid, I devoured her novels. She had a special kind of magic that just drew me in and kept me up for hours. I could read the first line, and boom! I was hooked. Her characters were regular kids, nothing special, nothing extraordinary, but they were real and I connected with that. I read her books five, six, seven times, and I can’t tell you exactly why I did that other than I felt at home with her characters and their struggles. Read Jen's entire essay:


Sarah M. Chen
Sarah has worked a variety of odd jobs, from script reader to private investigator assistant. She's published numerous short stories and a children's chapter book. Her noir novella, CLEANING UP FINN, with All Due Respect Books, was an Anthony finalist and IPPY Award winner. She's the co-editor of THE NIGHT OF THE FLOOD, a "novel-in-stories," with E.A. Aymar and is a sometimes contributor to the Los Angeles Review of Books. 

My mother was my first role model. Growing up, I watched her put herself through school, earning her A.A., her B.A., and eventually her M.A. Despite being the oldest student in her class and having to essentially raise a child by herself, she found a way to achieve her dream. Read Sarah's entire essay.


Ann Abel
Allison A. Davis writes poetry (Three Rooms Press Annual Dada Magazine, Maintenant 12 and 13), short stories (including anthologies Dark Yonder (Nov 2019) and Shattering Glass (June 2020)) and is currently shopping her novel, “But Not For Me.” A background in journalism and art criticism, her day job is a senior partner at Davis Wright Tremaine, a national law firm.

Leadership. And tenacity. What woman do I admire most? I admire all the women who taught me, equipped me, supported and prepared me, nurtured me and schooled me to be successful. This recent primary got me thinking about women’s leadership. Why are men so reluctant to let go of power in this country? What is leadership by women? What difference would it make? What do I know about it?

Read Ann's entire essay.

Ann Abel on Women in Leadership


Sunday, March 29, 2020

Let Me Choose What to Do With My Books

So lots of books are suddenly being offered free. This is fabulous. Children’s authors are giving permission for celebrities to read their books, so any kid can go online and have a story read to them. Publishers are opening up whole catalogs to promote wider access. Writers are giving away hard copies and digital copies and probably printed-off-their-home-computer copies. And we’re all asking anyone who can to patronize an independent bookstore, one of the hardest hit categories of small business right now.
BUT. There is one entity that is trying to opportunistically capitalize on this moment in time. By stealing. An outfit called the Internet Archive has, for years, been scanning and putting content online. Some are works in the public domain (like Hamlet, or Edgar Allan Poe). Those are absolutely allowed to be given away for free. But others are books, plays, or poems still under copyright. Which means you need permission and that’s something the Internet Archive has, in many instances, not gotten. The one limit they’ve placed on things is that there are only so many “copies” and you need to wait in line to read something.
That is no longer the case. Internet Archive announced this week that it has suspended its waitlist requirements. Anyone can check out a digital/scanned book from their “collection.” They’re calling it the “National Emergency Library” and trying to sell it as some sort of socially responsible act.
One of my books, The False Prophet: Conspiracy, Extortion and Murder in the Name of God, is listed on this website. The site isn’t lending out a hard copy that it bought, which would be fine. It isn’t lending out an e-book version that it bought, which works like a physical version and can only be loaned out once at a time. Instead, it is lending out a scanned version. And as far as I understand it, with the elimination of a waitlist, it’s essentially creating additional e-copies of my book out of thin air without my permission. This violates my copyright.
So why would I be upset if this potentially gets my book in the hands of readers? Here's why:
1. They didn't ask first.
2. In the Internet Archive’s blog post on this, it says: “The books that we’ve digitized have been acquired with a focus on materials published during the 20th century, the vast majority of which do not have a commercially available ebook.” I call BS. Because guess what? My ebook is commercially available, a fact that Google can tell you in under two seconds. One friend found eight of her books, both fiction and non-fiction and all very much still commercially available, on this website. That’s almost her entire writing life’s work. Another looked up his name and found one of his novels that still has the Boston Public Library sticker and bar code on the cover. If someone found that at a used book sale and plunked down a dollar for it, good for them. They can then do what they want with it—except run off multiple copies and sell them. This is exactly what the “National Emergency Library” is doing.
3. I’m getting no compensation for what should be multiple sales of my book.
4. My non-fiction ebook costs $7.99 (and I don’t even get that full amount). I think that's a fair price for the four years it took me to report, research and write. But heck, if you the reader can't afford that and get in touch with me directly, I'll gladly and cheerfully send you one for free. At least then I would be the one deciding to give away my work.
Here’s what the Authors Guild organization had to say on Friday:
IA is using a global crisis to advance a copyright ideology that violates current federal law and hurts most authors. It has misrepresented the nature and legality of the project through a deceptive publicity campaign. Despite giving off the impression that it is expanding access to older and public domain books, a large proportion of the books on Open Library are in fact recent in-copyright books that publishers and authors rely on for critical revenue. Acting as a piracy site—of which there already are too many—the Internet Archive tramples on authors’ rights by giving away their books to the world.
Also Friday, the Association of American Publishers said this:
We are stunned by the Internet Archive’s aggressive, unlawful, and opportunistic attack on the rights of authors and publishers in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic. 
Publishers are working tirelessly to support the public with numerous, innovative, and socially-aware programs that address every side of the crisis: providing free global access to research and medical journals that pertain to the virus; offering complementary digital education materials to schools and parents; and expanding powerful storytelling platforms for readers of all ages. 
It is the height of hypocrisy that the Internet Archive is choosing this moment – when lives, livelihoods and the economy are all in jeopardy – to make a cynical play to undermine copyright, and all the scientific, creative, and economic opportunity that it supports.
I think it’s important to point out here that I love, love, love legitimate libraries. I use them regularly as a reader, I’ve done programs there as an author, and I donate to them as a citizen. And I’m in awe as to how they’ve stepped up during this pandemic. They’ve increased their digital access capabilities while having to shut their physical locations. They’ve extended due dates. They’re running kids’ story times online. They’ve coordinated with online tutors in different subjects. And probably done a dozen more things I don’t even know about.
Internet Archive does finally say (in the second-to-last paragraph of their “National Emergency” announcement) that it encourages those who can to buy books through independent bookstores. It also encourages us authors to donate our books if it doesn’t already have a copy. THAT should've been where they started this whole thing. Ask first. Authors are some of the most generous people on the planet. We'd probably say yes. Instead, these people are taking away the one sure thing we have in this tough business--our copyright.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 13 AKA Be a Historian

Scott D. Parker

Well, how's everyone doing?

So far, my family has heeded the local directive to stay home and stay safe. It seems like such a small thing, but it's really something giant.

Consider voting. It's our duty and honor to vote, but when we do it, the action itself is small. Here in Houston, we have voting machines that include a scroll wheel. Back in the day, I'd go with my parents into those voting booths with the curtains and the levers. No matter how we do it, casting a vote is a small, simple action on an individual level but can have sweeping power when counted all the other votes.

The same is true for our various stay-at-home orders. My family of three is safe here in the house. The virus--we hope--is outside and we are inside. I've only ventured out last weekend to go to the grocery store and the hardware store. That's it. As of last night, we've eaten take out only twice, both times on Fridays. That's now become the thing we look forward to doing.

We took some extra precautions last night with the food: we used our patio table as a staging area. We emptied the Italian food out of the to-go containers and into clean plates from inside. The plastic containers remained outside until I used a plastic grocery bag to take them to the outside trash can.

I'll admit: it was a little weird going into the restaurant. It was bustling and busy, but I just didn't want to touch anything. I didn't. I had my protocol in place: credit card already removed from my wallet, my own pen, plastic gloves, and a paper bag in the car on which to set the food (and throw away later). Overkill? Nope. Not in this environment.

The New Normal

Speaking of environment, this is still a writing blog and I do have a few writing things I read this week.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch published the second of two business-related post on what she is calling The Waiting Game. In these posts, she discusses how we writers can weather this black swan event and emerge on the other side ready to face the new normal. Because that's what is going to happen: there won't be the old normal. There will only be post-Coronavirus normal. It's best we prepare for it.

Speaking of the new normal, yesterday, writer Kevin Tumlinson published a fantastic series of tweets on his Twitter account (@KevinTumlinson) about the new normal. In his series, he posits that YouTube is well positioned to become the go-to location for on-demand entertainment. Most of us already know this, but not as many writers are there. Our own Beau Johnson does his posts via video on Fridays. Ironically it was something I had considered in 2019, but pushed aside for reasons I can't remember.

Anyway, back to Kevin's thread. Just read it. There is lots of good information in here, and it really makes you think differently about the future.

Be a Historian

The historian in me continues to be fascinated at some of the parallels that 2020 is reflecting. The obvious is the Spanish Flu of 1918-19. Another is The Battle of Britain, 1940, as the folks in England hunkered down every night for nearly three months and endured the constant bombing.

But another is the sacrifice folks made who survived the Great Depression. For most of my 51 years, I looked back at those times with awe and reverence at how everyday citizens survived the greatest economic disaster of the Twentieth Century.

One of the things that lets us know what life was like back in history are personal letters and journals. When I conducted research for my Masters thesis, I studied the 14th Texas Infantry in the Civil War. A key document was a journal of one of the captains. It gave me a first-hand account of camp life, and even provided me with a title.

I encourage everyone to keep records of this time. Write a daily journal, or jot down your thoughts and fears and expectations and the little things you are doing now to get through each day. Save emails in a special folder. I've already got my "Coronovirus" folder in gmail. Write it all down to help you remember.

I used to ask my grandparents what it was like in the Great Depression and World War II. Those questions started in the 1980s, forty years after the fact. Sure, their memories were fine, but imagine if they had kept a journal.

Decades from now, it'll be our grandkids who ask us what it was like to live through 2020 as the Coronavirus inexorably swept across the world. All the events we haven't experienced yet might color our memories. Now, those future memories are real life.

Write them down and remember.

Stay safe, my friends.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Beau Has Been Inside Too Long

This week, Beau takes a look at ORPHAN X from Gregg Hurwitz.

Evan Smoak is a man with skills, resources, and a personal mission to help those with nowhere else to turn. He’s also a man with a dangerous past. Taken from a group home at twelve, Evan was raised and trained as part of the Orphan Program, an off-the-books operation designed to create deniable intelligence assets—i.e. assassins. Evan was Orphan X. He broke with the Program, using everything he learned to disappear and reinvent himself as the Nowhere Man.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Zero Zero Zero

When I see the name Stefano Sollima attached to something now, a film or a television series, I know I'm going to watch it.  Though I actually have yet to see (though this will soon change) his 22 part Romanzo criminale (2006-2008), about criminal and political doings in 1970's Italy, the decade there of the "Years of Lead"  -- so named because of the violence that saturated the country then -- I loved his gangster film Suburra (2015) and his second epic gangster series Gomorrah, which has completed four seasons now. While Sicario: Day of the Soldado caught some flak for various aspects, I liked its excitement and downright nastiness, its depiction of internecine warfare, something Sollima really excels at.  So I was excited to find he has a new series just released, called Zero Zero Zero, and with time on my hands like most everyone else, I watched it over a few nights.  It's on Amazon Prime. 

Sollima's gangster stuff takes place in Italy and Sicario 2, which has to do with drug cartels, takes place mainly in Mexico.  Zero Zero Zero combines both Italian gangsters and Mexican cartels as well as a father, daughter and son from the US who run a shipping company and serve as the transporters of a huge shipment of cocaine supposed to go from Mexico to Calabria, Italy.

Adapted from the book by Italian writer Robert Saviano, co-created by Sollima, Zero Zero Zero doesn't cover territory we've never seen before.  But it covers what it does with a great level of detail and with commanding skill.  There are three ongoing plot threads: one in Mexico involving an elite group of Mexican soldiers who make a move in Monterrery to take over the drug trade, one in Calabria where there is conflict between and within Italian families for control of the drug trade, and the one involving the Lynwood family, the shippers.  We get a story that essentially follows one shipment of cocaine from its release in Mexico to its intended final location in Italy and all the jockeying for power, betrayals, maneuvering, and perilous detours that happen around this shipment.  The series had a huge budget, apparently, and has a very large cast, and looks absolutely great.  The first couple of episodes are directed by Sollima, the others by Janus Metz, who is Danish, and Pablo Trapero, an Argentinian filmmaker.  None of them shy away from violence and, what I especially love, none of them soften things. Zero Zero Zero is an example of a type of drama that, when well done, I love.  You follow a number of characters who have their loves and attachments -- they are human -- but who are not primarily what you might call likable.  They are interesting and compelling more than likable, and the story stays true to what they would do in their given situations, no matter what those actions are.  This has been true in every Stefano Sollima work I've seen so far.  He shows you behavior and emotions and people in serious conflict, doing tender things, horrible things, but he never ever moralizes.

Zero Zero Zero isn't perfect.  Every episode has a structuring device that is a little bit mannered; the episode begins a certain way and carries forward, then at a particular point, goes into slow motion and segues backward to show you what led up to what you've been watching.  It's a device that's arbitrary, to be honest, but it didn't take away from my overall pleasure.

Topnotch direction, excellent pacing, strong acting all around, with a cast that includes Andrea Riseborough, Dane DeHaan, Gabriel Byrne (in a small role) and a stone-cold and truly chilling Harold Torres, who plays the head of the Mexican soldiers that makes its move in the drug trade in Monterrey.  Riseborough and DeHaan play brother and sister, and she is the stronger of the two, the one running the shipping business responsible for the movement of the cocaine.  Did I say the Harold Torres character is cold; well, Riseborough's, without being evil, has ice water running through her veins as she does her work in a world dominated by some pretty nasty men.

One other thing: It's rare to see places like Dakar, Senegal or modern-day Casablanca in western productions, and Zero Zero Zero goes to these places with the same assurance and calm it depicts more familiar locales like Mexico and Italy.  In other words, it doesn't show us these places through "the exotic eye".  Beauty, corruption, violence, dealmaking -- they exist everywhere, behavior is consistent.  What differs from place to place is the motivation behind that behavior. 

I should say, too, that the whole production is enhanced very much by the musical score, kind of in the way Michael Mann films have such rich scores.  For Zero Zero Zero, it's by Mogwai, and it adds plenty, episode to episode, to the mood and tension.

Next up for Stefano Sollima, is an adaptation of a Tom Clancy book, Without Remorse, to star Michael B. Jordan.  The script is by Taylor Sheridan.  I've never read or had the slightest interest in reading Clancy's novels, nor have I even seen any of the other films made from his books (or the current Jack Ryan series on Amazon), but this one I expect I will watch. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Pandemic as Part of What You're Writing Now

Social distancing.
Stay at home.
Shelter in place.
Some are new phrases. Some are old ones applied to a new situation. What other words are we as a society going to invent or re-purpose as we live through this pandemic? I’ll be very interested to see.
I’ve been asked multiple times in the past week if my current work-in-progress will have a pandemic in it. The answer is: I don’t know. I’d say “it’s too soon,” but that I think might not end up applying this time. “Too soon” works for a finite moment-in-time type of disaster—an earthquake, a tornado, or even something that lasted longer like Hurricane Katrina or 9/11 and their aftermaths. Most good novels about those kinds of events come later, after a writer has had time to process something so overwhelming. Time to let it marinate, to seep into the subconscious and come out again, emerging in a written work that adds something new and unique to the conversation.
But this … this is a drip-drip-drip of a disaster. Will we really wait all that time after it’s over to start producing novels about it? I don’t know that a lot of us can wait. Writers gotta write. We’re hardwired to process things with the written word. And now that many of us are stuck at home with nothing else to think about all day, I’m going to wager that there will be books published a lot sooner after this horribleness ends than those after previous tragedies.
Will I be one of them? I don’t know yet. But I’m definitely thinking about it.