Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Joy of Making Edits

Scott D. Parker 

I'm working on the manuscript of my latest novel. It's a 94,000-word book that I'm pretty jazzed about. I spent June reading and revising the paper copy. It was long and slow, and I took my time with it. I kept a yellow legal pad next to my table and made additional notes along the way. Some of those notes were global ones like "Search for all instances of 'RDX' and determine which character explains it." Bonus points if you know what RDX actually is. I enjoyed re-reading this book and look forward to sharing it with everyone.

But the next step is the making of the changes. Page by page, edit by edit. I make all my changes with green ink as I read the manuscript. When I go back through and implement the changes, I use a pencil. Easy to visualize if I've implemented a change or not.

So, none of this is new for any writer. What I'm really getting at is this: I actually enjoy this last process. What some writers think of as tedious, I truly dig it.


Well, it's in the nuts and bolts of constructing a story. Sure, lots of craftsmen--let's use a carpenter as an example--might not truly fret about which nails to use and which varnish to apply to a completed piece. But many do. As a non-carpenter, I tend to think of a nail is a nail is a nail. That one's silver, this other one is brass. That one has a head, this one doesn't. Whatever. But to a carpenter, every type of nail means something and does something particular. The final result is where all the little choices made along the way add up to something greater than the whole.

So, too, with words and punctuation. I love the re-evaluation of my own edits. So there's my original draft and then there's the changes I made back in June. Now that I'm going back and implementing said edits, I get another chance to ask myself if my changes are good, if the original text is still better, or, perhaps, there's a third option. Or a fourth. 

It's like a carpenter choosing nails or a type of saw blade. The magic happens in the nitty gritty details.

And I love it.

Am I alone in relishing this stage of the writing process?

Friday, July 10, 2020

GUILLOTINE time with Beau and Paul

This week, Beau takes a look at Paul Heatley's Guillotine.

After suffering a lifetime of tyranny under her father’s oppressive rule, when Lou-Lou sees a chance to make a break with the man she loves, she takes it. Problem is, daddy’s also known as Big Bobby Joe, a dangerous and powerful man in the local area—powerful enough to put out a sixty grand bounty on the head of the man she’s run off with, who also happens to be one of his ex-employees.
With every criminal affiliate out looking for them, making good on their getaway doesn’t seem promising. Even their so-called friends are on the take, willing to pull a double-cross if that’s what’s going to turn them a quick buck. But Big Bobby Joe hasn’t counted on his daughter’s resolve to distance herself from him. No matter what he throws at her, no matter what he does, she’s going to get away—or die trying.
Praise for GUILLOTINE:
“A missing girl, a father who wants her back, a hitman. You think you know where this story is going, but in Paul Heatley’s masterful hands, Guillotine never takes the expected path. Full of crackling dialogue, characters whose actions surprise you at every turn, and an ending you’ll be thinking about for days after.” —Hector Acosta, author of Hardway
Praise for PAUL HEATLEY:
“Paul Heatley is one of the most compelling writers currently working in the UK.” —Tom Leins, author of Repetition Kills You
“Heatley has an adept ear, and he’s got the writer’s chops to translate what he hears.” —Matt Phillips, author of Accidental Outlaws
“Heatley has this genre down pat and few others can top his style. Step into the dark and enjoy the fun.” —Grady Harp, San Francisco Review of Books

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The First Pandemic Crime Novel

By David Nemeth

Several weeks into the pandemic, writers began to wonder how they were going to incorporate the loneliness and repetitiveness of our socially distant lives into their crime fiction. Would the pandemic become a major player of setting or would it be folded in? As agents, publishers, and readers await for the coronavirus crime novel, little did they know that it's already here—David Zeltersman's "Everybody Lies in Hell" (Eraserhead Press).

Zelterman's strange novel which blends multiple genres has nothing to do with COVID-19, but life in Hell has some striking similarities, the ennui and the sameness of our lives, but with a lot more excitement, after all, it is about a PI living and working in Hell.
Time has no meaning in hell. I know I died on October eighth,1998, and I know one of my clients died in 2013, so it’s possible I’ve been dead for only fifteen years, but it seems as if I’d been coming to this office for thousands of years already.
Chapter by chapter, we follow Mike Stone, a private investigator living in a Hell that looks and feels remarkably like Brooklyn, the same way a movie set feels like the real thing but it's not. Stone's job in Hell is a simple and one that he explains to a potential customer, "Most souls who hire me to find out who killed them already know the answer. They also know why. They just don’t want to admit it."

Zeltersman has done a lot of world creation of his version of Hell and he relays it without bogging us down in minutia. We learn a little bit at a time on how this Hell works with reality, portals, squatters, awareness, and much more, even with its wash-rinse-repeat weariness.

Part noir, part horror, and with no intention of being a pandemic novel, Zeltersman has created an action-packed companion novel for our times. "Everybody Lies in Hell" is fucking tight. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Jay Stringer and the Fountain of Youth

The lovely and talented Jay Stringer, Do Some Damage's co-founder, has a new book out. Let's get to it, then, shall we?

Steve Weddle: How is Marah Chase different at the start of this book than at the start of the last book? 

Jay Stringer: One of the things that we don’t talk about much when it comes to Indiana Jones is that he’s a criminal. He’s also steeped in colonialism. He’s stealing shit from other cultures, with a different skin tone, and not bothering to stop and wonder about who owns the things that ‘belong in a museum.’ But he’s played by Harrison Ford and has a nice jacket, so we forgive him. Where was I? Oh yes. So, when I started writing Chase, I wanted to tackle this idea head on. She knows she’s a criminal. She knows what she’s doing is wrong, and she also knows she’s looking the other way on massive issues, like ye olde colonialism, to make a living. At the start of the first book she’s just trying to stay alive and make coin, and can’t let herself think about the moral compromises. In the two years that pass between the books, she’s been given a second chance. She’s cleaned her life up a little, been offered a ‘legit’ job in a museum, and written a book about her career. So it was interesting to explore why she would continue to operate as a relic runner. Now that she’s been offered an out from the dangerous lifestyle, why does she keep going back? I was newly sober while writing this book, but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

SW: Marah Chase is described as Indiana Jones, but Jewish, female, and gay. What is it about her that makes her suited for this job? 

JS: She wears a leather jacket? I think that's the main qualification needed?

This has been a fun character, because I didn’t decide any of those things up front -outside of knowing she was a bit like Indiana Jones- she told me each of them along the way. Somewhere in the first chapter she told me she was Jewish. I mean, okay? Don’t see why that matters, but I’ll keep note of it, thanks. Then the first time she meets a woman in the story, she told me she was gay. Cool, thanks for the heads up. Her sexuality became relevant in the first book, but I figured her ethnic background was just an extra wee detail.

Then the new book started with her finding the Ark of the Covenant. (Suck that, Jones, you needed a whole movie, Chase needed about six pages.) And a few thousand words later she kept pausing to reflect on what that meant. I was like ‘hey let’s get to the next action scene’ and she was like ‘give me a minute, will you? I’ve never been religious but I was raised Jewish and I just found a box that is fundamental to Judaism, I’ve got some issues to resolve here….’ So that was annoying.

SW: How would Marah Chase and the Fountain of Youth have been different had it been Marah Chase and the Fountains of Wayne? 

JS: It would have a far brighter future in sales.

SW: Marah Chase and the Conqueror's Tomb had her being chased around while she looked for Alexander the Great's tomb. What's this one about? 

JS: That depends. If you view Raiders as a film about the ark of the covenant, or Jaws as a film about a shark, then this is a book about a treasure hunter searching for the fountain of youth.

For me, it’s probably more about identity, faith, family, climate change, colonialism, cultural appropriation, and the way fascism used capitalism to take control of our society decades ago. Also, water is going to be the next big thing that corporations steal from us and people fight over.

Who am I kidding? It’s about a treasure hunter searching for the fountain of youth. Along the way she goes to Ethiopia, New York, London, and Glasgow. She’s in a race against a group of Nazis who are hiding in plain sight in a large soft drinks company, who want to find the fountain to further their eugenics plan.

SW: Much of the fun in the first book was the Sunday movie matinee feel of a good adventure flick, especially when Marah gets trapped in a tomb that's filling with water and so forth. Assuming you have some high-octane pressure in this one, too?

JS: Oh for sure. There are boat chases. Helicopters. Jokes. Sex. Sabre-toothed tigers. An erupting volcano.

There’s also some added depth. The first book was very much me scratching the itch to write the big fun goofy action story. This time round, the book kept asking me, ‘what else have you got?’

SW: Your first Eoin Miller book came out nearly a decade ago. What have you learned since Old Gold that has helped form this book? Alternatively, how would the books be different had you written Marah Chase back then and Eoin Miller now? 

JS: TEN YEARS? TEN? TEN YEARS? (I can fit Grosse Pointe Blank into any conversation.)

I wrote Old Gold in my twenties, I’m hitting forty this month. I’ve learned a lot about listening since then. I always thought of myself as a writer who pushed diversity, but it’s only as the years -and books- went on that I learned to really listen to other people, seek different experiences. I’m proud of Old Gold on a line by line level, there’s some very good writing in there, but I wasn’t ready to escape tropes, and it’s very much a book about a sad man being motivated by a woman’s death.

When it comes to craft I’ve also learned that emotion is the key. We’re emotional creatures, and we seek out art and Entertainment to feel things. There are so many books and blogs that talk about plot, beats, structure, exposition. You do need to know that stuff, but it only works if it’s in service of the reader feeling the emotions. It’s like if you’re telling a joke, you want people to find it funny, you want the audience to enjoy it, all your joke-writing craft needs to be in service of giving them that moment.

SW: I'm getting the feeling this Marah Chase thing is meant to be a series. Tell me about the shorts you've worked on and what's next? 

JS: I’d definitely love to do more Chase books. There’s a third one researched and ready to write. I found a really wacky, far out, fringe theory in Arthurian myth, and I can build a whole book around it, to have Chase going in search of Excalibur in an unexpected place. And along the way, I’ll throw in Bigfoot, Men in Black, and knights in armour riding motorcycles. And there are some breadcrumbs I’ve left in the first two books to suggest how the world can get much bigger, and future storylines to be developed. But that’s only if the world wants more.

I’ve just released a short story collection on kindle, Jay Stringer Tells Lies, which is basically all my short stories up to this point, plus some essays and poems. Yes, poems. Fancy.

After that…it’s all a big unknown. I’ve got a couple books written. One is set in New York, Gone Girl meets The Rockford Files. The other is set in Arizona, sort of like who Karen Sisco could have become five years after Out of Sight. But publishing is in a weird place right now, publishers are all chasing the big thriller with the big hook. I’m not really a big hook writer, so I think for me, like a lot of writers, it’s a time to take a step back and figure out where to go next. I was talking to an agent recently who told me Elmore Leonard wouldn’t work now. The thing is, Elmore Leonard didn’t ‘work’ for a long time back then, his books didn’t sell very well for over a decade, but publishers believed in him and supported his work, and then one of his books broke through and he never looked back. Writers aren’t getting that support at the moment. So who knows where publishing will be in five or ten years, once the big-hook era passes, but a lot of interesting writers will have been lost along the way.

SW: Who are you reading now that people should know about? 

JS: Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a great book. People should check it out. S.A.Cosby’s book deserves all the love being thrown at it. My buddy Johnny Shaw has a book out soon, The Southland. And if you like the Chase books, it’s well worth checking out Matthew Henson and the Ice Temple of Harlem, by Gary Phillips, who can out-pulp me without breaking a sweat.


About The Book

Adventurer Marah Chase can’t resist one last globe-trotting quest to rescue a friend and discover a legendary locale.

Marah Chase has everything she wanted. Her academic career is back on track, she’s moved into a Manhattan apartment, and a dream job is waiting at the American Museum of Natural History. So why can’t she seem to stop slipping into her old ways, traveling the world in search of lost relics and buried treasure?

Back out in the field, Chase finds the lost Ark of the Covenant, a discovery that could trigger a holy war, as religions and nations argue over ownership of the sacred item. The Ark also brings Chase into conflict with another legendary relic runner, August Nash, a clash the entire underground smuggling community has been waiting for, and not one that will end anytime soon.

Upon returning home, Chase is hired by US soda billionaire Lauren Stanford to find the Fountain of Youth. At first, Chase dismisses this idea. But then Stanford tells her that an old friend found some information on the Fountain’s location and is now missing. Chase agrees to take the job—but only to find her friend—and enlists allies along the way on a trail from New York to London, and then on to Glasgow. Behind the myth, they find, lies a much older secret, and now they’re in a race to find the Fountain ahead of Nash and his nefarious cohorts. Whoever gets there first will have control over the future of humanity.

Marah Chase and the Fountain of Youth is a tense, exciting, and epic adventure novel, spanning three continents and broadening the world of the Marah Chase series, placing Chase in the unique position to confront questions of identity, faith, imperialism, and appropriation.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Low Down Dirty Vote, Volume 2

Scott's Note:  James McCrone guest blogs today to talk about an anthology he is part of called Low Down Dirty Vote, Vol.2.  It's edited by Mysti Berry and has a forward by Scott Turow, and money raised from sales of the book will go to a worthwhile cause.

Here's James to tell you about it:

First, thanks to Scott and everyone here for giving me an opportunity to make folks aware of the new short story anthology, Low Down Dirty Vote, Vol. 2 –“Every Stolen Vote is a Crime", which debuted July 4. It’s a stunning collection of crime-fiction that will raise $10,000 for the Southern Poverty Law Center to help fight voter suppression. LDDV, Vol. 1 (2018) has already raised $5,000.

The stories contained in LDDV-v2 are each very different, reflecting the diverse writers who contributed and their varied experiences; and the stories run the gamut of history and geography—stories of disenfranchisement, conspiracy, and murder—held together by the very real threat of voter suppression: Every stolen vote is a crime. Or should be.

It’s appropriate that I should be talking about my contribution here on Do Some Damage, because that’s what my and the other contributors’ stories are about—damage, suppression, theft. My story “Numbers Don’t Lie,” is a deliberately ironic title from a narrator who never reveals his true name, and who is bent on falsifying the vote tally in a gubernatorial election. The damage he seeks to inflict may reach farther than just this one election he’s been hired for. I did extensive research for the story, and (unfortunately for the nation) there is no dearth of factual examples for what happens.

The narrator—only ever identified as “Mack”—is snarky and contemptuous, and it’s not clear whom he’s working for:

“I guess I felt bad about it, but not bad enough not to do it. The money was right,” he begins.

This story was an exciting departure for me. I’ve been writing political thrillers—novels—exclusively for about five years, and this was a chance to work on something new, to get inside the head of someone new, while still working with subject matter I feel passionate about. For my thrillers, I’ve written in third person, but Mack’s voice asserted itself, demanded attention. He wanted me to hear the story. So I listened and tried to convey the immediacy I heard. He’s a fixer, very good at his job, a conflicted hired gun summoned to ensure election results go the “right” way, but only when everything and everyone else has failed. “Always at the eleventh hour,” he laments.

“Elections were a time to reap what you had sowed—for good and bad. They only called me in when the shit had hit the fan. And this candidate was that.”

“Ideally,” he continues, the only reference to ideals anywhere in the story, except to disparage them, “voters looked at the cases presented during the various campaigns and made their preferences known at the ballot. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and that’s where I come in.”

I was intrigued by what lies beneath his contempt and swagger. Mack is dismissive even of his assistants, because they’re true believers, “which is never a good place to start.” Maybe he knows from intimate experience that it’s a bad starting place. But for him, those doubts, those misgivings are in the past. For this vote theft, Mack tries to craft a “two-fer”—one that will ensure a win for his clients’ candidate, and smear the other side at the same time.

In the end, it’s about more than this one election. My stories—and indeed many in this anthology—seek to reveal not only the crime, but what lies beneath it. There is a great deal of purposeful distraction and canny misdirection in politics these days, to put it mildly. But voting—free and fair elections—confers legitimacy, and it obliges accountability. Any disenfranchised voter, any stolen vote, is a crime.

LDDV, vol. 2 features work by  Faye Snowden, Stephen Buehler, Tim O’Mara, Jackie Ross Flaum, S.B. White, M.J. Holt, Frank Rankin, Bev Vincent, David Hagerty, Puja Guha, Gary Phillips, James McCrone, Madeline McEwen, Robert Lopresti, Camille Minichino, Jim Doherty, Ann Parker, Terry Sanville, Ben Harshman, Sarah M. Chen, Gabriel Valjan, Travis Richardson.

# # #

James McCrone is also the author of the Imogen Trager thriller series, comprising Faithless Elector (2016), Dark Network (2017), and the forthcoming Emergency Powers (Oct. 1, 2020) — political thrillers about a stolen presidency.  A Pacific Northwest native, he now makes his home in South Philadelphia with his wife and three children.  He’s a member of the Sisters in Crime network, Mystery Writers of America, International Association of Crime writers, and Philadelphia Dramatists Center. He has an MFA from the University of Washington, in Seattle.

Author site:

You can pick up Low Down Dirty Vote, Vol. 2 –“Every Stolen Vote is a Crime" right here.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Monday Mention - Mia P. Manansala

Chicago writer Mia P. Manansala is always busy. Winner of the 2018 Hugh Holton Award, the 2018 Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, the 2017 William F. Deeck – Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers, and the 2016 Mystery Writers of America/Helen McCloy Scholarship, she is also a 2017 Pitch Wars alum and was a 2018-2019 mentor.

Her highly anticipated debut novel, ARSENIC AND ADOBO (previously titled Love, Loss, and Lumpia) will be available May 4, 2021 through Berkley/Penguin Random House. Culinary cozy mystery ARSENIC AND ADOBO follows a Filipina-American sleuth as she returns home to forget a failed relationship only to find herself in the middle of a murder mystery.

Much like her main character, Mia always has something cooking. Figuratively and literally. ARSENIC AND ADOBO allows Ms. Manansala to combine a few of her many interests and talents, such as cooking and pop culture, but a visit to her website and blog finds even more interesting tidbits. It’s a great destination.

Mia’s most recent post let’s us follow along as she reads fifty-two books by women of color. You can find her thoughts on the first nine books below. After that, I encourage you to visit Mia at MPM the Writer to read the rest.

My reading list this year was inspired by an article in the Daily Kos about challenging yourself to read more books by women of color to broaden your perspectives. As a female writer of color, the majority of my reading is centered around writers of color and women writers, but I thought it would be a good exercise for me to be more intentional about what I’m reading, particularly since my preferred genre of crime fiction can skew very white.

Since we’ve just entered the second half of the year, I thought I’d provide a round-up of the books I’ve read so far since I haven’t had a single miss in my selections. Yes, some I love less than others but they’re all books I’m happy to recommend.

I’m providing affiliate links for each book, but you can also just go to my Bookshop page to see all the titles.

The first half of my 52 Books By Women of Color 2020 Reading Challenge:

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim
Simple yet lyrical. Heartfelt. Delicious!

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib
Fun, loved the Filipino stuff and clashing of cultures. Quick read.

Iced in Paradise by Naomi Hirahara
Fast read, great updated and diverse cozy. Interested in seeing how the series develops

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
Sexy, funny, and full of ass-kicking

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu
So adorable, well-implemented diversity, SQUEE

Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely
Wonderfully character-driven story. Grandmaster for a reason. Political commentary woven in expertly.

God's Will for Monsters by Rachelle Cruz
Need to re-read to better understand. Powerful but I clearly missed a lot. Great start to my initiative to read more poetry.

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
Loved it! So immersive and I loved all the historical details. Guessed the killer fairly early but still enjoyable.

Mimi Lee Gets A Clue by Jennifer J. Chow
Decent start to a fun new series.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Needed: Humanity

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about how much we need one another. And how much the two big current issues have proven that.
Coronavirus has cut off everybody’s contact with everybody else. No get-togethers, no taking my laptop and working at the coffee shop, no school, no anything. Necessary, absolutely. For me, it’s driven home how much even small, everyday, in-person interactions matter for mental health. And then there are the normal markers of time that have excruciatingly evaporated—Easter egg hunts in April, baseball in May, swimming in June. Right now, my God, I just want to have a barbecue.
Our second need for one another comes with Black Lives Matter. The need to look through a lens that is not your own, to see the world as it affects others, and then to affect change. It’s not a new problem, that’s for sure, but right now we absolutely need one another to push this forward, to keep the momentum going.
So there we go. Humanity in contact, humanity in connection, humanity in equality. And as I write this on the Fourth of July, a hope that the future brings all three.