Saturday, July 25, 2020

Breaking Down Bosch on TV

Scott D. Parker

When you're a writer, you always notice structure in a story, no matter the medium.

Not sure why the wife and I never started watching Amazon Prime's Bosch TV show, based on Michael Connelly's series of books, but a few weeks ago, we pulled the plug.

And have loved every moment of the first three seasons. Titus Welliver as the titular character is fantastic. Now, I say that as someone who's read only a handful of the Bosch books so he may or may not be everyone's first choice, but with Connelly on as an executive producer, he saw something he liked. Besides, it's a different medium. I love his intensity and Bosch's sense of justice no matter the cost, even to himself or his career. We're just a couple of episodes into the fourth season and I so love the fact that Bosch was assigned the main case because he wasn't the target of the victim, a dead lawyer who had gone after cops. How'd Bosch miss this guy?

Jerry Edgar, or J. Edgar, is Bosch's partner. Played by Jamie Hector of The Wire fame, he's naturally much younger than Bosch. You do get the typical veteran-to-younger guy vibe, but that's okay. J. Edgar dresses nice, has a wife and two young children, and is in a different place in life. Hector does a fine job of saying much by saying little, and I liked how his character gradually changed over the first three seasons, especially the third as he came to understand what makes Bosch tick.

The imposing Lance Reddick plays Irvin Irving, a guy who ends up being promoted to interim chief of police. I swear, if he were interrogating me, all he'd have to do was just stare at me and I'd talk. Another veteran of The Wire, Reddick brings a simmering intensity to even the most mundane of scenes. When the chief experiences a personal tragedy, there is one scene Reddick nails.

Amy Aquino plays Bosch's long-suffering lieutenant. Like all the cast in this show, she fits right in with the hard-boiled detectives of her squad. She gives as good as she gets, and is always there to back Bosch. We got a little of her backstory in season three and its...dicey.

I could go on, but I wanted to circle back to being a writer and watching a show like this. Each season is ten episodes, each about 45-50 minutes, give or take. The writers spin multiple threads during season three. There's the murder-of-the-season, there's the cold case involving the murder of Bosch's prostitute mother, there's Bosch's family life (teenaged daughter and ex-wife and her husband; the ex is a professional poker player), there's J. Edgar's family, and Chief Irving's story. That's five not including the bad guys who are involved in the season-long mystery.

I find it fascinating how well the stories ebb and flow, play off each other, and become resolved. Sometimes, it's about a 30-second scene with a few lines of dialogue. Other times, it's a full section. I haven't yet sat down to analyze a single episode, but I'm thinking about it. It seems so effortless, but I know it's based on long and hard work. You can learn structure and story by breaking down a book or TV show. I did it with The Da Vinci Code back in the day and a few episodes of Castle.

I'll keep watching for structure as we get through season four. It opens up new ideas in my head for how to craft a story. Writers. We're always learning.

The only problem with binge viewing? You eventually reach the end. Next season is next year. But I'm gonna enjoy this show. It'll probably lead me to the books.

What are the best Bosch books?

Friday, July 24, 2020

BBN in Review

This week, Beau offers a review of Beau's Book Nook. You're welcome.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Home's Where Writing and the Job Are

It's been four months now since I started working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, and I've become accustomed to the routine of both working and writing from home. The experience takes me back many years to periods before I had my current job or a family and could work part-time to get by.  I did have to leave the house to work, but since I worked part-time, I had ample time to get a lot of writing done at home. That's not the same as being able to only write to make a living, but it's as close as I've ever been able to get to that.  Now I find myself in a similar situation, and in terms of writing alone, if I can, at least in the abstract, forget about the reason why this situation developed, it's been great.  The small percentage of writers who don't have to support themselves by leaving their house to go to a job really should never complain.  Writing well is hard regardless of your circumstances, but nothing beats having the means or set-up to be at home on a daily basis, day after day, without the need to leave, and just get your writing done.    

What is it exactly that's so good about this?  Since I do still have my regular job to do (and thank goodness for that), it's not as if I have way more time now to write than during normal conditions.  I don't have my 45-minute subway commute to and from the office each day, true, and that's nothing I mourn losing, but beyond that, my work responsibilities are the same now as they were pre-Covid.  No, what's great about the work at home and write at home model is that you don't have to switch gears every day.  Every day when commuting I either wake early to write before going to work or go to work and then come home to write at night.  I try writing early most days, but I do vary the routine.  And that applies as well now. I write either before or after the long chunk of the day that is devoted to my job.  Sometimes I write in the early morning, do my job through the day, and write a little bit again at night.  But whatever writing routine I follow, the main thing is that mentally I stay in the story I'm working on so easily.  Teleworking, including Microsoft Team meetings, doesn't pull me away from writing mentally in the way that the daily office grind can.  I write, do my job, write, do my job, write, do my job -- all in a kind of continual flow (with movies and phone calls and house life in there as well, of course). There's something about just not having to uproot oneself and live two lives, as it were, one at home where you write and one in the office where you work, that I find pleasing and very conducive to writing.  It would have been nice if such an arrangement had happened without a worldwide pandemic breaking out, but that is what happened, and the unexpected consequence has been the situation I've described.  

Footnote: I don't have small kids, which I have to assume helps me here.

Anyhow, one day, soon I hope (though that's doubtful the way things are going), this pandemic period will be over.  And life will go back to something akin to the way it was before the pandemic hit.  But I'm wondering.  Will it ever be possible again to attain a life -- without a plague being involved -- that is so good for writing as the one now? Retirement, I suppose, but that's a long way off and seems an utter pipe dream at this point.  And to discuss even the mere possibility of retirement means talking about the US economy, student loan debt, and myriad other depressing factors that merit a whole nother discussion.

That's all right then.  I'll stop here.  Have to get to my job, right here at home.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Terri Lynn Coop...Crime and Punishment

Former lawyer and Claymore winning writer Terri Lynn Coop joins us today at Do Some Damage. With a lengthy career in the court system, Terri is a wealth of behind the scenes information. If you’re a veteran crime writer or just starting out, you’re bound to find some gems. Grab a cup of coffee, a pen, and paper. You’ll want to take notes. 

Writing Crime and Punishment 

Before you can have crime and criminals, you have to have laws. And laws breed lawyers. As a 15+ year veteran of the courts in both cities and small towns, I thought I’d take a stroll through the criminal justice system, the 3-way tension needed to make it work, and how writers can use it to create believable mayhem.

The three pillars of the system are: law enforcement, prosecution, and defense. It’s a tight circle and each acts as a check and balance on the other.

Smart cops know that unassailable reports are the crux of their career. It’s not chasing bad guys and breaking up fights. It’s how they write it up. Do a bad job and the whole case can disappear with the speed of a defense motion. Those who have been well-trained or stung by defense attorneys know the value of precise language. It’s why in real life you’ll often hear a cop say “motor vehicle collision” instead of “car accident.’ Accident is an opinion and could give the defense a crack to dismantle their testimony. “How did you know it was accidental, Officer? What other pre-conceived notions did you take to work with you that day?” 

A good prosecutor turns back bad police reports and demands excellence. They also go after rambunctious defense attorneys by building solid cases and managing the courtroom. The defense really has one purpose. It’s not to get their client off on technicalities. They are the civilian overseer of government power. That “technicality” could be your constitutional rights. The state has to get it right the first time. When one of the three is corrupted, well, we know what happens.

As crime writers we also have one job. To make sure that corruption happens. How do we do that and be believable?

First off, cops and attorneys are not stupid. They really aren’t. I see that occasionally used as a cheap ploy. Yes, I’ve run into some bad actors, but it wasn’t because they didn’t have intelligence. They were arrogant, burned out, racist, narrow-minded, sexist, greedy, homophobic, lazy, untrained, out of their depth, even pure evil, but they weren’t dumb. The illiterate hick deputy is a boring trope.

To look at why a professional, someone who took an oath that made them tingle when they raised their right hand, would throw it all away, we can use the same reasoning they do for spies. The MICE framework is equally valid for a cop that plants a gun, an attorney who betrays a client, or a cabinet officer passing missile codes to the Russians. 

Coined during the Cold War, MICE stands for Money, Ideology, Coercion/Compromise, and Ego.

So, what are the MICE up to in your stories? Why are the cops going wrong, the prosecutors hiding or faking cases, and the defense bar betraying their clients?

Money is always a good one and an easy go-to. The bag man of the precinct is tried and true for a reason. It’s believable, has plenty of historic precedent, and is a powerful human driver. Once money enters the scene, either from greed or need, the characters get swept deeper into the vortex. And because they are intelligent and skilled, they often think they can control what’s about to happen. Oh, sorry about that, reader . . .

Ideology is also an interesting track. It covers a lot of territory. The upsurge of white supremacy and racial violence we are seeing is pure ideology at work. The same level of devotion to beliefs can drive attorneys to betray their oath and do that one little thing, either for or against their client, which will tip the balance of the system and send it spinning off its tenuous pedestal. Can your character fairly police, prosecute, or defend a Klansman, a priest, a raving Socialist, a skinhead biker, a pedophile, or a Sunday School teacher? Ideology is ripe for internal conflicts.

Compromise and Coercion is also a deep and complex pit to mine. In the first book of my series, hot rod attorney Juliana Martin is given a choice. She will either help the FBI nab one of the clients from her family law firm, or her father will end up on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. When the deal is laid out, not one player, cop or lawyer, has clean hands. The prosecutors are willing to fake a case. Law enforcement is willing to back them up. Finally, Juliana has no choice. She’s been coerced into agreeing to violate her own principles to help them. Of course, that turns out to be just the tip of the iceberg of betrayals.

The final one is Ego. Our characters are strong minded and willed and imbued with their own sense of right and wrong. The cops are often physically fit and intimidating. They can control any situation they find themselves in and bend it to their will. Ego also often comes into play when one of these characters believes they’ve been wronged. They will get their revenge. Or so they think. A lot of those victories turn out to be pyrrhic.

Are your characters in it for beliefs and dogma, are they being blackmailed, is there a payoff, or are they arrogant enough to believe they can play in the gutter and not get dirty? I can’t wait to read your answers to that question.

Thanks to the DSD crew for the invite. 

Terri Lynn Coop’s anthology contributions include "Just to Watch Them Die," crime fiction inspired by the music of Johnny Cash, "Betrayed," fiction about crime survivors, the "Battlespace" military fiction anthology and the spooky "No Rest for the Wicked" collection. Her first novel, "Devil's Deal" won the 2013 Claymore Award at the Killer Nashville conference. Terri experiments and writes across genres, including "SALT," set in the dystopian post-apoc world of "Sand." by Hugh Howey, and "Burning Kansas," a pulp-style historical romance from the time of Bleeding Kansas. She has been known to blog and post other interesting and moderately useful information at terrilynncoop.comPlease visit her Amazon page Terri Lynn Coop at Amazon

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Review: Dead Still

During the pandemic lockdown, there’s been no better use of my money than the six bucks I spend on Acorn TV every month. It would be a bargain if you only got one or two shows out of it, but you’ll get more than that, trust me.
Acorn’s catalog runs the gamut from light and frothy cozy mysteries to dark serial killer sagas. Most of them are pretty above-board; what it looks like in the promo and description is what you’re going to get. But not Dead Still. It’s set in 1880s Ireland and features a “memorial photographer,” i.e. someone who takes pictures of the dead as if they were still living. 
Yep, she's dead.
Okay, so you know it’s going to be a little creepy (by today’s standards; the Victorians thought nothing of it). But it turned out to be much more than that.
My first thought—why has this never been done before? How perfect a profession to become embroiled in a murder. And the show’s creators run with it, embracing the macabre aspects and sprinkling it with morbid humor.
There certainly are standard elements, like the new apprentice and the rebellious young relative. They’re done well and allowed to grow within the season’s six episodes. My favorite, though, is the ferocious terrier of a police detective who won’t stop biting at people’s ankles.
One thing a lot of shows don’t even try for is atmosphere. It’s difficult to do well, and getting it wrong can mean devolving into camp. Dead Still nails it. It feels effortlessly grimy and dark and claustrophobic. The pacing contributes to this. It’s different from most shows, slower and more languid in a way that contributes to the overall impact. The whole thing is delightfully different.
If you’re looking to shake up your mystery viewing as we enter another round of stay-at-home orders, this curious show is just the ticket.