Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Humble Index Card


Scott D. Parker

Like many a wordsmith, I've tried multiple ways to get a story out of my head and onto paper. I've outlined, planned, and written stories without and outline. I've even tried the index card method, but it has been a long time since I employed this method.

But I'm trying it again with my current book.

What is the Index Card Method?

The way I do it, one index card equals one scene. It's not necessarily a chapter a scene, but I know that some scenes will be long enough to be a chapter. I've read a few books in recent years that have something like 125 chapters and I know that every scene is a chapter. I'm not a huge fan of short-as-a-page chapters. I prefer to group them together into larger chapters. You?

Anyway, the beauty of index cards is the ability to see the story laid out on your table or on a corkboard. You can lay them out any way you, but I've done mine this way just about every time I use this method. The scene number is in the upper left. The upper right is the setting, while the middle top line is the POV character. In this case, Keene is my main character. 

In the body of the card, I list the action. I am using a blue ballpoint pen for the first time in forever. Not sure why, but I started that way and I'm running with it. Every time a character appears on stage for the first time, I use all caps and underline the names. You can see that listed here with a pair of HPD detectives. 

For this card in particular, in pencil, I wrote a question to myself. It's a guide for my thinking about the story and whether or not this scene is actually needed. If it's not, I can discard and not bother writing it.

With the "NEED" comment, that's also a note to myself. When I get around to writing this chapter in a few days, I'll need to work in that little comment. 

The "EXPAND" comment refers to the 1.0 version of this book that's already written. I'll likely not simply rewrite/retype this chapter when I get to it, but I'll revise what's already written in my 1.0 manuscript. This note, in red ink, serves as a reminder to expand on something that's already in the text. 

Every morning, after I've poured my coffee, I'll lay out the existing cards and move forward. I'm up to scene 27 so I don't necessarily have to lay out the first dozen scenes or so, but I lay out the last dozen. I'll follow my thought process and then start writing new scenes. I have a comp book in which I write additional notes, mainly about structure and overall thinking. Together, I have an ongoing mindmap-type thing that I can re-read along the way. Also, when this book is done, I can re-visit all my thought processes, especially if they veer away from the index cards.

Yeah, it can happen.

Do you use index cards? If so, how.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Tom Leins tackles carnies and killers

This week, Beau looks at Repetition Kills You, by Tom Leins.

Repetition Kills You is an experimental noir. A novel-in-stories. A literary jigsaw puzzle.

The book comprises 26 short stories, presented in alphabetical order, from ‘Actress on a Mattress’ to ‘Zero Sum’. Combined in different ways, they tell a larger, more complex story. The narrative timeline is warped, like a blood-soaked Möbius Strip. It goes round in circles—like a deranged animal chasing its own tail.

The content is brutal and provocative: small-town pornography, gun-running, mutilation and violent, blood-streaked stories of revenge. The cast list includes sex offenders, serial killers, bare-knuckle fighters, carnies and corrupt cops. And a private eye with a dark past—and very little future.


Ben LeRoy is back

 The return of The Ben LeRoy Show

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Locked-Room Pleasure

For the first time in decades, I have found myself returning this year to the locked-room mystery, a particular favorite of mine when I was reading mysteries in my teens.  John Dickson Carr was my favorite Golden Age mystery writer when I was that age, and earlier this year, I re-read and wrote a piece about The Crooked Hinge, one of his best Gideon Fell puzzles.

Maybe it's the year we've had, the mess we're all in.  There's the virus, the political situation, climate catastrophe, the so-often repellent and stultifying discourse on social media.  But the locked-room mystery, perhaps most of all types of mystery stories, represents a wonderful way to escape.  When well-done, they provide a great puzzle that promises an ingenious (though often surprisingly simple) solution.  They provide closure.  They satisfy the mind and soul in a way most traditional mysteries do, but perhaps to a more extreme degree because they are so much about the intricacies of the puzzle itself.  When you read something as complicated and marvelous and flat-out brilliant as Soji Shimada's The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, you are in a world where the most grotesque and impossible crime can actually be solved through reasoning.  Clear vision and lucid thought, put to a worthwhile purpose, win.  What world is this?  Not the one we're living in, obviously.  But therein lies much of the attraction.

To end this summer, I felt myself in the mood for a locked-room novel, but I wanted something on the more modern side.  I thought at once of Adrian McKinty, who I've met and had a swig or two of whisky with at a couple of Noir at the Bars, but who I had never read. I've always really enjoyed his quite entertaining readings at Noir at the Bars, though, and decided to read In the Morning I'll Be Gone, from 2014, the third of his Sean Duffy books.  

By the way, if you haven't read it, you should read McKinty's list from a few years ago of his favorite locked room novels ever.  It's in a couple of places, including his blog, and you can Google the list easily.

As for In the Morning I'll Be Gone, I found it a perfect end of summer read, satisfying on every level.  I'm sure a lot of people reading this have read it.  But in how it mixes a play fair with the reader locked-room puzzle, a murder in a pub, with its look at the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, it was a riveting read.  Classical mystery meets modern-day procedural meets thriller.  What's particularly great is how the locked room case is something Duffy has to solve to get on with the rest of the case he is working on.  He can't proceed to his main goal without solving the pub murder.  I'm trying to think, but I don't recall ever coming across a crime novel structured precisely this way before, and McKinty makes it all click.  That it's also sharply written, with great descriptions of mood and landscape and weather, and quite often funny only add to the pleasure of reading it.  I have to say: I wasn't in the least surprised it's frequently humorous. I expected that from the times I've heard McKinty read.

Anyway, this proved to be just the book I was looking for to end this somewhat frustrating summer, and  now I find myself eager to read more Duffy cases, including Rain Dogs, McKinty's other locked-room (or locked-castle, in this case) novel.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Michelle Garza is kicking down the door.

"Michelle Garza is a force of nature. She’s one of the strongest voices in the new wave of horror fiction. Michelle is a positive influence on the scene, a leading voice in Latinx horror, and a huge supporter of other writers. More importantly, she’s a hustler who gets it done. 

Yeah, she’s online and at home and everywhere else, but she sits down and creates worlds all the time. I have a lot of respect for her work ethic, and listen attentively to anything she has to say. I know writers love to tell stories, but sometimes the best thing we can do is shut the fuck up and listen so we can learn and grow. I suggest you do just that right now because Michelle has something to say. Listen up."
-Gabino Iglesias, author of ZERO SAINTS and COYOTE SONGS.



Michelle Garza 

I was recently watching a documentary about the Golden State killer and what struck me to the core was a female detective who, in an attempt to protect women from this vicious predator, instructed them to stop being so polite.

Stop being polite? That’s an interesting thing, isn’t it?

It was a tactic to stop women from coming into contact with strange men on the street, men who could be a sexual predator and/or murderer, and having a seemingly polite exchange become an open door to the women being victimized. She was asking them to go against their raising in order to keep them from being raped or killed by refraining from engaging men they didn’t know in conversation and if they were confronted with possible danger to defend themselves with all of their strength and to forget the social restraints of being a proper lady. That meant tooth and nail combat, and putting him out of commission by any means possible.

For many girls growing up they are taught, whether by direct instructions, or by learning it from watching the adult women around them, that we shouldn’t be too assertive, or come off as aggressive. It is taught that our best defense is to try to keep a smile on our faces and a soft voice when interacting with men. And this isn’t always because our mothers and grandmothers wanted to raise perfect little ladies, but to protect us from the reactions of some men. Women are taught our politeness will shield us from violent outbursts from men who feel rejected, rebuffed, or made a mockery of.

But that isn’t always the case, especially for women of color and women in the LGBTQ community who face the danger tenfold when not responding to men in a way they believe they deserve.

Sometimes politeness doesn’t protect us at all.

Predatory men see politeness as an open door to further harass and push the boundaries of women and it’s also an excuse for later when they could be called out for being pieces of shit. They just claim their victim was open to their behavior. I think I just vomited in my mouth, and not because I’m the toughest bitch in the world that has never been victimized, but because the old fall back excuse of she acted like she was cool with it is sickeningly familiar to me. Many women and girls have had to laugh off comments or actions of men because they fear retaliation by the perpetrator themselves, or a certain group the predators are members of. The power to discredit and turn the situation around on the victim is the threat too many women live in the shadow of and it needs to stop. If a woman doesn’t reciprocate the pass made at her that’s big red flag, a stop sign stating that whatever was said to her has been uncomfortably laughed off. And that’s when the one-sided flirtation needs to end.

“NO” is a complete sentence, it doesn’t require an explanation. It doesn’t mean convince a woman otherwise or try to change her mind. If any type of coercion, or threats have to take place in order for a woman to accept a sexual advance, it isn’t consensual, and that’s abuse.

The detective wasn’t calling for women to band together in rude bitch gangs, who spat in men’s faces or flipped them the bird when they innocently asked what time it was, or for directions, even though I think she would be way cooler if she had. She wanted women to stop feeling the pressure to be mousy, smiley (even when they didn’t want to be) or accommodating to strange men who intruded on their personal space, men who thought they were owed a moment of a woman’s time or her response to whatever bullshit questions he had. This advice was coming from a woman decades ago and yet I believe it holds up today. Who the hell are these men who think they are owed anything?

Here’s a little secret, and I’ll share it for free…women don’t owe you shit, buddy.

Women are criticized for not smiling, not seeming warm or inviting, for not appearing caring enough to, get this, complete fucking strangers. Who the fuck do you think we are? Bitches from toothpaste commercials? Your mothers? Your servants? Being polite simply means to display behavior that is respectful of other people, it doesn’t mean I have to walk around with a giant grin plastered on my face like a damn psychopath, it doesn’t mean I have to coddle your ego or fulfill your requests. It also doesn’t mean I am obligated to respond to someone I don’t feel comfortable responding to.

These creeps act like we should be grateful of their attention or that their opinions of us are what keep us waking up every morning? Nope. And I ain’t even sorry saying it, your opinion, especially about our appearance is as welcomed as a raging case of food poisoning. You can scream and call us whores, cunts, bitches, prudes, all that negative shit after we exile you to fuckoffville but we really don’t give a rat fuck what you like or what you don’t about us. We don’t give a shit if you think we are fat, if you don’t like tattoos, or if you don’t like how we cut our hair, or if our eyebrows are the shape you like on women. I’ll shave your fuckin eyebrows off and you can see how simple it is to draw them back on, fuckin’ line-crossing-motherfuckers. And don’t get tough with me, I’m a big girl and I’ll fuck you up and if I can’t I’m calling some heavy hitting motherfuckers who will make sure you have to check the toilet for your teeth after every time you take a shit.

Okay, I better get back on topic before someone screams I’m just a hysterical hag. *has pen and paper ready to jot down names of those who do so I can lure them into my hag cave and boil them into a soup after making bread from their bones and fashioning decorative, yet cursed, candles from their body fat.*

Whether you want to believe it or not, probably around eighty percent or more of women have been sexually harassed, or worse, in their lifetimes. The writing community isn’t immune to it, it is plagued by it, nearly every female I have befriended on social media has a horror story to tell and many of them are far worse than any fiction we write. It sickens me, it enrages me, it makes me want to morph into a beast and gorge my hunger for revenge on the flesh of these men and their enablers.

Enablers, they are a special type of asshole, right? I’ll tell you a personal story, something I haven’t really spoken of to many people in years. My sister and I were harassed by a certain breed of mama’s basement dwelling scum, the type of guy who would fight to be the superstar of a press that didn’t pay authors for their work. He was actually feuding with one of our other friends and he dragged us into the war. I’m not going to go into great detail about it because there was a firefight over it on Facebook about five years ago or more and I don’t want to give this piece of shit anymore limelight from it. When we were going through all this shit, I was a member of an all-female horror writers group and I thought that would be a safe space to speak about this guy who was writing really disgusting things about my sister and I, but to my shock there were two women in the group who shared what I was saying with him. One even went as far as to question who we thought we were to mess with this guy, and let me remind you this guy was a guy who didn’t pay people for their work and was known for being a douche bag. Just because we weren’t well known, does that give this guy the right to sexually harass us? Ummmmm….no, bitches, it doesn’t. And people wonder why victims don’t speak up? They wonder why we are apprehensive about even telling other women.

That’s okay, though. I look back now and I tell myself neither one of those enabling bitches have been nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, so in this case I chose to dust myself off, hold my head up high (along with my middle fingers) and bury them in my success. If a woman speaks up, you listen, simple.

We are tired of being shamed and blamed for being abused, and the same old shit always being whispered when the story unfolds of our victimization. You have probably already memorized them all by now; they have been repeated a million times and etched into the hearts of any woman who has ever walked the face of the earth to haunt them when they think of speaking out.

“Well, what did she do to him to make him do that?”- WRONG, we are all adults. What kind of a fucking response even is this? You think women seek to be humiliated and harassed? If you do then you’re piece of dog shit. These men have no concept of what back the fuck off means, that’s the problem. We didn’t hypnotize them with our vagina magic to act like an animal in order to slander them.

“What was she wearing?”- WRONG, a woman can wear anything or nothing at all and that isn’t an excuse to treat her like shit or creep on her. Women dress to make themselves happy, not you, so get your ego in check, not everything is about pleasing you, pendejo.

“She led him on.”- WRONG, women have the right to think you’re an okay dude and change her mind at any time without owing you anything, motherfucker. And just because someone laughs at your joke or agrees a movie is cool doesn’t mean we want to see your wiener. Pump the brakes and think about how a simple conversation isn’t a request for anything sexual from you. Surprise sexting isn’t attractive at all, women don’t like that shit. We want to know you respect us and we have many different ways of telling you what we want; we don’t need anything from you unless we directly request it. And further more if you’re one of those vile piles of pig shit who use past flirtations or pictures to pressure a girl into things she doesn’t want to do then you need to be tied inside a bag of rattlesnakes and set on fire.

“She was drunk or high.”- WRONG, any time consent can’t be given of sound mind then that’s called rape, fuckface.

“He was drunk.”- WRONG, there’s an old saying that only drunks and children tell the truth but it’s not completely true. They speak their truth, as in what they say has already been in their mind, it wasn’t magically conjured there by alcohol. People don’t say and do vile shit just because they get drunk, they don’t become a racist or sexual predator because of a few too many drinks. The behavior or thoughts are already there, they just feel emboldened by alcohol to speak them out loud, whether it’s right or wrong. I once sat in a baby swimming pool fully clothed then jumped out and smashed a cardboard box fort my nieces and nephews made (sorry kids) and breakdanced on it while smoking Marlboros that had gotten wet from the pool water so I had to break the filters off and smoked them like a joint. On my fourteenth birthday I got so drunk on cheap wine that I fell asleep on a riverbed next to my dog, Cookie. I once had a dance-off with my sister’s husband on my mama’s back porch and he won because he could do the worm but I couldn’t, but I have never groped someone or sexually harassed them because I was drunk. Parties and conventions can get crazy but it’s not an excuse, they shouldn’t be a breeding ground for rape. If you are the type of person who gets so out of control you don’t remember what you have done while intoxicated, then you need to lay off the booze. You’re not a werewolf, you shouldn’t awaken naked in a field the day after partying and worry if you have done irreparable damage to the people around you, that’s totally not cool. Don’t make people not trust you around women, children, or farm animals.

“She is promiscuous.”- WRONG, a woman can do whatever she wants with as many people as she wants and that doesn’t give you the right to touch her or verbally abuse her. She can actually have a consensual encounter with a man once and decide he ain’t getting it ever again. Just because she was down with it once don’t mean you get a lifetime pass to it. Consent is something that should be clear all the time PERIOD.

I personally prescribe to the Salt-N-Pepa view about a woman’s sexuality…IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!

After so much shit has come to light, I have seen quite a few men begin to reflect on their actions, and how they speak to women and make them feel. I think that is definitely a good start to stopping this cycle. It needs to continue until the day when we see a woman struggling there aren’t any people trying to defend the man who made her feel like shit. There may be men who are remorseful to how they once behaved and would like to change, good for you, continue on that path. It’s the only way to make this community a truly safe place for everyone. There are good men out there, men who don’t act like scum, look to them as an example.

We all joke about resting bitch face but guess where the need for that came from? Oh that’s right, the stone-cold don’t-fucking-speak-to-me look came from the thousands of times women have smiled in a polite way at the wrong motherfucker and they came back at us thinking we wanted to see pictures of their dangling nutsacks…WE DON’T WANT TO SEE THAT SHIT! Put them away before we start cutting them off and forcing you to eat them. We’ve been pushed to this, so if you want to keep your packages intact then heed this warning. We are beyond done with your shit.

Until the day comes when we don’t have to teach our girls they need to be careful wearing a skirt to school instead of teaching our boys they need to respect women no matter what they are wearing, that women aren’t property or prizes like shiny little pennies they can pick up and claim as their own, and control like robots, then this cycle will only continue.

I don’t care if you read this and think I’m exaggerating or I’m hysterical, you obviously don’t know the depths of exhaustion women feel after so many years of this. I’ll be forming my own rude-bitch gang, and I don’t need any applications. If you’re a woman who is sick of this shit then let’s do this. I’ll bring the switchblades because it’s time to shut these motherfuckers down. And if you’re a man, one of the good ones, one of those heavy hitting motherfuckers I referred to above, even if you are too far away to make some asshole pick up their teeth, do it virtually. It’s time to stand united against this tidal wave of misogyny and sexually abusive behavior. It’s time to say FUCK BEING POLITE.

-Michelle Garza

Michelle Garza is one half of the twin sister writing team Sisters of Slaughter. Their debut novel, MAYAN BLUE, was nominated for a Bram Stoker award in 2016. Their cutting and vicious tales have been published by Thunderstorm Books, Bloodshot Books, Death’s Head Press, and Sinister Grin. 

Currently they are rabidly working on a story for the WE ARE WOLVES charity anthology!  A collection of tales inspired by and in response to the real life horrors of objectification and discrimination. On top of that, they are working on a few longer projects and next year they will present a collection of their most popular classics.