Saturday, October 31, 2020

NaNoWriMo 2020 - Two Things to Remember

Scott D. Parker

Well, here we are again. It’s November and tomorrow kicks off National Novel Writing Month. It’s a fun exercise in which you write a 50,000-word novel in the 30 days of the month. That averages out to 1,667 words a day for thirty days.

You may think that it too daunting a challenge. I’m here to tell you it is not.

I know. I’ve done NaNoWriMo in November multiple times. I’ve also done it in a January, a February, a March, and various other times.

It is entirely doable, but take two key lessons I’ve learned in writing a novel in a month.

Stay Flexible

If there’s one thing you must keep in mind as you write your story this month is to stay flexible. Writing a novel is not a sprint. It is a marathon. Each day, however, can feel like a sprint, and I treat them that way. The sprint is the 1,667 words. But here’s a huge weight you can lift off your shoulders.

Don’t get too bogged down in the daily weeds. Maintain the overall goal: 50,000. Some days, you’ll blow past the 1,667 mark. Others you may fall short. You can make it up. Don’t lose sight of the end goal: a completed story. In the end, it won’t matter if you didn’t reach your daily goal for a third of the days and exceeded it on the rest. All that matters is a 50,000-word completed novel.

Have Fun

In every NaNoWriMo novel I’ve written, there is a wonderful urgency to get the words down. That’s good. But you are also the first reader of the book you are writing. Entertain yourself! Have fun.

My writing times are always in the early mornings before the day job starts. Now that I’m working from home because of the pandemic, I have some extra time (because I don’t have a commute). I rise at 5:00 am for these writing sessions. Yeah, that’s sleeping in because I used to wake at 4:30.

The family is asleep and I am by myself with my characters and story. I open the laptop and start the daily writing. And I am gone out of this world and into the world of my story.

And I’m grinning at times. My heart races at other times. Heck, I’ve even teared up writing certain scenes. The thing is, I’m wholly invested in the tale.

It is one of the best feelings out there.

So have fun, stay flexible, and enjoy NaNoWriMo 2020.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

More Henry Malone action


This week, Beau Johnson takes a look at James D.F. Hannah's Henry Malone series.

Ex-state trooper Henry Malone might get to wear a badge again—if he can keep from getting killed.

It’s the kind of offer only Henry Malone would get: Local strip club owner Wallace “Bada” Bingham wants Henry to run for sheriff of Parker County, West Virginia, and he’s willing to back the candidacy. But while Henry considers the proposal, Bingham’s got an additional job offer: Investigate the robbery of a money-counting room at a washed-up country musician’s concert.

One dead body later, Henry, along with his well-armed A.A. sponsor Woody, quickly figures out Bingham’s not telling him everything. To discover the answers and catch the killer, Henry and Woody must put everything at risk and confront the forces who want control of Parker County—no matter what the costs, or who has to die.


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Horror is the Genre of Solitude

I'm reading an excellent collection called The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales, by Mark Samuels.  The Machen of the title refers to the great Welsh author of horror fiction, Arthur Machen, who did his best work in the 1890s and the early 1900s, and Samuels is a Brit whose book was published in 2010.  Over the course of about two decades, he's written a slew of tales in the tradition of Machen, Lovecraft, Borges, Ligotti, and other masters of the weird tale, and he happens to be among my favorite living practitioners of this type of story. 

As I made my way through the stories in this book, stories about a traveler in Central Europe, a scholar obsessed with Arthur Machen's writings, an overworked college student who rents a strange, fever-infested house in Mexico, I found myself following, again and again, solitary people who become enmeshed in something bizarre and sinister. In classic horror story fashion, a character (in Samuels' case, usually a man) finds himself discovering a darker and alternate reality behind the mundane one we all live in.  Samuels does fall somewhat in the cosmic horror tradition, though he knows, unlike some who write in this vein, how to keep his prose restrained and evocative at the same time.

But back to this thing about solitary people in horror.  I was reading a horror fiction book review in the New York Times the other day where the reviewer said "Defeating monsters is what horror fiction does best.  By creating stories about the beasts that terrify us -- demons and tyrants, killers and bullies and ghosts -- horror writers lead us into imaginary battles with evil so intimate and powerful that we emerge better prepared to fight real ones."

I can't argue with this description of what horror fiction takes on and does, but aside from the monster-slaying aspect of the genre, is there any other form of fiction that delves so thoroughly and so often into human solitude? When you think of stories like Poe's or Lovecraft's, or the myriad stories influenced by these two, you think of people living their lives with little to no human connections, alone.   Down through the years in horror, how often do you get some variant of a story where a person has an esoteric interest that dominates their lives and leads them so far away from ordinary human interaction that they never return to the commonplace fold.  And it's not just people who experience this intense solitude in horror. Often it's the ghosts themselves who feel it, or the monsters, and it's a reason, besides evil, that these creatures reach out from the other side toward the living.  I can't think of another genre, or any type of fiction really, where so frequently the structure of a plot in some way revolves around a single person, one individual, engaged in a series of actions or caught up in a series of events that they deal with on their own.  The man in the witch house, the woman in the room with the yellow wallpaper, the antiquarian alone at night in the library who opens the book unleashing a specter, the traveler who comes to a town and finds that the inhabitants are mutant freaks, and on and on and on.  Readers know the various tropes.  You do get stories where small groups confront the scary monster or the uncanny phenomena, but even here, frequently, the stories are written in such a way that you get inside the head of each individual to understand what each person's specific fears are, so that, in essence, as the band tries to stick together to take on the threatening force, each person is acting alone, fighting internal demons unique to that individual.  Or you get a person in a story, an adult or a child, who may have friends and may have a family, except that in this story that person has perceptions nobody else has.  The mother with the family, the child with the parents -- they alone can sense or understand the horror that is coming for all.  No one believes this person with the sharpened perception until it is too late.  In their uniqueness, the person with the gift is cursed and thus isolated.  Nobody perhaps sums this all up better than Shirley Jackson;  she lays out the genre's preoccupation in those now iconic opening lines to The Haunting of Hill House, in that paragraph which ends by saying, of the house in question, that "whatever walked there, walked alone."

Maybe it's as simple as that.  Horror fiction is about fear.  It is the fiction that exists to explore human fears.  And when you are scared, truly terrified, it does not matter who you are with or what people say or how they may try to comfort you.  When you're scared, you are, in your mind, totally alone.

Monday, October 26, 2020

A look at Northern Irish Noir

Anjili Babbar and Myron Strong are at it again. Inspiring. Organizing. Advocating. Doing. They are hear today to tell us about the Dashiell Hammett Society, a group dedicated to building literacy and a love of reading and writing in high school and college students, and their upcoming event. Support the next generation of writers and readers and spread the word.

The Dashiell Hammett Society 
Northern Irish Noir: 
Adrian McKinty and Gerard Brennan 

By Anjili Babbar and Myron T. Strong 

The last time we wrote for Do Some Damage, we discussed the ways in which crime fiction can be used to explore diverse perspectives and to promote critical thinking about contemporary social issues in the classroom, outside of the restrictive biases of political discourse. A major characteristic that draws our students to crime fiction is its relatability: it tackles issues that are relevant to their lives, such as racism, poverty, policing, and sexism. Early in 2017, realizing that we could maximize this relatability by connecting our students directly with authors and filmmakers, we established the Dashiell Hammett Society.

The choice of Hammett as a namesake was very deliberate: he has always been a clear favorite of our students, not only due to his Baltimore roots, but also because of his role as president of the New York Civil Rights Congress. Our students view Hammett as a defender of civil rights and free speech, and even as a kind of early feminist, who created powerful, intelligent female characters in his work. They take special pride in the idea that One Calvert Plaza in Baltimore, formerly the Continental Trust Company Building, provided a name for Hammett’s now-legendary detective, the Continental Op.

Our goal for the Dashiell Hammett Society was simple, but huge: to build literacy and critical thinking skills, while simultaneously encouraging a love of reading and writing among college and high school students. It is a testament to the effectiveness of crime fiction in education that, just three years later, the Dashiell Hammett Society is now comprised of faculty and students from four different countries. Contributions from international faculty have allowed us to connect students across borders, giving them access to a wide variety of perspectives. Additionally, public interest has enabled us to connect students with their communities, and to promote the work of a diverse range of authors, both in academia and more broadly.

We offer author events, film festivals, and creative writing workshops. Students are given a safe space to pose questions about literature, the writing process, and social issues: they can either submit questions anonymously in advance of an event or ask the guest speakers directly. Live events are followed by a reception where they can further discuss their thoughts with the speakers and each other. Thanks to an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant and donations from publishers, they also receive free books.

Past events have included speakers such as Gemma Hoskins, John Benam, and Jean Hargadon-Wehner from the Emmy-nominated true crime series The Keepers; authors Nik Korpon, Todd Moss, S.A. Cosby, Angie Kim, E.A. Aymar, and Mark Bergin; and filmmakers Eryk Pruitt and Meredith Snow. Speakers, students, and the community have addressed issues such as racial discrimination, institutional abuse, immigration, and criminal justice reform.

In keeping with our critical tradition, our next event is on Northern Irish Noir. Irish crime writers have been at the forefront of the genre in recent years, winning awards and appearing on bestseller lists globally. These authors tackle crime fiction from a nuanced perspective, subverting tropes about secularism and religion, criminal justice and vigilantism, and personal and social identity. Our two guest speakers, Adrian McKinty and Gerard Brennan, also specifically use their work to consider the sectarianism and civil rights issues that led to decades of violence in Northern Ireland, known as the Troubles, and the peace process and large-scale police reform that ultimately brought an end to this conflict. These topics mirror some of the most pressing issues in the United States today.

Adrian McKinty is the New York Times bestselling author of The Chain and the Sean Duffy series, set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. His works have earned him the Edgar Award, the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, the Ned Kelly Award, the Barry Award, the Audie Award, the Anthony Award, and the International Thriller Writers Award. Gerard Brennan is the author of Disorder, Wee Rockets, Fireproof, Undercover, and The Point. His short stories have been featured in anthologies including The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime and Belfast Noir. He is co-editor of Requiems for the Departed, and has won two Spinetingler Awards, for Best Anthology and Best Novella.

The Dashiell Hammett Society Presents Northern Irish Noir: Adrian McKinty and Gerard Brennan takes place on Thursday, October 29, at 7 p.m. EST. For the safety of our attendees, this event will be entirely virtual. Registration is free: 


Dr. Anjili Babbar is a writer, scholar, and professor of crime fiction, British and Irish literature, and folklore, and president of the Dashiell Hammett Society. Upcoming publications include Finders: Justice, Faith, and Identity in Irish Crime Fiction (Syracuse University Press) and “‘This Isn’t F*cking Miss Marple, Mate’: Intertextuality in Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy Series” (in Guilt Rules All: Mysteries, Detectives, and Crime in Irish Fiction, edited by Elizabeth Mannion and Brian Cliff, Syracuse University Press).

Dr. Myron T. Strong is an award-winning sociologist and writer, whose areas of expertise include the sociology of race, gender, Afro-futurism, and comics. He is Academic Outreach Coordinator for the Dashiell Hammett Society, Executive Council Member for the Eastern Sociological Society, and Co-Chair for the Committee on Community Colleges of the American Sociological Association. Recent publications include the co-authored textbook, Sociology in Stories: A Creative Introduction to a Fascinating Perspective (Kendall Hunt).

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Freedom to Change: The Haunting of Bly Manor


Scott D. Parker

Two years ago, Mike Flanagan delivered The Haunting of Hill House, a horror show with a great emotional center I never saw coming. Now, in 2020, we get a spiritual sequel in Bly Manor, and Flanagan has pulled off a wonderful feat: daring to be different.

Unlike Hill House, I kind of predicted Bly Manor would have a nice emotional core. In that, I wasn’t disappointed. It was exactly that and more. But where Hill House was a horror show—complete with mystery and jump scares—Bly Manor dares to be less a horror show but more like an eerie tale of menace.

Loosely based on Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw—a book I’ve never read—Bly Manor is narrated in the present day by Carla Gugino to a small group of people. She tells the story of Danielle Clayton, a young woman who, in 1987, takes a job as the live-in nanny/teacher for a pair of children—Miles and Flora—at Bly Manor, tucked away in the English countryside. Rounding out the small group is the housekeeper (Hannah), the chef (Owen), and the gardener (Jamie).

Oh, and the ghosts.

That’s not a spoiler. It’s what you’d expect from a story taking place in a giant manor house. But who the ghosts are and why they’re there, that’s the mystery.

I’ll admit I haven’t watched Hill House since it debut in 2018 so I cannot remember all the intricacies. But I do remember some of the jump scares and genuinely terrifying moments. I expected that here as well.

Flanagan, however, had a different idea. Instead of manufacturing simple scares just to make viewers jump, he crafted a well-told story over nine episodes (one less than Hill House). The story’s leaner and swifter, pulling you along nicely.

We get a good dose of flashbacks and present-day action doled out in just big enough scoops to make the mystery tantalizing. My wife had recently see a filmed version of The Turn of the Screw so she knew a few plot points going in, but I didn’t. All I did was let the story wash over me.

The actors were stellar. A few of them—Henry Thomas, Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Kate Siegel—also starred in Hill House. It was good to see them again. But the newcomers were just as good. Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, who plays Miles, can turn from innocent child into something else on a dime. That was unnerving. Another standout T'Nia Miller who played Hannah the housekeeper. There was always something buried just underneath her skin, and Miller was outstanding at her portrayal, especially episode five. And the scenes where she and Rahul Kohli (who played Owen the chef) interacted were very good.

It was probably around episode three or four that I realized Flanagan was doing something different with this new show. It wasn’t as scary. True, there was a palpable sense of foreboding, but not scary. Initially, I wanted the scares, but then I was content to watch the show he made. The longer the show went on and I finally noted what Flanagan had done, the more impressed by it I was.

Sure, Bly Manor could easily have just been Hill House 2 with even more jump scares and more lurid stuff, but that’s not what he did. He told a different kind of story, and I’m really glad he did. It let us viewers know that for however long he creates stories like this, they won’t just be cookie-cutter shows. They will be distinct stories with a similar, but unique style.

And it makes me even more excited to see what he comes up with next.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Whispers with Beau


This week, Beau takes at look at WHISPERS IN THE DARK, the 2018 novel from Laurel Hightower.


Rose McFarland is a trained killer--a Memphis S.W.A.T. sniper with a secret. Her team knows about the burn scars that lurk under her clothes, a legacy of the house fire that killed her father and brother sixteen years before. Her supervisors know that she spent two years in a rehabilitative facility, healing and learning to cope with the emotional trauma of the fire. But no one knows about the visions that drove her there, angry spirits that consumed her childhood, alienated her from her family and made her doubt her own sanity--the Whispers.

When Charlie Akers, a half-brother she never knew, ends up on the wrong side of Rose's rifle, she unwittingly sets off a chain of events that puts her family in the middle of increasingly dangerous paranormal visitations. Charlie won't stay dead, and soon ghosts from Rose's past are creeping back into her life. People she's killed in the line of duty, family she thought long buried, every one of them under the influence of Rose's greatest fear, the Whispers themselves.

As the walls between our world and the world of the dead grow thin, Rose will have to face her old nightmares to stop the Whispers from breaking free. If she can't, it won't just be Memphis that falls to the dead--there will be no safe place left on earth for the living.

More >>

Sunday, October 18, 2020

That's a Wrap

SACRAMENTO—We did it. A virtual convention. And last night was the final piece—the live awards ceremony. And a million moving pieces (multiple Zoom rooms, different audio feeds, camera angles, monitors, cue cards, and fuzzy slippers) fell into place. As did everything else.

We had a packed crowd at Virtual Bouchercon 2020. They attended from home, obviously, but that had benefits. We had people join us who wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, from readers stuck at home due to health concerns to writers like Ian Rankin, who joined a panel from his home in Edinburgh, Scotland.

It was sad not to have the typical gabfests that take place in the hotel bar and lobby at a normal Bouchercon, but a wonderful thing happened. People adapted the space they had. They turned the chat function on Zoom panels into a combination of Q&A and cocktail party chatter. The panelists became more involved in the questions than they are at an in-person event, and audience members could greet one another without interrupting anything that was going on with the panel discussion. One commenter said: “chat is the new bar,” and he was so right.

I’ll leave you with a few photos. I’m so proud of our team, and so, so grateful to the mystery community for a wonderful two days.

Getting the microphones ready.

Rae James and Michele Drier, the 2020 co-chairs, and all-around superheroes.

Presenting the Anthony Award for Best Anthology to Shawn Reilly Simmons and Verena Rose.