Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The Art of Letting Go

One thing I like about writing blog pieces and critical pieces and short stories is the feeling of completing something.  It may be short, but it's done. It's easy to let go and pretty much forget all about what you just wrote.  On to the next written thing, you can say, and in the meantime, I'll keep working on the longer thing. Except that with the longer things, I have real difficulty finishing.  I guess the crux of the problem there is just letting go.  I almost never once feel "proud" when I've completed something long. It's not that I think what I wrote may not be pretty good, or at least the best I could make it, and that I didn't put my all into trying to make it as good as I could make it.  More, it's the nagging feeling that "The book is not finished. There's something that can be improved.  What didn't I do that could make this a bit tighter, sharper, better written?" As Martin Scorsese says in his Master Class talks, about how he views a film he has shot and now is editing, "The truth is. It's never finished. It's never finished."

But I'm starting to view this mindset as my biggest liability connected to writing.  I have to get better, with longer stuff, at letting go.  Everyone else seems to do it.  People churn out two or three or four books a year.  They produce books fast, and, to all outward appearances, they seem pleased with them. Of course, you have to speak positively about your own book if you're going to promote it.  Who is likely to buy a book from an author saying, out loud, "Well, it's okay.  And underneath it all, I don't even think it is really and truly finished, but, buy it anyway.  You'll love it."?  That would be absurd.  No, what we repeatedly hear is, "I'm so proud of this book, my newest, and I can't wait to share it with you."  That kind of thing.  And the author may be sincere in expressing these sentiments.  They have, I would assume, self-doubts (What halfway intelligent writer does not?), but the time when you are promoting your book is hardly the time to display any of that self-doubt.  At a minimum, whatever that author may feel about his or her book, whatever imperfections the author feels that book may have, they have learned to be able to accept letting go of the book and putting it out in the world.  Because, to state the obvious, what is the point of writing the book if not to put it out in the world?

What I'm talking about here is not fear of criticism or tough responses.  That's something else entirely, a natural part of the territory for anyone engaging in creative activity.  I can't say that part of the process has ever weighed on my mind much.  Some people like what you've done, some don't. So be it.  You did the best you could, and that's it.  After that, regarding reactions, all bets are off, as they should be.

But letting go, looking at a longer work I've done and saying "It's finished" or saying, "It's as good as I can possibly make it" or saying, "From here on in, the time put in is not worth the tiny tweaks I might make when I could start something new" is something I need to work on. I wouldn't say I need to seek out therapy about this, but then again, in this day and age, what's more natural than seeking out therapy for a psychological sticking point?  The therapist's office, the soft couch or cushioned chair, the lulling quality of the white noise machine, the cocoon of the place as one talks about oneself with utter self-indulgence...

It's tempting, but no.  I can see myself talking about the issue for months without making much headway on it. I just need, by myself, with novellas and novels, to learn one simple thing. 

How to let the fucking book go. 

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Try To Keep Up With Kellye Garrett

Hot on the heels of her LIKE A SISTER release date announcement, Kellye Garrett is introducing her new website. Make sure you head over to her page and check out all the information on her upcoming book, interviews and features. Ms. Garrett has a lot going on and you need to keep up.

Learn more at Kellyegarrett!

Dayna Anderson doesn’t set out to solve a murder. All the semi-famous, mega-broke actress wants is to help her parents keep their house. So, after witnessing a deadly hit-and-run, she pursues the fifteen-grand reward. But Dayna soon finds herself doing a full-on investigation, wanting more than just money—she wants justice for the victim. She chases down leads at paparazzi hot spots, celeb homes, and movie premieres, loving every second of it—until someone tries to kill her. And there are no second takes in real life.

  • Named one of BookBub’s 100 Best Crime Novels of All Time
  • Agatha Award for Best First Novel
  • Anthony Award for Best First Novel
  • 2018 Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery Novel
  • 2018 Independent Publisher Award (Ippy) Gold Medal for Best First Book – Fiction
  • Barry Award Nominee for Best Paperback Original
  • Macavity Award Nominee for Best First Mystery Novel
Tinseltown’s awards season is in full swing, and everyone is obsessed with dressing up, scoring free swag, and getting invited to the biggest awards shows of the year. But when popular Silver Sphere Awards publicist Lyla Davis is killed during a botched ATM robbery, the celebratory mood comes to an abrupt halt.

Dayna Anderson—an actress turned apprentice private investigator—uncovers the killer almost immediately. Unfortunately, what starts as an open-and-shut case turns out to be anything but. Lyla’s murder was no robbery-gone-wrong. Someone hired the gunman to kill her. Diving back into the investigation, Dayna gets a backstage look at the worlds of gossip blogging, Hollywood royalty, and one of entertainment’s most respected awards shows—all while trying to avoid her own Hollywood ending.

COMING 3.8.2022

In this twisty, voice-driven thriller, no one bats an eye when a Black reality TV star is found dead—except her estranged half-sister, whose refusal to believe the official story leads her on a dangerous search for the truth.

Learn more at Kellyegarrett!

Saturday, June 26, 2021

On Returning to Work and Going Back in Time


Scott D. Parker

On Tuesday, I went back in time.

After working from home since 17 March 2020, I finally returned to my office.

My company, a large oil and gas service company, has gone to great lengths to ensure the safety of its employees, and that started with sending us home on the afternoon of 16 March 2020, a Monday. 

For my team, product marketing, it was a rather seamless transition. Most of what we do is write and discuss strategies and create awesome visuals, things we can easily do that from home via Skype or Teams. 

On that Monday afternoon, we were told to pack up everything we’d need to work from home for the foreseeable future. If you asked each of us when we’d return, most of us might’ve said summer or fall 2020. Summer arrived and our return date was extended to the fall, then the new year, then Quarter 2 of 2021. Many of the folks in my building are slowly returning to work, usually Tuesdays and Thursdays. My first time back was this past Tuesday, and it proved something truly odd. 

In the 15 months since I last made that 23-minute morning commute, I had gotten very accustomed to not having a commute. Sure my audiobook and podcast listening took a serious nose dive, but nothing could compete with a commute that was just down the hall. In my work office, I have one of those desks where you can sit or stand. At home, I have two desks, a standing one and a sitting one. Each has a separate monitor so I only had to move the laptop from station to station. Throw in the fact that I have an actual home office with a door I could close—versus some of my peers who set up shop on dining room tables and in game rooms vacated by college-bound teenagers—and my setup was great. I get to have lunch with the wife and son, pet the dogs, and wear shorts. (I always wore office polos).

Tuesday was weird. The commute’s muscle memory kicked in and I made good time. There’s a temperature sensor at the front door so we have to swipe and pass the temp check just to get in. Masks are required whenever we are in public areas. That means when you have to get some coffee or visit the restroom, mask up. 

Walking through the hallways to my cube, the old smells hit me. So did the quiet. It was eerie, like those late afternoon times in December when many folks are already on their vacations. The fridge was empty so my lunch had lots of space. Then I rounded the corner to my cube. 

It was like something out of a dream. Like a time capsule frozen in amber. The post-it notes on my monitor, reminding me to do something now long forgotten, were there. So was my chair, a unique one unlike all the others. The papers on my desk still sat in the haphazard fashion as I had left them.  The list of projects were still there, reminding me of what was important in spring 2020, some of them completed while others were a casualty of the economic downturn in my industry. 

Opening the drawers, I discovered all the snacks I had stashed away. Tea, nuts, gum, and protein bars—all trashed now. There was even a fidget spinner I had forgotten. 

All the edible stuff went into the trash. A complete wipe down of all surfaces commenced. And then I logged in and got to work. 

We’ve all experienced the pandemic in different ways, but we all experienced it in real time, day after slow day, for the past fifteen months. We’ve adjusted our lives. As the months dragged on, I think many of us kind of forgot what everyday life was like before COVID. Even now, as I start going out in public without masks, it is taking me a few times not to feel skeeved.

But to have a visceral, personal reminder of how I lived prior to the pandemic was shocking. As much as the transition to pandemic life took getting used to, so, too, will the transition to post-pandemic life, the return to normal. 

I suspect I’m not alone. 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

In Defence of Robin Hood.

 By Jay Stringer

I think back in my first stint at DSD (over a decade ago, yikes) it took me four weeks to break away from crime fiction. Well, this time round I'm beating that by a week. 

Or am I? 

I'm going to talk about Robin Hood movies, and I would argue that Robin Hood is crime fiction. The stories as we have them grew out of middle-ages ballads and poems on the exploits of a criminal. So.....crime. Which means I guess I don't beat my record. 

There was a clickbaity article from a formerly reputable newspaper a couple weeks ago labelling Robin Hood: Prince of thieves as joyless, gritty, and dull. I'm not going to link to the article. Why give them what they want? But it did set me thinking about Robin Hood movies.

Long-time readers may know Robin Hood is a mini obsession of mine. I have a novel I want to write when I can justify doing it. And I've watched almost all the screen versions over the years. I have opinions on all of them. And so, today, for no real reason I can think of, I'm going to defend two often-maligned Robin Hood movies. 

In defence of...Prince of Thieves (1991)

We develop a sort of zeitgeist shorthand when it comes to pop culture. Opinions on movies that don't always seem related to the movies themselves. Like 'Tim Burton's Batman was dark’ when it was very cartoony. And so, let's look first at the case against the movie, and see how the charges stack up. 

"The film isn't historically accurate." Well...there is not 'real' history to be accurate about. We don't know if there was a real Robin. We don't know what decade -or even century- he was active in. We don't know which King or Sheriff he encountered. We're not even sure he was from Nottingham. So, when it comes to accuracy, the best you can do is make a film that evokes some form of accuracy. Something that sets up a world and stays true to it. The best big screen Robin is an animated Fox, there are no rules. 

"He walks from Dover to Hadrian's Wall in a day, and neither of those are in Nottingham." I mean...yeah. We see him arrive at Dover's white cliffs and then, 'by nightfall' he has arrived at a tree in the north of England. But...so what? It doesn't really matter where the tree is. It's just a cool looking location, and that's how movies work. The geography is never accurate. Last Action Hero features Arnie on top of a Long Beach hotel (same one used for Bouchercon a few years back) and then climbing a crane and dropping across the street in the La Brea Tar Pits. In Los Angeles. Nowhere near the hotel. That's just....movie magic. Sure, you can't walk from Dover to Nottingham in a day but....do we care? Really? 

"The film is dull and gritty. “It’s really really not either of those things. Prince of Thieves teeters on the edge of camp throughout its run time. It's full of well-directed action sequences, sword fights, and jokes. The accepted wisdom is that Alan Rickman was in a different film to everyone else. The truth is that Alan Rickman was in the same film as almost everyone in the cast. They're all having a great old time hamming it up playing mythical characters. The odd one out? Well, that brings us to...

"Kevin Costner's accent is terrible." Uhm. Yeah. His accent isn't great. He starts the movie trying some kind of semi-English, transatlantic thing, then finally gives up right around the time he finally starts to look like he's having fun. But here's the thing I never get about the 'accent attack' when it comes to these movies. How do we know? How do you know? How do I know? Sure, I know what English accents sound like, I know what Californian accents sound like, and I know which one of those Costner is closest to pulling off. However, there are no audio tapes left over from the thirteenth century. The English language (which wasn't even the English language at that point) has changed massively over the centuries. All mom the sounds have shifted. The way we say the alphabet now is not even the way we said the alphabet in the time the Robin Hood ballads were first sung. None of us really know what Robin would have sounded like, and since we also don't know if there even was a Robin, can we give actors a pass on their accents? Please? 

I'm not a fan of Costner's performance in the film. I think he's what stands between it being 'a fun Hollywood flick' and a classic. There are many things Costner is good at, but he's just not a swashbuckling hero. It's Costner, not Rickman, who is in a different film to everyone else. 

But despite that, the film is a lot of fun. It has one of the all-time great Hollywood scores, 99% of the cast are having fun, the action works, the story is clear, and the jokes are funny. It's not a film without problems. The devil worship sub-plot (largely cut from the theatrical version, bar a few vestigial traces, but more on show in extended versions) feels like a hangover from the satanic panic of an earlier era, as if some producer or studio exec somewhere had been trying to force that into a movie for five years. The treatment of the Celts is, simply, awful. Right out of the 'woad-faced barbarian' cliche. In addition, the final showdown between Robin and the Sheriff comes right after sexual assault is played for laughs, and your mileage may vary on whether they get away with that, since the Sheriff is supposed to be a bad man.

In Defence of...Robin Hood (2010)

Ridley Scott's 2010 film is another that suffers from a form of received wisdom criticism. It's dour, it takes itself too seriously, it's a gritty reboot, and....yes....the lead actor's accent is said to suck. 

I've already covered the accent issue. But I'd add here that Russel Crowe has a really good go at doing an accent. Impossible as it is to ever say one is accurate, he's researched what people from Nottingham and Yorkshire sound like and given it a solid try. And sure, it veers across the map a little. At times crossing over to Ireland. At times sounding like nothing. But the dude comes from New Zealand, literally the other end of the planet. If he's not able to always pull off a flawless English accent while playing a mythical thirteenth century outlaw, I'll give him a pass. 

Ridley Scott has a few weaknesses. His sense of narrative gets easily distracted by cool ideas. His most cohesive films tend to be the ones in which he's inherited a story ready to go, like Alien or Blackhawk Down. When he's left in charge of overseeing the story from scratch...things can get a bit muddled. 

At the same time, there are things Ridley can do better than just about anyone else in the industry. He can immerse the viewer in the world of the film. You can feel the ground beneath your feet. You can smell the air. Taste the atmosphere. And, man, he paints a brilliant picture on the screen. His movies stay with you, even if I don’t always find the narratives satisfying. 

Robin Hood is a perfect case in point. From the opening shots, you're in that world. I would argue it's the most immersive Robin Hood film ever made. You're taken on a trip to the middle-ages. And the music...the music is amazing. I listen to the soundtrack sometimes when I'm writing. 

The story has an interesting take on the legend and attempts to show how the reality of a yeoman archer could morph into the myth of an outlawed noble. Cate Blanchett brings real life and depth to Marian, and Oscar Issac has an absolute ball as Prince John. Russel Crowe is good. He's a much more rounded actor than Costner, and we see flashes that he could pull off the swashbuckling hero if the film leaned into it a little more. 

And that, really, is the heart of the problem. This is two separate movies pushed together. For the first half we get a well-made, well-acted, well written story that leads us up to the moment Robin Longstride embraces becoming Robin Hood. Robin, and his friends, pull off a heist in the forest while a jaunty tune plays, and announce "we are men of the hood, merry now at your expense." And the film feels...fun. Everything is on course to deliver a stone-cold classic swashbuckling tale with a mega budget. And then it turns in another direction, and slows down, and starts to try and tell a weighty tale about Magna Carta, William Marshal, and that time a gorilla force of English archers -led by an outlaw- repelled a French invasion. (And that did happen. But it was Wilikin of the Weald, not Robin Hood, who fought back against the French in 1217.) This is where I think Ridley's inherent Ridleyness got in his own way. Researching Robin Hood throws up many cool options, many different directions to be taken, but at some point, you must commit to one of them and shut all the others out. Here, I think Ridley tried to push two different takes together. It's not until the very end, in the final scenes, when we veer back to the fun, mythic, forest-dwelling outlaw tale, with hints of what a fun ride the sequel could have been. 

But despite these flaws -or maybe because of them- 2010's Robin Hood is a film that gets better each time I watch it. I'm starting to think it has a dark horse chance of becoming my favourite Hood movie, even more so than the one with the fox. We'll see. 


Beau goes hipster


“Richie Narvaez has created something that’s been missing from recent fiction: a vivid, loving look at city living from the street view.”—Sara Paretsky, award-winning author of Shell Game

Hipster Death Rattle is a smart piece of work featuring the unlikely yet likeable hero Tony ‘Chino’ Moran. Fierce and funny…with a light touch that masks Narvaez’s biting social commentary.” —Reed Farrel Coleman, New York Times bestselling author of What You Break

“[Narvaez] has one of the most compelling writing styles I’ve come across in years.” —Lawrence Kelter, author of Back to Brooklyn

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

An Interview with S.A. Cosby


This week, I convinced acclaimed author of BLACKTOP WASTELAND and the upcoming RAZORBLADE TEARS, S.A. Cosby to chat with me about what he's up to, his thoughts on his recent success, and the challenge of writing cops in crime fiction in the very current (and historical) climate of the American police state.

If you haven't read Shawn's stories (and where the hell have you been if you haven't), I highly recommend you remedy that. Keep your eyes peeled for links to his work and the work of others below.

AC: So, since last we spoke (well, in person during the before times), you went off and released BLACKTOP WASTELAND, which I hear people seemed to like (and is releasing in paperback very soon). I mean, just a handful of award nods, glowing reviews, and a production deal, so no biggie. You're also about to release your second novel, RAZORBLADE TEARS (which I also heard is outstanding).

Guess that's a long way to walk to simply ask: how's it going? Has the success caught up with you yet, or is it all still soaking in?

SA: First it’s good to talk to you again my man. To answer the question, it's all incredibly surreal. Like 5 years ago I was getting yelled at by a customer trying to return a drill from the Pre-Cambrian period at my retail job and now my book is being optioned for a film. I got to chat with Walter Mosley. I was able to get a new car that doesn't come with arcane instructions (once you get to 55 you gotta put your arm out the window to keep it from tipping over).

It's more than I could ever have dreamed and it’s a little terrifying! 


AC: And to follow up on that. Is there a sense of wariness as you begin new projects with these successes in the proverbial rear view? Not so much the typical anxiety that comes from writing, but of the expectations that can sometimes (often) get laid on creators of color? Is there even a way to mitigate/deal with that kind of nonsense?

SA: Well, I’m aware that now the playing field is a little different. There are a lot of eyes on me watching how the next project will go. And we both know that WOC don't get as many at bats as other writers, so I feel some pressure and anxiety to maintain a certain level of engagement in regard to my writing, but when I sit down to write I put that out of my mind because ultimately that gets in the way of the story...and the story is the thing 


AC: Your next novel, RAZORBLADE TEARS, is set to tackle some very heady social topics. A story of two fathers united in a quest to avenge the deaths of their sons - sons who they were estranged from because of their sexual orientation. What led you to tackle subjects like these? Was there something that made this story compel you to make it come to life?

SA: The quick answer is I had a friend, also African American, close to my age, who came out a few years ago to his family and they were not supportive at all. And that person was devastated, and they told me " You know if I could do hair or lead a choir they wouldn't be so upset " and that statement shook me because in many ways it was true. It made me think about how prevalent homophobia is in our communities of color and how that runs parallel to systemic racism. I felt like I needed to talk about these issues in the only way I know how: through the prism of a crime novel. 


AC: You mentioned on Twitter that you're working on a third novel involving a black sheriff and you're editing a cop-themed anthology.

Your rep for being provocative maintains, man.

There's been a kerfuffle lately about writing cops in crime fiction and while I'm no fan of copaganda (and I'm comfortable assuming you aren't either) I do believe there's room for true examination of the broken police state. Is this something weighing on you as you write the next novel and as you prep to read through some of the subs that will come piling in soon?

SA: Yeah, I have no interest in writing about super cops who are perfect paladins riding on white horses. You don't have to be a POC to realize that idea is not only fantastical but also dangerous. But I think it’s important to have conversations about how policing affects our communities and our psyches. The book I'm working on is at its core an examination of what happens when a person of color tries to fix the system from the inside only to find out the foundation is rotten, and the house is on fire. The anthology I’m working on with Rock and a Hard Place Press takes this issue one step further with stories told from the point of view of people who are victims of that broken police industrial complex. In both cases I think writing is one of the best ways to talk about these issues. It's like using a mirror to fight a Gorgon. 


AC: Let's lighten the mood.

Who should we be reading that we aren't reading? Which authors out there are knocking your socks off?

SA: Oh man I'll give you four 

Yasmin Angoe, she has a great spy novel coming out later this year called HER NAME IS KNIGHT 

Andy Davidson, a fantastic horror writer (The Boatman’s Daughter

Heather Levy, (Walking Through Needles

Robert Jones Jr. Author of The Prophets 


AC: Last question. A little evergreen to cap things off. Name a song that just must be on the playlist for what you're writing these days.

SC: Haha hmmmm 

Hellhound on my Trail by Robert Johnson 




S. A. Cosby is an Anthony Award-winning writer from southeastern Virginia. He is the bestselling author of Blacktop Wasteland, a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice and Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist, as well as Brotherhood of the Blade and My Darkest Prayer. When not writing, he is an avid hiker and chess player.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

At Night All Blood is Black

We're in World War I. Our narrator, a man named Alfa Ndiaye, is a Senegalese man fighting as what is called a Chocolat soldier with the French Army. Day in, day out, he endures the horror and tedium that is trench warfare. Though most of his fellow soldiers are white, he does have one comrade there, his "more than brother", from his home village in Senegal. This is Mademba Diop, who he left Senegal with to join the French army in the fighting. In the midst of the carnage, the close bond the two have helps keep them going, but then Mademba gets badly wounded in battle. He lies dying in no-man's land and begs Alfa to kill him there. The alternative is a slow and painful death for Mademba. Despite Mademba's pleas, Alfa can't bring himself to put his friend out of his misery and Mademba dies in the agony he hoped to be spared.

Tortured by guilt for his failure to fulfill Mademba's wishes, seeing himself as a coward, Alfa begins to spiral into madness. He becomes obsessed with avenging the death of his friend and finding forgiveness in himself. He comes up with a grotesque ritual he enacts nightly. Fearless, as if he knows he's invulnerable, he crawls across enemy lines, right up to their trenches, and kills a German soldier. A "blue-eyed" soldier, as he describes them. He then returns to his own base, and with him, he brings his victim's severed hand. At first his comrades, white and black, marvel at his ruthless efficiency, but, as he says, "After the seventh severed hand, they'd had enough." Everyone around him has had enough, both the Toubab soldiers (the name for the white troops) and the Chocolat soldiers. All the soldiers of all ranks come to see him as at best someone tired, who needs a rest, and at worst a malevolent force, a kind of sorcerer. By some, he is labeled a "demm", a devourer of souls. One thing is clear: his actions and the fear he has inspired in his comrades are having a deleterious effect on morale, and his superiors decide that he must be removed from the front. This is the set-up (yes, just the beginning) of David Diop's At Night All Blood is Black, in effect a murder story set in the middle of a war.

Released in 2018 in France and published in English recently here, At Night All Blood is Black is yet another example of what I've been reading most for the past year -- a short novel that packs a wallop. Into its 145 pages, it examines war, race, madness, loyalty, betrayal, colonialism, memory, and more. In its teller's voice, Alfa's voice, it uses an African oral style of telling, at once rich in striking imagery and psychological density and simple in its actual vocabulary. This contrast gives the novel a direct as well as a timeless quality, and the book has a perspective on World War I, that war of utter waste, that I haven't often encountered. Indeed, the closest thing I've come across to it, though entirely different in style, is the great Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene's 1988 film Camp de Thiaroye, which is about a real-life mutiny and mass killing of French West African troops by French forces in 1944. That's a great film worth seeking out, and this is a book to match it.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Father's Day, Unmasked

I ran errands yesterday for the first time since the mask mandate was lifted in the state of California. There were still plenty of people inside stores who had them on, including me, but outdoors was a different thing altogether. No one wore them, and it was joyous. Smiles, eye contact, actual hellos at 8 o’clock in the morning. 

Everyone was just soaking in other people’s faces. 

After so long having to interpret an expression based on the crinkling around somebody’s eyes, it was a wonderful thing to be able to take the whole measure of a person. 

I was on the hunt for a Father's Day gift, which led me to my favorite hardware store, where I always say hello to my favorite employee.

 If you’re a dad, or a father figure to someone, have a wonderful day.