Saturday, January 16, 2021

Do you have a writer’s haven? (Plus the math of the business)


Scott D. Parker

I’m an optimist by nature and nurture so I always see the bright side of things. The glass is half full kinda guy. But there’s a lot of sucky stuff going on right now in the world. I see it on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I read about it on the internet. It dominates the nightly news and the late talk shows. It rears its head at the dinner table and on phone conversations with family and friends. It is everywhere.

Except when I write.

When it’s just me, the keyboard, and my imagination, the world is a thousand miles away. I don’t let anything interfere with my writing time. I keep the world out.

Now, the “when” plays a huge role. I’m a 5am Writer, at least on the weekdays. Weekends involve some sleeping in, but I’m still a morning writer. Fundamental to my writing schedule is a simple directive: don’t let the outside world in—in any capacity—until after I’ve done my writing. The only thing open is my imagination. There will be time enough for all the other stuff later in the day.

On most mornings, I have about an hour where I do nothing but write. That’s 60 minutes. However many minutes you have, be sure to make them count.

Speaking of count, here’s the math part of the post.

This week on Twitter [Sounds like a segment on the local news, huh?], I replied to a question” What do you say to the writer who says “I don’t have time to write.”

My answer is simple: Do you have a spare 15 minutes in a day?

If so, you could write 250-500 words a day, 1,750-3,500 a week, 7,500-15,000 a month, and 91,250-182,500 a year. That’s more than enough to write more than one novel and many short stories. Everyone has a spare 15 minutes. Just choose to write.

And keep the world at bay.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Between Beau and a hard place


Grab the new issue and you can thank Beau later.

Meeting cute in a home invasion can’t end well.

Tell yourself dancing is dancing and just do it.

Sometimes the only thing you get to choose in this life is how you check out.

Cue the meth gators.

Rock And A Hard Place is back with Issue Four, the downest and dirtiest chronicle of bad decisions and desperate people yet. Fiction, essays, poetry, and photo essays

Get it here

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Rattlesnake Rodeo by Nick Kolakowski

Whenever I read a Nick Kolakowski book, I know a few things going in.  The action will be fast and furious, the humor (and there will be a good deal of it) will be absurdist and dark, and there will be some sly social commentary leavened in.  His newest, Rattlesnake Roundup, has all these attributes, delivering a frantic short novel that mixes crime fiction with aspects of the western.

The direct sequel to Boise Longpig Hunting Club, which is a turbo-charged contemporary spin on "The Most Dangerous Game", Rattlesnake Rodeo kicks off just about where the previous novel left off, and it has an opening sentence that is vintage Kolakowski:

 "After we blew up a few of the richest and most powerful men in Idaho, my sister Frankie wanted to stop for fries."

In this one line, we have the basic ingredients of the novel: it will contain violence, strife between economic classes, and a healthy dose of the incongruous. Six novels into his crime writing career, Nick Kolakowski has developed a tone that is unmistakably his, and what has impressed me as I've read his books the last few years is how he has grown more and more assured in developing this tone. He can tell a lightning-fast story in which the shoot-outs and beat-downs, the political satire, the jests and insults between characters, and the over the top bloody slapstick mix seamlessly.  Overall, you might call the tone wise-assish, but the author has learned with time just how far to go with the snark without laying it on too thick. And sometimes, like in this exchange, a serious assessment of humanity's frivolity breaks through, an incredulity over how warped in perspective certain parts of our lives have become:

"I've been seeing a lot of that phrase pop up online, 'self-care'?  Like, people deciding that their lives are so hard that they need to indulge on a regular basis, spas or 'sick days' or whatever.  It's such a joke." 

"People need to relax sometimes.  You die otherwise."

"Sure, yeah, relax.  I think I did that once.  But 'self-care,' it's such an indulgent word, used by people who don't know what real pain is.  Survive four years in Auschwitz, you're actually entitled to a little 'self-care.'  Eat a whole chicken, down a bottle of scotch, shoot one of your former captors in the head, whatever you need to take the edge off."

In Rattlesnake Rodeo, we are back in the company of the narrator Jake, his wife Janine, and Jake's commando-like sister Frankie.  Having survived the sick game a number of Idaho's richest people played trying to hunt them down and kill them, the three remain on the run aided and supported by Frankie's crew of soldier-like miscreants.  They have to deal with police after them and a cunning lawyer, a former federal prosecutor, who is the sister of the now slain billionaire who headed up the hunting club that made their lives a bullet-flecked hell.  Her name, aptly, is Karen. Karen says she can make the threats facing them go away if they do a job for her.  She warns them that the job is unpleasant, but they accept the offer.  They are, after all, in a vicious bind.  But when they discover what the job entails and just how unpleasant it is (hint: there is a racial component to the job that makes it that much more repellant), they decide not to do it, and their world becomes only more perilous, setting the stage for a final showdown in an isolated spot in Oregon. It's a version of the classic western-style showdown, gang against gang, and Kolakowski makes things especially intense by using language in an interesting way.

At a climactic moment, there is a chapter break, and then the next chapter proceeds with a continuation of the sentence that ended the previous chapter.  This sentence continues on, loaded with commas and with a few dashes, for a good two pages  –  a long, action-filled, run-on sentence.  It's kind of a tour de force and comes as a surprise, and the author has said he "wanted to write an action scene like Laszlo Krasznahorkai would have written one, just one huge language-snake". Laszlo Krasznahorkai is a Hungarian writer of demanding, modernist, melancholy novels ("literary" novels, if we must use that atrocious term), and he's not at all a writer whose books you'd connect in any way to Rattlesnake Rodeo.  For my part, when I read the run-on sentence chapter and a second such chapter that soon follows it, I thought of the Colin Firth shoots up the church scene in the film Kingsman: The Secret Service, a hyperkinetic violent scene scored to Lynyrd Skynyrd's Freebird.  I could almost hear the electric guitars blasting out from the page as the mayhem ensued and Jake and Frankie fought for their lives.  And putting so much physical movement involving several people into one sinuous, lengthy sentence sped up the action for me, taking an already high-speed novel up a couple of gears.  Impressive.

Last observation: when the author of a book says he was thinking of Laszlo Krasznahorkai as an inspiration for two scenes and the reader comes away thinking of Kingsman: The Secret Service  –  and yet both comparisons are valid  – you almost have reason alone right there to like the book.

Nick Kolakowski has delivered the goods in amusing fashion once again with Rattlesnake Rodeo.


You can get Rattlesnake Rodeo right here.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Deconstructing a Title: A Song For The Dark Times

By Claire Booth

That title made you click the link, didn’t it? Because it’s so good. So lyrical, so agonizingly perfect for this moment in time.

It’s not mine. It belongs to Ian Rankin’s latest book, which follows his now-retired Inspector Rebus as he travels to Scotland’s north to investigate a disappearance amid the internment camps used by Britain in World War II.

He said the title was inspired by phrases from German playwright Bertolt Brecht. But I think it’s Rankin’s decision to include two often excised words that makes this title work so well.

Try this:

A Song for Dark Times. Not as good.

Song for the Dark Times. Same thing.

You need the “A,” and you need the “The.” That combination is what makes the whole thing, well, sing. And in an era of paring titles down to the bare minimum, that’s part of what makes this one stand out.

The fact that he got the timing perfect doesn’t hurt, either. Rankin said he came up with the title in September 2019.

“I thought the world was going through some pretty dark times,” he said during a panel at the Bouchercon Mystery Convention, listing wildfires, Brexit, and the rise of the far right as examples. “Little did I know how dark the times were just about to get.”

He said that in October. I read the book then and tucked it away on my bookshelf. Friday, I came across it while looking for something to take my mind off the horrific mob attack at the US Capitol, all six perfect, now-even-more-timely words staring at me from the spine. Somehow ominous and hopeful at the same time.

Like how things feel to me right now. Which way will we go? I don’t know. I only hope that there’ll be more titles in the future that so perfectly capture the moment.