Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Fun of Regulated Reading

Scott D. Parker

Do you ever regulate your reading?

I was struggling over what term to use so let me just explain. Last year, I did a little experiment. The book of Proverbs has 31 chapters. I decided that for every month that included 31 days, I would read a chapter of Proverbs per day. To keep things interesting, I changed translations every month. Then, at the end, I was able to go back and compare notes and compare verses that I underlined. It was a pretty fun experiment and, except for the transition from July into August, I never had a back to back month.

To January 2021. As I often do, I start to cycle through all of the things that have major anniversaries. Anything with a year ending in one or six are the key ones this year. In the first week, it was the 50th anniversary of Chicago III. That got me to thinking about music and what albums we’re gonna be celebrating major milestone anniversaries. It was my son – – an avid musicologist – – who reminded me I had a book on the shelf about the year 1971 in music. Why not just read it.

The book in question is titled Never a Dull Moment: 1971 The Year Rock Exploded by David Hepworth. It came out in 2016 and I think I might’ve had it since then. Born in 1950, Hepworth came of age about the same time that rock ‘n’ roll did. Those, he was 21 years old during 1971. He has written extensively about music since the 1980s. 

What got me excited about reading this book in 2021 was a table of contents. It is broken out by month. 12 chapters, 12 months, plus an introduction.

As soon as I saw that, I had a brilliant idea: read each chapter at the beginning of each month here in 2021 and go through the year 1971 with Hepworth. I had to read chapter 1 this week, but I'll get to chapter 2  on Monday. and then continue from there. That means Led Zepplin IV is in my future. So is Sticky Finger, Nursery Crime, Hunky Dory, What's Going On, Bryter Later, and Madman Across the Water. That's just the albums I know about. I can't wait to discover new-to-me albums.

And, if chapter one is any indication, this is going to be a blast. Hepworth writes in an engaging style, but primarily he writes only from the limited perspective of that month. He tells you what Bruce Springsteen was doing, the status of the band Slade, and how Yes was reimagining how music was recorded. He even drops a cliffhanger of an ending as the chapter closed about a woman who invented the album business.

But what makes these chapters special is that Hepworth includes a short playlist of songs that were popular in that month. I already made a January 1971 playlist and dang if I haven't discovered a new-to-me band: Badfinger.

Anyway, I don't know if you read books in this regulated manner or not, but I do, and I look forward to learning about 1971 fifty years later.

Are there other books that could be read in a regulated way?

Thursday, January 28, 2021

True crime time with Beau

This week, Beau Johnson takes a look at True Crime from Samantha Kolesnik.

Suzy and her brother, Lim, live with their abusive mother in a town where the stars don’t shine at night. Once the abuse becomes too much to handle, the two siblings embark on a sordid cross-country murder spree beginning with their mom. As the murder tally rises, Suzy’s mental state spirals into irredeemable madness.

10 Questions with Shane Dunphy

Today we're pleased to be Blog Tour Spot and host this Q&A with Shane Dunphy, whose gripping No Ceremony for the Dead is just out this month. 

No Ceremony for the Dead is the true story of Shane’s experiences at St Patrick’s residential home, where he is called in by Charlie, whose girlfriend is a resident and has gone missing. Shane agrees to investigate and uncovers a culture of cruelty and mistreatment, forcing him to work with the residents and his connections to bring the guilty to justice.


Q: Tell‌ ‌us‌ ‌about‌ ‌‌No‌ ‌Ceremony‌ ‌For‌ ‌The‌ ‌Dead.‌ ‌ ‌

Shane‌ ‌Dunphy: The‌ ‌book‌ ‌begins‌ ‌with‌ ‌me‌ ‌giving‌ ‌a‌ ‌talk‌ ‌at‌ ‌a‌ ‌child‌ ‌protection‌ ‌conference‌ ‌and‌ ‌being‌ ‌approached‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ Green‌ ‌Room‌ ‌afterwards‌ ‌by‌ ‌a‌ ‌young‌ ‌man‌ ‌whom‌ ‌I‌ ‌quickly‌ ‌realise‌ ‌has‌ ‌special‌ ‌needs.‌ ‌He‌ ‌informs‌ ‌me‌ ‌he‌ ‌attends‌ ‌a‌ ‌unit‌ ‌for‌ ‌people‌ ‌with‌ ‌intellectual‌ ‌difficulties,‌ ‌and‌ ‌that‌ ‌he‌ ‌and‌ ‌his‌ ‌friends‌ ‌are‌ ‌planning‌ ‌on‌ ‌murdering‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌staff‌ ‌there.‌ ‌When‌ ‌I‌ ‌ask‌ ‌why,‌ ‌he‌ ‌tells‌ ‌me‌ ‌that‌ ‌this‌ ‌person‌ ‌was‌ ‌responsible‌ ‌for‌ ‌injuring‌ ‌a‌ ‌girl‌ ‌who‌ ‌attended‌ ‌the‌ ‌unit‌ ‌so‌ ‌badly‌ ‌she‌ ‌ended‌ ‌up‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌coma.‌ ‌And‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌just‌ ‌the‌ ‌start‌ ‌of‌ ‌what‌ ‌he‌ ‌did.‌ ‌

As‌ ‌I‌ ‌begin‌ ‌to‌ ‌investigate,‌ ‌I‌ ‌run‌ ‌into‌ ‌all‌ ‌kinds‌ ‌of‌ ‌opposition‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌management‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌unit,‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌government‌ ‌department‌ ‌who‌ ‌run‌ ‌disability‌ ‌services‌ ‌(files‌ ‌are‌ ‌either‌ ‌wiped‌ ‌or‌ ‌missing;‌ ‌ I’m‌ ‌informed‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌who‌ ‌was‌ ‌allegedly‌ ‌beaten‌ ‌never‌ ‌existed)‌ ‌and‌ ‌as‌ ‌I‌ ‌begin‌ ‌to‌ ‌get‌ ‌closer‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌truth,‌ ‌I‌ ‌find‌ ‌myself‌ ‌falling‌ ‌foul‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌couple‌ ‌of‌ ‌alt-right‌ ‌groups‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌gang‌ ‌of‌ ‌Nazi‌ ‌Bikers.‌ ‌Which‌ ‌all‌ ‌point‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌fact‌ ‌that‌ ‌things‌ ‌are‌ ‌very‌ ‌badly‌ ‌wrong‌ ‌in‌ ‌St‌ ‌Patrick’s‌ ‌Residential‌ ‌Home.‌ ‌ ‌

Q:What‌ ‌made‌ ‌you‌ ‌want‌ ‌to‌ ‌write‌ ‌up‌ ‌your‌ ‌experiences‌ ‌investigating‌ ‌this‌ ‌case?‌ ‌

SD: It‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌case‌ ‌that‌ ‌offers‌ ‌so‌ ‌many‌ ‌unusual‌ ‌factors.‌ ‌In‌ ‌the‌ ‌telling‌ ‌I‌ ‌am‌ ‌able‌ ‌to‌ ‌explore‌ ‌ideas‌ ‌about‌ ‌ how‌ ‌Irish‌ ‌folklore‌ ‌and‌ ‌mythology‌ ‌intersect‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌often‌ ‌terrible‌ ‌treatment‌ ‌of‌ ‌people‌ ‌with‌ ‌Special‌ ‌Needs‌ ‌in‌ ‌our‌ ‌recent‌ ‌history.‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌also‌ ‌fascinated‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌uncomfortable‌ ‌history‌ ‌Irish‌ ‌society‌ ‌has‌ ‌had‌ ‌with‌ ‌fascism‌ ‌and‌ ‌extreme‌ ‌right-wing‌ ‌politics,‌ ‌and‌ ‌this‌ ‌story‌ ‌gives‌ ‌me‌ ‌a‌ ‌chance‌ ‌to‌ ‌unpack‌ ‌some‌ ‌of‌ ‌that,‌ ‌too.‌ ‌Maybe‌ ‌most‌ ‌importantly,‌ ‌though,‌ ‌is‌ ‌the‌ ‌fact‌ ‌that‌ ‌in‌ ‌this‌ ‌story,‌ ‌the‌ ‌people‌ ‌with‌ ‌real‌ ‌agency,‌ ‌the‌ ‌ones‌ ‌who‌ ‌end‌ ‌up‌ ‌solving‌ ‌the‌ ‌case‌ ‌and‌ ‌bringing‌ ‌about‌ ‌a‌ ‌kind‌ ‌of‌ ‌justice,‌ ‌are‌ ‌the‌ ‌residents‌ ‌of‌ ‌St‌ ‌Patrick’s‌ ‌themselves.‌ ‌The‌ ‌whole‌ ‌point‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Stories‌ ‌From‌ ‌the‌ ‌Margins‌ ‌series‌ ‌is‌ ‌to‌ ‌shine‌ ‌a‌ ‌light‌ ‌on‌ ‌parts‌ ‌of‌ ‌our‌ ‌communities‌ ‌we‌ ‌normally‌ ‌don’t‌ ‌pay‌ ‌any‌ ‌attention‌ ‌to.‌ ‌‌No‌ ‌Ceremony‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌Dead‌‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌perfect‌ ‌example‌ ‌of‌ ‌that.‌ ‌

Q:What‌ ‌do‌ ‌you‌ ‌hope‌ ‌listeners‌ ‌take‌ ‌away‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌audiobook?‌ ‌ ‌

SD: To‌ ‌understand‌ ‌that‌ ‌truth‌ ‌and‌ ‌reality‌ ‌are‌ ‌very‌ ‌subjective‌ ‌things.‌ ‌There‌ ‌are‌ ‌times‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌story‌ ‌where‌ ‌I‌ ‌have‌ ‌no‌ ‌clue‌ ‌what‌ ‌is‌ ‌really‌ ‌going‌ ‌on,‌ ‌because‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌caught‌ ‌between‌ ‌conflicting‌ ‌perceptions‌ ‌some‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌other‌ ‌protagonists‌ ‌hold,‌ ‌or‌ ‌have‌ ‌run‌ ‌up‌ ‌against‌ ‌concepts‌ ‌history‌ ‌has‌ ‌conditioned‌ ‌us‌ ‌to‌ ‌believe‌ ‌are‌ ‌true,‌ ‌concepts‌ ‌I‌ ‌learn‌ ‌are‌ ‌really‌ ‌just‌ ‌prejudices‌ ‌that‌ ‌really‌ ‌need‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌overturned.‌ ‌
I’d‌ ‌like‌ ‌the‌ ‌listener‌ ‌to‌ ‌understand‌ ‌that‌ ‌very‌ ‌little‌ ‌about‌ ‌human‌ ‌interaction‌ ‌is‌ ‌simple‌ ‌or‌ ‌straightforward.‌ ‌There‌ ‌can‌ ‌often‌ ‌be‌ ‌all‌ ‌kinds‌ ‌of‌ ‌motivations‌ ‌at‌ ‌play.‌ ‌I‌ ‌suppose‌ ‌that‌ ‌the‌ ‌path‌ ‌I‌ ‌navigate‌ ‌to‌ ‌pick‌ ‌through‌ ‌those‌ ‌interweaving‌ ‌agendas‌ ‌creates‌ ‌the‌ ‌narrative‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌book.‌ ‌

Q:How‌ ‌do‌ ‌you‌ ‌go‌ ‌about‌ ‌writing‌ ‌up‌ ‌your‌ ‌past‌ ‌investigative‌ ‌experiences?‌ ‌ ‌

Shane Dunphy
SD: I’m‌ ‌always‌ ‌inspired‌ ‌by‌ ‌stories‌ ‌that‌ ‌illuminate‌ ‌something‌ ‌surprising‌ ‌about‌ ‌human‌ ‌nature.‌ ‌Many‌ ‌of‌ ‌my‌ ‌books‌ ‌are‌ ‌stories‌ ‌I’ve‌ ‌been‌ ‌living‌ ‌with‌ ‌and‌ ‌percolating‌ ‌for‌ ‌quite‌ ‌a‌ ‌few‌ ‌years.‌ ‌It‌ ‌can‌ ‌take‌ ‌me‌ ‌that‌ ‌long‌ ‌to‌ ‌work‌ ‌out‌ ‌how‌ ‌to‌ ‌tell‌ ‌them‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌way‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌do‌ ‌the‌ ‌truths‌ ‌they‌ ‌contain‌ ‌justice.‌ ‌Once‌ ‌I’ve‌ ‌worked‌ ‌out‌ ‌how‌ ‌to‌ ‌do‌ ‌that,‌ ‌I‌ ‌usually‌ ‌write‌ ‌the‌ ‌text‌ ‌pretty‌ ‌quickly.‌ ‌I‌ ‌can‌ ‌write‌ ‌the‌ ‌first‌ ‌draft‌ ‌in‌ ‌about‌ ‌ten‌ ‌days‌ ‌if‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌left‌ ‌alone‌ ‌to‌ ‌get‌ ‌on‌ ‌with‌ ‌it.‌ ‌I‌ ‌have‌ ‌a‌ ‌shed‌ ‌in‌ ‌my‌ ‌garden,‌ ‌and‌ ‌I‌ ‌hide‌ ‌away‌ ‌in‌ ‌there,‌ ‌sometimes‌ ‌for‌ ‌as‌ ‌long‌ ‌as‌ ‌twelve‌ ‌to‌ ‌fifteen‌ ‌hours‌ ‌a‌ ‌day,‌ ‌and‌ ‌I‌ ‌pound‌ ‌it‌ ‌out.‌ ‌Once‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌complete,‌ ‌I‌ ‌set‌ ‌the‌ ‌manuscript‌ ‌aside‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌week‌ ‌before‌ ‌coming‌ ‌back‌ ‌to‌ ‌give‌ ‌it‌ ‌a‌ ‌read-through‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌polish‌ ‌before‌ ‌sending‌ ‌to‌ ‌my‌ ‌editor.‌ ‌It’ll‌ ‌go‌ ‌through‌ ‌a‌ ‌few‌ ‌more‌ ‌drafts‌ ‌before‌ ‌publication,‌ ‌but‌ ‌I‌ ‌find‌ ‌that‌ ‌first‌ ‌draft‌ ‌usually‌ ‌remains‌ ‌more‌ ‌or‌ ‌less‌ ‌intact.‌ ‌

Q:What‌ ‌surprised‌ ‌you‌ ‌most‌ ‌about‌ ‌writing‌ ‌this‌ ‌book?‌ ‌ ‌

SD: I‌ ‌found‌ ‌the‌ ‌character‌ ‌of‌ ‌Andrew‌ ‌Shelley,‌ ‌the‌ ‌man‌ ‌who‌ ‌allegedly‌ ‌beat‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌in‌ ‌his‌ ‌care‌ ‌almost‌ ‌to‌ ‌death,‌ ‌grew‌ ‌and‌ ‌morphed‌ ‌before‌ ‌my‌ ‌eyes‌ ‌as‌ ‌I‌ ‌wrote.‌ ‌I‌ ‌thought‌ ‌I‌ ‌knew‌ ‌him‌ ‌before‌ ‌I‌ ‌started‌ ‌writing,‌ ‌but‌ ‌as‌ ‌I‌ ‌began‌ ‌to‌ ‌craft‌ ‌the‌ ‌story,‌ ‌I‌ ‌started‌ ‌to‌ ‌understand‌ ‌that‌ ‌he‌ ‌was‌ ‌like‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌those‌ ‌deep-sea‌ ‌creatures‌ ‌you‌ ‌see‌ ‌on‌ ‌documentaries,‌ ‌something‌ ‌that‌ ‌has‌ ‌assumed‌ ‌a‌ ‌shape‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌it‌ ‌appear‌ ‌safe‌ ‌and‌ ‌unthreatening‌ ‌and‌ ‌can‌ ‌lie‌ ‌in‌ ‌wait‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌unassuming‌ ‌to‌ ‌pass‌ ‌by,‌ ‌only‌ ‌then‌ ‌revealing‌ ‌the‌ ‌monstrous‌ ‌being‌ ‌underneath.‌ ‌As‌ ‌I‌ ‌wrote,‌ ‌I‌ ‌realised‌ ‌that‌ ‌I‌ ‌had‌ ‌seen‌ ‌the‌ ‌veil‌ ‌slipping‌ ‌several‌ ‌times‌ ‌and‌ ‌had‌ ‌witnessed‌ ‌what‌ ‌lay‌ ‌under‌ ‌it.‌ ‌It‌ ‌was‌ ‌actually‌ ‌quite‌ ‌a‌ ‌disturbing‌ ‌realisation.‌ ‌

Q: What‌ ‌are‌ ‌the‌ ‌challenges‌ ‌in‌ ‌writing‌ ‌true‌ ‌crime,‌ ‌particularly‌ ‌relating‌ ‌to‌ ‌your‌ ‌own‌ ‌experiences?‌ ‌

SD: I’ve‌ ‌been‌ ‌doing‌ ‌it‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌long‌ ‌time,‌ ‌now,‌ ‌and‌ ‌have‌ ‌become‌ ‌used‌ ‌to‌ ‌doing‌ ‌the‌ ‌small‌ ‌tweaks‌ ‌necessary‌ ‌to‌ ‌ensure‌ ‌I‌ ‌don’t‌ ‌get‌ ‌sued.‌ ‌There‌ ‌are‌ ‌small‌ ‌things‌ ‌you‌ ‌can‌ ‌do‌ ‌to‌ ‌mask‌ ‌locations‌ ‌and‌ ‌individuals’‌ identities:‌ ‌never‌ ‌stating‌ ‌where‌ ‌a‌ ‌town‌ ‌is‌ ‌located,‌ ‌for‌ ‌example,‌ ‌means‌ ‌no‌ ‌one‌ ‌can‌ ‌say‌ ‌you‌ ‌were‌ ‌writing‌ ‌about‌ ‌where‌ ‌they‌ ‌live;‌ ‌if‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌writing‌ ‌about‌ ‌a‌ ‌family‌ ‌that‌ ‌in‌ ‌actuality‌ ‌has‌ ‌four‌ ‌kids,‌ ‌you‌ ‌say‌ ‌they‌ ‌have‌ ‌six;‌ ‌if‌ ‌a‌ ‌character‌ ‌is‌ ‌male,‌ ‌change‌ ‌their‌ ‌gender‌ ‌to‌ ‌female.‌ ‌Small‌ ‌things‌ ‌like‌ ‌that‌ ‌make‌ ‌all‌ ‌the‌ ‌difference.‌ ‌I’ve‌ ‌also‌ ‌learned‌ ‌to‌ ‌follow‌ ‌the‌ ‌advice‌ ‌of‌ ‌my‌ ‌legal‌ ‌team‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌letter.‌ ‌Their‌ ‌job‌ ‌is‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌sure‌ ‌I‌ ‌don’t‌ ‌get‌ ‌dragged‌ ‌into‌ ‌court,‌ ‌and‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌writing‌ ‌career‌ ‌that‌ ‌now‌ ‌spans‌ ‌fifteen‌ ‌years‌ ‌and‌ ‌seventeen‌ ‌books,‌ ‌I’ve‌ ‌not‌ ‌been‌ ‌sued‌ ‌once,‌ ‌so‌ ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌playing‌ ‌it‌ ‌safe‌ ‌is‌ ‌working.‌ ‌
The‌ ‌other‌ ‌challenge‌ ‌is‌ ‌keeping‌ ‌the‌ ‌story‌ ‌as‌ ‌real‌ ‌as‌ ‌you‌ ‌can.‌ ‌It‌ ‌can‌ ‌be‌ ‌tempting‌ ‌to‌ ‌cast‌ ‌yourself‌ ‌as‌ ‌ a‌ ‌hero,‌ ‌but‌ ‌I‌ ‌always‌ ‌try‌ ‌to‌ ‌keep‌ ‌as‌ ‌true‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌reality‌ ‌of‌ ‌my‌ ‌actions‌ ‌as‌ ‌I‌ ‌can.‌ ‌Which‌ ‌means‌ ‌I‌ ‌have‌ ‌written‌ ‌about‌ ‌my‌ ‌running‌ ‌away‌ ‌from‌ ‌danger‌ ‌(in‌ ‌the‌ ‌very‌ ‌first‌ ‌scene‌ ‌of‌ ‌‌No‌ ‌Ceremony‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌Dead‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌fleeing‌ ‌physical‌ ‌attack),‌ ‌I‌ ‌have‌ ‌painted‌ ‌myself‌ ‌as‌ ‌often‌ ‌being‌ ‌arrogant‌ ‌and‌ ‌intransigent‌ ‌in‌ ‌my‌ ‌views,‌ ‌and‌ ‌as‌ ‌being‌ ‌sometimes‌ ‌quite‌ ‌judgemental‌ ‌and‌ ‌rude.‌ ‌If‌ ‌you‌ ‌read‌ ‌my‌ ‌work,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌come‌ ‌across‌ ‌me‌ ‌puking,‌ ‌getting‌ ‌diarrhoea,‌ ‌drinking‌ ‌myself‌ ‌into‌ ‌oblivion‌ ‌to‌ ‌avoid‌ ‌pain,‌ ‌attending‌ ‌a‌ ‌therapist‌ ‌to‌ ‌cope‌ ‌with‌ ‌trauma,‌ ‌becoming‌ ‌frozen‌ ‌by‌ ‌fear,‌ ‌bawling‌ ‌my‌ ‌eyes‌ ‌out….‌ ‌I‌ ‌try‌ ‌to‌ ‌put‌ ‌it‌ ‌all‌ ‌in.‌ ‌I‌ ‌want‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌as‌ ‌human‌ ‌a‌ ‌protagonist‌ ‌as‌ ‌I‌ ‌can‌ ‌be.‌ ‌ ‌

It’s‌ ‌not‌ ‌always‌ ‌pretty,‌ ‌but‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌true.‌ ‌

Q: How‌ ‌did‌ ‌you‌ ‌find‌ ‌narrating‌ ‌the‌ ‌audiobook?‌ ‌ ‌

SD: I‌ ‌was‌ ‌very‌ ‌nervous‌ ‌and‌ ‌unsure‌ ‌about‌ ‌doing‌ ‌it‌ ‌at‌ ‌first.‌ ‌I‌ ‌visited‌ ‌Audible‌ ‌studios‌ ‌before‌ ‌doing‌ ‌the‌ ‌ first‌ ‌book‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌series,‌ ‌Bleak‌ ‌Alley,‌ ‌and‌ ‌was‌ ‌sitting‌ ‌having‌ ‌coffee‌ ‌alongside‌ ‌actors‌ ‌I’d‌ ‌been‌ ‌watching‌ ‌on‌ ‌TV‌ ‌only‌ ‌the‌ ‌night‌ ‌before,‌ ‌who‌ ‌were‌ ‌in‌ ‌to‌ ‌narrate‌ ‌a‌ ‌Dickens‌ ‌novel.‌ ‌I‌ ‌felt‌ ‌like‌ ‌a‌ ‌total‌ ‌fraud‌ ‌alongside‌ ‌them.‌ ‌But‌ ‌my‌ ‌editors‌ ‌were‌ ‌insistent‌ ‌I‌ ‌give‌ ‌it‌ ‌a‌ ‌go,‌ ‌and‌ ‌they‌ ‌were‌ ‌allowing‌ ‌me‌ ‌to‌ ‌compose‌ ‌music‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌series‌ ‌too,‌ ‌which‌ ‌was‌ ‌an‌ ‌opportunity‌ ‌that‌ ‌was‌ ‌too‌ ‌good‌ ‌to‌ ‌pass‌ ‌up‌ ‌(I’m‌ ‌a‌ ‌multi-instrumentalist‌ ‌and‌ ‌have‌ ‌been‌ ‌performing‌ ‌live‌ ‌for‌ ‌years).‌ ‌In‌ ‌the‌ ‌end,‌ ‌I’ve‌ ‌come‌ ‌to‌ ‌quite‌ ‌enjoy‌ ‌the‌ ‌process.‌ ‌Through‌ ‌reading‌ ‌the‌ ‌book‌ ‌aloud,‌ ‌you‌ ‌almost‌ ‌get‌ ‌to‌ ‌know‌ ‌it‌ ‌from‌ ‌another‌ ‌perspective.‌ ‌And‌ ‌I‌ ‌like‌ ‌to‌ ‌do‌ ‌the‌ ‌voices!‌ ‌ ‌

Q: What‌ ‌do‌ ‌you‌ ‌think‌ ‌are‌ ‌the‌ ‌key‌ ‌messages‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Stories‌ ‌From‌ ‌The‌ ‌Margins‌ ‌series?‌ ‌ ‌

SD: We‌ ‌live‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌world‌ ‌that‌ ‌can‌ ‌seem‌ ‌safe‌ ‌and‌ ‌secure,‌ ‌a‌ ‌world‌ ‌where‌ ‌bad‌ ‌things‌ ‌happen‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌news‌ ‌or‌ ‌to‌ ‌people‌ ‌we‌ ‌hear‌ ‌about‌ ‌in‌ ‌podcasts.‌ ‌But‌ ‌every‌ ‌crime‌ ‌we‌ ‌read‌ ‌about‌ ‌on‌ ‌our‌ ‌social‌ ‌media‌ ‌is‌ ‌actually‌ ‌something‌ ‌that‌ ‌happened‌ ‌to‌ ‌a‌ ‌real‌ ‌person.‌ ‌It‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌family‌ ‌devastated,‌ ‌a‌ ‌wife‌ ‌left‌ ‌bereft,‌ ‌children‌ ‌orphaned.‌ ‌These‌ ‌are‌ ‌stories‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌real‌ ‌human‌ ‌cost.‌ ‌And‌ ‌they’re‌ ‌happening‌ ‌right‌ ‌where‌ ‌you‌ ‌live.‌ ‌‘The‌ ‌margins’‌ ‌are‌ ‌the‌ ‌housing‌ ‌estates‌ ‌and‌ ‌villages‌ ‌and‌ ‌care‌ ‌homes‌ ‌and‌ ‌alleyways‌ ‌you‌ ‌see‌ ‌all‌ ‌around‌ ‌you‌ ‌as‌ ‌you‌ ‌go‌ ‌about‌ ‌your‌ ‌daily‌ ‌life.‌ ‌You‌ ‌walk‌ ‌past‌ ‌and‌ ‌never‌ ‌look‌ ‌at‌ ‌what’s‌ ‌going‌ ‌on‌ ‌over‌ ‌there.‌ ‌I‌ ‌want‌ ‌to‌ ‌take‌ ‌you‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌hand‌ ‌and‌ ‌lead‌ ‌you‌ ‌over‌ ‌and‌ ‌suggest‌ ‌you‌ ‌take‌ ‌a‌ ‌closer‌ ‌look.‌ ‌You‌ ‌might‌ ‌be‌ ‌surprised‌ ‌by‌ ‌what‌ ‌you‌ ‌see.‌ ‌
Q: Who‌ ‌are‌ ‌your‌ ‌favourite‌ ‌true‌ ‌crime‌ ‌writers?‌ ‌

SD: Truman‌ ‌Capote’s‌ ‌‌In‌ ‌Cold‌ ‌Blood‌ ‌‌was‌ ‌probably‌ ‌the‌ ‌first‌ ‌True‌ ‌Crime‌ ‌book‌ ‌I‌ ‌ever‌ ‌read,‌ ‌and‌ ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌it‌ is‌ ‌a‌ ‌work‌ ‌of‌ ‌genius.‌ ‌I‌ ‌love‌ ‌Ann‌ ‌Rule’s‌ ‌‌The‌ ‌Stranger‌ ‌Beside‌ ‌Me‌ ‌‌–‌ ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌anyone‌ ‌interested‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌genre‌ ‌should‌ ‌read‌ ‌it.‌ ‌And‌ ‌Irish‌ ‌crime‌ ‌journalist‌ ‌Paul‌ ‌Williams‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌good‌ ‌friend‌ ‌of‌ ‌mine.‌ ‌He‌ ‌wrote‌ ‌The‌ ‌General,‌ ‌about‌ ‌Irish‌ ‌gangster‌ ‌Martin‌ ‌Cahill,‌ ‌which‌ ‌has‌ ‌been‌ ‌made‌ ‌into‌ ‌a‌ ‌couple‌ ‌of‌ ‌movies.‌ ‌Paul‌ ‌just‌ ‌published‌ ‌a‌ ‌book‌ ‌about‌ ‌Gerald‌ ‌Hutch,‌ ‌another‌ ‌Irish‌ ‌gangland‌ ‌figure‌ ‌who‌ ‌was‌ ‌dubbed‌ ‌"The‌ ‌Monk"‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌press‌ ‌here.‌ ‌It’s‌ ‌well‌ ‌worth‌ ‌a‌ ‌read.‌ ‌

Q: Why‌ ‌do‌ ‌you‌ ‌think‌ ‌true‌ ‌crime‌ ‌continues‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌such‌ ‌a‌ ‌popular‌ ‌genre?‌ ‌ ‌

SD: Because‌ ‌it‌ ‌tells‌ ‌us‌ ‌truths‌ ‌about‌ ‌what‌ ‌is‌ ‌going‌ ‌on‌ ‌in‌ ‌those‌ ‌shadowy‌ ‌places‌ ‌I‌ ‌mentioned.‌ ‌True‌ ‌Crime‌ ‌has‌ ‌become‌ ‌the‌ ‌modern‌ ‌equivalent‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌camp-fire‌ ‌ghost‌ ‌story.‌ ‌The‌ ‌fact‌ ‌that‌ ‌these‌ ‌stories‌ ‌are‌ ‌all‌ ‌real‌ ‌and‌ ‌might‌ ‌be‌ ‌happening‌ ‌just‌ ‌down‌ ‌the‌ ‌road‌ ‌from‌ ‌where‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌reading‌ ‌this‌ ‌right‌ ‌now‌ ‌only‌ ‌makes‌ ‌them‌ ‌more‌ ‌compelling.‌ ‌

No‌ ‌Ceremony‌ ‌For‌ ‌The‌ ‌Dead‌ ‌‌by‌ ‌Shane‌ ‌Dunphy‌ ‌is‌ ‌available‌ ‌exclusively‌ ‌on‌ ‌Audible‌ ‌now.‌ ‌

Be sure to visit the other stops on the tour for more insight.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

It's Not Only About Adversity

Anyone who's seen Douglas Sirk's 1959 film Imitation of Life knows that it has one of the greatest closing sequences in movie history.  In the story, the black character Annie has spent the entire movie, it seems, caring for and looking after her employer, the white actress named Lora, as well as Lora's daughter, Susie.  Annie has a daughter of her own, Sarah Jane, and these two have their own problems, as Sarah Jane, much lighter-skinned than her mother, tries to, and successfully does, pass for white, a move that causes her mother much grief.  Throughout the story, Annie serves as the embattled, and rejected, mother of Sarah Jane, the surrogate mother to Susie, and the nanny, maid, trusted confidante, and even the closest friend to Annie.  In other words, complex and full of depth as she is, Annie seems to have no life apart from what we see of her in her interactions with these other three characters. And in truth, she has enough work to do and crises to manage dealing with the high maintenance issues of the other three.  When Annie dies at the end, in true tearjerker style, with Lora sobbing at her side, we assume that Annie will get a proper burial, but what she does actually get is something huge and sumptuous, a magnificent funeral, with hundreds of people, black people, in attendance.  Who are these people?  We can only surmise that during her life Annie had a full and rich existence outside her life as a housekeeper, mother, and confidante to a white woman, and that this funeral is evidence of that life.  She had friends, a social world, an entire existence we were not at all aware of because the film gave us no indication of it. In certain ways, the ending undercuts everything in the story you've seen before and implicates the audience in assuming something about Annie we had no right to assume.  Yes, she had all that stuff going on that we knew of, but she also had a life of her own and, quite clearly, the love and respect of many many people we didn’t know about.  Damn, you think, that movie was great, the ending was remarkable, and now I'd love to see a film about the "other" life Annie had. That life, you assume, probably had a lot less drama than the part of her life we saw, with social activities and friendships and laughter and ordinary give and take with other people, except it was in the black community.  A ton of stuff must have happened in her life, offscreen.

Cut to late 2020, and we have the appearance of Sylvie's Love, on Amazon, a melodrama in the Douglas Sirkian mode that puts center screen the type of black characters once relegated to its fringes.  I don't often find myself recommending love story movies to the people in my house, but that is precisely what I did with this film, which dares eschew any snarkiness or easy irony in its portrayal of a late 1950s early 1960s romance between two young people in New York City, an ambitious woman from a solid middle-class home (Tessa Thompson) and a jazz musician with lots of talent but little money in his pocket (Nnamdi Asomugha).

Douglas Sirk has been redone, so to speak, before.  Todd Haynes did it with Far From Heaven and Carol, and the great directors Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Pedro Almodovar have put Sirkian aesthetics to their own specific uses in a number of their films. Sylvie's Love takes lush color, artfully designed sets, undisguised emotion, and class differences and puts them at the service of a story that has an old Hollywood feel yet feels fresh because it looks at a world, Harlem-based, that we haven't seen in quite this way before. The director, Eugene Ashe, has said that photographs of his family from the 1950s, pictures showing his family happy, helped inspire him to make the film.  He wanted to make a film revealing the lives behind these photos.  As he says, "I wanted to make a film where Black people of the era don't exist through adversity but through love."  

It's a simple sentiment, but when you think about it, you realize how rare it is, even now, that you see a film where duress and conflict with the world, at some level, is not the focal point of a black-centered story.  Not that adversity stories don't reflect reality, but there is more to life than this.

Sylvie's Love doesn't ignore what's going on in the world at the time of its tale; it just does not make the typically depicted struggles its focus.  Bigotry and racism exist of course, but Sylvie and Robert (the musician) as well as Sylvie's husband deal with it and continue to live their lives without being consumed by such toxicity.  The Civil Rights marches are going on, but we are aware of these only through glimpses of the marches on television and phone calls to Sylvie from her best friend, who is down in the South taking part in them.  There is also the change going on in gender roles, and Sylvie is in the thick of this, getting a job in television and having to find a way to balance her working life and her own ambitions with her domestic life and the demands of her successful but traditionally-minded husband.  Much goes on in the story, but as one excellent review I read put it, by critic Tomris Laffly on the site, "Ashe keeps his lens tight on the normalcy of the epoch’s everyday life, a luxury that’s formerly been almost exclusively afforded to white-centric stories of the period."

An old-fashioned tale can be made into something new, and straight melodrama, when done well, can provide a satisfying experience.  I found both things to be true with Sylvie's Love.


Monday, January 25, 2021

Edgar noms are out

Mystery Writers of America is proud to announce, as we celebrate the 212th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, the nominees for the 2021 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television published or produced in 2020. The 75th Annual Edgar® Awards will be celebrated on April 29, 2021.

Best First Novel


Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March (Minotaur Books)
Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen (Simon & Schuster – Gallery Books)
Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (HarperCollins Publishers - Ecco)
Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel (Penguin Random House - Berkley)

Visit for more

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Power of Words Softly Spoken

By Claire Booth

A bright yellow ray of sunlight and future promise came out on Wednesday. Sure, there was Joe Biden, but I’m talking about Amanda Gorman

In case you somehow missed it, either on live TV or on social media afterward, America’s Youth Poet Laureate recited a poem she wrote specifically for the Presidential Inauguration. 

“The Hill We Climb” stopped me in my tracks. Gorman stopped me in my tracks. Every word choice, every pause, every beat of the language was perfect. This time, the power of words was used for good.

There have been other poets who’ve appeared at inaugurations (Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Alexander) so asking Gorman wasn’t unprecedented. Still, it was a heartening showcase for the written word. An endorsement of things written with care and thoughtful intent. It warmed my weary writer’s heart like you wouldn’t believe.

“ . . .Where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one . . .”

Amanda Gorman, don’t give up that dream. The way you think and the oratory skills you summon could someday put you back on that inaugural stage, giving a different kind of speech.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

A Different Kind of Writing Block

Scott D. Parker

How often do you restart a novel you’ve set aside?

I am an obsessive saver of things when it comes to my writing. I’ve got paper and digital notes all over the place. Most of the time, I date them so that I can have a record of a novel’s progress. Perhaps it’s the historian in me who wants to catalog every step of a process.

I keep abandoned drafts as well, again, both in paper and digital. Sometimes, I return to these fragments and pick them up to see if I can use them. For the ones that get a second life, there’s generally two philosophies on new usage: edit what you wrote or write the entire thing from scratch.

It’s a safe assumption that however long the document has remained unused, you’ve become a better writer. There have been times in which I’ve returned to a piece, read it, and was shocked that my Younger Self thought it was good. Other times I’ve re-read something and nodded my head having been reminded I can string some words together in a nice manner.

I’ve been thinking about this most of this month as my first writing project in 2021 is to restart a novel I’ve set aside more than once. Back in 2013, I wrote the entire novel that summer. It was a bloated affair, but it was complete. In fact, it was the second manuscript I ever completed, but it needed work.

In the past few years, I picked it up and created a 2.0 version but it didn’t pan out either. I had an amalgamated 3.0 version consisting of about 23,000a words and that was what I started with on New Year’s Day 2021. I nipped and tucked, tweaked and expanded the story until I reached about the 19,000-word mark. That’s when things went off the rails.

What the heck had I written? Seriously, Scott, you call that good?

No, it wasn’t. It needed some serious work.

That work was not easy. I had the actual prose printed out in front of me. I had the revised story structure via notecards next to me as well. How to reconcile?

My 5am writing sessions are limited to about 60-70 minutes. I have a hard stop where I put aside the fiction writing in favor of getting ready for the day job. I also don’t return to the fiction until the next day’s 5am writing session.

This particular section tasked me for about four days. Originally, I tried to simply read and edit and add in new words in and around the old words, but that proved too slow. My 2021 brain and writing chops would start going off on tangents I didn’t expect.

That was when I realized the 2021 Writing Brain was taking over. And I let it.

In the end, I ended up rewriting most of the chapter from scratch. It is a much better chapter than before and I’m pretty jazzed about it.

This particular section was a hurdle for me. I kept banging my head on it and it wasn’t until I allowed the skill and experience I acquired in the years since I first wrote the original prose to take over that the hurdle was surpassed.

It was a wonderful relief.

Do you have experiences like this? Do you give way when your more experienced self intuitively knows what to do to fix and old piece you wrote?

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Beau gets creepy


This week, Beau takes a look at CREEP from Jennifer Hillier.

Pulsing with the dark obsession of Radiohead’s song “Creep,” this taut thriller—Jennifer Hillier’s superb debut—rockets from its seductive opening to a heartpounding climax not easily forgotten.

If he can’t have her . . .

Dr. Sheila Tao is a professor of psychology. An expert in human behavior. And when she began an affair with sexy, charming graduate student Ethan Wolfe, she knew she was playing with fire. Consumed by lust when they were together, riddled with guilt when they weren’t, she knows the three-month fling with her teaching assistant has to end. After all, she’s finally engaged to a kind and loving investment banker who adores her, and she’s taking control of her life. But when she attempts to end the affair, Ethan Wolfe won’t let her walk away.

. . . no one else can.

Ethan has plans for Sheila, plans that involve posting a sex video that would surely get her fired and destroy her prestigious career. Plans to make her pay for rejecting him. And as she attempts to counter his every threatening move without her colleagues or her fiancé discovering her most intimate secrets, a shattering crime rocks Puget Sound State University: a female student, a star athlete, is found stabbed to death. Someone is raising the stakes of violence, sex, and blackmail . . . and before she knows it, Sheila is caught in a terrifying cat-and-mouse game with the lover she couldn’t resist—who is now the monster who won’t let her go.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Jerzy Kosinski's Steps

It is no exaggeration to say that I've been meaning to read Jerzy Kosinski Steps for decades. Somehow, though, I've never gotten around to it.  I read The Painted Bird (1965) many years ago and was suitably impressed, and I remember Kosinski well from the 70s and 80s.  During those years he was twice president of the American chapter of P.E.N, and his books were easy to find in bookstores.  How different those times were, when a writer like Kosinski appeared on The Tonight Show many times and later on Late Night with David Letterman, where, as I remember, he was quite amusing.  I loved the film version of his novel Being There (1979), which he did the screenplay for, and he provided a bracing, acerbic presence playing the Old Bolshevik Grigory Zinoviev in Warren Beatty's Reds (1981).  

Then came what you might call the downfall.  There were the allegations of plagiarism in his work, the claims that editors more proficient than him in English had written or re-written substantial portions of his books. There was the charge that The Painted Bird was not autobiographical, which, at one point, he had suggested at least to the world at large.  Though he was acclaimed for The Painted Bird, which was his debut novel, and a National Book Award winner for Steps (1968), some in the literary world accused him of being a con man and literary fraudster.  In the mid to late eighties, physical infirmities set in, and depressed about these as well as the tarnishing of his reputation, Kosinski, in 1991, at his apartment in New York City, committed suicide. He took a large amount of booze and pills and tied a plastic bag over his head, and then died of suffocation.  His note: "I am going to put myself to sleep now for a bit longer than usual.  Call it Eternity."

That was all long ago now, and with the turmoil and controversy gone, things of the past, what's left are the actual books. Most people today who pick up a Kosinski novel would probably not know offhand about the charges once leveled at his work.  I've always felt that it doesn't matter one iota whether The Painted Bird is autobiographical or not; it's a highly controlled and disturbing look at one character's survival in Eastern Europe during World War II, and whether or not it happened precisely as written to Kosinski himself is immaterial. 

While Kozinski's later novels (he wrote nine in total) may not stand up as well now as his first few do, Steps has only grown in stature.  In its dark once upon a time somewhere in the world tone, it does have a timeless quality. And it got a boost years back when David Foster Wallace listed it in a Salon piece among his Five Direly Underappreciated U.S. novels > 1960.  In Wallace's words: Steps is "a collection of unbelievably creepy little allegorical tableaux done in a terse elegant voice that's like nothing else anywhere ever.  Only Kafka's fragments get anywhere close to where Kosinski goes in this book..."

I'm about halfway through the novel and I find it riveting.  Wallace's description of how it is structured is accurate.  The prose is indeed spare and very precise, detached in describing a series of interrelated, dreamlike events.  The narrator (or series of narrators?) is an unnamed man in each instance, his stoicism in the face of whatever comes his way unsettling.  Power, manipulation, sexuality, human cruelty, shifting morality come under an unwavering microscopic.  I'm making my way through it slowly, savoring the tableaux, and it's a great reminder of how you can construct a novel without plot and character as they are defined in the usual sense.  If a novel has internal tension from scene to scene, a compelling vision, as Steps does, and it's as well written as this book is, I'm hooked. 

Before I end this, it's worth sharing a story about Kosinski's book, not unknown but still worth telling for those who may not know it.  Whether it's disheartening or not will depend on individual reaction, but there's no denying it's grimly funny:

In 1975, a writer named Chuck Ross set out to prove a theory he held about unknown authors and the big publishers.  He had written a mystery novel that had been rejected everywhere he sent it.  As an experiment, he sent excerpts of Steps (a 1968 National Book Award winner for fiction, don't forget) to four different publishers.  He presented the excerpts as if he had written them.  All four rejected the sample.  Two years later, he mailed the entire book, copied word for word but without a title attached to it, to ten publishers.  The publishers included Random House, which had originally published the book nine years earlier.  He also sent it to thirteen agents.  Every single one of the publishers and agents rejected the book, and none of them even recognized it as an award winner from a bestselling author.  Whether they were embarrassed or not when Ross revealed the fraud, I don't know, though I tend to doubt it.

I imagine that Kosinski (this is before the days he had to fight his own plagiarism allegations) chuckled.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

People I Wish I'd Known

By Claire Booth

This week, I happened upon another entry for my occasional feature People I Wish I’d Known. I love to read the obituaries, and every once in a while a person's personality or accomplishments come through so strongly that I wish I’d had the chance to meet them before they died. 

This time, it wasn’t an obit but a story about Hester Diamond’s dazzling success as an art collector and an upcoming auction of some of her pieces. I somehow missed her actual obituary when it ran a year ago. It, and this week’s article in the New York Times, detailed her entry into modern art collection in the 1950s with her husband Harold, a fourth-grade teacher.

This is important. They didn’t come from money. The paintings they purchased were cheap because the artists weren’t well known. They just bought what they fell in love with. They especially liked the work of two friends—Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning.

Hester and Harold gradually became art dealers. Hester then rolled that into a career in interior design with art as a focal point, at a time when it wasn’t easy for a woman to do. But when her husband died in 1982, she stopped with the modern art and began to trade in that collection for works by Old Masters. Renaissance paintings and sculpture replaced the twentieth century pieces that had dominated her life for so long.

She married twice more, kept collecting, and learned Italian so she could give presentations on behalf of the Medici Archive Project, which she co-founded in order to create a digital index of the Tuscany rulers’ paper records.

“She didn’t ever want to be stagnant,” her son said in the article, “and she didn’t want these paintings to be a stagnant thing — ‘I got that 40 years ago and it’s just there.She wanted to be surrounded by things she really had passion for, and really loved.”

Now, a confession: I clicked on the article in the first place because the son was a name I did recognize. If you’re a Gen Xer like me, it’s impossible not to have heard of Mike D, one of the Beastie Boys. Turns out, and I’m ashamed not to have known this, his mom was the real bad ass in the family.



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.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

History Through the Thin Man Movies

Scott D. Parker

In that magical week between Christmas and New Year’s Day when, if you have the week off you can forget which day of the week it is, I finally did something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: Watch all six Thin Man movies.

For a gift, I was given the box set with all six movies and a seventh disc with documentaries on stars William Powell and Myrna Loy. I watched a movie per day from 26 to 31 December, writing a review per day. I had seen the first two more than once, but movies three through six was brand new to me.

For the record and to make my point, here are the movies and release dates (with links to my reviews, if you are interested):

The Thin Man (1934)
After the Thin Man (1936)
Another Thin Man (1939)
Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
The Thin Man Goes Home (1945)
Song of the Thin Man (1947)

Three films debuted in the 1930s. The first in May 1934, a mere five months after the book’s publication. Christmas Day 1936 saw the release of the second film while it was Thanksgiving 1939 for the third. The fourth came out in November 1941, a mere three weeks before the Pearl Harbor attacks propelled America into World War II. The fifth film was released in January 1945 when the end of the war was in sight while the last landed in theaters August 1947, two full years after the V-J Day.

In watching them in a row, it was fascinating to watch history progress through the films.

If you know anything about these films, you probably know the witty banter between the two leads and the copious amounts of alcohol consumed. But modern viewers may forget that The Thin Man arrived in theaters a mere six months after the repeal of Prohibition. Sure, there may have been a lot of drinking on the down low during the 1920s, but I suspect a large percentage of the viewing audience adhered to the Volstead Act (enacted in 1920, thirteen years ago for folks in 1934) rather than risk arrest. Thus, to see Nick and Nora Charles throw back martinis one after the other must have seemed edgy. But, I suspect, more than a few watched this movie and then headed out to a bar with the full knowledge they were allowed to drink again.

Interestingly, as the movies progressed, the Thin Man series became more family friendly. Sure they could drink as much as they wanted, but it was nowhere near the amount from 1934. Heck, by the fifth film, Nick was trying to go sober and drink apple cider. Does every long-term franchise gradually sand away the sharp edges that were hallmarks of earlier movies?

Speaking of edgy things, in the first two films, Nick and Nora not only trade witty banter back and forth, but there is a definite marital/sexual chemistry that’s palpable on screen. The latter four, however, soften up the couple, making them more palatable for a broader audience.

The films’ depiction of women can seem irritating to 21st Century viewers. If you always think of Nick and Nora as a team solving crimes, that’s not really the case for the first four or five. It’s only in the last film where Nora is an active participant in things other than the finale. In fact, Nick has a really irritating habit of ditching Nora as often as possible. Even in front of her face, he’ll chastise her like she’s a kid if there are other men around. By the final film, after women held down the home front as Rosie the Riveters, the depiction of women changed. Nora was almost an equal partner.

The clothes and hairstyles are also a giveaway. You could almost name the film just by looking at a still of Loy or Powell and focusing on their hair. In the latter films, you can tell Powell was dying his hair. Loy’s hair gradually went from high-society ritzy to nearly middle-class.

The Thin Man movies sit squarely in the traditional detective movie mold. Murders are always off screen, next to zero blood, and the detective invites everyone to the same room to give a monologue where the culprit always confesses. It’s a structure that fits these kind of characters. They don’t belong in a hard-boiled noir film and they never enter one, but the world had changed around them. Nick and Nora are rarely in danger in any of the films, but the last one includes a sequence in which they feared their son was kidnapped. Definite damper on the grins and giggles. Since the kinds of books and movies were different after the war, it’s probably a good idea the franchise ended with six films. It’s also good, too, that the sixth was a return to form, because the fifth was a misstep (and my least favorite).

In all, though, I had a blast watching these films. Have you seen them all? What are your favorites?

Sunday, January 3, 2021

New Year, New Book

I’m interrupting our regularly scheduled holiday hiatus today to do some blatant self-promotion. My next book comes out Tuesday.

I, like everyone who’s had a book come out in the past nine months, won’t be able to do in-person events. This breaks my heart, because I love luring people to my favorite independent bookstores.

Face in a Book, El Dorado Hills, Calif.

Sundance Books, Reno, Nev.

So if you’re interested in Fatal Divisions, or any other book for that matter, you can still patronize your local independent bookseller. IndieBound can help you find one. Or you can go straight to my hometown store, Face in a Book, which will be happy to ship to you wherever you are.

Here’s more about the fourth book in my Sheriff Hank Worth series.

Hank Worth has always been committed to his job as Branson sheriff, so getting him to take a break is difficult. But to everyone's surprise he agrees to take time off after a grueling case and visit a friend in Columbia, Missouri, leaving Chief Deputy Sheila Turley in charge. She quickly launches reforms that create an uproar, and things deteriorate even further when an elderly man is found brutally murdered in his home.

As Sheila struggles for control of the investigation and her insubordinate deputies, Hank is not relaxing as promised. His Aunt Fin is worried her husband is responsible for the disappearance of one of his employees, and Hank agrees to investigate. The search for the missing woman leads to a tangle of deceit that Hank is determined to unravel . . . no matter the impact on his family.

And in celebration of the fourth book’s release, I’m running a sale on the first two books in the series. 


 Book 1, on sale.

Book 2, on sale.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming. The whole DSD crew will return starting Jan. 9 with Scott D. Parker. In the meantime, from all of us, Happy New Year and happy reading.