Saturday, March 13, 2021

Do We Have Too Much Stuff?


Scott D. Parker

Note: this post uses television as an example, but the same could be said of books, movies, comics, and music.

Most Saturday mornings, I go back in time.

Saturday is the day the rest of the family sleeps in. I do, too, considering my weekday mornings I wake around 5:15 am to write. But on Saturdays, I still wake up at the latest by 7:30. The house is quiet, the coffee's made, and the dogs are fed. I run over to my favorite do-nut shop, Shipley's, a Houston institution I've known all my life, pick up a plain glaze and a cherry filled, and return home to watch Saturday morning cartoons.

Now, it's not always cartoons. I watched WandaVision on Saturday mornings. Ditto for Star Trek: Picard and The Mandalorian. Mostly it's because I have the house to myself but also it's just kind of fun to have that Saturday morning vibe like most of us did back in the day when that was the one day of the week with programming targeted directly at kids.

Another thing that's really helped this vibe is MeTV's broadcast of Saturday morning cartoons. For three hours, they show Popeye cartoons (I'm asleep for that), Tom and Jerry/MGM cartoons (I get half of that because of my wake-up time), and a Looney Tunes block. For the Looney Tunes, they even run the opener from the 1970s, a nice reminder of childhood you don't get when these shows are streamed or on DVD.

For the past few weeks, after that week's WandaVision episode, I've added in an episode from the 1977 New Adventures of Batman. This is the Filmation show featuring the return of Adam West and Burt Ward to the roles they made famous in the 1966 TV show. And yeah, this is the series with Bat-Mite. I have the entire run on DVD.  

This being the 21st Century, historical background for this show is only an Internet search away. Turns out only 16 episodes were made. They were first broadcast from 12 February to 28 May 1977. I remember being very excited about this show. I'd watch every Saturday morning with, you guessed it, Shipley's do-nuts.

The key fact of this series is the number of episodes. Sixteen. But this series ran in some combination until 1981. That's six years of reruns. Six years of wondering which episode would air and, over time, memorizing the events of each episode. Then again, when I first bought the DVD a few years ago and watched the series for the first time in thirty something years, I didn't remember much of it.

By the time Batman: The Animated Series debuted in 1992, there were a couple dozens episodes per season and, while there were some reruns, they were fewer because there were so many episodes. The likelihood of coming across any given episode was much smaller than the 1977 series. Ditto for The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and Friends (although Friends almost gets a pass on this because the show is now broadcast in reruns on multiple channels and you can ingest many more episodes on any given week).

Now our television habits have evolved to streaming services. And boy are there a lot of them. Within most streaming services are smaller niches. Just Brady Bunch or just Perry Mason or just CSI shows. For example, HBO Max has a DC Comics section where you can watch The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, and any number of DC-related films. It's an embarrassment of riches considering that which we had back in the day. In fact, you could mainline any one of these series and watch little else.

But there is so much stuff to watch.

We are not constrained by the sixteen episodes the network broadcast over and over again. If we wanted to watch Batman on TV back then, your options were few. If you want to watch Batman on TV in 2021, you could fill up a few weeks in a row you could fill up watching only Batman. Or Marvel. Or any number of the things we dreamed about when we were kids.

We live in a Golden Age of Television. The content we have is so broad, rich, and with depth. But there is a lot of it. A lot. It's difficult to keep up. I might even go so far as to say almost impossible given how we live our lives nowadays: work, school, family obligations, and everything else. If you're like me and you chat about TV with friends and family, how many times do you arrive at a show you both have watched?

Now, you might think that I'm just a Gen Xer complaining about modern life. I'm not. I'm happy to have all the choices available to us. It's fantastic and there's always something to watch.

But how many of us dig deep into a series like we used to?

Yes, there are some like WandaVision or The Mandalorian or Sherlock or Game of Thrones which get the deep dive. There's probably more I don't watch that have devoted fans that pore over every detail of a show. But I think the casual awareness of shows has dwindled with the rise of cable TV and streaming. With so many choices begging for our attention comes a dilution of common content. Back the day, we all were more or less aware of the exploits of Happy Days, The Simpson, Friends, Grey's Anatomy, Modern Family, and CSI. Now? Not so much, especially if the hot show is on a streaming service you don't buy.

Or maybe all of this is on me. Maybe I'm the oddball now. Maybe I'm the guy who doesn't watch and re-watch the same content all the time because there's always something more to watch. Maybe I've become my parents.

Do you reach an age in which the obsession over a property just wanes or never materializes like it used to? Perhaps, but I think it also boils down to time.

When we were kids, there was loads of time to fill and not a lot of content with which to fill it. Now, kids probably have a similar amount of time to kill but so many more choices. As for us adults, our time has now dwindled to the point where, for me, I'm down to an hour of non-news TV a day on weekdays. And when all my favorite shows are an hour--New Amsterdam, Resident Alien, Prodigal Son, Clarice, Superman and Lois--I'm down to a show a night. So when I'm actually consuming only one show a night, it's difficult to find the time to re-watch a show. Thus, I find myself in a steady stream of one-time viewings. Hard to remember lots of details that way.

I guess that's the main problem. I just don't have the time.

Unless I had a time machine.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

A Baxter Book from Beau


This week, Beau recommends MANIFEST RECALL from Alan Baxter.

Following a psychotic break, Eli Carver finds himself on the run, behind the wheel of a car that’s not his own, in the company of a terrified woman he doesn’t know. As he slowly rebuilds his memories, layers of ugly truth are peeled back and dark secrets are revealed. Before long, the duo find themselves on the wrong side of Eli’s old criminal syndicate, in a struggle for survival against the most dangerous forces in their lives.

They have to go back into the underbelly of humanity, laid bare and ready for the bullet or the knife. And all the way, Eli is haunted by the ghosts of people he’s killed in the past, haranguing him, a supernatural peanut gallery of mockery and hate. Manifest Recall follows Eli Carver’s downward spiral of psychosis, through the darker aspects of lost memories, human guilt, and the insurmountable quest for personal redemption.

Get yours

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The Rock and a Hard Place Anthology

Scott's note: Roger Nokes is the guest today.  Roger is co-editor (along with Jay Butkowski) of Rock and a Hard Place magazine, which, since its inception in 2019, has put out several issues of crime fiction.  Their focus: stories of desperate people forced to make difficult choices. Rock and a Hard Place is not a place to go for happiness and uplift, but it is a place to go if you're looking for good fiction unafraid to explore the barbed nooks and crannies of the world we inhabit.

As the editors continue to work to produce more regular issues, they are also putting out a call for a special themed anthology, their first.  It's called "Under the Thumb: Stories of Police Oppression", and the anthology will be edited by Blacktop Wasteland author Shawn A. Cosby.  

In the post today, Roger talks about why he and Jay have decided to do an anthology and why on the subject they chose.  And Shawn Cosby also weighs in, as well he should, explaining what he is looking for from the submissions.

Here they are:

Why An Anthology About Police Oppression?

by Roger Nokes

Rock and Hard Place is taking its first step into the world of themed anthologies. We have a number of issues under our belt and think it’s time to give this a shot. And our theme is of considerable importance – it’s one that I think challenges the world of fiction and the world of crime fiction in particular.

Fiction, I think, isn’t reality, but it is a reflection of it. It’s kind of a funhouse mirror showing what is there but in different shapes.

That funhouse mirror can highlight reality. It can show things you’d never see or bother to look at if you were looking at a regular flat mirror. This is like the difference between watching the news and reading a novel. Both can discuss the same subject but can give you different feelings and insights. Often, in my experience, a novel or work of fiction can reach you in ways the news cannot or even nonfiction cannot.

The problem with funhouse mirrors is that if we stare at the same one for too long, we forget that it isn’t a flat mirror. The same is true with fiction. It can lead to a distorted and inaccurate view of reality. If we are fed the same fiction time after time, even if we know it’s fiction, we start to think it’s real.

This is how I think cop fiction has shaped our understanding of reality. Stories told from police perspectives tell us the world is full of people hiding behind every corner and in every alley ready to grab us, take what we’ve worked for, and harm us. And, that the police, albeit jaded and cynical, are there to protect us.

This particular funhouse mirror has adapted recently to admit that yes, police make mistakes and are human. They fail. They are capable of doing the wrong thing, of being criminals themselves. Don Winslow’s, The Force, an excellent book, by the way, is an example of this. The protagonist displays the worst an officer of the law can be, but still, throughout the book, we are asked to feel bad for this character. I found myself thinking, why am I asked so often to empathize with police officers who have abused their power when I seem to rarely be asked to empathize with the people abused by that power.

Another example is the Bosch series adapted for television. In the first episode, we see Bosch shoot and kill a man who turns out to be innocent. Bosch is remorseful. He’s human, but we hardly see the humanity of the man he killed.

At Rock and a Hard Place, we publish stories in the vein of noir as we understand it: stories about people without power, people somehow cut out of society. We released a statement (why-we-are-not-publishing-cop-stories) in line with that thinking last year, declaring that we would not be publishing stories with police officers as protagonists. 

But still, not publishing those stories seems to me like a half measure. We still don’t know the story of the man killed by Bosch in that first episode. This anthology will attempt to make that measure whole. We are inviting authors to tell us the stories that we so rarely read in books and short stories but so often hear about on the news. We are asking writers to help us show a different mirror of reality – one that highlights the parts of our world those with privilege are likely to never see. 

Though Rock and a Hard Place is a publisher of stories and is a creative outlet, I see this as more than creativity. I see this as a way of challenging that funhouse mirror that has been dominant for so long and as one way to contribute to the dismantling of systemic racism and white supremacy of which police violence is only the tip of the iceberg.

And because we want to treat this issue with the seriousness we feel it deserves, we decided to bring in the writing A-team. S.A. Cosby is stepping in as Guest Editor for this anthology and here’s what he has to say about what he’d like to see in submissions:

“I think the main objective of this anthology is to demystify the cop story in crime fiction. We are trying to invert the usual perspective when it comes to a crime story. A deconstruction of the police procedural that examines the world through the eyes of characters who are usually voiceless. We’ve all read a police procedural that uses the suspects as simply props for the story of an officer who “bends the rules” to get things done. Too often we don’t consider the cost of this kind of indoctrination. Stories are our myths and our myths become our reality. But it's a reality shaped by a worldview that disavows the truth of people from marginalized communities and under represented cultures. I like to say writers are liars who seek the truth. That’s what we are doing with this anthology. Seeking the truth. No matter how much it hurts.” 

So now that you’ve read our motivation behind this anthology and you’ve heard what our guest editor hopes to see, get to writing. And remember, all of the proceeds from this anthology will be donated to a charity to be determined.

Details about the "Under the Thumb" call for submissions can be found right here.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

How One Reader Went Everywhere by Staying Home

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the World Getting Shut Down, it’s a natural inclination to look back at all the incredibly shitty ways our lives have changed during The Year That (We Wish Never) Was.

Let’s not.

Instead, let’s focus on one of the few positives to come out of the pandemic—the elimination of geography. If you’re a reader or writer who would go to a few events in your area, now you could go anywhere, anytime. No plane ticket required.

People in California attended Bloody Scotland, the crime writing festival. People across the country have watched book launch parties at Murder by the Book in Houston. I had friends from Missouri and Florida tune in to a panel I was on last month at a local Sacramento area library.

True, none of these are as good online as they would’ve been in person. But if going in person was never a possibility, getting to see it in any form is an improvement, right?

No one has done this better than my friend Grace Koshida. We met, naturally, at a mystery convention. She’s a fantastic fan of crime fiction, and she’s since become a good friend. I asked her what events she’s liked—and not liked—most throughout the past year. Her answers are not only a great tip sheet if you’re interested in finding ongoing events, but valuable information for authors trying to put together their own virtual gatherings. 

A panel in February for the Lincoln (California) Library. Photo courtesy of Grace, who was tuning in from Ottowa, Canada. How great it that?

So here's a look at it from the reader side, by Grace Koshida:


·         1-on-1 interviews, or 3 person conversations were optimal size.

·         LIKE: Quality of event really depended on the interviewer. For example, I have watched Hank Philippi Ryan interview @20 different authors 1:1 and she is so good at asking the right questions. Other events where two/three authors are close friends and are just basically chatting for an hour have also been enjoyable to watch (e.g. Kate Carlisle, Jenn McKinlay and Paige Shelton, or Rhys Bowen, Hank Philippi Ryan and Julia Spencer-Fleming).

·         DID NOT LIKE: Most of these are passive watching events, and we (the online audience) cannot submit questions or do any online chatting with other attendees.


·         One unique set of author-fan events that I love have been held on Sundays by Karen Dionne and Hank Philippi Ryan. It is called THE BACK ROOM.  The level of fan interaction is pretty unique.


·         Authors writing similar types of books (e.g. lawyers and cops, lady sleuths, culinary cozies) were brought together to have a conversation. An average of 4-6 authors participated, and the event ran 1-1.5 hours. 

·         LIKE: If you like a certain type of book, you would probably enjoy learning about most of the authors/books. Online participants could usually ask questions that the moderator/host would ask the authors.

·         DID NOT LIKE: Mixed success depending on the quality of the moderator (well prepared or not).


·         LIKE: Most of these events were well-organized by bookstores or libraries or regional chapters of mystery fiction associations. For example, The Poisoned Pen Bookstore FB live events are wonderful. There are 3-5 events every week! You don’t need to register for the event in advance either.  Both Barbara Peters and Patrick are so well read and prepared. Sometimes it is 2-3 authors interviewing/conversing with each other. Attendees online can ask post questions which are mostly asked/answered towards the end of the event. If you miss the live event, PP usually posts the video on their Youtube page on the same day.

·         DON’T LIKE: Some are well-advertised, some are not. Some are free, others require a fee to register, and you must buy a book (at the indie bookstore).


·         Again, this is a unique book launch/highlight event held every Tuesday and Thursday by Hannah Mary McKinnon and Hank Philippi Ryan. They have been running these events live on both FB live and IG live (Instagram) for almost 1 year. They read the first chapter of a newly released/upcoming book with the permission of the author/publisher. There is plenty of online chat and questions during the 30-minute event.

·         LIKE: You always know the schedule for the readings. And all the readings are saved in the archives and can be viewed later. In recent months, Hannah and Hank also do pre-event and postevent 30-second videos about the book before the event. The author is usually online during the reading and respond to the chat discussion live. Book giveaways sometimes happen.

·         DID NOT LIKE: Tech glitches occasionally occur when trying to do live events on 2 platforms simultaneously. If that happens, they restart again. You have to be a member of the private FB group to participate.


·         Attended virtual events held in D.C., New England, Richmond, Toronto, Florida.

·         Mixed bag, some were excellent, others were average/poorly done.

·         LIKE:  The hosts who added another dimension to the virtual Noir event. For example, Ed Aymar’s DC events included a mixologist who created a themed cocktail, and live jazz music between sets of readings. Or at Edwin Hill’s New England event, he posted 2-3 fun facts about each author in the online chat as they were giving their reading. This livened up the topics in the online chat. (Obviously, Edwin did some correspondence with the authors ahead of time to prepare this extra content).


·         MMM (Murder and Mayhem in Chicago), Bouchercon 2020, New England Crime Bake 2020, 2021 Lefty Unconvention nominees panels.

·         LIKE: Get the best aspects of being at a conference from the comfort of home by watching interesting panels, Guest of Honor and/or award nominee interviews/presentations.

·         DID NOT LIKE: The interviews were passive, pre-recorded watching so could not ask questions.  Like a real conference, hard to choose which concurrent panel to attend. As occurs at in-person conferences, some panels just bomb. Either the moderator was a poor choice, or the panelist(s) were not engaged during the session.