Saturday, September 4, 2021

Reading Aloud to Improve Your Writing


Scott D. Parker

I read Jay's blog from yesterday and I thoroughly enjoyed his bonus content where he posted a video of him reading a chapter of his latest work in progress. (I really loved that one of the characters shared my name.) 

Anyway, I loved it so much...that I did the same thing. 

It's a fundamental truth in writing that if you read your prose and dialogue aloud, you will hear errors your eyes miss. It'll also help your character to sound more natural. 

So, here you go: me reading a random chapter (actually the latest) of my current manuscript. And I'd like to challenge our fellow writers to do the same.

(Boy, did YouTube select an awkward image of me.)

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Elmore Leonard's Best Book From Each Decade

 By Jay Stringer

This past week I was the guest over at Grab This Book, adding my choices to the Decades feature. The hook is an author picks the best book from each decade, for five consecutive decades, helping to compile the ultimate library. Go over and take a look, there are a number of great lists and authors

In order to avoid going insane I imposed a couple extra rules on myself. One of them was not to simply pick an Elmore Leonard book from each decade. Because...seriously, I could. Elmore Leonard, along with Lawrence Block, is the main reason I write crime fiction. 

Today I'm writing a companion piece. Which Leonard book would I have chosen from some of the decades I featured? Play along at home. Criticise, debate, correct my choices. 

1970's. Swag. 

Vinatge Leonard. The template of so much that would come to follow. Street level, blue collar, funny-as-hell, a little bit of grit. Crime fiction boiled down to something real and relatable. Two normal guys decide on a life of crime as bank robbers, after writing down a list of rules for success one drunken night. And the rules work. And keep on working. Everything is fine until they start bending the rules...

It's worth also throwing in a criticism. Women weren't particularly well served in Leonards early crime novels. It's something he himself became aware of, after a comment from his wife, Joan. He put in the work to improve, and would later give us a cast of great women. But when reading Swag now -and you should- it's worth bearing that element in mind. 

1980's. LaBrava. 

Freaky Deaky tends to get the attention from the 80's books. And deserves it, with it's comic timing, it's mix of burned out radicals, criminals, and high explosives. And City Primeval shows that Leonard was exploring toxic masculinity long before we called it toxic masculinity. But for my money, LaBrava is the purest shot of 80's Leonard. It catches the sweet spot, the right balance of the quirks, the humour, the realism and the politics. Yes, I said politics. For some reason Leonard doesn't get talked about as a political writer. I find this as strange as the people who criticise his plotting. Leonard is operating on another level. I'd be tempted to use the words 'transcend' and 'genre' if I felt like trolling book twitter. You come to read Leonard, you better come to read subtext. 

LaBrava brings certain themes to the fore. It's about people being good at things. About people changing lanes later in life. About people feeling burned out and wondering if it's too late to do something wild. 

1990's. Rum Punch. 

My gateway drug. Probably the gateway drug for a lot of people, after Quentin Tarantino turned it into Jackie Brown in 1997. I've always loved this book, but for over two decades I thought it was just because it was my first taste, and because it was fun. Re-reading it at 40, the book hit me on a whole other level. This is a book about getting old. There's a great scene in the movie, in which Pam Grier and Robert Forster sit at a table talking about hitting middle-age. With the book as a distant memory, I had started to believe this was a scene created for the film, based around the ages of the two actors. But on revisiting the book I found the same scene there, almost word for word. And that's the heart of the matter. The characters in this book are ageing. They're feeling it. They're worried about getting stuck in a rut, held in place by all their decisions, and wondering: is it too late to change

2000's. Pagan Babies. 

This book made my list over at Grab This Book. Not because I think it's Leonards best book. In fact, I think all the books I've mentioned so far today are better. But rather, because it's the one that stayed with me the longest. The one I had to think about the most. From it's opening page detailing genocide in Rwanda, through it's seemingly by-the-numbers caper plot set in Detroit, through to the come-to-jesus (or not) personal realisations of the closing chapters, this feels like Leonard's summational book. His final attempt at boiling down his themes and passions to their most basic and pure. After this, in the last decade of his career, he became more self indulgent. He began revisiting characters for one last ride -like Jack Foley, Cundo Rey, and Dawn Navarro in Road Dogs- and wrote a couple books that took him right back to his childhood interest in the John Dillinger era. They're all fun and interesting, but they feel like a victory lap, compared to Pagan Babies, which felt like the author saying the thing he'd kept trying to say. 


I filmed a quick video yesterday showing my editing process, the way I read every single chapter out loud to listen for bad notes. Let's see what random facial expression YouTube chooses to present my work to the world. 

Return of the Book Nook


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Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Josh Stallings Discusses TRICKY

 by Holly West

Hiya! Holly here with another author interview. Many thanks to Angel for letting me post on his day.

This month, I tracked Josh Stallings down and asked him if he'd talk to me about his latest novel, TRICKY (Agora Books). The scope of our discussion covers many things, from writing characters outside our own experience to religion to that moment during every book's journey when you think "I'll never be able to do this." But Josh did it with TRICKY, and in my opinion, he nailed it.

But I'll let him tell you about it:


Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Dangerous Visions and New Worlds

A book I am happy to have contributed an article to, called Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction 1950-1985, is due out in October. The title sums up what the book will be about, and my contribution is an extended piece on the great Soviet-era, Russian science fiction writers, the Brothers Strugatsky. For the next month or so, the publisher PM Press is running a pre-sale campaign via Kickstarter, and I just wanted to mention something about the whole enterprise here.

Dangerous Visions and New Worlds celebrates and evaluates how science fiction novels and authors depicted, interacted with, and were inspired by cultural and political movements in America and Great Britain. Edited by Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre, this is the third book in their series which includes Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980 and Sticking It to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950 to 1980.  

Much has been written about the “long Sixties,” the era of the late 1950s through the early 1970s. It was a period of major social change, most graphically illustrated by the emergence of liberatory and resistance movements focused on inequalities of class, race, gender, sexuality, and beyond, whose challenge represented a major shock to the political and social status quo. With its focus on speculation, alternate worlds, and the future, science fiction became an ideal vessel for this upsurge of radical protest.

Dangerous Visions and New Worlds starts with progressive authors who rose to prominence in the conservative 1950s, challenging the so-called Golden Age of science fiction and its linear narratives of technological breakthroughs and space-conquering male heroes. The book then moves through the 1960s, when writers, including those in what has been termed the New Wave, shattered existing writing conventions and incorporated contemporary themes such as modern mass media culture, corporate control, growing state surveillance, the Vietnam War, and rising currents of counterculture, ecological awareness, feminism, sexual liberation, and Black Power. The 1970s, when the genre reflected the end of various dreams of the long Sixties and the faltering of the postwar boom, is also explored along with the first half of the 1980s, which gave rise to new subgenres, such as cyberpunk.

The book contains over twenty chapters written by contemporary authors and critics, and hundreds of full-color cover images, including thirteen thematically organized cover selections. Besides the Brothers Strugatsky chapter, there are new perspectives on novels and authors such as Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, John Wyndham, Samuel Delany, J.G. Ballard, John Brunner, Judith Merril, Barry Malzberg, and Joanna Russ. There are excavations of topics, works, and writers who have been largely forgotten or undeservedly ignored. If the first two books in this series are any indication, this new one should be fascinating, as well as beautifully put together, and any pre-orders will be much appreciated.

This will be a 224-page, full-color, large-format book, and the PM Press Kickstarter to encourage pre-orders will include all sorts of rewards, including other books by the coeditors, related titles and combo packs, and the chance to "upgrade" to a hardcover at any level and add-on the limited throw pillow and handmade high-waisted underpants (yes, undies!) featuring Retro SciFi Pulp Book Cover fabric.

To learn more about the Kickstarter, you can click here:

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Show Goes On


By Claire Booth

Last night, I went to Bouchercon. Virtually. The world’s largest mystery convention was supposed to be in New Orleans from Wednesday, Aug. 23 through today. Then Covid cases in Louisiana soared and the Delta variant everywhere proved to be even more contagious than the original. So the organizers made the wise, considerate, healthy – and considering how much time they’d put into planning – excruciating decision to cancel.

We had to do the same thing last year with Bouchercon 2020, which was supposed to be held in my hometown of Sacramento. I was on the local organizing committee, and we pivoted from in person to virtual in late spring of that year. Our October convention was instead held online. We had panels (fewer than we would have), interviews with our author guests of honor, and an awards ceremony.

But we had more than four months to put together a virtual convention. The New Orleans organizers had three weeks. To pick themselves up off the floor, down a few drinks, and get back to work. And over the last two days, they pulled it off. They gave us a wonderful interview on Friday night and an Anthony Award ceremony on Saturday night. (And in a not insignificant side note, those organizers living in New Orleans did all this live while also having a hurricane headed their way.)

Both events are now on YouTube. If you’re interested in finding some new authors to read, I highly recommend watching. The Anthony Awards especially featured some knockout speeches. Stay for the last one. I promise, it’s worth it.

At this link, you can find:

Alafair Burke in conversation with James Lee Burke, hosted by Heather Graham with introductions from Rachel Howzell Hall. 

The Anthony Awards, hosted by Hank Phillippi Ryan, with an introduction from Craig Johnson (who writes the Longmire books). These are voted on by convention attendees. We did it virtually this year, and the slate of nominees is below.

Best Hardcover Novel

What You Don't See - Tracy Clark - Kensington

Blacktop Wasteland - S.A. Cosby - Flatiron Books

Little Secrets - Jennifer Hillier - Minotaur Books

And Now She's Gone - Rachel Howzell Hall - Forge Books

The First to Lie - Hank Phillippi Ryan - Forge Books

Best First Novel

Derailed - Mary Keliikoa - Camel Press

Murder in Old Bombay - Nev March - Minotaur Books

Murder at the Mena House - Erica Ruth Neubauer – Kensington

The Thursday Murder Club - Richard Osman - Pamela Dorman Books

Winter Counts - David Heska Wanbli Weiden - Ecco Press

Best Paperback Original/E-Book/Audiobook Original Novel

The Fate of a Flapper - Susanna Calkins - Griffin

When No One is Watching - Alyssa Cole - William Morrow

Unspeakable Things - Jess Lourey - Thomas & Mercer

The Lucky One - Lori Rader-Day - William Morrow

Dirty Old Town - Gabriel Valjan - Level Best Books

Best Short Story

"Dear Emily Etiquette" - Barb Goffman - EQMM - Dell Magazines

"90 Miles" - Alex Segura - Both Sides: Stories From the Border - Agora Books

"The Boy Detective & The Summer of '74" - Art Taylor - AHMM (Jan-Feb) - Dell Magazines

"Elysian Fields" - Gabriel Valjan - California Schemin' - Wildside Press

"The Twenty-Five Year Engagement" - James W. Ziskin - In League with Sherlock Holmes - Pegasus Crime

Best Juvenile/Young Adult

Midnight at the Barclay Hotel - Fleur Bradley - Viking Books for Young Readers

Premeditated Myrtle - Elizabeth C. Bunce - Algonquin Young Readers

From the Desk of Zoe Washington - Janae Marks - Katherine Tegen Books

Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco - Richie Narvaez - Piñata Books

Star Wars Poe Dameron: Free Fall - Alex Segura - Disney Lucasfilm Press

Best Critical or Nonfiction Work

Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy - Leslie Brody - Seal Press

American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics and the Birth of American CSI - Kate Winkler Dawson - G.P. Putnam's Sons

Howdunit: A Masterclass in Crime Writing by Members of the Detection Club - Martin Edwards, ed. - Collins Crime Club

The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia - Emma Copley Eisenberg - Hachette Books

Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman behind Hitchcock - Christina Lane - Chicago Review Press

Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession - Sarah Weinman, ed. - Ecco Press

Best Anthology or Collection

Shattering Glass: A Nasty Woman Press Anthology - Heather Graham, ed. - Nasty Woman Press

Both Sides: Stories from the Border - Gabino Iglesias, ed. - Agora Books

Noiryorican - Richie Narvaez - Down & Out Books

The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell - Josh Pachter, ed. - Untreed Reads Publishing

California Schemin' - Art Taylor. ed. - Wildside Press

Lockdown: Stories of Crime, Terror, and Hope During a Pandemic - Nick Kolakowski and Steve Weddle, eds. - Polis Books