Thursday, September 30, 2021

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Beta Reader Response Times

 By Steve Weddle

So you've written that novel. Dang, ain't that great? Remember how much you had to slog through some of those sessions, when nothing worked? Remember when everything fell into place? Remember when you woke at two in the morning with that idea that wouldn't go away? You and this book have been through it.

OK. Now, you want to send it to a friend to see what they think. You've clicked "Send" on the email. You've checked Twitter, Instagram, even watched a few TikToks. Now is the time to check the email again to see if they've responded. Well, they said they've got the manuscript and are looking forward to reading it. Cool. Cool.

Now it's the next morning. You check your email. They haven't even responded. Well, OK. You check Twitter. Instagram. Oh, that's weird. You see the person posting about going to see a movie last night. Well, OK. Sure. They can see a movie, but what about your book? The thing you've worked so hard on, that you've entrusted to them. 

Honestly, though. They're allowed to see a movie, right? I mean, you're being ridiculous. OK. Now it's the afternoon, and you're looking at Twitter again. Oh. They're live Tweeting a re-watch of the series premier for Big Bang Theory. Hunh. Well, how about that? Maybe you should mute them on Twitter and Instagram for a while. You're turning into a weird stalker. They're allowed to do other things than read your book, right? 

OK. It's been two days. You haven't gone looking for them on social media. You've only just kinda noticed that they haven't emailed about your book. You've hardly thought about it at all. No, really. Maybe they didn't like it. Maybe they read the book and are now thinking about how to find nice things to say, while sprinkling in some critical points. OK. You can take it. This is part of the job.

Come on. How long has it been now? Three days? Four? You check your sent emails to see when you emailed them. It's been five days? Good god. And nothing? Should you email them about something else, just as kind of a nudge? Should you find one of their Tweets and click the Like button so they'll see your name pop up in their Mentions and remember to read your book?

You're not sure what's taking so long. It's been a week now. Is that a long time? It seems like a long time. How long does it take you to read a book? Well, longer than that. Still, though. I mean, they could email to say they've read the first few chapters, at least. Right? What's reasonable?

I've been in the position and, while your mileage may vary, here's what I've come up with:

Praise in Under Two Days: The reader is a treasure. They really get you and your book. They're going in the Acknowledgements section of the book.

Critical Notes in Under Two Days: It's clear the reader didn't take any time with this. How can they complain about gaps in the narrative or action points that need to be amped up? And claiming that your main character has no agency? Please. Maybe next time they shouldn't race through the book. Maybe next time they should pay more attention, take their time. Ugh. You're starting to understand the reasons for their divorce.

Praise in a Week: OK. They took their time. They're careful and deliberative. What a great reader and friend. You should probably keep them handy and email them each chapter as you revise this novel. This is the sort of person you want to work with. They should make statues to this person.

Critical Notes in a Week: Oh, for Pete's sake. This is what they made you wait a week for? They plodded through this, this novel that you've worked at all hours of day and night on for so long, and this is what they've come up with? Two paragraphs of quote-unquote THOUGHTS? Great. Here's a thought. They're going into your next book. No, this book. You're adding a chapter, making this person a small-dicked goat-humper who gets arrested trying to burn down an orphanage. Congratulations, jackass.

Response Takes More Than a Week: Clearly this person is evil and wants you to suffer. You don't need people like this in your life. Block them on social media. Send their emails to Junk. Focus on the positive. If someone doesn't care enough to respond in a week, let them live their life going to movies and watching Big Bang Theory. How did you ever think a person like that could be helpful?

Again, your mileage may vary.

Good luck.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Clear Mysteries and Complicated Ghosts

By Scott Adlerberg

Last week I found myself seized with the desire to return to the pleasure of honkaku mystery fiction, the Japanese fair play-mysteries I've come to enjoy so much.  After browsing online, I chose The Red Locked Room, a collection of the best stories of Tetsuya Ayukawa, considered one of the masters of this particular form.  All the stories -- there are seven -- date from the 1950s or early 1960s, and each involves either a locked room puzzle of some sort or a mystery that hinges on a suspect's apparently perfect alibi.  Amateur detective Ryuzo Hoshikage solves the impossible crimes and a professional, Chief Inspector Onitsura, is the one who breaks down the alibis. I've read five of the stories so far, and each one has been excellent. Ayukawa is both a master of illusion and an author who plays fair with readers, and the logic in his stories, as is so important in these type of stories, is impeccable.  The collection has an introduction about his career and the totality of his work, and it has a description of these type of mysteries I never before encountered but find illuminating.  The writer of the intro says that "In the eyes of Tetsuya Ayukawa, an alibi is basically a 'locked room in time.' A locked room on the other hand is 'an alibi in space'."  Well-put, and as the introduction says, "it is therefore only natural he [Ayukawa] was such a master of both the alibi trick and the locked room mystery."

Motive features in these mystery stories but it is not the primary component. The key point is for the detective to figure out how something was done, and if that can be determined, the killer will be caught. The prose (in translation, needless to say) is clear, succinct, and easy to digest.

As I was making my way through these stories, I saw that Mike Flanagan's new series, Midnight Mass, had come to Netflix.  This reminded me that, having loved his adapation of The Haunting of Hill House, I've yet to watch the follow-up to that, The Haunting of Bly Manor, adapted from Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. The reason I'd put off watching Bly Manor was because I'd read that Flanagan had incorporated not only the James'  ne plus ultra of ghost stories in the series but a few of James' spectral tales I'd never read. I decided that I'd read "Owen Wingrave", "The Romance of Certain Old Clothes", and "The Jolly Corner" before watching the show and I'd re-read "Sir Edmund Orme".  Was it necessary to read all these before watching the series? I'm sure not, but I figured it would only enhance my engagement with Bly Manor.

Now a word about Henry James. He's an author who it does take effort to read.  No doubt about that.  That's true nowadays, and in all likelihood was true even when he was writing. I've still never read any of his novels (despite the many film adapations of his novels I've liked), but I count several of his short stories and novellas among my favories ever in those forms.  I'm talking in particular about "The Beast in the Jungle", which touches on lonliness and the sadness of an individual ordinary life with great power, and the creepy but moving "The Altar of the Dead", and his suspenseful story about a prying biographer trying to connive his way into getting important documents about his subject, "The Aspern Papers". In short doses, that James style, so dense, with such an emphasis on character developement and psychology, with all its analyses of motives and the shifting moods of the characters, I not only can tolerate but revel in.  And underneath all the decorousness of the lives of the people James talks about, there is often so much unalloyed darkness. This man knew lonliness, that's for sure, and understood disappointment and how rarely life lives up to one's highest expectations.  Combine that darkness with his complicated mind and prose and you get the recipe for great ghost stories, of which, in the classically suggestive vein, he is among the best.

Since taking a break from the honkaku stories, I've read "Owen Wingrave" and "The Romance of Certain Old Clothes", and it's been a pleasure to go from one mode of storytelling to another.  The mysteries end with bracing solutions (wrongdoers caught, order in the world temporarily restored); the James' ghost stories end on stark and abrupt notes of terror and death.  Nothing is purged in these tales and the past, if anything, has only served to exert a malign influence on the present.  

As I write this early in the morning, about to take the subway to work, I'm thinking I'll read on my commute the sixth of the mysteries in The Red Locked Room, before, tonight, or more likely tomorrow, going back to James. It's not only the swtiching between the mysteries and the ghost stories that's fun, but also going back and forth between the Jamesian prose and the uncluttered language of the Japanese stories.  Call it a daily literary speedball.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Processes and a Podcast

Scott D. Parker

There must be something in the air this week, because a good number of the writers I follow on Twitter had writing challenges. I did, too, but there is a solution.

On Thursday, Texan Jeff Abbott tweeted this:

“writing early this morning, i had been pondering since last night how to fix a chapter opening, had no good idea, sat down to the chapter, in desperation typed three sentences, character-driven solution presented itself to my weary brain, onward”

Later the same day, Bryon Quertermous had a short thread, the last of which contained this little nugget:

 “Writing can cause so many problems, but almost every time, the solution to a writing problem is to write through it. 5/5”

As for me, I’d been suffering a lazy streak. Part of it certainly had to do with how to craft the beginning of my next chapter. I had struggled to end the previous chapter in a satisfactory way, so I just ended it. The subconscious must’ve festered on my dissatisfaction with that ending because it kept hindering my forward progress.

Until this week. As a writer with a day job, I’m time locked with my writing time. I also hadn’t been doing my exercises as often as I needed to and it’s lack was catching up to me. So I did the most basic thing in the world: Gave myself no excuses. I compelled myself to wake at 5am, get on the rowing machine within five minutes of waking, and after a brisk ten-minute session, sat at my computer and wrote.

Guess what? The words came, fast and furious, until I had to stop and get ready for work. I didn’t mind, really. I had accomplished something. Two things, in fact. I had cleared my mind of the block that hampered my writing as well as the exercise. That was a great day.

No matter the writer, no matter how many stories the writer has completed, there will always be days in which the stuff just doesn’t happen. The brain might be wonky or filled up with life’s clutter. It’s going to happen, so it’s best not to get upset about it.

But there is a way to mitigate the hangups: Rely on the process. Don’t wait for inspiration. For nearly all of us, that means getting in front of our screens and doing the work. When we’re there, inspiration will come. It always does.

My First Podcast Interview

This process of always being available is part of my writing life on which I constantly rely. It’s one of the things Paul Bishop and I discuss in my first-ever podcast interview. It dropped this week and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Have a listen.

Or use this link to get the episode in your preferred podcast-listening app.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Frank Wheeler Jr.


We are heartbroken by the tragic loss of Frank Wheeler Jnr. 

Frank was one of the good ones. This hurts like hell. 

Love to his family. 

Jed Ayres has a moving tribute up at Hardboiled Wonderland

The Loop


This week, Beau takes a look at THE LOOP, from Jeremy Robert Johnson.

Stranger Things meets World War Z in this heart-racing conspiracy thriller as a lonely young woman teams up with a group of fellow outcasts to survive the night in a town overcome by a science experiment gone wrong.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Whole Mess of Scared

There's that bit of writing advice: write what scares you.

It's nothing new and honestly, the advice is solid, but I think writers often get a little too focused on the macro fears than they do the actual issues that stifle.

Me, for instance, I'm scared of being my parents. A lot of my work reflects that and explores that fear thoroughly. As a matter of fact, I've explored it so often that I'm not entirely sure that I'm as afraid of it as I used to be. Maybe fascinated. Definitely still disgusted with those people. Afraid? More like worried. Not necessarily pants-shitting afraid.

So what do we do then? What happens when we process those broad issues with our art? 

I began to realize there were fears creeping in the periphery. Things I would ignore; that were easy to ignore. There were moments where those fears crept in, but I did a good job avoiding them until I simply couldn't.

I couldn't be comfortable anymore. Comfortable to write the same stories. Comfortable to coast on what I created before. Comfortable to explore the same themes. See, fear, well, what we fear, can evolve. It can worsen, lessen, and change. My fears shifted. I wasn't afraid of content anymore, but I was afraid of risk. As a writer, it takes so long to find a rhythm, to find a sense of belonging, whether that is within your work or within creative circles. Complacency is a major risk, but it's a hell of a comfy security blanket.

And that complacency was strangling me. It was making me question whether I had reached my limits and whether it was worth taking a step outside of them. This led to a decision: do I go beyond writing what scares me by doing scares me or do I simply remain where I am?

Fear made me choose the latter for far longer than I care to admit, but now things have changed. I've realized that the only way out is through and that facing the fears I have :whether I'm good enough to try other genres, styles, subjects or good enough to leave the work I've created in the past fully behind, and take the risk of failing again. I've often joked about being a professional failure and while it's important to remember that writing is littered with failure with brief moments of triumph, it's super easy to avoid the failures that are super obvious.

So instead, I've mustered the nut to jump head first into those new patches of failure. 

I am writing while scared. I can't pretend it feels great all the time. I can't even pretend it will be worth it, but I do know I'm somehow happier, more passionate about the work I'm putting together. I'm more open to collaboration and to exploring themes/elements I never believed I had to ability or right to explore.

Even afraid, I know this will be worth it and I know I'll find new things to fear. But when that time comes, I believe I'll be more ready to tackle those fears than I've ever been.

So yes, write what you fear, but remember to write scared as well.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

A Timeline for the Ages

by Scott Adlerberg

I have an idea for a novel, and so far I've established a rough timeline for the plot.  So far what I have goes more or less like this:

About 5 or 6 years ago, a body of a 19-year-old man is found dead on a road in the country (let's say down in the South somewhere).  No arrest is made in this case.  The road is not far from the large house of a prominent family of the area.  The father/husband of this family is a well-known lawyer in the area and comes from a long line of successful lawyers in that area.  

Two years later, a housekeeper at the home of the same prominent family, a woman 57 or so years old, dies after a trip and fall accident at her employers' family home.  She had served for more than 20 years as the family housekeeper and nanny.

Years later, court documents related to the housekeeper's death will reveal that the family's father (remember, he is an attorney) told the housekeeper's sons that he was responsible for her death and plans to sue himself so that they are financially taken care of. But years pass, and the housekeeper's family receives no money.

About a year after the housekeeper's death, a woman aged 19 goes missing after a boat crash near a small island near the attorney's family's house.  A 911 call is placed from the scene of the crash. Many beer cans, as well as bloodstains, are found on the crashed boat, and about a week after the crash, the 19-year-old woman is found dead in a marsh off the island where the crash took place.

About a month after the boat crash, the son of the lawyer in whose family's house the housekeeper tripped and died a while back is indicted on charges of boating under the influence causing death and two counts of boating under the influence causing great bodily injury.  This son, the indicted one, pleads not guilty to all charges.

Two years after the boat crash, the father of the son who was indicted along with the son's mother, who is the father's wife, this father discovers the bodies of his wife and son dead on their huge hunting lodge property. In a 911 call, the father will say, "I need the police and ambulance immediately.  My wife and child have been shot badly!"

The authorities rule this double death a double homicide. Both mother and son died from multiple gunshots.  However, the authorities say, there is no threat to the public.  This case will go unsolved, and there have now been five deaths connected to this family. 

To recap the dead in this story: the 19-year-old guy found by the roadside near the family's house, the family housekeeper, the young woman from the boat crash, the son indicted in the boat crash, the son's mother.  Still alive is the father of this family.

Time passes and not much headway is made in the double homicide. There is much speculation. The father of the son killed in the double murder says his son had received threats recently.  This sounds perhaps plausible since the son had been drunkenly piloting the boat in the fatal boat crash.  Could the deceased young woman's family, in an act of revenge, be behind the double homicide?

More time goes by.  About two months. Then one day, the father/husband of the double homicide victims is shot in the head while changing a tire by the side of a road.  He is taken to the hospital, and despite the wound, he is conscious and speaking.

From the hospital, functional apparently despite the headshot he suffered, the lawyer releases a statement that says he is resigning from his law firm and entering rehab.  Who shot him is a mystery, though, once again, considering his family's history, speculation abounds.

The same day the lawyer makes his statement, his law firm says that he was stealing money from them.  The Supreme Court of the state the lawyer works in suspends his law license effective at once.

A couple days after this, a spokesperson for the hospitalized and now licenseless lawyer says that his shooting was not, in fact, self-inflicted. The lawyer suffered a skull fracture and somebody else shot him, a guy driving a blue pickup truck.

Soon after, a 61-year-old man is arrested in connection with what is now called the assisted suicide shooting of the lawyer.  The lawyer now admits that he thought up a scheme in which he would have himself shot and killed so that his surviving son could collect on his $10 million life insurance policy. He had thought, perhaps incorrectly it turns out, that his son would not collect on the policy if he actually committed suicide by his own hands.

Now the lawyer's lawyers are fully involved, and they issue their own statement. This statement says that the lawyer, well before the family's death problems began, had been battling opioid addiction. For a good 20 years, he had been struggling with this addiction.  The guy who shot him, who he hired to shoot him, was one of his drug dealers.

The hired shooter slash drug dealer is taken into custody, and now he is facing charges related to the shooting.  The lawyer, meanwhile, besides charges connected to insurance fraud and the suicide by hired killing, is named the chief defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit by the sons of the longtime family housekeeper and nanny of the lawyer's family, the one who tripped and fell and died years ago in the family house.  

Both the lawyer and his shooter are given bonds for their charges and both are released from custody.  They are each ordered to appear back in court on specific dates, different dates, soon.

The death of the guy who died by the roadside near the lawyer's family house years back -- that death remains unsolved, as does the shooting of the lawyer's wife and son, though of course there are many possibilities there...

That's all I have so far in my timeline. But I'm thinking about what comes next in the story.


Of course, I made none of this up and I've merely set down the timeline of the Murdaugh family murder mystery story currently in the news.  Alex Murdaugh is the lawyer and Curtis Edward Smith the guy, it seems, who shot him.  But what happens next in this case, considering what's already unfolded, is anyone's guess.  This case has gotten my attention and I've been following it in the news in part because it's my favorite type of true crime story -- a saga way too strange, even absurd, to be believable as fiction. If you put this many twists and turns and loose ends in one novel, the reader would start to laugh or curse and probably toss the book away.  It would seem utterly implausible, and yet it all happened, and the story is not even done yet.  I just love these kinds of too-bizarre-to-be-fiction narratives, and when they involve crime, that's even better.  That's not to overlook the seriousness of what's happened, I should add, the grief felt by survivors of people who've died in all this.  But since true crime, unlike fictional crime, is under no obligation to be "realistic", it can have this level of improbability.  

Any more twists or revelations to come from this case, anything else close to unbelievable? It's not fiction, so it's certainly possible. 



Sunday, September 19, 2021

Review: Nailed It! The Beauty of Baking Badly

By Claire Booth

I’ve had a lot of things going on lately (car accident*, laptop meltdown**) that have caused me no small amount of stress. Getting the aftermath of all that sorted out derailed my usual crime television routine. I’ve finally been able to sit down a bit the last few days, and the perfect show for my current mindset popped up.

The sixth season of Nailed It! released on Netflix this week and it’s sheer escapism just when I need it. Yes, the crime shows I usually watch are also escapism, but there’s always some part of my brain that’s analyzing them—what works, what doesn’t, how they develop characters, whether the solution is satisfying. Nailed It has none of those things. There’s no crime—unless abusing small kitchen appliances has become a felony—just ridiculously fancy example cakes that inept bakers try to copy.

Host Nicole Byer with baking professional Jacques Torres and a cake most definitely not made by a contestant.

Host Nicole Byer is funny but never descends into meanness, which is especially impressive when you’re having to eat something that tastes like gravel or looks like the cat coughed it up. Some guest judges are better than others, but she’s able to pull along the ones who aren’t so that they don’t detract.

This contestant forgot to add the flour.
If you haven’t watched yet, I recommend you start at the beginning. The show has honed its comedic attitude over the six seasons, making increasingly funnier use of its subtitled baking tips.

I can’t wait to see what words of wisdom this season brings.

* I’m okay. The verdict is still out on my car, though. Lots of damage when the guy plowed into me and spun the car around.

** Microsoft sucks.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Favorite Movies and TV Shows Featuring Railroads


Scott D. Parker

Earlier this week, over at the Western Fictioneers blog, I posted this column. It served as a fun list of my personal favorite movies and TV shows that feature trains, but it also revealed the cover of an upcoming collaboration with David Cranmer, aka Edward A. Grainger.


When you think of what makes a western a western, railroads and trains naturally make it onto the Top 10 list. They may not be in the Top 5, but they certainly play a significant role. I know they did when it came time for me to write my own western stories, especially with the creation of Calvin Carter, Railroad Detective. You see? It's right there in his title.

David and I emerged on the scene more or less at the same time, now over a decade ago. We each ended up creating a western hero. He created Cash Laramie, the Outlaw Marshal, who, along with his partner, Gideon Miles, deal with outlaws and desperadoes wherever they rear their ugly heads. For me, I spawned Calvin Carter, a former actor who, in the course of tracking down the man who killed Carter's father, learned he had a knack for detecting. He often dons disguises and uses his acting abilities to bring a certain amount of flair to the role of his lifetime.

A while back, David suggested we team up our heroes and, after a decade of stops and starts, the first pairing of Cash and Carter will be published this fall. In Cash Laramie and the Sundown Express, owlhoots have hijacked the inaugural run of the fastest train in the west, and it's up to Cash and Miles to retake the train. Unbeknownst to them, Carter is on board, in disguise, as he, too, attempts to thwart the hijackers while saving the passengers, including the renowned actress Lillie Langtry.

David thought it a fun idea if I made a list of favorite trains in movies and TV. I agreed, but then quickly realized something. Not only did my list almost instantly get filled with non-western ideas, but some of the more well known westerns to feature trains were movies or TV shows with which I am not familiar. Thus, you won't find Hell on Wheels on this list because I simply haven't watched it. And while I have watched both versions of 3:10 to Yuma, I can't speak with any authority because I can't remember a lot of the plot. 

So, with these caveats in mind, here's my list.

The Great Train Robbery (1978)

If I'm being honest, this might be the first heist film I ever saw. From the opening of Sean Connery's voiceover explaining how the gold is transported and secured, you sit on the edge of your seat wondering if he and his team will pull off the robbery from a moving train. 

Many of the scenes I first saw in my youth remained with me, but two always rose to the top. The ending, when Connery's Pierce, escapes on the police carriage as he was destined for jail, smiling all the way, his arms extended in a sort of bow, really stuck with me. Only now that I think of it do I think a part of Carter's DNA must have emerged from Connery's performance.

The other scene that has always stuck with me is Donald Sutherland's Agar as he runs into the train office and makes wax impressions of the keys, all within 75 seconds. I was enthralled by that kind of thinking and ingenuity. I think this film might've set the stage for my continued enjoyment of heist films, and it undoubtedly enamored me with the charming con man.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

I only saw this film for the first time this century as it is my wife's favorite western. And really, what more is there to say about this Sergio Leone epic that hasn't already been said? Ennio Morricone's score is brilliant, giving the film not only its epic feel but saying, through music, how the modern world is encroaching on the frontier in the form of the railroad.

I appreciate how the locomotive and the building of the railroad serve as the central character in this film, a character that is, in effect, the march of time and we people must adjust to it or get out of the way. And, unlike many westerns that feature railroads, it was a dirty, hot, and mind-numbingly brutal job, but a job that needed to be done, no matter the cost. Of all of Leone's films, this one remains a favorite.

From Russia With Love

I love James Bond and nearly all of his films, but as I've gotten older, I've become more interested in the movies with smaller stakes. This film, the second in the franchise, has a pretty spectacular train sequence that the historian in me loves. 

After Bond and Tatiana Romanova have escaped with the Lektor cryptograph machine, they flee on one of the most famous trains: the Orient Express. In these scenes in the middle of the film, you get to see what it was like to travel in style in what is probably the last major decade where train travel was considered a viable economic means of transportation before planes surpassed it.

Key to my enjoyment of the train sequence is the fight between Bond and Red Grant (Robert Shaw). It is the close confines of a train compartment that give the fight its brutal nature. No gadgets, just fists and brawn and brains. A different Bond (Roger Moore) would again fight in a train (Moonraker), but this Sean Connery version--look at that; two Connery films--is my favorite.

The Wild Wild West

No discussion of westerns and railroads would be complete without a mention of The Wanderer, the train and tricked out rail car of James West and Artemus Gordon. Again, TWWW was my first, favorite western TV show. Being a Star Wars kid, I loved the gadgets, the steampunk-before-steampunk-was-a-thing vibe, and West and Gordon's "home." No matter how many time owlhoots or Dr. Miguelito Loveless boarded the train, you knew there was something the Secret Service agents could do to get themselves out of any predicament. 

Not only the gadgets, but I also appreciated how there was science equipment for Gordon to do his investigations and his disguises. 

Like the bridge of Star Trek's Enterprise, so many episodes either began or ended on board The Wanderer that it became a crucial component of a wonderfully entertaining TV show.

Back to the Future: Part III

When David asked me the question about railroads in the old west, this is the first one that came to mind. 

I consider the first film to be one of those perfect films not only as a time capsule of its time, but the storytelling mechanics within the movie itself. The second one gave us three looks: their future (2015, now our past), an alternate 1985, and a trippy return to the events of the 1955-part of the first film. 

But I have a special love for Part III. Set almost entirely in the old west, director Robert Zemeckis basically made a western that held true to all the aspects we have come to love about westerns, but with a twist. Doc Brown not only makes a steam-powered ice machine but he also gets a delightful love story.

Act III's central action sequence is on a train, one they have to get up to 88 MPH as it pushes the futuristic Delorean down the tracks and back to the future. Plus we get a spectacular crash as the locomotive in 1888 falls off the incomplete bridge and crashes into Eastwood Ravine.

As fun as that is, however, it's in the movie's closing moments when we get a truly over-the-top train. Doc Brown, his wife, and two boys (Jules and Verne) return to 1985 to say good-bye to Marty McFly in a *flying train*. 

Mic. Drop

Well, those are my favorite trains in movies and TV. What about yours?

Friday, September 17, 2021

Can We Stop The Game?

 By Jay Stringer

These days I aim to be a ray of positive sunshine. I learn from Beau's example. Build people up. Share the things you like. Carry around a murderous mannequin. But the old demons are in there, still wanting to come out and growl. So I better put them to good use. 

Here today is a list of crime fiction talking points I don't give a shit about. Things that seem to crop up on the regular on the socials, and burn a hole in the conversations. I'm going to make this an airing of the grievances thing. What talking points do you no longer give a shit about? What should we cleanse from the timeline? 

1. "Transcending the genre."

Straight in with the curve here. You think I'm going to say how sick I am with reviewers or haughty writers saying a book transcends the genre. Nope. I'm saying I don't give a shit when people use that phrase. Who cares? Really? Do you? Really? 

Are we that fragile in our own confidence and our own genre that someone using a trite old phrase can send us into a tailspin of twitter outrage? 

Here's the thing. Reviews have tropes. Same as crime fiction. Sometimes we subvert the tropes, sometimes we play to them, sometimes we ignore them. But they're there. And reviews are the same. Reviewers are taking time out of their day to tell the world about books. And they usually only have a small word count to play with. Sometimes you have someone knocked unconscious as a way out of a stalling chapter, sometimes a reviewer needs to reach for an established old phrase. No big whoop. 

But also, its often meant as praise. They're saying the book is good. They're saying the book is literature. And....aren't we all, really, aiming to write literature? If you see someone else being said to transcend the genre as a slight on you, then I suggest the problem is not with the reviewer. 

I know why I got into crime fiction. I know why I stay in crime fiction. And I know what my strengths and weaknesses are as a writer. And nothing a reviewer says about somebody else's book is going to change any of that. 

2. "Social Fiction."

There's a scene in the movie Seven Psychopaths when Colin Farrell's screenwriter is called on his poor handling of female characters. He pauses, thinks it over, and says that what he's really trying to say is that it's a difficult world for women. It is, the other person agrees, but most of the women they know can still string a sentence together. 

Here's the thing. I'm exceptionally guilty of throwing the 'social fiction' tag around. Go back over a decade to when this here website started, and I was loud and leading the charge. Crime fiction is social fiction. Crime fiction reveals truth. Crime fiction shows us how the world is. 

Yeah, yeah yeah. 

Seven Psychopaths

I mean...I still believe that. But I think the writers who are genuinely doing all of that don't go round shouting about how they're doing it. As the genre finally opens up to new and diverse voices, we're starting to see more and more truths. 

But I'm am so fucking done with a parade of middle-aged leather-jacketed white men using the "social fiction" phrase as a get-out-of-jail-free card when they're called on being sexist, racist, homophobic, or just plain nasty. You're telling on yourself. You're not writing the world the way it is, you're writing the world the way you see it. 

3. Noir vs Cozy.

WE ARE AT WAR, PEOPLE. The cozies hate the noirs. And the Noirs hate the cozies. And the cozies are making nice with the historicals to bring them onside. IT'S WAR. 

Except...none of that is real. Cozy writers don't hate noir writers. And, in my experience, most cozy writers can actually drink noir writers under the table. There's no issue there, no grudge, no problem. We ARE ALL FUCKING CRIME WRITERS. The only people keeping this going are noir writers, who seem to need to exist in some permanent state of "nobody likes us and we don't care" in order to validate their self-worth. 

And....combining points 3 and 1.....


You don't have to go far at a crime fiction convention or festival to find someone complaining that crime fiction is looked down on. That the literary world are all snobs about our genre. That we just can't get a break, just can't be taken seriously. Often, and most amusingly, this complaint will come from someone who regularly sells over fifty thousand copies a year, gets five-to-six figure deals, and has possibly even paid off a mortgage with the proceeds of crime fiction. 

Just stop it, will you? 

Genre fiction in general is what keeps the publishing industry afloat, and crime fiction is often -in whatever form the popular version of it takes at any given moment- filling out a number of spaces in the bestseller lists. Stop pretending like there is some huge thing pushing down on you. 

There are people who have genuine hurdles to overcome in order to even get a seat at the table. People who have systemic issues holding them down. People who can't even keep a seat at the crime fiction table for more than one or two book deals. And to hear your complaints that "people just don't like my genre" while all of that is going on is, frankly, insulting. 

Truth time: The highest contract I received was for 12,000 dollars, and that was for two books. And I don't say this to complain. I was very happy to receive 6,000 for a book, and I had many friends at the time who were on fractions of that. But to hear people who are on multiples of my 6Kx2 -and more importantly, know they will remain on that with future contracts for books they haven't written yet- complaining that they don't get taken seriously is simply ridiculous. Look, if you want the praise that gets heaped on literary books, often with lower advances and lower sales, then go write a literary book. If you pick a lane, don't complain about not being in the other lane. 

Why do we need to play these games? Why do we need to play these games while there are so many people having to fight to even get in to our genre? 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Stop being a baby about spoilers

By Steve Weddle

Ted Lasso comes out on Fridays. If you don't want to be spoiled about Ted Lasso happenings, mute "Ted Lasso" on your social media until you can catch up.

Or "Lego Masters" or whatever it is you're watching.

Some of us want to talk about those things, and it's silly for us to stop talking about those things because it's Sunday and you haven't had a chance to watch Ted Lasso yet.

You can mute phrases on social media until you've caught up.

You can stay off social media until you've caught up.

You can bury your phone until you've caught up.

We're standing around the water cooler on Monday morning talking about the movie or show we all saw over the weekend. You want us to stop talking about that because you haven't seen it yet? In an office setting, we'd have to stop while you got your coffee, which would be fine. But then you'd head to your desk and we'd get back to talking about the movie we all enjoyed as soon as we were done making fun of your wrinkled shirt. Honestly, buy an iron. They're like fifteen bucks.

On social media, you can't get people to stop talking about shows or movies you haven't seen. You just can't. And it's unfair to try to stop folks from sharing with each other because you haven't been able to see the movie or show or match yet.

If I'm out and about volunteering at the orphanage on the weekend, I'll try to avoid scrolling through social media until I can watch Arsenal lose to Brentford on the DVR. Or I could mute certain phrases: Arsenal, Gunners, chokers, artetaout, etc.

You can mute phrases, while we talk about the show you've missed. Just mute. The "mute" option is a wonderful tool for this. The responsibility is yours.

You have the tool. Don't be a tool.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Back to a Somewhat Spartan Mindset

After 14 months of working four days a week at home and one in the office, and 4 months of working either two or three days a week in the office and the other days at home, I began yesterday my official return to working full time in the office. It's quite a change after a year and a half, and I have to say it will take a bit of readjusting to what was a routine I followed for years until the pandemic hit.

It's not as if during my time working from home, I had a lot more free time than otherwise to write. I still worked set hours at my job and put in a day of the same length as I do when working in the office. But there can be no doubt that working from home provided a certain sense of flexibility that the rigors of an office schedule, with a daily subway commute to and from work, cannot match. I don't even have an especially long commute -- about a ten-minute walk to the subway and then a 25-minute ride to the office -- but as anyone who rides a subway daily knows, five days a week of taking trains, with their delays and irritations, sap one's energy. Then there's the imperative of being at work by more or less a specific time each day, and the aggravations that can come on occasion, let's face it, with normal office interactions. The solitariness of working from home, the ability to communicate with fellow workers about only the essential things relating to the work at hand, was, I found, a pleasure. Again, it's about mental energy. And I found that waking early, writing, and then slipping directly into work mode, or that waking, working, and then taking a break before slipping into writing mode at night, both suited me.

I guess I got spoiled. A life in pajamas or in clothes like sweats, with full attention and focus on work, whether job-related or writing, it's something I never would have expected to happen and it goes without saying that it's most unfortunate that it happened for the reason it did, but it did happen, and I tried with writing to make the most of it. I got a novel finished. The extra time available around the workday meant I could get more sleep on a nightly basis. I could get more sleep and still wake naturally, without having to set the alarm every single day.

Now I'm mentally gearing up to do things the way I did before the pandemic and the working from home. I'll be either going to bed early to wake in the pre-dawn hours to write or spend the day at work, come home and eat, and write late at night. Time will be more constrained again, the schedule tighter and more rigid. I'll sleep less on weekdays and try to get decent nights of sleep on the weekends. I've done it before, for years, but returning to that rather austere routine will take effort. Maybe I'm just older now? I'm sure that's part of it. But what else can you do? It's how it goes for most people who write, or paint, or play music, or whatever. You have to squeeze in that prime activity when you can and how you can.

At least until retirement, if that day ever comes.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Because I don't want to forget.


I was working at a small fashion company in midtown on Tuesday, September  11. It was my second day and I was just returning from delivering clothes to a magazine nearby when I heard about the first plane. My first thought was a small plane hit it by accident.  

It was when I got back to the front desk and answered call after call for staffers from their mothers that I realized something was horribly wrong. It was an office of eight salespeople and I had five moms on hold looking for their daughters. Thankfully, they were all at their desks. Then my mom called.

“My God! They’re trying to kill us.” She sounded like she was singing.

“It’s okay. It was just an accident.”

“Not the second plane. Oh God.” I heard the phone change command.

“Honey.” It was my dad. Lifetime military and one tough fella.

Behind me, the office began to buzz. The sales pool was getting louder. It sounded like they were crying. I turned on the computer. Images of the burning buildings from a helicopter. All I could think of was the people. All of those poor people. Please, God let them get out.

“Get yourself together and get out of there.” My dad cut into my thoughts with his serious dad voice. It wasn’t until noon, our boss wasn’t in the office and no one was telling us what to do, that we all filed into the stairwells and out into the streets.

I headed west to catch a ferry to New Jersey. People were huddled around cars, listening to the radio. In front of stores watching the news. An older woman in a burqa was walking alone and so I joined her. She said she was afraid because there had been reports on the radio of people attacking mosques in retaliation for the attacks. Arm and arm, we looked south as we crossed to the promenade to join the miles long line stretching north; the air left my lungs. There were tanks on the West Side Highway. 

Quickly, we headed to the gate. A Port Authority employee was counting passengers in her bright yellow vest and sunny sweet smile. When we stopped to ask instruction, she hugged us. Just for getting there. We all talked for a moment, because the line wasn’t moving, and she knew it was a scary situation for my new friend.  She took her from me and accompanied her onto the ferry, with the elderly and endangered. I joined the line.  


Early on the morning of September 12, 2001 I took the Boonton into the city because I didn’t know what else to do but go in, I couldn’t be alone all day with the news and my thoughts. The train schedules were off, of course. There were delays and incidents. Once at the station I noticed the trash cans were chained closed, most stores were dark and there were police everywhere. Station parking lots were full, a car in every spot, but the trains were nearly empty.

There was only one other passenger in my car. He watched me board and waved me over. We introduced ourselves and I sat down.

“Where’re you from?” He was holding his briefcase so tight his hands were red. I think I understood how he felt. Or how he wanted to feel. I think we needed to feel normal.


“No. Before here.” He looked like every fortyish, hard-working Dad type in every movie and show. Balding on top and big round glasses. “I’m originally from Florida. Long line of Gators.”

“From Virginia, originally. With a little bit of everywhere thrown in.”

The train curved wide to the right and we looked out of the window at the same time, sitting across from each other, not talking but still not alone. Taking in the big view, he took a deep breath before his voice cracked.

“I guess we’re all New Yorkers today.”

We made more friends on the train that week as the city tried to keep moving. There were nine of us, meeting on the train in the mornings and at the station in the evenings, most of us with a hot dog and beer in hand. We were loud and boisterous, trying so hard to be happy. When the train would pass the station parking lots, now cramped with tow trucks moving cars belonging to victims from the towers, we were always quiet. The streets of our towns crowded with funerals every weekend. The pictures of those lost remained on the walls of stations and stops.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

"What Are We Going to Say?"


By Claire Booth

There is a homage to character and story and a great actor today in the New York Times. Michael K. Williams, who played Omar Little on The Wire, died this week. And showrunner David Simon remembers him through the lens of his commitment to the story they were trying to tell. 

“What are we going to say this year?” Williams would ask Simon at the beginning of every season, as the show shifted from the Baltimore streets to its port to its city government, schools and newsrooms. And Simon had to answer Williams’s question, had to articulate his vision and his reasoning. What a gift for a writer to have a person like that in her or his corner—one who forces you to explain yourself. I know my stories are better when I have to do that for someone. I can only imagine if that person was someone of Williams’s exceptional talents.

Read the whole essay in the New York Times here: