Saturday, October 23, 2021

What’s It Like Co-Authoring a Book?


Scott D. Parker

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to my cousin and he asked about any upcoming books I’ve written. I mentioned “Ghost Town Gambit,” the short story I had in the Six Gun Justice podcast anthology as well as Cash Laramie and the Sundown Express, the novel I co-wrote with David Cranmer that teams up our two western heroes, David’s Cash Laramie and my own Calvin Carter. My cousin was intrigued about the book, but more interested in how David and I wrote a book together.

To be honest, it was quite seamless.

The Beginning

Way back in January 2010, David sent me an email about a Cash Laramie story he was working on that drew some of its inspiration from the real-world west of the 1890s but also some steampunk elements. (I’m keeping the nature of the steampunk thing close the vest. You’ll just have to read the story to find out what it is.)

Knowing I had a fondness for steampunk, he suggested we team up our characters for this adventure. Soon thereafter, he sent about 3,000 words of the story. It included a historical note on when the story took place and the opening setup.

It quickly became apparent that his characters would need to get on the hijacked Sundown Express while Carter would already be on it when the outlaws took over the train. From that point forward, I took David’s text and inserted Carter into it, writing Carter’s scenes from scratch and layering in some text on the Cash side of things.

That’s pretty much how it went for a good stretch of 2010 and into 2011. We’d email back and forth, asking and answering questions, and tweaking the story as we went along. With Beat to a Pulp the publisher of record, David kept the main versions of the story while I maintained my copies as backup.

Recruiting Outside Help

The story just fell off our radar for about a decade or so. Every now and then, we’d bring it up, but little new work was done. In the intervening years, I had written more Calvin Carter stories and three novels. His style of story changed from a darker, more grittier version you see in his first short story to a more light-hearted, Maverick-style fun character in the novels.

Then, out of the blue, David emails me in August 2020 asking my opinion about reviving the story and completing it. I jumped at the chance, but let him know about Carter’s style change. I hadn’t thought of Sundown Express in years—although I had Carter reference it in one of the novels—but I remembered him being pretty tough. I would certainly have to re-read the story from scratch.

An invaluable stroke of good fortune was David asking Nik Morton to read the story and offer suggestions. Nik is a fantastic author, and his Write a Western in 30 Days book is a wonderful primer for writing your own western, even if it takes you longer than a month.

Nik had a read and then David sent me the updated file. I had already made a crucial decision: I would not go back and re-read what I had last written in 2011 or so, letting the 2020 draft serve as the new starting point.

I picked up the draft and read the story, with a notepad on the table and Word’s tracked changes turned on. Nik’s edits were good, but what was great for me was a couple of extra scenes featuring Carter I didn’t remember writing. I still have never gone back and re-read the old versions, but I was thrilled that Nik seemed to get Carter’s style. While David’s had multiple authors write about Cash and other characters he created—most recently The Drifter Detective featuring tales of Jack Laramie, Cash’s grandson—this was the first time another author wrote about a character I created.

The Homestretch

I worked on the draft rather slowly last fall, finally turning over my update in early January. From then, David and I went back and forth a time or two. During that time, David created the cover you see. I really like the painted effect he has on it, especially on the back cover of the paperback.

By way of marketing, David suggested we do an in-print “interview” where he and I go back and forth. I also suggested we try to get interviewed together for a podcast. I reached out to Paul Bishop and Richard Prosch of the Six Gun Justice podcast and they agreed. While the interview features just me, I do promote the collaboration, offering more insights than this.

Finally, a short twenty days ago, Cash Laramie and the Sundown Express was published for all the world to read.

I’m not sure if co-authoring a book is this seamless for other writers, but it was for David and I. We’re really proud of the finished story and hope you enjoy it.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Loose Thoughts on James Bond

 by Jay Stringer. 

Now, with a couple of weeks to digest the latest movie - I didn't need it, my thoughts formed in real time during the film and haven't changed- I've been mulling over the state of play with James Bond. 

Here be the thing. 

There's a big mistake, in my opinion, at the heart of much modern Bond. 

Now, first of all, let's get the obvious baggage out of the way. Bond is a fantasy figure. And not, on balance, a particularly healthy one. He represents the schoolboy fantasies of Ian Fleming, and his defence of the realm -leading to every speech by every Bond movie villain about Bond defending a fading empire- was already a wistful notion in the 1950's. Bond was formed in the same post-war myth-making period that has led to so much of Britain's modern identity problems, the self-defeating nature of repeatedly voting for people who promise to return us to a country that never existed. 

But with that revisionist take on revisionist history in mind...I'm going to argue that Bond is stuck in a very specific brand of revisionism. 

The 1980's looms large in pop culture. It seems every other Netflix horror movie or series evokes the decade. That in itself isn't unusual. When I was teenager in the 90's, there was a pop culture bubble of embracing much of the 60's. We're always consuming media that lifts the look and feel of thirty years previous, without really understanding what the time period was about. We live in pastiche. 

But more than that, I think much of our current action and adventure pop culture is stuck in 80's revisionism. That decade was the time of Frank Miller's Batman. The caped crusader had been a largely different character in each of the preceding decades, always reflecting the times. In the 80's, this became about being "gritty" and "adult" and "analysing the character." You'd have to be a pretty fucked up individual to dress like a bat and beat people up, and so Bruce Wayne has to be dark and tortured and broken. Never mind that people become orphans all the time, and that dressing like a Bat has never emerged as a human response to grief, we have to keep pretending that this formational event someone turned Bruce Wayne into the darkest, grittiest, and most fearsome motherfucker in Gotham. Each new film adaptation lays it's hat on the peg of being the one to "make Batman real" and "take him back to his roots" and "do something new" when doing slightly rearranged versions of the same 1980's thing. 

The same has happened with Bond. After the cool sexism (hey, remember him raping Passing Galore?) of Connery, the complete racism of OHMSS (That banana scene? good grief. Where are all those think pieces?) and the buffoonery of Moore, the 80's was a time to make Bond real. We had to go back to Fleming's original, and make the character reckon with his sexism, his imperialism, his alcoholism. Dalton's Bond was fairly straight-up, Brosnan's Bond was an ironic remix, and Craig's Bond has been a fantasy figure of a broken, alcoholic, tortured man. 

But there be the thing (part two). 

We're not analysing Bond, in these versions, we're analysing Ian Fleming. 

Fleming was all of the things we take Bond to be. All of those flaws. All of those weaknesses. But he wasn't writing Bond to be those things. The Bond of Fleming's imagination was an honourable schoolboy. A flawed-but-decent human being who was self aware about being in a job that required him to do indecent things. 

We can see two different takes on this in the Bond of modern literature. Jeffrey Deaver's Carte Blanche was a modern reboot, and seemed aware that the trick was to update Bond as a flawed-but-decent schoolboy fantasy. Here the super spy did super spy things, but was good to women, had unrequited feelings for someone, and thought through the darker deeds he was forced to do. Ultimately, it was a fun and modern story about a reasonably modern fun fantasy figure. And Bond purists complained. On the other hand, we have a series of books from Anthony Horowitz that place Bond back in Fleming's world, taking place during the 50's and 60's, and Bond purists love these books. 

Because we're stuck. 

Do I argue we need to ignore the problematic elements of Bond? Not at all. I'm not entirely sure why a person of colour would want the role of one of pop cultures creates imperialists. And we need to be open to accepting -as I didn't earlier- the deeply problematic misogyny encoded into the previous films and books. But there are so many ways to tell a story that admits to the past, and too problems, while still having fun with fantasy figures. 

Let's take a look at Steve Rodgers. Steve is an honourable schoolboy fantasy figure. Perhaps because of his 'canonical' story - ever since Stan Lee thawed him out of the ice he's been a Boy Scout out of time- Steve gets to be portrayed as a very different, very earnest, fantasy figure. As the figure who can hold up a mirror to whatever decade he is in, and show how much b better things can be if we show empathy, decency, and stand up for the right people. Steve's great comic books counterpart, Clark Kent, has become bogged down in the same 80s revisionism as Bond and Batman. Clark can't just be a decent guy who tries to do right by people, he has to be moody and tortured. 

There were moments in No Time To Die where we got to see a more fun modern Bond. Mostly the sequence in Cuba, when he worked with Paloma without the need to force it into either a flirtation or a hey-isn't-Bond-a-dinosaur act of revisionism, and Craig's Bond was simply a fantasy figure professional who trusted another professional and then congratulated her on doing a good job. I don't think it's a coincidence that Paloma came out of that film as one of many people's favourite parts. She was elevated by being in a scene that got it right. It was in the quiet matter-of-fact way Q was allowed to reference a boyfriend without the story needing to stop or draw any attention to it.

Letting Steve Rogers be Steve Rogers has never meant shirking any responsibility about showing real-life problems. But we did get to have some fun, some laughs, and some excitement along the way, and his last scenes meant so much more because of it. Watching Craig's closing scenes as Bond, I couldn't shake the feeling of heaviness, of leaden self-hatred that Bond seems to have to carry now. 

And let's dispense with the idea that Craig's Bond is realistic. He's equally a fantasy figure. Just a very weird, fragile, broken fantasy figure. Someone who can do all of the things that the other fantasy figures can do, while taking pain and angst and trauma to superhuman levels. I don't see much that's relatable or human in his take, past the one-two of Casino Royale and Quantum off Solace. So if he's a fantasy figure, let's be honest about it, and then ask ourselves what exactly this fantasy says about us?

On the other hand, I'm sure we could relate to someone who is trying to do right, and tries to treat people right, but has to try and figure out how to do that in a job that forces him to constantly compromise and make bad decisions. Just...dialled up a bit and including explosions and car chases. 

If Bond is to have anything fun, fresh, or interesting to say about real modern life, then maybe it's time too do it while entertaining us with a modern take on Fleming's honourable schoolboy, not yet another re-examination of Ian Fleming's own flaws. And maybe, just maybe, it's time to have a Bruce Wayne who felt the ultimate moment of loneliness and fear at 8 years of age, and committed himself to saving other children from feeling the same way. Maybe it's time to let Clark Kent be Clark Kent. 

Hey, remember, this book is out. 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Balancing with Beau


This week, Beau takes a look at The Balance, by Kev Harrison.

Natalia’s in trouble. She only looked away for a second, and now her brother’s hurt. Her relationship with her mother is fractured, her brother’s condition is deteriorating, and her only hope lays deep in the unforgiving forest. A secret spoken only in whispers offers a way out. But when help comes in occult forms a sacrifice may be the only way to restore the balance.

Humanity and nature collide in The Balance by Kev Harrison, a modern reimagining of the Slavic folk tale of Baba Yaga, set in Cold War Poland.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Goliath Season 4

by Scott Adlerberg

I wrote a bit here a couple of years ago about the show Goliath, having then just seen its third season.  I recently finished watching its fourth and what is announced as its final season, and once again, I enjoyed it for its distinctive qualities, the very qualities that probably will always make it a hit or miss show for people.  This year, after seasons spent in Los Angeles and the California Central Valley, the scene switches to San Francisco and the goliath that lawyer Billy McBride takes on is Big Pharma.

As with each season, besides regulars Billy Bob Thornton, Tania Raymonde, and Nina Arianda, the cast is excellent.  Bruce Dern has a major part  (When is it not great to see Bruce Dern?), as does Jena Malone, and this was the first time in a while I've seen Eias Koteas in anything. J.K. Simmons is the main villain, and having him in that part means that the enemy will be absolutely and suitably formidable.  Simmons is never not good, over the years playing funny characters and kind characters and all sorts of different types of people, but he can't be beat as a nasty person.  And every time I see him as a nasty person, it brings me back to the first time I ever saw him, as Neo-Nazi Vernon Schillinger in Oz, a role in which he was so convincing it took me awhile after that to get used to seeing him playing non-malevolent people.  He's a greedy son-of-a-bitch in Goliath and yet believable, not quite over the top.  And make no mistake; he's got that great physical presence.  He's seven years older than I am, and I'd like to know what his workout regimen is, though I'm sure I can't match it.

The thing about this show, something in particular I like about it, is how it has kept leaning into its low key yet unapologetic oddness.  This is especially true after season one.  The new season, though less trippy than season three, continues to push this vibe, with a number of sequences that straddle a borderline between "is what I'm seeing happening or is it remembered by someone or is it imagined inside Billy McBride's head". The legal twists and turns in the plot stretch plausibility, but this is part and parcel for the show, and in fairness, utter believablity in legal dramas, whether in film or on TV, is rare.  The show is not called Goliath for nothing, so that Billy and friends are going to win against the odds is a given; it's  merely a question of how, when everything seems to be going wrong, their victory will come to pass.  It's a tip off that the show's writers are self-aware and even playful when, in the current season, the climactic courtroom scenes blanch the screen of color and unfold almost in black and white.  What are we watching, Perry Mason?  No, but Goliath seems to be tapping into that kind of fun with the attorney machinations that transpire.  A conspiracy is unveiled and the evil of Big Pharma and how Big Pharma has pushed addictive opiods on the public is denounced in something close to melodramatic tones.  And yet it's not entirely straight-faced because, well, the last time you see J.K. Simmons, there's a screwball absurdity to what's going on.  

The season also taps into a film noir mood more than the previous seasons (though, again, Goliath has gotten more and more noir in ambiance with each successive season), and it uses San Francisco's Chinatown with its back alleys and colorful lighting to atmospheric effect. 

There's lot of rain, a retro jazzy quality to the soundtrack, and  a bar I would love to have as my local spot to chill in.  If season three tapped into David Lynch and Chinatown, the new one taps into Hitchcock a little, and oddly enough, mainly because of the color and lighting in the Chinatown scenes, there were parts that reminded me of Wim Wenders' Hammett (another work that's a full hit or miss for people).  All told, it's another go with the flow ride I was glad to take, and it had a conclusion, extended and dreamlike, that struck just the right liminal chord. Nice to see the series wrap up well.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Writing Tips

 By Claire Booth

I spent yesterday morning watching a virtual event on thriller writing that featured Laurie R. King and Meg Gardiner. Calling them masters of the craft is a definite understatement. They talked about many different aspects, but I want to highlight one in particular.

Suspense and tension.

I’d never really given any thought to the specificity of these two things in relation to writing something that needs to keep propelling the reader forward. Not surprisingly, Meg Gardiner has. Suspense, she says, is something you need throughout the entire work.

Tension needs to be meted out in doses. These are the moments of adrenaline, the turning points in the book. You can’t have constant tension; readers need excitement and then relief. But you do need constant suspense—what happens next and why does it matter so much?

For me, this was a wonderful, very concrete labels for the exact kind of book I’m working on right now.

If you’re interested in hearing more straight from these two fantastic authors, the event can be found through the San Diego Writers Festival. And if you'd like more from each of them, along with many other writers, their essays on craft can be found in this year's How to Write A Mystery.