Saturday, November 20, 2021

NaNoWriMo 2021 - Week 3 Encouragement: Let the Book Breathe and Drive to the Final Week


Scott D. Parker

The third full week of November also counts as the third full week of NaNoWriMo 2021. Still having fun yet? I know I am. I am well ahead of the daily pace of 1,667 words per day. As of yesterday, a daily 1,667 words gets you to 31,673. As of now, I’m only 3,100 words shy of 50,000, a threshold I should reach Saturday (if I have a good writing day) or Sunday for sure.

So I’m pretty jazzed about my progress, and I attribute it to a mantra I apply to NaNoWriMo and every other story I write: let the book breath and be what it wants.

What do I mean by that?

I’ve mentioned before that I set out to write a murder/mystery will elements of romance. Well, as it turns out, my 2021 NaNoWriMo book is more family drama than murder/mystery. Don’t worry. The murder is here, but I opted to write this story in which the corpse does not show up in chapter one. I wanted to set the stage first, introduce the characters first, give the reader a sense of them all before something bad happens.

And I think I’ve accomplished that. I’m the first reader even though I’m the writer, and here’s a telling comment about my enthusiasm about this story: I haven’t read anything else all month. The story I want to read is the one I’m writing. Getting up at 5am on weekday to write is not a chore. I almost literally jump out of bed, go through a few calisthenics, fill a coffee cup, and start writing. I can’t wait to get back to the story.

I’m using Google Docs and it tends to wig out around the 10,000-word mark. As such, I create a new file every 10,000 words. I’ve let some folks read the first part and the response has been quite positive. It’s a good thing when you, the writer, enjoy a story you are writing. It’s great when someone else likes what you’ve actively working on.

As we turn the corner to the last full week of November (the month ends on a Tuesday) and some of us have days off where we can possibly spend more time writing, keep this thought in mind: it’s more important for you to finish the book than reach 50,000 in November.

Here’s why. By now, you will likely have already established a pattern, a routine for writing. Whatever it is, keep doing it until the book is finished.

If you can conceivably complete the book by the end of November, do it. But, if you don’t think you can make that deadline...but do think you can complete the book a few days after 30 November, then make the adjustment. Because, when you get right down to it, the reason you started NaNoWriMo in the first place was to complete a book. The 50,000-word mark was only a trick, a hack, to get many writers started. Your book may only be 45,000. If so, then congrats! You’ve written a book. Your book may actually not be done until you get to 95,000 or more. Your book is your book. Do your adjustments as you see fit.

But this last full week of NaNoWriMo 2021 is the final major push. I’ve done it before. I’m doing it now. Millions of others have done it.

And you can, too.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Zero Saints

This week, Beau takes a look at ZERO SAINTS, from Gabino Iglesias.

Enforcer and drug dealer Fernando has seen better days. On his way home from work, some heavily-tattooed gangsters throw him in the back of a car and take him to an abandoned house, where they saw off his friend's head and feed the kid's fingers to...something. Their message is clear: this is their territory, now. 
But Fernando isn't put down that easily. Using the assistance of a Santeria priestess, an insane Puerto Rican pop sensation, a very human dog, and a Russian hitman, he'll build the courage (and firepower) he'll need to fight a gangbanger who's a bit more than human.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

To Swerve or Not To Swerve

I'm sick of the swerve. The twist. The sudden moment where EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW WASN'T TRUE.

We've become addicted to the idea that the story must subvert its audience, that creators have to outsmart us in order to entertain us. And mind you, while it can be perfectly entertaining to have expectations subverted, especially in the crime/mystery genre, I'd posit that it's also extremely satisfying to know exactly what we're getting.

And we do, don't we? More often than not, we know our stories will involve good beating bad. That our heroes will learn lessons and grow. It's the road to get there that counts, but why do we insist that road take unnecessary turns every single time?

I've found that trying to subvert the expectations of readers can often lead me to write towards a twist as opposed to a resolution, and while a good outline can iron out the kinks that come with writing to the twist as opposed to writing to the end, I still think it's unfair to the writer and reader when that twist holds more priority than anything else in the story.

I mean, how often do those twists and swerves really leave us amazed? I find myself feeling betrayed more often, especially when writers decide to change characters' personalities or intelligence levels simply to serve said betrayal.

As I write this, I'm trying to think about the last time a last minute twist really sent me for a loop - in a good way - and I can't seem to think of one? I can say the last time I stood up and cheered in a theater was in the absolutely obvious from beginning to end Avengers: Endgame. We all knew what was going to happen, but you know what? We were all mostly satisfied.

So again, when was the last time I was really blown away by the third act twist? The Sixth Sense? What Lies Beneath? The end of the Thriller video? I'm not entirely sure. 

Now, I try to avoid thinking about those swerves until the story demands it of me. I treat my outlines and drafts as simple as possible, as a story that goes from point to A to B to C until I find an opportunity for enhancement by skipping B to get to J. That method's helped me to better my craft and to appreciate my ideas for what they are. 

That said, do you write for the twist? Or would you rather discover it organically? Discuss below.

Or don't. It doesn't matter because I NEVER read the comments.

Stream Twist (ft. M. Night Shyamalan) by Rebel28 | Listen online for free  on SoundCloud

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The Insult by Rupert Thomson

by Scott Adlerberg 

Late this summer, a friend of mine and I got together to hang out for a night, and he brought along a book that he said I had to read.  He handed it to me -- The Insult, by Rupert Thomson.  I took the book and did the usual. I looked at the front cover and read the back cover copy, and I read the blurbs on the front and back.

I'd never heard of either the book or the author, but I was intrigued. The book had been published in 1996 and this particular edition was a Vintage Crime/Black Lizard edition. The blurb on the back from Time Out said, "Reads like an unholy collaboration between Oliver Sacks and Edgar Allan Poe".  And the description was interesting: "With this eerie, provocative and original novel, Rupert Thomson takes the psychological thriller into unexplored territory.  Martin Blom is walking toward his car in a supermarket parking lot when a single random bullet pierces his brain.  From that moment he is blind -- his doctor says permanently.  But then one evening Martin discovers what is either a genuine miracle or a delusion suffered occasionally by the newly blind: in the dark, he can see."

My friend, who is very well-read and who happens also to have read my books, described this book as one I "had to read".  He said that when I did, it's the kind of book that might make me jealous.  "It's something you would write," he said.  "I'm telling you. You're going to read this and think it's something, if I came up with a premise like that, I could write."  He added that I should not read up on the book before starting it because the less I knew about the story going in to reading it, the better.

You get book recommendations from friends all the time, and like with movies or music, you judge that recommendation in large part on who is making it.  I had the usual to be read pile of books at my house, and I added The Insult to it, thinking I would get to it eventually.

"Don't take too long," my friend said.  "I want to talk about it with you."

It took about two a half months for me to get to it.  In the meantime, I read up a little bit about the book. Not enough to learn any plot points, but enough to find out that David Bowie, of all people, in 2018, had listed it as one of his top 100 novels."  Now I don't know much about Bowie's reading taste other than that he read a lot and liked William S. Burroughs, but praise from him certainly didn't diminish the book in my eyes.

So, having now read it, my reactions:

First of all, I don't think I've ever picked up a book where the cover descriptions and even the blurbs are so misleading.  The book's central conceit does revolve around blindness, and the Oliver Sachs comparison isn't entirely off because the novel's main character does suffer a traumatic brain injury that affects his perception.  He may have what is an actual condition called Anton's Syndrome (a blind person adamantly insisting that they can see).  But beyond that, there is nothing from the cover that you could glean that would give you the slightest clue as to the direction this book takes. And that includes the title, which derives from a rare use of the word "insult".  Even the novel being published by Vintage/Black Lizard threw me off because the novel is not a crime novel in any conventional sense.  This is not a Vintage/Black Lizard in the tradition of Jim Thompson or David Goodis or any of the noir writers like that.

So what precisely is The Insult?  It's a novel, I have to say, not quite like any I have ever read. Rupert Thomson writes easy-to-read sentences using plain language, but he has a great gift for description and unusual but incredibly apt metaphors.  He also never, through 406 pages, lets his story flag. The narrative moves forward briskly at all times, told by a first-person narrator, Blom, the man made blind by a random bullet.  I don't want to describe his bizarre adventures and give things away and I absolutely don't want to reveal much about the book's structure, which I loved.  I'm not sure everyone will love it, but I did. Let's just say that about 260 pages in, when you're wondering where the hell the story is going, caught up in it as you are but completely baffled as to where everything is leading, the plot takes a turn that nobody, and I mean nobody, could predict.  It's more than a mere plot twist also; it's a complete turning of the story, you could say, though at the same time it's a logical progression of everything that has gone before. You read through to the end, riveted by a tale that only gets odder and odder, and at the conclusion, there is a satisfying payoff, or at least I thought so. Some reviews of the book I've read since finishing the novel disliked the ending and indeed the entire direction the book takes from page 260.  I can understand the chagrin of those who didn't like where the book went, but if you like something adventurous, beautifully written, and just downright strange on almost every level, The Insult is a book you may enjoy.

And about my friend.  I've yet to discuss the book with him, but I'm eager to do so.  I'm wondering why he was so convinced I'd like it.  He was right about that, but it's not exactly because, as he seemed to be suggesting, The Insult takes a fascinating premise and develops it brilliantly.  I doubt he saw it as a crime novel I'd go for, because, as I mentioned, it's not a crime novel in a standard sense.  I'm not even sure, in all honesty, what the book is aiming at. It's the kind of story that is written with clarity and that provides a wonderful sensory experience but whose overall meaning is somewhat enigmatic. I do think that perhaps Rupert Thomson has subtly played with detective story forms in the book.  Both the first and second parts have to do with crimes, but the first part, shall we say, has a lot of ambiguity and an open-endedness, leaving lots of questions unanswered, while its second part also has to do with crime but answers everything clearly.  Is the author sort of presenting, in one book, both an anti-detective tale and a more traditional mystery?  Theme built around structure, if you will.  It's nothing more than a theory I have, and I'd love to talk to Rupert Thomson about it if I could.  That probably won't ever happen, but I'm looking forward to talking to my friend about The Insult when we next get together.  And I'll thank him, of course, for the recommendation.  

Monday, November 15, 2021

Flash Fiction Challenge with Shawn Reilly Simmons


First up in our Flash Fiction Challenge is Shawn Reilly Simmons, fearless leader of the fun-loving yet dubious RVA City Writers. She is one of the busiest people in the community as she serves on the Board of Malice Domestic and is co-owner/publisher/editor at Level Best Books. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers, and the Crime Writers’ Association in the UK. Shawn also hosts 5 Compelling Questions with Shawn, a fun and informative podcast featuring authors and industry professionals discussing the writing life aiming to entertain and motivate. She also keeps busy hosting live and virtual writers reading events and educational symposiums. 

And of course, there is Shawn’s extensive doings as an award-winning writer and editor. She is the author of seven novels in the Red-Carpet Catering mystery series featuring Penelope Sutherland, chef-owner of a movie set catering company. She’s also written several short stories which have been published in various anthologies, including “Burnt Orange” in Passport to Murder: the 2017 Bouchercon Anthology; “The Prodigy” in Mystery Tour, the Crime Writers’ Association Anthology; and “Now is the Hour” in Writers Crushing Covid-19.

Shawn’s story “The Last Word,” appearing in Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible, won the Agatha Award for Best Short Story of 2019. Shawn also won the Anthony Award as editor of the Best Anthology or Collection for the same anthology. In addition, her tale “The Red Herrings at Killington Inn” received an Agatha Nomination in 2020 for Best Short Story.

We are fortunate to have Shawn’s involvement in this challenge. I hope you enjoy this tidbit.

What is the challenge?

Write a fifty-word flash. That’s it. However, the story must incorporate three randomly selected words and revolve around a single, overall theme. The words have been drawn and shared; letter, afford, and yard. The theme is despair.

Second Chance

by Shawn Reilly Simmons

Give a man an inch and he’ll take a yard, Tammi thought as she searched, pushing aside faded boxers and grabbing the gun. She couldn’t afford to miss this time. His love letter to her baby girl was proof he’d burned through his second chance, a gift from a fool.