There will be carnage. There will be blood. But through it all, a sliver of hope. And perhaps, if he’s lucky, a chance at brighter days.
Time to go to work.
I was going to sit down and write a piece early this morning as I usually do on Tuesdays, but yesterday at work I began to feel crummy, sore all over, with the signs of a cold coming on, and when I got home I gave myself a Covid test. The result: positive. And just when I thought I might actually be immune to the thing. Or outfitted with an immune system just about impregnable. My son had Covid last year and later my wife had it, and I never got it. I am vaccinated and boosted of course. Anyway, there it is. So far I don't feel too terrible, but I'm going to go out to get a second test at a medical place to confirm the result, but it seems that I do have some variant of the virus. I'd prefer to rest today instead of pushing to get a piece done.
But I should be back with a piece next week. For now, besides going back to bed, it's a question of what to binge watch later, if I'm up to it, and what to read.
|Book mail! Look what I got my hands on . . .|
Award-winning author and friend of the blog A.J. Devlin returns today with his third “Hammerhead Jed” novel. This one take pro wrestling and ups the beat-down stakes by throwing in some MMA. I highly recommend the whole series. Feel free to start with this one. Here’s A.J. to tell us more about it. - Claire
It’s an honour and a thrill to be back on DoSomeDamage.com for a third time – promoting a third book – thanks to the talented and generous Claire Booth!
Every time I contact my south-of-the-border author friend she always has an open mind and a great sense of humour, regardless of whether I’m pitching her potential ideas about discussing indie pro-wrestling, kidnapped snakes, roller derby action, competitive wiener dog racing, or banana milkshakes … lots and lots of banana milkshakes.
However, when I told Claire the next chapter in the “Hammerhead” Jed pro-wrestler PI mystery-comedy series was about how my grappling gumshoe and Dairy Queen aficionado would catch a case that drew him into the tight-knit mixed martial arts community – which ultimately leads him to encounter an exclusive and unique no-holds-barred fight club – she seemed intrigued.
Despite my great love for independent professional wrestling and women’s flat-track roller derby, there’s no denying they both lean more toward being considered “fringe sports,” whereas over the last twenty plus years MMA has absolutely exploded into mainstream media and pop culture. However, this kind of extreme combat has its own unique origin, and that’s where I wanted to take both my protagonist and this particular narrative. It can be argued that some of the toughest and most devastating fighters ever to throw down were never known by many, save for those on the receiving end of their beatdowns, until the likes of street fighters and real life urban legends such as Kimbo Slice began to bridge the gap between what was whispered about and out of sight and what you can now regularly view at a pub on a weekend the way you would a hockey or football game.
If there is no glamour, no pomp and circumstance, and certainly no pay outs, what drives these fierce city warriors to fight in the first place? Is it pride? Machismo? A primal need to be a dominant “Alpha Male?”
Or is it something more … something deeper, perhaps, that pushes them to punish their bodies with a guarantee of almost little-to-no fanfare? While some of these questions are answered in my latest book, each character’s reasons for finding themselves in such a predicament and environment are wholly different and distinctive, just as I imagine they would be for the real-life fighters who served as inspiration for this bare-knuckled backdrop of brutality.
Ultimately, what I really wanted to achieve in Five Moves of Doom was to try and find a way to not only provide the signature escapist action and humour I hope my series has become known for, but also go deeper into the psyche of “Hammerhead” Jed, all without sacrificing the tempo of what I worked hard to try and make an engrossing and page turning story.
As a pro-wrestler turned PI, and being the same kind of hoss ring general akin to squared circle legends like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and Triple H, there’s no denying that “Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead is very much defined by his physicality and is used to being the biggest and toughest guy on the scene.
While Jed is also certainly clever and has his own style and guile, when conceiving of where next to take such an affable and offbeat investigator I found myself wondering what would happen if while working a case he found himself as more than just an underdog? What if he was suddenly unable to not only rely on his usual brawn to get him through the kind of tough scrapes he’s encountered so far as a sleuth, but was also shaken to his very core and questioning who he is not just as a detective or a skilled combatant, but also as a man?
How would this person continue on without the advantage they had become so accustomed to? Would they lick their wounds? Pull up their bootstraps and try again? Come up with another strategy or change their tactics? Or would they simply through in the towel altogether?
I believe that when you take a character and strip them of their most essential and intrinsic quality there is an opportunity to showcase an emotional depth that might not often be able to be examined in generally fast-paced and fun genre fiction such as mysteries. And I thought maybe such a development might lead to some engaging drama that could perhaps allow me as an author to do something a little bit different this time around with such a stalwart series lead, and, in turn, offer something both familiar yet also fresh. By exploring these themes in Five Moves of Doom I’m convinced for better or worse that a much more vulnerable “Hammerhead” Jed is revealed, and, as a result, readers may find themselves getting to know him better in this threequel than in the first two books combined.
A.J. Devlin grew up in Greater Vancouver before moving to Southern California where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Screenwriting from Chapman University and a Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting from The American Film Institute. After working as a screenwriter in Hollywood, he moved back home to Port Moody, BC, where he now lives with his wife and two children.
Scott D. Parker
What keeps you going? What keeps you writing? Why bother publishing?
I’ve had numerous thoughts on this subject throughout the summer as I wrestle with my own work. Every now and then, I’ll come across articles about the real data concerning the publishing industry: actual number of books published in a given year, average number of copies a given book sells, etc. It’s the usual stone cold reminder than if you want to be in this business, you’d better steel yourself for constant obstacles and challenges
Then I read posts like the one Dana King published yesterday on his website. In “A Cautionary Tale,” he describes how he was inspired to write a short story. He submitted the story to a mainstream magazine and received the happy news that it was accepted. Bravo, Dana! Then, like most of us writers, he waited for the issue to come out with his story in it.
What he discovered after contacting the publisher was that the story was already published earlier this year. Like six months ago. And here’s the kicker: he wasn’t even notified of the publication, the issue, the date the magazine hit the stands, nothing. Turns out the magazine’s staff doesn’t have the capability to communicate with authors—those who got stories accepted and, presumably, those who were reject.
The point of King’s post was to remind writers that we are, usually, at the bottom of the industry hill. This would be the hill down which shit rolls. I mean, think about it: having a story published in a magazine is a big deal. For writers who wrote decades ago, they would have received a letter informing them of the story’s impending publication and the check for said story. Now, that’s not even a thing (at least for this unnamed magazine). Seriously? Where’s the common courtesy? Where’s the professionalism?
Are you ready for a reality check? King—who has been nominated for Shamus Award twice—lays out the reality of a writer, the cost it takes to, say, maintain a website vs. the money received back in return. It ain’t pretty. The joy of writing a story vs. the “frustration endured.” He all but says that there is a marker on his road of being a writer where he might quit. “I’m not there yet,” he writes, “but I can see if from here.”
Sober reality, folks. That’s what King’s post from yesterday was. Read it for yourself, especially if you are a writer, then ask yourself if you have the constitution to continue. If so, why? And for how long?
I have my answers. Do you?
The second season of Penknife is out -- the podcast about writers who may or may not have written about crime, but who definitely committed it -- and I'm happy to say that it lives up to the excellent standards set by the first season.
Season one, as I've written about on this blog here, focused on Norman Mailer, Jerzy Kosinski, and Jack Henry Abbott, their writings and crimes. Season two is more concentrated in nature, as the podcast's creators, Corey Eastwood, Santiago Lemoine and Ramona Stout, discuss the intertwined lives and nearly simultaneous deaths of two people. These are British playwright Joe Orton and his long-time friend, lover, and partner, Kenneth Halliwell. The two met in 1951, when Orton was 18 and Halliwell 25, and their relationship ended on August 9, 1967. That is the night when Halliwell struck Orton nine times with a hammer while Orton was sleeping and then swallowed 22 pills of Nembutal with a cup of pineapple juice. Halliwell died quickly, but Orton, who almost certainly didn't feel anything after the first blow hit him, lingered on unconscious for hours. By the time a chauffeur came knocking the next morning to pick Joe up to take him to a meeting with film director Richard Lester, for whom he had written a script called Up Against It (at one time to star The Beatles, then, later, Mick Jagger and Ian McKellan), Orton was dead, too. If you're a fan of Orton's plays or read John Lahr's biography about him called Prick Up Your Ears or saw the Stephen Frears film of the same name, with Gary Oldman as Orton and Alfred Molina as Halliwell, you know the basics of this story.
At its core is the way the arc of their relationship developed over time. Once Halliwell had been Orton's mentor, his educator if you will, and they collaborated on both various public pranks (amusingly described in the podcast) and artistic work, specifically novels. Both were involved in regional theater. Both were living as gay men in a country where homosexuality was still technically illegal (until 1967), and because the two shared the same small apartment for years, they knew nearly every detail about each other's lives. But there came a time when it became clear that Orton had a depth of talent that Halliwell didn't, and while Orton in a few short years turned out plays that jolted English theater and made his name -- Entertaining Mr Sloane, Loot, What the Butler Saw -- the artistic aspirations of Halliwell languished. Penknife details his struggles and how, as well, Halliwell never possessed much social grace. While Orton, like his plays, was witty and funny, Halliwell could be maladroit to the point of attracting scorn from others. While Halliwell suffered from early baldness (later hidden by a wig), Orton, vain, had good looks and worked hard on his physique. As time passed and the two remained close, though not precisely in the way they had been close years earlier, the resentment in Halliwell grew and grew. The pressures inside him built. And these pressures increased, you could say, upon a foundation inside Halliwell that had been damaged from quite early. I'll let the podcast fill you in on what Halliwell went through as a child. In all honesty, it's not easy to feel much sympathy for him as an adult and one can't say that his early trauma excuses or minimizes murder, but it does help put his actions in a context that gives us a full picture of the man.
And as for Orton? Here also context is key. We know Orton as a victim of a terrible crime and as a man who had to live through a period where he could be arrested for having sex with another man. We know him as a playwright who mocked, attacked, broke down, and made ridiculous every mainstream moral code he could. But, as Penknife examines, there was another side to Orton, one uncomfortable to talk about, now as much as ever, and it is this side that the podcast zeroes in on in its final two episodes. It wrestles with the eternal question of how do you look at great works of art from a problematic artist. In Orton's case, the question is especially tangled because the artist, apart from his predatory acts (we're talking pederasty here, sexual tourism with teenage boys in Tangier), strongly stands as an admired iconoclast, a gay icon, a devoted and hilarious thumber of his nose at authority, the establishment, and homophobes everywhere. Penknife gets into all this stuff, and it does so with intelligence, directness, and what I love most when these complicated things are explored: nuance. One can discuss even awful human actions with nuance, using history, at least in part, to establish context. One can view a complex person from various angles at the same time and hold all these conflicting aspects of that person in your mind without total condemnation or any whitewashing. With its focus on writers who've committed crimes -- good writers -- Penknife has hit upon a particularly fertile area of investigation, and the conversations that its three creators have among themselves, debating, questioning, turning things over from various directions and through different prisms, injecting serious matters with humor, is a pleasure to listen to.
I'm looking forward to season three.
Scott D. Parker
I watched “Clerks III” on Thursday, and it’s a great example of a storyteller allowing his characters to age, grow, and mature. It’s also an example of a storyteller taking a famous quote he wrote and changing it’s meaning.
“Clerks III” is Kevin Smith’s latest film, coming twenty-eight years after his debut movie, “Clerks.” Being the pop culture geek that I am, folks are surprised to learn that I only started watching Smith’s films 2019. Up until then, he was only a podcaster (and that only since 2012). So, in 2019, leading up to the release of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, I watched all of Smith’s films, reviewing and ranking them all.
What makes my viewing of these films interesting is that I am in my early fifties rather than the younger person I was had I watched these movies in real time. As a result, they strike me differently (just look at my favorite Smith film). I have a much longer review of “Clerks III” on my own blog, but
I have a much longer review of Clerks III on my own blog, but I want to touch on one aspect here. It’s a storytelling technique I found incredibly brave that yielded an incredibly emotional reward. But to do so, I have to spoil the ending. You’ve been warned.
A running gag in Clerks was that Dante, one of the two main clerks, came into work on his day off. Played by Brian O'Hallaran, Dante just seemed to sigh and roll his eyes as he had to deal with annoying customers who came looking to buy whatever crap they wanted. To just about everyone, he kept lamenting that “I’m not supposed to be here today.” To all of us who had to work jobs like, boy could we relate.
In Clerks II, it’s one of the closing lines of the movie. As Dante and his best friend, Randal (Jeff Anderson) stand behind the counter of the very same Quick Stop convenience store they now own, Randal says, “You’re not supposed to be here” in an echo from Clerks. Dante replies with “It's the first day of the rest of our lives.”
The main story of the movie is that after Randal has a heart attack, he decides to do something creative with his life and make a move about his life. Basically, he decides to make Clerks. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, despite all the in-jokes and winks and nods to the actual movies Clerks and Clerks II.
With the latter two Clerks films, Smith broadened and deepened the love and friendship between Dante and Randal. They are, to use Smith’s term, hetero lifemates. Randal finally realizes how much Dante means to him after Dante himself succumbs to a heart attack. Unlike Randal, however, Dante doesn’t survive.
I’m not sure how many of the folks in my theater were crying when Dante died, but I sure was. Heck, my voice broke a couple of times when I later told my wife the events of the story. Yes, I cry at a lot of things, but these movies and these characters, even over just three years, have come to represent something. I think lots of fiftysomething folks, guys especially, find pieces of themselves in the lives of Dante and Randal.
Now, in Clerks III, at Dante’s funeral, it’s Randal looking down at his friend’s coffin for the last time and he laments that he [Dante] isn’t even supposed to be here [at his own funeral] today.
No one will be able to watch any of the Clerks films—or wear the quote on a t-shirt or see it on a coffee mug—without thinking of how this one simple sentence has had its meaning changed after nearly thirty years.
That’s a fantastic piece of storytelling.
Two Atlanta misfits in debt to notorious dog fighter and drug dealer Boots Tumbler are coerced into handling his dirty work. Phobos and Chuck, desperate to pay him back, go elbow deep in blood, dirt, and gristle, cleaning up dog fights, delivering drugs, and disposing of dead bodies. Regardless of the haul, they shovel it, bag it up, stuff it in the trunk of their 1982 Cadillac Deville and drive it off for disposal. The misfit pair fumble their way through dangerous circumstances and criminal adventures. Desperation eventually drives them out of the city, across lost highways, encountering a circus of outlaws and revolutionaries living on the margins of morality.
Its Tuesday night, but I'm still coming down from my Bouchercon high.
This was my first time at Bouchercon, the annual convention for mystery / crime writers and fans, and I'm both exhausted and also basking in how great it was. I saw my friends. I saw amazingly deserving people win awards. I saw equally deserving people lose awards with a grace and happiness that I did not expect. I saw one of the greatest writers of our generation in conversation with another of the greatest writers of our generation. I saw a beautiful city and I drank too much and I was on panels and I hugged old friends and made new ones. I had deeply personal conversations and threw up silly jokes. I had people I consider heroes treat me as an equal. I left rejuvenated and ready to write.
It's a cliche to say that the writing life is a solitary one, but cliches are there for a reason, and this one is true. But standing in a packed bar with so many writers of my favorite genre, I didn't feel alone. I felt part of something larger. A tradition, maybe. Or a community.
It's Tuesday night and I am still exhausted. It's Tuesday night and I just got done writing and I feel so god damn alive.
This week, the mystery convention Bouchercon was held in Minneapolis. It’s a great opportunity to connect with readers and other writers. And to see Minneapolis.
I’ve seen the Mississippi in St Louis and New Orleans, so it was fun to see it farther north.
The main reason for being here was the convention. I participated in a panel and heard many others.
Then there was the socializing. It was great to strengthen existing friendships and make new ones. Writing is lonely work, and conferences like Bouchercon bring a much-needed dose of companionship. It came after two years of cancellations—2020 and 2021 both went virtual due to Covid. This year we were back in person, with people even more appreciative than usual for the chance to celebrate crime fiction.
Scott D. Parker
I’ll confess that I had a longer (and different) post that I wanted to write but the day job interfered and I don’t have enough time to do that post justice. Also, seeing all the photos from Bouchercon up in Minneapolis is making me wish I were up there.
So in that spirit, here’s a list of winners for the Barry and Macavity Awards (AKA things to add to your TBR pile).
The Barry Award winners are selected by subscribers and readers of Deadly Pleasures, where one of the magazine’s stated goals is to search out and report on the best works being published in the field of crime fiction each year.
BEST MYSTERY/CRIME NOVEL
Razorblade Tears, S. A. Cosby (Flatiron Books)
BEST FIRST MYSTERY/CRIME NOVEL
Sleeping Bear, Connor Sullivan (Emily Bestler/Atria)
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
The Good Turn, Dervla Mctiernan (Blackstone)
Five Decembers, James Kestrel (Hardcase Crime)
The Macavity Awards are nominated by members of Mystery Readers International, subscribers to Mystery Readers Journal, and friends of MRI.
BEST MYSTERY NOVEL
Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby (Flatiron Books)
BEST FIRST MYSTERY NOVEL
Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala (Berkley)
BEST MYSTERY SHORT STORY
“Sweeps Week,” by Richard Helms (EQMM, July/August 2021)
How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America edited by Lee Child with Laurie R. King (Scribner)
BEST HISTORICAL MYSTERY: Sue Feder Memorial Award
Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara (Soho Crime)