Saturday, February 26, 2022

Writer, Know Thyself AKA Don’t Fight Who You Are

Scott D. Parker

The year 2022 has been rather productive even if that productivity hasn’t always generated new words. It has, apparently, yielded greater clarity as to the type of writer I am. It also meant I had to struggle through some thoughts that really got me down.

On New Year’s Day, I had the idea that I wanted to write every single day in 2022. That lasted 41 days, longer than some folks do with their resolutions but it still stopped. Part of the reason was that I was a bit haphazard in what I was writing, but I think I learned something about myself in the process.

I thought it would be fun to write some short stories. I also thought I could write 1,000 words per day. I busted out the first one in only three days. Then I jumped on a second one, knocking it out in about seven or so days. Then a third. I then shifted to writing chapter 29 of my current WIP and finished up that chapter. But I wasn’t sure where to go next with the story. With the 1,000-word-per-day goal hanging over my head—when I really wanted to stop, re-read the WIP, and determine where to take chapter 30–I left the WIP and started a fourth short story. The thing was it wasn’t as good as I thought it could be. I was literally stringing words along just to get to 1,000, and I wasn’t writing what I truly wanted to write (the novel).

Dissatisfied with my output, I ended the 1,000-word streak. Then I ended the writing streak. And, to date, haven’t started it back up. Why?

Well, because of burnout, I'm guessing. I looked back on my 2017 writing calendar. I wrote three Calvin Carter novels in three months. Each time, I finished the books with days in the month to spare and I took a break. In January, I had about 5 days. In February, it was only two. I finished the March book on 28 March, giving me a three-day break. As you can see, I built in breaks. They were my rewards for a completed novel.

Then, in April 2017, I quit Calvin Carter Book 4 on Day 15. Back in 2019, when I was using NaNoWriMo to write a different novel, I ended up coming to a dead end—no, not a dead end; a 'which way to go?'—and I never got back on track. But that was in early December, after I’d successfully reached the NaNoWriMo threshold in November of writing 50,000+ words in that month.

All this is to say that it looks like I'm the type of writer who needs to have breaks built into my schedule. All the more power to those old pulp writers and modern ones like James Reasoner who can just keep writing, but it appears that's not me. Which is kinda sad because I'd like to be that kind of writer, but I guess I'll have to fall back on the mantra of Writer, Know Thyself.

When I stopped my 2022 writing streak back on 10 February, my failure really got me down. Why bother writing? was a common thought that ran through my mind. Why indeed? One more voice in the cacophony of writers and all the other content vying for people’s attention. I started to write down my thoughts and instead of zeroing in on all the bad stuff, I turned it around and started to count my blessings.

I am in the enviable position where I have a day job that provides me and my family with monetary income, health benefits, and stability. That affords me the ability to write what I truly want to write and make it the best I possibly can. You know, as opposed to having to write something simply to put food on the table and keeping the roof over our heads even if those subjects are less than exciting. Again, major props to those pulp writers of all the decades who really did have to churn out the words in order to provide for their families, even if it was the fifty-eighth Shadow novel or sixty-fourth Doc Savage book or even the two hundred and sixteenth novel in the Longarm series. (Or Destroyer. Or Executioner. Or Trailsman.)

By slowing the pace down to a steady constant rather than the frenetic pace I was keeping earlier this year, I should be able to be like the tortoise in the old rabbit vs. tortoise fairy tale. Yeah, I’ll get to the finish line with the content I have the time to write. Yeah, other writers will do better [Pick your metaphor: they’ll reach more finish lines than I will or they’ll reach the finish lines with more books] but I can’t control them. They have different environments and situations (and genres?) than I do.

Which means what I do will be more difficult. Yay. It means I might not have the success of others. Sure. But it also means I’ll be able to carve out my own path that is uniquely my own. And that is good. Again, with a foundation of having a day job to provide stability, I can keep going at my own pace.

I still have the goal of completing twelve short stories by year’s end. I’m a quarter to that goal already. And I have my three novel WIPs that’ll keep me going. But I’ll build in breaks. Evidently, that’s the kind of writer I am. Better to acknowledge it and run with it as opposed to fighting it and getting depressed I’m not a different kind of writer.

I’ll be back on the writing wagon come Tuesday. It’ll be a new month and I’ll start up again. I’ll move forward, finish the next project, and then set everything aside. The break probably won’t be the two weeks I’ve given myself in February, but it will be a break.

So, fellow writers, have you had a heart-to-heart with yourself to help you realize who you are as a writer? What steps did you take? I’d love to know as writing—and all creative outputs—are a constant work in progress.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Goddess of Filth


This week Beau looks at V. Castro's GODDESS OF FILTH.

“Five of us sat in a circle doing our best to emulate the girls in The Craft, hoping to unleash some power to take us all away from our home to the place of our dreams. But we weren’t witches. We were five Chicanas living in San Antonio, Texas, one year out of high school.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2022


I'd understand if you looked at the title of this post, and the picture it ran with, and assumed that I was about to eulogize Andrew Vachss two months too late. But that's not what this is. 

Bad Ass

In truth, at the time Vachss died, I had never read a single word he'd written. I'd never interacted with him. I didn't even follow him on Twitter.

There were reasons for this. The first was I had been under the impression he was mostly a PI writer, which is a flavor I don't generally dig (though there are exceptions). The second reason I'd avoided Vachss work is because I'd heard it dealt a lot with child sexual abuse. 

I'm not squeamish or a prude, but that particular shade of darkness has never done anything other than turn my stomach, so, though I knew Vachss had fought for children's rights, though I knew that, as a victims advocate, he probably handled the topic more skillfully than 99% of writers who touched the topic, it still wasn't something I wanted to go near. 

And then, when he passed, so many of my friends who, perhaps because of the same reticence that made me unwilling to give Vachss a shot, began to voice exactly how influential he had been to them. How fantastic of a writer he'd been.

It was surprising. Death brings out accolades for everyone, but these were sincere. Genuine. Powerful. You could feel them. Especially this one

Which, if this is the first time you've seen this, savor it, because god damn. 

Anyway, this outpouring of love, this recognition that an unsung master had passed, it convinced me to give Vachss a shot, and, after asking around, the consensus was pretty much consistently that I had to read SHELLA. 

I've read a lot of books that touch darkness, but the number that dive in to it fearlessly and head-first, I can probably count on one hand. SHELLA is one of them. 

The story of a killer named Ghost in search of a woman, SHELLA is a doomed romance told in blood. It's written in a tight prose that stands somewhere between propulsive and breakneck, and the violence, the depravity, and the emotional weight of those same actions, unfold with a speed and intensity that can be met only by other masters. The sex in this book, and there is a lot of it, is almost always uninterested, just another sin to be marked down or discarded. Emotional attachments are few, and when they are severed, it is just as brutal as the throat cuttings that happen throughout. 

More than once, while reading SHELLA, I have thought to myself, "This is what Ellroy meant when he described ultra-noir." 

In fact, SHELLA is more than Ultra-Noir. It's somehow both something worse, and also, strangely, more uplifting? Maybe that uplifting comes from the skill with which the book was written - I truly think 99% of writers would fail to capture the elements of humanity in these characters - but its undeniably there. And the darkness. God, it seethes. 

Not to make this anything other than a post about Andrew Vachss and my sadness at not being able to tell him how much his writing now means to me, and how, if you haven't read him, you need to correct that right damn now, but I've also been thinking about about how wild it is that this book came out from a Major Publisher. If anything, that's what Vachss means to me know. His writing is a demonstration that nothing is actually too far or too dark, if it's done skillfully enough, with enough humanity.

That's a lesson for all of us, I think. And something to be celebrated, no matter the timing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

What's Your Book About?

By Scott Adlerberg

I've been reading Zadie Smith's essay collection from 2018, Feel Free.  She writes about so many different topics so well -- reading, hip hop, dance, art, politics, just to name a few -- and from the point of view of elegance and grace, as well as humor, everything is a pleasure to read.  Naturally, she has a good deal to say about writing, and her thoughts on the topic are as insightful as you'd expect.  In one of her shortest pieces in the book, I came across something that struck an immediate chord with me, and it articulated something I've thought about for a long time but never had in my head as lucidly as she lays the point out here.  It's in her short piece "Notes on NW", which, she explains, she wrote in response to a question from the Guardian about her novel (published in 2012) of that name.  

The question is "What's this novel about?"

A simple and obvious question, and a question that readers and other writers ask writers all the time.  And it's a question that pertains not only to novels, obviously, but to short stories also.  "What's your story about?" From my experience, it is not a question most writers appear to have trouble answering.  Answers can be long or short, depending on the writer.  But I've always found it a rather hard thing to answer myself.  Not because, I hope, any novel or story I've written isn't actually about anything, but because, well, as Zadie Smith puts it, "My books don't seem to me to be about anything other than the people in them and the sentences used to construct them."  

Exactly.  That expresses it.  I mean, in answering the question about what your book is about, you can always describe the core of the plot (which is something I do and that's not nothing), but beyond that, I find it difficult to go.  To say a book I wrote is about (plug in a "theme" word here, or a "social problem" word of any sort here) is anathema to me, I realize.

Zadie Smith goes on: "Which makes NW sound like an 'exercise in style', a phrase you generally hear people using as an insult of one kind or another.  But to me, an 'exercise in style' is not a superficial matter -- our lives are also an exercise in style.  The hidden content of people's lives proves a very hard thing to discern: all we really have to go on are these outward manifest signs, the way people speak, move, dress, treat each other.  And that's what I try to concern myself with in fiction: the way of things in reality, as far as I am able to see and interpret them, which may not be especially far."

Use language to create a fictional world from the inside out, as it were.  I feel so simpatico with this, and it just amazes me how often I hear other writers launch with great gusto into describing what their book is about, when what their book is about, that in and of itselfis often the least interesting thing to me about their book.  Now everyone's different. I understand that. And no one is saying that books worth anything are exercises in style only. But to expand on something else Smith says in this piece, I find that above everything else I strive for in writing, I try within the limitations of my abilities to create people, evoke landscapes, describe physical things through language. Simply that.  There's the struggle, the thrill, and the challenge. I spend little time mulling over what my story or book is about. And what a book is about (theme word, social problem wordmay be consequential, but for me at least, at this stage in my reading life, it is rarely the selling point, the come-on, that will get me to pick up someone else's book.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

A Must-Listen Podcast Episode: Roxane Gay & SA Cosby



By Claire Booth

I’ve been enjoying The Roxane Gay Agenda podcast recently, but was taken to new heights  of love this week when her guest was Shawn Cosby. 


I made the mistake of listening to it in the car, which meant scribbling down notes and quotes as I sat at stoplights (at this point, I’d like to formally apologize to the dude in the Nissan Sentra behind me who I caused to miss that green light). 


They talk about a variety of things, including of course crime fiction. She’s a big fan of Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears (both of which I highly, highly recommend and if you’re a longtime DSD reader, you already know he’s a blog alum and a fantastic writer). 


It was interesting to hear about the themes he addresses in his work, including the idea of tragic masculinity and how his characters deal with the consequences of their values and beliefs. Often, that involves crime. 


"To me, every crime is a confession of pain," he tells Gay.

Listen to the episode here, or wherever you get your podcasts (unless it's Spotify--Gay just pulled her podcast from there).