Scott D. Parker
Quick: What’s the most famous album by AC/DC?
If you, like me, instantly thought of the 1980 album Back in Black, you are not alone. It’s the band’s top-selling album and one of the best-selling albums of all time. But that seminal album never reached Number 1 on the Billboard charts. That was the next album, For Those About To Rock.
A year ago on the Hit Parade podcast, an episode dropped entitled “The AC/DC Rule.” This podcast discusses music history and quirky things about the chart performances of various songs and bands. It spent two episodes discussing what they dubbed The AC/DC Rule. Put simply, it’s this: there are famous albums by major musicians, ones we all know and love, with our favorite songs on them, but those albums are not always the ones that topped the album chart. It was the next album, the album that rode the coattails of the more-famous album to the top of the charts but may not be as fondly remembered or sold as many copies.
The episode details how Cat Stevens, Boston, Billy Joel, and others all experienced the AC/DC Rule. It happens for movies as well. The second Austin Powers movie, The Spy Who Shagged Me, scored more money in its opening weekend than the debut film did in its entire run.
The pattern exists for the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the second Hangover movie, and others. I can’t remember all the other albums the host, Chris Molanphy, discusses, but it’s a curious thing.
Which naturally got me to thinking about this rule for books. A few instantly jump to mind. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown was a massive success, but that was Brown’s fourth book. As well as Da Vinci Code sold, his follow-up, The Lost Symbol, sold a million copies on the first day. Yes, you read that correctly. Now, Lost Symbol ultimately didn’t outperform Da Vinci Code, but you can see the pattern.
I think it’s safe to say this kind of thing applies to debut authors as well. Be it music or books, it’s the dreaded sophomore slump. The debut album by Hootie and the Blowfish, Cracked Rear Window, sold more than 21 million copies. Their second album, Fairweather Johnson, sold only 3 million. Kinda funny to write "only" in that sentence. On the book side of the ledger, The Martian by Andy Weir and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline both took the world by storm but their next books did not meet with the same success.
I’ve been trying to determine if there are other books that fall into this category so that’s what I’ve been pondering this week. Can y’all help me?
Saturday, April 2, 2022
Friday, April 1, 2022
By Jay Stringer & Jay Stringer.
JS: This is a joke, right? You’re interviewing yourself?
JAY: Nope. In fact, we can call it a callback. My very first post on DSD was me interviewing me.
JS: So what you’re doing is just recycling an old hack bit?
JAY: Repeat until funny. Or until I die. Or until YOU die.
JS: So let’s talk about you retiring from-
JAY: I want to talk about my new book.
JS: I'm asking the questions, mister.
JAY: I'm you, MISTER.
JS: .....So you have a new book coming out?
JAY: I do, thanks for asking. It's called ROLL WITH IT, and it's a bit of a heist novel, a bit of a road novel, and a bit of romantic suspense. With cool cars.
JS: So it's SMOKEY & THE BANDIT?
JAY: I mean, hey, if you like. I love that movie. That bit when Burt Reynolds smiles at the camera mid-chase? Pure charm. And the cops as constant butts of the joke? Fine by me. But ROLL WITH IT is a bit more of a laid-back dialogue-driven thing. There's a bounty hunter and a US marshal-
JS: So, it's JUSTIFIED?
JAY: You can go there, definitely. JUSTIFIED is my favorite TV show. But I like to think of the book more of a love-letter to OUT OF SIGHT. Let's talk about the movie.
JAY: See, I always think everyone talks about the wrong bit. Everyone talks about the hotel scene. The bar, the room, the slow-build. And yes, it's one of the best scenes in cinema. BUT BUT BUT. I think the elevator scene is far better.
JS: I don't rememb-
JAY: So the marshals are all waiting for Foley at his apartment. And Karen is sitting in the foyer with a radio. Jack is in the elevator, the door opens, they make eye contact for like five seconds. Karen goes to speak into the radio, but pauses, Jack waves, the door closes. And then they both have to try and figure out what that moment meant.
JS: Why do you like that scene so much?
JAY: It's all about promise. Potential. It's a scene that asks a million questions. The best love songs are about the unrequited kind. The possibilities, the hope, the fear. I think asking those questions hits us in a primal way that answering them doesn't.
JS: Speaking of questions, so, you're quitting-
JAY: I mean, the thing is, the hotel scene doesn't mean anything without the elevator scene, right? But the elevator scene doesn't need the hotel scene. The elevator scene could be the focal point, or the ending.
JS: You like unanswered questions.
JAY: I like yearning, I guess? Hunger. Wanting. The chase. All the best songs, stories, movies, are about asking questions but leaving the reader, viewer, or listener to answer them. I mean, how much of my career has been played out as a professional love-letter to THE REPLACEMENTS?
JS: Way too much.
JAY: Yup. Probably. But all the power in Westerberg's lyrics comes from those unanswered questions. Sometimes from the question you've never even built up the guts to ask.
JS: Here's another question, but please answer it. One of the main characters in this book is a stand-up comedian?
JAY: Yes, Emily Scott. She was a stand-up, but she did a dumb thing in a credit union one time and went to prison. Then she did another dumb thing, and now she's on the run from both the law and the mob.
JS: But making a comedian such an important part of the book, isn't that asking for it to not be taken seriously?
JAY: Here's the thing. I write about identity, mostly. People becoming better or worse at being who they really are. And a stand-up spends decades perfecting a version of themself. They go all-in on making this persona work. So, if you've done that, but then you're in your mid-thirties and suddenly having to think about whether you can change to be someone else? I find that fascinating.
JS: Which leads nicely to-
JAY: To the protagonist, yeah, thanks. Chloe Medina. She's already changed once. She was a US marshal about four years before the book starts, and damn good at it. she liked playing the laid-back law official role, wearing a star, playing it cool. But now she's a bounty hunter, and living in all the gray areas. Also, she kissed Emily Scott in high school, and the possibilities of that moment have always been a what-if lingering in the back of her mind somewhere.
JS: And she's hired to go after Emily Scott.
JS: But what I really want to talk about is you quitting crime fiction.
JS: Exactly. Is this all just a joke to hype up a book?
JAY: Nope, I mean it.
JS: But, why? After all the work you've put into it?
JAY: You mean, like maybe a stand-up comedian suddenly having to try and become someone else, or a bounty hunter suddenly questioning whether they can change who they are? There are a million reasons why.
JS: Is this you quitting writing?
JAY: I'm not done writing. The first two Marah Chase books are being reissued in paperback with new titles this summer, and I have two more of those to write. And I'm halfway through a speculative sci-fi/horror mashup thing that will probably come out under a new name. But I took stock recently of where I'm at. And where the crime fiction market is at. I don't have any new contract to deliver on, and I don't have an agent to deliver to, so it was a chance to see if I wanted to get back onto the hamster wheel or go find a different wheel. Like I said earlier, I've always been writing about identity. I'm a Romani, dyslexic, anxiety-riddled little ball of questions. But I'm also in the healthiest mental place I've been at in my entire life. And part of that has been accepting that it's time to go and see if this face fits in a different room.
JS: And how about DSD?
JAY: Nah, you don't get rid of me. I think we've learned that over the last decade. How many times have I quit this site and come back? So there's no point even pretending. I'm still here, and staying here. My schedule will increase and decrease, but my DSD output has always had a tendency to stray away from crime fiction, so people won't notice any change.
JS: Okay. Plug the book.
JAY: ROLL WITH IT. A crime novel and modern western. Released in paperback and kindle on April 5th. Audiobook coming soon. Other epub options will come further down the line.
Thursday, March 31, 2022
Wednesday, March 30, 2022
"This book clicked in perfectly at 35,000 words, which is right in my happy zone of full oxygen saturation. It was the perfect length for a tale of heists, Nazi gold, murderous little people, dead clowns, and New York City at arguably one of its most interesting historical moments."
Nick Kolakowski: Nah. With Payback Is Forever, I wanted to craft a throwback to the Richard Stark/Donald Westlake novels I devoured as a kid. The main character of Payback Is Forever is very much in the mold of Parker, the master thief who starred in 24 of Stark/Westlake’s books and yet has precious little backstory to explain why he’s an ice-cold badass. I let that homage dominate the character for most of my book’s length, and then I do my best to subvert it in the last few pages, because it’s become a cliché, and it’s a writer’s duty to seek and destroy clichés whenever encountered. Sorry, Donald.
SW: You’ve been writing stories for *checks watch* many years now. How would this novella be different if you’d written it a decade ago?
NK: I would have played the whole thing straight. It would have been a total homage/throwback to those pulp novels of the 1960s without an ounce of irony or invention. But plenty of folks have done just that in the past few decades, and many of them better than I could ever do. So in the last part of the book, I took a chance and tried to implode everything—the all-American myth of the criminal badass, the noir protagonist’s descent into inevitable doom, all that stuff that’s propped up the genre since its inception.
I have no idea if I succeeded, but I think the result is interesting. Hopefully in a good way. I mean, car wrecks are interesting, too, but you don’t want to be anywhere near them.
SW: This novella doesn’t have an ounce of fat on it. Were there subplots you trimmed away or was it always this sleek?
NK: It was always this sleek. I have trouble writing books longer than 40,000 words. Once I get above 50,000 words or so, it’s thin oxygen for me. Plots begin to warp and spin out of control. Characters stand around tapping their toes. But this book clicked in perfectly at 35,000 words, which is right in my happy zone of full oxygen saturation. It was the perfect length for a tale of heists, Nazi gold, murderous little people, dead clowns, and New York City at arguably one of its most interesting historical moments.
SW: Besides this interview, what's the biggest mistake you've made as a writer?
NK: Not starting earlier. I’ve been writing all my life—mostly short stories—but I didn’t put grinding effort into longer fiction until 2017. Some days, I feel like I’m rushing against the clock. I don’t know whose clock, but it’s ticking away, and there’s so much to do.
SW: Bob Dylan's "Stuck Inside of Mobile" and Tom Petty's "American Girl" are a couple songs that have openings that immediately soften my mood and make me optimistic about the next few minutes of my life. Do you have any songs that immediately put you in a good mood?
NK: Anything by Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen. That might seem counterintuitive, but I have such a nostalgic attachment to those two gentlemen that I can’t help but feel perky whenever I hear the first notes of “Downtown Train” or “Everybody Knows.”
SW: What's your least favorite movie?
NK: Who loves Batman & Robin?
SW: On the off chance that there's someone out there who hasn't read any of your work, would this be a good place to start?
NK: Love & Bullets would be the best place to start, simply because it's a collection of three novellas ('A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps,' 'Slaughterhouse Blues,' and 'Main Bad Guy') with a whole bunch of added material, and altogether it represents about four years of writing. It's got an epic sprawl, it's funny, and there are some cool kills.
SW: What's the most surprising book you've read in the last year or so?
NK: The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow really blew my mind. It's a nonfiction exploration of "deep time," that period between the emergence of modern human cognition and recorded history. It discusses how people 100,000 years ago might have lived, and how they might have structured their societies, and how it all still impacts us today. Graeber and Wengrow are biased toward this vision of "beautiful anarchy," where everyone sort of operates in harmony without bureaucracy or leaders or laws, and I'm not sure I entirely believe it, but they make some good points. It was mostly surprising for its revelations about how much Native American philosophy and thought might have influenced Enlightenment thinkers and the various Revolutions of the 18th century, actually.
Tuesday, March 29, 2022
by Scott Adlerberg
Secret Identity is Alex Segura’s seventh novel. It follows his Pete Fernandez Miami Mystery series and Poe Dameron: Free Fall, a young adult Star Wars book. He also has written several comic books and worked for years in comics. I’ve read all five of the Miami private investigator books, and I’ve enjoyed watching Segura develop as a novelist, growing more and more assured in how he plots and paces a story. In the Miami series, he took familiar detective fiction tropes and brought something fresh to them, as anyone working in this well-trod area should. With Secret Identity, he goes a step further – or several steps actually – writing a mystery set in a world not often explored in fiction. It’s the world he loves, that of comic books, an obsession, it is clear, since Segura’s childhood, and one gets the sense turning its pages that Secret Identity had a long gestation period. Was the author working up to this over time, trying to think of a way to craft a mystery using his love of comics and his encyclopedic knowledge of the form? Whatever the genesis, the result is a story with a voice and heart entirely Segura’s own.
We’re in New York City, 1975. Carmen Valdez, in her late twenties, has come from where she grew up in Miami and landed a job working for Triumph Comics. She’s the Triumph boss’ secretary and all-purpose fixer. As a company, Triumph is not nearly as large or influential as DC or Marvel, but for Carmen, “Working in comics was the dream”. It’s a dream that has brought her to a place with “moldy studio apartments, skyrocketing murder rates, and smoky streets”, a city “fraught, menacing, and hopped up on paranoia – where muggings were commonplace and home break-ins a rite of passage”.
This is grimy seventies New York in all its famous anti-glory, and Segura evokes it well, if a tad conventionally, as it’s often depicted in the era’s crime films. Still, he doesn’t overlook the city’s attractions. Despite its dangers, the place is vibrant and exhilarating. To someone like Carmen, who is leaving behind a troubled childhood and a love affair that became toxic, New York represents a place to grow and explore and pursue her artistic ambitions. Those ambitions are clear. In an industry run by men, dominated by men at every level, Carmen wants to write comic books just like the male writers who pen the adventures of Spiderman, the Flash, or any of the various superheroes readers follow. She has been an avid reader of comics since she was little, and Segura does a beautiful job describing how much they’ve meant to her:
She could feel her father’s leathery hand slide into hers, the hot, humid Miami summer enveloping her like a warm towel. Could feel her sandaled feet scraping down Galloway Road as they made their way toward the newsstand – where her father would pick up the Miami Times and scan the comic book rack. The titles always changed – the market was volatile then, even more than today. But the barrage of colors and letters always had the same effect. The titles screamed out to her – as if begging to be picked up…She wasn’t picky. She’d ask her father to grab one for her, and he always would – no matter how they were doing, if he was working, or what struggles they might be facing. Pepe knew his only daughter took great joy in flipping through the pages of a comic book, any comic book.
Though nobody else knows it, Carmen has begun work on creating her own character and stories. Her hero is a woman, her powers not yet entirely defined. As events transpire, a male co-worker gets an opportunity to pitch a new comic book series to the Triumph chief, but since her colleague is short of ideas, he comes to Carmen, whose knowledge of comics he apparently respects, to help him write it. Can Carmen trust him? What she does contribute, as she full well knows, she may not get credit for. That’s the way of things in the business they’re in, the male-centered world they inhabit. Her ambition wins out over her suspicion of his motives, and Carmen pulls together six complete comic book scripts she has been working on for some time. Her colleague is astounded, and they brainstorm to flesh it out. It seems as though Carmen will eventually be recognized as at least co-creator of a new character called The Legendary Lynx, but in a way all too plausible, her colleague gets the six scripts to their boss under his name only. That Carmen was the main creative force behind the Legendary Lynx no one but her colleague and herself know. Then her colleague is murdered, and a mystery blossoms, which Carmen needs to solve. At stake: not only the truth behind the murder (which leads to other attacks), but also Carmen’s sense of herself as an artist, a woman, and just a plain human being. Having a secret identity, being responsible from behind a mask or public face for something others admire, may be exciting and romantic in comic book characters like Batman or Superman, but when you’re a real live person who’s been denied credit for your work, it’s a different story.Secret Identity tackles a lot of things. It’s a look at a particular place and era and an immersion into the state of the comic book industry of that era. Without overdoing it, Segura gets into the taken-for-granted sexism of the time, the daily come-ons, indignities, and condescending verbal jabs Carmen has to deal with. How she parries these affronts, some malicious, some not consciously meant as such but offensive nonetheless, is entertaining in itself, and the reader likes and roots for her throughout. Besides this, Segura doesn’t make the mistake of giving Carmen a contemporary view of sexual relations in a 1975 world. Carmen reads as a strong enlightened person of her time, and his decision to present a late scene in the book set in 2018, with Carmen talking to a younger woman who is the graphic novels reviewer for the New York Times, is both clever and emotionally apt. We see how what Carmen did and what she endured, how she persisted, was entirely worth it. The passage of time means that stories never told can now be told in the voice of the person who should have gotten credit in the first place.
I have always thought that Segura’s strengths lie more with character and emotional nuance than with action, and in this book, he embraces what he does best. This is a character-driven mystery novel through and through. Every single person here, down to the most minor characters, is well-drawn and understandable. Motives are clear or become clear in time. The narrative never dawdles but moves at an unhurried pace that shows the author’s confidence in his storytelling abilities. And I loved the actual comic interludes, the black and white snippets we get from the first eleven Legendary Lynx issues. They are exciting and sometimes humorous and connect in ways direct and oblique to the book’s plot and thematic concerns. In a genre where so many books imitate other books, hitting overly familiar beats, Secret Identity goes its own way for the most part and takes you on a trip you likely haven’t taken before. Like the best comics themselves, it is fun and full of passion and a thoroughly engaging ride.