Saturday, April 1, 2023

If You’re a Professional Copywriter, There’s a Book You Should Read


Scott D. Parker

We talk a lot here about fiction writing, but there are a good number of folks who make a living with a day job that also involves writing. I’m one of those fortunate individuals. I’m a marketing/corporate writer for an oil and gas company so I get to write and create content all day long. That includes my lunch hour fiction-writing sessions.

The corporate environment in which I find myself Mondays through Fridays is a good one, the most creative one in which I’ve worked. Everyone feels zero issues with chiming in on items, even if it’s a writer like me commenting on a design element or one of the designers suggesting different words.

As with fiction, it’s always a good idea to hone one’s skills. Unlike fiction, however, there are a lot more books about corporate writing and copywriting and marketing writing. My boss mentioned one last week. It’s by Robert W. Bly and it’s called The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Copy That Sells. The other sub-heading is A Master Class in Persuasive Writing for the Digital Age. My boss’s comment was that he might need to get the physical book because, as he listened to the audiobook on his commute, he kept wanting to make notes or underline passages.

I hadn’t heard about the book, so I read the introduction online and scanned the table of contents. The next thing I did was order a copy. This is the 4th edition, from 2020, so it brings in the various digital components of the modern internet. Since I also have a commute, I went ahead and ordered the audio as well. That way, I can follow along while driving, the book in the seat next to me, a pencil marking my page so I can underline key passages (at red lights only!).

Now, I’m only up to Chapter 3 (Writing to Communicate) but the content in Chapter 1 (Introduction to Copywriting) was excellent. Chapter 2, however, the one entitled “Writing to Get Attention: The Headline and the Subject Line,” has already been put to good use. I had to write a series of emails for a customer event and, if you’re like me, if the subject line of an email doesn’t grab me, I’m more likely to delete it unread. Bly’s chapter really helped me hone those five email subject lines this week. It’s pretty nifty when something like this book can pay immediate dividends.

If you write marketing material for a living, I encourage you to check out Bly’s book. I bet it’ll help you. I’ll report back when I’ve finished the book, but I was too excited about how just a couple of chapters already helped me rethink certain aspects of my day job that I wanted to share.

Friday, March 31, 2023

CALL: BISHOP RIDER LIVES - An Anthology of Retribution

 For more than a decade now, Beau Johnson's Bishop Rider has rampaged through the crime fiction scene. A combination of The Punisher, Jigsaw, and Andrew Vachss's Burke, a vigilante who knows he has gone too far, and a victim who knows he can never go far enough, Bishop, under Johnson's capable hands, has maimed, tortured, and killed heaps of "dirtbags." 

And now it's your turn. 

Because Beau is one of the best members of this community, because he has created such an incredible character, and because Beau thinks everyone deserves a chance to get in on the fun, he and his coeditor, Hector Acosta, are putting together BISHOP RIDER LIVES - An Anthology of Retribution. 

This is it. Your chance to tell a Bishop Rider story. 

Your chance to see how he makes them burn. 

Okay, Beau, tell us what it's all about: 



Well, this is surprising.  Fancy meeting you here.  I kid, of course.  But since you ARE here, I just want to thank you for taking an interest in something I never knew I wanted or dreamed could be.  An anthology of other voices and their takes on a character I’ve been living with for almost fifteen years.

Bishop Rider.


Story length is 1500-5000 words but if you go over a bit, hey, we can talk. Put BISHOP RIDER ANTHO in the subject line of your email (email with story attached. 

Deadline: April 30, 2023   

Publisher: Down and Out Books.  Payment: Standard 50/50 split. 50% to Down and Out, 50% split between all authors involved.

My co-editor: Hector Acosta.  I am humbled he threw his hat in the ring, as this IS my first rodeo, and I feel I will need the help.  I am indebted and thankful for everything he will bring to the table.

If you need more info on Rider, his timeline and partners, see below: 

Because I write Rider’s story out of sequence there is some wiggle room for more story to occur, hence this entire antho.  Below I will attempt to be brief and bring you up to speed as best I can.  Use all of it, use some of it, use none of it. I can not express how happy I am just to be here.

Bishop Rider

Ex-army medic, former cop. Knows he’s the bad guy, struggles with the knowledge. ‘It’s not about saving people.  It’s about stopping them.’ Six feet, wears black, much Kevlar. Dark hair, often stubbled, custom-made prosthetic from below the knee of his right leg, pinky finger of his right hand bitten off.  Weakness: treadmills.

Inciting Incident: sister and mother, April and Maggie Rider, killed by Marcel Abrum. Sister is raped and murdered by six men in masks, video of her demise loaded up to the internet. Mother found face down in a dumpster.  Reason: parked too close to van full of undocumented immigrants Abrum was trafficking. Father N/A. Main hunting ground: Culver City, population one million, with adventures taking him to its sister city, Hanson Falls.


John Batista 

Rider’s senior and old partner from the job. Bigger than Rider.  Burly.  Face the color of pissed-off brick. Most times wears a beard. Lost portions of the right side of his face to a man named Harrison Garrett. Retires soon after, from the force as well as his extracurricular activities with Rider. Dies of dementia and cancer.


Rider and Ray meet in Kuwait. Home, once asked, he joins Rider’s mission. A builder, he helps Rider create whatever a certain situation may need.  Retrofitted both basements of the Ronson place and the Buchanan place into torture chambers. Holds an aversion to socks. Has dirty blond hair. Gets beheaded by a man named Hightower late in the narrative. Rider takes to killing this Hightower slowly, as in piece by piece over an entire year.

Jeramiah Abrum

The son of Marcel Abrum, the man who set in motion the deaths of Rider’s sister and mother.  He feels he must make up for his father’s mistakes and why once he’s older he seeks Rider out.  He is nine at the time Rider and Batista dismember his father and roughly thirty when he catches up to Rider. He is the money of the story too, and bankrolls a lot of the shenanigans. The irony being the money came from insurance policies, from the death of Marcel Abrum itself.  Small eyes, slick back dark hair, Jeramiah resembles his father.  Takes to working out.

Alex Paine

Greasy hair.  Hoodie.  Hood always up on said hoodie.  Betrays Bishop, selling him out to a no-eyed piece of shit named Mapone. Leg is lost to an axe held by a neo-Nazi soon after. Hilarity ensues. (Kidding)

One-armed Billy

Another friend from Ray and Rider’s time overseas. Before Jeramiah enters the picture, they used his pig farm as disposal from time to time. Missing teeth. Halitosis. Always wearing camo.

That’s about it. I implement a pre-leg/post leg guideline to keep the timeline straight.  Pre-leg is Batista, post-leg Jeramiah. There is some overlap of these two particular partners, a couple years anyway. Bishop is roughly fifty when he loses the leg. Seventy-five when he succumbs to cancer. He’s an equal opportunist when it comes to ‘burning them all’ too---sticking to pedophiles, rapists, and human traffickers mostly, but he’s never looked a gift serial killer or incel in the mouth. He is full measure and then some.

Hope this helps.  Also, am I over the moon at the prospect at reading what you create? You’re goddamn right.  Long live crime fiction! Long live the dark stuff!

Ps. Any questions, don’t hesitate to ask/email me.

For more information Bishop Rider and his adventures, please see the previous collections of Beau's work, available here: 




Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Constructing Doom in Eli Cranor's DON'T KNOW TOUGH

 I read a lot of crime novels, and when I'm not reading crime novels I'm often reading horror novels, so violence, whether of the physical, emotional, or spiritual varieties, is nothing new to me. 

My reason for stating this up front, aside from the fact that it's true, is both to establish my bonafides, and to make you understand that when I say I had to put Eli Cranor's debut Don't Know Tough down and walk away from it, that I was actively nervous to pick it back up again, that it took me almost a week to come back to the book because I was so nervous about what would happen next, I'm being serious. 

Don't Know Tough is, mostly, the story of Billy Lowe, a hard as nails running back with anger issues. his fucked up family, and the (less obviously, but still fucked up),family that takes him, in as Billy and his coach / wannabe mentor take a run at the Arkansas State Football Championships, all while under the shadow of Billy's mysteriously murdered kinda step dad. 

It's a lot, but Cranor moves between characters and their distinct point of views by establishing both a linguistic rhythm to Billy's chapters, evoking the hills and poverty thats all he's ever known, and a more straightforward (though occasionally withholding) presentation when switching to other characters points of view, ensuring momentum, and, most importantly, providing the reader with information only available to those characters at the time. 

To say I loved this book would be an understatement, and judging by the awards it has been received or nominated for, I'm not alone in my assessment of it, but, for me, the most memorable moment is not at the climax of the novel, and it has nothing to do with the mystery; it has to do with two characters, one who should know better, and one who has no idea, in a place of such sheer vulnerability from so many disparate elements that I actually started to sweat while reading it. 

Eventually, I broke through my fear and picked the book up again, and, while I'm not going to comment on whether or not my fears came to pass, my reaction to that scene was so intense, instead of continuing on, I went back and reread the chapter that had so made my skin crawl, not for any kind of enjoyment, but to ask myself, how did he do it? 

Today, we're gonna get in to that below as we break down how Cranor constructed doom. 

Spoilers for Don't Know Tough ahead. 

Seriously. Don't read on if you haven't read this novel. 

Okay, so you too have read the book, and you're wondering what the scene is, right? 

It was Lorna. Specifically, Lorna after her swim with Billy, their confrontation with the drunk members of the football team, and her fall. 

I was stunned by this section. Afraid. Genuine fear. But when I went back, I could see the work Cranor had put in to elicit that exact reaction. It's a masterclass in writing. And I want to break it down: 

When Lorna and Billy arrive above the river, a raging bonfire burning below them while drunk teens celebrate their Playoff win in language that evokes the bacchanalistic suggestion of hell and violence and fear that, the novel subliminally suggests, is almost certain to come: 

Everybody come to the river after a game. Saw them when we drove up, whole bunch of them good and drunk already. Big bonfire tearing at the low branches, lighting they drunk smiling faces. 

Next is location, the bluffs over the river, an area Billy knows, but that Lorna, new to town and unfamiliar with the area, is significantly less aware of:  

Bluffs big and high this far upstream. Probably twenty, maybe thirty feet. So we cain't get in the water, not unless we jump. I jumped before. Everybody jump from the bluffs. But not in the night. Even with a full moon, you be stupid to jump at night. 

The scene continues with Billy remembering another female character "in broken bits and pieces", and the death shadow grows again a page later when Billy and Lorna discuss Hemingway: 

"Who is he?"
"You mean, who was he," she say. "He's dead. Blew his head off with a shotgun."
"A shotgun?"
"Yeah, pulled the trigger with his big toe."

This violent imagery, a head blown apart, stands in contrast to what happens next, as Billy and Lorna continue discussing The Old Man and the Sea, with the following section quoted in the book: 

  ...and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman.

And then Lorna, possibly moved by the moon, removes her clothes and goes to the edge of the bluff, preparing to jump in to the river, but as she jumps Billy sees, "Look like the moon went just behind a cloud and took her shadow with it".  

But, though she lands in the water safely, another subconscious clue has been planted. Lorna is in the water now, and the moon also effects water. Mostly in tides, but when you're in the water, what's the difference between a tide and a current? 

Safely in the water, unharmed (this time)Lorna calls from below, reminiscent of an unknowing siren: 

There aint nothing good come from me jumping in that water. I jumped enough to know you got to know where you jumping, know whats below you, to even jump at all.
"The moon, Billy, can't you feel its pull?" 

Billy, spurred on, prepares to jump, but death visits him again before he can, a death Billy may very well be involved in.

And theres just enough light from the moon to see what I need to see. Get my shorts and shirt off, and then a breeze blow in, cool, like it carry something with it. Kinda stink like chickens, like it connected to something way back in town.  

Cranor doesn't describe the smell any further, but we can assume what Billy is smelling is HIM, Billy's sort of step-dad, dead on the floor of their trailer. Death is all around. And then he jumps 

The next chapter is from Lorna's father's POV, and while it ratchets up the tension in different ways, Cranor uses separate techniques that add a different pile of compounding dread as Coach Taylor realizes that both his daughter and the violent troublemaker he has let in to his house are both missing. But after the preceding chapter, and through Coach Taylor's characterization, we know that the wrath of an angry father is not what is putting these characters in danger. It is something else, something much more base and primitive. And they are very fucking much in danger. 

Returning to Lorna and Billy, we find them in the river, naked, incredibly vulnerable, and again surrounded by the language of death: "Dad will kill me," Lorna says when she notices her earring is missing as the two float downstream in the black water.  Billy dives under to search for it, but "water black and taste like dirt," evoking the grave.

And then, having floated too far downstream, they arrive back at the bacchanalian fire, evocative of Dante's hell itself, the unconscious suggestion that this is all a continuously repeating and inescapable loop, traversed only by the dead or the damned. And Billy, aware of their location, Lorna unaware, voices another issue: 

"We all the way back down to the bonfire." 
"The dam come after the bonfire. And the dam as far downstream as we can go. We float over that dam and we wont't be floating no more."

Lorna opts to get out of the river, naked (vulnerable) and try to skirt past the hellish bonfire, but Billy cautions her. To get past, they'll have to sneak, naked, up the bluff, suggesting another image of falling. 

"Well," she say, not even whispering, (another increase in tension as the bonfire and the hellish revelers are so close by) If it's between falling to my death (that imagery again) over that dam or being seen naked-I'll take the latter."

But they're spotted, Lorna twenty feet above Billy on their climb up the bank:

I know they coming through the woods, a whole mess a them, drunk as shit and rowdy. The whole lunch table stomping through the tree line. 
"Lorna," I say. "Listen, this ain't California." 
"Oh my god," she say. "here we go again, another-" 
"Ever one a those boys got a gun, a knife. Something. They drunk as hell and now they hearing sounds in the woods. them boys dream of this, being cowboys and shooting bad guys."
She go quiet. The moon bright enough I can see her eyes on me...

Again, Cranor is establishing that Lorna is geographically and culturally unaware of the danger they are in, while subtly injecting Hell and the moon and the woods and contrasting them with a naked young woman. Through word choice, repetition, and he has conjured an impossible mix of dreadful outcomes. The water below may carry them to the dam and death, pulled by the moon. And thats if someone survives the fall. The land is no safer, having been converted to Hell, filled with bloodlusting, and just plain lusting, drunk young men, armed to the teeth. And the scent, literally, of death is on the wind. 

Hiding under the bank, Billy and Lorna both feel dirt fall on their head, once again evoking both the grave and the scattering of dirt at the culmination of funeral rites. Seeing only one way out, Lorna climbs up on the bank and confronts the men, believing, incorrectly, that, because they play for her father's football team, she'll be safe. But after acknowledging the presence of a shotgun that Billy can't see (the same kind of gun Hemingway blew his skull off with) and then, again, because of cultural confusion, goading them, Lorna is backed up to the edge. Overhearing one of the men imply rape, Billy reaches up and touches Lorna's foot, but at that moment, she slips: 

I reach up. Just gonna touch her ankle. Let her know I'm here and I'm a man's man, like Hemingway. When my fingers tap her ankle she jerk back, like she forgot I's there, toes clawing at the dirt bank, hands slipping at the sky, trying to keep her balance. And then there's only Jarred standing on the ledge, laughing, as Lorna fall down the bluff towards the river and into the moon. 

Look at that again. Hemingway. Dirt. Ledge. Laughing. Down the bluff. Towards the River. Into the Moon. This is life under a death cloud, and, as the chapter ends, we assume at least one, if not both Lorna and Bill are dead, not because anything in the plot us telling us that, in fact, the plot is suggesting at least one of them will be okay, but because of the way Cranor has full on ripped open your skull and whispered to you that doom is in the air. 

In The Best American Noir of the Century, Ellroy wrote, "The overarching joy and lasting appeal of noir is that it makes doom fun," but these preceding chapters have been anything but fun. They're dripping with tension, each layer applied almost unnoticed until its something too big to ignore, an impossible weight on the chest. It hurts, and it hurts all the more because, the first time through, you don't even realize Cranor is doing it. Until it arrives. Until you get that horrifying titillation the best noir offers. Until you get what you, the person who opened up a crime novel, get what you goddamn came for.  

Don't Know Tough is a wonderful novel, and there are other scenes I could break down where Cranor uses similar techniques, but this is the one that landed heaviest on me. If you're a writer,  either accomplished or just starting out, I genuinely believe that studying these chapters will either grant new skills or further sharpen old ones. And if you've, for some reason, read all the way down here without owning the book, your own copy that you can mark up, hey, check that out, the hardcover is on sale on Amazon right now. Just eight bucks. 

Okay. That's it for me for now. I'll be back in a week or two. I can't promise I'll be talking about anything lighter, but, you know, there's always hope. Until there isn't. 







Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The Editing Job Looms

A few weeks ago, in my blog post here, I was talking about how Lydia Davis, when writing about the benefits of translating, says that a lot of translating is sentence-by-sentence problem-solving, which she finds fulfilling and pleasurable in and of itself.  Something similar pertains, I think, to the process of editing, in particular to editing certain types of non-fiction pieces.

I recently finished a monthlong stint working on a piece for a non-fiction anthology that has to do with films of a certain type from a specific period.  My piece is on Brazilian cinema during the period from 1964 to 1990, for most of which time Brazil had a military dictatorship in place.  I'm concentrating in particular on two filmmakers, one known for horror films, Jose Mojica Marins, aka Coffin Joe, and the other for "art" films that won much acclaim and prestigious awards on the international festival circuit, Glauber Rocha.  I wrote about 4,300 words on these two, trying to convey as concisely as possible a bunch of information about both Marins and Rocha and the conditions, sometimes repressive, they dealt with as filmmakers. It's a complex subject, and I managed to communicate some information more clearly than other information, and then of course there may have been information I could have included but didn't, worried as I was about the required word count. In any event, I shipped the piece off to the anthology's editors, and now the suggested edits have come back, and good ones they are. A certain amount of reshaping and clarifying will be necessary, and I may wind up taking the entire month I've been given to complete the work.

So: here we come back to what Lydia Davis was talking about.  Not unlike translating, editing, I find, especially editing non-fiction, often comprises a series of problems to be solved.  You have the suggestions given to you to get you going and, as in this case, a certain "house" style to adhere to while doing it.  Clarify this point or that point, you're told, factual points, which may be complex and require expansion of the text, but you still have a basic word count you can't surpass.  Unlike fiction, you don't have to invent anything, thank goodness, and this specific piece is not even one where I'm offering many of my own thoughts on a subject.  More than anything else, I'm trying to describe a historical period in a country through its cinema (or, more accurately, two very different contributors to its cinema) and to get as much clear information across to people who may know nothing about that country or its cinema.  

To boil it down, there is the overall problem of the piece to tackle, but there are also the line-by-line editing challenges to solve. Problem to be solved after problem to be solved after problem to be solved.  It's like facing a month of homework, but for whatever reason -- and I loathed homework when in school -- I have to say that I do look forward to doing it.  It's a challenge to myself, and odd as it sounds, the process is almost what I might actually call fun.  We'll see.  I have to get started on the edits. I'll know for sure then whether I can solve the problems facing me to my satisfaction.