One Bite at a Time




Friday, December 23, 2016

Festivus



Today is Festivus, a holiday for the rest of us. As a blog is a written communication medium, we can’t share the feast, nor the feats of strength. We can air grievances. Yes, though it may surprise you, I can be one grievance-airing motherfucker.

1. You’re in a long supermarket line. The person in front of you has 127 items in the cart. The cashier rings everything up, packs everything, sets it in the cart, and has to tell this person how much the total is. Again. Now the person in front of you starts digging in her purse looking for her wallet as though surprised this stranger in a smock is asking for money. (Sorry ladies, but we all know the odds are 95 – 5 this will be a woman.) Bonus grievance points for those who pay in cash and spend five minutes counting out the exact change, even if they have to root around in the aforementioned purse for the last seven pennies. True, such people are always old, but so am I. In the words of the Nighthawks, I’m not long for this old world, so please get out of my way.

2. You’re driving down the expressway at 65 mph and see a car merging onto the road like Meat Loaf* to get in front of you. (* - Bat out of hell.) You ease off to let them in and they immediately slow down to 55. I realize this is the DC area and traffic is not only bad, it’s aggressive, but if you planned to be a religious fanatic about observing the speed limit, would it have broken your balls to wait your turn?

3. How college football determines a national champion. ‘Nuff said.

4. You can’t turn off Amazon 1-click for Kindle purchases. I like to use reward points for books, especially books by authors I’m test driving, and I can’t do it.

5. Google Maps makes me enter my home address every time I want directions. Google knows what size penis warmer I wear, and it can’t assume that when I want directions I want them from my house? Even worse, why do I have to get at least seven characters in before it figures, “Oh, shit! He’s at home and wants to know how to get somewhere, so suggesting 8248 Veterans Highway Millersville MD as a starting point doesn’t help him much?”

6. Metal detectors at Major League Baseball games. There has never been a terrorist act at a baseball game. (What the Pirates’ front office does only manifests itself on the field; it doesn’t take place there.) Every security expert I’ve read says a gathering of people milling about—say standing in a line waiting to go through a metal detector—is a far greater risk.

7. Gary Bettman. That rat-faced fuck can’t be gone soon enough.

8. (For The Beloved Spouse) Misleading headlines that pick up on one small element of the story when something else is the true point. The headline is the abstract of the article; it’s what helps you decide whether to read more. If the information featured in the headline isn’t present in the first paragraph of the story, either the writer buried the lede or the headline writer is a douche. (This need not be an either/or proposition.)

9. People who bitch all summer about Daylight Saving Time. If having hours of sunlight during normal sleeping hours is that big a deal to you, I hear land is cheap in Alaska.

10. I saw a poster the other day advertising a July concert in Nats Park by “James Taylor and his All-Star Band. Special Guest: Bonnie Raitt (and her band).” I’ve been around long enough to know “special guest” in this context means “warm-up act.” Bonnie Raitt warming up for James Taylor, the man who’s put more people to sleep than heroin? This makes it appear the terrorists aren’t just winning, they’re so far ahead they feel they can run out the clock.

11. People who bitch about how cold winter is. It’s winter, people. Get over it or move to Florida or Arizona or Texas. What’s that? You don’t want to move there because the summers are too hot? See below.

12. People who bitch all summer about how hot it is. It’s summer, folks. Get over it or move to Minnesota or Vermont or Montana. What’s that? You don’t want to move there because the winters are too cold? See above.

13. People who bitch about 11 and 12 above. (And you’re often the same people.) This gets old after a while. Summer is hot. Winter is cold. Deal with it. Try bitching about how the sun rises in the east and sets in the west every fucking day and how monotonous it is. Why can’t people on the East Coast have beautiful sunsets over the ocean? Or the West Coast have similar sunrises? Waaaaa.

14. Tower of Power is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What’s that? They’re not a rock band? Tell that to James Brown, Tupac, and Joan Baez. Yet another Cleveland “Mistake by the Lake.”


15. To get a jump on next year’s grievances, here’s one for anyone who voted for Trump and doesn’t like how the next twelvemonth goes: Fuck you. Suffer. And be advised, the lubricant shipment isn’t expected any time soon, either.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Book was Better

Sure it was. Except when it’s not. Some books have extraneous elements or plot holes or things that just don’t make sense. There’s also the inconvenient fact they they’re two distinct storytelling media. Some things that work in a novel won’t work on screen. This is often—maybe even usually—to the novel’s advantage, but not always. There are examples both ways, but today let’s focus on three examples where the movie is far superior to the book and one where the film is much different but at least as good.

The French Connection. (1971) Directed by William Friedkin. Screenplay by Ernest Tidyman. Based on the 1969 book by Robin Moore. Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.


What strikes one here is how the movie captures the aura of the book while making major plot changes. Take the famous chase scene. There’s nothing remotely close to that in the book. No plot reason to even have it. Friedkin and Tidyman (and producer Phillip D’Antoni) needed to show Popeye’s intense, even fanatical, focus on this case and they didn’t have the kind of time Moore had in the book to let the endless surveillances play out. So they took advantage of the visceral reactions to be inspired from an action scene to describe Popeye’s obsessed character as well in seven minutes as it is in the rest of the movie combined. (This is the example of the movie not necessarily being better, but much different and it still works.)

The Godfather (1972) Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Screenplay by Mario Puzo and Coppola, based on Puzo’s 1969 novel. I’ve heard The Godfather described as “the best bad book ever written.” I can’t argue with thOscars for best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.
 
It’s actually two books in one. We all remember the romanticized gangster story, but there’s a loooong digression into life in Vegas that I’d call a soap opera but that’s an insult to daytime television. The movie cuts almost all of that shit, giving us just enough to let us know who Moe Greene is and why Michael has him shot in the eye, which was the only part of that subplot worth paying attention to, anyway.

Jaws (1975). Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screen play by Peter Benchley and Spielberg, from Benchley’s 1974 novel. (No Hollywood screwing around there. The movie appeared on screens 16 months after the book dropped.) No Oscars in the three categories we’re tracking here. Spielberg’s one failure was bringing Jaws out the same year as Cuckoo’s Nest.
 
The police chief’s wife has an affair with the marine biologist in the book and it’s stultifying to read. Absolutely not a goddamn thing worth knowing happens. Someone must have told Benchley the book needed sex. Spielberg had the innate good sense to know the real story was the three men on the boat that should have been bigger, so he got his movie onto the water as quickly as possible and changed movies forever. Not necessarily for the better in the long run, but that’s not his fault. Jaws is a masterpiece.

L.A. Confidential (1997) Directed by Curtis Hanson. Screen play by Brian Helgeland and Hanson, from James Ellroy’s 1990 novel. Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay; nominated for Best Picture and Best Director but lost both to Titanic, which is a travesty I’ll carry a grudge for to my dying day.


The only one of the four where I saw the movie first. It’s damn near a perfect movie and I was like a kid Christmas morning when I finally opened the book, which is a glorious mess. Ellroy’s at the peak of his writing power here, but the story is out of control. The last 30 or 40 pages are nothing more than two or three characters at a time standing around trying to explain to each other what the fuck just happened here, and it still doesn’t make any sense. Helgeland and Hanson ruthlessly cut unneeded scenes, plots, characters—whole books’ worth of shit—and pulled in little bits of the surrounding LA Quartet novels to create one of the great crime films ever made.

I’m sure you have your own favorites. Let’s hear them.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Value of Facebook

As anyone who saw me muck up the beginning of the Nick Forte Holiday Blowout Sale last week remembers, I suck at marketing, so I’m not going to talk about the virtues of Facebook in that regard. Facebook is about the only marketing I do for the self-published books and I sell at least a handful every month, so it is helpful for getting and keeping folks aware.

What I want to talk about today is a virtue far greater than book marketing. In a world where people are too busy to get together as much as they might like, and even then will naturally tend to spend that valuable limited time with those of like minds, Facebook provides a view into the world at large not obtainable from too many other sources.

Is that view skewed? Absolutely. Is that an irreparable failing? Not at all. Like anything else worthwhile, it takes a little effort. Of course fake news is a problem. There is also a simple cure: don’t pay attention to it. Resources exits that either call out fake news sites or can provide some comfort as to which are reliable. Even then, it’s on you. If you see something you’re not sure about, do what the journalist should have done: verify the sources. If you see an article about Barack Obama queuing up black helicopters to take guns away from law-abiding white people to give to the Black Panthers at www.freedomfromoppression.com, a quick Google search will show you who else is reporting it. If no one is, if the other sites are equally questionable, or if the sites that do report it have an incestuous relationship of referring to each other as sources, it’s bullshit. The same applies if you read that Donald Trump wants to establish the principle of prima nocta for American presidents. Check it out. It’s not Facebook’s fault if you’re gullible to a fault.

So where are the benefits? In the discussions. Yes, you’ll find a lot of wingnuts—from the left and right—who have a saved list of talking points they’re ready to copy and paste into any discussion where certain words appear. They’ll also call names. How to keep them from trolling one’s own well-reasoned and legitimate comment into irrelevancy? Again, with a little work on your part.

First, be sure your initial post is fact-based. You can voice an opinion, but take a few minutes to fact check the news item that set you off. Second, phrase your comment as a reasoned response to the source material and not a veiled swipe at the intellect, integrity, patriotism, or parentage of others.

Then you can lift a page from The Who and tell potential commenters what you’re not going to take. My standard disclaimer is:

The purpose of this post is to promote discussion among people of varying perspectives in the hope we’ll all learn something. Those who change the subject or treat other commenters disrespectfully will have their comments deleted. Without warning, if the offense is severe enough. Habitual offenders will be blocked from future discussions.
That seems to work quite well. Not perfectly—nothing is perfect—but more than well enough.

What is the result? I get to engage in discussion with intelligent and well-informed people who have a variety of perspectives and treat each other, and each other’s arguments, with respect. I learn things every time and hope they do, too. Maybe the nicest side effect came when a commenter noted as a discussion wound down that this was a “Dana King” discussion, encouraging exactly the kind of discourse I’m hoping for. Made my day.

The best result of this is an enhanced sense of what I have come to believe is the most essential human quality: empathy. I now make a conscious effort not to form too strong an opinion on anything until I’ve at least made an effort to look at it from someone else’s perspective. What’s the easiest way to decide if something is unfair or discriminatory? Take a minute to ponder how you’d feel if it happened to you. Want to talk about a change in national policy? Chat with those who disagree with you and find the parts of the topic you both agree on. This may take some discussion, as these areas of agreement may not be on the surface.

I’m an advocate for gun control. Not gun eradication. Gun control. When I chat with an ardent Second Amendment type, I attempt early on the see what we can agree on. It’s usually pretty easy: We shouldn’t let some people have guns, period. We usually also agree on the list of who to ban pretty quickly: Violent felons, the mentally ill, terrorists. (There are others that may require some back and forth, but those three are pretty universal.) Now that we’ve agreed on who shouldn’t have guns, how can we keep them from getting them? That’s a much more practical than philosophical discussion, which means there’s a solution if reasonable people are willing to look for it.

Lot of these things would not have occurred to me had I not been exposed to the various points of view on Facebook. Are some of them more than a couple of standard deviations off center? Oh, yeah. That’s fine. I would not have an opportunity to learn to separate the wheat from the chaff otherwise. On balance it’s a great way to keep one from getting too isolated in one’s own bubble.


We all have our bubbles and we all need to find ways to stick pins in them before the shells harden. It’s a little work, but it’s worth it when you consider we’ll need to give opinions that truly matter as early as next spring’s primaries. (Yes, Virginia, there are primaries next spring. Not for national offices, but many state and local elections. And, yes, Virginia, you’re one of the states.) Refine your thinking skills now. After voting to potentially gut the house, we need all the rational judgement we can muster to keep from tearing it down altogether, as we all still have to live in it.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Is Talent Enough?

I was fortunate to hear Reed Farrel Coleman speak at this year’s Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference. Some of what he said was new to me and some helped to confirm conclusions I’d come to on my own. I summarized his comments in an earlier post. Suffice to say if you get a chance to hear him talk about writing, make every effort to get there. It’s worth your time.

As luck would have it, Reed also wrote an article for the Signature web site last month, talking about the importance of talent in writing. I’ll leave you to read the whole thing yourself, as it’s brief and well worth your time. To me, the money quote is:

For years I’ve gotten into hot water with my peers and aspiring writers at “how to” conferences and workshops for my liberal use of an apparently taboo word: talent. It took me a while to figure out why that word elicited such ire. Depending upon your worldview, talent is either a gift from God or a matter of genetic serendipity. But regardless of whether you believe it comes in on little cats’ feet or is a result of great grandma marrying the wine merchant instead of the tailor, one thing is true about talent: It can’t be taught. You either have it or you don’t. You can have all the panels you want on how to build a better website, how to create a foolproof marketing plan, how to write a great first sentence, or how to outline a dynamic plot. None of it will matter if you don’t have writing talent.

What [Reed’s] detractors often fail to hear above the din of their booing is that talent isn’t enough. As a philosophy professor might say, talent is requisite, not sufficient.

To which I say: Amen.

Along these lines, Stephen King notes in his wonderful little book, On Writing, there are four levels of writer:
Great
Good
Competent
Incompetent

A competent writer can become good, but there isn’t really any movement between any other ranks. (Personal note: We all intuitively know great writers can on occasion piss away their gift through drugs, alcohol, self-indulgence, or a combination of any or all three.) What King says here is essentially the same as Coleman’s point: you can learn all the craft you want, but the key element, the one that has to be there for any education to make a difference, is talent.

I ca provide first-hand evidence of this: me. My formal education is in music. I hold a bachelor’s degree in Music Education and a Master of Music in Trumpet Performance. I was good. Every time I moved up a level—junior high to high school, high school to college, college to an army band—I started out somewhere down the rank and busted my ass until I was in the top couple of players in the group.

Then I went to graduate school at New England Conservatory and found myself in the company of trumpeters who were willing to work as hard as I was, and had more talent. Even more depressing, I found myself working with musicians who sight-read pieces better than I could ever hope to play them. I couldn’t compete with that. I saw the handwriting on the wall for a while but it took fatherhood and the need for a steady income for me to decipher it.

Do I have more writing than musical talent? Duh. I work hard on my craft, but I also must admit I’ve sweated far less blood to attain a higher level of accomplishment as a writer than I ever did as a musician. Not that I’m an award-winning bestseller, but I do have contracts and award nominations. There are no remotely similar accomplishments on my trumpet resume. That’s not to say I’m James Lee Burke or Joseph Wambaugh, either. I have more talent than some, less than many.

Here’s what a lot of people who get too close to their dreams to separate them from their goals lose sight of: There’s no shame in lacking talent. It’s hard to face up to its lack at the one thing you may want to do more than anything else, but that’s only you. No one else holds it against you. The older I get, the more I understand the core thing anyone should aim for is to be as happy as one reasonably can. This is easier for some based on circumstances beyond anyone’s control, but everyone should find some niche in their lives that gives them joy and spend time there. Constantly seeking accomplishment in a field one’s gifts are not well suited for can only lead to frustration, and frustration and happiness do not travel hand-in-hand.


Writing is by its nature a frustrating life. You work hard to get to an elusive and subjective accomplishment, and, even if you achieve it to your satisfaction, the odds are against general acceptance. (Calm down, writers. This doesn’t make you special. All the arts are like this.) Rejection is part of the business. Even if said rejection is an accurate assessment of your work, it’s not you that’s been rejected. It’s the work. Move on and be happy, even if that means something else to be happy at. Life’s too short.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Twenty Questions With Angel Luis Colon

Angel Luis Colón is the author of No Happy Endings, The Fury of Blacky Jaguar, and the upcoming short story anthology, Meat City on Fire (And Other Assorted Debacles). He’s an editor for Shotgun Honey, has been nominated for the Derringer Award, and has published stories in multiple web and print pubs such as Thuglit, Literary Orphans, All Due Respect, RT Book Reviews, and The LA Review of Books. He’s currently repped by Foundry Literary + Media.

Keep up with him on Twitter via @GoshDarnMyLife

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about No Happy Endings.
Angel Luis Colon: It’s a story about idiot criminals, terrible families, and secret
underground sperm farms funded by shady money and run by a Portuguese psychopath.

Heartwarming stuff, really.

OBAAT: Readers love to ask where authors get their ideas and most authors reply with something along the lines of “we’re tripping over them. The trick is to find the idea that works best for me.” What made this idea worth developing, and how much development from the original germ was required?
ALC: The whole tripping over ideas thing is true for me. I tend to have to fight back the temptation of new ideas whenever I’m working on a project. Starting is easy, finishing is the hardest bit.

This one took me some time to really nail down. I’d start it up and then abandon it to work on a short or another project. What mattered was that I did keep coming back to it – so at the end of the day, while NHE started as a bit of a joke concept in robbing a sperm bank with messy (har har) results, there was something inside the character relationships and the themes that kept my attention long enough to really flesh them out.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write No Happy Endings, start to finish?
ALC: Maybe over a year. With the breaks and a complete rewrite at one point, there were a lot of delays.

OBAAT: Where did Fantine Park come from? In what ways is she like, and unlike, you?
ALC: Fantine came a little from my desire to read a female character with more baggage than perks. Like most characters I write, I always ask if they feel real enough to have a drink with – Fantine was my attempt to create someone we normally don’t think of having a drink with.

I don’t see a lot of me in Fan beyond the mouth. She’s got an issue with admitting when she’s out of her wheelhouse which I’ve suffered from a little too.

OBAAT: In what time and place is No Happy Endings set and why was this time and place chosen?
ALC: No Happy Endings opens in 2007 to give readers a taste of our villain’s world and to show us Fantine during one of her greatest failures.

Then we jump ahead to 2012 where the action takes place – specifically October of 2012, right before a certain Superstorm slammed into the Northeast.

OBAAT: How did No Happy Endings come to be published?
ALC: I took a chance and pitched it to Down & Out books via email. The response was pretty positive, so we took off from there. My favorite bit was pretty much handshaking the deal in a hallway at Bouchercon 2015 on the way to a panel.

It was painless, which is a rarity in this business.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
ALC: I’m a weird reader. Fluff loses my attention easily so I tend to gravitate towards stories that don’t overly rely on standard tropes to fill in gaps (i.e. procedurals that fill the word count with scenes and interactions we’ve seen a million times before presented the same way over and over). I’m a fan of writers who really test our loyalties to convention – who can take something we’re comfortable with and completely upend that comfort.

Favorite authors include Ted Lewis, Douglas Adams, Clive Barker, Donald Westlake, and S.E Hinton but I can add to that list for days.

OBAAT: What made you decide to be an author?
ALC: I have no memory of learning to read. Words have always been a part of my life and I was a quiet kid in a house with nobody to play with most times. I think it’s easy to start running wild with your imagination and sooner or later it spills out onto a page either in pencil or crayon. I couldn’t draw worth a shit but I sure as hell could describe what I wanted you to see – so the choice was pretty much made.

OBAAT: How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing crime fiction?
ALC: I grew up in the Bronx and while that doesn’t make me any expert (I was pretty much a good kid with good grades) I was also exposed to a lot of interesting people from all walks of life. The common thread among them was working class status and a constant need to hustle for their well-being or the well-being of their families; from cops to mobster wannabes.

It was funny. Crime fiction was not my first choice in the genre I wanted to write but realizing where and how I grew up, it’s amazing I could think of anything else.

OBAAT: What do you like best about being a writer?
ALC: It used to be the sense of calm it gave me. Now I really love that there are people willing to give my rantings a shot. That never gets old.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
ALC: Martin Scorcese is a massive influence on how I visualize most anything I write in my own head. I think you can take any of his films and pluck scenes of all kinds that help your writing. Comic books sort of serve the same purpose too. I’ve been a comic book nerd my whole damn life and visual storytelling has been a huge influence on how I write action or frame a scene (descriptions, item placement, and body movement during conversation). I think sometimes we can neglect those things when we’re only focused on story.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants?
ALC: I write very rough outlines. More like mission statements. Then I ignore that and fly by the seat of my pants. I normally know where I want to go but I have no idea how we’re getting there.

OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
ALC: I used to edit as I wrote but that drained me. Now I keep my head down and write the damn thing. The revisions will fix it and I’m a complete basket case of an editor. Not a damn thing I write goes through less than four revisions – even my flash fiction.

OBAAT: Endings are hard and can make or break a book. Americans as a whole tend to like happy endings, and those are the books that tend to sell best. What do you look for in an ending?
ALC: Endings should be organic. If that means the ending is happy and ties everything up in a bow, sure, so long as that feels like where we’ve been headed. If the ending is dark and challenging, that can work too. What matters is you meet the expectations you set from the start. The most disappointing endings for me are the ones that fizzle out, leave dangling plots for no reason (I don’t care if it’s a series, if you call it out more than once, give us something) or goes against the grain just to go against the grain. Readers don’t always need a twist.

OBAAT: Who is your intended audience?
ALC: Whoever’s willing to part with their time and money. I write what I would like to read. If anyone wants to join in, I’m thrilled to welcome them.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
ALC: None of this will ever get easier. Accept that you’ve chosen to be a professional reject and an amateur success on your best days and keep writing.

OBAAT: Generally speaking the components of a novel are story/plot, character, setting, narrative, and tone. How would you rank these in order of their importance in your own writing, and can you add a few sentences to tell us more about how you approach each and why you rank them as you do?
ALC: Character rules. I learned early on in life that we will never invest care or time in a story that doesn’t have characters we can relate to or learn to love/hate. Without defined characters, everything else will fall apart.

After that, it’s story/plot, narrative, setting, tone. I feel like each informs the former but character is the glue that holds it all together.

OBAAT: If you could have written any book of the past hundred years, what would it be, and what is it about that book you admire most?
ALC: Thomas Hardy’s Return of The Native. It was his sixth book and it was published in the late 19th century over a year in a magazine. That book gave no fucks for any of the conventions of its era. You can cite that book as the very beginnings of a turn in literature but rarely anyone outside of a classroom knows that.

That’s the kind of book I’d love to write.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
ALC: Hanging out with my wife and kids – being the nerdy dad.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?
ALC: I’ve been wrapping up a few things I owe folks but I still have to hammer out a short script and another short for an anthology (my first horror antho) I was invited to contribute to. I’m wrapping up a novel I’m hoping to pitch to a few pubs soon and then work starts on the third Blacky Jaguar novella (the second one, Blacky Jaguar Against The Cool Clux Cult!!! Should drop next year).





Thursday, December 1, 2016

November's Best Reads

November hit the ground running and never let up. A great month. (For my reading, at least.)
Devils and Dust, J.D. Rhoades. Few can tie together an ending as well. The beginning is a departure from others in the Keller series, but Rhoades tightens the slack and reels you in from multiple points of view, letting the reader know exactly as much as is necessary to build the tension for the well-constructed finale.

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, Adrian McKInty (pre-release). Volume 6 in the Sean Duffy series shows McKinty is far from running out of different angles from which to view the situation of a Catholic cop in Protestant Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

True Blue, David Milch and Det. Bill Clark. A dual memoir in some ways, as Milch details the first few seasons of NYPD Blue from his perspective, including bits of Clark’s career and telling how they were spun into episodes. A quick, entertaining, and educational read that shows several sides of Milch’s character. Oh, and David Caruso is apparently a real tool. This time Duffy investigates a drug dealer killed with a crossbow and comes up against potentially crossed allegiances between paramilitaries and the police. The ending is classic McKinty, surprising yet inevitable.

Rough Trade, Todd Robinson. Big Daddy Thug does it again with another Boo and Junior adventure. Robinson has a gift for combining humor, action, inappropriate language and behavior, and empathy. The story never lags, yet the pace is never out of control. There’s a lot of craft hidden under the entertainment here that most readers probably won’t notice. That’s fine. There’s entertainment enough for everyone here, with another level available for those who want it.

Rumrunners, Eric Beetner. I’ve yet to read one of Beetner’s books that didn’t end up playing as a movie in my head. This story of an outlaw family entering its third, and possibly fourth, generation coming to grips with changing times and adapting the family philosophy to those changes. There’s no honor among thieves but there is an outlaw code, which the McGraw family does its best to live up to.

KINDLE COUNTDOWN REMINDER

Still hoping to grab a Kindle copy of The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of for 99 cents? You snoozed, you lost. Worry not. TSTDAMO is available today and tomorrow for $1.99 before returning to its regularly exorbitant price of $2.99 on Saturday.

Next Week:  Shamus nominated The Man in the Window.



Monday, November 28, 2016

I Suck at Marketing

Remember the great deal I promised you last week on Kindle versions of my self-published books? Well, I should have set the deals up before I started running my mouth. Thanks to the vagaries of Amazon countdown promotions and their relationship with KDP, not only are not all of the books available at the times I promised, the number of price increments is not the same.

I’m not blaming Amazon for any of this. It’s my fault for not performing even a modicum of due diligence before letting my mouth write checks my ass couldn’t cash. That said, here is the updated promotion schedule:

BOOK
DATES
PRICE
The Stuff That Dreams are Made Of
November 29 & 30
December 1 & 2
December 3 and beyond
$0.99
$1.99
$2.99 (regular price)
The Man in the Window
December 5 & 6
December 7 & 8
December 9 and beyond
$0.99
$1.99
$2.99 (regular price)
A Dangerous Lesson
December 12 & 13
December 14 & 15
December 16 and beyond
$0.99
$1.99
$2.99 (regular price)

A Small Sacrifice and Wild Bill will still be available for cheap(er), but the dates are TBD. I expect A Small Sacrifice to sneak in the week before Christmas and Wild Bill will meet its original Hanukkah/after Christmas window, but I won’t know for sure until I see how the KDP renew dates shake out.


My ego is not such that I expect this to be a major obstacle in your holiday plans, but I still hate to say anything that turns out not to be true. Mea culpa.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Announcing the Big Holiday Sale!

The holidays draw nigh and everyone is in a dither about what to buy their family and friends. If you’re reading this blog, there’s an excellent chance your family and friends would like a book. Not just any book; a Kindle book. Less clutter, it won’t clog up their bookshelves, and the chances of a paper cut are nil. And not just any Kindle books, either. What they’d really enjoy is one—or more—books from the double Shamus award nominated Nick Forte series.

I’m your friend and I’m here for you. To aid in this endeavor, I‘m having a special on all four Forte novels between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but timely action is key. All four books will be on sale for the better part of a week, one book at a time, in a series of Kindle Countdown promotions.

Here’s how it works: starting Monday, November 28, Book One of the Forte series, A Small Sacrifice, will go on sale for 99 cents. Tuesday it goes up to $1.49. Wednesday it’s $1,99, Thursday is $2.49 day, and by Friday you’re paying full freight. Here’s the schedule:

November 28 – December 1: A Small Sacrifice.
December 5 – 8: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of.
December 12 – 15: The Man in the Window
December 19 – 22: A Dangerous Lesson.

“But wait,” you say. (You must have said it pretty loud for me to hear it all the way over here.) “How do we give a Kindle book as a gift?” It’s simple. How simple? It’s so simple even I have done it, both pitching and catching. Here’s how it works:

  1. From the Kindle Store, select the book you want to purchase as a gift.
  2. On the product detail page, click the Give as a Gift button.
  3. Enter the personal email address of your gift recipient.
  4. Enter a delivery date and an optional gift message.
  5. Click “Place your order” to finish your gift purchase using your Amazon 1-Click payment method.
  6. The lucky recipient receives an e-mail with download instructions and the warm feeling that comes with knowing they are loved.

Everyone is busy this time of year, Lots of stuff going on. Lots of things on your minds. Don’t worry. I’ll post reminders in Facebook and on the blog margins. You don’t have to thank me. It’s just how I am.

But wait!! There’s more!!

You may well receive an Amazon gift card as part of your personal holiday gelt. Do not feel left out. You may not be able to get the Forte books for dirt cheap—and 99 cents is as down and dirty as it gets—but our Hanukkah/After Christmas sale runs December 27 – 30. Same .99/1.49/1.99/2.49 deal as before, but on Wild Bill, my standalone novel about how an FBI agent’s case of a lifetime is jeopardized by a mob war.


If my stuff is not to your taste and you have gift cards burning holes in your pockets, that’s okay. Stop back here on January 5 for my list of the best books I read during 2016. Not necessarily books released in 2016, though some will be, but the best books I read during the year. Not that my opinion outweighs anyone else’s, but that’s all I do here is give opinions, and you’re still here. Do the math.

Monday, November 21, 2016

All Things in Moderation

I had the good fortune to serve as a moderator in both conferences I attended this year, Bouchercon and Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity. I’ve been going to writer’s conferences since 2004, and pretty much annually since 2008. I’ve been on panels at either Bouchercon or C3 or both every year but one since 2012. In that time I’ve been lucky to work with moderators who were uniformly excellent and also had differing styles. It was only natural I’d want to try my hand one day after seeing how effortlessly Sandra Parshall, Peter Rozovsky, Jim Born, et al pulled it off for me.

It ain’t as easy as they make it look.

I have no doubt there are moderators who don’t think twice about getting up in front of a couple of hundred people and asking a handful of writers questions off the tops of their heads. We’ve all seen them and can probably identify them. By and large they’re the shitty moderators. The panels roam, the questions either don’t give the writers anything to talk about that’s informative and entertaining (a good panel is both), or is so vague no one knows what to do with it. I’m sure some people can pull it off. I’m sure I’ve seen a panel or two where that happened. I’m also sure there are moderators out there right now who do this and think they pulled it off. They’re probably wrong.

Preparation is important because there’s going to be a lot of stuff going on the moderator has to keep track of. “How much time is left” may be the most obvious, and it’s close to most important when considered in conjunction with other elements. Sure, there’s a volunteer there to tell you when you have 10 minutes, five, two, clear out there’s people waiting. What do you do if you’re 25 minutes into a 50-minute panel and you’re three-quarters of the way through your questions? Even worse, what if you’ve been coming up with questions more or less off the top of your head, realize you’re running out of ideas, look at your watch and realize you still have half an hour? I saw this happen at Bouchercon—I won’t say in which panel—and the moderator depended on the audience to fill the last 20 minutes. That’s not right, and it’s not fair to anyone.

In addition to tracking time you’re also gauging the audience. Anyone who’s done a reading, sat on a panel, or given any kind of public performance knows not all audiences are created equal. If a certain type of question is dying, change up. It’s probably a good idea to have at least half again as many questions as you think you’ll need, covering different aspects of your topic. That allows you to switch off if what you thought would be clever just lies there and rots.

It’s also important to know your panelists. Not necessarily personally—though that never hurts—but their writing. A good moderator should probably read at least one book by each panelist, but at the very least should be familiar with their work through reviews, synopses, and excerpts. Specific questions may present themselves, but you’ll also know what kinds of questions will work better for the group as a whole. Another benefit to this relates to the previous paragraph, except in reverse: a line of inquiry goes well and you run out of related questions. Then is a good time to go with the flow. The last thing you want to do is to get everyone in a good mood—your panel is revved up, the audience is revved up—and you decide to talk about something else. Buzzkill.

This year’s Bouchercon was my first moderator gig. Five writers (including one good friend, Terrence McCauley, yay me) including multi-bestseller Heather Graham, so I knew there would be a decent crowd. I polled a few moderators I’d seen before and thought did a good job—including the Master of Moderation, Peter Rozovsky—and started my research and working on questions several weeks in advance.

One panelist had to pull out due to an illness in the family. I felt bad for him, but the panel was not in danger. I had plenty of material. Stepping onto the dais I learned another panelist had taken ill and was missing.

Now I’m down to three. Fast math in my head. Fifty minute panel. Enough questions to allow five panelists to speak for half again that long. (So I hoped.) Only three panelists. Should still come out to about 45 minutes. Leave five to ten minutes for audience participation and I’ll be fine.

Then the real benefit of preparation made an appearance. Our other panelist—a fine writer and nice man based on our conversation in the Green Room—had never been on a panel before, got nervous and vapor locked. It happens. I’ll not name him as I don’t want to embarrass him, and after the event I felt badly for him. During the event I mostly felt bad for me, wondering what the fuck I was going to do to fill the time.

Some say luck is where preparation meets opportunity. In my case it was more like where preparation met Heather Graham and Terrence McCauley, both of whom stepped up to give more expansive answers as time went on. Shared a few anecdotes tangentially related to what was under discussion.

Therein lies the biggest lesson I learned: be generous with your panel and they’ll reciprocate. Take the time to make your best effort to understand their work and ask questions to help them put their best feet forward and they’ll carry you. The more attention the moderator can place on the panel, the better.


And should my third, nervous panelist read this: I’ll do a panel with you again anytime.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Justified




The Beloved Spouse™ and I re-watched Justified recently. Didn’t quite binge it. One or two a night generally sufficed, though there were evenings when the end of a season neared and we couldn’t leave one or two episodes hanging, especially if we were going to have to take a couple of nights off. Watching the show this way gave us a new perspective on it. We both found it even more enjoyable than when we watched them as they aired.

First the disclaimer: we never actually watched Justified live, as in “Tuesday nights at 10:00.” TBS didn’t retire until shortly before the final episode. Staying up till 11:00 and getting up at 5:30 was not on her agenda. (Nor would it have been on mine.) We routinely watched the show on DVR over Wednesday dinner, which meant we got to skip the commercials.

Of course, fast-forwarding through commercials isn’t the same a skipping them. You still have a break. Justified was written well enough to take these breaks into consideration, but still, they’re there. Watching on DVD a year-and-a-half later removed even that small gap in continuity. The episodes held together better. It was easier to get into the state all authors and readers seek, the vivid and continuous dream where we forget we’re being told (or shown) a story and accept everything that’s happening as real. (Kudos to John Gardner for that felicitous phrase, and to John McNally for teaching it to me.)

Add to that the lack of a week between episodes and nine months between seasons and the time lines make more sense. Clues sown to be harvested an episode or two later came to fruition that same night or the next. I’d always thought Season 3 was the weakest, as the story lines didn’t hold together as well. Watching 13 episodes in a week showed I’d been wrong. Season 3 works very well. Season 4 still leaves me wondering how Drew Thompson held the entire area in thrall for 30 years, but a lot more of it makes sense to me now.

What I liked best about this re-viewing is the relationships. Of the characters, yes, but also of the plot lines. I can’t think of any show that stayed more true to its characters than did Justified. While Boyd and Ava may seem to be all over the place in their plans and personal relationship, at their core they’re the same. Boyd’s conversion in Season 1 may have been legitimate—I believe now that it was—but it was also convenient. It was what Boyd Crowder needed to hold things together at that time. When that was no longer the case, he moved on to the next thing. Had his daddy not fucked with his church, Boyd might have been quite happy to stick with it, but once his flock was gone, so was he.

Same with Ava. Yes, she’s the small town girl who still had a crush on Raylan, but she also killed Bowman in cold blood once she’d made up her mind he had to go. Much as she detested Boyd early on, it made sense that they’d get together eventually. Raylan had Winona, but even if he hadn’t, Ava would have been Raylan’s girl. She and Boyd were equals. Until they weren’t, and they went their separate ways.

If the show had a weakness it was in the use of the subordinate marshal characters, Brooks and Gutterson. Neither had full advantage taken of their potential as characters. Brooks ended up filling a plot role as the acting Chief Deputy who didn’t do things the way Art would have. Gutterson got better banter opportunities with Raylan and a few more plot lines of his own, especially in Season 4 when he engaged with Boyd’s man Colton. Erica Tazel and Jacob Pitts were up to weightier chores.

Maybe. In the end, this was Raylan and Boyd’s show, two brothers from different mothers
whose love-hate relationship played out over the entire course of the series. That’s what Justified got right and did best. The writers knew this—I suspect they knew they’d dodged a bullet when they decided not to let Boyd die at the end on the pilot as he did in the short story that served as source material—and played it expertly. No TV show, movie, miniseries, book, or other storytelling medium ever realized a fuller symmetry than did Justifed in the first and last times Raylan and Boyd see each other: hugging in front of the Nazi church building, then Raylan’s “courtesy visit” to Boyd in the final scene, “because we dug coal together.” The perfect ending to what was damn close to a perfect show, when taken in consideration of what it set out to be, a tribute to the genius of Elmore Leonard.

If you’ve not seen Justified, you ought to. Even if you’re not a huge fan or Leonard’s work—through if you’re not, why not?—there’s a lot there in the relationship building. If you have seen it, watch it again. You’ll enjoy it even more. We did, and will again.


PS
A key benefit to buying the DVD set is the special features. They’re excellent, especially the first three or four years. (Season 6 not so much. I had the feeling they rushed them to get the boxed set out.) The sense of commitment of the writers, cast and crew is palpable throughout, as is the affection for Leonard and his work. There are several features that deal with him exclusively, notably “The Coolest Guy in the Room.” If you know anything of Leonard’s writing and philosophy, Patton Oswalt’s reading of Leonard’s obituary in The Onion is not to be missed. (I would have planted a link, but it appears to be locked down on the Internet. Sorry. The written obit is here. Look up the Ten Rules yourself if you don’t know them. Must I do everything?)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Twenty Questions With Richard Godwin


Richard Godwin is the critically acclaimed author of Apostle Rising, Mr. Glamour, One Lost Summer, Noir City, Meaningful Conversations, Confessions Of A Hit Man, Paranoia And The Destiny Programme, Wrong Crowd, Savage Highway, Ersatz World, The Pure And The Hated, Disembodied, Buffalo And Sour Mash and Locked In Cages. His stories have been published in numerous paying magazines and over 34 anthologies, among them an anthology of his stories, Piquant: Tales Of The Mustard Man, and The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime and The Mammoth Book Of Best British Mystery, alongside Lee Child. He was born in London and lectured in English and American literature at the University of London. He also teaches creative writing at University and workshops. You can find out more about him at his website www.richardgodwin.net , where you can read a full list of his works, and where you can also read his Chin Wags At The Slaughterhouse, his highly popular and unusual interviews with other authors.   

I first encountered Richard at the 2014 Noircon where his talk on the elements and different types of noir was a highlight of the conference. My thoughts at the time:  Richard Godwin sees two lines in each noir tale. The first is where the situation tempts the protagonist to cross the line of legality. The second is where he fails, often because the powers that be will not allow him to succeed. Godwin feels strongly about noir tales where the protagonist is forced into the situation, as opposed to being drawn in by his own lust or greed. A key element of all noir is moral compromise, regardless of the motivation. 

That said, it’s a treat to have Richard here to play Twenty Questions and talk about his newest book, Buffalo and Sour Mash.                                                                                                                                                              

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Buffalo And Sour Mash.
Richard Godwin: Buffalo And Sour Mash is about one man’s dream of bringing the rodeo to Surrey UK. No greater disparity of cultural inheritance could exist. It is a slice of the prairie, the Virgin Land of Fennimore Cooper and Jack London, that runs like a tortured leitmotif through the paradigm of the American Dream and the American psyche. It is also a love story and Noir novel and a horror novel, and a piece of hardboiled crime fiction. Hybrid genres. Murphy Stubbs is arguably the most psychotic deranged character I have ever written. And he is in love with Rhonda. Except there is an argument that Murphy is incapable of love. Or is he, well find out for yourselves. Murphy will stop at nothing to succeed in his goals. And only Rhonda holds the key to Murphy’s violent past in Oklahoma all those years ago when the novel begins.

OBAAT: Readers love to ask where authors get their ideas and most authors reply with something along the lines of “we’re tripping over them. The trick is to find the idea that works best for me.” What made this idea worth developing, and how much development from the original germ was required?
RG: That is an instinctive process for which there is no answer. Truth is you either have ideas or you don’t.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write Buffalo And Sour Mash, start to finish?
RG: Two months first draft. Eight to edit it.

OBAAT: Where did Murphy Stubbs come from? In what ways is he like, and unlike, you?
RG: The subconscious. He is not like me at all, writers make things up, they narrate, they tell the story that needs to be told at that particular time, they utilise subconscious energies.

OBAAT: How did Buffalo And Sour Mash come to be published?
RG: I sent it out to Down And Out Books because I knew they would get it. And of course they did. Eric Campbell is doing the kind of thing for contemporary crime fiction that the older better, than today, largely speaking, publishers did for the likes of Chandler and Hammett. He has sweated blood over this and he ought to be thanked, I do. And there is a sequel on its way in which the lead from Wrong Crowd, Down And Out Books, Claude, meets Murphy as does Maxine meet Rhonda.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
RG: I read a lot, but to name a few out of many, James Lee Burke—his new one is great—Henry Miller, Shane Stevens, Cormac McCarthy.

OBAAT: What made you decide to be an author?
RG: I knew it when I was seventeen. My grandfather was an author, he was widely published. I wanted to write because I wanted to explore the human condition, the only prerequisite for an author. And I still am.

OBAAT: How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing crime fiction?
RG: I have travelled widely and visited about 72 countries. I have been to 24 of the states in the US, I saw a lot of crime in the war in the former Jugoslavia, as I am  a quarter Serbian, quarter Croatian, quarter Irish, and quarter English. I have also tried to understand motivation and not to bring some idle middle class head set to my opinions. I want to know why crime occurs and I can understand that this attitude that we have that there is a them and us is a piece of rhetoric. It works purely to indoctrinate the masses with prejudice than can be utilised for political purposes. Most people have committed crime. We like to moralise. My Noir fictions are about men and women who are morally compromised, like most people. They are lured across a line into committing a crime. That is where it occurs. Blurring the moral line into crime in the eyes of society and challenging that society, that is the source of a good narrative.

OBAAT: What do you like best about being a writer?
RG:  There is no glass ceiling.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
RG: Influences are hard to determine, but and this is by no means compete list. Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Jonson, Dickens.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants?
RG: Both depending on the novel.

OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
RG: I always write out the first draft or you lose the flow. Then I edit and that may be repeated numerous times.

OBAAT: Endings are hard and can make or break a book. Americans as a whole tend to like happy endings, and those are the books that tend to sell best. What do you look for in an ending?
RG: Realism and faith to the novel. Happy endings are irrelevant to reality. Dickens was forced to rewrite the original ending of Great Expectations. Unfortunately we live in unreal times.

OBAAT: Who is your intended audience?
RG:  Everyone and anyone who likes to read a novel

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
RG:  Write every day and read as much as you have time for reading, analyse what the writer is doing and how does he achieves his effects, observe people and keep going.

OBAAT: Generally speaking the components of a novel are story/plot, character, setting, narrative, and tone. How would you rank these in order of their importance in your own writing, and can you add a few sentences to tell us more about how you approach each and why you rank them as you do?
RG: Character first and foremost. If you can hear them talk you have the story. Plot is irrelevant to many novels except straight genre formula. Setting is most important. Narrative is essential and tone also.

OBAAT: If you could have written any book of the past hundred years, what would it be, and what is it about that book you admire most?
RG: Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. The literary classic that cocks a snoot as an aside at the establishment, because it is hybrid, it is genre and it is crime it is a love story and Greene is one of the rare writers who writes and explores in depth good and bad characters equally well with the most polished beautiful prose.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
RG: Travel, going to the gym, music, socialising.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?
RG: The sequel to Noir City, my commissioned Erotica Noir novel about Paris Tongue, the nomadic Gigolo. The sequel will be out next year, Black Jackal Books, and here is a snippet about Noir City, which is available here and here 


Dangerous, blonde Gigolo, Paris Tongue uses his looks and insight into female sexuality to seduce women in the Secret Hour. This is the time when he takes them out of their lives and resurrects their sexual identity, like an erotic priest. He turns fantasy into reality and ushers in new ecstasies to their lives. Yet sees himself as a night visitor or ghost. The women are haunted by him, their lives forever changed by their encounters. Set in numerous European cities, this lyrical and deeply erotic novel captures the flavour of each city, each hotel, apartment, house, as exotic settings for Paris Tongue’s sexual adventures. But when he seduces the wife of a Mafia boss he finds himself hunted across Europe.