Saturday, February 15, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 7 AKA Bond and Batman

Well, if it wasn’t for Matt Reeves and Billie Eilish, I’d have darn near nothing to discuss today.

You see, this has been a bit of a nothing week. After Gregg Hurwitz week last week, not much happened. I’m reading The Nowhere Man, Hurwitz’s second Orphan X novel. Really digging it and the character.

I’m also reading some Star Wars comics from the late 70s, specifically the months leading up to the release of The Empire Strikes Back in May 1980.

TV wise, I’m catching up on Magnum PI via my CBS All Access subscription. The move from Monday nights to Fridays pretty much screwed my airtime viewing of the show. When I went and reviewed the list, I realized I had only seen two episode. Now, I’ve watched six episodes in three days. Love being able to watch on my Chromebook at lunch at work.

Thus I didn’t have much to write about. Until Thursday.

No Time To Die by Billie Eilish

I’ll be the first to admit that I disliked the news Eilish had been given the opportunity to write and sing the new James Bond theme song. I’ve seen her on SNL and random other live events and I’ve been less than impressed. Even her rendition of “Yesterday” last week at the Oscars left me wanting.

Still, she’s on a terrific run. She’s following up her four Grammy wins—the four biggest of the night—with a Bond song. Bueno to her for having a moment. And, clearly, she’s popular.

But what kind of Bond song would she create? The Daniel Craig films, if I’m being honest, have batter .500. I really enjoy Skyfall and You Know My Name. I ended up only tolerating Writing’s on the Wall while watching Spectre. And I don’t like Another Way to Die, the theme from Quantum of Solace.

Fear not: the record for the worst Bond song is firmly set: Madonna’s Did Another Day. Too bad. Pierce Brosnan had some great theme songs and a bonus: kd lang’s Surrender, the best non-main-theme song of the entire Bond oeuvre.

So it was with great trepidation I dialed up Eilish’s song on Thursday night. I sighed at my son as I started the video. He left. I sat and listened.

By the time it ended, I had a verdict:

I didn’t hate it.

It was quiet, somber. Her voice actually seemed to fit. It had an elegiac vibe, pretty nifty considering this is Craig’s last bow as Bond. I actually liked the “Food me once, fool me twice” part, segueing directly into a short orchestral part.

There were some good Bond-music elements in the piece, especially the last chord.

So it looks like my opinion of Billie Eilish singing a Bond song was wrong. I do find it fascinating, however, that three of the five Craig theme songs were slow. Wonder what that means, if anything.

The New Batman Revealed

Also on Thursday night came the first images of Robert Patinson in his own Batman suit. Yeah, I only know him from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the Twilight movies. His casting didn’t bother me. He was new. He was different. I’m looking forward to the new Batman movie. I’ll wait to see the movie before I pass judgement.

But how did the suit look? I’ll freely admit I liked Ben Affleck’s suit in his two appearances on screen. It was very comic book accurate, the best we’ve had to date.

Here it is.

But in a real-world environment—the vibe Matt Reeves seems to be going for—the body armor suit seems appropriate.

We didn’t get to see a lot of Pattinson’s suit. We saw the symbol, which looked like it that bat-symbol could be popped out and used as a weapon. Interesting. Makes me also think of the Kevin Smith-penned story from Detective Comics issue 1,000 in which Bruce took the gun used to kill his parents, melted it down, and inserted it into his suit as a breast plate. Wonder if that’s part of it.

Pattinson’s cowl looks really fascinating. There are what appear to be stitching along the front, leading me to wonder if this Bruce Wayne doesn’t have the tech gadgetry of the Nolan films. I would actually like that. I like also how the eyes are either hidden in the shadow of the red-hued film or actually behind some sort of lenses.

Oh, and that Michael Giacchino music? CanNOT wait for that. Giacchino is great at everything he does. You heard his music for 2012’s John Carter? Great.

Assumptions Busted

All in all, it’s a week of assumptions being busted. Well, only one with Eilish. I’m an open book when it comes to Pattinson.

Either way, I’m looking forward to the last Craig-as-Bond film in a few weeks and am eager for Pattinson’s Batman.

What are y’all’s thoughts on both things?

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 6 AKA Gregg Hurwitz Week

Who knew this week would turn out to be Gregg Hurwitz Week for me?

The week started with Hurwitz's author event here in Houston. He showed up at Murder by the Book to promote his latest novel--and latest Orphan X thriller--INTO THE FIRE. Much of the author talk was typical--here's my full post--but I really appreciated the answer to one of my questions.

Since Hurwitz is new to me, I asked him how he scored his gig writing Batman comics early in the 2010s. His answer proved instructive to any creative, myself included.

After a brief stint at Marvel, DC Comics wooed Hurwitz with a tantalizing offer: you can write anything you want. Thinking of how THE KILLING JOKE is often referred to as the definitive Joker story, he wanted to write the definitive Penguin story. He got his chance, and, in 2011, PAIN AND PREJUDICE was released. The mini-series got such good press and fan reaction that DC offered Hurwitz a writing gig for one of the monthly Batman books. By opting for a true passion project, new opportunities opened up.

I told this story to my book club group on Tuesday, and one of my friends made an excellent point: you never know when a break might arrive, so you'd better have something in the hopper you can trot out when that break happens.

A day after my post, I put up my full review of ORPHAN X, the debut of Evan Smoak. I enjoyed it for being a different of thriller. Some of the best scenes in the book are the ones not to include action sequences. They are the ones in which Evan merely talks to people who live in his building, his daily life in his apartment, and fixing a drink. Weird, I know, but that's what makes ORPHAN X different, and makes me look forward to diving into the second book, THE NOWHERE MAN.

I closed out the week by reading the Penguin mini-series, PAIN AND PREJUDICE. I wanted to see what a definitive Penguin story looked like and did Hurwitz achieve what he set out to do. In short: yeah. The long version: my review.

A Positive Message About Being a Writer

I've mentioned how every Thursday, Kristine Kathryn Rusch publishes a post on the business aspects of the book business. This week was something different. Entitled "Business Musings: Optimism And The Writer," Rusch extols the virtues of having a positive attitude in this business, both behind the keyboard as you write, and in public as you talk about your stuff. Read the whole thing, but here's a portion of it.

The most optimistic among us do play and make things up for the rest of our lives.
The realistic optimists, that is. The ones who know that being the best at our job requires us to keep learning, keep trying, and keep striving. Who know that the best is just around the corner.
We believe this even when our luck is bad. When events have gone poorly for us. When life conspires against us. When we get that awful diagnosis that reminds us that our time on this earth is finite.
When we can see the end.
We still keep moving forward, and trying to be the best we can be.
Because writers—professional writers—are optimists. Realistic optimists, fighting against the odds, knowing that someone gets to succeed—and if someone does, it might as well be me. At least I’m trying.
And to tie it back to Hurwitz (you know Gregg Hurwitz Week) is this quote from Wayne Gretzky via Rusch:  “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Rusch continues:

The core of any unusual profession—from writer to hockey player—is embodied in that quote. The math is pretty simple: You can’t succeed if you don’t try.
But what gets you to try? Optimism. That tiny thread of hope that this time, it’ll work. This time, the stars will align, the final bit of craft will come together, the last bit of effort will pay off.
And if it doesn’t—we’ll try again.
And again.
Until the end of (our) time.
Easily written. Sometimes difficult to believe and internalize.

Late in the week, I ran across an interview with Scott Snyder about writing comics. He said this:

"You can only write the story today that you’d like to pick up and read the most. It doesn’t have to be the smartest, it doesn’t have to be the most action-packed, but whatever it is that would change your life today that you would pick up and be like, “I love this story,” that’s the one you have to go write."

See how it all ties together? Write the best thing you can possibly write at any given time--the one thing you'd like to read--and have fun with it. Repeat.

Music of the Week: Texas Sun by Leon Bridges and Khruangbin 

Yesterday, a four-song EP dropped featuring this new soul singer out of Ft. Worth, Texas, and this three-piece band from Houston. They toured together last year and ended up making some music. Lots and lots of influences you can hear, from early 1070s Miles Davis and Marvin Gaye to dreamy psychedelic pop. Been hearing the title track for a month now. Five dollars at Amazon gets you the digital tunes, $4 if you like what you hear and want to purchase direct from Khruangbin.

Here's the title track.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Is Pain and Prejudice the Definitive Penguin Story?

At a recent author event promoting his latest novel INTO THE FIRE, Gregg Hurwitz was asked how he became one of the writers on a monthly Batman comic book. His answer was simple: I wanted to write the definitive Penguin story.

Can You Name a Penguin Comic Story?

He made an interesting couple of points in discussing his Penguin mini-series, Pain and Prejudice. One was The Killing Joke. For nearly every comic reader, that 1989 one-shot by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland is the definitive story on the Joker and his backstory. To Hurwitz's mind, Oswald Cobblepot, AKA The Penguin, didn't have one. I've been reading comics for forty-five years, and the only Penguin thing that comes to mind is the cover of Batman #228 that I owned (and still own) as a child...yet I can't think of the story at all.

Granted, I can easily remember numerous Penguin episodes from the Adam West Batman TV series from the 1960s. Who doesn't think of Burgess Meredith when you hear about Batman's rogue, The Penguin?

In fact, the more I thought of it, the only other Penguin story that comes to mind is Batman Returns, the 1992 Tim Burton film. I can't even narrow down a Penguin-centric episode from The Animated Series. Yes, the Penguin was a central figure from the TV show Gotham, but I only watched the first season, but I enjoyed what I saw of Robin Lord Taylor's performance.

But when it comes to the comics, I honestly can't think of a Penguin story.

Hurwitz was onto something.

Is The Penguin Sane?

The other, and more interesting point, was Hurwitz's comment that the Penguin was the only sane Batman villain. That one gave me pause. Clearly the Joker is bonkers. Ra's al Ghul is insane only insofar as what he wants to accomplish. The Riddler had a makeover a decade or so ago into a hyper-intelligent adversary to Batman, but insane? Not sure. Two-Face? Probably. 

The only argument I could make for a sane villain is Mr. Freeze, the version created by Paul Dini. He was driven to find a cure to save his wife, making him commit crimes to fund his research. Oh, and Catwoman. Almost every version, she's just on the edge of criminality.

But the point is well taken: Penguin is unique among the rogues gallery. So how does Pain and Prejudice hold up?

Pain and Prejudice: The Mini-Series

With art by Szymon Kudranski, Hurwitz delivers a five-part mini-series published in 2011, soon after the huge New 52 event (when DC Comics restarted its universe). Oswald Cobblepot is a crime boss, no a crime lord. In dark-hued panels, we get to see how Cobblepot rules his empire: through fear and whispers. What Cobblepot wants, Cobblepot gets.

Interspersed through the main story, Hurwitz gives us flashbacks to Oswald's upbringing and childhood. We learn the events that made him the formidable crime lord he is, and what he did to get there. The color palette for the present-day story is very dark and black. The flashbacks, however, are sepia tone. Nice touch.

What's compelling is the fear that runs through the story. You see how people stumble over themselves to stay in the Penguin's good graces. You also see how he deals with those who cross him, even if the cross is merely a mis-stated word. The Penguin doesn't do anything to you. He just does things to your family.

What changes the story is when Batman shows up. Now, everyone can see what Cobblepot himself truly fears. Not only that, his stature is diminished by Batman. Now, Cobblepot's hatred grows.

A side story is his own yearning to look good and be accepted. He's still the craggy nosed guy you see in the Animated Series and other comics (and a little of Danny DeVito's version minus the flipper hands) He has no love life until he meets Cassandra, a blind woman who views herself as something less than perfect (as do others who make fun of her). Definitely playing up the 'prejudice' aspect of the title.

Hurwitz gives us good dialogue between Cassandra and Oswald and the budding relationship. But Oswald won't let her touch his face in order for her to "see" him. He prefers she keep her image of him as perfect as possible. The panel Kudranski draws when Cobblepot realizes this is almost heartbreaking. Almost. We are talking a ruthless criminal here.

Naturally, Cobblepot's machinations afoul of Batman and there is a confrontation. Along the way, however, we see the genesis of the monocle, the umbrellas, and why he loves birds and penguins so much. He's got a knack for gadgets so there are things Batman must fight. Throughout this sequence--and, indeed, the entire run--the art is fantastic. I especially loved the onomatopoeia of the sound effects.

The Verdict

So, is Pain and Prejudice the definitive story of Oswald Cobblepot, AKA The Penguin? Yeah, it is. Hurwitz and Kudranski give us not just a story of a hero and villain, but of two antagonists, filled with depth and pathos (well, at least from Cobblepot's point of view). We know Batman's story, and I like how he's used here. He is The Other, the shadowed one, the more perfect man opposite Cobblepot's shorter, imperfect specimen.

I enjoyed Pain and Prejudice. Now I want to read the other Batman titles Hurwitz wrote to see how he handled The Dark Knight himself as well as other members of the Bat-Family.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Orphan X Review - Not Your Typical Thriller Hero

For a few years now, the Orphan X series by Gregg Hurwitz, has been circling my radar. I'd download a sample onto my Kindle, but never get around to it. I'd see the second, third, and fourth books in the series be published, but still I didn't move off high center.

Until late last month.

In that timeless week between Christmas and New Year's Day, I was at the paperback racks at a Barnes and Noble in far west Houston and saw OUT OF THE DARK, the fourth volume in the series. My new standard for reading books is to read the book that captured my attention, no matter what number it is in the series. But when I realized it was an Orphan X novel, I was reminded that this series is one I should try.

From the beginning.

Evan Smoak - Not Your Typical Action Hero

If you read ten thrillers, how many of them open with the main character--or a side character--running? Seven? Eight? It's a perfectly acceptable trope for the genre, but I was happily surprised ORPHAN X didn't begin that way. True, Evan is bleeding from a knife wound and he's trying to get back to his apartment in Los Angeles, but there are no bad guys chasing him. Instead, we get a domestic scene with Evan trying not to show fellow tenants of his high-rise apartment he's bleeding. Not the nosy old lady nor the single mom who lives a few floors below. But her son suspects the truth. The entire tension of chapter one is whether or not Evan can make it up to his apartment without anyone noticing he's bleeding.

That is how ORPHAN X starts, and it makes all the difference.

It tells you that you're in for a different type of thriller, one I couldn't put my finger on until I saw Gregg Hurwitz at Houston's Murder by the Book on Monday.

A Normal Situation

Another thing Hurwitz does well is showing you what Evan's typical life is like. As an orphan, he was taken out of foster care and trained to be an off-the-books assassin. The kind with complete deniability. The only contact he has is his father-figure/trainer/teacher Jack Johns. For years, Jack trained Evan until--as we learn in the middle of the book--an even takes place that causes Evan to leave that life and disappear.

Now, he's the Nowhere Man, a man hiding in plain sight. Like the A-Team, if there's a person who needs help, all they have to do is call the special number: 1-855-2NOWHERE. Evan will help you. The only payment: pass his number--once--to another person who needs help.

Thus, the opening section of the book, we get an example of this "normal" life Evan has made for himself. You see him plan how he's going to help teenaged Morena, the terrible situation in which she and her younger sister find themselves, and how he goes about solving her problem. Intricate detail that reads fast and swift, never losing tension and anticipation.

It's when the next person calls--presumably Morena's pay-it-forward charge--that things really kick into a higher gear.

The Layers Unravel

Interspersed throughout the novel are flashbacks to Evan's training days and his early assignments. You get a deeper sense of what kind of man he is, what kind of person Jack Johns is, and how the two ultimately bring out nuances in each other both probably didn't expect.

I never saw the twists coming, which made for an even more entertaining read. It's no surprise--it's on the dust jacket--that some of the people after Evan are fellow Orphans, so he's not going up against run-of-the-mill thugs, but highly trained adversaries. Hurwitz, I learned on Monday night when I attended his author event, has done his research. But I already knew that. The details not only of the fighting but the weapons and accouterments are rich and descriptive.

Why is This Book So Good?

I knew going into the book the action would be good and thrilling. What surprised me, however, were the character moments. The time in the elevator I just mentioned. The times when he's having to worry about the bad guys and some busybody confronts him about not attending the HOA meeting. In addition, seeing Evan at home, in his apartment, what he did, what he drank, how he ate, all of that is there. I gravitated toward those moments just as much, if not more, than the action.


Well, on Monday night, Hurwitz commented that part of the genesis of Evan Smoak was the idea that you never saw James Bond go home.* You never saw Jason Bourne have an awkward conversation with regular folks.

That was the key to why I enjoyed ORPHAN X so much. That's why I'll keep reading the series.

*In the novel MOONRAKER (1954)--which is nothing like the 1979 movie--Ian Fleming writes a lot about Bond in the office, in his house, and playing cards. Not exactly pulse-pounding excitement, but wonderful to read. But the point Hurwitz is probably making is that none of the films show Bond in a normal setting. Not coincidentally, it is these scenes in MOONRAKER I remember well and hardly any of the larger plot. But hardly anyone remembers the original novel. You see? Hurwitz was onto something.

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@Barrie Summy

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Gregg Hurwitz in Houston

Sometimes an author can deliver a sales pitch so good, you can't wait to see what he's talking about.

Gregg Hurwitz may be a new-to-me author, but I wasn't sure what to expect when he showed up at Houston's Murder by the Book on the first Monday in February. He was the author of twenty-one books--a fact on which he corrected me when I asked him  a pair of questions--so clearly many are reading.

Turned out the answer was a capacity crowd. By the time I walked in the door at 6:15 pm, there were no more seats. Didn't bother me. I have a standing desk at the day job, so I was perfectly fine with standing. I was even more excited to find stacks of the second Orphan X novel, THE NOWHERE MAN. You see, I'm new to Hurwitz's fiction and, as discussed in a prior post, was having the devil of a time securing a copy of the second book in the series. Leave it to Houston's best mystery bookstore to have my back.

The folks at Murder by the Book are nothing if not prompt, so a tad after 6:30, Hurwitz, dressed in black jeans, black shoes, and a black pullover took to the microphone. It's a never-ending trait of author events when you finally see these men and women in person, you realize they're just regular folks. You may be an engineer, a stay-at-home parent, a marketing writer, or an electrician, but these authors are just doing a job. Granted, their job is to make up stories for a living, but it still requires the nuts-and-bolts aspect of sitting down and hammering on a keyboard until they get to a 'the end.'

Hurwitz was the rare author who actually brought notes with him. It told me he was prepared for the evening and knew what he wanted to say. A professional, in short. Have to admire that.

His spiel centered on INTO THE FIRE, his newest novel and the fifth Orphan X novel to feature the character of Evan Smoak. He talked about where Evan finds himself at the novel opens, and the setup for the person who makes the fateful call to the Nowhere Man. Hurwitz discussed some of the returning characters, some I recognized having just read the first book in the series--ORPHAN X (my review)--and others I hadn't met yet.

I've only read the first book and it resonated with me. I knew why, but it was a phrase Hurwitz used that crystallized it: "We never see James Bond go home. We never see Jason Bourne have an awkward conversation." In short, we never see our famous professional killers in an everyday environment. It was that very aspect of ORPHAN X I loved the most. Sure, Evan was going to take out every bad guy he encounters no matter the personal cost, but his conversations with the old lady who lives in the apartment above him or the single mom a few floors below were some of my favorite parts.

After a short reading, Hurwitz took questions. It was cool to see a fellow Houstonian be recognized by the author by name. She was clearly a long-time fan. As an author myself, those are the best. She asked about the character Max (I think that's what she said) who is the one who calls on Evan for help in INTO THE FIRE. The new novel was released last Tuesday and clearly she'd already flown through it. She wasn't the only one. Hurwitz's answer focused on the difference between stories featuring a hero vs. a villain and a tale with a protagonist and an antagonist. There is a distinction. Remember: the best villains are the ones in which they think they're the hero of their own tale. There is room for nuance and character building. Conflict naturally comes from the clash of two protagonists who naturally become antagonists.

Late in the Q&A session, I got in two. The first was how he came to dream up and write ORPHAN X. At the time (2016), he had been writing professionally for over fifteen years. Did he always want to create a franchise character that would appeal to a broad audience? He answered by saying he dreamed up the concept of Evan Smoak years before the book was written and published, but he specifically wrote three other books in between. He needed Smoak to percolate in his mind. By the time he came to write the first book in the series, he and his talents were ready. The success of the series is proof that marinating with an idea can yield spectacular results.

Although I am new to Hurwitz's novels, it wasn't until I had finished ORPHAN X and did a little research that it finally clicked where I knew his name: he wrote Batman comics. I asked him how he got the Batman gig. His answer proved instructive to any creative, myself included.

After a brief stint at Marvel, DC Comics wooed Hurwitz with a tantalizing offer: you can write anything you want. Thinking of how THE KILLING JOKE is often referred to as the definitive Joker story, he wanted to write the definitive Penguin story. He got his chance, and, in 2011, PAIN AND PREJUDICE was released. The mini-series got good press and fan reaction that DC offered Hurwitz a writing gig for one of the monthly Batman books. By opting for a true passion project, new opportunities opened up.

I stayed in line, talking with some of the folks. A couple thanked me for asking the question about the comic books. They had no idea. Maybe they'll head to Bedrock City or Third Planet and track down Hurwitz's comics. One lady learned I was a writer as we discussed Hurwitz's material and I gave her my website address. Who knows? Maybe I gained a reader.

Hurtwitz certainly did. I've enjoyed witnessing my wife's reading habits. When she discovers and author with an extensive back catalog, she plows through them all. Now I've found one myself. Twenty more books to go.

I got Hurwitz's signature in THE NOWHERE MAN and am eager to read it. I really enjoy Evan Smoak as a character and Hurwitz's writing style. Then there's that one intriguing little thing Hurwitz mentioned about the end of INTO THE DARK that hooked me even more: "The last three words change everything."

How's that for a sales pitch?

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 5 AKA Virtual Bookshelves Never Go Out of Stock

I couldn't believe what I saw.

Or didn't see.

Gregg Hurwitz: A New-to-Me Author

For a few years now, the Orphan X series by Gregg Hurwitz, has been circling my radar. I'd download a sample onto my Kindle, but never get around to it. I'd see the second, third, and fourth books in the series be published, but still I didn't move off high center.

Until late last month.

At  one of the paperback racks at a Barnes and Noble in far west Houston, I saw OUT OF THE DARK, the fourth volume in the series. Unlike in the past, when I see a book that captures my attention, I read it, no matter what number it is in a series. But when I realized it was an Orphan X novel, I was reminded that this series is one I should try.

So I walked over to the regular bookshelves and pulled a paperback copy of ORPHAN X, the debut novel in the series. This was late December 2019, in that timeless week between Christmas and New Year's Day. As an avid audiobook listener--who easily could have downloaded the audio version, I know--I resolved to read the paperback. Frankly, it had been awhile since I picked up a new paperback and actually read it. (I always pick up books, but don't always get to them.)

I read the entire book, finishing a week ago. Loved the book, the character of Evan Smoak, and Hurwitz's writing style. I'll have my full review this coming Wednesday (as part of Barrie Summy's Book Review Club) but I can tell you now it's a winner.

I was so jazzed to read the next book, THE NOWHERE MAN, that on Tuesday evening after rehearsal, I drove over to a Barnes and Noble (not the same one). I strode past the hardback section--where INTO THE FIRE sat, having been published that same day--and made my way to the paperback section.  I found the Hs and looked.

And looked. And looked. I checked the Mystery section just in case Hurwitz's books were considered mysteries by B&N. You know what I saw?

Zero Gregg Hurwitz books. A New York Times best-selling author.

Are Virtual Bookshelves Better?

If you read my column from last week, you'll remember one of my goals in 2020 is to create an online bookstore. Sure, there is nothing like going to a bookstore, browsing the books, and picking one up to read and buy. It really can be a magical experience.

But what happens when something like the absence of Hurwitz books occurs?

You go elsewhere.

And that elsewhere is either another bookstore or it is online

This is where an online bookstore has the edge. As long as an author is willing, the shelves of the online bookstore are always stocked. You can always find something you're looking for, especially if an author is willing and set up to sell direct to you, the reader.

It's not just ebooks either. I plan on having paperbacks available for direct purchase--complete with personalization. Audio will come later.

Just imagine the virtual bookshelves of an author's bookstore: ebook, paperback, maybe hardback, audio, video links, and more.

Exciting to imagine, huh?

Gregg Hurwitz in Houston

I love the serendipity of me finally buying that first book in the Orphan X series, reading it, and loving it. This coming Monday, at Houston's Murder by the Book, Hurwitz will conduct an author event and book signing. Love the timing. I'll let y'all know how it goes.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 4 AKA How Best to Sell Direct and Book Murder

Other than my typical writing and publishing books this year, the big goal is to create an online store in order to sell my books directly to readers.

The thing is, how best to do it.

Why Sell Direct?

I've had a few folks ask me why I'm creating a website to sell books and other products directly to readers? Aren't there enough other places--sites like Amazon or Kobo or Audible--where users are more accustomed to go? Yes, there are. But there are some compelling reasons to try.

One, naturally, is money. Minus the transaction fees assessed by the companies like PayPal, I would keep a higher percentage of each sale. Nothing wrong with that.

Of more importance, however, is the bond between buyer and seller. As it is now, readers can buy my book via an online store and they will get the book. The store takes its cut and I get the rest. But the store is the middle man, and the middle man can make any rules he wants.

Take ownership. Right now, when you purchase an ebook from an online retailer, you only purchase the license. If the online store negotiates a new deal with a different company, then the book you paid for vanishes from your device. It happened this week with the game Tetris and it happened last year to owners of ebooks purchased via Microsoft's store.

A key component of any store I create is ownership. When I reader buys an ebook from me, they get the digital file. It'll be theirs to keep and do with what they want. Kind of like a paperback. Ownership. It's a fundamental thing for me, even though I still purchase ebooks via online stores. But at least I know it going in.

One might say, for example, that it'll never happen to Amazon because they're too big to fail. Well, so was AT&T in the 1980s.

Which Platform to Use?

When it comes to the selling platform, there are a wide range of choices. A friend of mine started up an online business in the last few months and he selected Shopify. They take any payment method he knows about and the onus is on Shopify to collect payment and distribute the money to his bank account. Now, you might think this contradicts my ownership argument, but when it comes to money, that's a whole other thing. Better to let Shopify, Stripe, or Apple take care of that.

Shopify has a decent number of templates you can use to get the store started. The minimum viable product, the MVP, or the 1.0 version of the store. I am simultaneously getting my store started while helping my wife get hers up, too. We can tweak as we go, so it's better to get it up and running.

Late this week, however, I learned about Payhip. Joanna Penn (as J.F. Penn) uses it and I dove into a bit of research about it. Payhip enables sellers of digital products (ebooks, software, music) to sell direct to customers. In terms of an MVP, I can enable Payhip on my author website with little effort, so I might try it first while I get the store setup.

I'll admit: I'm leaning to Shopify for many of the same reasons my friend used to start his store. If the new store grows rapidly, I can always upgrade along the way. It's remarkable the number of tools and services available to use creatives to distribute and sell what we make.

For any writers reading this, do y'all sell direct? I'd love to hear some real-world tales, pros and cons, about the various services.

Book Murdering?

As it does multiple times a day, the internet exploded when a tweet was launched into the world. As best as I can discern, writer Alex Christofi posted a photo on Twitter of a few paperbacks that were ripped in half. The reason: better portability.

I love physical books: the smell, the feel, the shelf appeal. I have long taken pencil, pen, and highlighter to the pages of books I'm reading. Always in the Bible, often in non-fiction, and occasionally in fiction books when I see a particularly good piece of storytelling. I dogear pages if I don't have a bookmark or if I don't have any post-it notes handy. Basically, I view the book as mine and I can do with it whatever I want in order for me to get the most out of the reading experience.

Maybe it's the ebook reader in me, but I can't imagine ripping books in this manner. Granted, I don't have a commute via mass transit where carrying a heavy tome is something I do. I do all of my physical book reading at home where this isn't an issue.

But I can't imagine ripping a book like this. I don't find it particularly abhorrent. See my rational for book ownership above. But if Alex or other use this method to get the most out of the words on the pages--the real reason you buy a book in the first place--who am I to judge.

They would look weird on the shelf, however. Then again, you'd know exactly which books you've actually read.

TV Show of the Week: Modern Love

Just got around to seeing this show. Holy cow, is it good.

Modern Love, on Amazon Prime, is an eight episode series showcasing not only excellent acting and storytelling, but the various ways in which people love each other. From romantic love to familial love, old love to happenstance love, this show is a wonderful reminder that kindness and love can pierce through the mundane and the sadness we too often see in our world. The full review is here.

Highly Recommended

Thursday, January 23, 2020

All Good Things...: 70s Trek podcast

Sometimes, things you love come to an end.

In 2017, I discovered one of my all-time favorite podcasts: 70s Trek. Hosts Bob Turner and Kelly Casto created this podcast series that focused solely on "“The decade that built a franchise.” Their personable demeanors really made this show feel like Bob and Kelly and you, the listener, were just pals talking about Trek. It is a wonderful show. I wrote about it here.

But when you have a title like "70s Trek," there was always going to be an ending.

With the actual decade of the 1970s, the logical end is the December 1979 premiere of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. With the podcast, it was soon after that subject as well. That last episode debuted on 16 August 2019.

I only got around to it this week.

Why the delay?

I didn't want the end to arrive.

For many things I enjoy, there is a finite number of entries. Take Sherlock Holmes for example. Despite the myriad of stories available, there is only sixty tales penned by creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I have purposefully not read all sixty because I want there always to be just one more original story. The same is true for Ian Fleming's James Bond novels.

With 70s Trek, however, there is already an additional Bonus Trek episode detailing the CBS and Paramount merger (or re-merger). Star Trek: Discovery has been out for a couple of years, but I haven't watched any of them. Yet. And tomorrow comes the Trek series I will pay for and watch: Picard.

So I thought it high time to listen to that final episode. I did this morning. It was, of course, bittersweet, but still joyful and wondrous. The episode was necessarily a reflection on the entire series and process of making the show. It's a great conclusion to a great podcast, one of the best I've ever heard.

Thanks Bob and Kelly for this show and the hours of entertainment y'all provided. And, from a guy who is probably the same age as y'all, thanks also for the time capsule and the memories not only of Star Trek, but life in the 1970s. It was a blast.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Modern Love: It's Not All What You Think It Is

I first heard about Modern Love, the new TV series from Amazon, through tears.

David Bowie fan that I am, when the show first popped up on my Amazon Prime video menu, I wondered if the show would use Bowie's famous 1983 song of the same name. The cast looked interesting on the icon, but I was never pulled to press the button and watch.

Until after my wife told me about the first episode, "When the Doorman Is Your Main Man." It was about a single woman in New York who lives in a building with a doorman. The doorman looks out for her, disapproving of some of the choices she makes regarding the men she brings home. She ends up pregnant, and the doorman is still there, watching the kid every now and then. When she gets a job opportunity in LA, she takes it. Returning years later, her daughter now grown, the woman brings her new boyfriend to meet the doorman, who gives his approval, with a heartfelt reason why.

In retelling this story, my wife could barely get through it. Her emotions cascaded through her and tears streamed down her face. Wow. If the show affected her that much, perhaps I should give it a watch.

I started with episode two, which turned out to be the most overtly romantic episode of the eight-episode series. The show is based on an essay series in the New York Times, and each TV episode is a dramatized version. Each episode takes a facet of love and explores it. There is romantic love, familial love, friendship love, old love, happenstance love, and more.

Modern Love is excellent, one of the best portrayals of real love I've seen. Not only that, it showcases some great acting that helps show the world what different personalities are like. Take Anne Hathaway's character in episode three, "Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am." Her character, Lexi, is bipolar, and to help illustrate what life is like for her when she's happy, the show breaks into musical numbers. But it's when she's on the other end that your heart is pulled.

In "Rallying to Keep the Game Alive," Tina Fey and John Slattery play a married couple in mid-life with two kids. They fear their marriage is ending, limping along solely for the kids. Counseling doesn't seem to work either, boiling up in a dinner in which Fey lays into Slattery's character about all the crap she's put up with. The ending of that one surprised me.

As did "Hers Was a World of One," the story of a homosexual couple who want to adopt a child. Andrew Scott plays one spouse, the more uptight one whose life is turned upside down when the expectant mother of his child comes to live in his New York apartment. They clash, naturally, because the way she sees life and  the way he sees it differ. But in the delivery room, Andrew Scott gives such a meaningful performance about his instant love for the baby that made me think that must have been what my face looked like when I helped deliver my son.

On first viewing, I didn't care much for "At the Hospital, an Interlude of Clarity." It involved a nerdy guy with anxiety on a second date with a gorgeous blonde. First off was how in the world would she end up with him. When he cuts himself on a martini glass and they rush to the hospital, she stays with him. All night. They talk, gradually letting fall the barriers each had erected. I didn't see that at the time, but the wife showed me the other side, and, retroactively, I came to appreciate it.

The writer in me rejoiced, however, during "The Race Grows Sweeter Near Its Final Lap," the final episode. It involved an older couple in their seventies finding each other while participating in a 10K race and falling in love. The widow gives a speech about how much like young love old love is, and it grabs your heartstrings and yanks hard. But it's the ending that blew me away.

Margot, the new widow, goes for a run just after her husband's funeral service. As she runs, the show cuts to the pregnant lady from "Hers Was a World of One," and gave a different view of a particular scene. Instantly, I smiled. "If they show all the characters from the other episodes," I told my wife, "I'll love this series even more."

Well, I absolutely love this series and highly recommend it.

Oh, and I went back and watched episode one. Those tears I saw on my wife's face? Mine came, too.


So unfamiliar was I about the New York Times series, "Modern Love," that I also didn't know NPR has a podcast series in which actors and others read the original essays. They're re-running the original episodes on which the TV series is based. Check it out.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 3 AKA Are Blogs Outdated?

Kind of an ironic question to ask in a blog post, huh? Well, I have my answer, but let me tell you why I pose it.

A Conversation

A good friend of mine recently opened a new online business here in Houston. Ever since, we both talk about our respective businesses. This week, I asked how his business is going. A trickle was his report. Ditto for me. He made an interesting observation regarding the magical secret to make his business a real income stream. He said the secret might be don't sell something millions of other people already do. Fellow authors: can I get a show of hands of folks who agree with this?

When he asked how my author business was going, my response turned into a single, long reply. It was culmination of weeks of thought about where my business is, where I want it to go, and what steps I need to take to get there. Now, when I say long, I'm talking just north of 1,300 words.

Bless my friend, he read it all. And responded.

I appreciated all his responses--some of which apply only to my own situation--but part of it I want to share today.

Are Blogs Outdated?

Let me summarize his points.

-All authors should have a personal website, not for being discovered by new readers, but for folks who are fans and want to keep up-to-date with what the author is doing.
-But a personal blog feels outdated.
-The Author Page on Amazon is probably good enough.
-Social Media is a better means for letting folks know what we're up to.
-90% of our potential audience is on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
**But everyone's on social media, and what is social media anyway but microblogs.**
-He follows creatives, but rarely checks out their sites.
-Via Social Media, he know the types of people they are, upcoming projects, and where to go should he want to purchase anything.
-If he likes their personality on social media, he'd consider checking out their stuff.
-"I don't visit blogs anymore. I don't know people who do."

The double asterisks indicate a concept I hadn't thought of. Interesting.

Now, my friend is a few years younger than my fifty-one. And he's only one guy in a sea of ideas and thoughts. But it got me to thinking: are blogs outdated?

A Defense of Blogs

I have been writing at my own blog since 2007. I have now published over 1,000 posts. I'm very proud of that accomplishment. At DoSomeDamage, I'm in my eleventh year of constantly publishing a Saturday column. Again, very proud of that accomplishment.

But is it worth it?

I still say yes.

My friend dubs blogs to be  time machines. And, as a degreed historian, I agree. I like that I have various markers based on date and specific events. What is my take on The Last Jedi or John Carter? There it is in real time for anyone to see.

And over time, my personality emerged via my blog writings, both on the personal site and at DoSomeDamage. Want to know who I am if you've never met me? Just take a look at the blog titles and the blogs themselves. It's all there.

Maybe it's my age, but I read through dozens of blogs a day. Granted, I don't read them all, but I have a feedly feed that collects all the blogs I want. Everyday, I scan through my feedly, reading the blogs whose titles intrigue me and skipping others. Skipping lots more than I read.

But yeah, I still read blogs. And in our short-attention spans selves, I think there's a place for long-form posts to go along with the microblogs of social media.

I might, however, be an outlier. What are your thoughts on blogs? Do you read them or skip them in favor of social media?

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Epilogue of The Last Jedi: Was It All We Needed?

I did something the other night I rarely do with Star Wars movies: dropped the remote.

As part of the inaugural Star Wars generation, I have lived with these films since 1977. I have watched the films countless times. When I do, however, I tend to watch them all in one go, that is, from beginning to end. I rarely watch just pieces of the various movies. No matter the film, I take them as a whole.

But I saw The Last Jedi on cable the other day and, with it being one of my all-time favorite Star Wars film, I stopped just long enough to see where everything was. Turned out, it was the beginning of the throne room scene with Kylo Ren, Snoke, and the captured Rey. Which meant it was also near the time when Finn fully accepts his "Rebel Scum" label. And Rose was still the integral part of the story. And it was minutes from the Holdo maneuver.

If you take all ten movies as a whole and made a list of great moments, two from this sequence in The Last Jedi would make my list: Rey and Kylo fighting together and the Holdo maneuver. That moment when Rey realizes what Kylo had done by killing Snoke, held for more than a few seconds, is so, so good.

Watching to the End

I ended up watching the rest of the film. Man, that visual of Luke Skywalker standing alone up against the First Order's weaponry is still one of the most incredible visuals of the entire franchise.

But it is the epilogue I'm focusing on today. That, and the final words of the film, spoken by Leia.

The Last Jedi Epilogue as The Best Final Scene of the Franchise?

As the Millennium Falcon soars away from Crait, the last few survivors of the Resistance are aboard. Rey and Leia talk about Luke, specifically him being the spark of a new hope to fight against the First Order.

The last words of the film--and the last words uttered by Carrie Fisher as Leia--are "We have all we need." Powerful words, especially considering the character has experienced and seen decades worth of fighting and striving to bring and keep peace in the galaxy. She knows this isn't the end. It never ends. There will always been the need for people to stand up to evil, to be the spark of hope in the face of darkness.

From there, we instantly cut back to Canto Bight and the young kids enslaved in those stables. One of them is telling the story of Luke Skywalker at Crait [leading credence that this is a flash forward]. When their owner/handler breaks up the group, another boy walks off alone. Using the Force, he brings a broom to his hand, but then stops. He stares up at the stars (just like Luke did) and dreams. You see the Resistance ring Rose gave him, a beacon of hope, despite his situation. He holds the broom like a lightsaber and, as a space ship or falling star streaks across the sky, we fade to black and John Williams' music takes over.

Look, we were always going to get Episode IX. We all wanted it. I wanted it. We wanted answers to questions. It was always going to end well. Our heroes were always going to prevail. I enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker, got emotional both times I've seen it (more so the second time, specifically with Kylo standing alone on the husk of the second Death Star), and am perfectly fine with it being the last of the nine films.

But, in some ways, Leia said it best: we had the best ending we needed. The spark of resistance always lives on, in the generations that come after our main characters. That kid is Force sensitive. So is Finn, by the way. It doesn't matter that he's a slave. Just like Rey in The Last Jedi, he was a nobody. The spark of good, the ray of light, always lives on.

Maybe The Last Jedi's ending was all we needed.

That Epilogue on The Rise of Skywalker

I've spent a lot of words on this and you might come to conclusion that I don't even want The Rise of Skywalker. That would be wrong. I enjoyed it. I'll be reading the novelization later this spring and buying and re-watching the movie. And it ended wonderfully with Rey and BB-8 staring off into the same twin suns that Luke did 42 years before. Goosebumps and tears came in equal measure both times I saw the movie.

But maybe, just maybe, you could imagine that the epilogue of The Last Jedi spliced on the end of The Rise of Skywalker. Still have Rey do her thing, but flash back to Canto Bight [or the natives on Pasaana, the planet Rey and company went to and met Lando]. The kids [or native Pasaanas] still tell the story of Luke on Crait [or Rey and her battle with the Emperor]. The boy still looks up to the sky, broom welded as a lightsaber, and dreams.

Now, the spark of hope is galaxy-wide.

Now, Leia's last line is even more powerful: "We have all we need."

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 2 AKA You Know You've Integrated the Indie Writing Lessons When...

This proved an interesting week, evidence yet again that life is full of daily surprises.

When it comes to Christmas decorations, no matter when they go up, they always come down by New Year's Eve. The family has adopted my wife's idea that you don't start a new year cleaning up the mess from the old one.

Well, I didn't follow that advice in terms of my writing.

I've been reviewing my existing-yet-not-finished stories at the beginning of this year. The good thing is that all this reviewing is helping me see what each story needs and all the tweaks along the way. The irritating thing is that I didn't do this in December. Or finished them in 2019.

Be that as it may, I wanted to wrap up these outstanding stories before tackling a brand-new one here in January. But something else sidetracked my review.

The E-mail

I received an email from a relative on my wife's side. Turns out there are a couple of writers in the family working on various books and the relative was wondering if I'd have a chance to offer any advice on the publishing and writing business.

Happily I agreed. I'm always eager to help writers no matter if they are far ahead of me in the business or just starting out. I've made course corrections along the way based on advice from veteran writers.

Wins and Losses?

Here's the thing about the writing business: it's competitive, but not always against fellow writers. It's a competition for the eyes and attentions of readers. We don't rack up wins and losses against other writers. And if you have that mindset, well, there's a better way to look at the business.

Think of it as a learning experience.

Let's say you've written a thriller. You've done your research and you have a book with a good cover, decent blurb, and is available in all the channels. It goes on sale on New Year's Day. You advertise in whatever form you choose. Yet there's another (actually a lot more) thriller book that was released on the same day.

And that other book is the one that's most popular with readers.

You'll get frustrated. You might even get upset. But you can't control what happens when you release your book into the world. You can only control that which you have direct control: cover, blurbs, and the book itself.

If you think that other author "beat" you, do some research. Buy that other book. Read it. Figure out why it is resonating more with readers than yours. If you see something, feel free to learn from that other book and incorporate those learned lessons in your next book. Nothing wrong with that.

Just don't fixate on wins and losses. The only person who loses there is you. And your potential readers. Just continue to be yourself and readers who like your stuff will find you. It'll take longer, perhaps, but avid readers are the best.

Internalized Lessons Learned

Back to the e-mail. So my relative put me in contact with the other writers and we emailed back and forth. The writer (also a she) shared some details about where she is and a choice she's contemplating. It's whether or not to sign a contract for a publishing firm not based in New York. Not one of the Big Five.

Indie that I am, I started listing the reasons I went indie and continue to stay that way. I discussed all the things I've had to learn over the five or six years I've been doing this side hustle: how to make covers, where to find editors, how to make paperbacks, how to format ebooks, etc. My response back grew longer and longer.

And I didn't even have to reference anything. I realized I have internalized all the indie author/publisher lessons so thoroughly that I can just spout them off at will.

It was a nice feeling...and it really made me want to get started with my 2020 publication schedule. It also helped me realize I enjoy the challenges and the rewards of an indie writer life. Still would appreciate the opportunity to do fiction writing full time, but the life I've carved out for myself is pretty grand.

Article of the Week

So, all of what I've described occurred prior to Thursday's post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. She has had a decades-long writing career, both in the traditional and indie world, and now preaches the good talk about the indie life. Every Thursday, she posts about the business of an indie writer.

This week is title "Fear and Publishing." It is very insightful and well worth the time to read.

Book of the Week

The first novel I'm reading in 2020 is now four years old. It's ORPHAN X by Gregg Hurwitz. This series, about Evan Smoak, a highly trained assassin, has been on my radar for a couple of years. I saw the fourth book at Barnes and Noble over the holidays (in paperback) with a fifth book coming out this year.

Why not start?

So I picked up the first book and have really enjoyed it. How much? Well, I'm reading an actual book (bought the paperback) and have carved out time specifically to read. I get most of my books via audio, but I aim to have 2020 be the year in which I read at least a book a month and listen to another book a month.

I'm only a hundred pages in, but I'm really digging this book. What's even more ironic is the timing: My NaNoWriMo 2019 book involves a character who is off the  grid like Smoak or Jack Reacher (also not read any of his books either). The sands of time and interests, every now and then, come together.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Early KISS Footage Provides Inspiration

At little over a week ago, at the always awesome Ultimate Classic Rock website, they posted the earliest known footage of KISS in concert. And it is a remarkable thing to behold.

The show was from 21 December 1973 in the Coventry in Queens, New York. The nearly nine minute black-and-white video has about 1:30 minutes of silence at the beginning. Then, after whatever speaker/microphone issue was resolved, the announcer comes on around the 1:37 mark. He tells the assembled audience that they're "right on top of them [the band]." While he probably means they'll get to hear this new band early in their career, he might also mean the people are literally right up against the stage.

No matter. Once he tells the people to put their two lips together and kiss, KISS starts in on "Deuce."

I know the song. I've known it now for forty one years. I know the show and the stagecraft. I know what they do when this song plays because I've seen it live and on hundreds of YouTube videos over the years.

And they are doing it in this video. When Ace Frehley takes the solo, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley face each other and do their choreographed moves. Later, during the outro, all three guitar players face Peter Criss's drum kit and perform the now-famous swaying.

I just grinned. It didn't matter that they were playing to probably dozens of people. No pyro (except for the candelabra in the back). The song already was all but perfected. They had a vision of where they wanted to be and what they wanted their shows to be like, including Paul's between songs banter as they launch into "Cold Gin." They didn't have the money--yet--but the carried on like they were going to sell out Madison Square Garden (which they did in less than four years).

Why bring this up now, in January 2020 when the band is on their two-year-long farewell tour? Inspiration. They started small, but knew that every little step got them closer to how they viewed themselves.

And it reminds me, here at the beginning of the decade, that the little baby step I'll be taking in 2020 to start up an online bookstore won't be one giant leap from A to Z, but a series of baby steps--and missteps--to where I envision this online bookstore to be.

But everyone has to take that first step, and that's what I'm doing here in January 2020. More news to come as the weeks and months progress.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 1 - Sore "Muscles" and Whodunit Recommendations

Happy New Year. Happy New Decade. Happy Saturday. Hope y'all had a great holiday season. Mine was pretty great. I took a week and a half from the day job which enabled me to enjoy The Lull. Or the Twilight Week. You know what I'm talking about: that time from Christmas Day to New Year's Day when each day slides into the next and you basically forget what day of the week it is. I got to church on time, but other than that, I all but didn't know.

And I didn't care. That's the beauty of that time, when you're basically away from anything resembling a normal routine. I read some Christmas stories, watched a few Hallmark Christmas movies, watched just about all the usual Christmas movies my family watches (only missed out on the new Netflix animated feature Klaus), and caught Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker twice, the second time in IMAX. There's something to be said for such a giant screen showing a giant story.

But I didn't write, and that was by choice.

Writer Know Thyself

One of the best things about keeping records of writing for the past ten years or so is being able to notice trends in how I write. When it comes to summertime writing, I'm all in, and happily so. Ditto for the spring and fall. But when December rolls around, for most of the past few years, I've not written. It seems December is a time my mind wants to enjoy stories others have written.

On the other end, however, when its time to start writing again, the muscles can be sore.

On New Year's Morning, I woke early and ran my first run of the year. It's been a little bit of time since I last run, and boy did my legs let me know it. Here, two days later, my thigh muscles are still sore. As anyone who exercises knows, if you take a break, getting back in the routine is difficult.

As is the writing routine. Which is never good for a writer.

Sore Writerly Muscles

When it comes to lifting weights or running, the simple adage to get back in the routine is just do it. Lace up the sneakers and go. Really, really easy.

But how does a writer get back into shape? Just write. Unlike exercise, however, this can sometimes be easier said than done. Again, it's utterly fascinating how we creatives can just not 'feel like it' when it comes to our craft. Sure, the writerly muscles might be sore from non-use, but our imaginations are not.

What's that you say? Well, even if I'm not physically typing words on a screen, I'm always dreaming up stories. Sometimes it's watching a movie and saying "Well, I would have done it this way." Ideas always flow at us and we writers constantly tell ourselves stories. Most of them we'll never write, but we still make them up. I've got a story idea for Christmas 2020 that popped out of nowhere. It excites me so I'll be working on it throughout the year.

But what about now? How does one get back on the horse?

Write and read. The writing is straightforward. The reading is, too. It fills the creative bucket in our imaginations, but I'll need an assist.

Whodunit Recommendations

If you're like me, then you've seen writer/director Rian Johnson's movie Knives Out. It's a modern take on a classic whodunit and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I've listened to podcast interviews with Johnson and he mentions Agatha Christie quite a bit. Turns out 2020 is the century anniversary of the publication of her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. I've already picked up my mom's copy of the book to read. I've also signed up for the newsletter via the official website.

But Christie is not the only famous writer of whodunits. Thing is, I know few, if any, in this style of writing, the Golden Age of the Detective stories between the two World Wars.

That's where y'all come in. What are some good whodunits--both classic and modern. Is there a book version a la Knives Out that take the classic cues and remixes them in a new way?