Wednesday, April 30, 2008

First Adult Crime Fiction

The Rap Sheet tags a conversation over at Crimespace: What was the first adult crime story/book/author you read?

I devoured the Hardy Boys and The Three Investigators. Actually, truth be told, I enjoyed T3I better than the Hardys. Even as a youngster, I realized the Hardys were structured stories and I liked to compare notes on how Frank and Joe's ages and hair color were introduced.

After the Hardys I sank my teeth into SF: Clarke, Star Trek (yeah, yeah, I know), Alan Dean Foster. Searching for a college to attend, I read my first Stephen King book, Pet Semetary. What a book to start with, huh?

TV-wise, I always loved PI shows, cop shows, lawyer shows. Loved watching Perry Mason late at night, Murder, She Wrote, Ironside, Miami Vice, etc. Movie-wise, I love almost all murder/mystery/crime movies. Always have.

Book-wise, I'm a late comer. The one book that really started my craze for crime literature was Mystic River. I heard Dennis Lehane on NPR and listened to him describe how he wanted to write an epic story covering generations. That sounded good to me. I bought it. The prologue was heart-wrenching. And the first chapter had a great opening sentence. Here it is:

Brendan Harris loved Katie Marcus like crazy, loved her like movie love, with an orchestra booming through his blood and flooding his ears.

Lehane hooked me good. I discovered his five previous PI novels. Then, I discovered George Pelecanos. Throw away the key, man. I'll stay behind bars as long as you feed me this stuff. Pelecanos's characters talked and lived a life so unlike mine, I felt like a voyeur. And I savored every last letter.

This was in 2001. I started compiling lists of authors and books I Needed To Know: Elmore Leonard, Hammett, Chandler, Cain, MacDonald, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. The next author to kick in my teeth was Ken Bruen. I read The Guards and thought I haven't read anything better. It's still up there in that Big List in the Sky of Great Books. Soon, thereafter, Hard Case Crime started publishing their books. Man, I was in heaven. And those covers! Among my favorites there are Little Girl Lost, Plunder of the Sun, Branded Woman, and Dead Street. I just finished reading my first Allan Guthrie book, Hard Case Crime's Kiss Her Goodbye. (Review forthcoming). Next up: Cristina Faust's Money Shot.

So, what were you're introductions into the fabulous world of Crime Fiction?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Another Novel Milestone: 100 pages

Up until now, I have written only two things that were longer than 100 pages. The first was my thesis in college and the second was my Truman novel. Today, at lunch, I can now count three things I have written that were over 100 pages. I passed the 100-page mark today for my new novel. It happened in chapter 14 and I managed to write chapter 15 as well. It's an exciting milestone to reach.

Somewhere, I read a comment by Elmore Leonard that said that a book's character doesn't appear until he's written about 100 pages. Ironically, the prose in chapter 15 was quite difficult to write and 'see' in my head. I hope that does not continue for the next 100 pages. It's a scene where my heroine is being grilled by her commanding officer. I can do cop talk when it's a scene between a cop and a thug. Cop-talk is just a truncated version of English. But a CO to a subordinate, both of whom are cops, is tougher. Don't know why but it is.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"The Music Man" and Election 2008

This little video, over at, is one of the most clever things this election cycle.

Literary Heroes

Over at Crime Fiction Dossier, there is a discussion of literary heroes. I posted my reply, which I am reposting here:

My favs, living and dead, are these (in no particular order):

George Pelecanos (for Hard Revolution and Derek Strange trilogy)*
Dennis Lehane (for Mystic River and Darkness, Take My Hand)*
Richard Aleas (for Little Girl Lost and Songs of Innocence)
Ernest Hemingway (for For Whom the Bells Toll and short fiction)
Hammett (for The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man)
Chandler (for Philip Marlowe)
Elmore Leonard (for westerns, Out of Sight, and the Carl Webster stories)
J. D. Robb (for Eve Dallas' saga)
Ken Bruen (for The Guards and The Dramatist)
David McCullough (for Truman, John Adams, 1776)
Michael Chabon (for Yiddish Policeman's Union and his love for great stories)
J. K. Rowling (for Harry Potter; bonus to )
Stephen King (for Green Mile, The Stand, Salem's Lot, Bag of Bones)
Orson Scott Card (for Ender's Game)
Max Collins and Charles Ardai (for Hard Case Crime)
Ted Chiang (for literate SF)
C. S. Lewis (for Narnia)
J. R. R. Tolkien (for The Lord of the Rings)
Timothy Zahn (for his Star Wars "Thrawn" trilogy)
Carlos Ruiz Zafon (for The Shadow of the Wind)
Jim Dale (for his audiobook readings of the Harry Potter stories)
Scott Brick and Jonathan Davis (for their audiobook readings that bring books to life)
Ian Fleming (for James Bond...the books)
Doris Kearns Goodwin (for her history books and on-screen insights)
David Brooks (for his social books and his NY Time columns)
Peggy Noonan (for her graceful eloquence with words every Friday at WSJ)
Jonathan Franzen (for The Corrections and How to Be Alone)

*Bonus points for writing on HBO's "The Wire," arguably the best-written show on television. Ever.

What are yours?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Page 123 Meme

I read The Rap Sheet everyday and, for once, I'm actually going to participate. Here are the rules, as posted by The Rap Sheet:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

Here are my answers.

1. Kiss Her Goodbye by Allan Guthrie (Hard Case Crime)
2-4. The chain rattle and the door clunked open. Tina's face was extremely pale. Her eyes were heavy-lidded, vulnerable without their usual protective layer of blue mascara.

(Odd, it actually reads like a horror story when, in fact, it's a crime story. What you do get, however, is a taste, albeit a small one, of the delicate treat it is to read an Allan Guthrie book with the wit he infuses his characters. This is my first Guthrie book...but it won't be my last.)

5. Since I read a lot of blogs but don't necessary have relationships with any but a few bloggers, I'm limiting my tags to three. You can see my other favorite bloggers on the right. Doug Warren, Victoria Graydale, L. L. Park,

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Writing Process: Critique Groups

Critique groups are the reason I am writing novels today. That's how important I think they are in shaping my writing and your writing.

Back in 2005, my friend, Doug Warren, was writing his first novel. Up to that point, he and I had talked about writing but that was about it. Little did I know he was writing his first book. I had a few ideas but they were just the amorphous ones all wannabe writers have.

One day, Doug asks me the question all writers eventually have to ask: will you read my novel and tell me what you think? There it was. The Moment. Unless you are a diarist who only writes to get things out of your head but no one else will read, all writers want to be read. You *have* to put yourself out there and face the world. I call it Great Motivator #1: Find a Critique Group. My response was pretty quick: Sure...if you read my novel.

Rapidly, we established a routine of meeting for lunch every Wednesday to talk about our chapters. We submitted completed chapters by Tuesday and we'd have a night to critique each other's chapters. This was the Great Motivator #2: Set Deadlines and Meet Them. You have to establish a deadline for something, anything, to be read by someone else.

Motivators #1 and #2 are essential. If you don't give yourself a deadline and stick to it (NO excuses), you won't find the discipline within yourself to stick to it. It's really simple to say; extremely difficult to execute.

I have continued that practice with my current critique group. They are all members of the Ft. Bend Writer's Guild We meet every Wednesday night. It's a group of about 5-7 core folks. We meet at the house of the president of the guild. It's a good group because we each have different type books. We provide hard copies and take turns reading aloud and receiving criticism. I'll admit: it can be tough. There could be a chapter I worked all week on and think it's brilliant in my own head. I read it aloud and find out if that's the case. My group is kind but firm. It is absolutely essential to have non-family members read your stuff.

I'll post more Great Motivators as they come to me.

Fantastic Podcast, Crime or Otherwise

I added a new link today: It is the one podcast (actually two) I set aside time to listen to every month. Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards are devoted fans of both film noir and crime fiction...and they have a podcast for each. Out of the Past investigates film noir, both from the glory days as well as more recent entries. Behind the Black Mask investigates crime fiction with in-depth author interviews. I have learned quite a bit about the crime field with these podcasts and this new information has shaped my writing.

If you need further proof of their importance, they were recently the official podcasters for Noircon 2008.

(Pssst. One of my goals in my professional life is to be interviewed by these guys. I just hope I have some answers to the deep questions they ask.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Springsteen in Houston

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band rocked Houston last night. It was my fourth Springsteen concert and my first time at the Toyota Center. Man, I have to tell you: this senior citizen can rock! has a complete rundown of last night's setlist. A quick perusal will reveal something: Except for two songs from 1980 and 1982, every song was from the 70s or the 00s. Interesting. I'm a late comer to the Boss's discography. As late as 1987, I didn't like him. At all. I thought Born in the USA was horrible, especially since the video was of liver performances while the music was the studio and the sync was off. But then "Tunnel of Love" came out and "Brilliant Disguise" was the lead single. Hey, I thought. Not bad. And I was given the cassette of ToL to listen to...and I liked it. Around that time, I first discovered Stephen King (yes, another late bloomer, me) and he referenced a lot of Springsteen. I liked King's novels and then I listened to more Springsteen. Slowly, a deep love for both things emerged.

So, I missed all the hoopla back in the day with Springsteen. I have since stocked up on, ahem, alternative recordings, and I marvel at the sheer power of a Springsteen concert back in the day when he did 4-hour concerts. But the thing is: he still puts on a fantastic show. Sure, it took an hour to start (grumble) and the show was just shy of 3 hours, but, hey, the guy is 58.

There's a theme that is evident is Bruce's later work, starting, ironically, around Tunnel of Love. It's a redemptive quality. He went through a public marriage/divorce/marriage and wrote about it. That's where I started so, not coincidentally, the late 80s/early 90s material is my favorite. There's a man, aging, seeing how the world really is, and coping with it as best he can.

It's not surprising that his first CD of new material with the E Streeters was 2002's The Rising. Many of the firefighters who died on 9/11 loved Springsteen. And he payed homage to their sacrifice. That's what he does: he mirrors our time. Cut to his 2007 CD, "Magic," and you see the same thing. I'll challenge anyone to sum up this first decade of the 2000s more succinctly than Springsteen in this verse from "Long Walk Home":

My father said "Son, we're lucky in this town
It's a beautiful place to be born
It just wraps its arms around you
Nobody crowds you, nobody goes it alone.
That you know flag flying over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone
Who we are, what we'll do and what we won't."

Back to the show, Bruce is a showman and, more than thirty years on, he still knows to whom he owes his success. The best part of the show was when he talked to a kid standing in the front row. We couldn't see him but I'm guessing he was a teen. He had a neon pink piece of paper with a song request. Bruce walked over, talked to him, got his name, and took the paper. He read it and then walked, back to the audience, and told the band the song. Slowly, he turned toward the audience and the cameras and opened the paper. It read "E Street Shuffle Please!!" We all cheered, the band killed, and Bruce returned the paper to the boy.

It's the intimate moments like that, amid 16,000 family members, that reminds us that there are more things that bring us together than tear us apart. It was nice. It was genuine. It was a thank you by Bruce to that boy and to the legions of fans who have supported him throughout the years.

Thanks, Bruce.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Readability Level for My Blog

I just checked the readability level of this blog using the tools at this site. The results: High School. Now, there's a part of me (the graduate school graduate) who finds this irritating. But, then, there's the other part of me, the main part, the more-than-90% part of me that says "That's all right." It's about the stories. It's about my writing. It's not an ego thing. So, enjoy, everyone.

blog readability test

Movie Reviews

My Writing Process

Over at Murderati, Pari Noskin Taichert writes about her new Eee PC. She sums up the reason why she bought the mini PC: "In short, I want it to strip me of excuses."

We writers have tons of reasons why NOT to write when we know, intellectually, we need to do so. I treat my writing as the thing it really is: A Job. Sure, I have a day job (technical writer) but I want my storytelling to be my day job one day. As such, I'm getting myself in the habit of writing my stories on a regular basis. Many published authors make the point that if you always wait for the muse, you'll never be a writer. A writer is someone who sets aside time, writes, and works at it. That's what I try to do every day. I don't always succeed because, at this point, my storytelling is not paying the bills.

Ms. Taichert poses the following questions:

What writing tools do you use: big computer, laptop, pen & paper, charcoal & papyrus?
How do you relate to them?
Have you ever bought an instrument that opened your mind, eased the process?
Have you ever experienced the opposite effect?

Here is my response:
Two manuscripts into my storytelling career (I'm currently a tech writer), I am comfortable writing on the laptop as well as pen-and-ink. My main method of writing is my MacBook Pro 15-in. laptop. I use a USB key and keep my books and stories on it. This way, I can go from my office laptop (writing at lunch) to my home Mac and work anywhere. On vacations, I do *not* take my laptop. I take a comp book and pens. I find the scratch of the pen on paper and the slower pace to be calming. Yes, there are times when the ideas are flowing and I long for the speed of typing. However, when I'm stuck, I'll turn off the laptop, pick up the pen, and write longhand. It's quite conducive to getting around a roadblock. I also have MacSpeech Dictate, a speech recognition program. It's about 92% accurate. I enjoy sitting at my laptop, eyes closed, and dictating into the machine. Yes, I have to say words like "Comma, Period, Open Quotes" but it's nice to save my fingers and wrists. What's also nice is that I can dictate my longhand writing into the machine without having to type it in. I am hopeful that Dictate will allow me to increase the speed of my writing.

Now, to y'all, how about it? How do y'all write?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Writing Process: To Hold or To Chuck?

Over at Murderati , the blog about crime fiction and the business of crime fiction, Brett Battles posted an interesting entry entitled "Faraway, So Close." He laments the following:

As inevitably happens every time, I’m in the final push to finish my next novel and I’m questioning the ending I had in mind.

I can relate. I mapped out my first book, Treason at Hanford, religiously, allowing little nuances to appear within scenes but sticking to the script. Period. The good thing was that I was able to write that book in eight months. For my second, it's been an exercise in change. Initially, my hero was a black, ex-con seeking redemption. Now, using the same characters and setting, it's a story about a female HPD detective seeking justice. And it's been nearly two years since I first had the idea. NOT good.

I have found myself throwing out cherished (in my head) scenes that I *thought* were important. Oddly, though, once I chucked some of these ideas overboard, the story started flowing. And the pathway of the story revealed itself.

When I wrote my Truman book, there was a scene I had in my head, fully realized. I decided not to write that scene out of order (that is, write it as soon as I 'saw' it in my head). I wanted to get there with my characters. And it was a joy when I finally did get there, six months after envisioning it. And the scene was 99% intact.

Now, I have an ending in mind for my new story. It's an ending I have had since I first conceived of these characters. I'm curious now as to whether or not that ending will actually be *the* ending. And, since I have given myself a deadline of 1 June, I'll know within two months if it stays in the story...or if I chuck it for something better.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Scott Sigler Coming to Houston

I'm jazzed about this one. Murder by the Book is hosting Scott Sigler on Friday, 11 April. What makes this appearance special? Two things. One, Sigler is a pioneer. He was the first author to podcast his own novel. If you don't know what that is, check out Podiobooks. Two, Houston actually won the Sigler Stank Contest to see where Sigler would go on his tour. Way to go Houston!

I'm looking forward to hearing Sigler talk about his trials and tribulations getting published. As a storyteller and future author, I want to walk through the minefield that Sigler has helped clear.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Possible Future? Darn Good Writing

Politics is not the focus of this blog. However, a friend of mine pointed me to this story today. In this piece of excellent, exciting writing, Lawrence O’Donnell Jr., former writer for the TV show, "The West Wing," describes a possible scenario for the Democratic convention this summer. Regardless of your political persuasion, take a read. It's gripping. It's exciting. It's plausible.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Another Contest - Another Win

Over the weekend, I attended the spring workshop for the Ft. Bend Writer's Guild. The speaker was Ron Rozelle. And it was great. I highly recommend that you go hear Ron speak if you get a chance. My wife sometimes asks why I attend conferences and workshops when all I need to write is either pen/paper or a computer. I do learn things, even if it is reinforcements of things I already know.

The good news about this workshop is that I won Third Place for *both* of my novels in the Novel Contest. This is the second win (also third) for Treason at Hanford: A Harry Truman Mystery. But it marks the first time my second novel, Justice in H-Town, has won. And the second book isn't even finished yet. Like I did last August when Treason won its first award, I stopped by Michael's on the way home and picked up a frame for my JiHT certificate. Awesome!

Oh, and this marks the first time that I've won money. It was modest. But it was monetary. The win was much more important. Like a business man who frames his first dollar, there's a certain part of me that wants to frame this check. But I think I'll hold off and frame my first advance check instead.

Labels Added

I just realized that (a) I have not been adding Labels to these blogs and (b) I didn't know you could.

They are now added.

And I consider myself a proficient web user...

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Book Review: The Gutter and the Grave by Ed McBain

Of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler once wrote this:

Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes.

I always took that quote to partially explain the move, by mystery and crime fiction, into the twentieth century. And, by extension, brought it to the American city. Sure, there is the famous foggy London of Sherlock Holmes and there is death there, and danger. But what Hammett, Chandler, and other did was pull a Christopher Columbus on crime fiction: they discovered a new world and then began to exploit it. Their fiction teemed with immigrants and thugs, falling over each other in row houses and tenement apartments of New York or Philly or Boston. It smelled. People drank. People died…and not always naturally. This is America, dammit. Get used to it, toughen up, or get out of here.

By the time Ed McBain began writing fiction, this tradition was decades old. McBain scanned the landscape, saw what was what, judged the speed of the moving traffic, and merged right in, going zero to sixty in seconds. And he never looked back, even when he changed lanes. Everyone else had to swerve to get out of the way of this fast-moving car whose driver knew exactly what he wanted and where he wanted to go.

Originally published in 1958 under the title I’m Cannon—For Hire, I read the republished version from Hard Case Crime entitled The Gutter and the Grave. A quick check at Thrilling Detective (thanks again!) reveals that McBain liked the new title. The new title is quite apt. The first sentence of the story finds Matt Cordell basically in the gutter. The last sentence finds Cordell…well, I don’t want to ruin the ending.

McBain’s prose is, like Hammett’s, tough, ornery, and punchy. I use punchy because there are a few fights in the books, both in flashback and in the book’s present day. And the beating Cordell takes is brutal. It’s brutal by today’s standards. I can’t imagine the reading public’s reaction back in ’58.

I listened to the audiobook version. The good folks at BBC Audiobook America provided this one and a great narrator: Richard Ferrone. His voice is gravelly, as if he himself just got off the booze long enough to read this book. It’s a wonderful presentation. He also read the posthumously-published (by HCC, natch) novel by Mickey Spillane, Dead Street. I could think of nothing better than to have Ferrone read any old-school PI/noir book in the library. I’d check out every one.

This is the first McBain book I have read. I have his first 87th Precinct, Cop Hater, on my list. This will not be the last. My next McBain step will be to find the collection Learning to Kill, McBain’s collection of short fiction that, according to him, helped him become “Ed McBain.” I hope there is another Matt Cordell story in there. If not, I’ll have to play Book PI and track them down. I want to know more about Matt Cordell. And you should, too.

Just don’t blame me if it starts an addiction. I warned you.

Thrilling Detective: 10 Years Old

One of the best websites out there for all you need to know about detective fiction, Thrilling Detective celebrates 10 years of existence. And that is saying something, considering how few quality websites there actually were in 1998 other than news organizations and merchants. Thrilling Detective is *the* place to go to if you have any question on the history of detectives in literature, radio, film, TV. The bibliographies are tremendous and, at times, frustrating...when you can't find a copy of a book they know exists.

And the artwork. Oh my goodness, it is eye candy for the PI geek in everyone.

One of my writing goals in life is to have a story of mine published at Thrilling Detective. It would be an honor.

So, Happy Birthday, Thrilling Detective. Here's to another 10 years!