Monday, May 28, 2007

The Story Behind THE DRIVER

If you scroll down a bit, you'll see my short story The Driver, which was originally published in CrimeSpree Magazine. The first thing to notice is that there are at least five drivers mentioned in the story - the two deputies, the criminal, the good samaritan and the old driver who had been carjacked. I didn't notice that myself until after I had written the story.

Maybe more importantly, there is the fact that my inspiration for the story was a bit of real life and a lot of TV - COPS in particular. A large part of COPS (a wonderfully successful TV show that's been on forever, costs little in production, and is actually a very good source of information for mystery writers who want to know how criminals and cops act and react with each other) has to do with stupid car chases - car chases that start over a minor infraction but then reaches speeds of 100mph and crosses six county lines. Usually, these chases end with the criminal - often just an idiot - driving into a ditch or into someone's front lawn, or into a telephone pole. Or the back end of a truck.

Then there are a couple of incidents I saw in Puerto Rico. There was a time when my wife was driving on the highway after a rain storm. There were puddles, but plenty of sunshine. We were going along at about sixty when, in the lane next to us, the guy hydroplaned. While maintaining speed, he did a complete 360 degree turn within his own lane and kept drive. Surreal. Had anyone slowed down or sped up or changed lanes, this could have been a very diffrent story.

Another incident that probably happens everywhere, but which I went past in Puerto Rico was a motorcycle accident. I didn't see the crash itself, just the aftereffects. The motorcycle lying by the side of the road. Fifty yards further down, police and EMTs were trying to get the motorcycle rider out of brambles. Found out from the news later, he was dead.

The Good Samaritan driver and the old man who gets carjacked were add ons to the original story that helped (I hope) add some tension and some drama to the story. Let me know what you think.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Today's story...

If you scroll down a bit, you'll find a short story called The Driver. It was first published in Crimespree a couple of years ago, and I will tell you about how I got the idea and other things about it tomorrow if you tune in. Again, many thanks to Jennifer Jordan for selecting the story.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Rickards vs. Higgins. FIGHT!

Started reading two novels recently. One is The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins. The other is Winter's End by John Rickards. The first book was recommended to me as a crime classic and must-read, but I'm finding it slow going. Confusing. Maybe I'm not concentrating hard enough, but then it's summer break and I don't want to work all that hard. Will I continue? Yes, of course. Generally, things don't get as widely praised by people who know crime fiction if it's utter crap. I'm certainly not at the point where I think anything like that yet.

However, Rickards' book is much more fun. Gripping I think is the word. I turn the pages actually wanting to know what happens next. That makes it a page-turner. Good stuff.

Now, there's every chance that Rickards will bog down in the middle, and I'll yearn for the days when it was Higgins who was boring me but at least the book was slimmer giving me hope of a quick end.

Also every chance that Higgins' book will come on like a house afire leaving me to wonder why other authors even bother.

So far, Higgins is getting whipped, however. And yes, writing is a competitive sport - your ass can be handed to you in a bucket. Happens to me every time I read Ken Bruen novel actually.

Monday, May 21, 2007

About Stoop the Thief

If you scroll down a bit, you'll see my story about a young man named Stupendous Jones. It's an unfortunate name of course. What are schoolchildren supposed to do except pick on him and call him Stoop?

And Stoop is unfortunate in a lot that happened to him as a child - his mother abandoned him in the hospital he was born in, and the man he regards as his father is an addict and a thief and leaves him in the care of others or in no one's care at all.

I wrote Stoop as a kind of response to a story that I thought was not very good. I had just read E.L. Doctorow's short story called Jolene. Thought it was a mess - it tells the story of a young woman who has troubles from early on in her life. This is like Stoop, but I didn't care what happened to Jolene in the end. It was, to my mind, just a recitation of bad choices and misadventures, nothing more. I haven't read the story again. Maybe there was more there. In any event, at the time I liked Stoop better - thought he was more deserving of sympathy though less needy and more capable than Jolene.

Of course, Doctorow's story is being turned into a major motion picture.

There was a part to Stoop's story that I cut - it concerned his skin color. Schoolchildren are bullying Stoop, trying to get him to say whether he is white or black because they can't tell. Stoop doesn't even understand the question and escapes them without the issue being resolved. I cut that scene (probably a half page or so) a few seconds before sending the story to Jennifer Jordan. Apparently, it wasn't much needed because she liked the story as she recieved it. Why I cut a longer blog post.

The story does break a Kurt Vonnegut rule - start the story as close to the end as you can get it. Of course, with any story, you can start it the moment right after the end which means not having to write it at all. Like Dickens in Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, I thought it best to start with the the birth of the hero. How Dickens got as much mileage out of opening, I wish I knew.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Stoop's Story

Scroll down for this week's story which is an oldie but a goodie. It's the story of a young man name Stupendous Jones who happens to be a thief. In this episode, Stoop saves a life. He does that a fair bit in his stories. This was the first to be published. CrimeSpree did it a couple of years ago. Tomorrow, some commentary on the writing of it.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Simon Spurrier asks...

Met Simon Spurrier on Crimespace, and I have not yet read his book, but it seems to me that he and his publisher are approaching marketing from a path I haven't seen tried before. I have my fears for him, but I hope they prove unfounded - any now paths in marketing books are welcome. Anyway, here is his blog post copied from Crimespace. Respond with your thoughts if you like:

You folks probably don't need me to tell you how the whole marketing/retail/publicity angle of noveldom bears very little resemblence to a) the idealistic perception of a "quality=success" formula, and b) fairness.

It's a lottery. And it's fixed. For first time authors (yo), or those writing tricksy fiction which falls a little beyond clearly defined genre boundaries (double-yo), or those whose work is absolutely NOT intended for the safe, comfortable, oh-please-god-don't-challenge-us Mainstream (triple-yo), your chances of getting a big noisy marketing campaign are slightly lower than JFK showing-up alive and well in a Yeti commune in Tibet. That's a fact.

Depressing though it may be, I will never see my debut novel splashed on the side of London buses, clogging-up posters on the Underground, or being discussed ad-nauseum on the fecking Richard and Judy show (US readers: imagine if Oprah was white, alcoholic, braindead, and married to a living personification of the word "smug", presenting a daily show about Any Old Dross. That's the current literary trend-setter in the UK. Huzzah). So short of waiting for reviewers to recognise the novel's obvious brilliance (gulp), I'm left with the Internet as a way of drumming-up interest pre-publication.

Don't worry, I'm not going to use this as an extended advert for my own book. What I WOULD like to ask is whether any of you have an experience or advice in this field. My publishers and I have spent many hours discussing this stuff. It seems that "blog-force" can be a truly powerful thing: just look at the success of bands like The Arctic Monkeys, or movies like Snakes on a Plane - neither of which would've done as well as they have were it not for the huge 'net interest they created, which gave them the momentum to roll-on into the "real-world" mainstream.

But novels aren't quite the same, are they? It's one thing to invite people to listen to a 3 minute single and expect them to endorse the entire album, or to let them jigger-about with movie clips and script excerpts. But novels? I mean... for me half the joy of a novel is its portability: the organic sense of holding something in your hands and reading, be it in a park, in the bath, on the lav or in bed. You can't do the same if you're dragging your computer about with you.

Nonetheless, my publishers (and I) feel that modernisation has to start somewhere. To the best of our knowledge no one (certainly not in the UK, and certainly not any of the "big" publishers) are using the Internet cleverly enough yet. There's this reliance on library hardbacks as a cultural inroad, which nobody ever buys and which very rarely make any money.

So our scheme is simply this: after weeks of building-up interest in odd corners of the Internet - MySpace, blogs, etc etc - we're unveiling a website dedicated to the novel, which will allow visitors to read it for free. In chunks, that is, with a fresh section becoming available every two weeks, and the option to buy the hardback at any stage (at a discount). At the end of the period the book is taken down from the site, then the paperback becomes available 6 weeks later.

The idea (as I understand it) is to simply allow people to get buzzing about the book. If anyone has the patience and cheapskate-dedication to read the whole thing for free, good for them: it's a loss leader we're prepared to endure if it generates a bit of conversation on the 'net. And in the mean time people have always got the option to get fed-up of reading the bloody thing on their screen, and hit the "buy hardback" icon instead.

This ENTIRE thing is intended to allow us, ultimately, to approach the retailers with the paperback and say: "Hey, yeah, we know it's a debut author, we know it's a tricky genre book, but it's created aaaaaaall this Internet interest. You can't afford NOT to stock it..."

...which all sounds fine and clever and sneaky on paper.

But will it work? Have any of you had similar experiences? Any glowing or doom-filled thoughts on this unusual method of marketing? Any marketing stories of your own? Etc etc.

One of the greatest shocks I've had since becoming an "author" - that still sounds so pompous to me! - was that the actually writing-the-book-bit is far from being the whole story. You've also got to be part-publicist, part-schmoozer, part-marketing-guru, part-blah blah blah. It's maddening!

(For the record, the ball starts rolling here: It's All About The Money )

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hey! I won!

Got the news yesterday that I'd won a Derringer award for "Elena Speaks of the City, Under Siege." The story was first published in Crimespree Magazine last year, and it is available (along with a sequel about Elena and Viktor Petrenko) if you scroll down.

In case you don't know, the Derringers are given out by the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

Many thanks to those who voted and judged and counted up the votes and congratulations to all nominees and award winners.

Monday, May 14, 2007

About Viktor Petrenko

First, VP was created for a blog story project a couple of years ago run by Bryon Quertermous and Dave White. They asked for a story that dealt with an item at a police auction and I sent them one that won me the James Brown Award for Soul...

Viktor, if you're not familiar, is a former Soviet Special Forces type, and a former mercenary. He had some truly bad experiences in Afghanistan in the mid to late 1980s as well as a terrible time in a Siberian Gulag for a year. As a mercenary, he witnessed some of the most horrifying things humans have done to each other on all continents except Australia and the Antartic. Viktor loves the Elena you find in the story called "Elena Speaks of the City" (scroll down if you want to take a read). By the time the first Viktor Petrenko story came out, Elena had been dead some years and the memory of her haunts Viktor. Other stories have jumped about in time. He first meets her in the story directly below this post.

There are three novels that I've planned and could write tomorrow if I didn't have other obligations. The first would be called MAN OF DISASTER. Someone takes Elena hostage and that is So the wrong thing to do.

In any event, "Viktor Speaks of Elena" is not nearly the story that the Elena story is in my estimation, but there is a lot more killing which should make some happy. It also has a nice little turn at the end, I think. The story does seem a little rushed, but then, Viktor is no poet. Yeah, I think I'll stick with that...blame the character for being in a mediocre story...

Anyway, the story is free. Scroll down for a look.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Hard Man by Allan Guthrie

Looking for nail gun action? Looking for knee caps blown out with a revolver? Looking for messages to be sent by the always popular though sometimes ambiguous "dead dog" method? Then Hard Man by Scottish author Allan Guthrie is the book for you. Especially if you want all of the above served with a severe brand of black humor that will make you gag with laughter.

The story concerns a professional tough guy, Gordon Pearce, who is enlisted - just barely - by a father and his two sons to confront the man who has married, then abused a loved daughter, May. May is only sixteen and pregnant, but - she lets on - the father is not her husband. Bad for her since her husband is a nasty piece of work named Wallace. As far as Wallace is concerned, everyone involved in making the baby not his must pay. Anyone who stands in his way must also pay. No discounts. Not even for family.

In any event, Pearce shows up at Wallace's door with a knife. Unfortunately, he's a bit underprepared for the gunfight Wallace has in mind. How will Pearce handle the situation since he must handle the situation or die? Can the father and his two sons be of any assistance? Will May care one way or the other? To find out, you must get a copy and read for yourself. It would be against the rules of reviewing for me to tell you everything. This is a dark romp, not through the streets of Edinburgh where the police will soon be wishing they carried firearms, but through the minds of a set of Edinburgh residents who frankly should not have been let off their leashes and loose among the general public. If you like hardboiled, noir - if you like horrible lives with a sense of humor - if you like watching the triumphs of the tough - then you will very much like this novel. Highly recommended for all collections...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

About Elena...

There are a couple of things that I found interesting about the story below (if I do say so myself…). First, it came out of me pretty much the way you see it. I think I may have changed a couple of words here or there, but really it was one of the easiest stories to write that I’ve done. I figured out later that it was in the second person, present tense.

The title, took more time. This story is about Elena Kojcic, Viktor Petrenko’s wife. It didn’t start out that way. It was written before I’d thought of Viktor. The story was just “The City, Under Siege,” originally. I think it was partly inspired by having seen the Woody Harrelson movie (that doesn’t get said often, I think) Sarajevo.

I wasted a year or so sending the story to several literary magazines. Three or four places sent me form letters. I didn’t think it was criminal enough for any of the crime mags, but Jennifer Jordan begged to differ. It’s been nominated for a Derringer award by the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

Last year, I wrote a companion piece starring Viktor which takes place a few hours after the end of this story. It is, of course, quite violent, has never been published, and slated for its debut here on this coming Sunday.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Thirteen Weeks, Thirteen Stories...

Well, the subject line pretty much says it all. Tired of not being able to reprint stories and/or publish them, I figured I'd post them here. There are thirteen weeks between this Sunday and the Sunday before my next novel comes out, so I figured I'd publish a story a week here.

On Sundays, you get the stories. On Monday or Tuesday, you get an explanation of the writing process or the publishing history or some such. Seems like a fair deal considering it's all free.

Today's Story is a reprint. Next week's is fresh, etc. Scroll down to have a look.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Post #202

Okay, he's not a crime writer, but I had to share my enthusiasm for Giovanni Paisiello. It is not everyday that you find new talent in the world of classical music. As Randy Jackson might say, however, "Dis guy is da bomb!" I got a NAXOS label cd of some of his orchestral work - two piano concertos and a couple of short symphonic pieces - an overture and a short suite. In any event, I was astounded both by the playing of it and the quality of the music itself. Wonderful stuff. If you like Mozart and you like Beethoven, then Paisiello is the man who straddles them both...Wait, that didn't come out right.

The first concerto on the cd, his 2nd, sounds like it could have been Mozart, certainly better than Haydn piano music at any rate. The second sounds like early Beethoven - the Beethoven of the first four piano concertos, not the one of the odd wind chamber ensembles.

A great find especially given the price.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Demolition and Viktor Petrenko

Bryon Quertermous, editor of Demolition Magazine winner of a Gumshoe Award (which I would link to, but I'm lazy) has accepted another of my Viktor Petrenko stories. Viktor will be hurting people on a computer screen near you in July. This time he's on Riker's Island, so it's really a kind of cage match affair.

In truth, like all the Viktor Petrenko stories, Viktor Petrenko, We Will Bring You to Your Knees is a love story. For those who have not made the connection yet, Viktor loves Elena who we meet in the very first VP story Viktor Petrenko, Have You No Mercy? (I could link to that as well, but...).

Elena had her own story published in CrimeSpree last year (and nominated for a Derringer no less). In it, her city is under siege, her family has been decimated, and she decides she's had enough. She leaves the city.

I wrote a sequel to that story, but it's only 1,400 words long and I don't know where to place it. In it, Viktor finds Elena a few hours after she has left the city. Hilarity ensues...

Anyway, Bryon says he'd like to see a VP novel. I assure him, one is planned. Two are planned actually. Just wait until he joins with Stoop the Thief...