Sunday, November 29, 2009

One Stop Shopping

Patti Abbott has issued another flash fiction challenge. This time the theme is, "Wal-Mart, I Love You." Links to all the stories can be found on Patti's blog.

My contribution is called, "One Stop Shopping."

Enid didn’t have enough make-up to hide the mouse under her eye. She had make-up, just not the kind she liked for the job. She daubed on her second choice, decided it was good enough. This was her day off. Shopping day. Wal-Mart would have more.

Enid loved Wal-Mart. Everything she needed was there. Said hello to Dean, the greeter. Retired fireman, Korean War vet, always pretended to flirt with her. She knew he saw the bruise. His eyes flickered, and he licked his lips like he might say something. Enid went on before he’d feel like he had to.

Got the make-up first, so she wouldn’t forget. She felt underdressed with Plan B on her face, knew it didn’t cover as well, and no one could mistake what was under her eye for anything but what it was. Jimbo’s miscalculation. He rarely hit her where it showed.

She picked up shampoo, coloring, and conditioner. New rubber gloves. She definitely needed Epsom salts. Put back her regular bubble bath, got the more expensive stuff. Went into the grocery section for Jimbo’s steak. He told her on his way out that morning, after the shit she pulled last night she might as well throw herself down the stairs this time if she didn’t have one for his supper, save him the trouble. Picked the baking potatoes individual, didn’t just buy the bag. Real sour cream. Bacon bits. Went back into the general merchandise part of the store for a couple of other things she needed. Jolene Starling checked her out, commented on how nice her blouse looked. Jolene was a sweetheart.

Enid got the potatoes in the oven and made a green salad with the Eye-talian dressing Jimbo liked. Lit the hibachi behind the house in time for his steak to be ready for his first beer. Cut in to make sure it was done enough as the front door opened.

Jimbo smelled the steak and kept whatever he almost said to himself. Enid got him a beer, set it on the table. Neither talked while they ate. She cleared the table after they finished; Jimbo went into the living room to watch SportsCenter with his second beer.

Enid washed the dishes, put everything away. Cleaned the grill. Sat on the back steps and smoked a cigarette while it got dark. Jimbo was snoring when she came back into the house, the beer can balanced on the arm of his chair, that guy who did all that yelling about college basketball on the television. She walked in front of the TV to pick up a magazine and got no notice from Jimbo. Went back into the kitchen and opened her large parcel from Wal-Mart. Then she went back into living room, placed the muzzle of the Winchester 12 gauge shotgun three inches from Jimbo’s right ear and blew the bastard’s head all over the wall. Almost dislocated her shoulder when it went off. Jacked in another round and shoved the muzzle inside his collarbone and shot him again. Practically blew what was left of him apart, knocked the shotgun clean out of her hands.

She went into the bathroom and shut the door. Ran the bath with plenty of bubbles and salts, water as hot as she could bear it. Slid herself into the tub and felt the hot water take hold of her. Didn’t bother washing. Sat in the tub, let the water soak into her and waited for the sirens.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Good News in Publishing

The voices of doom make it too easy to overlook the positive things that are happening in writing and publishing today that can help all authors, as this article shows.

Friday, November 20, 2009

And They Don't Even Offer a Reach-Around

There’s been a lot of outrage over Harlequin’s recent announcement to launch their own self-publishing branch, Harlequin Horizons. (Here, here, and here, to list a few; other links included in these posts.) In short, Harlequin is encouraging rejected authors to pay them to publish their work, instead of Harlequin paying for it.

All the outrage is earned; this is detestable. There’s one other aspect no one I’ve read has picked up on: This will hurt those authors who would have qualified for Harlequin contracts before the new policy. It’s right there in the press release:

“While there is no guarantee that if you publish with Harlequin Horizons you will picked up for traditional publishing, Harlequin will monitor sales of books published through Harlequin Horizons for possible pick-up by its traditional imprints.”

This essentially allows Harlequin to establish its own farm system, at the author’s expense. Never again need they take a chance on a new writer. Make her pay for the privilege of having to publicize and hand sell her own book. Harlequin can then cherry pick the few who are successful and have established a reputation for doing the publisher’s work for them, while pocketing the author’s publication fees from the vanity project.

This is worth watching, as it bodes well for no one.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Book Trailers

This may be a sore subject, as I know a lot of folks who have produced trailers for their books, but this article in Slate got me to wondering about the key question regarding trailers:

Does anyone know if they work?

For me, personally, no. I can't imagine buying a book based on a video trailer. Part of this is because I can't imagine watching a video trailer, unless someone I knew asked me to check one out for him. If I wanted to spend my time watching television, I'd watch television. Books and TV/movies are completely different story-telling media. The video is a far more passive experience for the viewer than a book is for a reader. I have a suspicion those who watch a lot of videos don't read a lot.

It might be a cool thing for someone established in a certain kind of story (Stephen King, J.K. Rowling) to let fans know their new book is available, because their readers are looking for something of an extraordinary experience. (Using "extraordinary" to mean "beyond ordinary," not "great," as it is sometimes used. Not that their writing isn't great; their subjects are extraordinary.) Video might appeal to them. To me, not so much.

I'm a writer, so this might make me the oddball. (Okay, not just writing does that. I mean in this specific situation.)

What do you think? Do book trailers influence you? Has anyone ever seen any empirical evidence that implies they're wirth the time and effort?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why I Don't Watch Cop Shows

I haven’t watched a TV cop show since The Wire went off the air, except for a random viewing of Numb3rs when The Sole Heir is visiting. This excerpt from James Lee Burke’s In the Moon of Red Ponies explains why better than I could.

Most television cop shows make use of the following story line: A likeable individual is raped or assaulted, or a hardworking family loses one of its members to a serial killer, or a blue-collar stiff with a juvenile felony on his record gets jammed on a bad beef and is about to be sent to the pen. What happens? A half-dozen uniforms and five detectives with shields hanging from their necks show up at the crime scene and invest the entirety of their lives in seeing justice done. Every law officer in the script, male and female, seems to have an IQ of 180 and the altruism of St. Francis of Assisi. They verbally joust with the rich and powerful, walk into corporate board meetings where they hook up CEOs, and are immune to the invective flung at them by an unappreciative citizenry.

The federal agents who wander into the script are even more impressive. They have tanned skin, little-boy haircuts, and the anatomies of California surfers. Their psychoanalytical knowledge of the criminal mind is stunning. Without hesitation, they conclude for the viewer that serial rapists possess violent tendencies toward women and people who plant bombs on planes are antisocial.

But my thoughts on the subject are cheap in design and substance. It’s easy to be facile about law enforcement. The truth is the good guys are understaffed, overworked, underfunded, and outgunned. Most of the time the bad guys win, or if they do take a fall, it’s because a wrecking ball swings into their lives for reasons that have nothing to do with jurisprudence. If you have ever been the victim of a violent crime, or if you have been threatened by deviates or sadists—and by the latter I mean wakened by anonymous calls in the middle of the night, surveilled by people you’ve never seen before, forced to take public transportation because you’re afraid to start your car in the morning—then you know what I’m about to say is an absolute fact: You’re on your own.

Law enforcement agencies don’t prevent crimes. With good luck, they solve a few of them. In the meantime, if violent and dangerous people intend to do you injury, your own thoughts become your worst enemies. The morning might start with sunshine and birdsong, but by noon it’s usually filled with gargoyles.

Monday, November 9, 2009


University of Maryland Family Weekend, Bouchercon, and the World Series are over, so we're back into our Saturday night NetFlix routine. First up, after a six week stay on the shelf, was the Liam Neeson action flick, Taken.

Take it. Please.

Good concept, Liam Neeson is a fine and likeable actor, and the opening execution was good, setting up the interaction between Neeson's character, his ex-wife, daughter, and his former buds from a government agency that is not named. The scene where he "witnesses" his daughter's kidnapping over the phone is tense and suspenseful. Neeson carries it off well. You can just about see his face switch from Concerned Father to Professional Spook as he tells his daughter what to do that will help him find her.

It's downhill from there.

The movie is action without suspense. It was made for American release, which means you know going in he'll get the kid back; Americans hate sad endings. The only question is how much trouble he has doing it, and how much collateral damage there will be.

The collateral damage is France. At least, Paris.

How much trouble he has is, frankly, none. He has several inconveniences and kills a lot of people for vexing him so when he's in a hurry. Every clue leads directly to the next step, with no searching or drama on his part. He sees a face in a photograph from his daughter's cellphone, and makes a logical assumpotion this is the man she met at the airport. He finds him immediately. At Charles DeGaulle Airport, no less. A prostitute he has rescued tells him of a house with a red door on the Rue de Paradis. He goes straight to it. No inkling of how much time it took, or of how much he has left.

The tension would have been much more effective if we saw some of his frustration, and an occasional dead end. As it is, the 96-hour window he's told he has in which to find her is never mentioned again. We don't know how long anything takes. Daylight and night seem to have no meaning. He never eats nor sleeps. He's just a killing machine until (SPOILER ALERT) he finds and and they live happily ever after.

The whole thing plays out like Transformers, but without the childlike goofiness.

Monday, November 2, 2009

October's Best Reads

Recommended Reads from October, in the order I read them:

The Friends of Eddie Coyle
, George V. Higgins – A seminal book. Few crime fiction writers since have been unaffected by Higgins’s work, and this is the book that got him noticed. Should be on a shelf with Chandler, Hammett, et al for crime fiction writers, and anyone else interested in how the gerne has evolved.

Chasing Darkness, Robert Crais – Possibly the best Elvis and Joe novel. The story sizzles, and Crais has a keen sense of how a PI can never really put things right, but has to be satisfied with explanations. Pike has been humanized by his solo turn in The Watchman, and all the other bit players in Crais’s repertory company are used to best advantage. This book kept me away from the bar the night before Bouchercon so I could finish it.

Blood’s a Rover, James Ellroy – The final volume in his American Trilogy, after American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand, and definitely not for everyone. Ellroy writes with a disdain for convention and good taste to pull the reader into his alternate universe of the Sixties and Seventies. Not as nihilistic as TC6K, and a slightly easier read. Oscar Levant once said there is a line between genius and insanity, and he had crossed it. Ellroy straddles it. You’ll love this book or hate it, or you won’t be sure which. You won’t be indifferent, and you’ll never forget it.