Category Archives: Michael MacLean

The Fall of Rome

By Mike MacLean

My heart is heavy. Rome_hbo_visuel 

The last episode of Rome airs tonight.  It was a fantastic show, unparalleled in its depictions of bloodshed, sex, and political intrigue.  It out-Sopranoed the Sopranos and gave us a history lesson in the bargain.  Rome will be missed.

I know, I know; it was only a TV show.  There are plenty more out there, some great ones even.  But Rome was something special, and its passing has me feeling five shades of blue.

Only one thing can lift my spirits.  A list.  God help me, how I love the lists.

TOP TEN CURRENT TV SHOWS

(In no particular order.)

1.  Rome

2.  Heroes

4_23.  30 Rock (Alec Baldwin is insanely funny.  And has anyone noticed that SNL sucks this year?  ("D!%K in a Box" notwithstanding) Could it be the show has gone downhill as a result of Tina Fey’s departure, one of their top writers?  So wait…writing actually makes a difference in quality?  Who knew?)

4.  My Name is Earl

5.  The Office

6.  Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (I pray to the heathen television gods to give this show another chance.)

7.  The Daily Show

8.  Veronica Mars (Mars is proof that TV is as good as it’s ever been.  The fact that it might be on the chopping block, to be replaced by The Pussy Cat Dolls, is proof that TV is also as bad as it has ever been.)Veronica20mars

9.  BattleStar Galactica 

10.  Lost (I’m still hooked, but I have fears that all the plot twists will lead absolutely nowhere.  Ultimately the show may be…"Full of Sound and Fury signifying nothing.")

So let’s hear it Murder fans.  What are your picks? 

I FEEL SO USED

Books

Mike MacLean

I have a dirty little secret.  No, it’s not the man I shot in Reno once just to watch him die.  No, it’s not the "Mayonnaise incident."  It’s much, much worse.

I buy secondhand books.

Of course, not all the books I purchase are used.  When an author I like rolls into town, I always grab something new at the signing.  Or when one of those books come along, one of those intriguing stories that I simply must read, I’m right there with my $25 bucks.

But just as often, I buy used.  It’s not something I’m proud of.

It doesn’t matter that I’m a high school teacher or that my wife is going back to college or that we’re expecting a baby next month.  I still feel guilty buying used books.  I feel as if I’m betraying all those great writers I’ve met over the past few years.  After all, according to both the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers the promotion of used book sales, by Amazon in particular, "will cut significantly into sales of new titles, directly harming authors and publishers" (NY Times).

So when you buy a used book, you’re essentially picking the pockets of authors and publishers.  It’s like stealing, right?  I certainly don’t want to steal from writers.  Hell, that’s what I want to be when I grow up–a working writer.

There is, however, another perspective.

At $25 bucks a pop, I’m unlikely to check out an author I’ve never read before.  But if the same book is only $5 bucks, I’ll give it a whirl.  If the novel isn’t for me, I’m only out a few bucks.  I might even give that same author another chance.  On the other hand, if I spend full price on a new book and it doesn’t scream to me, the writer goes on my black list.  More than likely, I’ll never pick up another one of her books again.

What often happens is I take a risk on a used book then get hooked.  Cost be damned, I’m not waiting for the next Lee Child to hit the used racks.  That could be months.  I need it right now! 

According to the New York Times, the sale of used books might have another, less obvious, impact. 

"The presence of a market for used books makes consumers more willing to buy new books, because they can easily dispose of them later. A car salesman will often highlight the resale value of a new car, yet booksellers rarely mention the resale value of a new book. Nevertheless, the value can be quite significant."

Furthermore, despite the comments from the Author’s Guild, I’ve never heard any specific writers speak out against the sale of used books.  Most I’ve met support libraries.  Why not support secondhand book sellers?

In the coming years, the novel will face competition like it never has before.  Low priced DVDs (a new movie is already cheaper than a new hardback).  Video games (which aren’t just for kids anymore).  The Internet (too much stuff).  Who knows what else is coming down the pike.  In the bloody free-for-all for the entertainment dollar, secondhand book sales might just keep a few more readers out there from straying–a few we can’t spare.   

So why do I still feel guilty about buying used books?  Are all the points I’ve explored merely rationalizations?

To published authors out there: What’s your take on used book sales? 

To the hardcore fans: Do you share my shame?               

 

The Super Bowl Sucks

I’m sure my title would enrage die-hard football fans, but chances are they’re not reading this anyway.  They’re too busy watching eight full hours of pregame coverage.  For the record, I don’t hate football, I’m just totally apathetic to it.  In fact, unless the athletes are punching and kicking each other, I don’t care about sports in general.

I’d rather talk books.

Months ago, I started working on a novel.  Not actually writing one, but "working on" one.  Brainstorming.  Researching.  Outlining.  Yada.  Yada.  Yada.

It didn’t pan out.  The story just wasn’t there.

So I started over.  Brainstorming.  Researching.  Yada.  Yada.  Yada.

"This is it," I told myself.  "This is the one."  I had a strong enough hold on the story to give a few chapters a try.  20 pages…then 30…then 40…then

Skriiiket My flash drive farted.  I lost it all.

Obscenities followed.  Loud ones.  Nasty ones.  I could’ve made Joe R. Lansdale blush.  My monitor almost made a trip through the window.

Two days later, I started again.  Punching the keys with heat, with anger, with brute determination.

"This time it’ll work." 

I had a character I identified with.  I had a "big idea" plot.  I had a cool ending in mind.
I had…

A load of shite.

Plain and simple, I was trying too hard.  I wanted something that would catch an editor’s eye.  I wanted to sell a book.  Problem is, every time I sat at the computer, my shoulders slumped.  I was not having fun, and it showed.  The pace slowed.  Two pages a day turned into two paragraphs.  My mind wandered.  I wanted to work on something else, something new.

I’ve walked this road before.  My hard drive is littered with the first five chapters of a dozen novels.  Was I falling into my old pattern, grasping for the shiny new object?  The question left me feeling like an unprofessional hack.  Worse than a hack, a wannabe. 

I saw my future.  Ten years from now at Thriller Fest, I’m telling novelists about the short stories I had published in 2006.  Then I’m drinking too much, spilling beer on my silver jumpsuit, dying later in a horrible jet pack accident (because it’s the future, get it?).

So what could I do?  Give up on the idea?  Or push on through?  I want to be a writer, don’t I?  And writing isn’t always fun.  But then again, how do you keep working on something when you’ve lost your confidence in it?

A few days ago, I made my decision.  Out with the old, in with the new.

But this time, there’s a difference.  I don’t care anymore.  I don’t care about catching an editor’s eye.  I don’t care about the big idea.  I only care about the words on the screen. The book will be fast and furious with over the top characters and bloody, violent fight scenes.  In short, I’m writing the book I want to read.  And if someone else wants to come along for the ride, that’s just gravy.

So what do you think?  Did I make the right decision, or am I taking the easy way out?  How can you tell when I project’s not working?  How do you know you’re not just facing another roadblock–a simple challenge to be overcome? 

Dreams of Bloody Knuckles and Quiet Theaters

I want BLOOD on my hands.

It’s three am and the memory of what happened Friday afternoon still twists my gut.  God help me, I wanted to beat a man to death right in front of his baby’s eyes.  The rage flickered inside my heart only for a moment, but I can’t deny it was there.

Let me set the scene.

My wife and I went to see the new movie "Smokin Aces" with a couple of friends of ours.  Being a Friday, there was a good-sized crowd, but the theater was far from packed.  Some "gentleman" high in the auditorium seats had brought his baby to the movie and it wailed during the previews.  I was shaking my head in disgust, muttering in disbelief, when another single father strolled down our isle and sat down with his infant child.  There were more than a dozen empty rows, but he chose to sit DIRECTLY in front of us.

In case you haven’t seen the ads, let me tell you, "Smokin Aces" is violent on an apocalyptic scale.  The film is littered with bodies.  Men are shot, stabbed, burnt, beaten, tortured, and decimated by chain saws.  That theater, showing that movie, was NO place for a baby.

So of course, the baby got restless.

For twenty minutes, she cried and squirmed as the man wrestled her in and out of the stroller.  At times, he handed the kid a box of candy to use as a rattle.  So when we weren’t distracted by the baby’s cries we got to listen to "RATTLE, RATTLE, RATTLE."

I was about to go to the lobby and speak to a manager when my wife very calmly, very politely asked the man if he could please try to keep the baby quiet.

The man glared at my wife angrily and said, "It’s a fucking baby." 

He said it so quickly, I can only assume he was waiting for someone to say something to him.  It’s a fucking baby.  As if my wife were somehow a horrible person.  How dare she.  A poor, innocent baby is frightened and crying.  How dare she ask him to please keep the baby quiet.

By the way, did I mention that my wife is seven months pregnant?

"It’s a fucking baby," he repeated, snarling at my wife.

"Yeah, and it’s a rated-R movie," I responded.  "You don’t bring a kid into a movie like this."

The man tore out of seat and gathered up his things.  He was a stocky guy with a shaved head and a heavy frame, bulging with fat and muscle–he could’ve been a nameless thug in the movie we were watching.  He left, yelling curses while my wife pleaded with me to stay in my chair.

Rage coursed through my veins so hard that I trembled.  (In fact, I tremble now typing this account.)  And just when I began to calm down the man came back.

He left his stroller a few yards away and yelled horrible things at my wife–a woman with child herself.  I wish I could say I took the high ground.  I wish I could say that I remained zen and let it slide.  But any zen I might’ve had slipped away when he said those things to my wife.  I had my own words for the man, and they weren’t pretty.

The man eventually left, and we got back to the film.  But the whole time, we had to look over our shoulders, because there is no doubt in my mind that he wanted to fight.

My mind staggers trying to comprehend him.  In the end, it boils down to one thing–selfishness.  The man thought only of himself.  He didn’t care about anyone in the theater.  He didn’t care that he would have to knock down a pregnant woman to get to me.  And most of all, he didn’t care about his own child, whose safety was put at risk because of stupidity and a twisted sense of self-entitlement. 

I cared more about his child than he did. 

There were many reasons why I didn’t try to take the bastard’s head off.  I didn’t want to risk my wife’s safety.  I didn’t want to go to jail over a scumbag.  I didn’t know if he had a gun.  But most of all, I simply couldn’t beat this man in front of his child.  As much as I wanted to feel his blood on my knuckles, it would’ve been wrong.  What if the baby was hurt in the scuffle?  What would that make me?

In some way, this event will end up in my fiction.  It has crystallized at least one motive for all the evil in the world.  Selfishness.

If you like a good nihilistic bullet-fest, the movie was great, and I really enjoyed it.  Up until the end. 

As the climax crested its peak and the bloody action gave way to quiet, reflective dialogue, the baby up in the auditorium seating began to wail.  Its father, who no doubt wanted to see the end of the movie, stayed in his seat.

My mind staggers.

NOIR “WHORES”

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"I was an actor in New York," said Charlie Huston, addressing fans, "which means I was a bartender."

First time novelist Marcus Sakey countered by saying, "I worked in advertising for ten years, which means I was a prostitute."

Wisecracks like this set the mood Thursday night when both writers appeared at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Huston was promoting No Dominion, sequel to his popular vampire noir tale Already Dead.  Sakey, meanwhile, plugged The Blade Itself, a first novel with an unbelievable amount of buzz behind it (According to Murderati’s own Paul Guyot, Sakey is the next Lee Child).

9780345478252 I must come clean.  Before Thursday, I’d never read a single word from either of these guys.  But I felt compelled to see them.  Why you ask?

Seldom have I heard such praise for a pair of writers.  Word on the street says that Huston and Sakey have got the goods.  And who am I to argue with the street?  Argue with the street and you’ll find yourself with an ass full of asphalt.  (Wait… What the hell am I talking about?)

Anyways, I was not disappointed.  Both men spoke sincerely about the craft and business of writing with keen insight and wit.  A few highlights included…

  • Sakey recounting his days in the advertising field before becoming a novelist.  "I was working in one of those places where everyday I thought to myself, I could set the building on fire."
  • Huston’s imitation of his first literary agent.  "Hey, great book.  I almost finished it!"
  • Sakey’s advice for writers seeking agents.  Go to bookstores and check out the acknowledgment pages of your favorite writers.  If they mention their agent, chances are they might be someone you’d want to work with.
  • Huston working the terms FETISHISTIC and APOCALYPTIC GLORY into the conversation.
  • Sakey gleefully flipping Huston the bird after being reminded he’d been fired from his advertising job.

Hm_bookcover_1 In self-deprecating fashion, both authors claimed to be industry "whores."  I don’t buy it. 

While I have only read the first few chapters of Sakey’s Blade, the novel immediately establishes an uncompromising voice pandering to no one.  And Huston, who claimed he had to sign away his first born child to write the Marvel comic Moon Knight, has kept his hardboiled street cred in tact.  I devoured the hardback edition (collecting issues 1-6) in one sitting.  Huston’s Moon Knight has all the classic comic book elements–larger than life characters, brutal fist fights, tough guy banter–while touching on themes of guilt, redemption, and self awareness. 

Whores?  I think not.  But it does bring to mind a question I’ve struggled with.  (Yes–again with the questions)B000fxw2oo_01a2fzkgk21wip61__ss400_sclzz_1

As writers, how much are you willing to compromise your art for a chance at better book sales?  Most would agree keeping your voice as a writer is essential, but so is paying the mortgage.  So where do you draw the line?  And how do you know when you’ve crossed it?

My thanks to Huston and Sakey for doing what they do.  It was great meeting you guys. 

ART VS. AUDIENCE: More Questions from the New Guy

When asked how he became a bestselling author, Elmore Leonard replied, I started writing only the parts people wanted to read. 

Now, I’m paraphrasing an interview I read years ago, so the quote might not be exact.  But the sentiment is something that has stuck with me.

I only want to write the parts people want to read. 

I never want to bore and audience.  I want don’t want their minds to wander away from the page.

Of course, you’ll always bore someone.  If you keep the action at a fast boil, some will clamor for more characterization, more personal background (they want to know characters’ favorite breakfast cereals, the names of their pet iguanas, what they read on the can).  But Delve into the protagonist’s life too deeply, and others will thumb through the pages wanting you to "get on with the plot, damn it!"  The solution seems obvious.  Find the middle ground and you’ll find the biggest possible audience.  Right?

I can’t help but feel that danger lingers in that line of thinking.

Alexandra Sokoloff wrote a great post yesterday on style.  What happens to style (or voice, or storytelling) when the writer questions his choices based not on his own preferences, but on the preferences of this unknown audience?  And who can really guess what people want?  If I constantly try to please everyone, who do I really please?

So instead, do I ignore this invisible audience, and write from instinct and heart?

A voice in my head screams, "No friggin’ way." 

I can think of two best selling authors who prove my point (and no I will NOT name names).  They’ve sold millions and made millions and pretty much have a guarantee that whatever they scribble down will be published.  But ask their fans, and I’ll bet they enjoyed the authors’ middle works the best, not the 10,000 page rambling "epics" they’ve just produced.  My guess is that these bestsellers have let their egos take the wheel and jammed their audience in the back seat.

Then what’s the solution?  Do we strive for art, audience be damned?  Or do we try to see our work from another perspective and let the thought of audience become our internal editors?  And if the latter is the case, how do we keep from losing our voice?

The new guy needs answers people.

               

Confessions of a Comic Book Nerd

Hello, my name is Mike and I’m a comic book nerd.

I’ve read comics since I was a kid.  Going to high school in the late eighties, it was something one hid, like a scarlet letter "C" blazoned across your chest.  (Which is ironic since comics were then more popular than ever before).  You spoke about comics in hushed voices in the darkest corners of campus.  You confided only to your closest friends about them, a trusted few who shared the same secret shame.  And you never, NEVER, mentioned them to girls.

Times have changed.

Comics are no longer confined to magazine racks and dingy little comic shops.  They now sit on the shelves of most major book stores in the form of graphic novels and trade paperback reprints.  And, while the majority of readers have been adults for some time, the medium is reaching a broader range of readers everyday.

Still, I feel many adults resist comics.  So, in an effort to expose the Murderati readers out there to a different kind of storytelling, I give you my picks of some of the best comics out there.  Give them a try and you just might discover the secret nerd within.

CRIME AND GRIME

388pxsincitym Sin City: The Hard Goodbye

The first and best of Frank Miller’s Sin City yarns.  Dark and violent with images cut from blocks of pure shadow, the graphic novel is even better than the film.  Miller IS the best in the business.

100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call

Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso mix two parts hard-boiled crime with a healthy dose of espionage to create one very addictive story.  Buyer beware, this one is an ongoing series.

1645_400x600 The Preacher: Gone to Texas 

My all time favorite series, written by Garth Ennis with art by Steve Dillon.  The storyline follows ex-preacher Jesse Custer, his gunslinging girlfriend, and their Irish vampire sidekick on a quest to find God and give the man upstairs a good ole fashion ass whuppin’.   Funny, outrageous, violent, and thought provoking.

Transmetropolitan: Back on the Street

Take Hunter S. Thompson and drop him in the dark future of Blade Runner.  ‘Nuff said.  Written by Warren Ellis with art by Darrick Robertson. 

MEN IN TIGHTS

Dark_knight_returns Batman the Dark Knight Returns

Thanks to a campy TV show and a slew of horrible cartoons, Batman had become one of the most laughable comic book heroes in history.  Then came Frank Miller’s masterpiece.  In one stroke, Miller returned Batman to his darker origins and proved once and for all that comics (even superhero comics) weren’t just for kids.  (I told you he’s the best.)    

Kingdom Come

A great story by Mark Waid with beautiful painted cells by Alex Ross.  I hate Superman, but I loved this book.  A must have in any collection.

Wolverine

Okay, I might have included this one for nostagila stake.  Everybody’s favorite mutant claws his way through an army of ninjas.  Loads of fun for the young of heart.  Story by Chris Claremont with artwork by Frank Miller (yes, Frank made the list one last time).

Those in the know might notice my list is heavy on the D.C. side.  As a teenager, I always found myself in the Marvel camp (X-Men, The Punisher, Daredevil).  But these days it seems DC and the Independents are telling more sophisticated stories.  Anyone out there have any Marvel picks that should go on my list?

And…

This is a little off subject, but ITW is having a cool promotion.  Click here for a chance to win 150 thrillers.

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Rockin’ New Years Q & A with Duane Swierczynski

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What better way to ring in 2007 than by talking with "hard-boiled punk rock" author Duane Swi…Swier…Swierczynski

                                                   

Okay, so I can’t pronounce his name.  Just make sure you remember it, because if you miss Duane’s The Blonde, you’ll be missing out on one of the most original, adrenaline-fueled thrillers in years.   

                                                                                                            

Duane was kind enough to chat about his newest novel, the writing process and the thrill of being an author.

MM:  I remember reading "Lonely and Gone" in the Dublin Noir anthology, and thinking it had the making of a novel.  Did you know the story would turn into a full-fledged book?

                                                                                                                                                                     

DS:  I had no friggin’ idea. I thought the story would be it, but the plot device kept nagging at me. Lately, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to just write a short story. Every story idea demands to be the wife, not just a piece on the side.  (I may regret that comparison later, when my wife reads this.)                                                                          

                                                                                                                                                            

MM:  Both The Blonde and The Wheelman were totally unpredictable.  I never knew what was lurking on the next page.  How do you accomplish this?

                                                                                                                                                    DS:  With THE WHEELMAN, it was easy: I was made it up as I went along. In fact, whenever I started to consciously plot, the characters shut down on me.

                                                                                                                                                    THE BLONDE, however, was outlined in full, down to the last minute. So I’m glad to hear you say it was unpredictable. Part of that comes from good advice I received from an editor friend years ago, which was: "Keep the surprises coming, and never let the reader get too comfortable. Keep ’em off kilter whenever possible." (I actually have this advice printed out and taped to a wooden rule I keep in my desk.)

                                                                                                                                                               

If I have a process, it seems to be this: Jump right into the pool and knock out anywhere from 3 to 7,000 words to see if an idea will fly. If it does, great. If not, I move on. If I’m stuck, but really can’t get the story out of my head, I’ll write a bunch of notes or brief outline. To me, that first burst of 3 to 7,000 words is important; it tells me if the voice will work or not. Every book has its own way of telling itself.

                                                                                                                                                                     

Which is another way of saying it’s all about the voices in my head.

                                                                                                                                                    MM:  In a world of bloated books you give us a thriller clocking in at a lean 226 pages (The Wheelman was almost exactly the same length).  Did you make a conscious decision to write a shorter novel? 

                                                                                                                                                            

DS:  I absolutely love short novels. Ken Bruen was the one who taught me that length really doesn’t matter; the novels in his brilliant WHITE TRILOGY are damn thin, but you really don’t notice. Maybe it’s the journalist in me. Ink is a precious commodity; it kills me to waste any. Even electronic ink.

Plus, I’m deathly afraid of boring the reader. To me, that’s the ultimate failure. I’ve put down many more 500-page novels than I have 200-page novels.

                                                                                                                                                                  

MM:  Was there ever any pressure (say from your publisher) to write a longer book?

                                                                                                                                                         

DS:  I thought there would be. Being an eager-to-please sap, I was fully prepared to add 40,000 words upon demand. Thank God it never came to that, or THE WHEELMAN would have a lot more scenes with clouds in them.

                                                                                                                                                    MM:  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times-the modern thriller needs more clouds. 
I enjoyed how you strung some of the characters from The Wheelman into The Blonde. 

                                                                                                                                                    DS:  Like Kevin Smith’s View Askewniverse, I liked the idea that my books make up a loose "Swierczy-verse." (Try saying that three times fast.) The fun for me is to make really strange connections between the books. My next one, SEVERANCE PACKAGE, features one character from THE BLONDE, and can be seen… if you squint real hard… as a kind of a follow-up, but the two books couldn’t be more different.

                                                                                                                                                   

MM:  My secret insider sources (your book jacket) tell me that The Wheelman has been optioned for a film.  Who would be your dream cast?  How about your dream director?  Guy Ritchie would be my pick.  I just loved his work on Swept Away.

                                                                                                                                                      

DS:  Paul Giamatti… IS… Lennon. As for my dream director, I already have him: Simon Hynd, the Scottish director whose debut will be an adaptation of Stona Finch’s SENSELESS, is a ridiculously talented guy. I can’t wait to see what he does with the story.

                                                                                                                                                    And I’m not just saying that because he forked over the option dough. If someone where to execute Simon, I wouldn’t be happy until they cloned him and/or reanimated his corpse so he could get back to work on THE WHEELMAN.

                                                                                                                                                    MM: Name one author we aren’t reading yet should be.

                                                                                                                                                            

DS:  Aside from Mike MacLean?

                                                                                                                                                   

Okay, I’m going to presume everybody is already reading Sara Gran, Allan Guthrie, Megan Abbott, J.D. Rhoades, Theresa Schwegel, Sean Doolittle, Ray Banks, Victor Gischler, Charlie Huston, Jim Born and Simon Kernick, just a few of the new-ish authors who have made a big name for themselves in the past few years.

                                                                                                                                                    So that said…

                                                                                                                                                      One writer who’s really hauled ass out of the gate is Canadian writer John McFetridge, whose DIRTY SWEET is supremely fast-moving, kinky and violent. I just received a copy of his latest, EVERBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE, and I can’t wait to get crackin’ on it. I think you’re going to be seeing his name a lot in the coming year.

                                                                                                                                                                     And seriously, folks: Mike MacLean.

                                                                                                                                                             

MM:  That just earned you twelve dollars American my friend.

If you could jab a hypodermic full of killer nanobots into one person’s neck, who would it be? (This question makes a lot more sense if you’ve read the novel.)

                                                                                                                                                    DS:  Sheesh, Mike. I’m no killer.

(But I’d probably keep the hypodermic handy, just in case.)

                                                                                                                                                    MM:  So far, what’s been the greatest thrill in your writing career?

                                                                                                                                                  

DS:  This is the toughest question of the lot. Because really, it’s all a big fucking thrill. Writing the book. Seeing it in print. Hearing from readers. I can’t pick one moment, because I’ve been blessed with hundreds of them in the past two years.

                                                                                                                                                    

My thanks to Duane for fielding a few questions.  I also thank all the Murderati readers out there for stopping by.  Now go hoist a pint (or five) and have a happy New Year.

                                                                                                                                                                                    Mike 

Ahhhh, Memories

After days of savage hand-to-hand combat in the malls and department stores of America, we should all take a moment to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.

To me, Christmas is a time for friends and family.  It is a time of traditions and memories.  And what better way to explore the Christmas spirit than in tightly constructed, yet sincere bullet points.

So here is a list of fond recollections and holiday traditions that have touched my heart.

  • Trying to get my older siblings out of bed on Christmas morning so I could open up presents, damn it!
  • Tamales for breakfast!!!  God bless our neighbors to the south.
  • Drinking beer and watching John Woo’s bullet-fest The Killer one Christmas afternoon.  Mom was a little perturbed at all the machinegun fire on the savior’s birthday. 
  • Seven-layer bars!!!  These things are like CRACK in a pan.
  • Being so hung over one Christmas Eve that I barely left my bedroom.  When I did, my grandmother gave me a look so severe, so dripping with disappointment that it haunts my nightmares to this day.  I will take that image to my grave.   
  • Millennium Falcon: Best gift ever!
  • Mom reading “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” to all us kids and pulling it off with out sounding cheesy.
  • Nog with the in-laws.
  • Catching grandma jamming a tangelo into my stocking.  That fact that Grandma stuffed my stocking instead of Santa didn’t bother me.  What did bother me was that she took up valuable candy space with a frickin’ tangelo.
  • Feeling the cool, free air on my face after being stuck in a stuffy church for Christmas Eve mass.
  • Putting up the lights on the house with Dad.  Every third light was out.  Every fifth light was a blinker.
  • Did I mention Seven-layer-bars!!!
  • Having the whole MacLean/Leonard/Haydukovitch clan over for Christmas dinner.
  • Proposing to my wife in the soft glow of the Christmas tree.

So Murderati readers, what are your favorite Christmas memories?

I’d like to wish happy holidays to Pari, Louise, Paul, Elaine, Simon, Alex, J.T. and to all the other great writers I’ve met this past year.     

   

Crime Writers Discuss the Death of the Mystery Series


“You’ve got to start out with a hit, right off the bat."   


An agent told me this once after reading part of a novel I’d written. The book, he said, showed promise but wasn’t big enough in scope to snag a major publisher. Being a fan of Ugly Town Books and Point Blank Press, I asked him what were the novel’s chances at one of the smaller houses. He dismissed the idea.

 

“Years ago, you could slowly build an audience,” he said. “But these days you have to start out with a hit.” He went on to say if your first novel only manages meager sales, it’s unlikely the bigger houses will take a chance on you.

 

This is not what I wanted to hear. I’ve always had a deep admiration for small press authors, those who write not for the money or acknowledgement but for the sheer love of writing. And truth be told, I’d harbored the romantic dream of becoming a hard-boiled novelist who languished in obscurity, yet created an underground cult of rabid fans. Then, only after growing bitter and despondent at the literary world, turning to the sweet, sweet bliss of alcoholic darkness, would my work find a much wider audience. (Hey, we’ve all gotta have that distant star to stretch for).

 

As disappointed as I was by the agent’s remarks, I wondered if they had a ring of truth to them. Sure, there have been those who’ve made their mark in a small press then gone on to bigger publishing companies. But how often does it happen? And when it does happen, is the event the exception that proves the rule?

 

My goal is to someday make a living as a writer. I want to enjoy the work I do, (what’s the point otherwise) but at the same time, I want to reach the biggest audience possible. I know to achieve this goal I must believe in myself and have dogged persistence. I also know I must be flexible in my notions of success. Being a writer isn’t an easy road, and having a publishing company (big or small) take a chance on you should be considered an honor.

 

I’m an infant in this industry—maybe even an embryo considering I don’t have my name on a cover yet. As such, I have more questions than answers. And today I have one for you.

 

Is there a stigma associated with being a small press author, one that closes the door to the bigger publishing companies?  

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