PUSH-UPS: Kimberley Chambers

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Apr 302012
So, what you pushing right now?
The Schemer. It comes out June 21st.

What’s the hook?
It's a nostalgic look back at the eighties, first love, betrayal, and skulduggery. Has a bit of a whodunnit theme too.

And why’s that floating your boat?
I feel The Schemer has the best ending out of all my books. It's also the first with my new publisher, so that's exciting stuff too.

When did you turn to crime?
Many years ago. I first got arrested at fourteen : ))

Hardboiled or Noir, classic or contemporary?
Gritty family sagas

And, what’s blown you away lately?
Mandasue Heller's "Lost Angel". Top girl !! Top book !!

See any books as movies waiting to happen?
My trilogy. The Feud, The Traitor and The Victim.

Mainstream or indie - paper or digital?

Shout us a website worth visiting …

Best Crime Books.co.uk

Finally, tell us any old shit about yourself …Every one of my novels have been written with good old pen and paper. I can't, and wouldn't want to
write any other way.
Apr 302012

One of the best single issues of a comic book I read last year was Dead Man’s Party #1, a fast-moving, lean and mean hit man thriller that contained some truly crazy surprises. A few months ago, I had the chance to meet the creators: Jeff Marsick and Scott Barnett. I’ll admit it. I was nervous. Part of me expected to be shot in the head by one of them, while the other spread out some nice plastic sheeting on the floor behind me to catch the splatter. Instead, we talked about life, death, comics, mistaken identities… and of course, grisly murder.

DS: Okay, Jeff and Scott. Let’s say you’re both hitmen. I offer each of you a contract to take out the other. Who would take home the paycheck, and who’d be pushing up daisies?

Scott: Jeff’s definitely bringing home the bacon here. He’s the one with military experience; I imagine he knows about seven different ways to kill me with his eyelid, if he wanted.

Jeff: Yeah, it’d be bad news for Scott and I’d be on the next flight to Vegas.  I was an expert marksman with a pistol and rifle in the military and have a fascination with explosives and poisons, so I’ve got an array of options for Scott’s disposal.  Then again, I do tend to sleep pretty hard so Scott could probably Columbian necktie me while I’m dreaming about winning an Eisner for DEAD MAN’S PARTY.  

I hate when I’m asked this question, but that’s not going to stop me from asking you guys. What, if anything, inspired DEAD MAN’S PARTY? Or are you two just sick, dark bastards?

Scott: That’s actually two separate questions, right?

Jeff: I don’t know, that second part sounds a little rhetorical. It’s like Duane already KNOWS.

Scott: The answer to that part is yes. Yes, we are.

Jeff: So there.

Scott: {laughs} Jeff and I have known each other for years and have spoken often about collaborating on something, but until DEAD MAN’S PARTY, nothing quite stuck. Then one day about a year ago, he e-mailed me and once more suggested a collaboration, quite coincidentally, ONE day after I came up with an idea about a hitman who puts a hit on himself.

Jeff: Scott pitches that and I about hit the floor because I’ve had the SAME idea in my head for, oh, fifteen years or so! It all started as a movie that rolls in my head whenever the titular Oingo Boingo song plays.  Can’t explain it, it just happens. This ever gets made into a movie, that song is SO going to be in the soundtrack.

Scott:Jeff added the concept for the ‘party’ as a tradition in the assassin community. Then we mashed our disparate ideas together and came up with this series.

Jeff: We both dig spies, hitmen and cloak and dagger movies and TV shows, so all of that helped shaped our story.

Jeff, how much do you discuss with Scott before you write a script? Do you just ignore him until you have the story just the way you like it? And Scott, what’s the process like from your end? Ever read one of Jeff’s pages and think: “Uh, no. No fucking way”?

Scott: Ooh, ooh- can I answer both parts?

Jeff: What, did you miss the part where he said “JEFF, how much do you discuss…”?

Scott: No, I heard it. I just wanted to comment–

Jeff: It’s not all about you, y’know.

Scott: Wait. It’s not?

Jeff: Anyway…I try—for obvious reasons—to keep all discussion with Scott to an absolute minimum, ignoring him until I can send him a final draft of the script, with the cover page emblazoned: “ALL WORDS WRITTEN HEREIN ARE CONSIDERED CAST IN STONE.  DEVIATE EVEN SO MUCH AS BY A COMMA AND YOU WILL BE REPLACED.” Nah, I’m kidding.

Scott: Jeff’s very clever- he actually does both. He confers with me at great length, making me feel like an integral part of the process… and then ignores me and rewrites it, anyway!

Jeff: Guilty as charged. What happens is we’ve got a working outline of beats that we’ve both contributed to and that we think would look awesome. But when I write it, what seemed like a four-page scene is actually only two, or some scene we both thought would just BOOM! off the page but actually kind of sits there under a trombone so sad you can practically hear “wah wah waaaaah” in the background and it needs to be axed. So I have to modify the script on the fly.

Scott: Yeah, I have more than once looked at a finished script and said, “Hmm, that’s not exactly what we talked about… Damn, that’s pretty cool… Okay, let’s do that…”

Jeff: See? I won’t steer us wrong. Much. In all honesty, I actually take pride being the kind of writer that doesn’t grab a concept with both hands and throttle it, enslaving the artist to my own vision.  I made sure Scott knew up front (and I remind him sometimes when I feel I might be writing TOO overbearing) that look, this is how the movie plays in MY head.  I’m a slave to the DVD in MY grey matter.  Just because I write a page with five panels doesn’t mean that’s gospel.  Maybe you can do it in four or three. Just as long as the gist of the scene plays out and the dialogue fits, knock yourself out. And in truth, probably 95% of the time I change dialogue or modify the script to adapt to Scott’s artwork. All skirt-blowing aside, I think this is the best sequential storytelling I’ve ever seen him do.

Scott: Thanks, man.

Jeff: De nada.

Scott: Well, as for my end of the process- I read over Jeff’s script and lay it out as if I’m creating a movie with still images, but I also design it to push the reader’s eye in the direction I want, using the conventions of the comic book medium, such as panel layouts, dialogue and sound effects. Once I’m satisfied with the flow, I take photo reference to work from, usually of myself, since I know what I’m looking for, in terms of poses. It’s a combination of photos my wife takes of me based on my art direction and photos I take myself (out of context, these are some of the goofiest photos anyone has ever taken, so if Jeff ever hacks my computer, I’m in a lot of trouble). Then, I draw the pages, ‘paint’ them in marker and do a little retouching in Photoshop. Crime noir, served up cold.

Jeff: Ooh, I like that. “Crime noir, served up cold.” Put that on the website.

Clearly you guys are fans of hitman movies and novels, because you subvert the tropes so brilliantly. Share some of your favorites.

Jeff: Favorite hitmen?  Good grief, where do I start?  There are real-life killers like Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski, Chuckie “The Typewriter” Nicoletti, Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (aka Carlos the Jackal) and Mossad operatives.  In literature there’s Lawrence Block’s Keller, Barry Eisler’s John Rain, the fantastic “Day of the Jackal” from Frederick Forsyth, Anton Chigurh from Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country For Old Men” and Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne.  In movies you’ve got Javier Bardem’s Chigurh, Matt Damon’s Bourne and Tom Cruise’s Vincent from “Collateral”.  Oh, and I’ll even drop some old school on you:  Henry Silva as Billy Score in the Burt Reynolds movie, “Sharky’s Machine” AND stuntman Dar Robinson (who, incidentally, set a world record for a stunt in “Sharky’s Machine”) as albino hitman Moke in another Burt Reynolds movie, “Stick”.  But I think above and beyond them all, my favorite hitman has to be Jean Reno’s Leon, from “The Professional”.  

Scott: He said share SOME of your favorites. Not every one of them.

Jeff: That was a small list. I can go on, y’know.

Scott: Oh, I know. And on and on and on. Now me, I’m less of a hitman fan and more of a general crime fan. For movies, I give the nod to the Bourne trilogy, though. Cool stuff. As for novels, I went through a period where I was reading a lot of non-fiction crime stuff as research for an unrelated series I’d like to do someday. Books that covered pretty much every facet of the criminal justice system, from FBI profilers and real murder cases to SWAT teams and evidence collection (CSI). As for fiction, would I be kissing too much ass to say I just finished your Hell & Gone and loved it?

Jeff: Is there such a thing as kissing too much ass?

Scott: I hope not.

Jeff: Y’know, I’ve read every Duane Swierczynski book that’s out there—

Scott: Hey, you’ve got a little brown on your nose.

Jeff: Quiet, you. Like I said, I’ve read all his books and I can only draw one conclusion: this guy’s got issues, man. I love it.

Scott: And he calls us sick and dark?

Jeff: I know, right?

Do you have a specific number of issues in mind for DEAD MAN’S PARTY? Or is this a story that could keep on going, piling up more dead bodies with every issue?

Jeff: This is actually a funny question.  The first outline was four issues. I checked, double-checked, even triple-checked the math.  Yep.  Four issues.  Scott okayed it and the first issue hits the New York Comic Convention proudly proclaiming “#1 of 4″.  Convention ends, I sit down ready to start scripting issue two, look at the outline, start plotting out and come up with FIVE issues now.  I even start from the END and work BACKWARDS.  Yep.  Five issues now.  

Scott: Yeah, it really needs that fifth issue to really do justice to what we have planned.

Jeff:In my defense, Your Honor, I present Exhibit A:  ”The Punisher” mini-series from Marvel in 1986.  Issue one said it was four issues, but it ended up being five.

Scott: However, since we’ve started, we’ve developed at least four other story ideas that all take place in this little world.

Jeff: I think it would be cool to create a sort of “Dead Man’s Tales” kind of universe that runs for about fifty issues or so. As long as we can keep doing original and unique stories and don’t turn ourselves into masters of cliche, we’ve got room to run.

Scott: I’m in!

BONUS QUESTION for Scott: Have you forgiven me for inscribing your book to “Steve,” instead of “Scott”? Are you afraid that your alter ego will come to life, a la Stephen King’s THE DARK HALF?

Scott: A little backstory here- Duane graciously reviewed DEAD MAN’S PARTY #1 before it went to print, so when we found out he was at New York Comic Con, I stopped by the Mulholland booth to introduce myself (we hadn’t yet met in person). Duane signed a copy of Hell & Gone for me; just as I returned to the DEAD MAN’S PARTY booth to show it to Jeff, I read what he wrote, “To STEVE- Congrats on Dead Man’s Party! -Duane Swierczynski”. Sonuvabitch! And here I’ve been so careful spelling HIS surname correctly!

Jeff: Which ain’t easy.

Scott: Exactly. Sowhen I last saw him, I busted his stones about it, and now I think I’ve traumatized him. {Laughs} I’ll say this, though- Duane has now given me this alter ego, which I can blame any poor behavior on. Wasn’t me; it was Steve. I know, isn’t that guy an ass?

Stay tuned tomorrow for an excerpt of Dead Man’s Party.


New Books in the House

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Apr 302012

We hit a used book sale at a mall in Michigan with 10,000 books for sale. I would have bought more if I hadn't set a limit. Although no interesting crime fiction I hadn't read despite crawling under the table to look in boxes. Someday I will learn how to arrange pictures neatly on my blog.

New This Week

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Apr 302012

I have some new books to talk about this week, not just the usual collection of old ones:

A STAB IN THE DARK, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, and A LONG LINE OF DEAD MEN – Lawrence Block. These are the new trade paperbacks of three Matt Scudder novels self-published by Bloc, and I gotta tell you, they look great. I never paid much attention to cover design, book layout, fonts, and things like that until Livia and I started publishing our own books. Now I really appreciate a top-notch job, and that certainly describes these books, which are in the same basic format as the Scudder collection THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC. Maybe someday the whole series will be in a uniform set like this. That wouldn't be a bad thing to have. In the meantime, I've read one of these before (A STAB IN THE DARK) but haven't read the other two. You can bet I will before too much longer.

THE COMPLETE CASEBOOK OF CARDIGAN, VOLUME 1 and FLYERS OF FORTUNE – Frederick Nebel. The Cardigan book is the first in a series of four from Altus Press that will reprint the entire series of stories about tough private eye Jack Cardigan from the pulp DIME DETECTIVE. I've read scattered entries in the series here and there, and like everything else I've read by Nebel, they're really, really good. A lot of people rank Nebel's work just below that of Dashiell Hammett's, and I can go along with that. FLYERS OF FORTUNE, published by Pulpville Press, is a collection of Nebel's aviation adventures originally published in AIR STORIES and WINGS.

HELL HAWKS: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE AMERICAN FLIERS WHO SAVAGED HITLER'S WEHRMACHT – Robert F. Dorr and Thomas D. Jones. More World War II non-fiction. I've been trading emails with author and military historian Bob Dorr, who got his start in the men's adventure magazines, and I wanted to try some of his work. Other than what I had to research for my World War II novels (dive bombers in the Pacific), my knowledge of aviation during that war is pretty sketchy. (Shameless plug: all three of my WWII novels are still available as both print and e-books, by the way.)

Apr 302012

by Pari

Last week one of my dearest friends came to visit. Though we do write and call, we hadn’t seen each other for 12 years. I’d had fantasies of staying up late each night and talking til dawn, of baring my soul and emptying all the emotions that I’ve been holding in and waiting for the right person to whom I could express them.

The visit didn’t end up working that way.

We talked a lot, it’s true, but there weren’t any great catharses . . . no hugely revelatory moments. Instead it was a gentle visit, a very normal one. Today my friend is aboard a plane on her way to a convention. And in spite of fantasies unrealized, I feel far more centered than I have in months. Merely being with someone I love so deeply and have known for so long had the effect of a soul balm, a magnificently solid realigning of my very essence that healed without fanfare or even apparent action.

This afternoon as I write this, I’m thinking about other things in my life that have a similar molecularly soothing quality. While I know the metaphor of an emotional MRI is inelegant, it's the closest idea I can find to express what I'm hoping to convey here. (Use this link for a brief explanation of how MRIs work. In my odd world today, an emotional MRI heals while a medicinal MRI is used soley for diagnostics.)

One poem that always centers me is “Danse Russe” by William Carlos Williams. Reading it jolts my atoms and when they return, a joyous part of my heart has opened. The experience lasts for days as the images the poet creates -- and I internalize -- enter and reenter my mind’s eye.

The book Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman reminds me of magic each time I open its pages and allow myself the pleasure of reliving its stunning writing and beautiful story. While reading it, I see the world around me through a similarly magical lens. I suspect that The Book Thief by Markus Zusak will serve that role too in the years to come.

Kodaly’s Sonata for Solo Cello stirs longing, pain, and utter beauty so fully that every time I listen to it my cells heal. The effect is quietly wrought, a shift of quarter tones rather than entire scales.

I return to these pieces of literature and music  -- as well as certain others -- because they reach a place of tremendous and satisfying meaning in my heart. They align my emotional molecules and bring a beautiful solace. Though I don't end up with a diagnostic of my soul -- and that's where the whole MRI concept might break down in the telling --  I do end up feeling blessedly complete once more.

Today’s question:

Will you share one of your emotional MRIs with us?

HISHE: Sons of Anarchy Season 3…

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Apr 302012
... or where I brazenly, and perhaps foolishly, re-write season three of Sons of Anarchy

I just finished watching seasons 1-3 of Sons of Anarchy.  It's now one of my favorite shows and I'm looking forward to watching Season 4.  Season 1 starts of wobbly and, as far as a crime fiction story goes, a little conventional.  It finds its legs after a couple of episodes and gets stronger by the end of the season.  Season 2 builds on the strengths of season 1 and gives the viewer a great season of television. None of this is to say that the first two seasons are perfect, but they are damn good. 

Then there is season 3.  There are a lot of viewers who dislike season 3 for various reasons.  More on that in a minute.

A couple of thought trains collided for me.  First,  I enjoy the pieces that How It Should Have Ended do, some more then others to be fair, but they are a fun extension of my middle school arguments about whether Bruce Lee could beat Darth Vader and what would happen if you used a nuclear bomb on a vampire.  Second, I liked the ideas that Belated Media put forth about The Phantom Menace and how it could have been streamlined to make a better movie.  Not all of the ideas work but overall I appreciate what they did. 

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Third, after exchanging some editorial notes one of the Snubnose authors thanked me but in truth I was just connecting some dots based on what was already there. It just needed a fresh pair of eyes to get that final polish. 

I want to explore the disconnect between the season 3 that I watched and the season 3 in my mind.  I don't know what you would call this: a review, a re-write, a critique, a polish, editorial notes, fan fiction.  But I'm going to do it anyway. 

Here's what I would have done with season 3 of Sons of Anarchy to make it better.  I tried as much as possible to use what was there.  I also haven't seen season 4 but I have looked at some of the information on it. 

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-No Lem (or Kozik, or whatever the hell his name is) - I wouldn't have introduced this character.  First, he doesn't look like a biker.  He looks too pretty (even with that neck tat) standing among that grisly cast.  You wanted to throw a Shield alum some work, great, but not this part.  The feud between Lem and Tig is kind of stupid when you finally learn its origins. He ultimately drags down the existing cast that we have come to love.

-Hale - Hale shouldn't have died.  The Hale/Tara/Jax triangle was a great mirror with the Unser/Gemma/Clay triangle.  They complimented each other nicely.  Especially since we started to see Hale work with Jax and the club on a limited basis.  Seeing Hale slowly come to grips with the "devil you know" component of town life and law enforcement was interesting.  There was more to be done with this character, his relationships with other characters, and his relationship with the town.

-Opie - I think over the course of the third season it's time for Opie's role to be more defined.  He's a quiet character and I'm not suggesting that he suddenly become more verbose and the center of action.  But, it's just a matter of connecting some of the dots.  He is Jax's oldest friend; his quiet nature makes him an observer; he is there for Jax.  Right now I would say that he should be one part Bobby and one part Tig for Jax.  The get shit done guy and the one who sees clearly for Jax when Jax can't.  Moving forward Jax will need that and there's no one in the club who he trusts more. 

-Tara: Here's the bottom line with Tara.  Even though the internal timeline of the show up to this point is shorter then the external timeline of the air dates and the viewer watching the episodes the external timeline is perhaps more important.  So with the third season of the show it's time to treat Tara differently as a character and mark her movement into the club life and some of their affairs.  The next couple of sections will be about Tara.

-Tara and Tara and Jax- I'm not a big fan of the break up then get back together aspect of Jax and Tara's relationship this season.  On one hand he's hurting and pushing people away from him but on the other Tara has proven she's in at this point so it's time for everyone (including herself) to stop treating her like a fence-sitter.  Again, it's just a matter of connecting the dots that are already there.  When the club comes to get Jax from the house early in the season Clay has nothing but good words for her ("You really stepped up").  In season 2 when she was treating Bobby he said he was "in good hands".  Also, and this may sound trite and obvious, but she has a nickname (Doc). A lot of the club members have nicknames (Tig, Happy, Opie, Half Sack, Piney, Chibs) or go by shortened versions of their names (Clay, Jax).  It's just one of the many ways that club members self identify and identify one another so it is no small thing that Tara has a nickname too.      

Additionally, most women in and around the club fall into two categories: the crow eater and the old lady.  Tara is an old lady but she also has another role within the club, she is their doctor.  She can have doubts sometimes, she can have moments of clarity about her life ("I'm your old lady") but lets stop pretending she's not a part of the club.  Her being a woman but not just an old lady flips the script on pre-defined gender roles in the club and lets her have more power and respect above and beyond even that of her mentor, Gemma.

Since Jax is still hurting he can still push her away but have her stand her ground, in words and in action, by fighting for her family, her man and her life.  When Jax tells her she should go she tells him no, she's not leaving her home.  When Jax is away in Ireland she holds the fort down with Tig because she understands her responsibility to the club.  This also plays into larger show themes that protecting the club is the most important thing.

Before going to Ireland Jax breaks up with Tara one last time, doesn't go home that night, and fucks Ima the porn star.  The next morning Tara goes to the clubhouse and walk in on the two of them.  Tara leaves in a huff. Ima thinks she's won.  Jax kicks Ima out.  Lyla confronts and slaps Ima and Tara sees this.  With what I've said about how Tara should be above here's how the scene should have went down. 

Tara goes to the clubhouse and walks in on Ima and Jax. Instead of storming out Tara walks over to where Ima is standing and punches her in the gut. Ima doubles over, Tara grabs her by the hair and drags Ima out of the room, down the hall, and through the clubhouse with Jax shouting after her the whole time.  Lyla and Opie see this.  Opie makes an attempt to stop Tara and momentarily succeeds.  But Lyla joins in and puts the boots to Ima and drags her to the clubhouse door.  Tara breaks free of Opie and re-enters the fray.  Both Lyla and Tara drag Ima out of the clubhouse, down the driveway and kicks her into the street with a final kicking and spitting.  You end the scene with Jax getting in Tara's face and saying "what the hell did you do that for" and Tara responding calmly "you aren't getting rid of me that easy" then walking to her car, getting in and driving away.

Again, it's all about connecting the dots that are already there.  Tara shooting up Ima's car foreshadows this act of violence and Gemma attacking Cherry with the skateboard foreshadows this violence.  Additionally, there is a hierarchy to the women.  Think about it, Gemma is in the number one spot and Tara is in the number two spot (and being groomed for the top spot).  But no other club member has an old lady so Lyla, by default, is number three.  Even this is foreshadowed earlier in the series.  When the club gathers all the loved ones at the clubhouse before going to war it's Gemma, Tara and Lyla, arms around each other, that make the visual tableau as the men ride off.  Even though it's never explicitly stated, Lyla knows she is the number three old lady.  With Gemma out of pocket both Tara and Lyla step up and get shit done.

From what I understand of Ima's appearance in season 4 it would need some tweaking but not much.  This theoretical season 3 beat down could have dovetailed nicely with the Ima events in season 4.

-Tig & Tara - While the club is away Tig is the main club member left behind.  It should be up to Tig & Tara to hold down the home front.  While doing so they could have some nice interactions where they talk about her increased role in the club.  Tig is protective of Gemma but it also wouldn't be a stretch to say that he is protective of some of the other old lady's, IE: Tara.  Imagine a scene where the two of them are out, Tig leaves momentarily and some strange dude comes up to her and is hitting on her and won't leave her alone.  Tig comes back and Tara tells him to take care of this asshole and he does. This would further solidify her place in the club and show her comfort level in getting one of the guys to do something for her.  Further, Tig actually doing it would be his acknowledgement  of her place in the club. 

-Tara's kidnapping - A couple of things should happen with this sub-plot.  First, in my season 3 Hale is still alive.  I'd like to see more of a collaborative effort between the club and Hale and Unser in trying to find her.  I believe that the club consists of men of action so the whole elaborate plan to try and meet the kidnapper's demands by arranging Alvarez's "death" for 24 hours is a bit ludicrous.  These guys would be beating the streets looking for her.  Their blind and wild action would also add an element of danger because Tara and her kidnappers could be anywhere and would counter balance the more considered approach that Hale and Unser would take. 

Inside the house Tara would still shank her one kidnapper. The administrator would be allowed to go but she would be instructed to go to Teller Morrow to tell the club where Tara is at.  Salazar and Tara would be in a tense stand-off and at some point he would get the upper hand and put the boots to her.  Tig, Hale and Unser would find her bleeding out. She would be taken to the hospital and would have a threatened miscarriage. 

The change would do a couple of things.  It would allow the action to be more streamlined, action packed, suspenseful and tense.  Also it would shave off the part of the existing sub-plot that don't make sense (letting the administrator go but staying behind) and are in place only to serve later reveals. 

-Ireland - I'm not a big fan of the Ireland portion of the season.  It wasn't bad it just wasn't great.  Also, we knew the boys were going to wind up there so the constant plot machinations to keep them from getting there felt artificial and external and you could see the beams of the story.  For example Bobby's previously unheard of ex-wife who just happens to be married to a bounty hunter who can give them intel on Abel's location that turns out to be false anyway.  Plot wise it's a giant cul-de-sac with new characters and Sutter and crew are better then that.  With that said I'm going to mostly leave that arc in place. 

But. I think there is a better way to handle keeping the Sons from reaching Ireland until a certain point in the series arc.

The bounty hunter guy should feed the intel to the Sons much sooner about Cameron and Abel being in Vancouver and the Sons SHOULD ACTUALLY GO THERE. 

Here's the deal Motorcycle gangs are HUGE in Canada.  They are one of the biggest, if not the biggest, organized crime group in Canada.  To not send the boys there and utilize all of that history was, in my opinion, a huge missed opportunity. 

Instead of having artificial reasons to prevent the Sons from leaving for Ireland have them go to Vancouver instead and get involved in an ongoing conflict/war instead. It is a plot development that could last a few episodes and wouldn't feel forced because the Sons would feel/be obligated to support their Canadian brothers.  Then they get fed the Irish intel then they go to Ireland. 

As a side note, in the off chance there are some plans for future story arcs to take the club to Canada and someone associated with the show reads this, there is a crime writer whose wheelhouse is organized crime in Canada including biker gangs who has screenwriting experience as well.  His name in <a href="http://johnmcfetridge.blogspot.com/">John McFetridge</a>. Hire him.

-The double cross - The double cross at the end leaves the viewer feeling a little cheated. On one hand it's a little thrilling wondering just what in the hell is going on but there isn't single hint of a scene where Jax tells the club his plan.  This weakens the plot development.  Especially since re-watching the season doesn't answer the question.  So one little scene would work.

-Unser - The biggest change I would have made to the double cross plot is Unser's role.  Clay gave him what felt like a final send off. The removal of his badge and service weapon and the picking up of his personal weapon felt like final acts.  Instead of catching a punch he should have eaten his gun on the side of the road. It would have made the whole thing more plausible.  I love the Unser character  and Dayton Callie but with his cancer eating away at him anyway and the way of life that he worked so hard to protect slipping away and the enormity of the actions that he was allowing to happen in that moment  it would have been an epic end of third season death that would have been rivaled only by Stringer Bell's.  The story demanded a pound of flesh and he should have paid it.  Imagine how heartbreaking the scene would have been if Unser said his goodbyes, told Opie to tell Gemma he said goodbye and then shot himself with Opie and Piney watching.  There is an certain over-the-top quality to the way the double cross unfolds. This scene would have given the whole affair a beating heart. 


So that's it.  My thoughts on making the third season of Sons of Anarchy tighter and stronger.  I'm not the only one who thought the season was problematic so sound off and tell me what you think  of SoA, of my plan for the 3rd season, and what changes you would have made.  Or did you love it just the way it is (after all it does have a 4 1/2 star out of 5 rating with 180 reviews over at Amazon).

[And yes, I realize that this was a fairly geeky thing to do.]

Currently Reading: Submissions; Dime Detective by Randy Chandler

Currently Listening: Boys and Girls by Alabama Shakes

Handsome, Smart and Deadly

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Apr 302012
The real Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy is the one serial killer who still to this day, terrifies the shit out of me. Maybe because when he started his killing spree in the early 1970's, I was about the same age as many of his victims. I can see how easy it would have been for those young woman (and me) to get sucked into his charm, good looks and intelligence.  Let's face it, if someone who looked like Charles Manson approached me, with those wild eyes and crazy talk, I would get the hell out of Dodge as quickly as possible.  But Ted Bundy looked like the guy next door. He was clean cut, educated and articulate. He was the kind of guy my mother wished I would bring home. The kind of guy I might have stopped to help or given directions. The sort of young man one might meet at a campus Greenpeace rally.

I'm not sure what I would ask him, given the opportunity to reach beyond the grave. Maybe the one question we all want to ask serial killers:  WHY?  Or maybe how did he choose his victims. Not all of his victims were college age. Several were younger. But how did he choose them? I want to know. Why were Lisa Levy and Margaret Bowman chosen to be bludgeoned in their beds and not the girls who lived on another dorm floor. And what was it about 12-year-old Kimberly Leach that said "pick me!"

I don't believe these women and girls were picked at random. Something caught ole Ted's fancy. I want to know. I want every woman to know.

Mark Harmon as Ted Bundy in The Deliberate Stranger

In 1986, Mark Harmon played Ted Bundy in a TV movie titled The Deliberate Stranger. I remember seeing that movie and being terrified right down to my socks. Harmon was eerily spectacular in the role, and it certainly made you think twice about the packaging of serial killers. It's a movie still relevant today and I encourage everyone to check it out if you haven't already seen it. It's an education.

Today’s Critique

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Apr 302012

Today's first page critique is entitled: DEAD ON THE VINE. My comments follow, but overall I think today's piece raises issues specifically dealing with voice, setting and tone...more on that after the piece:

            Chief TR Henderson tried to maintain an appearance of competence and dignity as he approached the conference table for the meeting, but the chair groaned when he sat down, and Commissioner Dale Kirkpatrick flashed him the stink eye. Splendid. He was still at the top of her Stink List.
            “You’re late.” Commissioner Rick Petit didn’t bother looking up from his notes.
            “My apologies,” TR replied. “I stopped to help a disabled on Second Ave.” The smell of coffee and croissants called to him, but he resisted. Instead, he tried getting comfortable on the metal folding chair. It wasn’t going to happen. The commissioners all sat in padded chairs, forming a firing squad on the other side of a conference table the size of Rhode Island, and they stuck their mammoth chief of police in a folding chair. Classy.
            Kirkpatrick maintained her narrow-eyed glare, now directed at the fresh spot of motor oil on TR’s shirt.
He couldn’t be more delighted with the attention.
            Petit finally looked up. “Thanks for coming. You know this isn’t easy for any of us.”
            TR nodded.
            “The drug problem is growing worse.” Petit glanced at his notes before continuing. “We want to know what you’re doing about it.”
            Simple enough question. “Officer Mendoza is—”
            “What are you doing about it?” Kirkpatrick demanded.
            “I put my best officer on it,” he responded. “Mendoza’s got fifteen years of experience dealing with—”
            “That’s great,” Petit said, “but what’s he doing now? When’s he going to arrest Lester Rowley?”
            TR sat back and fought to keep a smile from cracking. “We have no proof that Lester Rowley has anything to do with the drug trade at the high school.”

My comments:
Overall, this first page didn't grab me. I found the tone a little inconsistent and the humor unsure of itself. The use of 'stink eye' and 'stink list' and asides like 'classy' are, I assume, designed to create a slightly smart-arse/wise guy tone but I didn't really get that - instead it seemed a bit juvenile given the caliber of the men in the room (all police commissioners). I also didn't really understand where we were - it sounds like a board room, with coffee, croissants and a massive conference table - yet all the commissioners are in comfy chairs and TR gets a metal folding chair (? really? I couldn't picture this) and it was a metal chair that groaned when he sat down in it (which seems a very un-metallic word - wouldn't it squeak, clang or grind?). 

The dialogue also seems unsure of itself - why does Petit say "You know this isn't easy for any of us"? Surely a drug problem at a high school is hardly an overwhelming issue and also why does TR fight to keep a smile from cracking when he says there's no proof Lester Rowley has anything to do with the drug trade? Again, as a reader I am unsure whether this is supposed to be serious, slightly tongue-in-cheek or what. So far the author's voice and tone aren't clear to me. Nor is the setting (apart from a generic conference room that I couldn't really picture). I need to be able to visualize the setting as well as the characters not merely be told that the Chief of police tried to 'maintain an appearance of competence and dignity' - how? What did he do? Did he straighten his jacket, look wisely over his glasses?? I had a hard time picturing him or the other commissioners in the room.

Though this first page had references to some kind of ongoing issue between TR and  Commissioner Dale Kirkpatrick I don't get a sufficient sense of tension to care - nor am I really compelled to read on as yet. In short, I think this first page needs a clearer voice and tone, a stronger sense of place and character and a big dose of drama and tension. At the moment it feels too uncertain and too passive to be compelling.

What do you think?
 Posted by at 6:15 am
Apr 302012

Jeff Cohen


Me (um, third from left) with, from left, Meredith Cole, Cynthia Chow, Leann Sweeney, Lorraine Bartlett and Heather Webber (in background, Luci "the Poison Lady" Zahray and PJ Coldren)

BETHESDA, MD--Every once in a while, it's nice to go somewhere other than one's home and pretend to be a famous author. (Here might be the place to note that some people appear to believe the words "famous" and "author" are joined appropriately for more than, say, 10 people on the planet. They're wrong.)


For the mystery author, particularly one whose work falls into the category we unfortunately refer to as "cozies," there can be few experiences as gratifying as attending the Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda, MD every April. And so it was this weekend.

Malice, for the uninitiated, is an annual three-day (ish) conference that isn't quite of Bouchercon proportions (which is nice, since an author at Bouchercon often feels like someone trying to be noticed in the third tier at Yankee Stadium) but larger than most regional gatherings. It's not by any means an intimate con, but it isn't so huge that you won't run into almost everyone you want to see sooner or later.

Since it devotes itself almost entirely to the "traditional" mystery--and if someone could make the distinction for me between that and a cozy, I'd appreciate it--Malice's panels can be about anything from the right kind of poison to use in that tricky situation to how to work knitting cat quilts into a story about multiple murders. 

Authors do their best to answer increasingly detailed questions about process while mentioning, as many times as possible, their latest works. This is tolerated by fans, who appear to be thrilled to see the creators of their favorite novels in the flesh. 

From my point of view--and I just returned from Malice a few hours ago--here are my quick and unconsidered memories and impressions of Malice Domestic 24:

* Malice is a fan convention. As such, it's not meant to be an author's retreat--we're there to meet the readers, and thank goodness, they show up in great numbers. Many of them have even read our books! And they comment--almost always favorably--about what they've read. That is the greatest pleasure of the author biz, hearing from appreciative readers. 

* Coming in a close second to meeting readers is renewing acquaintances and friendships with other authors. Give writers a bar and other writers to talk to, and we are a happy bunch. Among those I was especially happy to see again: Leann Sweeney, Lorraine Bartlett, Hank Phillipi Ryan, Jim and Joyce Lavene, Chris Grabenstein, Ilene Schneider, Elaine Viets, Jennifer Stanley, Kate Carlisle, Roberta Rogow, Jane K. Cleland, Dru Ann Love, Roberta Isleib, Parnell Hall, Neil Plakcy, Con Lehane and Hallie Ephron.

*Glimpsed from across a crowded room: Lee Goldberg, Jan Burke, Donna Andrews, and many, many others. 

* Spent time talking to two of my favorite librarians on the planet (our own Dale, alas, did not attend), the gracious and wry Doris Ann Norris and the luminescent Cynthia Chow.

* Talked for a good while (and I mean "good") with Jack Bludis and Debbie Mack, which was fun.

* Had a blast of a panel, something different called "Dirty Little Secrets" with the moderator Aimee Hix and fellow panelists Robin Hathaway, Kate Gallison, Elizabeth Lynn Casey and Toni L.P. Kelner. Had to figure out what skills I have other than writing (hint: not many), who has done the largest kindness to me ever, and what my writing-on-a-deadline snack might be. A lot of good laughs, mostly for my panel mates.

* After the panel, got to sign books next to the too-long-absent Mindy Starns Clark, who showed me the ropes at my first mystery conference about 10 years ago and made me feel like maybe I did belong after all. It's always great to see her and hear about her family.

* Got to talk to my exalted editor, Shannon Jamieson Vazquez, whom I do not see nearly often enough. It's always a pleasure, even when she's telling me about more work I need to do on something I thought was already finished.

* Talked to a few certified legends of the biz, like Charlaine Harris and (briefly) Joan Hess. Great for those moments when you start believing your own publicity releases to remember that you haven't done anywhere near what others have accomplished.

* Heard a talk by the ridiculously knowledgeable Luci Zahray (the poison lady) about Ethanol, and no, it wasn't regarding the benefits or deteriments of using it as an alternative fuel. There's a reason nobody ever lets Luci buy them drinks at a conference.

Overall, Malice is something no writer of less-than-gory mysteries should miss. I came back recharged, invigorated, and exhausted. To a house in which my bedroom walls have been, well, demolished, there was a leak from an upstairs heating pipe to the living room ceiling, and my wife was hitting the road for a few days at a conference for her job.

I bet it won't be as much fun.

Apr 302012
REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:             Dawn at Socorro (1954), a thinly-veiled Earp/Clanton drama, covers much of the same ground as OK Corral and Hour of the Gun, with a fraction of the time and pretension. Rory Calhoun is the Doc Holliday figure, Alec Nicol is Johnny Ringo, and Lee Van Cleef is the last surviving Clanton. [...]

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