We’ve heard Duane speak on writing before, and he is brilliant, insightful and encouraging. If this class is within your means, you should enroll!
Marcia Clark at her signing table
We had an amazing time at Bouchercon 2013: making new friends, hanging outwith our authors, and exploring Albany. Can’t wait for next year!
On sale today, two thrilling reads. The Cuckoo’s Calling is a much-praised debut novel in the classic detective vein. Point and Shoot is the rollicking conclusion to Duane Swierczynski’s Charlie Hardie series. You can read excerpts from both novels here:
Swierczynski: I'm a huge fan of action movies—specifically, '80s action movies—with lone tough guys facing impossible odds. And if these tough guys have one “super power," it is this: they can't be killed, no matter what you throw at them. So I thought it would be fun to take one of these loners—in the case of Charlie Hardie, an alcoholic house sitter—and throw him into the worst situations possible. He has no specialized training to fall back on; he just has a knack for *not* getting killed.
PW: In what way has your writing of comic books improved your prose fiction?
Swierczynski: Comic scripts are basically letters to your artist, so you have to be able to clearly communicate what's playing on the movie screen inside your head. So I've found myself thinking more visually when writing my novels. Plus, some of my protagonists have started wearing spandex, for some weird reason.
- Boing Boing on Duane Swierczynski’s Fun & Games, which you can start reading for just $3.
One the great pleasures of publicity tours—yes, Virginia, there are pleasures to publicity tours—is teaming up with other authors for a panel.
Panels provide one of the great exceptions to the Less is More principle. Two minds are indeed better than one, as are—depending on the minds at issue—three and four or even five, though I think that’s the limit for a decent panel. After that, it’s a chorus line. Or a scrum.
There’s always a balance that needs to be struck between the joy of spontaneity and giving the panelists enough of an idea what the topic is that they can prepare a few interesting ideas and lines—and a couple good jokes.
This is particularly on my mind as I prepare for two panels I’ll be doing in the span of one week:
Frankly, with fellow panelists like that, I could sit there and drool and come off semi-smart. (Well, okay, maybe not drool.)
Ellen is a San Francisco writer I met through Murderati alum Cornelia Read at a reading for Dirty Words: An Encyclopedia of Sex, which Ellen edited. (Ellen’s entry on Happy Endings appears immediately before Cornelia’s on Hard-ons.)
In The Art of Character I use a scene from Ellen’s novel French Lessons to illustrate how to use clothing—in this case, a pregnant, jilted, miserable teacher’s fascination with a pair of turquoise pumps in a Paris boutique—as an objective correlative for the character’s inner life.
Ellen and I are doing a panel titled MY CHARACTER ATE MY PLOT! Creating characters that drive your story. It seems to be a bit of a mash-up of a workshop I proposed on how to balance story and character demands and an impromptu panel. Whatever. Ellen and I will have a gas.
The New York panel really has me intrigued. I’ve been reading A.M. Homes’s May We Be Forgiven and I’m mesmerized. Later this month I’ll be posting for the Books by the Bed column on the website for We Wanted to be Writers (the group memoir about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop). One of the books I mention is May We Be Forgiven, and this is what I say:
As deft a balancing act between heartbreaking realism and wicked black humor as I’ve read outside the works of Pete Dexter. An opening scene with a gutted Thanksgiving turkey, fingers dripping with meat juices, lips coated in same, and then an illicit kiss between the protagonist and his taller, smarter, more successful brother’s wife—and it just takes off from there. Uncanny pacing for a so-called literary novel—violent and smart and did I mention funny?
Many of you probably already know Duane Swierczynski, though you probably can’t pronounce his name. (It’s okay, no one can. Or spell it for that matter.) I also included his The Blonde in my Books by the Bed posting:
The reading equivalent of listening to Eddy Angel channel Link Wray. Gutsy and quick on its feet, with so many deft strokes and oddball observations and switchback plot turns, not to mention (lest we forget) the eponymous blonde who, of course, is not who she seems—a patch of red in a private spot gives her away. More to the point, she’ll die if someone isn’t within ten feet of her. Literally. Beat that, Salman Rushdie!
And Megan Abbott, after writing and winning an Edgar for creative re-interpretations of fifties noir (with an emphasis on the women characters so often trivialized in that genre) has broken out with two novels set in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, her childhood hometown: The End of Everything and Dare Me.
I mean, I’ll have to concentrate very, very hard if I want to screw up this panel.
Like my panel with Ellen, this one also will gravitate toward character, and Megan and Duane both want to talk about the difficulties of characterization in the compressed formats of graphic novels and film, and A.M. wants to talk about the challenges of writing about someone fundamentally different than oneself.
I also want to ask Megan about what characterization challenges she’s faced in switching from noir pastiches to more realistic novels, and generally just invite everybody to jump in and say whatever comes to mind. (Like I'll be able to stop them...)
If you live in New York and feel inclined, join us at 7 PM at the B&N UES at 86th & Lex.
Or if you’re ready for the whole smorgasbord of writing panels and editor consultations and agent pitches, check out the San Francisco Writers Conference—and join Ellen and me on Sunday morning (at the ungodly hour of 9 AM).
How we suffer for our art.
BTW: One final nod to Blatant Sell-Promotion (that's a deliberate typo): If you or someone you know is interested in the craft of characterization, and would like an inspiring, in-depth and yet practical guide, please check out The Art of Character. Follow the link to find out more, including where you can buy a copy. Or read a brand new excerpt here.
* * * * *
So, Murderateros, what’s the best panel you’ve ever been on or seen?
What was the worst?
What made the one great and the other not so great?
* * * * *
Jukebox Hero of the Week: Valentine’s Day will have come and gone by the time my next post goes up, so in premature celebration (ahem), I offer this Brubeck chestnut used to brilliant effect in the film Silver Linings Playbook. It beautifully sets the mood for a crucial scene, when Pat goes to Tiffany's house Halloween night for their first (this-is-not-a) date. It's spare and haunting but playful, with its 7/4 time creating an off-balance tension. Perfect.
But Michael Connelly's Echo Park (2006; Sokkelokuja in Finnish) I finished with ease. Connelly is real comfort reading to me, and I don't mind saying that, since he's also always got some edge in his books. Connelly handles his dark materials (sic) easily but with verve, and his writing is smooth and simple without being simplistic. He's not a great stylist like Chandler or a great innovator like Ellroy, but he does very well what he does. His plots are also intricate and they involve some deep stuff without being heavy-handed or didactic.
Echo Park isn't one of the best Connellys (the plot is a bit too straightforward), but I still liked the heck out of it. I'm not so fond of Connelly's Terry McCaleb or Mickey Haller books, but Harry Bosch is a favourite. I remember when I interviewed Connelly and he said he's always imagined Donald Sutherland as the film version of Bosch. This may seem weird, but not long ago I watched Claude Chabrol's rarely-seen Ed McBain film Blood Relatives with Donald Sutherland. He's very good and convincing as McBain's Steve Carella, who's a blueprint for all the film cops. I can see him as Bosch, no problem.
By the way, it was nice to see both Duane Swierczynski and Sarah Weinman being Tuckerized in Echo Park.
The post below comes to us from Duane Swierczynski, author of Fun and Games, Hell and Gone, and the forthcoming Point and Shoot. He’s also the writer of IDW’s new Judge Dredd series, the first issue of which drops this week.
I discovered 2000 A.D. and the world of Judge Dredd at the tender age of 15 through a somewhat unlikely source: a bootleg Commodore 64 game. The rules were simple: steer a pixelated Dredd through a digital Mega-City One and pretty much shoot everything in sight. Jonesing for more, I realized that Dredd was based on a UK comic . . . and at the time, super-tough to find here in the U.S. Add yet another frustration to my nerdy teenaged life.
Over the next 25 years, however, I snapped up all the Dredd stories that I could, savoring them like exotic treats smuggled through customs. Slowly, the future dystopia featured in Dredd snapped into place for me, and I realized that the writers and artists over at 2000 A.D. were showing us America through a twisted funhouse mirror. In short: Judge Joe Dredd is a one-man judge, jury and executioner . . . on a motorcycle. You jaywalk in front of him? Dredd will sentence you on the spot, and then next thing you know, you’ll be staring at the ceiling of a cramped iso-cube. Steal something? Kill somebody? Try to kill a judge? Well, may Dredd have mercy on your soul. (Spoiler alert: He won’t.) The stories were full of the same kind of ultra-violent satire that I’d loved in Paul Verheoven’s RoboCop. And you can’t tell me the writers of Robo weren’t tipping their helmets to Dredd, who debuted more than a decade earlier.
When IDW announced an American version a while back, I was over the moon—never even thinking that I would be approached to write this new version. Needless to say, this is the opportunity of lifetime, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. The 15-year-old in me may never recover.
IDW editor Chris Ryall and I talked about this series covering untold tales from the earlier days of Dredd’s career—though rest assured, this ain’t Lil’ Joe Dredd. He’s no rookie; he’s been serving up justice on the mean streets of Mega-City One for quite some time. Thanks to the Judge Dredd Complete Case File that the sick folks at 2000 A.D. have been publishing, I’ve had the chance to go back and read the early Dredd stories and see what I missed—namely, a lot of giddy, high-octane mayhem. I mean that in the best possible way.
When I was pitching Chris, I told him that I’d like IDW’s Dredd to feel like a transgressive sci-fi black comedy police procedural—like Law & Order, if say, Jerry Orbach were a violent inflexible fascist. Someone who readers can’t help but root for, since he’s up against overwhelming odds in a city gone insane.
So in this first issue (see handy preview below!) I though it was important to introduce readers (both longtime Dredd fans as well as newbies) to the two main characters: Dredd, and the city itself. But beyond that, I see Dredd is also the perfect vehicle for telling every type of crime story imaginable, and the possibilities are exciting as hell, especially when you factor in future tech. I’m finding inspiration in the the lawless “Dillinger” days of the early 1930s, when emerging technology inspired both cops and bandits to elevate their games. When the bandits started using race cars for getaways, the cops responded with faster pursuit vehicles; shotguns were met with machine guns; organized criminal gangs were met with wiretapping and most wanted lists. With Dredd, I’m asking myself: what kind of games will cops (that is, judges) and robbers be playing 100 years in the future? I hope you’ll have fun with the answers in future issues.