Sunday, February 28, 2016

Left Coast Crime 2016 - Part 1 (Thursday)

Due to a combination of reasons I won't get into (but they include insomnia, very effective blackout curtains, oversleeping, and a relapse of my head cold), my experience at Left Coast Crime was not what I'd hoped. I didn't hit many of the panels and interviews I'd hoped to, but the ones I did were great. Here are a couple highlights, with more to come.

A Brief Dance with Death: Short Mystery Fiction
Sarah M. Chen (moderator), Dale W. Berry, Mysti Berry, Stephen Buehler, M.H. Callway

Lots of great info on writing short stories from this panel.

How they got into writing short stories:
Dale Berry: Via comics. Compact stories. (Berry writes graphic short stories, his Not a Creature was Stirring... was recently published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and it's the publications first ever graphic story).
Buehler: Usually writes for calls for anthology submissions - he writes to whatever the particular guidelines are.
Callway: She can send out more submissions. A professor once told her that if you throw enough mud at a wall, something will stick.

Novels versus short stories:
Callway. Likes both. Considers one a sprint, the other a marathon.
Mysti Berry: Likes the idea of a problem (short story) versus a problem over time (novel).
Buehler: Likes both, short stories are faster to finish so you get a sense of accomplishment sooner.

Sources of inspiration for stories:
Buehler: Ideas, not characters. Also likes twist endings.
Dale Berry: "I have a perverse need to manipulate readership."
Callway: Real life inspiration. Callway is Canadian and her short story, Amdur's Cat casts infamous former Toronto mayor Rob Ford as Canada's Minister of Health. She described the story as being driven by fantasy and revenge.
Mysti Berry: People of situations with contradictions.

What makes a great short story?
Buehler: Have a great ending. He likes a good twist ending that is organic to the story. Formula is set-up/story/twist.
Callway: Has to have impact, has to resonate with the human condition.
Dale Berry: Has to provide some kind of truth and emotional transport.

When writing: do you have an agenda, or just write and hope to find a market?
Buehler: Writes to market (anthologies and the criteria of online sites). Likes having ground rules set.
Callway: Writes what she wants to write, then tries to find a home for it.
Dale Berry: Usually whatever pops into his head, although for the Alfred Hitchcock Magazine article, he was approached by the magazine's editor for the project.
Mysti Berry: Tries to write to market. Wrote a story for a Malice Domestic competition which was rejected, but later accepted by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

Does writing short stories help or hinder a career?
Callway: Really helped her career. It increases your skills, plus awards and nominations help get you taken more seriously when you're trying to sell a novel.
Mysti Berry: You learn a lot from finishing projects.
Buehler: His novels have yet to be published, but his short story success has given him a higher profile in the writing community than he would have without it. Pointed out he wouldn't be on a panel if not for his short stories.

How they determine length and format of their stories:
Buehler: Most of his stories are flash fiction (1,000 words or less).
Callway: Has published one flash fiction. Tends to be long-winded when she writes.
Dale Berry: Depends on the type of story you want to tell. Short piece = isolating the moment. Longer stories become more episodic/three act structured (beginning, middle, end).
Mysti Berry: Doesn't matter, she always ends up writing 5,000 to 10,000 words.

The future of short stories:
Mysti Berry: Not sure, but excited to find out.
Buehler: Will stick around, at least on the internet if not in print. Problem with online publication is lack of payment, although it gets your name out there.
Callway: Evolving along with technology. She has a friend who is writing a novel on Twitter.

Interesting factoid: moderator Chen has a short story (Canyon Ladies) in LAdies Night, which was one of my October/November reads.

L to R: Dale W. Berry, M.H. Callway,
Sarah M. Chen, Stephen Buehler, Mysti Berry

Murder on the Rocks
Deborah Lacy (moderator), Nadine Nettmann, Carlene O'Neil, Johnny Shaw

Why set your novels in a winery?
O'Neil: Because it's a winery. Seriously, because it's beautiful setting and therefore it's more jarring when you find a body there, as opposed to in a big city.
Nettmann: Because wine is fun. (Nettmann is a Master Sommelier and each chapter of her upcoming first novel is includes a wine recommendation).
Shaw: His books aren't set in wineries, although he's been kicked out of a few. He's more interested in bar culture - the effects of alcohol rather than the creation of it.

Nettman was asked what wine she would recommend for Left Coast Crime. She promptly suggested an Argentinian Malbec, to which Shaw added, "Served in a paper bag."

Although he doesn't drink much these days, Shaw likes to write in bars (where he drinks coffee) because, "You don't overhear great stories in a coffee shop."

The best thing about being a writer:
Shaw: Recently served as Grand Marshal of the Carrot Festival in his small hometown near the Mexican border. The magnet sign used on the side of the car he rode in misspelled Marshal as "Marshall".
O'Neil: The camaraderie within the writing industry. Very inclusive and supportive.

Hardest thing about writing:
O'Neil: Staying to schedule.
Shaw: Has more discipline than talent. Writes multiple drafts. His advice on writing: If something you've written is bad, change it to something good.

Do they consider their books more cozy or soft-boiled?
O'Neil: Definitely a cozy. Whatever the criticisms that cozies receive, cozy audiences go through books like they're bon-bons. She wants her books to be those bon-bons.
Nettmann: Falls under cozy, but more soft-boiled. Takes the Agatha Christie approach of having all the suspects there at the beginning, then deducting from there.

Favorite mystery writers/books:
O'Neil: Agatha Christie, Carolyn Hart
Shaw: Patricia Highsmith, Gunga Din, Fat City
Nettmann: Mary Higgins Clark and Sue Grafton

Fun drinking versus the realities of alcoholism:
O'Neil: Put an alcoholic supporting character in her first book and looked at how it affected family dynamics, plus the difficulties of being an alcoholic when your family is in the wine-making business.
Shaw: Writes about drinking as a non-judgmental reality. Doesn't feel the need to preach.
Nettmann: Prefers to write about the beauty of wine.

Why do you write:
Nettmann: Always wanted to do it.
O'Neil: Only interested in writing mysteries - loves a good murder.
Shaw: "I have no other marketable skills."

Interview with American Guest of Honor Gregg Hurwitz
Erica Ruth Neubauer (moderator)

Just a note: Although I thought Neubauer was a terrific moderator, Hurwitz is so comfortable and talkative in front of an audience, they could just put him up there and tell him to talk for an hour.

Erica Ruth Neubauer, Gregg Hurwitz

Hurwitz is a New York Times best-selling author, including his new release Orphan X, which has already been optioned by Bradley Cooper and Warner Bros., with Hurwitz adapting the screenplay. Another script that he wrote 18 years ago, The Book of Henry, recently completed filming. Director Colin Trevorrow wanted to do it so badly he squeezed it in between Jurassic World and Star Wars Episode IX.

Influences as a child: Peter Benchley, Stephen King (as a child, Hurwitz hid under his bed with a flashlight while reading Salem's Lot), William Faulkner, Shakespearean tragedies.

Hurwitz is known for the intensity of his research. For Orphan X, he worked with a friend in Black Ops who is a world class sniper. A friend in Silicon Valley helped with the tech stuff. In the past, he learned to ride a Harley and hung out at biker venues, absorbing their stories. Another time he went undercover with a cult. He just feels that he can write about something better if he's actually experienced it himself.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Friday, February 26, 2016


For me, the burning certainty is when the ideas are swirling around my head faster than I can corral them and the witless fraud part comes in when I then try to get them down on paper or onscreen.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

With friends like these...

They've been ignoring me, but I think I got them talking again last night while working on a short story submission for an anthology. Hopefully they won't shut up between now and the deadline.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The genius of Shakespeare

In case you ever wondered why he's considered one of the greatest writers who ever lived:

Monday, February 22, 2016

Bird's eye view

We have some pretty exotic birds where I live, but this is the first time I've seen one this up-close. He was in the tree right off my patio.

Sophie was riveted. The bird was huge, it could have probably carried her off. I'm just glad he stayed put while I grabbed my camera.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The internet, in a nutshell

Snicked from the internets without bothering to note where. If it's yours, claim it so I can credit.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Have a nicer day


Reminds me of the story of Roy Raymond, the guy who created Victoria's Secret and sold it for a mere fraction of what it would eventually become worth.

Image snicked from the internets but I don't remember where, so if it's yours let me know so I can give credit.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Where do writers get their ideas?

From the internet?


Image snicked from - where else? - the internet. Can't remember where; if it's yours let me know so I can credit.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Happy little buried bodies

This is absolutely hilarious, and I have to say, I kind of love this idea (for fiction, not reality, of course):

That would be a not-so-happy little accident.

H/T to Mary Ann Laverty on FB.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Coolest taco joint in Vegas

One of my goals this year is to get to Las Vegas, and if I do, I'm totally hitting this place up.

Frijoles & Frescas is a Mexican food place in Las Vegas that had the misfortune of being robbed in December. How they handled it is priceless.

Those tacos do look pretty good...

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

25 Best Coen Brothers Characters

I haven't seen all the Coen's films (shame on me) and I wouldn't have put Maude Lebowski so far ahead of H.I. and Ed (nor Jesus in front of anyone from Fargo), but I do love the 1-2 punch at the end of this list: the 25 Best Coen Brothers Characters.

Imagine how it would have thrown this list into disarray if the characters from the TV version of Fargo had to be included in the mix.

H/T to Austin Film Festival on FB.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Kurt Vonnegut simplifies writing

Pretty amazing!

Friday, February 5, 2016

January reading

Only two books, which was a disappointment, but I did get a lot more writing and blogging done last month, so that's where a lot of my time went. Plus it gives me the chance to really expand on my review of the one of the books, because it warrants it.

LA Late @ Night: 5 Noir & Mystery Tales From the Dark Streets of Los Angeles by Paul D. Marks
This small collection of L.A. based tales from Shamus Award winning author Marks packs a neo-noir punch. A successful defense attorney gets a pang of conscience after getting a famous director off on a murder charge. A young man new to town is lured into murder by an enigmatic woman. Lots of raw emotions and nostalgic, frustrated cops old enough to remember Los Angeles in the "good old days", before crime and criminals got out of even their control. A number of characters and locations are intertwined in the stories, and Marks knows the late-night streets and dark sides of the City of Angels like the back of his hand. The collection also includes the first chapter of Marks's Shamus-winning novel White Heat, which is set in 1992 during the Rodney King riots.

"Icy steel from my backup gun pinches my ankle. I never go anywhere without some kind of weapon. Hey, man, this is L.A. and it's not the L.A. I grew up in. You never know when you'll have to draw on someone. But if you do, you're fucked. Because in this AliceInWonderlandWorld up is down, right is wrong. And the bad guys win. Still, it's better to be judged by twelve than carried by six, my training officer told me all those years ago."

Breaking Away: The Harrowing True Story of Resilience, Courage and Triumph by Patrick O'Sullivan with Gare Joyce
Harrowing is right. There are awful parents pushing their kids beyond reason in order to realize their own unattained dreams, and then there's John O'Sullivan. Breaking Away is the memoir of former NHL player Patrick O'Sullivan, whose father bullied him into being the successful hockey player O'Sullivan Sr. never was. And bullied in every sense of the word, physically, mentally and emotionally. John O'Sullivan beat the crap out of his son and terrorized him for years in his single minded pursuit of on-ice stardom, until Patrick finally took his final beating and walked away not only from his dad, but eventually from his entire, enabling family as well.

O'Sullivan's dad being a problem child is old news to the hockey world, but I don't think many realized just how bad it was until this book came out recently. John's actions were abuse, plain and simple, and it's mind-boggling to me that Patrick - even as a young child - was subjected to this treatment and no one, not even family members, ever stepped up in his defense.

Once he realized that his son possessed a significant amount of athletic ability, John became obsessed with engineering Patrick into an NHL player. He saw himself as a Walter Gretzky-type, only without any sense or concern of what he was doing to his son and by extension, his whole family. His "training regime" for Patrick included waking him up in the middle of the night to work out, kicking him out of the van on the way home after a game to make him run, and overfeeding him in an effort to get him to grow to an NHL-caliber size, and that's just barely scratching the surface.

One thing that really shocked me was the abuse he took from then-head coach Marc Crawford during his time with the Los Angeles Kings. Crawford seems to have singled O'Sullivan out as his whipping boy for reasons that only he knew. I can't help wondering why General Manager Dean Lombardi - known for his high regard of his players - didn't step in, especially since everyone knew O'Sullivan's history.

O'Sullivan isn't sure if a contract dispute affected his standing with the Kings front office, but the fact was that shortly after the deal was signed and Crawford was canned, Lombardi shipped him to the Edmonton Oilers in a three-way deal that brought the Kings Justin Williams from the Carolina Hurricanes. Williams would eventually be a big piece of the Kings teams that won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014, but O'Sullivan wonders - as do I - if Lombardi could have and would have gotten Williams for a different player or players, if it weren't for the contract dispute. It might have been interesting to see what he could have done in L.A. long term.

Being traded was only part the problem. It was who he was traded to. Edmonton, for the past ten years or so, is where hockey careers go to die. As an organization, the Oilers just don't seem to be able to get their shit together, and it was the beginning of the end of O'Sullivan's NHL career. O'Sullivan reveals a couple issues he had with the team that help explain the Oilers woes. The team promptly used him in roles he had never played in his entire hockey career (third line, five-on-three penalty kill); he says he was tempted to ask them if they'd confused him with another player. Then they started making him a healthy scratch. To add insult to injury, Edmonton's arena, Rexall Place, is the only one in the league that doesn't provide private elevators for the scratches to ride up to the press box. They had to walk through the concourse, in full view of fans. Edmonton is getting a new arena, hopefully they remedied this situation, but that's indicative of the type of organization O'Sullivan found himself at the mercy of.

Another shock came when O'Sullivan and his fiancee decided to go over his finances, which were soon to become their finances. He was shocked to discover that over a period less than four NHL seasons, he had given his mother, who had finally divorced his father, $400,000 and yet she didn't seem inclined to do much with her life, nor did she seem to care that her two daughters, both younger than Patrick, seemed equally uninspired. After letting his mom know that the gravy train was coming to a halt (he was more tactful about it) she suddenly stopped taking his calls or communicating with him at all. He figured it would work out, but then wedding invitations and Christmas gifts sent to his mother and sisters were returned unopened. He hasn't had any contact with them since.

The only negative criticism I can offer is that there are several instances of dropped words in the text. Not sure how these weren't caught during editing, but they were numerous enough to be noticeable.

That O'Sullivan has managed to attain peace and a normal family life of his own is remarkable, but it seems like some scars remain. In the caption of a photo of O'Sullivan helping his young son hold a golf club, he says of his kids, "If they choose to play sports, I hope it's something other than hockey." That would apparently just hit a little too close to home, and that left me with a twinge of sadness despite his triumphing over the hellish life his monstrous father subjected him to.

"Two years before I had been a twenty-goal scorer playing on a second line for an emerging team. But no one remembered that after the season in Edmonton. The team was a mess, the worst in the league, and I was a healthy scratch. People would put it together: if he can't play for Edmonton, who can he play for?"