Thursday, April 17, 2014

Why Needle mag exists

By Steve Weddle

Back in 2010 when we started this magazine, I solicited stories from some talented folks. Some were friends, while many were friends of friends. That was an odd process.

Cover art by Scott Morse
ME: Hey, we’re starting this noir lit mag, and I was wondering...
PEOPLE: I’m in.

And so they were.

We put the word out and the submissions started to come in from all over the world.
In 2010, we ran a long story from Chris F. Holm. He’d had a couple stories he was working on and asked which I preferred. Sounded to me like he wanted to work on the longer of the two, which seemed to me the more developed the story. “It’s kind of a long story,” he said. I said that was fine. “Like, more than 10,000 words,” he said. We made room. It was a hell of a story.

Otto Penzler and Harlan Coben thought so, as well. They selected the  story for that year’s Best American Mystery Stories, the first for Needle and Chris F. Holm, though not the last.

I’d known he was continuing to work on the story for a novel. The character is just that good. The author is just that brilliant. So he kept working on the story. This month, Holm sold the novel -- The Killing Kind -- in a two-book deal to Mulholland. Find out more at

We love seeing these stories come through the submission machine. We love seeing them formatted for the page. We love seeing them as ink-on-paper stories when the magazine comes out. We love seeing them in anthologies. But we sure as hell love seeing them get a bigger life -- all grown into a novel and waiting there on the shelf for you.

I mean, a big, fancy novel from a story that was in this here little magazine. How great is that? If you ever wonder why we publish this magazine, that’s why.

(Needle 2014 Update: Ordered an extra round of proof copies just to make sure the new paper quality is fine. As soon as that's sorted, should be up for sale. Probably early next week.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Socially Inept

By Holly West

This past Monday morning I decided to take my first ever social media break. As I'm writing this, it's Tuesday morning and by the time you read this it will be Wednesday. Hopefully, I'll still be on the wagon. My goal is two full weeks away from it.

That's two weeks without checking or posting on any social media websites. I've kind of made Pinterest the exception, but only because I don't check it regularly in the first place and it's filled with pretty pictures of food and interior design and homemade lotion recipes. It doesn't give me panic attacks and feels like a sort of refuge from all the things that cause me stress.

Though this is my first actual break from social media, it's not the first time I've contemplated taking one. I'm an unabashed fan of it--particularly Twitter and Facebook. In fact, if it weren't for social media, I probably wouldn't be published. But with the good comes the bad and I've become increasingly addicted to social media over the years. I'll be writing and the moment my mind wanders, I check Facebook. This happens constantly throughout the day, making it difficult to get anything substantive done. I've known for awhile that I need to break that habit, and this seems like a good time to do it.

The truth is that my social media feeds have become anxiety inducing. They're overwhelmingly about books, selling said books, writing, and of course, selling said writing. It's not the books and the writing that are the problem, it's the selling, and the anxiety that comes with it, that's got me a bit down. It's gotten to the point where I find myself scrolling down my Facebook feed thinking "shut up, shut up, shut up."

I know! It's terrible, isn't it? I feel bad even writing that last sentence. I mean no offense. It's not you, it's me. I'm sick of myself, I'm sick of selling my book, and I'm sick of worrying about the writing of my next book and then having to sell that.

That doesn't mean I'm taking a break from writing that next book, of course. It just means that I feel the need to step back from all the noise and write in relative solitude for awhile. Does that make sense?

Ironically, my last reason for taking a social media break comes from the need for me to explore other options for selling my books. With the second in the series coming out in the Fall, I know there are some things I missed when the first came out. Though I've amassed a nice following via social media, they are mostly personal friends and family. My wider circle is the crime fiction community and other writers. I recently realized that I haven't made a big enough effort to find other readers outside of these circles. For example, my series is historical fiction and yet I have no platform whatsoever in the historical fiction community. This needs to be remedied (even if I'm unsure, exactly, how to do it). Social media will, of course, become a big part of this expansion, but for now I'm going to explore some online forums, participate in listserv and that sort of thing.

So yeah. I'm taking a social media break because I'm sick of selling my book but ultimately, I need some time to explore other avenues to sell my book and my addiction to social media prevents me from taking that time.

But as always, the writing is the thing. If something is taking me away from it, whether mentally or physically, then I need to take steps to get back to it. No excuses, no whining. I'm working on that last part.

By the way, if any of you reading this could share it on Twitter or Facebook, I'd appreciate it. KTHX.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Twenty Five Years On

Football was not a nice place to be in the 1980’s. 

We let narratives get created, we let groups of people in society become dehumanised, labelled, blamed. We let ourselves be guided to blaming the poor, or the sick, or those on benefits, or those who wear hoods, or those who take drugs. We slowly let our sense of collective be chipped away, until it’s Us VS. Them. And then we don’t think of Them as human anymore, and we don’t stop to help them. 

Football fans were just such a social evil in the 80’s. Penned in, ignored, blamed, herded. Even at my young age, I could sense an atmosphere, an attitude towards football fans. I remember the cages around the pitch, fans penned in like animals. 

Those of us who remember a time before the Rupert Murdock money came into the sport bemoan many of the changes, but if 96 football fans died at an F.A. Cup semi final in 2014, action would be taken. People would be prosecuted, locked up. Every victim and every hero would have a face and a name. 

On the 15th of April 1989, fans of Liverpool and Nottingham Forrest converged on Sheffield’s Hillsborough stadium for the semi final of the F.A. Cup. As Liverpool fans amassed at their end of the ground, a gate was opened to herd them in, and thousands of fans poured into one area at the same time. 

A short while later, 94 of them were dead. 2 other fatalities followed. In the days that followed, a massive cover-up operation went into full force, one that is only now being admitted to. Police reports were doctored. Video evidence went missing. Newspapers printed lies. The Sun ran a front page labelled, “The Truth,” in which they stated that fans were robbing the dead, were pissing on the police and were attacking people who tried to give CPR. All lies. All damaging. All deliberate.

In trying to make sense of it all, one thing is abundantly clear; How easy it would have been for it to not happen. If fans weren’t treated like shit. If those in authority didn’t cast off responsibility. If people were treated like people. There was also precedent, fans had been saying something like this would or could happen. My team, Wolves, played Tottenham Hotspur in a semi final at the same ground in 1981. There was a crush then, too. Tottenham fans were penned in and unable to move as more people where herded in behind them. Crucially on this occasion the police acted in time and opened the gates to the cage and let the fans out onto the pitch. But in 1989 the culture was different. Football fans had spent the decade being treated as the social menace. They were not to be trusted, not to be helped. They were not human. They did not need the help they were calling for, begging for.  To read accounts of survivors of the crush is harrowing not just for the details of what was physically happening to them, but for the stories of Police standing by and doing nothing when football fans were calling for help. Crash barriers were torn up out of the concrete by the sheer weight of people being pressed onto them. By them time anybody came to help, people were dead. 

We know the names of the 96 people who lost their lives, and today we remember them. The youngest was 10 years old. A boy who went to a football match and never came back. They’ll never be forgotten. But what is harder to do is to give name to all of the other victims. The family members whose lives were forever changed. The futures that were taken away. The football fans elsewhere who suffered as part of the system of lies and cover-ups and dehumanisation. 

We've all heard the phrase "telling truth to power," but the problem is, the power already knows. Families, friends and football fans have fought for 25 years for that truth to come out. Mothers, fathers, brothers sisters- they’ve lived with this, grown with this inside of them, knowing their loved ones were being lied about. They’ve never given up, never stopped fighting even when the whole weight of the British establishment was against them, and a fresh inquest is now underway. 

Watching the footage, reading the accounts or talking to survivors is a harrowing experience, but something else stands out, too. There are another group of people we will never be able to honour properly; the heroes. 

Even in the midst of the crush, there were people saving lives. People who could barely move, people who surely suspected they were not getting out of it themselves, acted to help others. Teenagers were lifted up out of the crush by people below them. Some survivors talk of passing out in the middle of the mass of people, pressed down under all the weight, but then waking up on the pitch later, not knowing who carried them free.

Supporters in the stand above reached down to pull people up. People down at the front, who had gotten free of the cage and unimaginable horrors, went back to help. Strangers ripped advertising hoardings from around the pitch to carry other strangers to where they could receive medical attention. As those in authority and power did nothing, those who had neither stepped in and saved lives. Liverpool fans that day showed a courage, strength and basic decency that others had tried to steal from them. And the families of the victims have continued to show that strength and courage to this day. 

Fans helped fans. People helped people. 

We’re made to be scared, to be mistrusting. We made to treat other groups of people as less than human, as social demons. We help in robbing whole social classes of a voice, and then blame them when that voicelessness turns into something dark. We’re encouraged to walk by and ignore the person asking for help or crying in the street.

So as we remember the victims and fight for justice for them, lets also remember those who helped, whether we know their names or not, and learn from them. Authority comes and goes, uniforms fade and retire, those in power rise and fall. But people help people. Always have, always will. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Copyedit Hell

By Kristi Belcamino

When I received the copyedited version of Blessed are the Dead this last week it was super exciting. Here was my baby all laid out pretty with my name and the dedication up front like a real book. Woohoo! A dream come true.

But that excitement soon faded as I sat down to look at what the copyeditor had done. My task involved reviewing every sentence highlighted in purple to indicate the copyeditor had made a change. I needed to look at the change and either accept it or reject it.

It didn’t take me long to realize that nearly every page of my 297 page novel had some purple on it. That’s cool, I told myself. I love editors. I am the biggest fan of editors because nine times out of ten they make you look better than you really are. True story.

But as I read on, I realized I much prefer working with my HarperCollins editor versus working on changes from a contracted copy editor. I’m sure he or she is a lovely person. And it’s obvious he or she is extremely talented, catching so many little things I didn’t. But I can’t deny what soon became glaringly obvious in reading the changes — I don’t have a clue how to use a comma. Really.

Even though I’ve had a career as a newspaper reporter and have written three novels, this basic skill has somehow eluded me for 40-some years.


It wasn’t easy coming to this realization. I mean, at first, I denied it, telling myself, “Well, the copyeditor obviously likes commas more than me.”

But that is probably less likely than the fact that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing when it comes to comma use.


As I went on, I saw that probably 98 percent of the edits from the copyeditor were adding or subtracting a comma. Mostly adding.

Thank God, the publisher contracts this work out and I don’t have to face this copyeditor in person one day, hanging my head in shame. (By the way, is that comma I just used in the right place? Now I’m doubting each and every comma I use!)

So, the comma thing was the toughest part of being copyedited.

But there were some fun parts, as well. Heck, I’d even call them educational.

For instance, I learned all kinds of cool things about some of my favorite words.

I learned that “douche bag” is actually two words. Who knew?

Here are some others you might not know or realize:

Goddamn - one word
Barstool - one word.
Supertight – one word
Wineglass – one word

And by the way, hard-asses is hyphenated.

I, also, got a little education on the word “nod.”

I’ll share it with you as a helpful hint of the day just in case you didn’t know. (Although there is a good chance everyone else on the planet knows this but me, but in the off chance there is one other person who doesn’t know this, well here you go.):

You can only nod your head. You can’t nod any other body part. You don’t nod your foot, only your head. So saying someone nods his head = Redundant. (And possibly ignorant, when it comes down to it.) Who knew? Oh yeah — everyone but me.

You nod. Not your head. You just simply nod.

There you go. You’re welcome.

The further along in the copyedits, the less intelligent I felt. Hell, I don’t even know if “further” is the right word anymore? Is it farther? See, I’ve lost any ability to write at all. My worst fear has finally happened.

I’m, also, starting to wonder if the copyeditor ended up hating me by the end of the novel. I mean, maybe he or she was so disgusted by my flagrant misuse of commas that by the end of the manuscript, he or she was seething with resentment and irritation. I can just imagine him or her at the bar after a day spent copyediting my novel, telling a friend, “Man, I’ll be so glad to get done with this novel because that writer doesn’t know a comma from a hole in the ground.”

At the same time, I’m incredibly grateful that this expert — this person who is smart about commas — is making my book look so —well — smart.

Hey, here’s a little hint for any other writers out there who feel like they might be getting a little cocky or arrogant or thinking they are too cool – just have a copyeditor read your novel! Voila! Suddenly, you will slip right off your high horse and join the rest of us hacks. You might even feel a little bit of writing insecurity creep up you because after all, the truth is you really have no clue how to use a comma. Wait — that’s just me.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

(I'm traveling on a trip to hunt for fossils so I didn't have time to work up something new. My dad and I were recently talking about this book so I thought I'd post a review I wrote back in 2011.)

If I had to sum up my thoughts and feelings about Anthony Horowitz’s Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk, it would be this: if you close your eyes and just listen to the audio book, you would think you were listening to a story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself. That, and a little A. A. Milne thrown in for good measure.

The spirit of Doyle is alive and well in this new Holmes novel, as well it should. In the decades since Doyle died, this is the first officially commissioned and recognized by the late author’s estate. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that The House of Silk is now the 61st story in the canon.

And with whom did the descendants entrust Holmes and Watson? The man behind the Alex Rider young adult series and one of my all-time favorite TV series, “Foyle’s War,” was an excellent choice to write this book. Horowitz is a professed amateur Sherlockian himself, and his prose stylings are just as if John Watson himself wrote the novel.

When tasked with the job of writing this book, I imagine one of Horowitz’s favorite jobs was to make The List. What list is that you say? This would be the list of all the things that he would want to have in a Sherlock Holmes story. Think about: 56 short stories and four novels from which to draw all your favorite characters, scenes, and events to put into your own book with your own spin. Sherlockian’s everywhere will smile and nod as they see Horowitz’s grace notes as he writes this compelling novel. Lestrade is here, as are the Baker Street Irregulars, Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft, other little nuggets for you to find, and a certain unnamed character who, in fact, needs no name for the reader to know exactly who his is. In fact, it’s almost like Sherlock Holmes’s Greatest Hits.

Edmund Carstairs calls upon Holmes and Watson with a typical story: a man in a flat cap is stalking Mr. Carstairs, an art dealer. This flat cap chap is, presumably, a member of an Irish gang out to take revenge on Carstairs for a botched train robbery. For the next few chapters, Horowitz basically delivers a nice Holmes novella. It is only at the end of this little sub-section where things take a more drastic and sinister turn. A brutal murder—intended as a message to any who might tread on this case—move this case from mere dread to one of a more dire nature. It is here where the modern storyteller Horowitz turns up the heat on our Victorian heroes and leads them to place that Doyle would never have gone.

The pacing is good through the novel. An avid Sherlockian myself, I was never bored and often raced back to my iPod to listen to the next chapter. By the way, if you are an audio fan, the book is narrated by none other than Derek Jacobi, and I highly recommend this recording. The events had a modern way of piling on our heroes, so much so that, even though you knew certain things would happen, you just didn’t know how.

Horowitz just plain had fun writing this story. If you know the original canon well, you will note the nice little echoes and homages thrown in. For example, at one point, Watson is conveyed by carriage to a secret place. The windows of the carriage are draped—almost exactly like another carriage ride in “The Greek Interpreter” short story by Doyle—so as to prevent Watson from knowing where he’s going. Another point has Watson hunting down a clue and ends up asking a rather out-of-left field question to another person. When asked how the question pertains to the case, Watson, tongue firmly in cheek, gets to reply “I have my methods.”

If you know your other Holmes stories written by a myriad of other authors, you know all the places Holmes has traveled and the people he’s met. One rather famous example are the stories written by Laurie King, which has the old detective still alive and well during World War I. This story, now being officially canon, jettisons those other stories as non-canon. It’s as if George Lucas decided to make new Star Wars movies set after Return of the Jedi. As soon as that celluloid hits the screen, all the Extended Universe stories are moot. Thus, when Watson—ostensibly writing during 1911—comments that Holmes has already died, it didn’t jive with the other stories’ timelines. I kept having to adjust.

Now, you may be wondering why I namedropped A. A. Milne at the first of this review. It’s simple: Milne and Horowitz nailed the melancholic wistfulness of days past. Remember the ending of the original Winnie the Pooh movie and the part where Christopher Robin and Pooh are talking. Christopher knows that he has to go off to school and learn things. He also knows that everything is going to change and that he’ll never again be that carefree little boy. He longs for his past and promises Pooh to always be there for him. That’s how Watson is portrayed in this novel. Watson aches for his friendship with Holmes and the good doctor clearly knows his days are numbered. More than once, he comments that, by his writing of this last case, he has been in the presence of his good friend again. It’s a remarkable book that can both excite the senses and, yet, bring on the longing to such an extent that one might get that lump in your throat. That’s what this book did for me. I absolutely loved this book and hope Horowitz gets the invitation to write another. If not, the next author has some tall shoes to fill.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Mother of All Books...

By Russel D McLean

It's a strange feeling to see something you've worked on for so long finally take on physical form. Technically speaking, this is around the 8th time (counting various editions) that I've held a book of mine in my hands, and every time it feels oddly unreal. The same panic sets in, that there's something in those pages I overlooked or that I'll suddenly be found out as a fraud of some kind.

But at the same time, there's a magical moment. One where I realise what all the hard work was about. There's a moment where - and those who know me will know how rare this is - I actually get an ego trip.

Looking at the book, I remember when there was no book, just a gem of an idea. Something itching to find release. I remember when I thought I would never finish. The moments where I thought that maybe this time I'd truly messed up, that I'd never be able to create something coherent. But it happened. I know this not just because there's a book in my hand but because the guts of that book - the words, the pages - passed through so many others before this thing was created. It passed editors, copy editors, agents. It became something that talked to other people. Even in a small way.

Mothers of the Disappeared is, I hope, my best book yet. I sincerely hope so because it was a book I'd been wanting to write for a long time. The gem of the book was generated back when I was writing shorts about Sam Bryson for AHMM. I always wanted Bryson to try and prove the innocence of someone no one else would ever believe was not guilty. I wanted him to have to face his own prejudices in dealing with someone who appeared absolutely guilty and repellant. And with Mothers of the Disappeared, I took this idea and ran with it. The book became bigger than that, of course, and while that basic seed is still there, it has become a very different beast. But I'm proud of it. Very proud. As I am of all my books, even the ones I think have flaws.

The book is offically released in the UK on April 30. I'll be launching it at Blackfriars in Glasgow on the 28th (advance copies will be there for purchase!) at 7pm. I look forward to seeing people read the book, to talking to them about it, to being able to finally see the fourth McNee novel out there in the wild. It was - for many thematic reasons - a tough book to write. But I'm proud of it. And all I can hope is that you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Under Review

So, I was making my Internet Book Rounds last week. You know what I mean, right? Every new-ish author does. It’s when you visit certain sites to see how The Book is doing. Places like Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, Google Alerts, etc. You check your rankings, how many people have added the book and, well, you read the reviews.

I was on Silent City’s Amazon page and noticed that a few of my friends had rated the book. Cool. Until I saw one friend, a buddy I’d met in my day job, had given it one star.

Panic set in. Insecurities flared. I boarded the emotional rollercoaster: Anger, sadness, fear. Rinse, repeat.

Did I shrug and move on, vowing not to read any reviews from this moment? No. I emailed my pal and in a pretty passive way said I was sorry he didn’t dig the book.

This is a mistake and you should never do it. It doesn’t help anything and only makes you look bad - specifically, overly sensitive and whiny. And, in this case, it’s true – I happened upon the review, had an emotional reaction and tried to fix it. But most of the time, these things can’t be fixed or reversed.

On the bright side, it turns out he actually liked the book and didn’t even realize he’d rated it. But still. It shouldn’t matter. 

Why am I telling you this story? Well, because I’ve saved the toughest topic for last. We’ve covered hunting for an agent and gathering blurbs. But what do you do when your book is out there, naked, for the entire world to read and form opinions about? It’s freakin’ scary! Your baby is in the middle of a busy intersection with no one to protect it.

Keep in mind I pass these suggestions on because I’ve been through the first novel shuffle and I’ve probably made all of these mistakes at least once – maybe twice.

Ready? Ok. Strap in and welcome to the wild, unfettered land of reviews.

Don’t read reviews. “Are you nuts?” Nope. “I have to read them!” You really don’t. “But, how else will I know if my book is good?” It got published, right? People you trust/know/value said it was good, right?

The best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten about reviews came from a writer friend a few months before Silent City came out. I asked her – how do you deal with bad reviews? “I don’t read them,” she said. “Good or bad.” I thought this was amazing. Mostly because I couldn’t imagine anyone giving her a bad review, but also because on some level it felt really liberating – here was a way to just excise all the anxiety, fear and anger that comes with any kind of commentary on the work. It’s perfect!

But let’s be real – we’re probably gonna read our reviews. Even after this conversation and after realizing how great this advice is, I still read every review. That’s OK, as long as you’re prepared to deal with the consequences…

You’re going to get bad reviews. No matter what. It’s going to happen. Someone out there is not going to like your work. You have to be ready for that. So, what happens when you get a bad review? Move on. Maybe the reviewer made some thoughtful comments – about plot, character, setting, whatever. Take it as it comes. If you got something useful out of the review, all the better. If it was mean-spirited and not useful, then Move. The. Hell. On. There’s no upside to rehashing or wallowing in a negative review. A friend of mine who works in Marketing gave me my second favorite bit of advice in terms of reviews: “Feel bad for yourself for 10 minutes. After that, get to work on your next book.” It’s true. There’s nothing you can do to change the review – someone felt this way. Maybe they were having a bad day? Who knows/cares. All you can do is continue to get better. And hey, you have a book published that people you respect like a lot. That’s something. There’s always next time.

Do not engage when you get a bad review. Remember the story I told up top? Don’t do that. Don’t comment on bad reviews, don’t email reviewers and don’t respond via your channels. (I’ll get into social media in a sec.)

Why not? Well, it makes you look needy, thin-skinned and defensive. Even if all you do say is something like “Sorry you didn’t enjoy the book,” which in and of itself is fairly harmless – wouldn’t you rather be above the fray? OK, you got a bad review. It happens. Next.

Be thankful when you get a good review. Let’s assume that, like me, you aren’t as tough as my author friend. You’re reading your reviews. OK. You’re ignoring the bad reviews. Great. But you just got an awesome review – what do you do? If you know the writer, shoot them a brief thank you note. Drop a quick thank you comment. It’s OK. It shows you’re appreciative of the time they put into writing about your book. A lot of times, these exchanges can turn into publicity opportunities. If a blogger liked your book, they might be interested in interviewing you or doing a giveaway. It’s OK, especially as a new author trying to build a name for yourself, to network with people that like your work.

Plus, many reviewers are great – they’re smart, thoughtful, engaged and are fans of your genre. They read these books and analyze them for a living. Or, they love the genre so much that they give up their free time to talk about books. You want to connect with these people because knowing them might make you a better writer. Get on their radar. Find out what they’re reading. Pick their brains. They’re probably nice people that like the same things you do. You may end up making a new friend.

Spread the good news, do not harp on the bad. Got a bad review? Move on, remember? Don’t be passive-aggressive about it via social media or your channels. Bad reviews happen. But, when you get some good news, feel free to share it. It’s the kind of thing - like blurbs – that might grab a new fan’s attention and entice them to buy your book. I had the huge honor of having my debut novel reviewed in both major South Florida newspapers the day before a bookstore event in Miami. It helped! More people came to the event, online sale went up and so on. I think part of it was that I spread the word about the reviews (as did my publisher) once they hit. Everyone wants to read a good book. If you have people saying your book is good, share that.

Have a sense of humor about it. I’ve seen a lot of viral videos that feature authors reading negative reviews and having a laugh at how crazy some of them can be. Some authors post quotes that are just so batsh*t, you have to laugh. I am not the kind of author that can do that. But if you are – and you can do it in a way that is genuinely about being funny and not about swiping at someone for not liking your work, go for it.

Know yourself. This one’s a little new age-y, but it fits. Don’t beat yourself up if you break any of the above suggestions. They’re not hard and fast rules. Everyone is in a unique situation. So you sent a nasty note to the guy who ripped on your book on Goodreads? Not ideal. Don’t do it again. I get it, though. We’ve slaved over these books for months, maybe years. They mean a lot to us. They’re a part of us. It really stings when someone tears it down, sometime not thoughtfully. But this is the risk we run being authors. We put our work out there, for all to see and asked for feedback. They have a right to share their opinion. So, be forgiving if you can’t adhere to these suggestions 100 percent. Hell, I couldn’t. But you live and learn.