Saturday, May 21, 2011

Read and Let Read

by
Scott D. Parker

I'm almost to the end of my first season of American Idol. After nine years of not bothering to watch nor even caring that I didn't, my wife and I jumped in to the Idol bandwagon with both feet. I've watched all the episodes, read the recaps at Entertainment Weekly and MSNBC, joined the Facebook page, and dang near downloaded a couple of tunes (Casey Abrams's Nature Boy, James Durbin's Will You Still Love Me, and Haley Reinhart's House of the Rising Sun being my favorite performances of the season). Ironically, I never voted. Didn't feel like exposing all of my Facebook friends to the Idol coffers.

We viewers have been blessed with a number of contestants that perform widely varying styles. Jazz, soul, rock and roll, country, gospel, and good old fashioned pop. As fun as it is for me to hear these different types of music--as they naturally follow my own eclectic tastes--I've marveled at how far some of singers reached. Who would have thought the self-professed "jazz head" Casey would reach the final six? How about soulful Hailey who just bowed out this week?

As I read through the comments on the multiple pages, one thing I noticed is, unfortunately, not all that surprising. There's a serious amount of vitriol among the Idol faithful. Followers of rocker James don't like country crooners Scotty McCreery or Lauren Alaina. The country fans hated the growly Haley and Casey. The multitude that enjoyed Pia Toscano's brand of singing discounted the gospel singing of Jacob Lusk. I'm not talking mere "I don't prefer this type of singing" type talk. There's some serious middle-school, only-children-can-be-this-hateful stuff going on here. I can't really understand it. Well, I do. We're human, and we like to make silos and shoot missiles at other things.

The folks in the mystery community are different, at least that's my impression. We have a big tent in here, room enough for everyone. We've got readers who loved hard-boiled action tales and would never, ever read a cozy. We've got traditional mysteryists who think the modern noir stuff is just too violent. We've got everyone. But I don't really hear hurtful bombs lobbed at the other parties. Many of us read different sub-genres of the mystery and crime fiction family, but not all. And it's my impression that even the most devoted follower of one sub-genre doesn't usually take pot shots at another.

Live and let live, or, rather, read and let read.

Why, do you suppose, we're like this? Are we different than the American Idol fandom? What makes us mysteryists accept other genres within our field without resorting to name-calling?

Movie of the Week: Tangled. Watched this for the first time last night with the family. Just about the funniest movie I've seen in a long time. It pretty much had it all. Loved the singing as it's been a few years since Disney did the full-on "Animated Broadway" thing. The horse, Maximus, just about stole the show. Where's the animated short featuring him?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Spoilers

By Russel D McLean


Steven Moffat – the exec producer of Doctor Who – has recently hit out at the “fans” who post spoilers to the internet. In a rather great rant, he talks about those who work to obtain twists and turns of upcoming stories and post them out on the internet.

“So to have some twit who came to a press launch, write up a story in the worst, most ham-fisted English you can imagine, and put it on the internet [is heartbreaking].”

Absolutely. Moffat’s spot on here. I am not a spoiler-phobe, and won’t cry if someone accidentally tells me something but I do prefer to be surprised and shocked and carried along by a story. Especially a new story. Part of the fun I’ve had with Moffat’s own show has been in private discussions with other fans speculating over big game plans we can see developing in the show and how we think things are going to turn out. I haven’t had this much fun since I used to watch Babylon 5, a show which again depended on shock and surprise to pull the viewer along its narrative arc. Part of the joy of the show was the speculation and uncertainty, of trying to second guess the plot and the characters, and of often being completely wrong.

I understand that a culture has developed where people’s impatience and need for instant gratification has resulted in the need to seek out “spoilers”, but in the end I think this is what leads to much of the “grumpiness” of fandom. The foreknowledge of what is happening means that we are not surprised by a narrative in the way we might be otherwise. The shock of an emotional narrative development we didn’t see coming is diminished when we expect it. Thus, “Luke I am your father” doesn’t have that impact if you already know that the Dark Sith Lord is Luke’s daddy. Or imagine what it was to see that second Star Trek movie and have no clue that Spoke was going to sacrifice himself at the end.

To return to Who for a moment, when the series first returned in ’05, we knew in short order that the new Doctor played by Christopher Eccleston was leaving. The official announcement, as I remember it, was that he would do the Christmas special and then leave after that. So when we came to the final show of that season, I settled in knowing it was his last but thinking he’d be around for at least some of the Christmas special. Lucky I’d avoided spoilers that week because the shock of his regeneration at the end of the show really got me. “Hang on”, I said, “I didn’t expect… oh bloody hell, he’s going to die, yup and he’s… he’s regenerating.” It was impossible to hide the fact a new Doc was on his way, but the producers cleverly tried to avoid us knowing the exact details of how and when it would happen, thus creating a climax that really pulled in the unsuspecting viewer.

Stories rely on surprise on the audience not being forewarned. And yes, they should be about more than simple shocks* but I love the delight that comes from seeing a story for the first time and having – literally – no idea of what’s around the corner.

Tonight, for example, I watched the final episode of the 3rd series of the incredible French cop series, SPIRAL (also known as ENGRENAGES) with no clue as to how it would end. My friends who had already seen it respected my need for the narrative, knowing how much the impact of the show would rely on not knowing certain details. And trust me folks, I was on the edge of my seat, because there’s something pure in the being swept along by a narrative with no expectations or knowledge of how it will turn out.

So preach on, Mr Moffat, about the joy of narrative surprise and about how these eejits are spoiling the joy of audience engagement with narrative. Spoilers are a horrific thing, an impediment to one’s ability to truly interact with a story. And those who spread them with intent – as compared to those who accidentally give something away, those who innocently forget what they’re saying – are indeed, Moffat says, indulging in a form of vandalism.

*The Sixth Sense, for example, doesn’t exist much beyond that twist – repeat viewings don’t reveal much more other than the trickery that stopped you seeing the truth first time around

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Exploding Bus

It started with an exploding bus.

No, wait... it started before then. About a year before then. One of the teachers I worked with knew I was writing a book. And she wanted in. Begged and pleaded--okay, asked once. When I got to a situation where I needed a name for a character--one I thought was going to be minor--I plugged it in.

The character ended up being a major one.

Once I signed a book deal for WHEN ONE MAN DIES and a sequel, people started coming out of the woodwork. They wanted to be in the book. It was constant. Everyone wanted a role... and comedically enough, they all wanted to die.

I had about 15 people ask to be murder victims.

And I was going to do it... I was going to put them all in the book.

And kill them off.

The question was how. How do you kill off fifteen people and not turn it into a teenage horror comedy with more snark than heart? And for a minute, I thought I had it.

I was going to blow up a bus. And then print the passenger list. Of course one of the victims would be an important character and the rest innocent people I knew. It was a great idea, I thought. Fun for me and my friends. Believable for the audience too.

Except I couldn't come up with a reason why I should blow up a bus. It didn't fit the book.

So, since then, I've been sneaking in names of my friends as character names. My friends, co-workers, and family love it. They get a kick out of it.

The rest of you have no idea. Each of my books has people I know in it. And it helps with characterization too. I give some of the traits of my friends to the characters in the book. Helps give them believable quirks.

And believe me, my friends are quirky.

So, my question is this, knowing that I do this... knowing that a lot of other authors probably do it as well, will you now find it distracting? Will you try to figure out who's named after a real person and who's completely fictional?

I know I don't.

--------------------------------------------

CHECK OUT: WITNESS TO DEATH on Kindle or Nook.

Want to talk WITNESS spoilers? Comment here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dumbing Downer

by
John McFetridge



Saw this great quote from Kurt Sutter, the creator and showrunner of Sons of Anarchy:

"Stop making decisions based on research data, and hire development executives with degrees in art, literature, and theater instead of marketing, business, and law. If people followed those two rules, TV would be a fuckload better."

And this one from Roger Ebert:

"As the leadership of many studios is taken from creators and assigned to marketers, nothing is harder to get financed than an original idea, or easier than a retread. The urge to repeat success can be found even in the content of modern trailers, which often seem to be about the same upbeat film. Even The Beaver, with Mel Gibson battling mental illness, is made to look like a hopeful comedy with a cute stuffed animal."

Now that speaks to every writer, for sure, but I want to add, “Let’s not be so quick to try and give these research data-reading marketers exactly what they want.”

Sure, that’s easy to say, and I did spend a lot of yesterday in a development meeting at a Canadian network telling them exactly how we can make this cop show different from every other cop show while still being similar enough not to scare off an audience.

And sure, I believe we’ll try to do that but there will be a lot of compromises along the way – we all know that even if we don’t say it out loud.

Because I also saw this yesterday:

"Comedies are the hardest thing to do," says Gary Carr of Targetcast. Even ‘30 Rock,’ a survivor on the NBC schedule, "goes over most people's heads. It's not doing that well."

This is from a guy buying advertising on the major networks. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of 30 Rock but I don’t think that’s because it’s going over my head. I just don’t find it that funny. I really like Tina Fey and I’m pretty sure I’m getting all the jokes, they just don’t make me laugh. Maybe I’m just too old for this show but I find that there’s too much silly and I really don’t care about the characters and their problems. I do like The Big Bang Theory, though I’m pretty sure some of that actually is going over my head.

Which brings me back to books. Yes, publishing isn’t perfect but at least there’s no one buying advertising for your book saying that it’s going over people’s heads. All of the editors I have dealt with so far have been creative people with degrees in literature. Sure, they have to deal with the business people and accountants but it’s a far cry from the movie and TV biz.

And there are the small publishers and self-published books which have the potential to be purely art-driven.

But we have to write them. It still comes down to that most cliche of advice, “Write the book you want to read.”

Lately when I look at a self-published e-book I wonder, is this something I could get from a publisher? And if it is then I’m not that interested – but if it isn’t, if it’s something unlikely to be published by one of the big five, say a short story collection or a novella or some really experimental fiction or something really genre mixing, or, more and more these days, something that sounds “ordinary” like small town cops without any superpowers – then I’m more interested.

Maybe all these TV networks and ad buyers are right, maybe the stories really do need to be dumbed down in order to find an audience, but I doubt it. So, I’m glad there are now other ways to get those kinds of stories out there.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dumbing Down

By Jay Stringer


You're all fans of Doctor Who, right? No? Well stick around anyway. I'm not going to try and change your mind, but I am using the show to get at something I think is important. The first three paragraphs might bore you a bit though.

Quick history lesson. Doctor Who came back to our screens in 2005. After so long away, it was by no means sure that a modern audience would embrace the show. Show runner Russel T Davies chose to resolve this by making the show very loud and zany, with a tendency towards action and flashing things and a very friendly Doctor. I'm not going to attack those choices. They weren't for me, but along the way Davies slipped in a few healthy dashes of darker, scarier and more intelligent episodes that kept me coming back.

Doctor Who for me was always about the Molotov cocktail of fear and excitement. It was where generations of children got to test-drive horror, death, and aliens. My lasting memory of the show from my childhood is a scene where some vampire-type monsters came up out of the sea and stalked up the beach towards their victim. It scared seven shades of shit out of me, but I loved it.

Current show runner Steven Moffat clearly has similar memories. When he took over last year, he talked of retooling the show into a dark fairytale. His vision meshes almost totally with what I want. Now, I can accept that his vision of the show isn't for everyone tastes, but its a very flexible show. There's been a prevailing style for five years that wasn't to my tastes, and after Moffat's era there will be a new era. There are as many different and valid takes on the Doctor as there are for Batman. If you don't like one version, wait around patiently, another will be along.

There is a worrying movement gathering pace in the media. I've seen it in all of the major British newspapers and now in a few magazines as well. And it's one that makes me spit feathers, I warn you.

This article is the clearest example. It says that the show is too dark. That it's too scary and too challenging for kids. Not just Doctor Who, it evokes something else later on, but lets take things one at a time. The writer says that her favourite episodes are the dark ones. The challenging, character driven ones. But that all a child wants is some farting and some death rays.

I.Call.Shenanigans.

I also call "missing the whole damned point."

Okay, look. A farting alien? Hell, I'm 30 and I still find that amusing. But that's just the dressing. What this argument is essentially saying is, "I like the ones wot I am clever enough to get, innit, but the little people? They is dumb, they wants the farting and the pull-my-finger." Okay, not quite like that, because they have sub-editors to do the hard work and at DSD we just have the squirrels in the rafters that laugh at us and throw grammar at our heads.

This is talking down to children in such an unbelievable way, that the only possible outcome is for people to swallow it whole and accept it as truth. Because that's how it seems to work.

Check this quote out;

"So who should he try to please? It was a tough one, especially as TV reviewers are generally not, as you might imagine, eight-year-olds, but rather the group that likes intricate plot lines and emotional character arcs more than flatulent aliens."

Because all that the children can relate to is the flatulent aliens. Yes. They're not engaged by intricate plot, emotions, character arcs or story. No child has ever been gripped by a story and then asked, but what happens next?

You.do.not.write.down.to.children.

Well, you can, sure. But it makes you a crap writer and it makes them a bored child. It's such a shame that we've never had children's entertainment that backs up my argument. We've never had intelligent, gripping, plotted drama that's dressed up with a few beasties and funny noises. We've never had TOY STORY or UP. We never had THE HOBBIT or Roald Dahl. We never had fairy tales, or ghost stories. My argument would be far easier to make if only we had some long running show, some sci-fi/fantasy/drama/comedy/horror show that had been engaging children of all ages since 1963.....

Children like farting. They like flashing noises and silly monsters. We all do. But that's the grammar, that's the little parcels of light and humour along the way. You entertain a child by stimulating their imagination. By letting them in on something that feels like it's maybe a year or two above them, that they shouldn't be seeing. You ask questions of them and challenge them and scare them and excite them, and you wrap it all up in something that ultimately cannot hurt them. And for the moments when they're scared, you're there to offer your shoulder to hide behind, or to talk to them about their fear, to discuss things with them so that they learn how to hold a conversation.

Not all children want or need to be engaged this way, naturally. But I'll make a different generalisation here. When we're all asked why we write I'm sure we can struggle, and think, and each come up with slightly different answers. But when talking to other writers, something that tends to ring true for the majority is that we can all remember something that excited and engaged us as a child. Might not always be books -my major influences are music and comics- but there will be something buried away there that was a little too old for us, a little too adult, dark or thrilling. Something that made our young minds turn over, and that has had our young minds turning over ever since.

I read WATCHMEN between the ages of 6 and 7. Well, not all of it. This was in the days before I got trade paperback collections, and the comics that I got tended to be what adults would get for me based on the covers or based on the characters I liked. They never flicked through the pages to see what was inside (that came a couple years later, when my mum saw me reading Gotham By Gaslight and freaked.) But I was reading possibly the greatest, most challenging and most adult superhero comic of all time. And 24 years later I'm a writer. How about that?

Did I understand everything? Hell no. I don't understand it all now. Each time I re-read it I pick up on something new. The truly adult themes went flying over my head. They didn't upset me because I didn't know to look for them. Just as now, in Doctor Who, the darkest or raunchiest themes would go flying over my head because I wouldn't know to be looking for them. But man, was I hooked.

The whole article -the whole growing movement- is a value judgement.

It's drawing lines in the sand, saying that this is allowed to be intelligent and dramatic, but that isn't. She says that adults have had plenty of shows to be entertained with, like Firefly and Battlestar Galactica, so we should leave Doctor Who to the kids. I've never gotten this 'drawing a line in the sand' thing. These things that I like are allowed to be clever, other things aren't.

The article even ends with the line,

"So, come on, grown-ups; let's leave kids' shows to the kids."

How can a line be so loaded and yet so hollow at the same time? Firstly, if Doctor Who was merely a "kids show" it would be on around 4pm on a weekday or on a Saturday morning. No, it's in the prime-time family slot on a Saturday evening. It sits between a game-show and the national lottery. It's family drama. It's meant for the whole family to sit and enjoy, and discuss and engage. Secondly, who is to say that a "kids show" can't be challenging, exciting and full of plot?

Here's my thing, here's what I think is the deep dark secret at the heart of all this; It's not about dumbing it down for the children, it's about dumbing it down for the adults.

Children will engage. Children will marvel. Children will fantasise and whoop and gasp and jump and then make up their own adventures. But the adults? Pfft. They don't want to be challenged. They don't want to engage. They want to sit brainless in front of a screen for 60 minutes, between a mindless game-show and their one in a billion chance at winning the lottery.

Explosions, one-liners and funny aliens they can handle. But plot? Questions? Time-Travel? Shit, next thing we'll be asking them to explain things to their children. What this movement is hiding is not that the children can't find something to engage with in plot, character and emotion. It's that parents can be damned lazy about explaining these things to them. Perhaps because they, themselves, don't get the plot.

See, adults, it's not nice being generalised, is it?

I'm reminded of a friend's incredulity when I got angry over Transformers 2. "What were you expecting from a film about giant robots?" He asked, "Plot and character?" I answered that at least one of those was my minimum expectation of any story.

The laziness of these value judgements is exposed later in the article, when the gears shift to comic books.

"superhero movies, which are now expected to be meaning-laden explorations of midlife crises (Iron Man), family guilt (Spider-man) or loss (Batman). There was some surprise from reviewers that Thor, a film about a "space viking with a magic hammer", was aimed at younger audiences. Chipman's theory is that marketing men, mindful of the spending power of adult comic-book fans, have sought to soothe us with these gritty reboots."

Okay. Lets forget for a moment that Thor and his Magic Hammer date back a couple thousand years through myth and religion. Aside from that, I think the article makes a fine point. I think it is ridiculous that these modern film makers pretend that Batman's story is about loss. Clearly, they travelled back in time to 1939 and needlessly added in the bit about Bruce Wayne's parents getting killed in front of him. They did it just to sell a few T shirts in the modern day and allow filmmakers to subvert a jolly kids character with some dark issues.

These same people no doubt went back in time and forced in the bit about Tony Stark being an alcoholic arms dealer who struggles to come to terms with responsibility and the demon in the bottle. And that thing about Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man because he was guilty over the death of his uncle? They just put that there so that the marketing men could sell T Shirts to adults. How dare they subvert something thats meant to be silly and empty and for kids.

Bull. Shit.

If people want to continue to trot out ill-informed opinions over comic books, then the least I would expect is for them to read one first. Why is it that people still use the term "comic book" as a description for cheap or tacky writing? These people haven't read one. It's value judgements again.

"No, no, they say, liking cars that turn into robots isn't embarrassing, because look! Here are some metaphors"

Aha. That would be a call back. See, why would anybody want to read, watch or engage with a story written with this kind of approach in mind? Shouldn't we expect from all stories that there was, you know, something going on? When did it become okay to start looking down on things? When did it become okay to dumb down? When did people in glass houses start throwing stones?

Never, ever, write down to an audience. It just cheapens your story. Write the best story you can, and challenge the audience to raise their game. Along the way you might inspire a few minds, young and old. You might create some future writers, you might rekindle excitement in a few jaded adults. You might get to scare the crap out of a few people.

But what you will get is a damned good story.

The rest will take care of itself.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Take a look at those shorts

By Steve Weddle

Load up the audio version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Ready? OK. Go to the part where the lion roars and start to play it backwards. You'll hear that guy from Judas Priest saying, "The short story is dead."

Which doesn't make much sense to me, because I've been reading some great short stories recently.

I'm working on a series of short stories and found myself being drawn to the form. (Sheesh, that sounds corny. Do people say 'corny' anymore? Does that make me a square?)

So I ask a few folks for their favorite short story collections. Lyrical. Rural.

Jedidiah Ayres shoots me a list of about 83 collections.

JESUS' SON by Denis Johnson. I bought this one at a local bookstore and went on the webernet to download the audio version of "Emergency." The stories in the collection are about a young man named Mr. F. Head and his crazy life. I listened to "Emergency" while I was cutting the grass one day. Fantastic. Then I read through the rest of the book -- all 124 pages -- in one sitting. The stories are first-person some the mind of this drugged out character, falling in and out of beauty. The connectedness of the stories works here, never feeling gimmicky.

REFRESH, REFRESH by Benjamin Percy. Hell yeah. That first story that starts out with two kids in a backyard fight that isn't really a fight and the military aspect and the recruiter and the sled at the end. Wow, that's a good one. And you can read that story online for free here.

KNOCKEMSTIFF by Donald Ray Pollock. "Real Life" and "Knockemstiff" are two fantastic pieces of fiction. The first one is all about a father and son beating the crap out of a father and son in a toilet. Well, that's not all it's about. There's some thinky stuff in there, too. And "Knockemstiff" is one of those ugly, beautiful stories of hope and horror.


VOLT by Alan Heathcock. I was a bit worried about this one when I started the first story. Dead child. I'm not fond of reading about dead children. So I skipped that one. The rest of the book is spot on, you know? "Lazarus" is probably one of my top ten favoritest stories in the world ever in the whole world. Bonus: The NYT review of VOLT was written by Donald Ray Pollock.


MIRACLE BOY AND OTHER STORIES by Pinckney Benedict. Just hell yeah. As they say over at Bookslut, "This collection is timely and timeless with heart and cowardice and tenderness rolled into one very human whole." Damn right.


OUT OF THE WOODS by Chris Offutt. The story in here called "Melungeons" had me running to the webernet as soon as I'd finished. Are these people real? Turns out, yes. And they might be from the very county in which I work. Friggin small world, huh? "Barred Owl" is great -- about a couple of guys who "made it out" of Kentucky, but, of course, didn't. This is a book about place. About belonging. About what makes you part of something, and what makes something part of you. A great book if you're interested in short stories that tie together without feeling forced.

OK. There's what I've been reading that past couple weeks. How about you? You reading short stories? How about we share, huh?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Meet Steve Ulfelder and Purgatory Chasm

by: Joelle Charbonneau

There are drunken assholes, and there are assholes who are
drunks. Take a drunken asshole and stick him in AA for five or ten years, maybe you come out with a decent guy.

Now take an asshole who’s a drunk. Put him in AA as long as you like. Send him to a thousand meetings a year, have him join the Peace Corps for good measure. What you come out with is a sober asshole.

Tander Phigg was a sober asshole.



From the opening lines of Purgatory Chasm, Steve Ulfelder sucks the reader into the world of Conway Sax. Conway Sax is a mechanic, a former professional race car driver and a recovering alcoholic who belongs to an AA group known as the Barn Burners. It is his relationship with the Barn Burners that pulls him into meeting Tander Phigg and starts him on a path filled with dangerous characters, an interesting mystery, self-discovery and quite of bit of violence and blood.

Yeah – it’s pretty great. So great that I thought the readers of DSD should meet Steve. So, I roped him into answering a few questions about himself and his writing. And if you have a question for Steve - ask away! I'm betting he'd be happy to anwer!

(Me) Welcome to DSD Steve. I can’t tell you how excited I am about the release of Purgatory Chasm and I’m certain the Do Some Damage readers are going to be pretty stoked as well.

Hi Joelle – It’s an honor! DSD is on my bookmarked list of must-visit-every-day writing blogs, so I’m pretty damn thrilled to be mentioned here.

Conway Sax is a fabulous character. He has demons that he is battling, but I find it interesting that it is his thus far successful battle with alcoholism that leads him into trouble in this book. Can you give everyone who isn’t lucky enough to have gotten an advanced copy (yes, I’m gloating) a quick introduction to Conway and the trouble he’s found himself drawn to in Purgatory Chasm?

Conway Sax was once a promising race driver who looked like a future NASCAR star. But he drank away that opportunity, along with his family and his pride. He spent many years as a full-on bum knocking around hobo camps, county jails and the like.

Conway believes his life was saved by the Barnburners, the unconventional Alcoholics Anonymous group he stumbled onto just in time. As the book opens, he’s got a good chunk of sobriety behind him. Loyalty is one of Conway’s traits; to repay the Barnburners, he has a personal policy of helping any member who gets in a jam, no questions asked.

Tander Phigg, a Barnburner who Conway doesn’t especially like, needs help recovering his vintage car from a shady restoration shop. Conway reluctantly agrees, and gets his head bashed in for his trouble. That loyalty I mentioned, plus stubbornness, prompts him to look harder at the case, and next thing you know there’s a dead body hanging from a pipe – and Conway’s the prime suspect …


I admit that I am able to check my tire pressure, check my oil and that is about it so your background as a race car driver and now a race car builder has me in awe. But I have to ask, race car driving and building sounds glamorous and exciting. With that kind of cool job, why did you sit down one day in front of a blank screen and begin writing?

Hmm, the racing business doesn’t seem so glamorous when you have 30 minutes to change an angry customer’s transmission on a 105-degree day, or when you’ve got 72 hours to drive a trailerload of cars from Sacramento to Boston! I was actually a journalist for 20 years, and racing was a hobby. When some friends and I formed Flatout Motorsports, I went for a midlife career change: I quit journalism, began putting a lot of energy into the racing business, and took a night class on writing novels.

The funny thing is, when I was a journalist I could never build momentum for fiction writing; by 5:00, I was all worded out! The contrast between the writing and the racing stuff seems to give me plenty of energy for both.


Race car drivers get a reputation as people who like living on the edge. They also take a lot of calculated risks, which Conway Sax certainly does. Those risks sometimes pan out, but he takes a number of lumps along the way and doesn’t seem overly concerned about his own health. Is that part of the race car driver mentality as well? And because I asked that, I have to ask what is the worst injury you ever received as a result of driving race cars?

That’s a good observation about Conway. He’s definitely a tough guy, but I never wanted him to be invincible. He can and does take a beating here and there. His history has taught him there’s always somebody tougher (or in possession of a bigger gun) than you, so these beatings don’t bother him much; rather, they are occupational hazards.

Now here’s the dirty little secret about auto racing: It’s actually very safe! Everything about the cars, from the stout roll cages we build to the harnesses and the HANS devices and the fuel cells, is designed with safety in mind. We wear fire-resistant gloves, suits, shoes, even underpants.

Having said that, I admit I’ve had my share of wrecks. The only notable injury I’ve suffered was stretched ligaments in my neck when I backed into a concrete wall at about 105 mph.


What’s the first thing you did after you got ‘The Call” that Purgatory Chasm had sold to Minotaur?

Warmed my fingers! It was February, and I was outside the shop hosing off race wheels. I nearly missed the call because my hands were so numb. See what I mean about the racing business not being as glamorous as it may look from afar?

My fantastic agent, Janet Reid, enjoyed that call as much as I did. She worked so hard for two years, through a bankrupt publisher and the usual near-misses, to sell a book for me. I’m eternally grateful.


And most important – what is your favorite drink? We want to make sure all your fans know exactly what to buy you when you are saddled up to the bar at conferences.

I’m a cheap date; it won’t surprise anybody to learn that my favorite beverages are non-alcoholic. Buy me a Dr Pepper and I’ll be your friend for life.



Check out Purgatory Chasm at B&N, Indiebound, Amazon or at your favorite local bookstore. Trust me. You won't be sorry!