Mar 26, 2008

The Crimespree Awards

This years awards will be given out at Bouchercon in Baltimore. It was a good year for books and we had a lot of votes.

Favorite book of 2007

The Unquiet - John Connolly * winner

What The Dead Know - Laura Lippman
The Watchman - Robert Crais
Priest – Ken Bruen
Thunder Bay – William Kent Krueger

Best On-Going Series

Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks * Winner

Lee Child’s Jack Reacher
Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor
John Connolly’s Charlie "Bird" Parker
Barry Eisler's John Rain

Favorite Anthology of 2007

Expletive Deleted – Jen Jordan Editor * Winner

A Hell of a Woman - Megan Abbott Editor
Chicago Blues - Libby Hellman Editor

Favorite Comics Writer of 2007

Brian Azzarello * Winner

Ed Brubaker
Jason Aaron
Greg Rucka
Garth Ennis

Best first book of 2007

Sean Chercover-Big City Bad Blood * Winner

Marcus Sakey - The Blade Itself
Craig McDonald - Head Games
Stealing The Dragon – Tim Maleeny
Tom Schreck – On The Ropes

Mar 23, 2008

Boys and Birthdays-

How to make this Crimespree related? Well it's about Jon and me.... so here's a little Crimespree tale guaranteed to make everyone smile. The other morning I had a five o'clock wake up call to get to the airport and find my way home to Milwaukee after a week in Baltimore. The airline hurried us all onto the plane, but... we got stuck in a holding pattern over my home town. Eventually they had to reroute us to Midway in Chicago because the plane was running out of fuel. So I did what 250 other people did when the plane hit the tarmac... I phoned home. And there was nobody there. One hour and three increasingly desperate phone calls later my cell rang. My Groom had decided to just meet my plane and not wait for the phone call. You see we live ten minutes from the airport and that's how we do it, as we hit ground we dial for our ride.

So while my phone calls were becoming more and more desperate Jon was at Mitchell watching my arrival time get pushed back and pushed back until the flight disappeared off of the arrival board. He overheard somebody else exclaim,"What do you mean you're in Chicago?" and confirmed it was indeed the flight from Baltimore. He hauled a** home (as fast as you can in a foot of snow) and we were reunited through the good graces of Verizon.

This was just the beginning of my adventure, a day where there was no food, no cigarettes, no where to store my fifty pounds of luggage and carry-ons. About the only thing better than being diverted from Mitchell was the solution for getting us all back to Milwaukee afterwards. A bus, in a Blizzard, during Friday rush hour. Yeah it was special. The highlight was getting stuck on railroad tracks with a train bearing down on us.... but I got home. 10 hours after my plane was due to arrive, but home.... sweet, sweet home....

And Jon confused me terribly.... "Do you want to go get Birthday Presents now?" That wonderful man I've married for better or worse.... Last year my birthday was on Easter. And Today is Easter.... and he's a boy..... a boy who missed his wife.... Should I tell him or go for Birthday Treats.....

Happy Spring and Hoppy Easter


Mar 12, 2008

Confessions of A Crimespree Publisher

So, uhm... how to start? That's always the hardest part isn't it? You all know me, I'm amongst friends here. So I'll start with an e-mail. A couple of weeks ago the name Ken Bruen popped up in my in-box. Ken's a good friend, a great mystery champion and a brilliant writer. It had been a bit since we'd e-mailed, busy getting in the way on both sides of the equation. The first line of Ken's e-mail was "I love your story in EXPLETIVE DELETED." Out of the blue. The e-mail went on to its main context but I kept going back to that first line and blushing a bit (well a lot). I responded to Ken's e-mail and closed with the line, " Thanks for the kind words about my little story, I've got an Irish blush on as I type." And Ken broke our e-mail pattern. Not five minutes after I hit send there was more e-mail in my in box. "Ruth it's a great story, have you not been reading the reviews?"

That's right, I'd been kindly scolded by Ken Bruen, told to take Little Blue Pill seriously and not as a codicil in an e-mail. It freaked me out. Ken Bruen telling me to take my writing seriously....

Jon and I are uber fans. If there's anyone left in the mystery world who doesn't believe that, they'll be able to see it for themselves next Monday. I love spreading the word. Am passionate about the books I love and not dismissive of those I don't. We've come a long way from tentative ramblings in chat rooms and on bulletin boards. We've made a lot of really good friends in the community. We continually try to find new ways to forward mysteries and I'll never forget how proud I was in 99 when Val McDermid stopped me in the hall at the Milwaukee Bouchercon. She wanted to introduce to a friend. Said friend asked me what I did and I replied "I'm a reader." and Val, bless her heart said "Isn't that great!" before I tried to come up with some reason this person should talk to me, a mere reader. It's been my mantra ever since. In the mystery community I truly believe Readers are the most important part of the equation. And if Val McDermid agrees with me it's a pretty strong platform to be on.

So what about this new thing, having a published story that people seem to like? Am I betraying my own identity? Do I need to include it in my bio? Does anyone have to know about this? Maybe. I have after all experienced quite a few strange and wonderful moments of deja vu with this.

Over the years I've met many people who were always writers but hadn't ascended to authorhood when we were introduced. Jon and I have been lucky enough to get to encourage a lot of these people and experience the jubilation as they achieved a goal. First book, First review, First award nomination, First time on the list. And the truth is these are the trappings that make up for the hours spent alone nurturing your ideas and a voice. And if you're good at the writing and lucky with a book's release, if you work hard, the accolades come. If you work really hard and the product is really good and you can distribute it the sales may even follow... but not always.

So when I signed copies of Expletive Deleted at Muskego this past November, seated between Laura Lippman and Libby Fischer Hellmann it was a big deal. A surreal "pinch me" moment. And when on a dreary Saturday morning, Jen4 forwarded a review of the anthology (print, no less) that mentioned my story and called it strong.... well that review stayed up all day as I worked on other projects. Hey, I've even lost my first writing award at this point. Just this past weekend I was asked to personalize a copy of EXPLETIVE DELETED for my favorite college professor. All this from one little story, just imagine if I wrote a book?

So, I'm understanding what many of my friends go through every time they put that little piece of themselves out there with a lot more clarity. I can cheer them on with more enthusiasm and a better understanding.

So what about that short story? I'm happy it's been well received. And I hope that given the opportunity for the same writing process over again, I'd write a better end product. When I wrote BLUE PILL, I got a lot of help polishing it. When it was submitted for EXPLETIVE it was edited again. It's a stronger story than the one I first typed but it doesn't say exactly what I was going for. Or as my Mom put it, "I'm not sure people will understand it's satire."

I still remember sending Pill out in it's original form. I was excited and every author I'd ever met who, as a kindly aside had said, "If you ever finish something, send it" received it. Many said well done, two folks offered to help me fix it and taught me more about writing in two weeks than I'll ever learn again, but there was the hero who didn't respond right away. A day went by, a week, then two.... And then an e-mail.....
"Thank Christ it didn't suck". If there's anything driving me to write a book it's the visual of the back of the book and the blurb..... "Thank Christ it didn't suck". The sheer relief felt at the reading of those words cannot be described but I know anyone who's ever sent anything out that they've written will understand entirely.

So here's the end of my confession.... I've always written fiction. Just recently I found a report I wrote in second grade about the pilgrims.. pure fiction. I write a little every day. Years ago, good friends Jeremy Lynch, Annie Chernow and Sarah Weinman all made it to Milwaukee and saw the file of "stories Ruth started", now I have a lap top full of word documents that just aren't good enough to share. The writing is better because I write every day..... the writing isn't good enough because I'm a reader. A champion for mystery. I am not going to make anybody read crap. Well, except for Jon. There's too much good stuff out there. What I write now doesn't even have much of a crime element in it, if that makes any sense to anyone. So if anyone pushed, asked me for a bio, it would go READER, FAN, Crimespree, and writer. Am I an author? Not yet but maybe someday....

So if the first step is admitting you have a problem.... I guess I've done that here.


Mar 11, 2008

Steven Sidor

Steven Sidor's first book kicked my ass. I really enjoyed it and the second was every bit as good. He does a great job of setting mood and his description of settings blend in perfectly and really make you feel like you are somewhere familair.

Here's a review of his up coming book that will be in the buzz box next issue.

Steven Sidor
April 2008
St Martin’s Minotaur

Steven Sidor, author of SKIN RIVER and BONE FACTORY, releases his third book this April, THE MIRROR’S EDGE

When two-year-old twins, Shane and Liam Boyle, are taken from their home, even video of the event left behind does little to help police find the kidnappers. And no one knows if there will be a ransom note or body recovery.

A year after the abduction, Jase Deering tracks down the boys' former nanny. She leads a life of paranoia and fright, convinced the people responsible for the boy’s disappearance and an odd tattoo left on her thigh will eventually make her disappear as well. The tattoo itself provides only more questions. It is the palindrome mirrorrorrim. Deering is seemingly lead down a path that leads him to Graham Morick.

Morick, son of an infamous occult figure, is an enigmatic and charismatic man that seems willing to help. As years pass, Deering becomes more deeply enmeshed in the fate of the boys. And Morick in his. And both begin to shape his fate. A tight thriller that will keep you up late.

Mar 7, 2008

Friday thoughts of Presidents

I believe myself to be a fairly level headed person. I spend hours typing book reviews, Crimespree columns, Bouchercon e-mails, even occasional fiction. I love it all.

That is the kind of column all of you expect and deserve on this blog. So if you’re not interested in my opinion of the current Democratic process being waged here in the good old U.S.A. break away now. Writing, you see, has become a way for me to express myself and I cannot hold my keyboard in check any longer.

Once upon a time there was a golden couple from Arkansas. The husband was smart, handsome, a very good glad hander and a beatific orator. The wife was savvy, independent, an accomplished attorney, a great mother and a steadfast spouse. Together they rose to the highest office in the land where the husband served his country for eight years. Despite scandal and some misguided judgment calls they remained true to their path (mostly). When Bill Clinton left office he was as popular as the day he entered. Many, in fact say that Gore would have won the Electoral College if he would have used the Clinton’s more in his campaign (we all know he won the election).

I found hope in this couple during their reign. Two people who despite personal flaws were true to their country, their government and their party. Where did this couple go? I see two people who look amazingly like them this year. Has anyone checked for pods in the basement?

That a man who unified the Democratic Party and took back Congress with his campaigning skills can be trying so craftily to alienate such a large portion of that same party is bewildering to me as an individual. I understand they’re married. I understand she wants to be President. I can even grasp at the concept she truly believes she may be the better candidate.

But she isn’t. And I want to respect her again. I want Senator Hillary Clinton to stand beside Obama and declare, “ Yes we can”. I want her to show some grace and allow her party to select the best candidate to run against John McCain.

You need go no further than Google News to see the Senator from New York is being a bully.
“Clinton Campaign declares Texas Caucuses show irregularities.”
Meanwhile on Entertainment tonight Eva Longoria is encouraging everyone to vote twice for Hillary.
“I am the most experienced candidate in the field,” says Clinton
Uhm…. Excuse me?? You’ve held a senatorial office since 2000. Oh that’s right. You have the in and out skills of the Washington snake who slithers between special interests, big money, lobbyists, and big donors. You do have thirty years of that.

Guess what? This lifelong Democrat feels it’s time to move on. Try something a little different. My Candidate raised 50 million dollars last month from individual donations. People who think that together we can get our country back. Regain the respect of the rest of the world. Work towards a new national ideology rather than be stuck in the same quagmire we’ve been sinking in for the last eight years.

You talk of the possibility of working together with this man my old friend, and yet you attack him at every turn. Would you my dear, work with Ken Starr? Oh that’s right, you accepted campaign donations from his firm, so you already do.

Instead of the golden aura that once surrounded my couple I see now something so weather wrought not even Tarn-X could bring you back to who you once were. But if you do believe in your Country, if you believe in the party you helped to breathe life into in that long ago “Once Upon A Time” join us. Move the Country forward. Shake the hand of the Democrat from Illinois and lend him your endorsement. I just might recognize you again.

There’s a time to aspire to your dream and a time to make way for the dreams of the majority of a nation. A little nobility please Ms. Senator.

Mar 6, 2008

Ed Brubaker Interview by Duane Swierczynski

This ran in Crimespree #22

Ed Brubaker makes me wish I had a time machine.

I want to send him back to, say, December 1950, dead broke, with nothing more than a typewriter, ream of paper, and the address of Gold Medal books editor Richard Carroll. Then, I’d just sit back and wait for him to conquer the world of mystery paperback originals.

There’s no doubt he would conquer, because Brubaker has the mad genius and the pedal-to-the floor work ethic of the best of the 1950s guys. Right now, Brubaker’s responsible for no fewer four of Marvel Comics’ hottest superhero titles (Uncanny X-Men, Captain America, Daredevil, and, along with Matt Fraction, Iron Fist), but also Criminal, the Eisner-Award winning crime series, for Marvel’s Icon imprint. And while Criminal taps into that sweet ultra-hardboiled Black Mask/Cain/Hammett/ Stark vein, what makes the series a must-read is the undercurrent of strained and broken relationships—father and son, brother and brother, man and wife—running throughout the story arcs. Brubaker’s characters bleed like crazy, but that’s nothing compared to the heartbreak they endure.

So if I can’t hurl Brubaker back in time, the next best thing I can do is pin him down for a few questions.

This Q&A was conducted over a series of emails. I’d lob a question, he’d smack it back at me. Then, halfway through, he shot a few questions my way, too. We’d double-back and pick up a thread from an earlier email, and… well, if I just ran the emails straight, they’d be confusing as hell. So I’ve reordered the sequence a questions a bit; I didn’t change a single word. I just wanted to avoid this Q&A sounding like two rambling winos in an alley, mumbling about crooks and pulps and movies. Not entirely sure I succeeded, mind you.

Duane Swierczynski: When did you first get the idea for Criminal?

Ed Brubaker: The stories that I’m telling in Criminal have been bouncing around in my head for a long time, probably. Coward, the first book, started as an idea for a graphic novel for a French publisher, back in 2002, or so, but we could never get on the same page about what it should be, so I dropped it. But it just kept fleshing out in my head over the years, wanting to be told. Then about two years ago, I was trying to figure out what Sean Phillips and I should do as our next project after Sleeper finished (that was our book at Wildstorm, about a double-agent left out in the cold), and it just occurred to me that I should create an umbrella title to tell any crime story I wanted to in. And so I started jotting down all my ideas for the stories I’d tell, and the characters, and it all came together from there, and just started building.

DS: Did you intend the same thing for Scene of the Crime, back in 2000? I could see different kinds of stories playing out in that universe, too.

EB: Scene of the Crime was meant to be a continuing series of stories, but Vertigo kept changing the plan on us. First it was going to be a contract for 3 arcs, then 2, and finally, they played it safe and just gave us a contract for the one we did. Then by the time they decided they wanted a sequel, Michael Lark (who draws Daredevil for me now) was deep into a Batman graphic novel, so it was never really going to happen. By the time he could have done it, it seemed like too much time had passed, and Greg Rucka and I had come up with Gotham Central, our cop book at DC, and wanted Michael for that. I had outlines for two more mysteries, one of which I've altered and hope to do someday as a novel or a graphic novel, or some combination of both, maybe.

Scene was my first attempt at writing a mystery, and really sprung out of my love of Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer books, as a lot of first mysteries probably do. It also was something I came up with almost by accident, because our editor Shelly kept hounding me to pitch ideas to Vertigo and I couldn’t come up with anything that felt much like what I thought they did, so I pitched something I would enjoy, that I thought for sure they’d pass on, almost just to get it done with, and strangely enough it got approved like the next day, and suddenly I had a writing career.

DS: How many Criminal stories do you have in mind right now? Can you see these arcs going on indefinitely?

EB: I have ideas for 6 or 7 of them right now, but more keep occurring all the time. I'm actually delaying the third story I was going to do to write 3 interlinked short stories for the next few issues, that'll be longer than usual. Probably about 30 pages of story each issue for these. And they all take place in the late 60s to early 70s. One of them is the story of how Gnarly ended up owning the Undertow bar where all the criminals hang out.

But yeah, for now I could see writing stories like these forever. I see heists everywhere, as I'm sure you do, too.

DS: Since Scene of the Crime, many of your regular series have been infused with this great crime/noir vibe—Sleeper was pure noir, Gotham Central was hardcore police procedural, and so on. Is “crime” the lens through which you view much of life?

EB: Yeah, and espionage, a bit. My dad and his brother (who I’m named after) were both in the intel field. My uncle was a big mucky-muck in the CIA and my dad was in Naval Intelligence. Not that either of them were ever forthcoming with details about what they did, but it probably accounts for my interest in that genre. And when I was a teenager, I was kind of a thief and a drug-addict. I did a lot of things I'm not proud of, and lived in a really ugly world of speed-freaks and scumbags for a few years. Nearly going to prison straightened me out, though. Scared the shit out of me at 18, basically. But you never forget sitting in the felony tank with 50 other guys fighting over sandwiches.

So, when I started writing stories for other people to draw, I just always thought of crime stories. Just before my first paying work, in 1991, I had read a lot of the Jim Thompson reissues from Black Lizard and had been on a real true crime binge, so that probably played into it a lot. But I think on some level, I identify with criminals, even though now that I'm older and a home-owner, I hate them. I never liked any of the ones I knew, really, it was just the life I fell into. I like the ones I make up, but they’re much more romantic than the criminals in real life.

DS: Very true. Especially bank robbers and heisters--they're guys you can cheer for, because they're just trying to beat the system. You mentioned reading a lot of true crime. What kind of stuff were you reading? Dillinger bios, or serial-killer-of-the-month paperbacks?

EB: More the latter, sadly. I was big into modern true crime then. Zodiac, the Dead Girl (about a murdered jogger in Berkeley and the necrophilia involved in her death), and one I can’t remember the title of about the secret behind the Son of Sam murders. That one claimed there was a snuff-film ring that was actually doing the Son of Sam murders and that Berkowitz was only part of the group. It was a chilling read, whether it was true or not. It connected up to the murder of some movie producer who was found chopped up in the desert, too. There are some images in those books that I'll never get out of my head. I had a fascination with Ted Bundy books for a little while, too, for some reason. Then when I moved to Seattle, I was at a party once, and realized it was in the house where Bundy took one of his early victims and I totally freaked out the girl whose bedroom that currently was by telling her about it. I'm like, oh yeah, wow, your bed's even in the same place hers was. I'm pretty sure she moved.

Now all the true crime stuff I read is about organized crime, or the police, or stuff like that autobio of the jewel thief that came out a few years back. I guess I outgrew the serial murderer phase, thankfully.

DS: Going back a second, those Jim Thompsons were among my first crime reads, too. I remember being broke in college, and only being able to buy one every so often. But each one I savored. Have you ever read Robert Polito’s bio of Thompson?

EB: I never read that bio, actually. I meant to, but I was pretty broke back then, too. I was lucky enough to live in Berkeley back then, and Moe’s Books on Telegraph generally got a bunch of used Thompson books in for cheap, so I was always trading in books and getting more of them. I think my favorite may be Nothing More than Murder, actually. It’s about a guy who runs a movie theater and he and his wife aren't in love anymore, and he's going to leave her for another woman. It's a real tragedy, and I don't know why, but that one always stuck with me.

Another favorite that I read at that same time—the late 80s—is Fredric Brown’s The Far Cry. That's one of the most messed-up books I've ever read and was a big inspiration to me. The writer obsessed with the dead girl genre has always appealed to me

DS: What are you favorite espionage novels? I imagine you digging the old-school stuff...

EB: Probably LeCarre’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is my favorite. I love all the Smiley books. And I really love Graham Greene’s spy novels, too. I like to read non-fiction about espionage, too. There are a bunch of books about Kim Philby and his group that are really fascinating. And Rucka turned me onto the Sandbaggers, the old British TV show, which is so well-written it’s scary.

DS: Who are your favorite classic writers, aside from Thompson and Brown? (And by “classic,” I mean people who are dead, and were producing stuff anywhere from 1930 to 1970.)

EB: I’m a big David Goodis fan, and Charles Willeford. Did you see the film they made of his book, Woman Chaser a few years back? That was really great. A truly bizarre work of art about art. I recently found an early 70s paperback original that I’ve been getting a lot out of called Karate is a Thing of the Spirit, by Harry Crews. I know he’s not of that era, but I never knew he had his paperback original pulp writer phase. And I love Patricia Highsmith. Also, thanks to you, I recently discovered Dan J. Marlowe, who I can’t believe I’ve never read before. The Name of the Game is Death is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

DS: Who are you digging these days?

EB: The usual suspects, I’m sure. I read a lot of mystery and crime fiction. A standout for me the past few years, that I always try to recommend to people, though, is About the Author by John Colapinto. It’s a really captivating book about the desire to be a writer, and the allure of fame and glory, and I don’t want to say more than that, really. I just highly recommend it.

DS: You had an uncle who wrote noir screenplays as well, right? That’s one hell of a genetic cocktail running through your veins. Did you hear little bits and pieces about what they did growing up? Or were you kind of oblivious to it until later?

EB: I knew my dad and his brother, my uncle Ed, actually, did something suspicious, because it was never talked about. I lived in Gitmo for three years, and started school there, and knew my dad was in the Navy, but I knew he didn’t sail boats, you know? I have my Uncle Ed’s CIA medal of service on my mantle-piece now, which I inherited when he died. Apparently it’s really rare to have that, because usually those are kept locked up at Langley, according to an ex-spook I correspond with.

As for my Uncle John. He was John Paxton, married to my dad’s sister, Sarah Jane. He wrote a bunch of movies. Murder My Sweet, Crossfire, On the Beach, The Wild One... the list goes on. He was always sort of an idol to me as a child, but mostly because he also wrote the cartoon Emergency Plus 4, the Emergency spin-off cartoon where Gage and DeSoto teamed up with four kids to solve crimes. Sadly, he died before I realized I was a writer, and could have benefited from his advice. He was good friends with most of the Hollywood Ten, but managed to get through the Blacklist era without naming names or getting in trouble, somehow, but I know that era soured him on Hollywood a lot. Dalton Trumbo's widow and my aunt Sarah Jane are still close, according to my dad.

DS: You’ve got to be one of the most disciplined bastards on the planet, because you produce so many monthly Marvel titles (Uncanny X-Men, Daredevil, Captain America) along with Iron Fist (with Matt Fraction), and of course, Criminal. What's your average writing day like?

EB: It really varies. Years back, when I first got to the four books a month level, I used to work five days a week from about 9 AM to 3 PM, making sure to get 5 pages a day done. Now, because of various distractions, I end up doing that a few days a week, and spending part of the weekend catching up on whatever I’m behind on. Sort of writing in spurts, on deadline pressure. I wish I was more disciplined, and I’m trying to get back to that all the time, but any time I have to take a day to go run errands and don’t get any work done, it gets me out of the groove. It’s really a constant struggle, and I often feel like a pulp writer, having to churn out a certain amount of stories a month to pay the bills. It’s a good life, no question about it. It beats working a real job on its worst days, but it’s a struggle that I feel like I’m always losing a little bit.

I always think I’d like to do less than I am, but then if I ever think about quitting any of my books, I can’t. I just love writing them all too much.

DS: Every time I mention your name to a crime fan, he/she wonders aloud when you'll sit down and write a prose crime novel. Do you have anything cooking along these lines?

EB: I have, on and off. It’s finding the time, really, more than anything. I write a comic a week for Marvel right now, just about, and write Criminal around all that. A few years ago, I got about halfway through a detective novel, but I had to set it aside to hit deadlines, and when I came back to it, so much time had passed, I couldn’t get back into it the right way. But I do have a new one I started earlier this year that I’m sort of picking at a few times a month that I hope to actually keep working on. I need a deadline of some kind, is the problem. I’ve been making a living writing comics for so long that that eternal deadline cycle really motivates me.

DS: Any hint of what it might be about?

EB: When I was a teenager, my friend and I committed a pretty serious crime, and I got lucky, but my friend didn’t, he got caught. It’s something inspired by thinking about the various different ways that could have gone. I don't want to say more than that, because you know, if you explain your idea, you don’t end up needing to write it sometimes.

So, let me turn this interview back on you for a while, since I'm curious. You've recently started writing comics. So, as a journalist and novelist, how are you finding the transition? People often compare comics scripting to screenwriting, but I always think comics scripts are like writing pulp poetry. You get paid by the page, you have deadlines to hit, and you can only fit so much text on any one page, so you have to keep it clean, but still make it feel like something. Still have a personality. When I write prose, which I don't know if I'm any good at, really, the one thing I notice is the freedom. The room to go as long as you need to. Even with Criminal, where I don’t stick to a page count, I have to keep the narration really sparse because there’s 7 to 9 panels a page.

So, how are you finding it?

DS: The transition's been a lot smoother than I would have thought. Before Axel [Alonso] showed me a bunch of sample scripts, I had only read a few--namely, Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman scripts, which were hyper-detailed. So it was really a revelation to see other scripts that were stripped down like movie screenplays: mostly, direction and dialogue.

But I think you're right: there is an element of pulp poetry involved. You've got to pack a lot of meaning into very few words.

Reading the sample scripts also made me realize that a lot of good scripts can be understood (almost completely) through the dialogue. But it’s the art and art direction that brings it to life, sets it in motion. Granted, at this point I only have five scripts under my belt. And I still try to fit way too many panels on a page.

EB: You can comfortably fit 9 on a page, depending on your artist and what's supposed to be in each panel, but that's something you probably need to build to still. That'll come when you and your collaborator start to really groove together. That's the best part of writing comics, in some ways, those developing collaborative partnerships. Most of the artists I work with make me look so good at this point, because we know each other's style and intentions so well.

DS: But my natural style seems to be “stripped down” anyway--I really admire the James M. Cains and Ken Bruens of the world, who pack so much heart and muscle into so little.

EB: Yeah, that's something I'm always trying to get better at, making a really simple sentence have impact. It makes you appreciate Hammett and Hemingway all the more.

DS: What's your approach to dialogue? Any tricks you've picked up over the years on how to convey, say, emotion without being maudlin or wordy?

EB: I’ve never thought about it, really. Until this moment. I think I just try to make it sound realistic, but artistic, too, if that makes any sense. I generally cut a lot of dialog before I send in the final scripts, too, because I'll read some that just makes my eyes hurt, so that goes. It's like that line from Steve Martin’s L.A. Story, where his friend says her policy on fashion is she turns her back to the mirror, then turns back around, and the first thing that she notices, she takes off. That's how I am about dialog, if I notice it, it goes. That's one thing I've learned well in ten plus years of doing this, to cut the fat. Again, that's something that comes from trust in the artist. A lot of the stuff I do in Criminal, I couldn’t do with another artist. I know Sean can get facial expressions and mood across. I know he'll pace stuff properly so the story beats are right.

DS: Funny you bring that up. Lately, I've come to realize that I'm at my best when I have limitations--where I intentionally make my world a little smaller. In Wheelman, it was writing about a character who couldn't talk. In The Blonde, I decided: okay, no guns in this novel. There's Kowalski with a rifle in the very beginning, but once he puts it down, it stays down until the end.

And in Severance Package (my next one), I gave myself another limitation. Don't want to tell you--it might spoil it.

But these kinds of self-imposed handicaps forces me to be a little more creative with the characters and plot, and keeps me away from lazy writing.

EB: Constraint-driven pulp fiction. I like it. Next time you have to write a mystery without the letter Y in the entire book. You know, I didn't even notice that in The Blonde there were no guns, damn. I did that to myself with the second arc in Criminal, Lawless. It's a five part story, and in each part, there's at least one heist of some kind. I thought I was going to have to break the rule for part 4, but without even thinking about it, I suddenly had multiple heists going on in a flashback sequence.

DS: You talked about getting into a groove with an artist. But you also do your fair share of collaborations with other writers--first with Rucka on Gotham Central, and now with Matt Fraction on Iron Fist. How do you like it? How different is it from the doing all of the lifting on your own books?

EB: It’s the same and different. With Gotham Central, Greg and I had figured out a way to work where we never stepped on each other’s toes. We’d alternate storylines, and then team up for a “red ball” case every third arc. It worked out beautifully all three times we did that. We’d talk on the phone and hammer out the ideas, kick stuff back and forth and come up with new twists. Then Greg would send me a scene by scene breakdown for the issue, with the scenes divided equally based on who’s characters were in each one (we wrote different squads, mostly) and we would race to see who got his half in first.

With Iron Fist, it’s a different ballgame. Me and Matt talk about the overall storyline, which I’m sort of steering, like I’ll say, “when he goes back to K’un-Lun, we'll find out there are six other mystical cities like this with their own champions, and we’ll stage the whole arc around a huge Kung Fu tournament.” And then Matt actually comes up with the names and ideas for the champions and the new cities, and sends those to me for feedback. Then we hammer out a plot for the issue, Matt writes the rough draft of the script and I edit and rewrite and tweak. Then when the book is drawn and lettered, we each go over and rewrite little things here and there, because often our artists drawn something that makes our writing superfluous. So we cut it, or change it. It’s much more a fluid beast, Iron Fist. We’re actually going to be doing the next batch of issues more “Gotham Central” style, though, just to try it out, and because I want to write more scenes on my own in the book. Often on Iron Fist I feel like an additional editor as much as a writer, and that’s kind of weird.

The collected trade paperback of Lawless, the second arc of Criminal, is available in fine bookstores everywhere.

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Trade Reviews - DC

Brian K Vaughan
DC Comics

Before he started working for TV’s Lost and before his amazing PRIDE OF BAGHDAD Vaughan wrote some pretty fun Batman tales. I love his work on Ex-Machina and Y The Last Man is wonderful but seeing him work in the DC sandbox with established characters is a real treat.
The first two tales are Batman, one with an identity crisis involving his long time under cover alias Matches Malone. It’s great background on this long running aspect of what Batman does and it’s an interesting character study as well. The second story is really my favorite, the Mad Hatter is running a series of crimes using other villains done up as characters from Alice In Wonderland. But things are not what they seem and Batman working it out is sheer poetry. The collection wraps up with a Wonder Woman two parter that has her facing Batman foe Clayface who has come up with a really clever way to mess up the Amazon Princess.

All in all this is a really fun book, great writing and a real love for the characters added to some damn fine artwork by Scott McDaniel and Rick Burchett and Scott Kolins make this another volume that needs to be added to any Batman collection.

Ed Brubaker
DC Comics

This is a wonderful collection of Batman stories and as the title suggests, Joker is prominent. It’s all written by Uber Fan Favorite Ed Brubaker.
The first half is an arc with a new to heroics Batman taking on a new to psycho crime Joker. Joker is killing people and even announcing when they will die, yet it’s all the Gotham Police can do to keep up. Batman is frustrated, but in his true relentless fashion manages to eventually capture and put away Joker. The second story is a really classic kind of Batman story. An old murder mystery and Gotham’s first hero, Golden Age Green Lantern haunted by it put Batman’s skills as a detective to work. Brubaker does great crime stories and I think this is a wonderful example of why Batman is more than just a superhero in the hands of the right author. The story actually feels a bit Ed McBain-ish to me, and that is a real compliment. Brubaker has added to the legend of Batman and added to the myth in a powerful way.
This is a must read book.

Mike Carey

This second collection moves quickly and adds an awful lot to the mythology that Carey is creating here. Toshi has become a servant to Lord Aratsu and she is learning her new duties in a way that doesn’t allow much room for error. Because of the changes she’s gone through she now sees things in the world that most people don’t even know exist. Her job is to cut loose parts of dreams from people and collect them, however while this seems like an easy job at first she quickly learns that she is not the only servant out there doing the bidding of a master. She has a confrontation with a servant of the Gleaner which leads to a major battle.
While all this is going on , Toshi’s brother Kai is drawn to Tokyo and while searching for his sister he too learns things. He stumbles across evil and supernatural beings he didn’t know were there and he is heading down a new path.
Carey is creating a wonder fantasy world here and his use of Japan as a setting is inspired. It has all the elements great story telling should have, and most important, it leaves me wanting more. The artwork is crisp and colorful, and yet seems almost translucent at times. It’s a perfect match. Kudos to Jim Fern and Eric Nguyen.


Marc Andreryko
DC Comics

This volume wraps up the run of this great series collecting issues 24 through 30. It ends with a cliff hanger and I’ve heard rumors that it will return. I hope so.

This volume was really fun, Kate Spencer has left the DA’s office and is practicing as a defense attorney. The book opens with her defending a true nut job supervillain, and while she actually won the case, a flair for villainy and escape make the matter moot. After this great opening Kate is approached by Wonder Woman who would like to hire Kate. While taking on this illustrious client she also gets to train as Manhunter with WW and hone her ever growing skills. And while after all the great action and story telling we still have a bit of a cliffhanger this really does finish nicely. Kate is happy with where she is and who she is, her friends and family seem safe and happy as well. Of course in comics that leaves plenty of room for fresh stories and new misery.
What really makes this work is the fact that Kate is so human, she really does want justice but has come to understand that some cases demand more than the law. Her struggling with that really makes this intriguing. Our intrepid hero has shown up in some other comics, so she’s still around, but I for one would love to see her in her own book again. Meanwhile there are four great trades of wonderful reading out there.

Jason Aaron/RM Guera

This second volume collecting issues 6 through 11 of Scalped continues the story of FBI Special Agent Dashiell Bad Horse who has gone back to the reservation he grew up on, He’s undercover working for Lincoln Red Crow who is the tribal leader and also runs the brand new casino. Bad Horse has a past with most of the people living at Prairie Rose Indian Reservation and his home coming has been met with mixed feelings.
In this second volume the collection of stories each tells a different vantage point of the opening night of the casino, each seen by following a different character. It seems that everyone in this book is playing a game on someone else, the FBI agent running Bad Horse has his own agenda that goes back years involving his partner being killed. There is also another undercover agent that Bad Horse doesn’t know about. Layers upon layers of lies going on all around him, and Dashiell has motives of his own for being there and trying to stop the illegal activities.
The story telling here is gritty and honest, it’s a new type of noir and the best word to describe it is brilliant. The characters have a unique voice and while Aaron tells his story you can pick up on subtle social commentary underlying the action. R.M. GuĂ©ra’s pencil work is so perfectly matched with this book that there may be a psychic link between him and Aaron. The visuals are visceral and detailed and yet not over stated. The action scenes leap off the page and you can feel the heat when the characters sweat.
This is a perfect example of why comics work so well for crime fiction tales. I hope this series never ends.

Mar 3, 2008

International New Mystery Festival 2008

By this time last year Crimespree was exuding information and enthusiasm for the State of Kentucky, the infamous and entirely charming Zev Buffman and a new mystery festival. The International Mysery Writers' Festival. Our enthusiasm has many in the Midwest asking if they should go this year. Well, duh. In fact if you need to recharge those mystery con batteries this is the one event I can promise you will be different than anything else you've ever seen. No matter how far you have to come to get there. No other mystery "event" has accomplished as much in its first year.
Record attendance. A mixture of mystery and cultural fans and 12 plays presented in seven days. Books (which will always be the first love of Crimespree) were lovingly cherished within major stage productions. And the radio plays? A year later I still remember them all. So between the first year of the Festival and now a lot has happened.
The accolades. In the new play catagory for this year's Edgar you will see a theme... The Mystery Writers' Festival ran the catagory. There's a reason. With great venues, and a gross of talent, without the restraints of a Broadway budget, yet within the means of a hailed producer to demand the very best, well miracles can and do happen.
Zev and his team have also done the impossible, they've acquired a group of productions for 2008 that is more than impressive, it's breathtaking. Please visit their site. But Agatha, Sherlock as adapted by Stuart Kaminsky. Guest stars like Rupert Holmes, Mary Higgins Clark paired with Ray Bradbury, Sue Grafton receiving the second ever Angie for life time achievement.... You got to try to make it. There are first time authors there as well, new discoveies. And Robert Levinson, he of the multi-talents will offer two one act plays of his origin in one presentation.
As I said the earlier a lot has changed in a year. Kentucky has a new Governor and new spending policies. I am not criticizing, I will not mention the possibility of this wonderful entity dying before it has a chance to become, but if you are intrigued go this year. Zev will take care of us. We'll all have a wonderful time. And it will be even better year three.
All I know right at this moment is I hope my husband Jon and William Link (creator of Colombo amongst other staples) have a chance to do chest bumps. Mannix is coming out on DVD (and I assume Blue ray too).