Charles Daly

Writer

Category: Reading Lists (page 2 of 3)

Reading List: Micky Avalon Revisited

Instead of talking about how much money we have, let’s talk about how much we don’t have.”

–Micky Avalon

 

What I’m Reading

Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. The true crime story that inspired The Departed and Black Mass. A must-read for new arrivals in Boston who don’t know the story of the city’s disturbing pre-tech past.

Just Kids by Patti Smith. On art, love, life, loss, and trench mouth.

5 Things Every Entrepreneur can Learn from Rappers Micky Avalon and Simon Rex.”

What I’m Listening to

McCauley Culkin on Joe Rogan. The Home Alone star has grown up to write, paint, podcast, and found an art collective.

Florence Welch reading “Lovesong” by Ted Hughes.

Micky Avalon.

What I’m Watching

The world series with my dad.

 

What I’m Writing

Working on a New Year’s deadline for dad’s memoir.

Finished marking up the rough draft of my novel. I’ll be posting my novel log, documenting the writing process, on Medium. Stay tuned.

 

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Reading List: Note to my 19-Year-Old-Self

“What one does is what counts. Not what one had the intention of doing.”

Pablo Picasso 

Here’s what I’ve been up to this week…

 

Lately, most of blogging has been on Medium. I’ll be linking to those posts in these weekly roundups.

 

What I’m Writing

“29 Writing Tips for my 19-Year-Old Self”

“Writing Tips I Put on my Wall 

How to Get Sh*t Done as a Freelancer” which was featured in Data-Driven Investor.

My dad and I are getting close to a submittable manuscript of his memoir–stay tuned.

I recently finished a rough draft of a pulp-style crime novel. It turns out writing two books in a year is easier than finishing one. As anyone who has ever run a race or climbed a mountain knows, the two hardest parts are starting and finishing.

What I’m Reading

Driven to Distraction: recognizing and coping with Attention Deficit Disorderby Dr. Edward Hallowell

Getting Off: One woman’s journey through sex and porn addiction  by Erica Garza

The First Quarry, by Max Allan Collins

 

What I’m Listening To

Charlie Parker. But I’ve started wearing earplugs while I’m working and reading–again, adult ADD.

 

What I’m Doing

Taking a free online studio art class through the Museum of Modern Art on Coursera: Postwar Abstract Painting. It’s like Bob Ross but in the style of Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko.

Send me an email if you want a painting.


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Show Your Work!

 Yesterday’s blog post started as a long caption on Instagram, under a photo of my writing tools. I was sharing my stoke over starting a new novel–in the only way I can since I won’t say what it’s about until I have a draft–but I was also answering a prompt from Austin Kleon’s handy little book,  Show Your Work! In this guide to putting your stuff out in the world, Kleon dispenses powerful and simple advice like “share something small every day.”

 

 

Show your Work by Austin Kleon share something small every day

 

Yesterday, I was doing just that—as I am in with this post. Both days I felt like I had nothing to say, and I’m sure I’ll have to slay that dragon again tomorrow. What got me writing was letting go of the need to create from scratch, opting instead to document what’s right in front of me.

 

In the third day of writing a novel, I don’t have any creative writing that’s ready to share. But I can talk about my process, my tools, my creeping insecurities, and the books on my nightstand—including the one that inspired me to write this post in the first place.

 

Kleon offers specific advice on how to do this:

 

“Once a day, after you’ve done your days work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece of your process that you can share. Where you are in your process will determine what the piece is. If you’re in the very early stages, share your influences and what’s inspiring you. If you’re in the middle of executing a project, write about your methods or share works in progress. If you’ve just completed a project, show the final product, share scraps from the cutting room floor, or write about what you learned. If you have lots of projects out in the world, you can report on how they’re doing—you can tell stories about how people are interacting with your work.” (Kleon, 48.)

 

He also shares a graphic outlining what to share and what not to share:

 

Austin Kleon show your work share something small every day

And that’s the problem: I sort of conflated sharing with oversharing, as if showing friends and followers where I work is the same thing as a selfie-reel or pictures of my lunch.

 

At first glance, that attitude might seem profound, like a humble stand against the self importance and the vapidity of social media. But really, it’s just control freakery in disguise. Part of sharing one’s stuff is letting it go. I don’t dictate the terms of how others experience my work. I don’t get to micro-mange their response. And that’s a good thing, because the response to my post was better than anything I could have arranged for myself:

 

I connected with some new writers, who must have found me through the hashtags.

 

A buddy of mine asked to be a character in the novel—he doesn’t know he already is.

 

One friend noticed the crime writing hashtags and asked me all about that genre—something she didn’t know I was into. And she, in turn, told me about fantasy writing and world-building, something I didn’t know she was working on.

 

Another friend, who I haven’t talked to in a while shared what he learned about long projects from his marathon training. We ended up talking about his next race. (What up, Pete!)

 

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t gotten over myself and put my scrap of the day out into the world.

 

show your work by austin kleon

 

Sarah M. Chen’s Redondo Beach Noir

When a booze cruise goes wrong, Finn Roose, L.A’s most debauched restaurant manager, finds himself at the center of a missing persons case, unable to lie or charm his way out of it. To clear his name, he must navigate the seedy underbelly of Redondo Beach while holding down a job as part of its sunny, touristy facade.

Cleaning Up Finn is Sarah M Chen‘s debut novella. Smart, sleazy, and succinct, at a lean 168 pages, Finn harkens back to the golden age of crime paperbacks in page count as much as content. Along with her fellow authors at All Due Respect Books, Chen  is writing the next chapter in American pulp.

 cleaning up finn sarah m chen novella on the beach

What is it about the South Bay? For an otherwise under-celebrated part of L.A, it seems like the beaches have been all over noir and crime fiction:

You’ve got Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, Tarantino’s  Jackie Brown (adapted from Elmore Leonard and West Palm Beach.) Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction says he lives in Redondo (to which The Wolf replies “move out of the sticks!”)

Even the Patti Smith song “Redondo Beach”  has a dead girl in it. I’m sure there’s others…

Despite the sun and sand, there’s definitely a dark undercurrent to the South Bay that I think people like Quentin Tarantino gravitated toward as I did. Quentin Tarantino grew up in the South Bay, in Torrance specifically, and worked at a local video rental store (remember those?).

 

The South Bay has its vices but they’re disguised in sunshine, surf, and sand. I find that contrast fascinating and filled with possibilities. It’s a lot like Hollywood where you have the glitz and glam of the movie industry harboring the desperation underneath. But whereas Hollywood is seedy, you may not necessarily think of beach life as seedy but it’s definitely there. People either don’t think to look or don’t want to.

Finn is the ideal hero for the stories I like to write. He’s human and real and tends to make awful decisions. We all know people like Finn, someone you wouldn’t want babysitting your kids or even watching your dog. Those are the people I like to write about.

 

Hermosa Beach also had a big punk scene back in the day that made it cool, rebellious. But once the pier became a pedestrian plaza in ‘97, bars and clubs popped up like a spreading rash threatening to obliterate the mom and pop places, the dive bars, the artsy coffee shops, and the indie bookstores. Now it’s a more commercial party scene with DJs spinning top 40 instead of jazz and punk. This culture clash plus the illusion of an easy beach life makes it a perfect setting for a crime novel.

 

In early drafts, Finn was a short story set in Maryland. I kept moving the location around based on the guidelines of the market I was submitting to. When I had an opportunity to write a novella, I immediately thought of Finn. I felt there was more to Finn than a short story. When I sat down to expand it, I knew it couldn’t be set anywhere else but the South Bay.

 

And it’s home, right?

I’ve lived in the South Bay for over 20 years so consider this my adopted home. I grew up in Southern California, but in Orange County, which is more conservative with cookie-cutter track housing.

 

I fell in love with Hermosa Beach’s funky bohemian vibe when I first visited in the late 80s/ early 90s and knew I’d live here eventually.

 

I like that Finn’s still a dog at the end, even though he makes the right choice. We all know a guy like Finn whose fooling around gets him in trouble. I loved the way you just kept pulling that thread instead of forcing some moral awakening.

 

I really wanted to be true to Finn’s character and not make him into something he’s not or isn’t capable of being no matter how much he tries. I initially had a different ending where Finn changed but it felt forced. Of course he’d go right back to his innate douchebag self because that’s his nature. You can try to change behavior, but inherently, we are all who we are inside.

 

It’s funny because I have a friend who thought Finn had a happy ending but then her boyfriend read the book and he said, “Are you kidding? That’s not a happy ending at all. He goes right back to the way he was before and learns nothing!” It’s all about perspective. From where my friend and I are sitting, it’s a happy ending because, although he may not get away with it much longer, Finn remains true to himself.

 

Finn is the ideal hero for the stories I like to write. He’s human and real and tends to make awful decisions. We all know people like Finn, someone you wouldn’t want babysitting your kids or even watching your dog. Those are the people I like to write about.

 

 

Back in the day, hardboiled fiction benefitted from serialization and radio programs. Now you have blogging and podcasts and all sorts of new publishing platforms. Do you think we’re headed for a noir revival–“new neo-noir”–Is that revival already here? 

 

That’s a tough one. I think because that’s my niche and what I like to read, I feel like noir is a popular genre but really, once I leave my little bubble, it’s not.

I’m also a bookseller and I know noir titles don’t sell as well as lighter or more commercial stuff. I think short story platforms like Great Jones Street  helps to introduce the noir genre to a broader readership. I also think part of it’s geographical. I know noir is very popular with the French and sells well over there.

 

Why the novella form? What was it like working with that page count?

 

I had a contract with a fledgling publisher that was only publishing novellas. It was my first time writing one and as I said, I decided to expand my short story. I’m not sure if that made things easier or more challenging than writing a novella from scratch. I had to figure out which parts I wanted to expand, which characters to explore, and tack on a middle and third act.

 

I’m used to writing tightly because all I had written before were short stories and flash fiction so the shorter the better for me.

 

Sarah m Chen novella author

 

You’re involved with some conferences and a pretty rad sounding crime fiction community. Care to give some shout outs? Where should people go to find great contemporary noir and hardboiled titles?

 

Yes, it’s a fantastic community and I’ve met so many wonderful writers who I call friends. I admire their work and it’s exciting and inspiring to be involved with such talent.

One of my favorites of 2017 is She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper. It’s told from multiple POVs but essentially it’s eleven-year-old Polly’s story. Her ex-con father is on a mission to protect her from a white supremacist gang and it’s brutal yet strangely hopeful.

 

Steph Post’s Lightwood is another one I really dug from early 2017. It’s another story of a criminal family but in this one, Judah Cannon is the protagonist who gets out of prison. He wants to stay out of trouble but his father has other ideas. It’s set in Florida and is straight down and dirty Southern noir.

Quentin Tarantino grew up in the South Bay, in Torrance specifically, and worked at a local video rental store (remember those?).

Marietta Miles is another writer I admire. Her novella, Route 12, is disturbing and poetic. I’m looking forward to MAY, her book coming out with Down & Out early next year. I’ll read any short stories by Jen Conley and everyone should check out her collection, Cannibals. Same with Patti Abbott. Her short stories are some of my favorites and I was so excited when she started writing novels, beginning with Concrete Angel. Greg Barth’s Selena trilogy is some of the most depraved crime fiction I’ve read, yet he has a way of creating characters that you despise and root for at the same time.

 

For great noir, and not to be biased, but I think my publisher All Due Respect Books is putting out some of the best noir in the marketplace. I was thrilled ADR became an imprint of Down & Out Books as D&O also has some of my favorites like Danny Gardner’s A Negro and an Ofay.

 

And if you want to get up to speed on what indie publishers are putting out these days, check out David Nemeth’s Small Press Crime Fiction: Incident Report blog. It’s always chock full of the latest hardboiled and noir titles that you may have missed.

What’s next for you? What’s now?

I have some short stories coming out in early 2018. One that came out recently is my story “Masterpiece” in Killing Malmon with Down & Out Books, edited by Kate and Dan Malmon, reviewers for Crimespree Magazine. This is a collection of 30 stories where the only guideline was that Dan Malmon must be killed. All proceeds benefit the MS Society and I was thrilled to be invited to participate.

Killing Malmon Sarah M Chen

I’m in another anthology called The Night of the Flood which I edited along with E.A. Aymar. This was a really fun project to be involved in as fourteen of us wrote interconnecting stories that took place over one chaotic night in a fictional Pennsylvania town. Bestselling and award-winning writer Hank Phillippi Ryan wrote the intro and it will be out March 2018.

 

Other than that, I’m revising my current WIP, a novel featuring a college dropout slacker whose life is in danger thanks to the unwanted return of her estranged father. It’s set in—where else?—the South Bay.

 

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What I’ve Been Reading–one Month into my Book Diet

Last month, I started a “reading diet.” The idea comes from Ray Bradbury who recommended that the aspiring read one short story, one poem, and one essay every day, and one novel per week.

I’m reckoning with something I wish I had known a long time ago, that reading is part of your workday as a writer. It’s not laziness or procrastination, it’s not passive, and it’s not optional. You can read more about my first two weeks of this experiment here.

This is  what I read in the second half of March.

What I’m reading

Stories from:

 

 

 

Essays & Non-Fiction:

 

  • “Heroin/e” –Cheryl Strayed

 

 

 

 

 

Poems From:

Novels:

  • I started Proust’s Swann’s Way but swapped it out for John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces after about 20 pages. The former is much harder to read without the snotty English major zeal I had the first time around.

Hemingway Collection at the JFK Library

Ernest Hemingway didn’t travel light. His baggage included a modern art collection, books, drinking accessories, an impressive gun collection, and the heads and pelts of his hunting kills. Always on the move, he schlepped it all through three wars, four marriages, two plane crashes, and many homes. His writing style itself left a tremendous paper-trail as everything he wrote went through dozens of drafts. The last page of A Farewell to Arms was rewritten 49 times. Fortunately for future generations, Hemingway never threw anything away.

“Courage is grace under pressure.” President Kennedy used Hemingway’s definition of courage as the epigraph to his own book Profiles in Courage.

The final home for much of Hemingway’s stuff and 90% of his papers is the JFK Presidential Library in Boston Massachusetts. Some of the collection is on display (at least until December 31st, 2016) in an exhibit, Hemingway Between Two Wars, while the rest is in the Hemingway Collection, a wing of the Library archives.

Last month, I was lucky enough to visit both.

 Check out my visit to the JFK Library’s Hemingway Collection on Medium. 

Elmore Leonard’s Most Important Rule for Writing

Elmore Leonard had one rule that summed up his famous 10 rules of writing:

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

 

 

You can find the other 10 in Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing which includes illustrations and examples of writers who break his rules brilliantly.

Hemingway, Refugees, and Writing with Emotion

In 1922, Hemingway was in Greece reporting for the Toronto Star on the evacuation of Thrace and the refugee crisis that followed. He used some of his memories and notes from the trip as material for In Our Time, his first collection of short stories.

 

Hemingway’s war reporting appears in italics between his stories. These vignettes put his journalistic roots  on display, they show his early attempts to paint with words (he was a big Cezanne guy),  and they remind the reader that his fiction is drawn from life.  

 

For a writer, these scenes give a great example of how to craft emotionally charged prose without heavy, emotional language. Take a look:

 

Minarets stuck up in the rain out of Adrianople across the mud flats. The carts were jammed for thirty miles along the Karagatch road. Water buffalo and cattle were hauling carts through the mud. There was no end and no beginning. Just carts loaded with everything they owned. The old men and women, soaked through, walked along keeping the cattle mov­ing. The Maritza was running yellow almost up to the bridge. Carts were jammed solid on the bridge with camels bobbing along through them. Greek cavalry herded along the procession. The women and children were in the carts, crouched with mattresses, mirrors, sewing machines, bun­dles. There was a woman having a baby with a young girl holding a blanket over her and cry­ing. Scared sick looking at it. It rained all through the evacuation.

 

There’s not an adverb to in sight, and it would be hard to find a word that doesn’t pull its weight here.  He lets the images speak for themselves rather than muting them with emotional redundancy. He doesn’t have to tell us that these  people are hopeless or miserable, he shows us “carts loaded with everything they owned” and “old men and women soaked through. He reminds us of the scale of the tragedy which has “no beginning and no end.”   Instead of saying the  scene was scary or sickening, he gives us the jotted fragment “scared sick looking at it.”

 

That last line–“It rained all through the evacuation”– comes last for a reason. Suppose he had lead with the weather “It was raining as…” or mentioned it in passing “Just carts loaded with everything they owned out in the rain,” it just wouldn’t have the same power. Besides, we kind of already know it’s raining or has been raining: the river is almost up to the bridge, it’s muddy, and the old people are soaked through. By saving this detail for last, he gives it the power to devastate. On top of all the hardship and suffering he describes, as if these people haven’t suffered enough: It’s raining.

Norman Mailer on Trolls and Critics

The Spooky Art, Norman Mailer’s book on the art and business of writing, is a lost classic of the writing advice genre. Like Mailer himself, it’s brilliant, frustrating, and full of fist-fighting analogies.


What’s cool about this title is that it was written for working writers and advanced amateurs. You won’t find much in the way of plotting advice or grammar pointers, but you will learn  how to deal with unreasonable movie execs and how to handle potential pitfalls in the writing life, even outdated ones like Seconal addiction.

 

Mailer has a lot to say about facing criticism. He hated critics and often times the feeling was mutual. However, he accepted that criticism is inevitable in the writing game. As he saw it, the only way to write another book after your last one was eviscerated by the rabble is to develop a thick skin.

“Every good author who manages to forage a long career must be able to build a character that will not be unhinged by a bad reception. That takes art.”

 

The Spooky Art was published in 2003, a few years before internet trolling came into its own. But these lines could apply as easily to a hostile comment as a bad review:

 

“(A writer) Must learn to live with the bruises left by comments on his work.”

 

And if the moral high road isn’t satisfying enough for you, Mailer goes on to offer advice–from personal experience–on how to physically intimidate a reviewer at a book party without actually throwing a punch.

Image: the Daily Mail

 

Autumn Reading: My Massachusetts Bookshelf

Today was perfect reading weather on Cape Cod: Grey and wet with northeast winds and a small craft warning out on the water. It’s good to be home in the fall and surrounded by my books.

Here are my top home-state reads.

Mystic River -Dennis Lehane (fiction)

Mystic-river-dennis-lehane

The movie (more specifically Sean Penn’s back tattoos) helped put working class Boston on the sexy map.

There aren’t too many American cities where you could set a convincing  tale of Dostoevskian evil, guilt, and redemption, but it works in Boston.

 

The Perfect Storm – Sebastian Junger

The-perfect-storm-sebastian-junger-book-cover

If you took out the storm and the epic struggle for survival at sea, this would still be a fascinating read.

Most of us haven’t a clue how a piece of fish gets on our plate. In the case of swordfish, fishermen from the small town of Gloucester travel over a thousand miles in relatively tiny boats to reach their fishing grounds. They fish with 40 mile long lines (called longlines.) They die at rates higher than soldiers in combat.

 

A Death in Belmont – Sebastian Junger

a-death-in-belmont-book-cover-sebastian-junger

An investigation of a rape and murder–in a wealthy Boston suburb in 1963–for which the wrong man may have been convicted. Race, the psychology of killers and jurors, and the mood in Boston in the days following the Kennedy assassination.

 

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace (fiction)

 

Maybe this is how Tokyoites feel about Lost in Translation… I’m not sure I recognized my hometown, but it’s interesting to see it from an outsider’s brilliant brilliant brilliant point of view. Respect.

 

The Friends of Eddie Coyle – George V. Higgins (fiction)

the-friends-of-eddie-coyle

The story of a gun dealer and his lowlife cronies, required reading for writers looking to unfuck their dialogue. Elmore Leonard’s agent gave him this book as a homework assignment to fix the way his characters talk.

Spoiler alert, Eddie Coyle has no friends.

 

Black Mass – Dick Lehr & Gerard O’Neill

black-mass

 

The Departed tried to tell this story. One criticism of the movie from Boston people is that the truth was even crazier.  

Through the 70s, 80s, and 90s Whitey Bulger and his Winter Hill Gang terrorized South Boston. They murdered, mutilated, and extorted, all while enjoying the protection of the FBI.

Same neighborhood as Good Will Hunting, Boston’s a small town.

Off the Leash: a Year at the Dog Park – Matthew Gilbert

off-the-leash-matthew-gilbert

 

One for the dog lovers and anyone who needs something uplifting after Black Mass. Off the Leash is the story of one reluctant dog-person’s initiation into the little world inside of Brookline’s Amory Dog Park.  A story about friendship, and an inside look at Boston’s 4-legged social scene.  This is the book-length debut of Boston Globe TV critic Matthew Gilbert.

Cape Cod – Henry David Thoreau 

cape-cod-henry-david-thoreau

Life, nature, sand dunes. It’s Walden with an ocean instead of a pond.

The links (in the titles and book covers) are all affiliate links. 

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