Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Movie Reviews for Writers: Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key

Let's just say first that this Giallo has a very long title that doesn't seem to make sense unless you've seen more of Sergio Martino's work, and The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh in particular. Also, it's a fairly typical Eurosleaze that isn't going to be everybody's cup of wine. And did I mention it's inspired by Poe's The Black Cat?

Oliviero Rouvigny is a wash-up writer who hasn't written a word in three years and is sleeping around with a bookstore worker, throwing extravagant orgies with the local hippy commune and abuses his wife, Irina. On top of all that, he's also got a bit of a fetish for his mom's memory as evidenced by his admiration for a dress of hers he still owns and her black cat, Satan, who now lives with him after her death. Anyway, women die and Oliviero becomes the chief suspect, but is he guilty, or is someone setting him up. And then the mystery deepens when his lovely and now grown-up niece arrives and plays games with both Oliviero and Irina. People die, plots twist, fake blood flows, and my brain reminds itself that this is just the way the best Giallos work.

The filming is beautiful. The characters are memorable. The plot twists keep me guessing. And all in all, this long-titled flick is a really nice piece of Eurosleeze if you're a fan of the genre. If not, it won't bring you over to the dark side. 

Now, enough about all that. What can we learn about being writers from this weird little Italian masterpiece?

Two things really stuck out to me as I watched it. 

The first comes when Oliviero is being questioned by the Inspector and is asked if he plans to take a trip anytime soon (the Italian version of "Don't leave town. You're a suspect" I suppose). When the writer responds that he isn't going anywhere, the Inspector says, "A writer's mind does all his wandering."

I too have experienced this. The farthest I've been out of the United States is Calgary, Alberta, Canada. But that never stops me from placing my characters in all kinds of localities all over the world. Off the top of my head, they've been in the Paris Catacombs, Notre Dame, London, and numerous cities I've never set foot in. But my mind does my wandering. I don't need to vacation in those exotic locales (not that I don't WANT to, of course) in order to write about them. As a writer, the best tool in my toolkit is the ability to research and to explore not only the world but also other planets and dimensions and times at my leisure. 

Sure, sometimes I can get bogged down in the details of my wandering mind or even derailed by the rabbit trails I chase as I research, but none of that negates the value of a writer's wandering mind. In fact, it's been truer in my life that those details and rabbit trails can open up new stories later down the line. 

The second is from an exchange between Oliviero and his niece Floriana. It's obvious he's smitten with her and that he and his wife aren't particularly happy together. Irina hints derisively that her husband is often impotent, and Floriana questions both his ability to create as a writer and his ability to perform as a lover: "All the imagination in the world won't help you if you can't get a hard-on." 

Sadly, just like the awful human being in the center of this movie, I have also experienced creative impotence. I dare not call it "writer's block" because I still don't really believe in that. What we often call "writer's block" is usually one of two things -- either laziness to want to push through when the work is more difficult than usual, or a sort of event that locks down much more than just our ability to write. It's more a "life block," a depression, an inability to perform when we face almost anything. 

That said, it truly is like a kind of impotence, I believe. There are times when my writing can't get a "hard-on" to use Floriana's metaphor. And not any or all of my imagination or research or "want to" can make me perform. 

But with the right change in situation, even that can be overcome. After all, if our "hero" (he's really not, he's a right royal bastard, this Oliviero) can overcome his physical impotence to bed not only Irina, but also Floriana, and the bookstore worker, sometimes the right introduction to a new person, a new job, a little more distance to a bad situation, or just a revised point of view thanks to a good cup of coffee and a few days break from the pressures can help us overcome creative impotence. 

But just the creative one, please. Our friend Oliviero wouldn't recommend sleeping around to fix the other kind, especially after his fate in this gritty little Giallo.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Fashion Sense (Writers on character clothing and fashion)

For this week's roundtable, let's talk fashion. No, not your own, but that of your characters.

How much do you use your narrative to draw attention to your characters' clothing choices?

Tom Hutchison: In comics, design is a huge key. In novels far less so. So it depends on what you’re talking about. Design for my comics is super important and we dwell on details and reasons for things to be part of the clothing/equipment/scene etc. there are reasons for everything and it comes through on the page and through the storytelling.

John L. Taylor: I write Dieselpunk fiction and horror in retro settings. Describing the clothing right does a lot when I don't have illustrations to convey a character. In the Dieselpunk example, My protagonist was a working-class hero, a pilot who did mercenary work to care for her orphaned siblings. Things like oil stains, torn patches, and worn flight caps help sell the idea of a hard-fighting rogue with money problems. Conversely, in horror, a character's clothing can both generate a sympathetic mental image or drop subtle hints about motivations. My personal favorite work of my own is a story called "What gasoline won't burn." It's a story set in 1950 in rural Missouri and narrated by a very naïve 8-year-old girl. I described her as looking like something off of a Little Debbie's or raisin box. I had to both sell the reader on the era it was set it (put this way, the plot wouldn't work in a world with cell phones), and the almost cartoonish innocence of the Narrator. People criticized me some over how naïve she was, but that was the source of the horror: her being too sheltered to see what was coming until was too late for her grandparents, while the reader has to follow in dreaded anticipation of the world going to hell around such a poor, sweet, undeserving soul. The other characters' clothing has subtle tells of what role they will play, but the whole effect had to create a sense of looming dread of the inevitable. Without these descriptions, this wouldn't be so effective.

Ernest Russell: Generally, I do this as needed as part of an overall description. If there is need for .ore detail, or it is intrinsic to the character, I add more detail.

Bobby Nash: I make sure the audience knows what the characters are wearing, even if just in generalities ala jeans and a t-shirt or they’re wearing a gray suit. Some characters get more, depending on who they are and if it fits their character’s needs.

John Linwood Grant: What people do with their clothes is sometimes more interesting than the exact nature of the garment/accessory, e.g. someone who goes to great lengths not to spoil their get-up, someone who plays with gloves or a hat as a sign of emotion, or wears clothes that their peers would not have expected.

Hilaire C Smith: I don't like to beat them over the head with a page of detailed description, mind, but clothes are very often a reflection of us as people OR the image we want to project to others. So, I used that with my characters. Sometimes I take that first impression and slowly mold it into something different and sometimes it is exactly who the character is.

Two male characters in my series: (1) long hair, a bit scruffy, but appropriately shaved and buzz cut when reporting for duty.... utilitarian clothes, often dark in color and often carrying weapons.

(2) Pretty male, clean-shaven, hair past shoulders, but GQ model, complete with silk shirts and soft leather pants.

These are very, very different styles, which is also reflected in their temperaments, their choices, etc.

Dale Glaser: For anything set in the vaguely-now, I only use clothing descriptions to reveal character, e.g. a grown man wearing a t-shirt with a cartoon character on it is my show-don't-tell version of getting across he is unserious and immature. 

Bill Craig: In my south Florida mysteries, Guayabera shirts and cargo pants or shorts are standard dress, because you see a lot of them down there. I've recently introduced Rick Marlow's cousin Greg who takes up the title mantle after Rick is nearly killed in an assassination attempt. His style is a bit different due to his background in Special forces and Covert ops in the military, but he also understands the need to blend in with his surroundings. Hardluck Hannigan however wears a bomber jacket, work pants and boots and cotton shirts.

Sean Taylor: It really varies from story to story, but in any case, I do like to at least establish a cursory look at what my characters are wearing. It can say a lot about their character in a sort of shorthand that cuts through so much of the telling that gets in the way of the story. 

Marian Allen: If a character's clothing choices make a difference to the story (one scene casual, one scene formal), I'll put that in. If a character wears a t-shirt, sometimes I'll say what's on it to add to the character. I gave a moderately detailed description of one character's outfit in a mystery because everything hinged on someone who didn't know her well being fooled when she changed outfits with somebody else.

How important are those details for you in establishing character for them?

Dale Glaser: I do lean into it more with stuff set in the recent past, again aiming for show-don't-tell, describing parachute pants and Le Tigre shirts rather than saying "One day in April 1987..." because I lived through it and that's fun for me.  

Bobby Nash: Having written a story or twenty set in the 1920s and up, I try to make sure I have some inkling of the fashion and style of the era when I write. 

Hilaire C Smith: It's a useful tool to paint a picture for the reader. Certain styles can evoke mental images and impressions/assumptions that we want the reader to make, true or not 😏. It's an excellent way to show and not tell.

Ernest Russell: It depends on the story and the characters. I have one who, as part of his persona, wears loud colorful clothing. Descriptions of his suits happen at least once a chapter. Another character, a whaler, you never really see any clothing change.

Sean Taylor: Again, it varies. My sort of "everyperson" stories don't require a lot other than to establish a sense of "muggleness" (khakis, jeans, t-shirt, polo, etc.) But for oddballs and for stories set in a certain period, I usually go into much more detail because the further you are from the current mainstream (at least to me) the more a characters fashion choices help define them. For example a grown man in a Hong Kong Phooey t-shirt gives off a different character vibe than a man the same age in a pair or cargo shorts and bowling shirt. 

John Linwood Grant: I'm a serious minimalist. I might only mention a single aspect of a character’s clothing if any at all. An incongruous jacket, a specific type of hat or boots when relevant. As little as possible. I’m generally put off by character descriptions that read like a shopping and fabrics catalog, or a list of brand names. Mr. Edwin Dry has a bowler hat, and a starched collar; Mamma Lucy has a faded print dress. Captain Redvers Blake is either in uniform, or he isn’t. Usually, that’s it. I once said that my character Justin Margrave was wearing a red silk shirt and a cravat, which was pretty wild for me, and even that was relevant to a viewpoint.

How important is it for you particularly if you're working in period costume (whether 30s gumshoes or Elizabethan vampires)?

Hilaire C Smith: Period stories rely on a cleverly set stage designed to immerse a reader in a different time. Costume is part of that. Now, most readers won't be able to nit-pick small details, but if your 1930's private eye is wearing a t-shirt and jeans, unless he's out doing physical labor or something, it isn't going to feel right. It tosses the reader out of the story. An Elizabethan vampire isn't going to be wearing Vans...unless the story is modern and he's a complete mess of style choices...which would also tell the reader a lot about the character compared to a vampire that has seamlessly blended or another that continues to wear fashions decades or centuries out of date.

I never do lengthy descriptions of clothing, but I often include a description, especially as one character (or the reader) meets another character for the first time.

Marian Allen: Now, when I wrote a Georgian short story, I nearly pulled my hair out learning what different items were called and what one would wear for receiving guests and what for traveling. As with most writing questions, the short answer is: It depends.

John Linwood Grant: People in period costume in their period don't think they're in period costume. 😉 So I try to avoid some of that excess description which only springs from the writer/reader NOT being in the period. 

Dale Glaser: Oddly if it goes much further back I'll use other cultural signifiers like dialogue or people's jobs or whatnot to get across the idea that it's 1921 or 1849, and I'm fine with people assuming they know how people dressed back then and moving on.

Sean Taylor: For me, it's muy importante. I put hours of research on the magic Google device looking up fashions for the time period I'm writing. I want to know it all. What kind of watches did folks where? Were hats preferred or not? That sort of thing. I want to make sure I write the period as authentically as possible. 

Emily Leverett: Oh fashion is SO important in my Eisteddfod Chronicles. Clothes are definitely political and make very specific statements, so the protagonist is careful about how she dresses and chooses attire (like a spiky tiara with a political history) to make a point. After she takes 10 lashes and doesn't get the best medical treatment, she wears a backless dress at a political event to show that she isn't ashamed of what happened. My editor actually commented once that he hadn't thought about fashion being that big of a thing. But clothing and badges are super important to court life.

Bobby Nash: It’s important for some characters. If fashion is important to the character, then that helps establish the character. If not, then it gets mentioned less. The other side of that is having a character that is not fashion-conscious, but then you do a scene where they are in a suit and tie. The other characters are going to remark on it ala “he cleans up nice” or “Damn! You’re wearing a suit!” That’s the sort of thing I hear when I show up wearing nice clothes.

Ernest Russell: Very important. I want my stories to be plausible. How did children dress in the late 19th century? Small details can add an element of reality. Not going to get in the weeds describing the weave and weft of the cloth, but knowing a 1940s French dairy farmer commonly wore a corded vest and pants is a small detail that adds just the right touch of authenticity.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Motivational Monday -- What If?


Saturday, May 1, 2021

Wild Hunt Books Open for Submissions May 4th!


Wild Hunt Books is searching for novella-length manuscripts of between 17,500-40,000 words. 


Wild Hunt Books is searching for novella-length manuscripts of between 17,500-40,000 words. 

Project Aim

As a new publisher our aim is to showcase writing by talented new and emerging authors with the publication of three novellas in 2021/2022. We are accepting submissions by agented and unagented authors. For this list we are focusing on writers of any nationality residing in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and British and Irish authors living abroad. 

Our Flavour

We are looking for novellas that touch the following genres and styles or experiment with any of these forms, motifs and themes. To understand what we like, you can read more here. 

  • Folk Horror
  • Gothic
  • Dark Fiction
  • Folklore & Myth (originals & re-tellings)
  • Liminal spaces & uncanny elements
  • Surreal
  • Unexpected Narrators
  • Ghost Stories
  • Magical Realism
  • Fairytales (originals & re-tellings)

What You Need

A cover letter including your short biography

A synopsis of around 500-1,000 words with a complete plot of your manuscript (this includes all the spoilers). If you need help formulating your synopsis, have a look at Curtis Brown for inspiration and guidance.

The first 10,000 - 12,000 words of your manuscript (please include the title, your name and word count on the first page)

A Note from the Publisher

All writers are welcome and encouraged to submit. As stated, our mission is to identify and champion new and emerging authors. This will be our primary goal. We also highly encourage writers from marginalised communities to submit and welcome writers that identify as women, BAME, disabled, LGBTQ+, low-income, working-class and writers over the age of 50-years-old. Please drop a line if you have any questions or accessibility accommodations. 

We accept submissions from authors who already have at least one book published, but we will be focusing our attention to new authors. 

What We’re Not Looking For

Poetry, Short Story Collections, Memoirs, anthologies, non-fiction, YA, Children’s Fiction, MS outside of the word count (in short, novella-length manuscripts only, please)

Erotica, science fiction, high fantasy (think Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings), low fantasy is less of a priority

Please avoid the topic of Covid-19 as a theme, plot point or anything at all, really

Work sent that is homophobic, racist, bigoted, etc. will be ignored and no correspondence will be engaged

[Link] Streaming TV, Films Drive Surge in Graphic Novel Sales

by Heidi MacDonald

As the number and popularity of such streaming services as Netflix, and Disney+ continue to grow, many of these services have turned to adapting comics and graphic novels which have gone on to become some of their biggest hit shows.

Comics properties that have been adapted range from eccentric indie comics titles–for example, Charles Forsman’s The End of the F****** World on Netflix–to highly promoted superhero franchise series, among them WandaVision on Disney+ and The Boys on Amazon Prime. All of these shows have led to increased graphic novel sales, but along the way publishers have had to adapt and find new strategies to capitalize on their popularity on streaming media.

Among the challenges publishers face is the effort to link book releases to streaming TV shows: these services often don’t publicize broadcast dates until only a few months out. This means that publishers have to guess what the print demand will be, leaving them a narrow window to prepare. This can mean that books will be out of print for months just as demand spikes, unless publishers turn to more costly printers located in North America that can print and ship books to bookstores and comic shops more quickly.

One of the earliest (and most surprising) streaming successes based on a graphic novel was Forsman’s TEOTFW (as it’s called by many publications), the story of a teenage sociopath and a bratty thrill-seeker on a roadtrip, which was initially published as a series of mini-comics before being collected into a book by Fantagraphics. TEOTFW was published just as the streaming wars began heating up in 2017.

Read the full article: