DAY ONE OF ‘THE ADVENTURES OF ABIGAIL STORM’

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After 12 months of writing movies and other such things, it’s time to write another novel!

This one is a fun sci-fi romp called ‘The Adventures of Abigail Storm.’ It’s a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Escape from New York with a dash of Terminator 2 tossed in.

I want a 80,000 word draft by December, which means 1 month to outline, 1 month to write and 1 month to rewrite… and then probably 2 months to sleep and drink just to get over it.

To keep me honest with that deadline, I’m keen to share the process. So yell at me, prank call and hurl sarcasm and abuse if you think I’m slacking off.

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Stories that Kill: 7 Tips for Crime Writers

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If you want to write a crime novel, you’d better be ready to pick a fight. People are going to hate you and there’s nothing you can do about that.

They’re going to hate you for killing off their favorite characters, they’re going to lecture you for your use of bad language and they are going to resent you for taking them to places that challenge their values and beliefs. If you don’t like picking a fight, go write something else. But, if you like getting your knuckles bloody, you’ve come to the right place.

Writing is hard and finding your way through the words takes an immense amount of time. Here are 7 tips that I wish somebody had told me years before I put pen to paper.

(1) Don’t be boring

The worst crime a writer can commit is to be boring. I’d rather do serious time for murder than to be accused of being boring. If a crime novel turns out to be boring there’s a very high chance it is because the writer was bored while penning the decaf infused words. The worst piece of advice I have ever heard, and it’s slapped around like a 12 step mantra is, ‘Write what you know.’ It’s bullshit, never write what you know, write what excites you. You do that and that excitement will come across on the page and excite the reader.

(2) Grab the reader by the throat on the first page and don’t let go

In any story, the opening sentence, paragraph, page or chapter can be vital and crime writing is no exception. Start your story off like a shotgun blast in the middle of the night.

Here are a couple of opening types that have worked for me in the past.

The Action Opening: Start the novel with the hero in some sort of physical or emotional jeopardy

The Flashback Opening: Start with a moment of high drama from somewhere later in the novel and then flashback to the events leading up to it.

The First Day on the Job Opening: A good way to introduce the world to the reader is to discover it through the eyes of the hero. They may, as the title suggests, be starting a new job, or they may have just arrived in town.

The Everyday Hero Opening: Your protagonist is going about their everyday life and some event sends them spiraling off into another direction.

Outside Action: The outside action event could be a robbery, or a murder, or any problem that doesn’t involve the hero.

Never start with a description of the weather. In a crime novel, if you open with the description of the weather I’m going to think that the weather killed somebody.

(3) Have a crime

If you are writing a crime novel bad and awful things, sourced from the madness of your soul, need to happen. A crime novel without a crime isn’t a crime novel and a straight up murder isn’t going to cut it anymore. Give your criminals unique and conflicting reasons to be criminals. The bad guy in a story never knows he’s the bad guy. In his story, he’s the good guy. Your protagonist is only as strong as the forces of antagonism they are up against. Give them something to go up against.

*Note: A killer never kills because they are mad, there is always a reason.

(4) Don’t write likeable characters

Nobody likes likable characters. They may think they do and they may believe they do, but they really don’t. What they like are interesting characters. Characters that make mistakes, characters that think fast and think badly, flawed characters, but likeable characters. Likeable is boring.  Crime novels are littered with sons of bitches, wild men, dubious women and double crossing bastards.  Given the questionable nature of the characters that populate the pages of a crime novel, the question is how do you capture the hearts of the readers and keep them turning the page?

The answer is empathy.

Empathy is different from likable. Even the most renegade of criminal will detest a serial killer. But we are more than happy to read pages and pages of a serial killer roaming the streets of Florida murdering  away for pleasure and work as Dexter does in Jeff Lindsey’s series. Readers don’t turn those pages because they like Dexter or believe in his cause. They do because they empathize with Dexter – he’s a guy who just wants to fit in.

Here are a couple of ways to create empathy.

  1. Make the hero funny
  2. Make the hero a victim
  3. Show the hero in a dilemma
  4. Show the hero being highly skilled
  5. Show the hero being selfless

(5) Endings that slap you in the face

A killer ending us just as important as a killer opening. The reader has been good enough to purchase your novel and read it all the way to the final pages so give them an ending that will knock them on their ass (and send them straight out to buy your next novel).

Great endings give the reader what they want but not in the way they expect it. It reads easy but it’s not. Think of the ending as a mini three-act structure with twists and turns, reversals, setbacks and new plans. And when you’re story is over, end it! That guy in the first act who had the really cool car and said those three cool lines of dialogue; to the hell with him — we don’t care where he ended up. As ‘B’ movie king, Roger Corman once said, when the monster is dead, the movie is over.

(6) Get into a fight

Get out of the office, hit the street and start a fight. I don’t care with who. I don’t care what about. You can’t expect to be a writer without getting out into the world and getting your heart and knuckles scraped. Don’t hide in the world, be a part of it, experience its disappointments and triumphs, anger and heartbreaks and put it all on the page.

(7) What the hell is your story about?

Well, what the hell is your story about?

This is the question you need to ask yourself every single day that you follow one word with another on the way to the final last few. I’m not talking about the high concept idea you pitch at parties where you say your novel is about a guy, from wherever, who does this, and that happens. I’m talking about what your story is about on a thematic level. What does it mean to you? What are you saying about the world with your story? What the hell is it really about?

It’s that hidden drive, buried deep in your sub-conscious that pushes you to get up early and stay up late pounding out the words at the typer. Some of us write out of anger, and some of us write out of sadness. The only way to define what it is you are really writing is to sit in that familiar position of pen in hand and write down a list:

Ten things that make you angry

Ten things that make you sad

Think about what relates to you most and give that trait to your protagonist. Bruce Wayne isn’t angry that his parents were murdered (although I’m sure that pissed him off) what really drives Bruce Wayne is that he is angry that people are not held responsible for their actions. Therefore, he becomes a vigilante. That is what is really at the heart of Batman. And whether you know it or not, there is something at the heart of your story and if you can define it, you can develop and explore it with a master’s control.

What I’ve been writing about here are only a few things that have helped me over my years in the war of the words, take what you can from it, and discard what you will. The words come differently to everyone. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow and sometimes not at all. In those times of darkness and empty pages remember that, if you wait, if you are patient, the words will always come.

Why I Won’t Read Your Novel

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(This image is relevant, I swear)

A couple of months ago I’m at a 30th birthday party of a friend of a friend who I didn’t really know and besides feeling like an imposter during the intimate thank-you speeches I was having a pretty good time. Sometime after midnight the party began to thin leaving only the die hard drinkers and that’s when it happened. Every writer on the face of the planet has been, or will be in the following situation.

A skinny guy with a pony tail, who looked as if he owned every episode of Doctor Who and was of an age where that was weird, crossed the floor and made his way up to me. ‘You’re a writer,’ he said as if he were accusing me of something evil.

I confessed to the horrible truth that I was indeed a writer and a smile crossed his face as if he had been on some Hobbit-like adventure the entire night to find me and now here we were.

His name was Lawrence, and he had just finished writing his first novel. It was set in the future where for some undisclosed reason, domestic cats grew to be thirty feet tall and were now the main threat to humanity.

‘Will you read it?’

‘Oh, shit man, I’m real busy,’ I said.

‘You’re a really good writer. I can tell just by looking at you.’

In my experience good writers and bad writers look relatively similar but I was half drunk, half tired and wanting to get home to watch music videos on RAGE, so I handed him my card (yes, I have one) and told him to send me his manuscript.

‘No need,’ he said burying his hand into a dirty backpack by his feet. He pulled out a ream of paper and shoved it at me. It was nine hundred pages long and held by elastic bands and insecurity.

‘You carry it on you?’ I asked.

‘Of course.’

‘Isn’t it heavy?’

‘It’s the first in a series. I’ve got the other four at home.’

‘What if this one doesn’t sell?’

Confusion crossed his face. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Nothing, forget it,’ I said.

I carried the monster under my arm and made the trek out to the train station. Ten minutes later a carriage rolled up. I took a seat by the window with the big bastard next to me, took a sip of beer from a bottle I smuggled out of the party, lent my head against the window and drunkenly nodded off.

I woke to the not so gentle nudges of a police officer. ‘This train isn’t a hotel,’ he said.

Who was I to argue? It didn’t look like one. I climbed to my feet and looked to the empty seat next to me. ‘Shit, someone stole my manuscript.’

‘A what?’

‘Before a novel is published it’s called a…’ I gave up. He didn’t care and after I gave it some thought, it didn’t much bother me either.

I made my way home thinking about the poor literary deprived bastard who took the nine hundred page beast, went to bed and forgot all about that Saturday night.

A few days later I was sitting in front of the typer, wrestling with a particularly troublesome sentence when the telephone rang. The number: BLOCKED.

‘Have you read my novel yet?’

It took a moment for my mind to catch up. ‘Lawrence, I’m not sure if I’m going to get to it.’

‘But you said you would read it?’

‘I said I would try to read it.’

‘I’ll call you back tomorrow after you’ve had some time.’ And he hung up.

The next day rolled around and again, there I was staring at another string of bad words and the flashing cursor taunting me with each little blink.

And again, the phone rang. The number: BLOCKED.

This time I ignored it. In hindsight I should have just shown guts, picked up the phone and told this poor prick I had lost his Cat-ageddon story but I had this blinking bloody cursor to deal with. The phone rang out, there of was breath of silence and just as I was about to hammer away again at the keyboard it started back up. And over the next twenty four hours it rang another fifty something times. Then the paranoia set in.Maybe I should have read it? Maybe I should call him back? What if he’s found me? What if he’s hiding in my wardrobe right now? What if he’s dressed as a clown? What if he has a knife? And with that paranoid thought I headed down to the Prahran police station and dramatically slammed my phone on the bench and told my tale of woe to the cop who looked younger than the leather jacket I was wearing.

‘Who’s your telco provider?’ He asked.

‘Vodaphone.’

‘They don’t have very good coverage.’

‘They seem to be doing okay today.’

He told me the best thing to do is change my number and I walked out glad he wasn’t solving a homicide. A couple of steps later, the devil phone rang again but this time it was a buddy, Hugh. He was down at the Bush Inn which was conveniently, or not so conveniently for some, located half a block from the Prahran police station. I crossed the road and half a pint later I had told Hugh the events of the past few days.

Hugh took a sip of his beer. ‘How did all the cats get big?’

‘I didn’t read it!’

‘Why?’

‘Christ, have you not been listening?’ and before I could get any further my phone rang, again. ‘SHIT!’

Hugh snatched it off the bar, took two drunken steps back, smirked and answered it. ‘Detective Senior Sergeant Thomas Andrews.’

Now, I cannot lie, at this point, impersonating a police officer seemed like a worse idea than Justin Bieber playing live at Folsom Prison. Hugh even had the balls to give over a rank, badge number and the name of his commanding officer down at the Prahran Police Station. But if the Bush Inn Hotel gave out awards for best impromptu performance down at the TAB end of the bar, Hugh would have been a very strong contender. And after a few minutes, he hung up the phone and declared the case closed. And for about an hour it looked as if the world had returned to normal. We had a couple more beers, a couple of more bets, then I went to the bar and when I returned I had a missed call on the phone, only this time the caller had left a message. I pushed it into my ear to hear over the racket of the bar.

‘This is Constable Bernadette Collins from the Prahran police station calling in regard to a complaint about impersonating a police officer…’

My stomach dropped. I played Hugh the recording, told him he couldn’t act for shit, and as we headed off back down the road towards the cop shop to explain ourselves, I was rehearsing the explanation I was going to have to give to my girlfriend when I had to make the call for her to bail Hugh and I out of the clink. When I looked over to Hugh and for the first time noticed the Hawaiian shorts and filthy sneakers he was wearing. ‘This hurts us you son of a bitch.’

‘You’re drunk,’ he said. ‘Don’t fuck us in here.’

It sounded like a plan but as soon as I walked into the foyer of the station fear and panic had set in and I blurted out the words: ‘I AM NOT A COP!’

The young cop gave pause and sized me up, probably trying to gauge if I was the violent type or not. Christ, even Hugh looked at me sideways and he was one of my own kind. I drew a breath, flashed a smile and explained everything that had led up to the point where two half drunken fools were standing at the front desk of the Prahran police station explaining why they were impersonating police officers.

‘Why didn’t you read his book?’ the cop asked.

I sighed. ‘Because, it was probably bad.’

She shrugged. ‘So?’

We weren’t a threat. Nobody would ever believe either one of us were a cop. The Constable let us off with a warning and as we headed back to the Bush Inn for a celebratory drink, I thought about Lawrence and why he was so desperate for somebody to read his manuscript and then I realized something that I should have seen in his eyes the night he gave me his book… he had nobody else to read it.

I had another beer, watched Hugh win $182.50 on a dog called ‘Tank’ and then the next time my phone rang, I answered it and asked Lawrence if he could send me another copy of his manuscript.

First published at Momentumbooks.com.au

An Ex-Con, a Bag of Weed, and Rick Springfield on the Radio — Researching Out of Exile

Out of Exile_cover Every criminal thinks they have a story to tell and as a crime writer, I listen to all of them. I first heard the name Frankie Bell from a guy I grew up with who did nine months inside for beating his neighbor to a side of beef because the neighbor played the classic rock hit Take It Easy on repeat for twelve hours. He said, “You want to hear some stories, go talk to Frankie Bell. But whatever you do, don’t let him anywhere near a cop”. He didn’t say why and at the time I didn’t think to ask. I was in the depths of researching Out of Exile and really needed to get out of the office. So I spent half a day on the phone tracking down a number for Frankie and when I spoke to him he agreed to meet the following day.
I stood on a busy corner in Collingwood when Frankie stopped the traffic to pull over and let me in. Horns were honked, abuse was yelled but Frankie didn’t seem to notice or care. He must have been seven foot tall and at least half as wide with hands the size of dinner plates. He had some errands to run around and do and asked if I mined tagging along. I didn’t and we hit the road.
“I just got out,” Frankie said rolling a cigarette with one hand and driving with the other and splitting his eye line between the two.
“How long were you in?”
“Just under three years.”
“For what?”
“Smacked around some coppers.”
“How many?”
“Seven.”
“That’s a lot of copper.”
“That’s why the three years.”
A couple of blocks later he pulled the old XF Ford over to the side of the road in a suburban street where all the houses were worn down by life and time. We climbed out and headed to the front door.
“Just a quick stop,” Frankie said knocking on the door.
A moment later the door pulled back to reveal a little old lady dressed in clothes that hadn’t been fashionable for thirty years.
A smile crossed her face at the sight of Frankie. “Hello, luv. Are you here for your weekly?”
Her name was Joan and her house was hot. Cats were passed out in front of the heater and when she left, Frankie turned to me and said: “I”ve been coming here for years.”
Joan came back into the room before Frankie could answer and in her hands, she carried the biggest bag of marijuana I have ever seen in the hands of the elderly. “There you go,” she said handing it over.
Frankie palmed her some notes as he very politely declined Joan’s offer of a cup of tea and biscuits. Later Frankie told me Joan’s sons have a hydro set up somewhere in the bush and give her some weed to sell for a bit of extra pocket money. She’s only on a pension so Frankie feels good about giving her his business even though he could get better pot for the same price elsewhere.
On the drive back to Flemington, Frankie scanned through the radio looking for a good song. He settled on Jesse’s Girl and turned it up. “That Rick Springfield, what a talent,” he shouts over the song.
But as soon as the words left his mouth the smile dropped from his face and his whole body tensed up.
“What?” I said confused.
He shot a quick glance into the rearview mirror. “We got cops.”
My eyes darted to the massive bag of weed by my feet and back to Frankie. “What do we do?”
“We drive casual.”
“How do we do that?”
“You know, casual.”
If casual were an ex-crim and an over-educated writer cruising through Flemington with a massive bag of weed listening to Rick Springfield’s 80’s classic, Jesse’s Girl, then we were doing it.
I shuffled down in my seat and got an angle through the side view mirror. “They’re still there,” I said.
Frankie pulled a left turn. Then another left turn and yet another after that.
“What are you doing,” I said. “Stop turning left.”
“I can’t turn right.”
“Why?”
“The indicator is broken. They’ll pull us over if I turn and don’t indicate.”
“And this is a better idea!”
“Don’t yell at me.”
“We can’t keep turning left!”
Frankie slowed the car to a T-intersection. “We don’t have any choice.” He hooked a big finger around the lever and turned the indicator on and the moment he did flashing red and blues lit up the street and along with the dying wail of the siren.
Frankie pulled the car to the side of the road as I threw my jacket over the massive bag of weed by my feet and all I could think about was the warning: Don’t let Frankie Bell near any cops.
The cop approached the car and looked at Frankie with a hard look that he probably perfected from watching too much television and motioned to the radio that was still blasting out Jessie’s Girl. “Can you turn that down?”
“But it’s Rick Springfield?” Frankie said.
The cop sighed. “License.”
Frankie handed it over, and the cop looked at it, looked at us and headed back to the patrol to run the license.
Frankie’s face formed a V. “This pig better not mouth off, again. I don’t care I’ll clock him.” He turned to me. “You got my back, right?”
“What, no! Just be cool.”
“Do you see the way he was looking at me?”
“No.”
Before Frankie could lose his shit the cop appeared and poked his head through the window, handed the license back and said: “Have a nice day.”
And then he was gone.
Frankie turned and smiled. “Ah, ha, ha. I”m a convicted criminal I am and look at that, outsmarted the coppers I did.”
“Just don’t use your indicator until he’s gone.”
Frankie wanted to celebrate our escape by smoking a bunch of weed and playing Nintendo. I couldn’t think of anything worse, I probably could but I couldn’t be bothered and had Frankie drop me at home. His hatred for police was seeded in some awful event and harbored for unknown reasons and by the time I climbed out of the car I worked up the courage to ask.
“Why did you beat all those cops up for?”
His eyes dipped with a hint of sorrow, regret and bad luck. “I didn’t know they were coppers at the time. We were down the pub and one of them put his hand up my girlfriend’s skirt. I just lost it.”
“What happened to the girl?”
“Got married while I was in jail,” he said. “I guess she didn’t really love me.”
And then I watched Frankie Bell’s beat up Ford disappear into the traffic.
You can spend years researching your novel. Standing in an office buried waist high in books, magazines and poorly formatted printouts from Google is only going to get you so far. Every once in a while you need to step out from behind the desk, you need to start a fight, you need to fall in love and make mistakes, you need to have regrets and you need to live and fail. And occasionally you need to get into a car with an ex-con, a bag of weed and listen to Rick Springfield.

First Published at Omnimystery

MELBOURNE CRIME DESK: Australia’s new ‘Arrest Anyone on Two Wheels’ Law

The end of WWII left a generation of lost, young men with no place to go except for the dusty highways where they would ride on two wheel metal beasts, through endless days and nights trying to find someplace to belong. They had names like Hells Angels, The Finks and The Mongols. But there was no place in society for these broken men so they embraced being outlaws in both spirit and law. Two decades later the Vietnam war began and as the years passed, more and more veterans returned to a country that didn’t recognise or want them. And more young men hit the road in search of meaning and freedom. Those days have passed and now thirty years later biker gangs have clubhouses, run charities, guns, drugs, legal businesses and not so legal businesses. At times, violence has spilled out into the streets, and the innocent have become a permanent fixture in the landscape of collateral damage.

 

To combat this in Queensland, Premier Campbell Newman is introducing ‘biker specific’ laws that brand 26 bikers gangs as criminal organisations. They apply to anyone on two wheels,  wearing a patch and who congregate in groups of more than three.

Here is what they are facing:

  •  Jail terms of between two and five years for members of outlawed gangs who are caught associating with each other
  • The Supreme Court would be responsible for determining which gangs are outlawed, based on evidence provided by the Police
  • The gang members would be given no warnings before charges are applied

The laws are being introduced into Queensland as I type, and are highly likely to be replicated within Victoria and NSW.  I endorse the dismantling of criminal organizations. Arrest those who have murdered, throw the book at those who deal in drugs, and jail the swine who pop off automatic gunfire into suburban streets.

AWESOME!

LESS CRIME!

But wait? Hold on a minute?

Don’t we already have laws for criminality such as that?

So what the hell is going on now?

 

If these laws are to be passed within Victoria, it would make it legal for authorities to arrest biker members who fraternise with one another, wear the same colors, and congregate in certain prescribed  areas. Sounds okay if you don’t think too hard about it. But if you do think hard about it, who else could these laws be applied to? If we are to brand organisations criminal because they are a bunch of people who all wear the same colors, hoon around on motorcycles and fraternise together then what about the Australia Post Service? They’re the biggest bloody biker gang in the entire country… AND THEY’RE EVERYWHERE!

And who decides what defines a criminal organization? These laws could easily be applied to activist organisations, unions or any group the Government decides to dislike for whatever reason. These new laws are so vague, they don’t even need to specify a reason for such damaging branding. If that’s the case, what happens if by some horrible accident we, the Australian people, accidently elect some crazy bigot, then who’s the next target? Religious groups, book clubs, girl scouts, football teams, people still wearing Ed Hardy tee shirts? These laws can be applied to any group any Government sees fit to dislike at that given point in time. If this was sixty years ago, these laws could have been applied to Women’s Liberation or Civil Rights Groups. In our current climate could they be applied to Same Sex Marriage advocates and let’s not forget about the big one… Religion. Because people of any religion never fraternise with one another, wear similar outfits, and congregate in certain prescribed areas. And now more than ever, Australia has a diversity when it comes to religion and culture.

Arrest criminals. Arrest killers. Arrest drug dealers. But once you start arresting people based on the associations they belong to, the weak and fearful will begin doing so toward anything and absolutely everything they don’t understand. And when that happens we lose who we are as a society and the promise of who we can be.

If you want to create an outlaw, create a law that excludes people from society, and you’ll have more than enough of them than you can handle.

First published at Murder is Everywhere

Sorry, Cormac

 

So, I was at this 90s party the other week… a lot of my stories start like this, although they are not always 90s parties. I’m talking to a girl in Lisa Loeb glasses and trying to think of the name of the one hit Lisa Loeb had that was on the Reality Bites soundtrack. Then I’m thinking about how cool Ethan Hawke was in that movie and how he still rocks a goatee even though the 90s were over fifteen years ago. Then I thought, could I pull off a goatee? Would I look cool like Ethan Hawke? Then I gave up on that idea; no one could look as cool as Ethan Hawke. The girl in the Lisa Loeb glasses went to grab a drink and left me with a guy in a Kurt Cobain cardigan so bad that Kurt Cobain wouldn’t even be caught dead in. He had his head buried in his phone, checking Twitter, Grinder or whatever and when he glanced up for a split second to see that I was still there, he must have felt obliged to say something, so when he opened his mouth the most generic stranger on stranger questions came out of his mouth.

So what do you do for a living? He asked.

I’m a writer, I said.

Yeah, he said with his face lit from the phone. Written anything I would have read?

I generally don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge on what people at parties have read.

Not sure. I use a pen name.

Oh, yeah. What’s that?

A pseudonym. When you use a…

No the name?

Cormac McCarthy, I said.

The fact that Cormac is fifty years older than me, American and the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize didn’t seem to register with Cobain.

What kinda stuff you write?

I wrote All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Blood Meridian, The Road

The Road! His head snapped away from his phone and I could see it took his eyes a moment to adjust to the real world. I love that movie!

Well, a movie and a book are two different…

My girlfriend is reading it right now! He threw a look over his shoulder and waved to a girl who was dressed as Brenda from the hit TV series Beverly Hills 90210. This guy wrote The Road, he yelled.

What?

THE ROAD!

Brenda made her way past a couple of Reservoir Dogs and a Forest Gump to join us. You’re Comac McCarthy?

He’s the guy, I told you. He wrote the movie.

The book, I said again.

Brenda sized me up. I wasn’t sure if she was buying my ruse and I didn’t care one way or another but then she said, I’ve been trying to get into it. It’s a bit shit though isn’t it?

I looked at her, I looked at him and back to her again. What?

Yeah, I just can’t get into it. No offence.

No offence?

You should see the movie, babe. Cobain said. It’s probably better.

I left my heart and soul on the page. I said complete with hand gestures to demonstrate the process. Years!

I’m sorry, she said, I’ll stick with it.

Hey! Cobain said as if he had just had his first thought. Have you got it on you?

She dug her hand into her Country Road bag (very popular in the Australian 90s) and pulled out a movie tie-in edition of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Will you sign it?

Of course, I said. I took out a pen from my pocket, because Cormac always carries a pen with him and I flicked through the first couple of pages and scrawled out a very illegitimate signature and handed it back.

Then I took a beer and got the hell out of there.

So if you see an autographed copy of Cormac McCarthy’s movie tie-in edition of his masterpiece, The Road on ebay, tread lightly and please… I still haven’t looked it up, so if anyone could tell me the name of the Lisa Loeb song that was on the Reality Bites soundtrack, that would be awesome

First published at Murder is Everywhere

How not to get screwed when a producer options your novel

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Writing a novel is a war of determination, self-doubt, rebellion, bad grammar, cheap beer and downright guts before it’s finally unleashed to the public. If you’re lucky, the book will get a few good reviews, a few sales and then the phone will ring and a producer says: ‘Hey, we want to make your novel into a movie.’

Now, before you call up the girl who dumped you in high school and brag, make sure you have a contract that properly protects you. Most producers are honest and genuine but there are still a few sharks out there.

Here are a few things to keep in mind before optioning your film rights:

Is the producer capable of making a movie?

Good intentions are lovely but they won’t get a movie made. Before optioning the film rights to your project, access whether or not the producer is capable of making a film. If they have made films before, this is a great indication of their ability of getting your project up. If they do not have any feature film credits, do they have any television or short film credits? Also, feel free to ask them what their plan is for developing and financing the project is. If they are cagy or vague about their plan, they may not have one. And just because they have produced a business card that says they are a producer doesn’t mean they can produce a feature film.

The option fee

Never option the film rights to your novel for no fee whatsoever. You don’t need bucket loads of Scrooge Duck cash to swim around in for a producer to hold your films rights but they should pay something. Paying you a small fee is a clear indication that they value your work. If they cannot pay that small fee, it’s possible they may not be able to afford to put together the project at the early stages of development as that process does come at a cost (an option fee being one of them).

Movies can take years to develop and finance so be reasonable about the length of the option period that you grant a producer. I tend to like an option period of six months to no longer than four years. Never option the film rights for life. What you don’t want is your project sitting on a shelf somewhere gathering dust especially if you have other interested parties.

Getting Paid

If everything goes to plan; the screenplay is in place, the key creatives have been attached, there’s money on the table and a shoot date has been set, make sure your contract stipulates that you get paid on the first day of principal photography. Not on completion of the shoot, not upon distribution, not when Santa comes but on the first day of principal photography. If the catering can be paid, so can the writer.

Credit

If you are also the screenwriter, credit gets you your next job. Your credit needs to be clearly defined and on all appropriate materials such as the poster, trailers and of course on the film itself. Try to avoid phrasing such as ‘The Producer will endeavor to…’ or ‘The Producer, to the best of their ability will try to ensure to…’. If the producer can guarantee their own credit, they should be able to guarantee yours too.

Negotiations

You want to keep your writer/producer relationship positive and sometimes negotiations can leave a bad taste in your mouth. It’s always best to have an experienced representative to negotiate on your behalf. An agent is always is the perfect way to go, if you don’t have an agent, hire a lawyer or alternatively the Australian Writers Guild of the Writer Guild of America both offer services in this instance (if you are a member, which you should be!). Negotiations can be tricky so you need somebody in your corner who knows what your rights are. If a producer doesn’t want you to take their contact to either a lawyer or an agent, there’s a reason for that and even more reason to seek advice. Negotiations should not be nasty, you’re are seeking a mutually beneficial deal but if they do turn nasty remember, you own the project and you can do whatever the hell you want with it.

Stay out of it!

Stay the hell out of the production of the film. Let the filmmakers make the film. Unless you have had substantial experience in film production you have very little to contribute on set and will ultimately get in the way.

3 Things never to do during production:

1) Suggest dialogue changes

2) Suggest shot selections

3) And never, ever, try to pick up the lead actor

Your novel will always be your novel, but the film will always be somebody else’s baby. Respect that filmmakers are storytellers too and if they genuinely love your story, they are going to lay their careers and hearts on the line to see that story on the screen.

First Published at Momentumbooks.com.au

30 WAYS TO KNOW YOU’RE A WRITER

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You know you’re a writer when…
  1. You don’t know how to do anything else
  2. Your back is sore
  3. Your taste in music is awesome and you have a rocking record collection
  4. You can go days without speaking to a single person
  5. Anyone who likes your writing is immediately far sexier than they were before they told you they liked your writing
  6. You spend most of the day staring at the wall
  7. You have at least one unpublishable manuscript hiding in your office
  8. Whenever you’re doing something else, you feel like you should be writing
  9. You never leave the house without a book
  10. You keep telling yourself you need to go to the gym, but to the gym you never go
  11. You drink too much coffee during the day and too much booze during night
  12. You believe stories can change the world
  13. You see people who say ‘I don’t read,’ as Morlocks
  14. You know what the hell a Morlock is
  15. You can convince yourself that laying on the couch, drinking beer and watching re-runs of Miami Vice is just part of your working day
  16. You believe that people who say ‘I would write a book, I just don’t have the time’ should be beaten with a copy of Crime & Punishment
  17. Nobody really knows what you do
  18. Complete strangers pitch you stories to write
  19. You are egotistic and insecure at the same time
  20. You fear going to an accountant
  21. Your favorite place in the world is your desk
  22. Your second favorite place in the world is a bookstore
  23. You fear that reading a bad review is one day going to give you a heart attack
  24. Working from home has lost its appeal
  25. It matters to you where a comma goes
  26. Typos haunt you
  27. You feel guilty about writing
  28. You feel guilty about not writing
  29. People ask you ‘Where you get your ideas from?’ and you tell them there’s a little shop around the corner from your house that sells them
  30. There is absolutely nothing else in the world you would rather be doing than writing

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First published on Murder is Everywhere

Escape From Melbourne

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As I am writing this, it is 2:43 AM and I am sitting in the downstairs bar of Tony Starr’s Kitten Club. The upstairs band are murdering a Stevie Wonder song, the crowd is starting to leave and I’m starting to think about doing the same. Although getting out of the city of Melbourne at 2:43 on a Saturday night can be as dangerous as Alcatraz in the 30s, Iran in the 70s or Ikea around Christmas time. Melbourne in the heart of a Saturday night is one filled with danger and darkness, fear and ugliness; women with too much make-up and men with too much to testosterone.

Getting home anytime after midnight is always a gamble.

I sit at the bar, order another drink and weigh up my options. I could catch a taxi, and in theory, that sounds like a plan but I know from experience the trials and tribulations of implementing this logical train of thought. Empty cabs are scarce and if I were lucky enough to stumble across one, the bastard wouldn’t let me in until he knew my destination, and upon hearing my address, they speed off in search of a bigger fare. Nope, cabs are out.

Melbourne does not have a 24 hour public transport system. To supplement this embarrassment, they run the ‘Night Rider’ service, which is nowhere near as cool as it sounds. The ‘Night Rider’ is a series of busses that specializes in ferrying drunks out of the city and back to the suburbs. They’re flooded with blue light to stop poor junkies from finding a vein and shooting up, but as a result they make the drunks nauseous so there’s a faint air of vomit in the air. These booze busses may get you out of the city but any chance of them getting me anywhere near where I live is slim, so as tempting as that mode of transport sounds, I am still in for a walk.

And speaking of a walk, that seems to be the only option I have left. I generally have a violent reaction to anything even remotely exercise-esk but hell, when all other options are exhausted I may just have to endure. Like many Melbournians before me, I have made that drunken trek home in the middle of the night. It is a journey fraught with Hobbit like perils of in the middle of the night. It is a journey fraught with Hobbit like perils of danger and mayhem. Violent packs of drunken men prowl the concrete streets, many of whom have been kicked out of a club and continue their frustrated search for a good time on the streets but in the meantime will settle with starting a fight with anyone who they think has looked at them wrong.

Now, it’s almost 3 AM and these are my options. I ask the bartender what time the bar is licensed to and he tells me it’s 7 AM. I order another drink, peel open the pages of the book in my pocket and am happy to wait out the night until the sun is in the sky and the streets are laid bare from the night before. For no matter how dangerous the streets of Melbourne are on a Saturday night, there is always a warm bar to seek refuge in and with a book in one hand and a drink in the other, what more could you want?

First published in Murder is Everywhere

In the Aftermath of the Release of a New Tom Bishop Rampage

It’s been a busy couple of weeks with the release of OUT OF EXILE. I’ve been here, there and everywhere talking about Bishop’s latest rampage, writing guest posts all around the internets and generally having a good time doing it all.

Here’s quick overview of some of my favs!

GUEST POSTS

On the Momentum blog you’ll find some advice on HOW NOT TO GET SCREWED WHEN A PRODUCER WANTS TO OPTION YOUR NOVEL as well as HOW NOT TO READ OTHER PEOPLE’S NOVELS: A CAUTIONARY TALE.

Over at OmniMysteryNews I’m talking about “An Ex-Con, a Bag of Weed, and Rick Springfield on the Radio – Researching Out of Exile“.

Over at MURDER IS EVERYWHERE I’m talking about how to ESCAPE FROM MELBOURNE. A hint of advice on what to do when you find yourself in the city of Melbourne in the heart of a Saturday night, surrounded by drunks and violence.

INTERVIEWS

Over at READING KILLS the word ‘FUCK LITERARY FICTION’ comes out of my lips as well as other challenges.

At The Australian Literary Review I chat to Steve about writing, music and getting the words on the page no matter the cost.

I’m over with Josh at ‘Just a guy who likes to read’ chatting about noir, criminal characters and who would play Tom Bishop in the most ambitious feature film ever made.

OUT OF EXILE REVIEWS

And here’s a couple of the most recent reviews:

READING KILLS

One minute, ex-cop Tom Bishop is spending another sleepless night in his gaol cell; the next, a surprise prison transfer turns into an unwilling escape into a hot and bloody summer evening. From there, things for Bishop get worse: break and enter, murder, kidnapping—and that’s just the start of a brutal, tense and terrifyingly local (if you’re me—the author unexpectedly namedropped both my train line and workplace) thriller that is flat-out fast-paced feverishly-excited enjoyment throughout.

From the moment the book opens Bishop gets no respite, thrown from one situation into another, doing his best to help those in need while not exactly being a kind and gentle cuddly-bear-type protagonist. After all, he’s suffered badly in the past, and those who crossed him still need to pay. While Preston busts out a few corkers, like: “Despite the advertisements, there wasn’t much room in the boot of a Ford, and Bishop’s legs were starting to cramp”, Bishop just isn’t the kind of guy who has time for wisecracks; he’s far too busy trying to get shit done in an environment full of file-pushers. And all respect to him for it; he’s got a lot to deal with, what with all the jumping out of windows, dodging gunfire and running hell-bent around Melbourne’s streets. (If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like for New Yorkers to constantly see their city destroyed in movies, you’ll love this.) Dealing with Melbourne’s CBD being in gridlock at the same time as criminals are seemingly using the streets as a playground ain’t easy; no one can get anywhere, and the good guys they don’t know where to go. It takes Bishop and those who he can trust—or trust enough, anyway—to find out what the kidnappers want, and who it is that’s pulling all the strings.

This is genuine, nail-shredding excitement. I had to take a couple of breaks just to get a glass of water and calm down so I didn’t internally gasp out all of my oxygen. With all of Bishop’s talents and physicality, it can get faintly ridiculous at times, but make no mistake—like the best kind of action movie, you don’t care in the least. You just want him to get the bad guys, and if a few things need to blow up then all the better. Let’s put it this way: at chapter eighty I went off and made myself a bowl of popcorn to take me through to the end with the proper gravitas. Get that butter melting, people, and strap yourself to your e-reader. It’s gonna be a blast.

*throws keyboard out of window, walks off into the distance to badass soundtrack*

Fair Dinkum Crime

OUT OF EXILE follows Tom Bishop a damaged and dangerous ex-cop with the result simply noir – blurred justice, violence, and a case for vengeance tripping over the borders of criminality. Dig deeper, and the deluge of damned souls and corrupt cops seeps deep into the cracked Melbourne pavement. The reality not distilled by the outrageous but supported by the outlandish – this level of rife corruption and blatant disregard for civilian safety could easily happen, a factious tag-line from the Herlard or Australian. And that’s what makes OUT OF EXILE so good.

Broken out of prison, Bishop finds himself embroiled in a multi-layered crime of smoke and mirrors where the true purpose of the corrupt elite isn’t clear until the bloody ending. Raw from the loss of his daughter, Bishop’s justice radar still learns towards the blue line – this despite being involved in a kidnapping, break-in of his former foe’s house and torture of a prominent cops’ wife. While things look bad for Bishop’s predicament, his relentless pursuit of justice enforced by street law provides a constant glimmer of hope where none should filter.

OUT OF EXILE builds upon the Aussie conceptual noir, DARK CITY BLUE, the first book to feature Tom Bishop. The key players return (those not six feet under) with more character depth and the reader, more situational awareness of the fictitious Victorian police landscape. Familiarity with the characters is paramount to the reader reactions to their decisions and actions. While I think anyone could read OUT OF EXILE as a standalone, it works much better having read DARK CITY BLUE.

Author Luke Preston does a great job at keeping the reader guessing while planting landmines of explosive twists throughout the course of events. Like its predecessor, OUT OF EXILE is action an action pack non-stop noir where no one is safe from the tantalising grip of corruption and promised wealth.

Australian Crime Fiction

OUT OF EXILE is the second Tom Bishop book from local author Luke Preston.

Let’s focus on that. The second book.

It follows on from DARK CITY BLUE, taking the dangerous, damaged and deeply conflicted ex-cop Tom Bishop back, ever so slightly, onto the side of the angels.

In two books Preston has ripped Tom Bishop’s life, family and sanity apart, taken him down as low as an ex-cop in jail could possibly go. And then set him up in a no win situation blurring law and order and justice to the point where picking the good from the bad and the winners from the losers is no easy task. Even with Bishop’s fundamental desire to do the right thing.

Dark and about as noir as the streets of Australia could ever be envisioned, OUT OF EXILE delivers a strong message in an utterly uncompromising style. Broken out of prison for the express purpose of outing corrupt police, Bishop must side with the wrong in order to achieve the right. It’s a difficult position for anybody to be placed in. Make that person a man with little left to lose and a lot to regret, it is impossible not to entertain the possibility that Bishop will ignore the desire.

But back to the second book thing. Both books are action packed, violent and beautifully written. Economical with words, the reader is never in doubt about motivations and constantly wondering about outcomes. There is plenty of follow through from the first book in this one, with many of the characters still breathing returning and events carrying forward in the minds and actions of the main players. Whilst it might be possible to read OUT OF EXILE on its own, I’m not sure I’d recommend it. Whilst there’s enough detail in the second book to give you an idea of what’s gone before, DARK CITY BLUE fleshes it all out, and besides, why deny yourself the chance.

Why the constant references to two books? OUT OF EXILE very nearly became a single sitting read. And when I was really struggling to put it down, I realised that part of the reason was the way it was moving forward so rapidly. The other reason was I really cared what happened to Tom Bishop. In two noir style action books, creating a reader / character connection like that’s quite an achievement.

review: luke preston, out of exile

A cool review of OUT OF EXILE from READING KILLS!

Reading Kills

One minute, ex-cop Tom Bishop is spending another sleepless night in his gaol cell; the next, a surprise prison transfer turns into an unwilling escape into a hot and bloody summer evening. From there, things for Bishop get worse: break and enter, murder, kidnapping—and that’s just the start of a brutal, tense and terrifyingly local (if you’re me—the author unexpectedly namedropped both my train line and workplace) thriller that is flat-out fast-paced feverishly-excited enjoyment throughout.

From the moment the book opens Bishop gets no respite, thrown from one situation into another, doing his best to help those in need while not exactly being a kind and gentle cuddly-bear-type protagonist. After all, he’s suffered badly in the past, and those who crossed him still need to pay. While Preston busts out a few corkers, like: “Despite the advertisements, there wasn’t much room in the boot of a Ford, and Bishop’s legs…

View original post 304 more words

interview: luke preston

Reading Kills

This month, I had the totally rad opportunity to throw a few questions at Luke Preston (author of Out of Exile; read my overexcited review that spawns gleeful compliments like ‘rad’ here).

1. While you’ve gained success in the thrills and blood-spills of crime, you’re also a screenwriter—do you have devious plans in other genres, or are you intending to translate Tom Bishop to the big screen? (Incidentally I would enjoy the hell out of a Bishop movie.)

The beauty of screenwriting is that it takes a fraction of the time to write a script than it does to write a novel. On the flip side to that, a screenplay takes a hell of a lot longer to find a home, be financed, produced and distributed (and that’s if it does at all). I have a couple of action/crime movies in the works, which are both almost ready to…

View original post 1,049 more words

The Music Behind the Words

Every writer on the face of the planet has at some stage sat behind a typer and pounded out those ever elusive words… And more times than not, they were listening to music all the while. Those notes filter through our hearts, our minds and out our fingertips and into words. For me, I listen to music through every part of the writing process. From staring at the wall and cursing myself for not being smarter and coming up with better ideas, to feverishly bashing out that first draft to carefully interrogating each and every word in order to justify its existence in each sentence. But how important is music in the creative expression of stories? For me, I cannot separate the two.

When I have an idea for a novel, the very first thing I do is spend a day playing through my playlists and records (yep, I still have ’em). What I am trying to do is find the musical personalty of the novel. When I wrote Dark City Blue a tale about a career cop who tears apart the police force to expose corruption, I had complied close to one hundred songs that I thought best musically represented that story.

Although there were many songs blasting out of my office during the writing of that novel, the following six were instrumental in the exorcism of Dark City Blue.

KILLING IN THE NAME – RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE

 

I knew the novel needed an opening that was as close to a literary kick in the balls as you could get. Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’ was that and more. I couldn’t start writing until I had found that song and once I had, I couldn’t stop writing.

STATE TROOPER – BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

 

There were nights when I pulled the second shift at the desk and it would be 2.30 am, the street would be quite and I would put Springsteen’s Nebraska on the turn table and let it spin. The album is full of working class beauty, but ‘State Trooper’ was the one track that got more than its fair share of repeats.

INTO MY ARMS – NICK CAVE

 

I never write my action scenes to blaring rock ‘n roll or thumping Hip-Hop. I write my action scenes to ballads. A lot of Nick Cave, a fair share of Leonard Cohen and a dash of Johnny Cash in some of his more redemptive moments. Writing action scenes to songs of love and loss allows me to slow everything down so I can hunt out and discover those small details of human emotion that make a scene memorable.

NOTHINGMAN – PEARL JAM

 

Every story has a ‘all hope is lost’ moment. It’s usually close to the second act turning point and places the hero in a situation where it looks as if they will never achieve their goal. Peal Jam’s Nothingman was Dark City Blue‘s all hope is lost song and that thing played on repeat for the better part of a Thursday afternoon as the scene was written and rewritten, beaten down and rewritten again.

ENTER SANDMAN – METALLICA

 

Enter Sandman was always my first song of the day on Dark City Blue. It filled that time between waiting for the laptop to boot up and typing my first words. Just me and the computer staring each other out like a couple of boxers while the neighbors were blasted awake by hard metal.

AUTO ROCK – MOGWAI

 

When I know I’m coming to write the final pages of a story, I’m talking about being able to smell the words END OF MANUSCRIPT, I pour myself a glass of Jameson’s (and I keep the bottle) and I choose a song that musically demonstrates what I want the reader to emotionally feel and I play that song until my glass is empty and there are no more words to write.

As every novel is unique, so is its musical DNA. I’ve moved on emotionally, intellectually and musically from Dark City Blue and I’ll probably never listen to those songs ever again. But one night, I might be at a bar or at a party and one of those songs may come out of the speakers and I’ll be transported back to those early mornings and late nights and it will be as if an old friend is whispering dirty secrets into my ear and I’ll smile at the memory of writing Dark City Blue.

My Next Big Thing

Thanks to Andrew Nette, author of the awesome Ghost Money and Amanda Bridgeman who has a brand spanking new book coming out through Momentum Books for tagging me in their Next Big Thing.

Here’s mine.

What is the title of your current/next book?

Dark City Blue

Where did the idea come from?

Nobody knows where ideas come from, least of all writers. That light bulb moment where a killer idea hits a writer like a kick in the balls is bullshit. Stories come in dribs and drabs of ideas, as they did with Dark City Blue.

That said, there were three overarching ideas that developed into the novel.

I wanted to read a fast paced, crime thriller set in my own country.
I was tired of reading Oz lit dressed up as Oz crime.
I wanted to tell a story about a man who does bad things for good reasons.

What genre does your book fall under?

If there were a Tough Bastard genre, it would probably fall under that. Otherwise, Dark City Blue falls under crime/police procedural.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Coming from a screenwriting background, which means I’m half a filmmaker, I would have to go (if money was no object) Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman or any other actor that would drag the audience to the cinema.

Personally, I’d prefer the novel to be adapted as a television series.

What is the one sentence of your book?

One man destroys the police department in his obsession to expose corruption.

Will your book be self published or represented by an agency?

Dark City Blue is available now from the awesome Momentum Books.

How long did it take you to write the first draft?

I like to write fast. I outlined for three weeks and wrote the first draft in twenty five days. After that, there many many drafts to follow.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Dark City Blue is like Serpico, if Serpico snorted a fistful of cocaine and hung out with Lee Marvin.

What else about this book might pique the reader’s interest?

This:

As for tagging others in this post, it seems that everybody who has written more than a paragraph has already done theirs.

How we adapted a novel into a book trailer

A few months before Dark City Blue was unleashed on the world I thought creating a book trailer would be a fun way to raise awareness for its release. This post chronicles my adventures of creating a book trailer, from the development of the script, through the various stages of production, and finally the launch.

Until deciding to shoot a trailer for DCB, my exposure to them was, on a whole, relatively limited. So armed with nothing but an iPad, I researched book trailers like I was on the Warren Commission. They generally fell into one of three categories.

The ‘Fuck Yeah’ Book Trailer – The one where straight after you watch it, you buy the book.

The ‘Eh?’ Book Trailer – The one that has no emotional impact on you, you don’t give a shit and you don’t buy the book.

The ‘Turn that thing off’ Book trailer – The one where you contemplate suicide while watching it. My obituary would be a better read.

I wanted DCB to have a ‘Fuck Yeah’ book trailer and found they all had similar things in common:

  • They were cinematic
  • They were 60-90 seconds in length
  • They had one, single message to convey to the audience

DEVELOPMENT

I went down to my local pub, pulled out my pen and notebook and came up with twenty ideas. They were all rubbish and it wasn’t the booze. The first twenty ideas of anything are always the weakest. They’re the ideas that come off the top of your head, the ideas that everybody else has. It isn’t until you start putting in those hard hours of staring at the wall that you truly come up with something original.

Well, I didn’t come up with anything that night, I got drunk and went home. But the next night I went back the Post Office Hotel and stared at the wall of their toilet block for a few hours until I came up with the concept which went on to become the script… One location, one shot and we pull back to reveal the hero standing in the aftermath of a bloody shootout (it’s that kind of book).

I wanted a trailer that would best represent the essence of the book. A trailer that would make a promise to the reader that in reading Dark City Blue, they’re in for a hell of an action ride where the line between cop and criminal is blurred.

That one idea was all I started with before writing the script.

After the script was in place, the fun started.

PRE-PRODUCTION

With a script in hand, the next steps were to put together the elements needed to realise the words on the page. Once the awesome Jason Christou came on board to direct the production jumped along in leaps and bounds. He understood the script and the book and how one needed to represent the other.

We were only in pre-production for two weeks and for that time, Jason and I turned into a newly married couple. We hung out, we emailed we were on the phone everyday. The trailer became our baby and we wanted it to be the best it could be.

The key to a smooth film shoot, and despite the length of the trailer, it was still a film shoot, is planning. Something is always going to go wrong and if you’re organised, you can adapt and stop that one small problem from turning into a disaster that destroys the whole bloody thing.

So we created a pre-production checklist:

LOCATION: Shooting in one location was a great idea to cut down on production costs and time. What we were looking for needed to be rough, gritty and just downright authentic. I hit the streets of Brunswick in search of back alley’s and graffiti covered car parks but in the end the best place to shoot was in the car park underneath my flat (currently available for rent, blood stains included). Creatively, it fitted what we needed, we could control the light, the weather and importantly we had access to electricity.

CAST & CREW: For a crew, we needed a director of photography, a camera crew, a make-up artist and a sound designer. Not to forget two principal actors and a couple of extras to play dead bodies. Jason hit the phone and the principal cast and crew came together quickly. They were guys he had worked with previously; he knew how they operated and what their work looked on screen. Finding a handful corpses proved to be a little harder. Nobody wanted to lay on the cold concrete for half a day and who could blame them. Family members were recruited and they did their duty like method actors.

GEAR: When it came to gear we were armed with:

  • HD Camera and a DOP who knew how to use it.
  • 35mm lenses
  • 1 4K light to blast our dank car park with light.
  • A dolly for that smooth pull back feel.
  • And gaffer tape, because on a shoot, it will save your life.

COSTUME: Our costumes were a mismatch of what Jason and I rustled up from the depths of our wardrobes and what the actors bought with them on the day. We had a lot of fake blood that can destroy and outfit quicker than a real murder, so we needed what we called disposable clothes that could be thrown out at the end of the shoot.

PROPS: We needed guns. We were happy to use imitation guns, in fact we endorsed it. It was the right thing to do but somehow the process of hiring a couple of fake weapons was seedier than buying the real thing. We found an armourer and in the back of his dungeon like store was where he kept the guns. He looked over his shoulder before opening the drawer as if what he was about to do was highly questionable. The armourer wasn’t much of a people person or maybe he didn’t appreciate Jason and me pretending to be Riggs and Murtaugh? Either way, it was an uncomfortable situation and I’ve bought drugs in a more relaxed environment than this.

In the end, we got our hands on an imitation Glock as our hero gun and a bagful of plastic guns from the junk shop down the road from my house.

PRODUCTION

We had a call time of 7AM and a wrap of 4PM. I’m not going to go into a great deal of detail about being on set because our shoot went as smooth as any shoot can go. We had no problems, we shot exactly what we needed and we even finished a couple of hours ahead of schedule (I just love it when a plan comes together).

But here are the highlights:

One of our corpses, Harry, didn’t move for twenty five minutes. We thought we killed him but it turned out he was just one hell of a method actor.

Then there was some waiting…

A spider invaded Mia’s makeup bag. Bob saved the day while the rest of the guys froze up.

We had some lunch and then there was more waiting. Most of the time spent on a film shoot is waiting. It takes time to set up a location. The set needs to be lit, it needs to be dressed and the director and DOP need to work out the best way to shoot it.

POST PRODUCTION

Post production is really where the scripting, planning and shooting all came together and took shape. We broke our post up into two parts: The edit and sound.

EDIT: We shot on a Friday and by the end of the weekend Jason had a cut together. We only had half a dozen shots but the same rule of editing applied; if it doesn’t push the story forward, that bastard had to be cut. And with that methodology, Jason and I lost our favourite shot of the entire production; this cooler than cool mid shot of Bishop aiming his gun.

Whether it’s on the page or on the screen, you have to be a slave to the story. If something needs to be cut, then you rip it out and forget it was even there. Less is more and the audience will thank you. Always leave them wanting more.

SOUND: People typically forget about the audio component of the audio visual experience. They forget that the way we feel when we watch something is manipulated, without us even knowing it, by what we hear. It can be a high pitched ring that makes us feel uneasy or a whoosh to let us know that the character who just walked into the room is a guy that’s not to be trusted. Julian Langdon and Dan MacDonald were behind the music and sound of the Dark City Blue trailer and if you don’t think audio requires as much attention as the visual, watch the trailer with the sound turned down.

I turned up in the last couple of hours of the sound mix and by the time all the heavy lifting had been done and I was completely blown away by what I heard. The audio bought a whole other layer of dark complexity and foreboding that you wouldn’t get from the visual alone.

Great sound is invisible, but you feel it. Bad sound sticks out and you don’t feel anything.

Now that the trailer for Dark City Blue is complete and out in the world, its success and effectiveness is something that will have to be gauged over time. But for now being, we’re just going to have to be content with having a killer book trailer on our hands.

Check it out, I hope you enjoy it.

If you’re keen to see some ‘Fuck Yeah,’ trailers that inspired me, check these out.

Gone by Mo Hayder

The Last Policemen by Ben Winters

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

Dark City Blue Book Trailer Credits

Credits

Bishop: Brett Cousins
Walsh: Bob Morley
Dead Cops: Dale Eastwell Harry Emin Foad Comanderi

Director/Producer: Jason Christou
Writer/Producer: Luke Preston
DOP: Matt Wood
Make Up Mia-Kate Russell
Camera Assistant: Anthony Rilocapro
Prod Assistant: Todd Farley
Sound Recordist: Dan MacDonald

Editor: Jason Christou
Music: Julian Langdon
Sound Design: Dan MacDonald

IF YOU ONLY HAD 50 STORIES LEFT TO TELL, HOW WOULD YOU CHOOSE?

I’m thirty years old and I’ve probably written well over a million words of finished material and probably ten times that of complete shit. I like to think that I am still young and in many ways I am, but my shoulder aches from the past ten years of holding a pen and it takes a couple of extra hours to bounce back from a hangover. These, along with many other deteriorating things are just small remainders that our bodies will one day fail us completely. I think about this, and I think about how it’s going to affect my writing, because whether I like it or not, death will have an effect on my career.

So I get to thinking, in my very limited mathematical mind, that any which way I cut it, I probably only have fifty stories left in me. Now, I don’t mean ideas for stories or even completed short stories, but long form prose. Novels or screenplays that have been dragged through the ten drafts that it takes to make the bloody things readable.

50 may sound like a lot, but for the prolific writer it’s depressingly small. The question I am now faced with is, which stories are good enough to make it into my top 50.

I have three requirements before embarking on a new story:

DO I LOVE IT?

Is it the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning? Is it what I’m thinking about when I’m pretending to listen to somebody talk? Is it the kind of story that I can live with for at least six months and more than likely years on end?

CAN I MAKE IT PLAY?

Whenever I look at a story I always think, ‘can I make it play?’ No matter how much I may love a story, if I don’t have the skill set, insight or interest level high enough, I can’t make it play.

I adore the writing of Bret Easton Ellis, Charles Bukowski and Richard Yates but that doesn’t necessarily mean that their breed of writing is something that I can, or should even try to achieve for many reasons.

DOES IT TELL SOMETHING NEW ABOUT THE WORLD WE LIVE IN?

If a story passes the first two requirements, the final question to be asked is, is this a story worth telling? What about the world have I learnt that I am now telling others about? Without that personal insight, belief or viewpoint about the world, simply put, what’s the point?

Writing is hard. So if you’re going to tell a story, make it one that matters.

Having 50 stories left to write means that I have to think very carefully about the stories I choose to tell. That I have to give it a lot of care and thought and not be too hasty and rush into a foolish decision and waste one of my precious stories. If I did that, I may find myself on my deathbed thinking about what masterpiece was I capable of that I never gave myself the chance to write? Then at other times I think, fuck it. Life’s short, write what you want.

The Post Office Hotel
5.21PM
29/10/2012

10 BOOKS TO PUT HAIR ON YOUR CHEST

There are books out there so mean they give you paper cuts just from turning the pages. They’re filled with bastards and broken women; their pages faded brown and yellow and they smell as if they’ve been passed through the hands of one hundred men and left in the toilet stall of some dive in a part of town you wouldn’t step foot into unless you’re looking to get you knuckles bloody.

They are books that put hair on your chest. In no bloody order:

THE HUNTER – Richard Stark (1962)

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This book is as cool as cool can be. Parker, a professional thief and cold hearted prick is screwed over on a job and then rips apart the city to retrieve his forty-five grand (lots of money back then).

KILLING FLOOR – Lee Child (1997)

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Jack Reacher makes Jason Bourne look like ‘chick lit’. This former MP roams across America, with no ID and literally no baggage, getting into adventures. He falls in love with the girl, kills everyone and leaves town.

RED HARVEST – Dashiell Hammett (1929)

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Hammett’s Continental Op is assigned to Poisonville to solve a murder but ends up punching, shooting and killing his way through a web of corruption in a world where everybody has gone ‘blood simple.’

FIGHT CLUB – Chuck Palahniuk (1996)

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This dirty little book of rebellion follows a man suffering from insomnia, through support groups, underground boxing matches and revolutionary advances in the cosmetics industry in search of therapy.

IN A LONELY PLACE – Dorothy B Parker (1947)

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Not only does In a Lonely Place have the best name for its hero, Dix Steele, it’s also one of the best portrayals of a psychological serial killer ever put on the page. The writing is subtle, and the characters superb in their post WWII California setting.

SIN CITY: THE HARD GOODBYE – Frank Miller (1991)

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Everything Frank Miller writes has balls. The Hard Goodbye is the first in the Sin City series in which, brick shit house, Marv, is framed for the murder of the only woman who ever showed him a little bit of tenderness.

THE KILLER INSIDE ME – Jim Thompson (1952)

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Jim Thompson, makes you read him. He’s uncompromising in his tale of local deputy sheriff/sociopath Lou Ford who has blackmail and murder on his mind. The Killer Inside Me has an amazing 1st person perspective, at one stage in the novel, Ford even apologies for the son of a bitch that he is.

L.A CONFIDENTIAL – James Ellory (1990)

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3 cops, 3 cases and some of the fastest and most epic storytelling in the history of the genre. Ellory is brutal, his characters flawed and if you’re looking for a nostalgic look back at L.A in the 50s, fuck off.

THE GODFATHER – Mario Puzo (1969)

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The ultimate decent into hell as we follow the young, idealist Michael Corleone as he destroys everything he holds dear while trying to save it.

Not only is it a great tale, but it is also full of lessons.

Three things we learn from The Godfather:
1) Always put Johnny Fontaine in your movie.
2) Never ask Michael about his affairs.
3) And don’t forget the cannoli.

SAVAGES – Don Winslow (2010)

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Savages has the fastest and toughest first chapter in the history of first chapters. It’s the story of a couple of independent marijuana growers fighting off the cartel from taking over their business. It’s a demented underdog story where the words come off the page as if they were trying to uppercut the reader.

The Union Hotel
4.07 PM
17/10/2012

How to write with a gun to your head

Some writers can unleash words on the page with the speed of machine gunfire, others labour over the delicate placing of a comma for half a morning. Whichever camp we fall into, we would all like to write faster. To get that speed, there’s no need to bury your face in a bowl of cocaine or load up on caffeine.

You can’t sit at your computer, hammer away and hope for the best. Without knowing what you’re trying to achieve, you’re never going to achieve anything. You need to set goals, both big and small and more times than not, the smaller ones are by far the most important.

If you set yourself the goal of writing a 70,000 word novel in 6 months while working full time you probably wouldn’t write a word. The thought of it is too overwhelming. But if you set that God awful, daunting task into a series of mini goals, it’s not only achievable, it’s surprisingly easy.

70,000 words in 6 months
That’s 11,600 words per month
That’s 3,000 words per week
That’s 416 words per day

416 words per day!

If you can’t commit to 416 words per day, then you have no business being a writer. Sorry, it’s best you know now, go do something that’s fun and sociable. You can’t do anything with any sort of speed without knowing what it is you’re trying to achieve. So set yourself goals.

The blank page can be intimidating but knowing what your story is before you write makes the page easier to fill. Write outlines. I wouldn’t write a shopping list without an outline. Start small and write your story in one line. If you can’t tell it in 20 words, you’re going to struggle getting it into 50,000 words. Go from a one liner to a paragraph, to a one pager, five pager, ten pager and finally a scene breakdown (not every writer works this way, but I find it helps when working with complex plots). Working with small documents saves you from writing scenes that you may not need.

You might be as insightful as Richard Yates or as beautifully brutal as James Ellroy, but you will never know it unless you have the discipline to give the world the middle finger, plant yourself in front of the computer and commit your words to the page.

Writers write and the writers who don’t are not. A writer works at their craft every single day, whether it’s for half an hour on the train or ten hours at a desk. Instead of watching TV, write. Instead of going on a date, write. I don’t care if there’s a bomb on the bus and if it drops below 50 mph the bomb will go off, write. Because they’re the types of sacrifices you need to make to the God of words if you are to write long form fiction.

The image of drunken and drugged writers indulging in vices to make deadlines is a cliche that is sometimes not far from the truth. I recommend fistfuls of codine for down and dirty, fast writing. Booze is another issue. I always end up drinking more than I write and no matter how much I try to pretend that drinking half a bottle of Jameson’s and listening to Guns n Roses is writing, it just isn’t. Booze and pills may get you through a heavy weekend but it’s not sustainable in the long run when you need to produce hundreds of thousands of words each year. So reach your daily word count, then get hammered.

To write fast, set a goal. Know your story before you start writing. Outline the hell out of it and don’t leave your desk/computer/office or cafe until those words are on the page. It’s that extra hour, day or week that makes all the difference.

The Retreat Hotel
8.23 PM
7/10/2012