Dave Burton

The Best Binge-worthy True Crime TV Shows

A couple of weeks ago, Dorothy Johnston told us about her time living close to a secret military base. The experience inspired her newest novel, The Swan Island Connection, which is available for pre-sale now. Here at For Pity Sake, we can hardly wait to unleash the book on the world. If you’ve ordered the book but are hungry for more crime inspired by true events, we’ve got you covered. Here are three true crime television series you can down in a single gulp to get you ready for the release of The Swan Island Connection.

 

Making a Murderer - Netflix

If you’re one of the few people left alive who hasn’t seen this remarkable 2016 hit, then you’re in for a treat. This dramatic examination of a stunning double murder case and its prosecution is deeply addictive. Every episode comes with new twists and turns. The documentarians have unprecedented access to everyone - the lawyers, the family, the lead suspect, and more. What begins as a simple case with DNA evidence slowly unravels into a story of corruption, exploitation and a search for justice.

 

The Keepers - Netflix

Almost fifty years ago, a nun was murdered in an ordinary American town. The case is still unsolved. The Keepers is frustratingly less open-and-shut than Making a Murderer, but it means you won’t be able to resist the temptation to become an armchair detective. In fact, the most compelling part of this fantastic series is following the journey of the small group of women who have taken up the case, disturbed by the local police’s lack of action on the matter. They uncover a far-reaching group of abuse survivors who form a unique community. It’s the examination of these survivors as the case unfolds that will keep you glued.

 

The Jinx - HBO, available on Foxtel Now

Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki receives a phone call from Robert Durst: the exiled member of a New York millionaire family who is a suspected serial killer. Robert wants an interview. The series only gets weirder from there. The slick, gripping series pulls apart the evidence on multiple murder charges. At the time the series went to air Robert Durst was walking free. The series helped to put charges back on him, and he’s currently awaiting trial. It’s a disturbing portrayal of a dark corner of humanity.

 

Don’t delay, pre-order your copy of The Swan Island Connection now.

The Best Short Story Collections Right Now

I am a recent short story convert. I enjoy a saga as much as the next reader, but my patience and attention span is growing thinner for door-stopper tomes. I need a break. Short stories are the easiest salve. Much like poems, they can be particularly non-affecting to the novice reader until you stumble upon their secret wonder. In the past, I’ve found short stories to be, well, too short. They can lack the depth and rigour of a novel. But then I had the pleasure of finding a whole slew of contemporary writers who are masters at the form. The stories in these collections may be short, but they’re finely crafted gems - all the more harrowing for their concise, glancing blows on the reader.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen I picked up this volume while committing the cardinal sin of literary - judging a book by its cover. It was pretty, so I bought it. It wasn’t until I returned home that I realised I’d bought a short story collection. Lucky for me, Nguyen is a master. His novel won the Pulitzer Prize. This follow-up is the work of a writer at the top of his game. Each story is roughly centred around an immigration experience, but there is none of the cumbersome heaviness that a lesser writer would possess with such a topic. Instead, each character is startlingly realised. The humanity of the immigration is experience is touching, occasionally funny, and heart-breaking. I read it in a gulp.

A Few Days In The Country by Elizabeth Harrower Crushingly under-appreciated, Elizabeth Harrower is one of Australia’s greatest literary icons, and the least celebrated. In her latest collection of short stories, she proves herself to be a master of the form - there are few living writers who quite so skilfully provide beautiful worlds in such small bites. There is a darkness and a cruelty to her character insights that are hilariously and deeply recognisable.

In High Places by Fiona McFarlane Another Aussie, this time at the beginning of her career. McFarlane received well-deserved praise for her novel ‘The Night Guest’. This follow-up short story volume showcases her as a writer of immense skill. Funny, dark and varied, the stories are accessible and fun. We travel around the world, we see ghosts, and meet characters at the precipice of mystery and strangeness in their small, relatable lives.

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami I am a Murakami fan, having enthusiastically completed his door stopper of a masterwork 1Q84. This collection feels as much like a salve for Murakami as it does the reader: a return to the unique romantic noir of his early work, as opposed to the rich surrealism of his more recent novels. Still, the collection left me with barely a scratch - I don’t think it’s his best work. But it’s hard to ignore in a list such as this, as it’s been so popularly reviewed around the world and has dominated any talk of short story collections in 2017. Best read late at night, listening to Leonard Cohen, drinking something that makes you feel sad, drunk and a little romantic.

Upstream by Mary Oliver Yes, okay, this isn’t a short story collection, but I can’t go past it. Mary Oliver’s occasional breaks from her transcendent poetry into prose are well worth your time. Here, Oliver collects a small bundle of essays on the natural world. The prose emerges like a balm. It breathes. Example:

‘Sometimes the desire to be lost again, as long ago, comes over me like a vapour. With growth into adulthood, responsibilities claimed me, so many heavy coats. I didn’t choose them, I don’t fault them, but it took time to reject them. Now in the spring I kneel, I put my face into the packets of violets, the dampness, the freshness, the sense of ever-ness. Something is wrong, I know it, if I don’t keep my attention on eternity. May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful. May I stay forever in the stream.’

What Wonder Woman means for the Pop Culture Landscape

I must be the only nerd left alive who hasn’t seen Wonder Woman, although it’s not by choice, simply from force of circumstance. I’m actually suffering from a terrible syndrome labelled ‘nerd-FOMO’ or nerd-fear-of-missing-out.

There’s a spectrum of nerdism. On one end is the person who couldn’t care less. Not so much the anti-nerd, as the indifferent onlooker. In the middle is the casual nerd. The constant stream of pop culture tends to blur at the edges for these viewers. The casual nerds may watch the occasional superhero film while half asleep on a plane, or while baby-sitting the young adolescent in their lives. The films leave barely an imprint on the consciousness of the casual nerd. They pass through like a breeze. The hardcore nerd, which I’m proudly one, knows the difference between DC and Marvel, and is intimately familiar with the perplexing taxonomy of each: the infinity gauntlet, the multiverse, the multitude of universal crises, the civil wars, the New 52, the rebirth, the terrigen mist…

 Wonder Woman is an important milestone. It’s one of the few films that has broken through and reached into audiences who are usually indifferent to the lycra-clad fisticuffs. A female star. A female director. And an apparently well-made film. The casual and indifferent nerds are paying attention.

The comic pop culture world is disturbingly patriarchal. With its foundational roots laid down in the 30’s and 40’s, the superhero model demanded Adonis like bodies from the male superheroes, and the scantily-clad supporting role for the females. Female superheroes are often splayed across comic covers, legs akimbo, reportedly kicking a bad guy’s butt - although the pose would be more convincing as prep for a cervix exam.

The box office success of Wonder Woman is the crest of a wave that’s been building in pop culture for some time. The two most recent incarnations of Star Wars have starred female protagonists.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe sausage fest is overwhelming (Wonder Woman is from the DC ‘universe’, and the Marvel movies don’t have a single female hero who has their own film), but in the comics, Marvel is far more progressive. In recent years, a handful of their all-stars have actually switched genders. Thor, Iron Man, Wolverine and more are now female characters.

 So, as a hardcore nerd, I feel compelled to say: listen, we know it’s not great. We know it’s often misogynistic and gross. But it is improving. Many critics have predicted the end of the superhero film genre, much like the end of Hollywood’s love with the Western and stage musicals. This may be true, but with the explosive success of Wonder Woman, we will hopefully start seeing new female-led franchises. Comics and superheroes have continued to be a strong part of the pop culture consciousness since the 1920’s, and have shifted their values to reflect the zeitgeist of the time. So as a mirror, Wonder Woman is incontrovertible proof that even the most conservative corners of Hollywood are ready to start pushing narratives that counter patriarchy. As a hardcore nerd and a soon-to-be-father of a daughter, I’m immensely grateful.

Six Sensual Suggestions for Writing Sex Scenes

Here at For Pity Sake Publishing, things are getting a little steamy. With Valentines Day fast approaching we’re excited to promote Diana Thompson’s Bowral Romance series, including her latest title Unbridled Passion. We’ve already spent some time with Nick the hunky vet and Jordana, his beautiful lover. Unbridled Passion may just be even raunchier than Diana’s previous work, Winterflood’s Passion (which you can buy here!), and the whole thing has got us thinking, frankly, about sex. Here are some top tips for writing sex scenes, inspired by Diana’s fantastic work.

  1. Vocabulary is everything

There’s a science to describing anatomy. The writer wants terms that are accurate but not clinical. Some romance publishers have strict suggestions on what words can and can’t be used. Variety certainly helps, as the repetition of any single word can be tiring and break the reader’s attention. But similarly, too much variety and the work borders on absurd.

  1. Don’t be afraid of their bits

Describing his ‘member’ is likely to illicit more giggles than just telling us about his ‘cock’. Describing her arousal as a ‘blossoming flower’ is more likely to have the reader rolling their eyes than just telling us that she can feel hserself beginning to become wet. So don’t be afraid to name something for what it is. Balls, breasts, butts, nipples, clits, labias, shafts…when it comes to sex scenes, metaphor and simile can sometimes get in the way of the story.

  1. What does the sex tell us about the characters?

Sex scenes aren’t just about people doin’ it. It’s also about the relationship between the two characters. Sex reveals a lot about who’s in charge, who’s feeling more playful, who’s feeling ashamed, who’s feel confident, and more. The writer can treat sex scenes as a giant metaphor for how two characters interact. Are they quick, fierce and full of passion? Or are they slow, sensual and in complete adoration of each other? Do they flirt at the edge of violence? Does he take control, or does she? Or does it shift at some point? There’s a lot to play with.

  1. Use the environment

Settings are half the fun. Don’t let the characters get so involved with each other’s bodies that you forget the environment around you. Scenes in beds are absolutely fine, but if you’re going for several sex scenes in your work, you’ll want to switch things up. Try outdoors, in different rooms of the house, or anywhere your heart (and loins) desire.

  1. No two scenes are the same

With all of the above, keep in mind that no two scenes should be the same. There’s no real point in making two scenes identical. What’s changed for the characters from one scene to the next? Where are they and how are they feeling? Consider the journey of the relationship and their comfort with each other. Are they more daring? Or more guarded?

  1. If you’re turned on, it’s working

In fact, if you’re not turned on, something’s wrong. Trust that if it works for you, it’ll work for your reader too.

If you can't get enough of Diana Thompson and her steamy romance collection, be sure not to miss her appearance at Muse Canberra this Sunday at 3pm! You'll be able to grab signed copies of both books, and hear all about the inspiration behind Diana's raunchy romance!

The secret to growing your blog’s audience

Every single successful blogger will happily tell you the most common question they receive. There’s a key mystery at the heart of their lives that they seem to have solved, while the rest of us are utterly bewildered:

 How do I grow my blog’s readership?

 It’s a question I heard articulated most recently by Glennon Doyle Melton on the Big Magic podcast. Melton is the New York Times bestselling author of two memoirs, plus the creator of the online community Momastery, which has millions of followers. Melton’s path to success is compelling. An former drug addict and alcoholic, Melton changed her life when she fell pregnant with her first son. Then, something crazy happened. She began blogging. But she blogged with fierce, abundant honesty. She talked about the pressures of being a mother, coping with past wounds and navigating the terror of everyday life. Her blog - gradually, over time - began to grow.

 She has the dream blogging career. These days, her memoir is promoted by Oprah and she’s touring the world.

 When people ask her about growing her blog readership, she keeps it simple. Analytics, keywords and the other guff can come and go, but the real key is pretty simple:

 Serve the audience you already have.

 If you have a dozen people reading what you write, that’s a dozen people taking time out of there day to engage with you. That’s pretty huge. That’s a responsibility, and you want to take care of them. Worry less about catching people you do have. Focus more on the people you do, and making sure to serve them. They, after all, are your biggest fans. If you look after them, they will do the marketing for you.

 Other successful bloggers such as Seth Godin and Tim Ferris point to this simple key as well. Look after the readership you do have, don’t worry about the readership you don’t. Ask yourself what your readers want from you. If you don’t know, ask.

 Jennifer McDonald’s followed a similar path with My Big Breast Adventure. The blog began as a simple exploration of her recovery from breast cancer. The full-throated honesty and conversational tone meant a dedicated audience that began to grow. Now, Jen’s looking to make the blogs a book - something she had barely considered when she began writing.

 Check out Jen’s crowd-funding campaign for My Big Breast Adventure here.

Publishing in 2016: Crowd-funding, blogging and more

Back in 2012, Seth Godin took on a daring venture. He decided to try and crowd-fund the publication of his book The Icarus Deception. Over four thousand backers answered the call and contributed almost $300,000 to the work’s publication. It was a resounding success. The campaign was a hit for several reasons. Seth Godin’s social media following was already huge. He had already been supplying them with new, daily, relevant blogs for years. The premise and pitch of the entire project was simple and easy to understand. It also proved Seth’s point that underpins much of The Icarus Deception: the creative economy is changing, and it’s up to artists to seek new and innovative means of funding their projects.

Since that time, self-publishing has only increased, and the publishing industry has continued to change. So too have notions of authorship. There’s now an entire industry that turns authors into Kindle Kings. These Amazon auteurs write genre fiction, market it, design it and have a direct and meaningful relationship with their readers. It’s a full time, exhausting job, but it has the potential to pay wonderful dividends if the books find their readership.

The trouble is, you don’t have a readership until you’ve published your first book. And you can’t publish your debut book without a readership. An irritating catch twenty-two. So traditional notions of writing processes are now shifting to fit the economy. No longer do writers toil away in private for years – un-funded and under-nourished – before releasing their magnum opus to the world. Blogging and social media serve a convenient double purpose: draft your writing while also building your readership.

There are cons to this model, of course. I’ve read a memoir that the author happily tells the reader was ‘originally based on Facebook posts.’ It won’t surprise you that the book was shallow and uninteresting. Too much of a focus on readership too early in an author’s process can severely erode creativity, undermining risk, and create cookie-cutter corporate work that rarely transcends the constraints of such capitalist pressure.

Still, when it works it works. And for some authors the new creative economy is a brilliantly positive event. When Jen McDonald, author of My Big Breast Adventure, started blogging about her journey through breast cancer recovery, she didn’t have an entrepreneurial intent. She was merely attempting to make sense of the messy pathway, and to connect with other survivors around the world. The blog took off, and its popularity only grew as Jen wrote more. Now, with thousands of words and an eager readership, My Big Breast Adventure has become the perfect candidate for a crowd-funding publishing venture.

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Crowd-funding projects in this way puts complete control back in the hands of the reader and writer. The exchange of goods is only the first step. A reader is also getting additional rewards and personal touches that bigger publishers simply don’t have the means to provide. In the new creative economy, the reader and artists and more empowered, and this can only benefit writing overall.

Visit the Indiegogo campaign here to donate now. To hear Jen speak more about her work, and to listen to her first audiobook for free, visit our podcast here. Or visit the store now to buy Jen’s first work, Vegetarian Vampires.

Trauma and art: being creative in times of crisis

In Jennifer McDonald’s forthcoming work, My Big Breast Adventure, we hear a first had account of Jen’s diagnosis, treatment and recovery from breast cancer. Jen first began writing just days after her mastectomy, less than two weeks after her first diagnosis. So often, our first response to overwhelming trauma is a creative response. So often the poor, oppressed, disadvantaged or wounded create beauty that transcends their circumstance. Take the writings of Martin Luther King, the poetry of Maya Angelou, the art of Vincent Van Gough or the music of Ray Charles. Jennifer has talked about wanting to ‘make sense’ of her diagnosis and surgery.  When medicine, science, politics and rationalism feels less than satisfactory, art often fills the gap.

Sadly, artistic endeavours that are about illness, void of a personal narrative, often come across as cold. Think of the benign, coporate artwork in doctors’ officers. Or the seemingly cheery brochures, bound in pink and screaming in Helvetica: “So you’ve been diagnosed with a life-threatening, terrifying illness?”

Jen didn’t want to describe the management of her illness as a ‘journey’. When you’re inside it, it doesn’t feel like anything as neat as that. Dr Michael Copeman, Jennifer’s oncologist, comments:

“No patient going through cancer just wants ‘support’. At best, they would like the huge, scary roller-coaster called ‘treatment’ to stop and let them off. At least, they would like to meet someone else on the ride who can give words to the experience and make some sense of it all. Jen McDonald is that person.”

It takes intimate works of art to properly convey the messiness of any crisis, and through this we draw inspiration. Jen was initially blown away by the comments that her blogs received, as readers compared her journey to their own: through cancer, divorce, or any other personal crisis.

That’s why we decided to include the comments in the publication of My Big Breast Adventure, now a book. The crowd-funding campaign for the book is now underway, and you can donate and find out more by clicking here.

Whatever the end result, very few people come out of a artistic process and feel they’re worse for the experience. It’s most usually seen as a healing process, that explores the interior of one’s pain to find meaning on the other side.

Visit the Indiegogo campaign here to donate now. To hear Jen speak more about her work, and to listen to her first audiobook for free, visit our podcast here. Or visit the store now to buy Jen’s first work, Vegetarian Vampires.

For Pity Sake Publishing announces ground-breaking new project

For Pity Sake Publishing’s proud to announce a brand new project in innovative publishing. Jennifer McDonald’s wildly successful blog, Big Breast Adventure, which details her treatment of breast cancer, will be turned into a book with the help of a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo. Founder and CEO of For Pity Sake Publishing, Jennifer McDonald, released her debut work Vegetarian Vampires in 2015. The book was the amalgamation of Jen’s popular blogs, which presented a humorous, down-to-earth approach to contemporary spirituality. As the final touches were being put on the Vegetarian Vampires project, Jen was diagnosed with breast cancer, and a whole new adventure began.

Told with her trademark humour and honesty, My Big Breast Adventure chronicles Jen’s path through chemotherapy, homeopathy, drug treatment, and a quest for wellness and meaning.

The popular blogs gained a close and ardent following. They included, among others, Jen’s oncologist, Dr Michael Copeman. Dr Michael says about the work:

“No patient going through cancer just wants ‘support’. At best, they would like the huge, scary roller-coaster called ‘treatment’ to stop and let them off. At least, they would like to meet someone else on the ride who can give words to the experience and make some sense of it all. Jen McDonald is that person.”

Critical reading for anyone going through a crisis, we believe this work is a critically important take on cancer treatment and recovery. And you can help.

Now a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo, donate money to the Big Breast Adventure campaign to receive exclusive rewards, and to support this crucial book. Receive the finished book in time for Christmas.

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Visit the Indiegogo campaign here to donate now. To hear Jen speak more about her work, and to listen to her first audiobook for free, visit our podcast here. Or visit the store now to buy Jen’s first work, Vegetarian Vampires.

Where Were You When the Page Was Blank?

Authors sometimes grumble about their editors, and the question I’ve chosen as a title for this post is one I’ve often heard authors repeat.

But I’m pleased to say that I have a wonderful editor for my new novel, titled The Swan Island Connection. This novel is a sequel to the first of my sea-change mysteries, Through a Camel’s Eye, which was published in April by For Pity Sake Publishing

The editor’s name is David Burton. David, an editor with For Pity Sake, is also an award-winning playwright and theatre director, whose plays include April’s Fool, Orbit and The Landmine Is Me. He has written a memoir titled How to be Happy.As an editor, Dave possesses that rare quality, (rare in my experience), in that he takes the trouble to see into an author’s mind, think about where he or she is trying to get to, and how he might help them to arrive.

Dave read what I am now calling the Dog’s Breakfast Draft (DBD) of The Swan Island Connection and wrote a nineteen page report. When I first saw the report, I felt daunted. There must be an awful lot wrong with the manuscript, I thought, to require this many pages. But the report, while critical, is constructively so, and that makes all the difference. In tone it is far from negative, and is full of helpful ideas and suggestions. And the very fact that someone who know what he’s talking about has paid such close attention to my DBD has given it, and me, a whole new lease of life. Thank you, Dave!

The Swan Island Connection will be my eleventh novel to be published. The first was in 1984, and since then I’ve run the gamut from good editors to woeful. Amongst the good I number Jenny Lee and Lois Murphy, and amongst the woeful, who shall be nameless, the lesbian separatist who read my book about the British atomic bomb tests at Maralinga. This was not, on the face of it her subject, and she made no effort to meet me half, or even a quarter of the way. Another was the editor who used to ring me at 6 PM, just before she left the office, to discuss editorial points that required thought and concentration. At the time this editor was assigned to me, I had a four-year-old and a baby who wouldn’t sleep, plus a deadline for the manuscript. One horrible evening I shouted at her down the phone, ‘Don’t you realise it’s jungle hour!’ I’ve felt ashamed of that outburst ever since.

Then there was my New York editor whose publishing company had bought the first two of my Sandra Mahoney Quartet (mystery novels set in Canberra, where I lived for thirty years). This editor, though I respected him, and of course felt grateful that my books were going to be published in the United States, insisted that I change all my galahs to parrots, all my jumpers to sweaters, and that I massage the text in various other unsavoury ways in order to make it more attractive to an American readership.

Recalling all that, I’ll say again – thank you, Dave!

And thanks to Bill Whitehead the cartoonist for reminding me how much I like Dickens.

 

 

 


This blog was originally posted on Dorothy Johnston's website, on the 12th of August 2016.

Conjuring Compelling Atmosphere in Crime Fiction

In Dorothy Johnston’s Through A Camel’s Eye, the author provides a consistent stream of arresting, enigmatic images. The book, like its cover, offers dreamy glimpses into the internal lives of a quiet country town and its hard-working policemen. The ability to capture and harness a moment, almost pressing pause on the action to create a picture, is a cornerstone of great noir and crime writing. It is the poetic foundation of Nordic noir, popularised by Larsson, Mankell and others. Despite the fact it doesn’t have as cold and snowy a climate as Switzerland, Australia still provides fantastically eerie frozen moments if the right author is there to pick them out. Such is the case with Johnston’s Through A Camel’s Eye. Through a Camel's Eye

The book’s opening is a clear demonstration of this skill:

“In the pale green twilight, a woman was leading a young camel round a paddock. Camilla Renfrew stopped on the seaward side of the fence to watch. The woman was wearing jeans, a T-shirt, riding boots, and looked distinctly youthful too. Her short hair caught the light and glowed green-gold. She seem intent on what she was doing and did not glance in Camilla’s direction.

It was a trick of the twilight, Camilla thought, to make of fading a lasting brilliance, stretching the day out longer than it had any right to be. And this girl, with her long legs, striding with her long-legged beast, drawing him behind her on a rope - across a paddock in which new growth was just beginning to make its way through last year’s dead grass - this too, was a trick of the light, to hold the scene taut in an attitude of praise.”

There’s a lot going on here. Notice the twice mention of ‘green’ in the first paragraph. Once in reference to the twilight, the other in reference to the woman’s hair. We only get one mention of the fact that we’re in a coastal area with Camilla resting on the ‘seaward’ side of the fence, but the ocean feels present here, through the repetition of green. This adds a flavour to the dead grass as well. There’s sandy soil in the mind’s eye - even though sand is never mentioned.

The second paragraph is just two sentences. The second sentence paints a picture - conjuring the woman, the beast, the rope, the grass, the light, all in a single breath. Its a layered image, and the rhythm of the sentence supports this, building up clauses before holding it ‘taut’. The idea of ‘taut’ and the whole scene being a ‘trick’ also inevitably gives the image an uneasiness and tension. It is a crime novel after all, and even though this is a woman watching another woman walk a camel, there’s some sense of danger coming, some false pretence to the scene.

It is also, of course, beautiful. It’s a beautiful picture. But much like a good food writer will never write the word ‘delicious’, Dorothy never describes it as ‘a beautiful sunset’. Instead, she opts for clear and precise details. It gives us not only what the scene looks like, but what it feels like too.

An early introduction to character draws an instant and immediate image from the concentration on fine detail:

“…men who, when they age, age suddenly, shrinking and shrivelling, a thousand fine lines appearing all at once, their skin drying and flaking as though at the switching off of an internal sprinkler system.”

This poetic construction of nothing more than a gentleman’s skin creates a powerful image of character. We feel we not only know something about how this man looks, but how he feels, and his relationship with his age.

Such imagery and poetics is blistered across Dorothy’s work, making it readable and immensely enjoyable. Any lover of great crime will enjoy Through a Camel’s Eye. You can purchase a copy here.