Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Power Positioning

Men's Lives Before Marriage

Men's Lives After Marriage

It's an old joke, but we all have at least the ghost of a smile that flickers across our face for a millisecond. Why? Because there's some truth to it. Think about it. When you're dating, you're still working on creating that illusion of perfection, or that this is great enough to make a guy want to commit to it so it'll last. There are a lot of things that happen after marriage that you don't even mean to have happen. It's just that you're no longer courting, and you get busy with life.

In the career realm, I suppose it's no different.

There was a point when I was just happy to finish a manuscript. To be a novelist. To know I could do it.

Then that wasn't enough. I needed to finish a good manuscript, maybe even a great manuscript. I needed to improve on my writing, needed to improve my character development, weave my subplots more effectively.

And still, it wasn't enough for me.

When I started I only had the vision of finding a Canadian publisher to take on my work. I was going to get published. That was the goal.

Until a friend said, "Why? Why not go after a big publisher, an agent?"

What, me?

I knew nothing about the business side of things then. I've learned a lot in the past year. And I decided to try.

Today, I've been having one of those days where I wish I hadn't. I wish I'd never heard of agents, I wish I'd never thought about big publishers, I wish I'd never thought about overseas sales.

But no matter what, I know one thing about me. Whatever I achieve, it's never enough. I'm my own worst critic. I'll push myself to do better, to be more effective, to achieve whatever goal I set.

I think this is a big part of the reason I've had a flip-out over reaction to the Edgar nods elsewhere. Many people received nominations. Some have been publicly slagged as not belonging on the list. "She's there? WTF?"

Because I know so many writers like me, always pressuring ourselves to do better, I'm so infuriated with comments like that. Can a person not even take one minute to enjoy some level of success?

Evidently not, because there's always someone right there to tell you you don't deserve it.

It makes me sad. I want to hear happy news from my friends. I want to hear that Cold Granite has topped every bestseller list and Stuart's rolling in it. I want to hear that James has a multi-book deal with a big publisher and that I'll be getting a chance to read his ARC. I want to hear that pre-release orders for Cornelia Read's book are rivaling the totals for the last Harry Potter.

I want you all to have success. Most of all, I want you all to be happy.

Life can get in the way of that sometimes. I suppose the business side of writing can get in the way of the joy of it too. But I hope, like romance, there are those days for you when nothing makes you happier than the feel of the keyboard under your fingertips, the sight of the words coming together on the screen, the moments when you're checking everything off your list and just know it's all coming together perfectly.

I don't know how easy or hard it is to lose and regain that when you're published. But I know the ups and downs of married life. And I know that the conclusion of the old joke from above is that smart men don't get married.

Except for evilkev, who found the perfect woman. Because there are still moments when he makes me happier than I thought humanly possible. Still moments when I pray to God when he walks out the door it won't be for the last time (firefighter's wives do that a lot).

And still moments when he makes me want to kick his ass so severely.

Evilkev made the western Canadian finals in a competition this week, and he's off to Toronto for the next few days, competing at the national level. He's been working on this for months, anticipating this event, preparing for it, putting a lot of hope into it.

He made his first goal, but now he wants to win Canada. The winning team gets a $10 grand prize and a trip to France to compete internationally. He and his partner have put their all into it.

It's hard not to think of the big prize because really, just getting out of western Canada is a huge accomplishment. That's what he had his focus on when he started out.

And I hope that whatever happens, for him, he feels he achieved his goal. Because he did. And because there will always be more you can do in life, but there have to be moments when you say, "I've done good" and just enjoy that.

For what it's worth.

And now I have to go lie down. I put my back out. Evilkev wanted to tr...

Never mind.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Measure of Success

Don't measure yourself by what you have accomplished,
but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.
--John Wooden

Yesterday, I read that "It's impossible to objectively discern quality. All we have to do so is popularity and financial success."

I disagree. If you buy into that, then everything that sells in volumes must be good, and whatever doesn't must be bad.

The reality is that there are some elements of writing that are down to taste. But there are also elements that are subject to evaluation, like the grammar, the technicalities of writing, even the way a story is told.

I evaluate short story submissions for a magazine and I have an elaborate system of grading. Every story gets marked with a point value in each of the following categories:

~ Hook
Did it grab me, get my attention, draw me in?
~ Grammar
Are there lots of typos or very few mistakes? This shows me how seriously the writer takes their work.
~ Characterization
Are the people believable? Do I want to spend time with them? This doesn't mean are they good or right - I love Dennis Milne - but are they coming through in a way that I want to stay with them to see what happens?
~ Concept
Is it original, or has this been done a zillion times before?
~ Writing
Overall, is it strong? Are there POV problems, like 1st to 3rd person switches? Is the voice consistent?
~ Ending
Is it clear, understandable? Does it satisfy the points raised in the story? This doesn't mean every problem needs to be solved, but if not, I hope I understand why it can't be solved. I need a sense of closure for a short story.

Beyond that, there's a degree of subjectivity. If two stories are tied even for scores and it's down to me to decide, it'll end up being the one I like better. That's where the taste comes in.

Every day, writers can face the temptation to do 'what sells' instead of what speaks to them. But real writers, writers serious about their craft and their vision, are going to follow what's in their heart. They're going to strive to improve their technical writing, as well as their storytelling and character development. They're going to work harder to make sure they deliver to their faithful readers, and feel they've put out a story they can hold their head high over, because they've given it their all.

I'm not going to start writing conspiracy theories about the geneology of Christ because that's selling today. Nor am I going to write about boy wizards. There are plenty who will copy what is selling, try to cash in on a sure thing and make a buck on the coattails of others.

But the real artists are the ones who write what they love to write, regardless of the current trends. Sometimes that means waiting to taste success. Ian Rankin was ten books into the Rebus series before fame and fortune. Imagine if he'd been saying before that, "I have to ditch this because it isn't selling enough."

Sales are not necessarily indicators of quality, or talent, or what is good. They may be nothing more than an indicator that somehow, some company was persuaded to drop a bundle on promoting this clunker, for whatever reason.

A friend with Hollywood ties told me that even box office flops make more money than the average book will ever bring in in its shelf-life. And I know from screenwriting guides that you can make a pile of cash just getting your screenplay optioned - not even necessarily made into a film. If we're judging by money then, all the truly talented must be screenwriters and the hacks, the wannabe writers, are sticking with books.

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is
the key to success. If you love what you are
doing, you will be successful.

- Albert Schweitzer

Amen to that!

And now, to lighten the mood for Boy Kim:

1. New Rule: Stop giving me that pop-up ad for Classmates.com! There's a
reason you don't talk to people for 25 years. Because you don't particularly
like them! Besides, I already know what the captain of the football team is
doing these days: mowing my lawn.

2. New Rule: Don't eat anything that's served to you out a window unless
you're a seagull. People are acting all shocked that a human finger was
found in a bowl of Wendy's chili. Hey, it cost less than a dollar. What did
you expect it to contain, trout?

3. New Rule: Stop saying that teenage boys who have sex with their hot,
blonde teachers are permanently damaged. I have a better description for
these kids: lucky bastards.

4. New Rule: Deleted. Sorry. I thought this one might offend people.

5. New Rule: Ladies, leave your eyebrows alone. Here's how much men care
about your eyebrows: do you have two of them? Okay, we're done.

6. New Rule: There's no such thing as flavored water. There's a whole aisle
of this crap at the supermarket - water, but without that watery taste.
Sorry, but flavored water is called a soft drink. You want flavored water?
Pour some scotch over ice and let it melt. That's your flavored water.

7. New Rule: Stop f***ing with old people. Target is introducing a
redesigned pill bottle that's square, with a bigger label. And the top is
now the bottom. And by the time grandpa figures out how to open it, his ass
will be in the morgue. Congratulations, Target, you just solved the Social
Security crisis.

8. New Rule: The more complicated the Starbucks order, the bigger the
asshole. If you walk into a Starbucks and order a "decaf grande half-soy,
half-low fat, iced vanilla, double-shot, gingerbread cappuccino, extra dry,
light ice, with one Sweet-n'-Low and one NutraSweet," ooh, you're a huge

9. New Rule: I'm not the cashier! By the time I look up from sliding my
card, entering my PIN number, pressing "Enter," verifying the amount,
deciding, no, I don't want cash back, and pressing "Enter" again, the kid
who is supposed to be ringing me up is standing there eating my Almond Joy.

10. New Rule: Just because your tattoo has Chinese characters in it doesn't
make you spiritual. It's right above the crack of your ass. And it
translates to "beef with broccoli." The last time you did anything
spiritual, you were praying to God you weren't pregnant. You're not
spiritual. You're just high.

11. New Rule: Competitive eating isn't a sport. It's one of the seven deadly
sins. ESPN recently televised the US Open of Competitive Eating, because
watching those athletes at the poker table was just too damned exciting.
What's next, competitive farting? Oh wait. They're already doing that. It's
called "The Howard Stern Show."

12. New Rule: I don't need a bigger mega M&M. If I'm extra hungry for M&Ms,
I'll go nuts and eat two.

13. New Rule: If you're going to insist on making movies based on crappy,
old television shows, then you have to give everyone in the Cineplex a
remote so we can see what's playing on the other screens. Let's remember the
reason something was a television show in the first place is that the idea
wasn't good enough to be a movie.

14. New Rule: No more gift registries. You know, it used to be just for
weddings. Now it's for babies and new homes and graduations from rehab.
Picking out the stuff you want and having other people buy it for you isn't
gift giving, it's the white people version of looting.

15. New Rule (and this one is long overdue): No more bathroom attendants.
After I zip up, some guy is offering me a towel and a mint like I just had
sex with George Michael. I can't even tell if he's supposed to be there, or
just some freak with a fetish. Don't want to be on your webcam, dude. I just
want to wash my hands.

16. New Rule: When I ask how old your toddler is, I don't need to know in
months. "27 Months." "He's two," will do just fine. He's not a cheese. And I
didn't really care in the first place.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Fine line between fun and fury

Okay, it's all in good fun, no offense to anyone. My uncle sent it to me, and I felt pretty stupid.

But I thought it might soften my post for today a wee bit.

Yesterday I fired off my congrats to Tess Gerritsen for her Edgar nomination. I actually did that before the blog post went up, so when I went back today to read her blog, I was jolted back into reality.

The reality I don't have to face. Being "white". Not ever having been a minority. Only being an "outsider" on holidays in third-world countries.

Anyone who's been around my blog regularly knows I didn't grow up in Leave-It-To-Beaver land. One of my childhood memories is of the day a classmate of mine phoned, a boy who lived down the road. He wanted me to ride bikes with him. I wanted to go. And my parents stood there debating whether or not they should let me, because it might not be a good idea for their daughter to play with a Japanese boy.

I never got mad as a kid - I had self-preservation and beating-avoidance worked out pretty well by that age - but I was so angry. By the time I was in high school I was hanging out with every black, Chinese or otherwise 'not-white' student in school. Probably there was something in there to pissing my parents off. But I was fascinated by culture. One friend, her family immigrated to Canada from Guyana. Where was that? What was it like? My window to the world, Esther was.

Another friend's family had fled China via Taiwan. Her grandmother only spoke Chinese. I was hopeless trying to learn to say Mary's real Chinese name.

When I read Tess's post, it brought back a lot of old feelings. It also got me wondering. Why are people racist?

As people, we compartmentalize. A woman did this, all women must be this way. A man did that, therefore all men are pigs. A black person did this - all black people will do the same.

Talk about generalizing.

For those of us that write, talk about the ultimate challenge. I mean, how do you portray what is without advocating it?

You know, I never even thought about that when I wrote Terms of Redemption, yet one of my characters (not leading, but important) is Native. And he's not a drunk, gasoline-sniffing washout. He's an RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) officer. One of the RCMP officers that helped me with research was half-French, half-Native. We joked he had the minority angle covered. He was so wonderful, I wanted to put a Native cop into my book.

But you know, in as much as I think about it in writing, reading Tess's comments really got to me. It was a punch in the gut. That this is still something people have to deal with is truly sad.

If you agree, go over and email Tess and just say, "You belong."

And since I'm into free love and embracing the brotherhood of all mankind, I guess there's even hope for the Welsh.

Not quite so sure about the reformed lawyer though!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Happy Chinese New Year!

It is 2006, the year of the Red Dog.

What does my horoscope say?

Certain changes will take place in your life. They will all be positive, profitable and agreeable if you know how to appreciate and handle them. Don't let the past and useless details choke your existence. Try to get rid of all that impedes your march or hampers your spontaneity and joy. 'Remember to forget' (Nietzsche). Your happiness is before you, not behind you!

In spite of your apprehensions, notable improvements in many fields will be significant and, for certain natives of the sign, there will even be a positive change in the career. Certain solutions will come along unexpectedly. The year will be crucial regarding a sentimental encounter or a recovery of harmony with a beloved one. If you must make important decisions, seek advice from competent people.

Oh, come on positive change in the career! And profitable. Wahoo.

Actually, kevin asked me yesterday what my horoscope sign was. I don't know why - he'd already looked it up. He said his said that a spouse would see financial gains (he's a rooster*), and voila, the prospects for the pig said I'd see financial gains.

Of course, I didn't suggest those might come off the life insurance...

Anyway, its a day to celebrate the Chinese culture, and to remake pledges you broke in January from the ordinary New Year's hoopla.

Now, how have my financial prospects started off this fine year of the red dog? Well, the government just gave us $800. Our provincial gov't, that is. Its part of our prosperity revenue, because we're debt-free and as an oil-rich province we're rolling in it, evidently.

Still no word from the bank on whether they'll let us sell the mineral rights to that stingy energy company that tried to steal them without our consent.

Kev's done the income tax, and there's a tidy sum coming back from that.

So we'll be able to pay for me to go to Harrogate. Wahoo, and Stuart and John, there's a round or three on me. Hopefully soon get a new washing machine, because the one here that we inherited when we bought the house was built in the 50's and doesn't like to give up the dirty water. Noooo. It wants to keep spinning merrily away, creating more and more suds.

But beyond that, I'm open to surprises. People who just like me and want to give money. People who want to publish my book and give me lots of money (I can dream, right?). A hole in the wall revealing thousands. Whatever.

And may your propsects be equally bright, and surpass your dreams for the coming year.

* I stand corrected. But he acts like an old goat sometimes.

Lost Weekend

It took a lost weekend in a hotel in amsterdam
And double pneumonia in a single room
And the sickest joke was the price of the medicine
Are you laughing at me now may I please laugh along with you
This morning I woke up from a deep unquiet sleep...

I'm not sure why I woke up thinking about that song this morning. Maybe because its one of the few records I still have and, without a record player, no way to listen to it. Damn technology. Some day that'll be me in the rocking chair cursing the stack of cd's I've got and no cd player.

But it is kind of a Lost Weekend for me. Weekends are usually Sandra-Kev time. He's not at work, so trying to write is torture. He's either killing every lawman in sight on Grand Theft Auto or in my office every ten minutes to talk about something. Couldn't he ignore me like other guys?**

This weekend, Kev's gone. And next weekend too. And he may be gone part of the week in between (for work). The weekends are filled with firefighter training. Four more days, another set of physical and written exams to move one notch up the ladder in the qualifications department.

And then in February, he has another set of training days at the end of the month.

I'm really proud of him for taking on the volunteer stuff. Not so proud when the tones go off at 2:27am and he gets called to an emergency at the police station and told to proceed with caution. Hmmm. Wonder what's happening over there?

But I have to admit that the stuff I hear is an unending source of inspiration for stories. Based a whole ms off of an idea his little hobby generated.

I suppose its a case of always wanting what you can't have. He'll be away all day, studying all night, same tomorrow, Monday a major presentation at work, Monday night finishing a website, possibly off to Ontario, back just in time for another weekend of training and studying.

Which effectively leaves me alone with the two cats, one kitten, two dogs and one puppy and no alcohol. Or steak.

And that's why I wasn't around last night to do my usual post - had to actually spend some time with him before he disappears.

So I'm planning long stretches of staring off into space, waking up sleeping kitties and maybe working on a short story. What have you guys got planned?

*Cole/Clark/Donegan - Lloyd Cole and the Commotions

**I know I'm really lucky, actually. But I like to complain.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Universal Truth of Stereotypes

At the risk of being spanked* severely for wading into this contentious topic I've decided, 'what the hell?' I'm going to wade right in there.

I think there are a lot of truths to some stereotypes, and that it is inevitable that they come out in writing.

Think about it. If a gorgeous gal is curved, blonde, pert and has an infectuous giggle, she's likely had guys drooling over since she was in a training bra. Chances are, that girl is going to be confident, poised, know how to use her looks to her advantage...it comes with the territory when people are always paying attention to you and complimenting you.

Likewise, the homely, sullen girl will be regarded as difficult, ill-tempered, lacking in the social and fashion graces...they might just be a wee bit bitter, or a bit of a tomboy.

There are some things that are indicative of experience, and some of our experiences in life are based solely on our appearance, our race and our level of education.

One of the people in my writer's group was at BoucherCon a few years ago, and she said that on the cliches panel, one of the points made was that if you tried to go too far in being original, you ended up with one-armed sleuths because there wasn't anything feasible that hadn't been done before.

Face it. Some jobs invite stress. And there are certain things that are more likely de-stressers than others. When I studied journalism I soon learned just why it is that journalists have such a high alcoholism and divorce rate. Wow.

But the stress of it all was real. Even as students, we spend 50% of our time actually reporting. One reporter woke up on night to hear the woman in the apartment next to him being beaten to death. One of our classmates was shot and killed in Yugoslavia on assignment. I remember that. I got the assignment of writing up the 'dealing with death' piece. Tell me we don't feel, I'd have shown you a newsroom full of crying journalists.

In the end, though, you find yourself getting hardened. Maybe not everyone does. Some undoubtedly find the way around it. But I couldn't. I couldn't live with being that numb.

When I started writing my first mystery, I went to familiar territory. Two main protags, one a cop, one a reporter. A young reporter (well, a young cop too) still filled with idealism. Still believing.

I haven't written the second ms in that series yet, but I wonder about it. I wonder if she'll be able to hold on to her optimism, or if she'll become jaded and cynical like I did. I think that's why I've had a hard time thinking through the second book. Realistically, you can only get beaten on, threatened and witness murders and horrid things so many times before you might start getting a bit...cynical.

So I wonder, writerly folk out there, what do you think when you read a book and the characters manage to elude that? Do you find it believable? I usually don't. And I find myself thinking that its inevitable that these two are going to lose some of that innocence.

But I wonder how people will take it, anyone who ever reads book 1 and loves it.

What do you guys think? Is it possible to evade the stereotype and yet keep it believable?

* Like I don't know you want to. And some of you think I deserve it more than others.

And, in the first of what might be a weekly thing, a Friday Funny:

A couple has a dog that snores.

Annoyed because she can't sleep, the wife goes to the vet to see if he can help.

The vet tells the woman to tie a ribbon around the dog's testicles and he will stop snoring.

"Yeah, right!" she says.

A few minutes after going to bed, the dog begins snoring, as usual.

The wife tosses and turns, unable to sleep.

Muttering to herself, she goes to the closet and grabs a piece of red ribbon and ties it carefully around the dog's testicles.

Sure enough, the dog stops snoring! The woman is amazed.

Later that night, her husband returns home drunk from being out drinking with his buddies.

He climbs into bed, falls asleep, and begins snoring loudly.

The woman thinks maybe the ribbon might work on him, so she goes to the closet again, She grabs a piece of blue ribbon, and ties it around her husband's testicles.

Amazingly, it also works on him! The woman sleeps soundly. The husband wakes from his drunken stupor and stumbles into the bathroom. As he stands in front of the toilet, he glances in the mirror and sees a blue ribbon attached to his privates.

He is very confused and as he walks back into the bedroom, he sees the red ribbon attached to his dog's testicles He shakes his head and looks at the dog and whispers, "I don't know where we were,or what we did, but, by God, we took first and second place!"

Update: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I cancelled my subscription.

Not sure if I mentioned before that originally, subscribers could post anonymously. And despite this note in their Subscription Terms and Conditions 2.7 - Account Security - firstwriter.com is obliged to ensure that your account is secure and that your personal details are not accessible to any third party. firstwriter.com must not and will not discuss your account or any of your personal details with, or act upon any request made in relation to your account by any person who does not provide your full username and password as proof of identity or accountholder authority they changed and started listing your name, town and country when you posted a comment on the site.

I asked them to remove my personal information. They've told me there's no need, they aren't disclosing my personal information, I'm choosing that when i choose to post.

Fuck that shit.

Nobody sent out a notice about the change. Plus it nullifies the usefulness of the comments entirely. I discovered the personal data went up after I'd made a comment. That's not giving you the option.

That's also not respecting your client base, the people who pay for the service.

And so I've cancelled. They'll keep my money no doubt, for the 7+ months I already paid for. Filthy bastards.

But since they've told me I can't be sued for stating my opinion, here's my opinion of them: the subscription is a waste of money and a waste of your time. I would encourage all legitimate agents, presses, magazines and contest organizers, as well as serious writers, to use Agent Query, refer to places like Preditors and Editors and check out free services like:
The New Writer's Network,Absolute Writer and the simply wonderful Miss Snark.

And the agency and publisher websites, which will always have the latest info.

Half-full or half-empty?

Yesterday, somebody said in reference to me, "Every silver lining has to have its cloud."

And with that, I bring you Cloud of the Month, really, a thing of beauty.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

James made a post yesterday that got me thinking about the service industry, and in particular, bad service.

And what options we lowly consumers have for dealing with it.

Now, I'm one of those people who alternates between two extremes. I'll either be the doormat, silently seething but outwardly being treated like shit. That is the 'produce of her upbringing Sandra'.

Or I'll go up one side of a person and down the other until I'm sure I've put them in their place.

And then I'll go home and cry because I feel like shit.

But I have very strong opinions about service, about getting what you pay for, about being treated with respect. And I have fought the good fight on more than one occasion.

Like just after Kevin and I got married, he bought me a computer. This was before I converted him to the wonders of Mac's, and he bought me (shudder) a Hewlett-Packard P-O-C.

Within a month, the hard drive had gone. And then again. And again. And each time, I had to schedule myself at home to wait for some boneheaded repairman to try the same thing as last time, which clearly wasn't the problem.

Kev knew what the problem was. He tried talking sense to these idiots. Finally, the computer had to be sent in. A whole month and guess what? When it came back, it still didn't work.

I blew a gasket on the help line and threw the phone against the wall and busted it. At that point, it was all-out war. They finally told me they'd give me a full credit for the machine and to take it to the store where I'd bought it for my credit.

Which was when Office Depot started cursing HP, because that was the first they'd heard about it.

End of the day, the price of computers had dropped significantly. I got a new computer and a new printer and something else for the price of the original. And it damn well wasn't a HP, since the store honoured the credit.

Now, this all brings me to my present dilemma. You now know I can fight an 11-month war. You already knew I can be a bit of a bitch.

Two years ago, I subscribed to Firstwriter.com. For thirty-some-odd bucks per year I have access to their listings of agents, publishers, writing contests and magazines. I get updates of new information. Subscribers can post feedback, which is sometimes very helpful in figuring out if an agent is good or bad or otherwise.

I thought it a worthwhile subscription. Cheaper than the cost of the Writer's Market book, usually not as outdated.

But recent events have forced me to wonder about just who it is Firstwriter panders to.

Magazines, agents and publishers can all post listings for no cost. Great for them - free advertising.

Great for the scammers too, as Firstwriter relies on what the agencies and publishers choose to say about themselves. I have found many postings for publishers and agents that, upon checking preditors and editors, I've learned were swinderlers or Vanity presses.

Of course, my recent situation was born out of querying off of Firstwriter. There was nothing on anyone involved on P&E, so it came down to internet research. Couldn't find anything warning me off there either, so I decided to submit.

And we all know how that turned out.

But what bothers me is that I was looking at some stuff on Firstwriter the other day. A person had made a negative comment about an agent. And the agent responded with a comment of their own. Clearly, checking on the site.

I went to this publisher's listing and found only glowing, positive comments. From people who said they hadn't been offered contracts, but their experience was just so darned pleasant and encouraging.

I'm one to think I'd like to warn people to stay away from a vulture like that press. I'd like to spare people the heartache.

And I can be a bit of a vindictive bitch.

But if I post a comment about my experience, Firstwriter will no longer let me do that anonymously. They post the name and the town and country of residence of the poster.

I emailed about this. They say free speech has to be tempered with responsibility. And that the publisher can't sue me anyway.

No, I said, maybe not. But they've already wasted days of my life with multiple harassing emails and I'd rather not go through that again.

I made a suggestion about balancing the 'anonymity' of the posters and still giving Firstwriter recourse to not post the comments or remove them if inappropriate.

They brushed me off.

All of which has me completely pissed off. They do no research on the companies that list with them. The companies could be out of business, could be charging people for services, vanity presses - whatever.

The subscribers - the writers - who actually pay for the service have to find this out on their own.

And I've found myself turning to the Writer's Market anyway now, to substantiate information about presses and agents.

So why am I subscribing to Firstwriter? I haven't got a bloody clue anymore. I can find listings for most agents and publishers via free websites. What am I paying a few bucks a month for this lack of service for?

I started this off to pose the question to you all - should I stay or should I cancel my subscription? What do you think? Am I overreacting?

And what else, besides notifying P&E, can writers do to help protect other writers from scammers? How do we stop them?

I do think I'll write to Firstwriter and complain about one thing, though. Privacy laws. They shouldn't be allowed to dispense any personal information about their subscribers without consent, so I want my town and full name removed from posts I made.

Yeah, I can be a bit of a bitch... Am I wrong?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Marital discord

Unless you're planning on a divorce, wouldn't severing your husband's genitals sort of be self-punishing as well? Unless he's really bad in bed? Or impotent anyway?

It just doesn't seem likely to me that she was thinking long-term.

Which may be something I wasn't doing earlier today, as I critiqued a short story written by evilkev. I typed out comments like, "Put a period at the end of your sentences, or something" and "He pauses a lot. Shouldn't you just say it was like he was stuck in neutral, with the occasional spasmic jolt forward?" and after the words 'with a thoughtfully look' I had to ask if it was fully thoughtful or just thoughtful?

Of course, I had to point out some missing words and some grammatical oopses as well.

Its actually a very good story. Born out of spousal frustration that he keeps bringing me ideas that I don't write into stories.

It's like I've been trying to tell him - you have to write the story that's calling to you, and right now my mind's on Fucked.*

But maybe I should have passed his story over to someone else to do a critique? I guess if there's a sudden shortage of blog posts and you hear rumours of my untimely demise, we'll all have the answer!

I had to put up an extra blog post today, because James was so late with his, and then it was virtually a copy of my other post. So yet another man I've had to compensate for. Sheesh. It's so frustrating when you rely on a guy to meet your needs and he's off reading your manuscript or biking or having painful urination or something.

And, because every day should have a little treat to it, check this out. Sound on. And if you have a problem with procreation, you might not want to watch the last teency little bit.**

* Go for it Boy Kim. I know I've left myself wide open...
** All the dogs will skip commenting and go straight to the link now. Which means that the guys will deliberately stop and post a comment, so they don't seem like dogs. Manipulation is a fine art.

Redefining Me

Your Animal Personality

Your Power Animal: Eagle

Animal You Were in a Past Life: Whale

You are active, a challenger, and optimistic.

Hard-working, you are always working towards a set goal.

Thanks for the link Trace!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Sometimes, Things Gotta Play Hard

There's a scene in the TV show The Wire. Detective Kima Greggs has been shot twice, she's still in recovery, the hunt for the men who shot her and killed a police informant is on.

They know who did it. Got enough evidence to start connecting the dots. But no witnesses. No guns.

It can be hard to make a case without a witness or the weapon.

So the detectives go to show Kima some spreads. She picks out one of the shooters.

Then the second page of spreads. And she says she can pick out Little Man, 'cos he's in the front, trying to grab the money off the dashboard. But the other one's in the dark. She can't see him.

They tell her they found their jackets. Got a DNA hit to another target of their investigation, Wee Bey. Found a soda can at the scene with a print from Little Man. They tell her about the talk on The Wire - Bey and Little Man are in the wind.

It's all pointing to them, and if she'd ID her shooters, it would play a whole lot better.

What does Kima say? If you'd been watching the show, you'd know she knows there's no doubt Bey was the other shooter. Detective Bunk tells her it'll play a whole lot easier if she gives the ID.

Kima says sometimes, things gotta play hard.

Indeed they do.

I'm not taking the publishing contract I was offered. I'm not going to get into the whole song and dance about it. Suffice it to say that, once all the paperwork was in front of me, there were some issues that started to come up. I sought legal consultation, talked to somebody who reviews contracts all the time and ranks them, and reached one inescapable conclusion. It would be a mistake.

I feel a bit like I let you all down, you were so happy for me. Believe me, a few weeks ago I was pretty damn happy too!

But also believe me when I say I'm certain this is the right decision and I don't regret it. I never will.

I can't get into all the sticking points. But I'll tell you one. They wanted me to sign over the first option for all future works I ever wrote in my lifetime at the current contract terms if they opted to publish the work.

Which, when you looked through the whole deal, meant being pretty much an indentured slave.

I know it can be tempting to want something so much that you're prepared to compromise on a deal in order to see your dream come true. But I have seen authors come out on the other side of horror stories, seeing the first book in a planned series virtually killed by a bad publisher that didn't do a good job on the editing or the promotion.

Making their series almost impossible to sell elsewhere.

So, I could have taken a bad deal. And my book would have been out in April.

But sometimes, things gotta play hard.

Right now, I'm working on some short stories, which I always find stressful. I'm working ahead to the next few issues of Spinetingler. I'm blabbering away on a new forum that's not yet public but will be soon. I'm waiting on some feedback that'll help me in the next phase of tweaking on the currently titled Terms of Redemption that I had the offer on (formerly Echoes and Dust). And I'm designing my website. Not sure why I need one, but hey, why not?

So things are pretty good in my little corner of the world. Sure, I haven't signed a contract. One might be right around the corner - 3 Canadian publishers, 2 US publishers and 1 UK publisher are still talking to me with varying levels of interest indicated - but maybe not. Regardless, I have to believe that no contract is better than a very bad contract, and that when the time is right, things will fall into place.

But I would like to say thanks for all the encouragement and support. You guys rock! XO

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Revenge of the MacRickwald Trio

It all started in the late 70's. Mother Rickards, glowing in her delicate condition, was dragged off to the Sci Fi Movie awards. Upon viewing this, (press watch) she went straight into labour, hence John's childhood and post-intimate-encounter nickname, Rocketman.

The MacRickwald Trio plotted for years and finally took their revenge, during a rare public performance. Unfortunately, only one of them could maintain the television career, as US regulations only afford restricted working hours to those under a certain physical age, despite their mental age.

I'll leave it to you to decide which is most 'bendable' and 'poseable'...

**It should be noted this is obviously not pre-smoke for John, but it is pre-beard for Stuart and James. Could it be the reason for the beards is to disguise the truth that they're actually John's brothers, triplets ushered into the world after the shock trauma of the first performance? The football-shaped heads are quite similar...

Friday, January 20, 2006

Worse than corgi smell

Except in this guy's case, his problem was pretty clear. And stinky. Of all the luck. Stop at a rest stop to use the bathroom and the lock freezes and you get stuck in the can.

Probably wished he'd just taken a whiz on the side of the road.

The thing is, I know it seems kind of cruel to sit here, in my cozy office, laughing at the guy, but I have to wonder how hard he tried to get out. We have an old house. Built in the '40's. Not old by UK standards but practically a historical monument over here.

The bathroom has a sliding lock. A sliding metal lock. It's impossible to open it from outside the room.

And the windows are old. The outer window in the bathroom was nailed shut. We've never gotten around to dealing with them yet...

Not to mention the upper floor of our bungalow is pretty high up.

Where's all this leading? Well, when Chinook got upstairs once and almost ate Buttons, I grabbed him and pushed him into the bathroom and shut the door while I went to check on the cats. When I came back he'd been jumping against the door and managed to knock the lock across.

And let me tell you something. Body-checking a door open isn't as easy as the cops make it seem!

But I managed. Eventually. So I have to wonder just how hard this guy tried to kick that door open.

Unless he's a scrawny weakling. In which case he needs to change his diet.

Stuart's Big Adventure, with John Rickards*

This was going to be called Stuart's little adventure, but we did not want
people to think it was a story about a mouse...

So for all you who are curious, we decided to follow Stuart MacBride for a
day. While we suspected it might be six hours of him sleeping in his
backyard and attempting to communicate with the nearby frolicking squirrels,
the truth was far more disturbing...

In our first photo, Stuart is running from the grounds of Buckingham Palace.
In a bold publicity move, he decided to copy the Father's rights groups and
dress as a super hero. But in a huge blunder, he mistakenly thought the
superhero, "The Flash" was not just his name but what he did. The Queen was
not amused...

After that embarrassment, he boarded a plane from Heathrow and flew to New
York City to join up with John Rickards an a lunch hour tour for the
bluegrass band "Stewie and the Cowtones". Their breakout hit "My fat baby
loves to eat" Hear the live performance** Stuart was on Banjo and lead vocals and John was backup vocals and washboard player. In this photo, You can see them playing before a harmonica playing chimp scared them off.

With their musical careers in shambles, they both took a plane and flew to
Sidney. We caught up to them at the Olympic site traveling by van to
practice for the demonstration sport of Male Synchronized Swimming. Their
hopes were dashed when they witnessed the Chinese team.

So they flew to China. We caught up with them in the Forbidden City after
they were told by their new swimming coach "You too dense, never float". So
they resolved to return to England and continue being writers. But first a
brief stop in Moscow to "sign some books"

We found them at their final destination, where they were seen fleeing Red
Square on a bus after "accidentally" thawing out Lenin. They were arrested
and taken by the FSB and were exchanged for two Russian authors who were in
jail for an undisclosed reason involving vodka, fish sticks and a heavy set
woman named Olga. After catching a ride on a CIA-chartered flight, they were
back home in time for tea (and a gin chaser)

Just imagine what Stuart has in store for tomorrow!
Of course, we'd rather not think about what John has planned. But at least he left the assless chaps out of this one! (Just keep up the washboard playing John.)

* This post may not have been written by me.
** I'm not exactly a toothpick - no offense intended.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

There's something in my closet...

And no, that's not my true orientation waiting to emerge, before you start in on me Boy Kim! Not that there's anything wrong with that...moving on before I end up eating toes.

No, it's actually something with four legs, a tail, teeth and the cats find it very scary.

Yep, it's the new dog.

She was in desperate need of a new home, or she was going off to the big backyard in the sky. Sucker that I am, we went and got her the same day. Once I stopped sobbing after reading the desperate email.

But isn't she adorable? Such a sweet little face. How could anyone not love her?

And tomorrow will be a day in the life of Stuart MacBride. Complete with pictures via spy satellite. You won't want to miss it!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

My personal top 10, and first lines

It's the time of year that many talk about their top ten reads of the past year, and I thought I'd post mine. I'm going with what I read in the past 12 months, not what was released, because I find I discover the backlist of too many good authors after the fact. Unfortunately. So, my personal top 10, in no particular order:

Single Scoop:

Stuart MacBride - Cold Granite
Laura Lippman - To The Power of Three
Val McDermid - The Distant Echo
Reginald Hill - Good Morning, Midnight

Double Your Pleasure:

Simon Kernick - A Good Day to Die and The Business of Dying
John Rickards - Winters End and The Touch of Ghosts
Mark Billingham - Lifeless and The Burning Girl

Just be thankful I haven't read the other two Kernick books yet - just got them for Christmas - or he could have cornered the list. And I'm not at all prejudiced. Just because he's a wonderful person, super-nice and I'm... well, never mind. You'll find out eventually.

And no, those weren't the only ten books I read this past year! But they're the ones that stand out, ones I'd read again, will read again undoubtedly.

Now, a writerly question for you all. First lines and hooks. What grabs you? What do you like to see in a first line?

Why do I ask? Well, tomorrow night is the monthly non-critique meeting. A bunch of writers sitting around, drinking tea*, discussing writerly topics. Last time it was query letters. This time, first lines. So, if anyone has a first line they think is wonderful, or some characteristics to share, I'd appreciate it.

* That's what I'm calling it, and I'm sticking to it.

Talk about pressure

First, a picture of the Tamarindo sunset on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. For lilligrit.

Funny, just yesterday I was talking to a good friend of mine - a 66-year-old good friend - about how much pressure there is on children today.

First-hand, I know that parents are choosing schools and daycares sometimes even before Junior is born. Shocking, sometimes necessary if you live in a place like New York, but a growing reality.

And we wonder why kids are blowing off more and more steam at younger ages.

All through high school there's the pressure to get your grades up, pick a college, pick a university, pick a major, blah blah blah... Should I feel guilty that, as aunt and uncle, we've been having the career conversation with Arriel since she was 7?

She currently wants to be a singing geologist or an actor and medical investigator (what we call those CSI people locally). She had a fleeting consideration of the police department...

I was telling my friend that I think part of the reason people can't just relax and enjoy where they are right now is because from an earlier and earlier age, people are pressuring them to make choices about their future. Look at this kid. He can't even enjoy being a toddler without civic pressure.

Yep, you surely do need to think about the future. But I think James said it best, something about dwelling on the past or living in the future and seldom being where he is today.

I know that feeling. Seems like I've spent most of my life out of the current time zone.

Maybe the subconscious reason we do it is because we're a bit envious of the young, we wish we could go back in time to a lazy summer day, lying on the rock cuts, talking to friends, without a care in the world...

But don't ask me why we'd want to rush ahead to the days of dentures, rocking chairs and knitting needles. Looks to me like some people are already halfway there!

Here's some rare wisdom for you from my blog:

Learn from the past but don't let it control you
Look to the future but don't let it consume you
Live today, and be thankful for it

Which I'll try to do. Right after I plan my annual budget, calculate the retirement savings and sue my parents for the childhood traumas that still haunt me.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Thanks Stuart

You Are a Mai Tai

You aren't a big drinker, but you'll drink if the atmosphere is festive.

And when you're drunk, watch out! You're easily carried away.


A picture of a pingo on the flight in to Tuktyuktuk, where I went swimming in the arctic ocean. And saw beluga being cut up and smoked.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

I'm James's "it" girl

James tagged me. Which means I have to answer these. Or have a hundred days of bad luck or some such nonsense, I suppose.

But to make it more interesting, I've included pictures from some of my journeys! The following pictures are included:

Rio Fortuna Waterfall, Costa Rica
Volcan Arenal, Costa Rica (clouded)
Volcan Arenal, Costa Rica (clear) - this is the volcano I climbed
The coast of Tunisia
Along the Dempster Highway to Inuvik, NWT
Me holding hands with a monkey (not evilkev)

And just for James, a picture of Hoodoos in Drumheller, Alberta!

Four jobs you have had in your life:
Special Needs Early Intervention Program Facilitator
An ice cream scooper
Receptionist and conference secretary

Four movies you could watch over and over:
The Usual Suspects
LOTR: The Two Towers
The Ghost and The Darkness

Four places you've lived: (as in any place I've received mail for more than two months of time)
Calgary, Alberta
New Westminster, British Columbia
Ballincollig, Cork, Eire
Schladming, Austria

Four TV Shows you love to watch:
The Shield
Star Trek: Deep Space 9

Four places you've been on vacation:


Costa Rica

Tuktuuyaqtuumukkabsi (find out where that is and I'll be really impressed!)

Four of your favourite foods:
My own tomato soup (secret recipe)
Chocolate, duh
Maple syrup
Lemon chicken, the way they serve it in the bar in Tamarindo, Costa Rica...

Four places you'd rather be right now:
Alberta/British Columbia, skiing. (James said that, but I'd like to point out that's where I am...)
In bed

Four sites I visit daily:
Sir Benfro, though I might have to reconsider that. Hmmph. Stomps off in a huff.
Empire of Dirt
MG's blog

Four bloggers you are tagging:

Any four suckers who put up their hands. Nope, can't see any. Sorry.

Four sheep breeds you could recognise in a field:
Let's be serious people. This is Canada, not Wales!

Four people you'd really like to meet:
Cornelia Read
Ian Rankin - oh, I've done that. But I'd like to have a beer with him.
John Rickards
David Simon

Dybbuk this!

Sarah Weinman has written a charming little story about the inner voices we hear that might not be so innocent. I was going to ask if Kovacs is North American for MacBride, because I thought it might explain a few things!

Regardless, it's an ingenious story. Crime fiction meets Ghostbusters. But if you have an aversion to four-letter words you might need to see the censored copy. Which will have more black marker on it than White House documentation on Bin Laden's latest suspected wherabouts.

Ciao babes. I'll be back tomorrow with my usual rant about something trivial.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Saturday Morning Funnies

I used to love reading the comics on Saturday morning. Appropriately, I got a funny email from a friend, and thought I'd share it. Hope it makes you guys smile!

I used to eat a lot of natural foods until I learned that most people die of natural causes.

Never take life seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway.

There are two kinds of pedestrians: the quick and the dead.

Life is sexually transmitted.

Health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.

Some people are like Slinkies. Not really good for anything, but you still can't help but smile when you see one tumble down the stairs.

Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.

Have you noticed since everyone has a camcorder these days no one talks about seeing UFOs like they used to?

Whenever I feel blue, I start breathing again.

All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.

In the 60's, people took acid to make the world weird. Now the world is weird and people take Prozac to make it normal.

How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?

Who was the first person to look at a cow and say, "I think I'll squeeze these dangly things here, and drink whatever comes out?"

Who was the first person to say, "See that chicken there? I'm gonna eat the next thing that comes outta its butt."

Why does your OB-GYN leave the room when you get undressed if they are going to look up there anyway?

If quizzes are quizzical, what are tests?

If electricity comes from electrons, does morality come from morons?

Do illiterate people get the full effect of Alphabet Soup?

Do you ever wonder why you gave me your email address?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Humbits or Rabmans or Bunmans

Usually, I have to go to CNEWS to find the truly bizarre.

Not today. Nope. Hand delivered, as it were, right into my "in" box. Scientists to create rabbit-human hybrid. WTF? What exactly would be the point of creating a rabbit-human hybrid? To give everyone big ears? Or floppy ears? Or to make a group of extra-fertile people? Okay, maybe the Scottish should try for that, what with their population decline and all...

But of all things, rabbits. And what would we call this new species, as it were? The whole 'Timbit' thing in Canada has given some appeal to Humbits, but I think Bunmans is a strong second.

Of course, a fringe benefit could be the ability to hop. I wonder how high a human could hop if they had the hopping ability of a rabbit. Maybe not over my house, but the shed? The doghouse, at least?

Imagine a police officer with that ability, hunting down a lowly human. One leap and he could squish him.

Okay, maybe I should go read the darned article and see what the point is. But no matter what the convoluted explanation, I still think it's a pretty damn strange idea.

Though with teeth like mine, I suppose I'd be considered very attractive to a half-rabbit...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Miss Snark and the Three Aspiring Authors/Skeleton Bob

Miss Snark started out her journey with gusto and good cheer. It seemed a lovely day to stroll through The Wood of Aspiring Authors. The sun was shining, the birds chirping and her waterbottle was stocked with gin.

And, of course, Killer Yapp was anxious to explore this new terrain.

But the early enthusiasm dissipated when she reached a field beyond the first cluster of trees. It was The Singed Forest. Burned down long ago by rejection after rejection, writers afraid to submit again, the foliage just beginning to recover from the last searing fire. She saw some beautiful saplings with great potential and asked them when they would submit.

"I want to re-write it for the sixteenth time, then get it professionally critiqued and then get a second opinion. Then, maybe.."

Miss Snark's initial enthusiasm at returning to living woodlands was soon dashed by her discovery that this was The Dying Forest. The trees were old, tired, unwilling to yield, the branches drooping, the leaves hanging limply on their stems. They wanted to discuss contracts and terms before showing their work. They had been somebody's/ they told her, once upon a time, and she should know that. "Who published you?" she asked. "It doesn't matter," they said. "Well, what can you do now?" she asked. They refused to answer.

Miss Snark was discouraged, but still she persevered, pressing on through the forest, looking for trees that were ready. Despite the fact that her feet were starting to hurt and she'd long since run out of gin, and Killer Yapp had utilized a few of the more cantankerous trees for, um, bodily funtions, she didn't give up her quest to find the next great tree.

At last she came to a small rise where there stood three trees. They looked beautiful, enticing. The bark was the right color, the branches lifted with character, the leaves created a lovely tapestry against the sky. They oozed with potential.

She approached the first tree and asked if the tree had a submission for her. He did. Three manuscripts, SASE's, synopses for each story and a detailed profile of his life and work experience.

"Choose one," Miss Snark said. "I can only review one work at a time."

"But you must look at all three."

"I can't," Miss Snark said. "I can only look at one."

He would not choose so she went to the next tree.

"Do you have a submission for me?" Miss Snark asked.

"I do." This one had the first three chapters, a one-paragraph summary of the plot and no SASE.

"I can't reply to you then."

"Why can't you bring it back to me?" the tree asked.

"I only come here once or twice a year. And no other agents come. We are so busy. Usually the trees come to us."

The tree folded his branches and glared at her. "You do not respect me," the tree groaned. He ran away down the hill, leaving Miss Snark looking at his chapters, sans SASE. She shrugged, and dropped them on the ground where he'd stood.

She approached the last tree. The light in the sky was starting to fade. This would be the last tree before she returned to the World of Concrete.

"Do you have a submission for me?" she asked wearily.

"I do. It is what you asked for. Three chapters, a one thousand word synopses, and SASE and a brief cover letter with my contact information."

Miss Snark took the submission gladly, for the query she'd received from this tree had shown promise and she knew the tree was capable of producing wonderful work.

She returned to the World of Concrete, Killer Yapp snuggled up at her feet after the fresh air and exercise, a pail of gin beside her, thinking how sad it was that of so many forests of trees, only one had been prepared.

She sighed, wishing again that there weren't so many blogs giving the Aspiring Authors bad advice.

Okay, okay, so you might have an idea of where this came from. And I wrote it up on a whim.

I think the point here is that anyone can dispense advice. It might be good. It might be terrible.

What you decide to do with it is up to you. But just because you decide to follow the advice of one particular person as opposed to another, it doesn't make it right or wrong, necessarily. And because someone else does it differently it doesn't make them right or wrong, necessarily.

But the dispute between JA Konrath and Miss Snark had me shaking my head. Over SASE's, no less. Whatever JA's initial intent in his post about his reasoning, his assertion that you shouldn't include an SASE with your manuscript submission seemed to take on new form in the responses to comments on his blog.

Mr. Konrath has a right to his opinion. He has the right of free speech to express it.

So does Miss Snark.

So do I.

It's up to everyone else what they decide to do. Personally, I completely appreciate where an agent is coming from when they require an SASE. I also think that it's part of my job when submitting, along with telling a damn good story and spelling the agents name right and all that jazz.

But running around saying, "This is the way" and getting everyone on the bandwagon is a bit idiotic.

Let people submit their manuscripts however they want. They may or may not hear back.

And that will be their risk to take.

As for me, I will follow the advice of Miss Snark. And the guidelines on the agency website or in the Writer's Market.

Now, according to some, this means I lack balls. Not really bad, in my case. And I think ignoring what people ask for doesn't mean you've got a pair, or at least a pair worth inspecting. More like overcompensating for a lack of something.

To me, it means you probably don't give a shit about me, so why should I give a fuck about you?

Let's face it. When you want people to treat you like an adult, you have to act like one. Similarly, when you want people to think well of you, you have to behave decently.

And if you want people to think you're a professional...

One of my favourite authors once said that you're only as good as your last book.

Maybe not a bad idea for some people to remember that. Even signing a deal doesn't mean you've "arrived".

Or that you've corned the market on the perfect way to launch a career. Book deals come and book deals go...

Skeleton Bob

Some of you are new to Skeleton Bob. Shockingly enough, you're new to Stuart MacBride, 8th Bearded Wonder of the World*, fabulous author, hearty drinker, finder of used condoms and bacon bits.

If you're new to Stuart, then the whole Skeleton Bob thing might have gone past you. Sandrablabber has gone pink and knitted in honour of the return of Skeleton Bob. And if you haven't read the first Skeleton Bob, or The Princess and The Pervert, or the wondrous 12 Days of Christmas gems of delight and good cheer, then check them out here.

Worthy of a snort and a chuckle and far more entertaining than my sorry little post today.

Okay, bring on the scathing criticisms...**

* I'm not sure who all of the 7 Bearded Wonders of the World are, but I don't want Stuart to be confused with a dwarf. Unless he likes that idea. In which case, what number was Dopey? God, it's past my bedtime. I'm outta here.

** About my post. Not Stuart's stuff. Which is like fine wine with a bit of Paris Green tossed in. Too much can kill you.

Canada Day & Winter Woes

Today, my Scotsman on-line told me this:

"Canada's first prime minister, John A MacDonald, was born today in Glasgow in 1867. Among his many achievements Mr MacDonald: drafted two-thirds of the provisions of the British North America Act which provided the constitutional foundation of modern Canada, established the famous Canadian mounted police and opened up Canada's west for expansion."

Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, especially since my one ms is based on the RCMP. The Dark Side of the Force. (There's a title, MG!)

And, in truly Canadian fashion, it has snowed. Lovely. Well, usually it is. Except for this annoying thing the village (yep, I live in a truly classified village) did something last summer that seemed good to them at the time.

They decided to pave the road in front of our house.

Now, we live on a corner lot. Our lot is 130x100 feet. I was going to say that if you laid me end to end it would take...but then I remembed John R reads this blog. Anyway, I had one road paved on the 100-foot side when we moved here, and as of last summer, the road on the 130-foot side got paved.

More importantly, they put down a new sidewalk on the 130-foot side.

That seemed like glorious news initially, because the old one was put down when the Romans invaded Britain. I had to buy a solid steel shovel so that it wouldn't break on all the cracks and gaps.

But the Village People decided to move the location of the sidewalk. See, originally, at the edge of our property there is a row of lovely hedges (berry bushes) that hem us in. Then, a foot out from that, the old sidewalk. Then there were about five feet between the edge of the sidewalk and the old dirt road. The new sidewalk is right beside the road now.

And they narrowed the road, because what they did was put the new sidewalk down where road used to be. So we used to have a really wide road there, plenty of space between the resident maniacs quading down the roadway at super-high speeds and the innocent pedestrians navigating the cracked concrete.

Not now. Nope. And what makes it extra special is that when they plow the road, great heaps of snow get piled up on - you guessed it! - the sidewalk!

Now I have extra feet of sidewalk I'm required to shovel, the lovely joy of being expected to mow the grass between the edge of my property and the new sidewalk, and rake the leaves there, and as soon as I remove the snow, the town comes along and replaces it.

This keeps up, I'll have the upper body strength for pro wrestling.

What's worse is, without the town even doing a bloody thing, there was so much snow I couldn't find the edge of the sidewalk at the turn, and discovered after about 20 feet I was shoveling the road! (Did I mention they also made the sidewalk barely an inch higher than the road? With a sloped edge to boot.)

Welcome to my village, run by all the Village Idiots!

And what does that say about me for living here?

Dear God, when will it ever end?

Yes, that's right folks. It's here. Back with a vengeance. Still beardless, though.

Which is why my website's gone all pink and knitted. In anticipation of the return of Skeleton Bob!

So don your lace booties and your polarized shades and make your way into the world of Skeleton Bob. If he's new to you, you won't be disappointed!

And what else do I have to say today? Nothing at the moment... I know. Evilkev is shocked too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sell Your Soul

It has been brought to my attention that my stock is on the rise. I wish I could cash in but right now, I'm just intrigued. Blogger Brother is watching.

In fact, not just Blogger Brother. Since updating my profile and putting my email address out to the world, I've received two pieces of, essentially, spam advertising. From people who evidently think I'm interested in mysteries. Wonder where they could have got that idea from.

One of them, in particular, got me thinking. Yes, a form letter, from a new author, telling me a zillion reasons why I should buy his book. I don't remember his name, or the name of his forthcoming release. But if I did, it would likely be pinned to my dartboard.

There's no doubt that it is hard to break out as a debut author. And increasingly, the task of marketing and selling the book falls to the author. I have even encountered publishers, in my research, that require you to submit a marketing plan instead of a synopsis. To me, it seems unfortunate. Particularly as an aspiring author, there is so much to learn. You are a writer, a storyteller, a creator and, in my genre, you need to do your research and become a semi-professional on whatever details are pertinent to your story. In my case, that meant researching with the RCMP, going to the ME's office, traveling to British Columbia (twist my arm - I used to live there) and learning more about forensics and cause of death than I could have imagined 15 months ago, when I first conceived of this crazy idea.

And then, to throw in marketing guru? And people think being an author is such an easy job! We haven't even gotten to dealing with wacked-out stalker fans, attending conventions, signing until your arm falls off (if you're lucky) and facing the reviews. Why do we do it?

Well, because we're masochists, clearly. And we love to write. Once I discovered what it was to be a novelist, to finish the first draft of a manuscript (which I cringe thinking about now!) I had the bug. Nothing on tv was as interesting as the people living in my head.

Now, with everything going on, I've been forced to reconsider my initial reaction to the spam email. Was I too harsh? Do I sympathize with this new writer, trying to break in?

No, and yes.

I think we must always remember that we have to live with ourselves, at the end of the day. This is something I picked up from my cousin**. He was being interviewed on radio, talking about songwriting, and one of the things he said is that different people are comfortable with different means of expression and you have to consider that when you're working. Okay, I'm badly paraphrasing, but it's an interesting point. In some ways, I think he's so damned lucky, getting to collaborate with other artists, having others stir the creative juices. But I also see, because I know him, how different people bring out different elements of his personality. Clearly, when he wrote "WHAT WAS I THINKING?" with Dierks Bentley and Brett Beavers there was a different train of thought rolling through from when he co-wrote "RUN TO ME" with Paul Brandt. Not to mention all but one of the songs on his own debut album.

What you're comfortable with extends beyond the writing, but also to the marketing. And that's something I really understood as I watched Deric's career unfold. I've seen girls ask him to sign their chests. I've stumbled across some, ahem, racy fan fiction girls have written about him. And yet there's no prima donna attitude, Deric's more down-to-earth today than ever, and he's been incredibly supportive of my writing. Of course, that might change when he reads it... LOL!

I think that everything you go through in life, good and bad, shapes you. We're always growing through our experiences. I know I'm about to learn the mixed blessing of a professional edit as I work to get my manuscript turned into a book ready to be unleashed on the world.

But one thing I hope is that I can keep my head on my shoulders, and live with a clear conscience.

And as much as I appreciate the value of press and the need to create awareness of my work, I hope that at the end of the day, I can honestly say I'm a writer first and foremost, and that developing my skills, growing in my craft always remains the thing that is most important to me.

Ask me what I think when I get my first royalty payment and see if I've revised my opinion!

** Okay, so we're third cousins. But we were in homeroom together in high school. And the thought of girls drooling over him? That's just gross. Not because he's gross. He isn't. Okay, I'm getting into a deep hole here, but the point is, he's like...family, in a distant Nashville-Calgary-only-see-you-when-touring kinda way.

Monday, January 09, 2006

authors & reviewers wanted

"If you don't like this book, you're an idiot."
Sandra's Husband

I can't exactly put that on a cover, now can I? But it looks like I'll be signing a deal, and that my book will be released in April.

So if you're interested in reading it and maybe saying it wasn't complete rubbish, that would be nice. Email me!


Sunday, January 08, 2006

This + That

It turns out, Skittles has been in to more than the Pepsi.

Yes, that's right folks: Buttons is with kitten. She's in full nesting mode. All I can say is, I hope Kevin's here for the birth and better her than me.

Meanwhile, I got this email yesterday:

"I'm afraid this is not exactly right for our list. It's not your writing, just what we think we can sell to the particular contacts we have.

You might want to contact..."

There were two more paragraphs worth of suggestions, with an email address and general info about the source I was being referred to. I love rejection letters like this. Somebody took the time to write a personal email and had something nice to say. That made my day.

Plus they didn't say I couldn't write. That always makes me happy. I suppose I'll get that from the reviewers instead.

Otherwise, the weekend has been filled with work. I'm looking forward to Monday so that evil Kev will be at the office and I'll have a chance to really focus. This promises to be a busy week, albeit a fun one. I'm on a panel on Thursday night, discussing Harrogate and insider advice gleaned from lthe 2005 conference on how to get published.

I'll also be teaching a class on mystery writing - possibly two of them - next week. And I get paid big bucks for it, so that's awesome. It almost makes it worth my while to teach my niece's grade 6 class for a day. I've threatened to bring baby pictures to make sure she behaves.

Meanwhile, I've been messing around with Fireworks and almost got the site design for Trace's website done. Originally, evil Kev was going to design it but I was having too much fun. So he's just going to fix my mistakes so it works when it goes up.

And tomorrow, titles, the latest Spinetingler submissions...

Which reminds me. If anyone wants to get involved with Spinetingler, please email me. It's a volunteer thing, but it can be a lot of fun. I even survived interviewing the 8th bearded wonder of the world and haven't quit yet. And we are looking for another person to read submissions. Because I'm lazy. And right now Anonymous Kate's doing all the work.

So, I leave you with the proud parents-to-be. Though we suspect this is going to be a deadbeat dad who ignores the kids and doesn't pay the bills.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Can you judge a book by the cover?

Trace's book cover kicks ass! If you haven't seen it yet, you must check it out.

I'm sure you guys have all heard the old saying, "You can't judge a book by its cover." But is that really true?

I think a good book cover can give the book atmosphere. Check these out. I think you get a pretty good sense, especially from Cue the Dead Guy, of the author's quirky wit. (Love that book.)

But what is it about a cover that makes you want to get that book, to pull it down from the shelf and read the back jacket?

Trace's cover art really impressed me, because it's very fitting to her story and her protagonist. It isn't always easy to come up with a cover concept that communicates as much as hers does.

Though I have to admit, my shelves are filled with books that have covers that don't really have much to do with the story. They're moody, atmospheric more than anything. Occasionally you get one that's right on the money, like A Good Day To Die.

Whenever I ask questions, nobody answers me but I'm going to ask anyway. What, to you, is important in a book cover? Favourite book covers? Or share about why James is creepy and what Stuart got up to in the nun's outfit.

Did you guys see that the old bugger has given up alcohol until LCC? If you haven't booked yet, you should now, just to see John in drag dancing on tables. Hope he shaves his legs.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

When the real work begins

I've heard that writing a manuscript really begins when you finish the last page of the first draft.

I'm beginning to think writing a novel really begins when the deal comes.

I've always been serious about my writing. And I write obsessively. 4 manuscripts at various stages that I've produced in 19 months. And I've got the next plot line for the third book in the NO-NAME series - but I should get book 2 beyond the first draft stage before I write it. It's safe. In my head. Ready when my schedule is.

But with all the things happening lately, I'm keenly aware of how much work there is. Editing, re-writes, finding a new title (Lord have mercy, I thought renaming the one character was hell), just getting everything done that needs to be done.

So, today, I'm sorting out the new office space and getting everything organized. It's slow going, but I'm also thinking and working on that new title - I even have a few ideas - and I'm getting pretty exciting at the thought of getting my book out there.

A great mess, I know, but here's the new office set-up:

Yep, those targets really are from my last time handling a gun. Well, the more pathetic of the two. The other one is Kevin's. He being military trained he's a pretty decent shot.

And guess what? In all the cleaning, I found a bunch of pictures of me! Well, and the niece and older nephew and such. But most of these are me. Avert your eyes or assume the consequences.

I've always like the one bottom right, me in the blue and yellow. My mother painstakingly trying to straighten my hair for picture day and me with that evil look in my eye that you probably can't see well here.

But that gets me off the hook with finding a recent photo or breaking a camera. I took these shots on my new camera phone, so they aren't great, but I like the phone!

And now I'm going to go take those horrid photos of me down.

And have dinner with my hubby (sorry Bernita), who brought home my favourite pizza and roses.

Not to be outdone!

Skittles, after he gave up on trying to eat the book.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The publisher-agent saga

I didn't want to leave the original post up forever, but I did want people to understand what I was thinking. Anyone who missed the post can email me and I'll send it to you. No problem.

Really, I just wanted to say that, as much as I appreciate the vote of confidence that my work should go to an agent, I would never ask any of you agented people to get me in the door. I mean, if you offered, sure! Duh, who wouldn't say yes?

But despite the fact that this is a virtual little world one step removed from "reality" and the only one of you I've met in person is Stuart, I feel like this is my support network and I'm just honoured to have people who read my rants and ramblings. And I appreciate all the encouragement and the amusement I get from bantering with you guys.

It just isn't...me to impose. I might get up the nerve to ask people to read my book and put a blurb on it, but asking someone to introduce me to their agent seems huge. Just something I couldn't ask.

You guys have been so supportive. It means a lot to me.

Damn. Guess this means I may have to deal with a photo of me sooner than I thought. There really is a down side to everything!

Now go down and read "Ruttan on Rickards", which got a bit buried under all of this!

Breaking News

I've just been contacted by a publisher in the UK offering me a publishing contract.

I haven't seen the fine print yet, but I have a pretty good feeling after our phone chat.

Now how am I supposed to come down off this frickin' cloud and get work done today?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Ruttan on Rickards***

I have always read for pleasure. One of my greatest disappointments as a child was learning CS Lewis was dead, which meant I wouldn’t ever meet him. And during high school I was nose-deep in classics like Hamlet, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations.

I’m one of those freaky people that will re-read books too. Like Tolkein’s LOTR series – I’ve read that so many times I’ve lost count. If a good story has engaging characters that I’ve grown to love, I can’t get enough of them.

Five years ago I was reading mostly historical fiction. Yes, the freak elements multiply – I am a history buff. I love old buildings and old places and imagining what life was like there hundreds of years ago. I had that feeling in Kerkouane, on the north coast of Africa, wondering about the moment when they saw the Romans coming. And again in Carthage. But I digress.

It was four or five years ago that I turned my attention back to the modern mystery. Oh, I’d read mysteries all along, but nothing that was really captivating me. I could tell you my theory on why that is, but it would offend some people. All I’ll say is at that point, I had yet to find a character in a modern mystery (as in, not historical mystery) that I couldn’t get enough of.

Until I bought The Falls. The great thing about discovering someone with a solid backlist is that you’ve got all these wonderful books instantly at your disposal, and you can devour them.

And devour I did. I didn’t know anything about Ian Rankin, other than what it said on the book jacket. I didn’t care. I just loved his creation.

As I sought to branch out and read more contemporary mystery authors, I thought of my earlier disappointments in the genre that fell short of Rankin’s offerings. And that was when I started reading interviews with Ian Rankin, noting down authors and books he recommended.

From there, it’s been a wild ride. And 19 months ago, when I started writing the first draft of my first mystery manuscript, I started learning more and more about the business and the people in it.

Since I first picked up The Falls I’ve developed a system for selecting books. Before, I’d tried ones that were being pushed hard, “best-sellers”, big names. Nobody’s to me, in the end.

I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for British crime books. But part of the reason I developed such a successful system of picking books I always really liked was I was sticking well inside my comfort zone. Police procedurals. Set in the UK, usually, some in the US, some Canada. But usually the UK. Third person narrative. Main protagonist is a man. I know. Picky, picky.

And I’m rather monogamous as a reader too. I’ll devour everything put out by an author and then glumly move on to the next set of books. I’m working on that. I’m getting much better. But because 90% of the time I read strictly for pleasure, well, I want to enjoy what I’m reading. And I also buy all the books I read, except ones people buy for me. No library card in overdrive. I love my books. Some I’ll read and pass on, but select books become eternal fixtures on the shelves of my home, the treasures I can’t part with.

Which brings me to my latest adventure in literature: A foray into the mind of John Rickards.

There’s a lot about John I could resent. For one thing, he’s younger than I am. And he has a publishing deal. His blog is world famous.

But there’s even more about John that I respect. I’m so damned impressed by someone who cares more that I read his books than that I just bought them. No, “Yeah, made two more sales” line, but “I want you to read TTOG…” That’s an artist. It can be hard on these blogs to always get a sense of the dimensions of a person but I’d have to say there’s a lot more to John than we get to see here.

From my lengthy ‘To Be Purchased’ list, I selected John’s books as my Christmas presents this year. And promptly started reading them.

I finished The Touch of Ghosts Tuesday. I was actually a bit misty-eyed, and it wasn’t the relief because I was finally finished either. It’s been a while since I bought two successive books in a series and read them back to back. I’m always reluctant to comment too much, because I don’t want to give storylines and plot away. But in TTOG I was blindsided. Expertly fooled. That was ‘hiding in plain sight’ at it’s best.

The other thing is, I had such a deep emotional connection to the character. It’s been tough lately, with my closest friend’s father dying of cancer. There’ve been a lot of tears. And TTOG gave me a recurring lump in my throat. It hurt to read it, because the emotions were raw.

Some of the lines – I wish I’d marked them –the alliteration was delicious. The words flowed so smoothly I had to go back and re-read them, just to enjoy the phrasing all over again.

There were many things I liked. They way he slipped the ‘psychotic overdose drug’ thing right past me in the first book. I do not want to read books where I feel like the writer thinks I’m an idiot. I’m so much happier when they prove I am one. Plus it helps when the book is in first person if the protagonist is a man, at least for me. I’m generalizing here, but women can be so frickin’ petty and annoying. I have no interest at all in reading about know-it-all chicks who get called Barbie (or the equivalent) who think the best things in life can be bought at Saks. Hope I spelled that right. But truly, bleah. Go break a nail somewhere else. Yuck.

And I love men. For all the teasing I do, really, I love men. It’s always a crappy thing when you’re married, but most of my friends have always been guys. So I like reading about men - I’m really fussy about female protagonists. I even write with at least equal billing male-female protagonists, or in one case, my three main characters are two guys, one girl.

I want a mental challenge when I read and I have to be interested in the case and the character and feel like I’ve gotten lost in that world. I’ve been to Maine. I’ve been to New Brunswick. Well, Quebec too. I could see the places being depicted from the descriptions.

When I do the inevitable reviews for Spinetingler I have to be careful not to sound too gushing about one book and not as much about another. It’s just in my nature. I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings, unless I’ve got a damn good reason.

But I also don’t like to lie. I wasn’t sure about giving out my honest evaluation of John’s books, since he’s been known to pop by from time to time, but I was persuaded to put it up here.

To be honest, I know nothing about John’s sales record or anything like that. I don’t really pay attention to that stuff.

I’m just keen to endorse books that I’ve really enjoyed, books that resonated with me. Which is why I will be taking the books down from their new home on the top shelf next to the Rankin porn** and reading excerpts from John’s work at my next non-critique group meeting.

I would venture to say that John Rickards is currently one of the most under-appreciated rising stars in the crime fiction scene. I’m going to take a real step out here and tell you the truth: I think Rickards is going to come out with a book that will put him on the radar of every crime fiction reviewer and reader out there. I can’t say whether it’s going to be the next book, or the one after it, but I just have this sense of creative genius when reading. (I’m not comparing him to anyone else – I just find it astounding that there hasn’t been more buzz about him already.) I think the only thing that’s keeping Rickards from being a huge international bestseller is that people haven’t heard how good he is*.

There’s something about John’s writing that sort of gets under your skin, gets a hold of you, and pulls you into his world very convincingly. There were smells and sensations and emotions that his words evoked that I connected with. The writing permeated the senses.

What John does best though, IMHO, is write to the heart.

There is a sense of disappointment at the end of TTOG. It isn’t because the book was a letdown. It’s because the book is about loss. It was powerful and personal and there was a sense of the futility of it all. No matter what happened, it would never bring back what Alex Rourke had lost. Hit me in a similar way that To The Power of Three did. Chilling last lines that linger in your mind after you’ve closed the book and wiped your eyes.

The ending… I could so completely imagine that moment and it knocked me back.

And now, the worst thing about discovering new authors you like: I have to wait months for the next book. Unless John wants to send me a copy.

So I am now adding his next book to the list of 2006 releases I’m looking forward to. Right along with Dying Light and Relentless and A Field of Darkness.

It’s going to be a good year for books. Bad for my budget though.

* Well, we all know how good he is with some things.
*** Stop thinking that - that's not what I meant.

** Okay, if you've been reading my blog, you'll get the 'porn' comment. It all started with me saying that British male authors consistently take the top shelf in my house, and John giggling over the fact that 'top shelf' refers to porn in some parts of the world... And I wasn't worried about readers understanding that until people started linking to this post!

Hope there aren't too many terrible typos. I'm too tired to go over this again.