Sunday, April 30, 2006

Under Review: One reviewer's reluctance to shred

When I argue something, I’m full-blooded Irish, hot-headed and I’d swear my hair gets redder than usual. My face certainly does.

The problem is, I tend to really argue on things I feel passionately about.

Weird thing is, I don’t like confrontation. I’ve even avoided all Crime Writers of Canada events locally so I don’t have to see anyone from my old writer’s group. Even thinking back over my life and people who’ve really done horrid things to me, I’ve wanted to bitch-slap a few, but it’s a revenge I only take through fiction. From the time I was a teenager, I seriously don’t think I’ve struck back anyone who hit me.

The anger all gets vented elsewhere, or stored. I can argue online no problem, but face to face? Man, you have to really push my buttons.

So, I see the contradictions within me. Opinionated and passionate, but a people pleaser too, more like a dog than a cat, wanting approval from people, wanting to be liked.

Which is likely a big part of the reason I have so much trouble with reviews. Now, I had my first newspaper column when I was 13, so some of it does come from experience, having things scrapped because they weren’t scathing enough. I thought reviews were supposed to be your honest assessment, but not for some publications. Some manufacture interest by fueling the fires of controversy. Best thing to do is attack something popular.

Last year after reviewing some books I said to one of the authors, “Personally, I don't 'do' reviews. I completely don't get the need some people seem to have to go around criticizing things in order to make themselves seem intelligent or important. Even reviews I have read that are positive about the book in question seem to find a way of working in a criticism of someone else.

So that might make me a bit more of a gushing fan on the occasions when my husband coerces me into doing "reviews" for Spinetingler, but I don't care. There are plenty of other people out there eager to tell authors when they've got it wrong. And most of their opinions aren't worth the price of the paper they're written on.”

And I’ll stand by one thing – reviews are opinions.

And we all know what they say about opinions.

But I am now, officially, screwed.

Last July, we were averaging a few hundred downloads per issue of Spinetingler. That’s changed. Now we’re averaging almost 3000. And that doesn’t include online reads.

Every time I tried to extricate myself from responsibilities for the magazine, I got sucked in deeper than ever before. I’ve finally just given up on it. I do have problems – conflicts of interest – and when I see submissions from names that I know even from the blogs and forums, I remove myself from the selection process.

In fact, I haven’t even read some of the stories going into the next issue that are by people I “know”. If I didn’t do the editing on it, I haven’t read it yet.

But that’s a side note, just to say that I try to be fair. I have my principles and I try to live by them.

Which brings me back to my rules for reviews. Until now, for Spinetingler I only did reviews “after the fact”. I’d read a book, really enjoy it and then do a write-up.

I didn’t pick up a book with it in my head that I was going to review it.

With the phenomenal growth of Spinetingler has come the inevitable change. We added the review site. Not that I routinely put stuff up there, but we did it to help promote more authors.

And we’ve had tons of submissions. In two months we’ve had 95 reviews submitted for the review site by 6 reviewers. I must say I’m thankful there are so many people out there passionate enough to take their free time to write up reviews on books.

Along with the review site and the growing awareness surrounding Spinetingler, there has also been an increased interest in me. It might seem funny to you to hear me say I never thought about this as a byproduct, but now, authors and publicists are asking me to review books and if I’ll interview them.

Man, what happened to me just mustering the courage to ask people I sorta knew or really badly wanted to interview, to the point where I wanted to do it more than I was afraid of asking?

You think I’m lying, but it took me 7 months to ask one of my favourite authors and technically, I didn’t ask. I said, “I would ask you, but…”

Lucky me, he said he’d do an interview anyway.

But I’m not casual about doing this stuff. I read a few, if not all, of an author’s works before interviewing them. I read other interviews they’ve done. I’ve done interviews on the fly when I’ve needed to, but in this forum, there’s no call for that. There’s no excuse for me doing an interview unprepared.

So, the requests from authors for me to interview them? Wild. Scary.

More frightening still, I’m getting review copies of books sent to me.

Holy crap, people want to hear my opinion?

Man, I’ve got to tell you, that’s daunting.

See, it’s different when people send me review copies. I’ve got to call it like I see it. And I really hate the feeling of writing a negative review. I can’t help but feel bad for an author that’s slaved over their baby and put it out there…It’s like saying, “God I’m so sorry your lovechild is butt-ugly.”

Other people might feel a thrill to knock someone down a peg or two, but that’s something I feel only about people who’ve really pissed me off. And even then, I haven’t kicked stories by people I’ve had issues with – I’ve just passed them on as per usual.

I know a lot of people would wonder what’s so hard about giving my opinion but even when I critique I feel this pressure on myself to be thorough and fair, to try to be encouraging where I can be while being honest.

In fact, if a well-received book isn’t working for me, I’ll usually try again, because I’m aware of the fact that sometimes, I’m tired, stressed, have been too annoyed with my own edits or whatever, and am just not in the mood and the only reason the book is falling short is because I’m in such a cantankerous state that nothing would please me.

Which is why I am very reluctant to shoot of my mouth with criticism on writing.

This is something I can't feel too casual about, and perhaps that’s what will keep me good at it – that I never lose that gut-wrenching awareness that I’m just one person with an opinion, and that even if a particular style or subgenre doesn’t work for me, it doesn’t mean the whole book is garbage.

Two review copies hit my desk recently. The Forest of Souls by Carla Banks and Rhapsody in Blood by John Morgan Wilson.

And I have to say that reviewing the book by Carla Banks has me unnerved.

Little me at home on the prairies in Canada, reviewing Danuta Reah’s book (Carla Banks is a pseudonym). Not because I got it in my head to do it, but because it was sent to me.

I’m simultaneously honoured and baffled.

Just a few months ago, someone did a critique on a piece of writing and asked me if I agreed with their views. And I said, “What difference does it make what I think?”

I am, after all, only one person with an opinion. But perhaps because I know what it is to slave over my own creation, to put pen to paper and try to breathe life into the characters and make the story engaging, I am aware of the skill it takes just to complete a manuscript.

Never mind publish it.

Recently, Val McDermid said something about reviews (her second comment down on the thread) that really gave me a different way to look at them. I will always be mindful of not wanting to just write a trash review for the sake of being critical and trying to show off how smart and insightful I am.

But I will also bear in mind that a balanced review can be of value to an author, especially given in the right spirit, which is with the goal that should be every author’s – to help them find ways to write an even better book.

Because in this business, there will always be room for improvement. There will always be a new goal to strive for.

And I’m going to see my job as being two-fold – to help readers identify who the book is best suited for, and to try to point the author in the direction that will take their work to the next level.

Which sounds awfully arrogant of me to say.

As though I have all the answers.

What do you guys think of reviews? Do you pay attention to them? Some of them?
How do you choose which books you read?

Thank God – A Joke!
One afternoon a lawyer was riding in his limousine when he saw two men along the roadside eating grass.

Disturbed, he ordered his driver to stop and he got out to investigate.

He asked one man, "Why are you eating grass?"

"We don't have any money for food," the poor man replied. "We have to eat grass."

"Well, then, you can come with me to my house and I'll feed you" the lawyer said.

"But sir, I have a wife and two children with me. They are over there, under that tree."

"Bring them along" the lawyer replied. Turning to the other poor man he stated, "You come with us also."

The second man, in a pitiful voice then said, "But sir, I also have a wife and SIX children with me!"

"Bring them all, as well," the lawyer answered.

They all entered the car, which was no easy task, even for a car as large as the limousine was.

Once underway, one of the poor fellows turned to the lawyer and said, "Sir, you are too kind. Thank you for taking all of us with you."

The lawyer replied, "Glad to do it. You'll really love my place.

The grass is almost a foot high."

Lazy Sunday

"What the hell do you think you're doing? You know, if I was that old I'd be in a hurry to get everywhere because I'd be afraid of dying en route. Stupid idiot! Oh, you little bitch. Get the fuck out of my way! Oh let me guess. Saskatchewan. I know you've never seen a hill or a curve before but really. See? See that? Should be allowed to pull 'im over, take his license away and beat on him..."

Survived another road trip with evilkev.

We've been doing the road trip thing for over 7 years now. This one wasn't a real road trip. Just a few hours north to Red Deer to meet up with FIL, or Papa Smurf, as Kevin calls him.

A few weeks ago we went to meet up with MIL, and there was a big fire. So, what happens this time?

Chicken truck takes the highway exit too fast and gives new meaning to the idea of drive-through dinner. Knocked the guard rail a good 20 feet off the side of the road deep into the ditch.

Blood and feathers. Yum.

I think we're bad for Red Deer, and I'm convinced that it's a sign we shouldn't go there again soon.

And what are all of you lovelies up to this weekend? I'm replanning my day, since I had the best of intentions. Yep, I was going to start the yard work, but the earth hasn't seen this much rain since the days of Noah.

To All My Online Friends:

My heartfelt appreciation goes out to all of you who have taken the time and trouble to send me "forwards" over the past 12 months. Thank you for making me feel safe, secure, blessed, and wealthy.

Extra thanks to whoever sent me the one about rat crap in the glue on envelopes 'cause I now have to go get a wet towel every time I need to seal an envelope.

Also, I scrub the top of every can I open for the same reason.

Because of your concern I no longer drink Coca Cola because it can remove toilet stains.

I no longer drink Pepsi or Dr Pepper since the people who make these roducts are atheists who refuse to put "Under God" on their cans.

I no longer use Saran wrap in the microwave because it causes cancer.

I no longer check the coin return on pay phones because I could be  pricked with a needle infected with AIDS.

I no longer use cancer-causing deodorants even though I smell like a  water buffalo on a hot day.

I no longer go to shopping malls because someone might drug me with a perfume sample and rob me.

I no longer receive packages from nor send packages by UPS or FedEx since they are actually Al Qaeda in disguise.

I no longer answer the phone because someone will ask me to dial a number for which I will get a phone bill with calls to Jamaica, Uganda, Singapore, and Uzbekistan.

I no longer eat KFC because their "chickens" are actually horrible mutant freaks with no eyes or feathers.

I no longer have any sneakers -- but that will change once I receive my free replacement pair from Nike.

I no longer have to buy expensive cookies from Neiman Marcus since I now have their recipe.

I no longer worry about my soul because at last count I have 363,214 angels looking out for me.

Thanks to you, I have learned that God only answers my prayers if I forward an e-mail to seven of my friends and make a wish within five minutes.

I no longer have any savings because I gave it to a sick girl who is about to die in the hospital (for the 1,387,258th time)

I no longer have any money at all - but that will change once I receive the $15,000 that Microsoft and AOL are sending me for participating in their special email program.

Yes, I want to thank you so much for looking out for me that I will now return the favor!

If you don't send this as an e-mail to at least 144,000 people in the next 7 minutes, a large pigeon with a wicked case of diarrhea will land on your  head at 5:00 PM (CDT) this afternoon. I know this will occur because it actually happened to a friend of my next-door neighbor's ex-mother-in-law's second husband's cousin's beautician.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Babes, Beefcakes, Blood and Somebody Spank Me. Please.

Writers, start your pencils
Beefcakes, Babes & Blood - this short story competition from MystericalE, has a submission deadline of May 15 so get writing!

Check out their website and submission guidelines for more details. This contest looks to be right up Trace’s alley.

Yesterday, blogging art connoisseur Lisa posted a link to The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam. Check it out! Made me smile.

The sensational JT Ellison’s story placed in a short fiction competition – congrats JT!

JD Rhoades Needs Your Help to Fulfill a Sexual Fantasy!
How could I forget to post a note about helping one poor man live his sexual fantasy? Run right over and click on the link.

In The News
Between a 12-year-old girl being charged, along with her 23-year-old boyfriend, for killing her parents and 10-year-old brother and now another 12-year-old girl being charged for setting a woman on fire, it’s been one wild news week in Canada. And one of those dramas played out not so very far from here.

But we’re really nice and there’s no crime here. So no need to set crime fiction in Canada. Who would believe we’re capable?

Somebody Spank Me
Woman spanked by her employer gets $500,000 in compensation. Anyone want to hire me and grab a paddle?

Okay, okay, not to mock her very legitimate complaint. But half a million bucks? Wow.

Another child’s letter to God Posted by someone who's enduring SNOW the past two weekends.

Friday, April 28, 2006

All my moments in the sun

Fucked Again has gotten a Highly Recommended from Bardawill and a pledge to pay cold hard cash for anything else I write involving the Scottish Mob.

And, in really surprising news, I've been referred to as a Lady of Glamour.

My posts still don't seem to show up on Crimespot, though.

Guess I'll have to drop the glamour act and just go trampy and dig out the nude photos.

It's just so damn hard keeping some men happy.

Stop, Thief! Get Your Own Damn Brain!

There’s been a lot of talk about plagiarism and fanfic abuse lately, and this won’t be a complete rehash of those topics, but they made me think about my own stupidity when I decided to write a mystery.

I thought it would be a bad idea to read too many, in case I discovered someone had already used a similar idea. At least if I hadn’t read it, I could pass a lie detector test and swear up and down that the idea really was mine.

It was a ridiculous, narrow way to think. In truth, there are only 6 or 7 stories, and everything is a variation off of them in some fashion. But I’m not dismissing creative theft.

It seems that every time someone comes up with a “revolutionary new idea” someone else accuses them of stealing the idea. While it’s also true that much of the time, the accusations are based on someone just trying to cash in, the writing world has been rocked repeatedly this year by scandal. Ch-ching. Authors have become a lawyer’s wet dream.

I’ve seen this on the small scale, too. When two people meet, one with a manuscript at home, one with a book just being launched, and their characters have the same name, live in the same small town, the murder isn’t identical but the victims could be twins separated at birth…

And though they both know they’ve never met each other before, both are suspicious.

In fact, it was part of the reason a writer’s group I know someone from stopped reading sample pages of new member’s work – accusations of idea theft.

Idea theft is serious, as is plagiarism. I got two bits of advice early on:

1. Don’t talk your ideas to death. Over-discussing a project in the works can lead to confusion, and it can also lead to inspiration – for someone else.
2. Don’t show your work to just anyone.

Both bits of advice came from an author, and I took them seriously. I won’t show wip’s indiscriminately. This is also part of the reason I have very little up about Ashes and Embers and nothing up about Past Transgression on my website. Are both manuscripts written? Yes. Am I talking about them? No. One person has seen A&E. Nobody has seen PT. Well, not counting evilkev.

It’s me on my little soap box for the day, asking simply this: If people think they can copy published works and not get caught, then why do people think their wip’s aren’t at risk of theft if they’re published in whole or in part on the internet?

Right, that’s me, off the soap box. And leaving you all with a Friday Funny. This joke came from Bonnie, who doesn’t dare post it on her site because she really is pure and good (what the hell’re you doing hangin’ round here, Bonnie?), but routinely puts up great jokes there to enjoy. Thanks for sending this one my way Bonnie! And if you’d like to see Bonnie’s walk on the wild side, read her comment here - I spit gin tonic all over the monitor, and I don't give that up easily!

The Horse and Chicken

On the farm lived a chicken and a horse, both of whom loved to play together. One day, the two were playing, when the horse fell into a bog and began to sink. Scared for his life, the horse whinnied for the chicken to go get the farmer for help! Off the chicken ran, back to the farm.

Arriving at the farm, he searched and searched for the farmer, but to no avail, for he had gone to town with the only tractor. Running around, the chicken spied the farmer's new Harley. Finding the keys in the ignition, the chicken sped off with a length of rope hoping he still had time to save his friend's life.

Back at the bog, the horse was surprised, but happy, to see the chicken arrive on the shiny Harley, and he managed to get a hold of the loop of rope the chicken tossed to him. After tying the other end to the rear bumper of the farmer's bike, the chicken then drove slowly forward and, with the aid of the powerful bike, rescued the horse! Happy and proud, the chicken rode the Harley back to the farmhouse, and the farmer was none the wiser when he returned.

The friendship between the two animals was cemented: Best Buddies, Best Pals.

A few weeks later, the chicken fell into a mud pit, and soon, he too, began to sink and cried out to the horse to save his life. The horse thought a moment, walked over, and straddled the large puddle. Looking underneath, he told the chicken to grab his hangy-down thing and he could then lift him out of the pit. The chicken got a good grip, and the horse pulled him up and out, saving his life.

The moral of the story? (Yes, there's a moral!)

"When You're Hung Like A Horse, You Don't Need A Harley To Pick Up Chicks!"

And now, I'm running off to check out JT Ellison's post for the day.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Marketing Degree Came From a Crackerjack Box

New writer, just starting out? Word is, by the time you’re old enough to know everything, you’ll be senile but until then, you should just keep your mouth shut.

Where’s this coming from? NOT me. But it is an opinion amalgamated from several sources. There’s no one right way to market yourself or a book, but it seems that if you have three, two, one or zero books out and have any opinion at all, you get accused of standing on your soap box, saying that you’ve cornered the market on the best approach.

Anyone that’s read my blog certainly knows I don’t maintain I have all the answers. If you’re looking for the voice of reason, I don’t know how you wound up here!

But I find it…baffling to be slapped down by people, some of whom assert themselves with the credential of having published numerous books*, the inference being that since my first one isn’t out yet, uppity youngster still wet behind the ears that I am, I should just shush and sit in the corner.

There’s a long list of people who’ve attempted to put me in place, especially since I got my book deal. First thing, right off, people telling me I got lucky, that lots of better writers didn’t have deals, that I shouldn’t take the deal…

The old ego-insecurity thing goes into overdrive when a new girl starts working the corner, all the other working girls letting her know she’s the bottom bitch.^

This week JA Konrath posted in his comments section (near the bottom) about talking to an author who didn’t understand how to market - (Him is the other author – ‘ME’ is JA Konrath)

”Me: Do you do a lot of promotion?

Him: No. My publisher doesn't tour me. They rarely even buy ads. They don't do anything.

Me: My publisher didn't tour me for my last book, but I visited a hundred bookstores, a dozen conferences, and many libraries.

Him: That's insane. That's not your job. It's your publishers job to sell your books.

Me: (have to pause the conversation to sign books for three fans) But don't you think that you have a responsibility to help your publisher sell books?

Him: I'm here, aren't I? I could be home writing.

(Then someone came up to him with a hardcover of one of his early novels. This person was obviously excited to meet him. This is what Mr. Sci-Fi said, no joke)

Him: No personalization. I don't do that. You're lucky I'm signing this at all, because I hate autographing books.

(The fan looked like he'd been shot in the stomach...)”

As Joe said in the comment, this writer had been in the business for 30 years and had published a dozen books. Clearly, just because you’ve published a lot of books it doesn’t mean you know jack shit about marketing.

What have I been told is foolish? To name a few things:
- being published in an ezine
- critiquing
- blogging
- having a website
- replying to emails from people asking about my book
- working for an ezine
- writing for free
- not reading reviews

I don’t believe there is one right formula for self promotion. Having said that, I also don’t believe that the number of books you have out makes you any more or less qualified to offer opinions on marketing. Plenty of people write popular advertisements who've never written a book. Think about whoever marketed Pokemon...I hate them, but they're good.

Using the logic that if you don’t have 10+ books out you don’t know about marketing is simplistic, at best. Mark Billingham only has four books out in the US, and he’s an international bestseller. Maybe next we should qualify the experienced with a right to an opinion to those who sell six figures worth of a single book.

My aim here isn’t to attack, it’s actually to defend. New writers, new authors looking at having their first book come out, they’re trying to find their own way. Some won’t be doing a lot of book signings because they live in Timbuktu. Some won’t be able to make it to conferences because they have to keep the day job to pay the bills.

Some of us choose blogging, websites, as one way of communicating with people.

For me, it’s part of the package. I get frustrated if an author doesn’t have a website and I can’t find out the order of books (why oh why can’t lists all be oldest to newest so I have a clue when I’m looking at a new author?) or when they’re supposed to be coming on tour and I can’t find any information about the dates. So, I have a website.

Someone writes me and asks when the book will be out, you better believe I take the time to answer them personally. Writing for free? Maybe, but worth it. I’d move heaven and earth for the authors who wrote to me before I got my book deal if I could.

Nobody would be emailing me about the book at this point if it wasn’t for the website and blog. And I’ve gotten emails from people for the ezine publications as well, people who say they want to read my book now.

A waste of time? Again, I think not. As far as I'm concerned, every time people see my name out there, that's one more exposure. "She's a writer." I know how it is for me - I keep hearing about somebody, sooner or later I'm going to check out their stuff.

I plan to do signings. I’m self-funding my trips to Harrogate and Bouchercon. I’m invested in promoting my book, in person and on the internet, and however else I can. That’s part of my job. A year from now, I might have some opinions about what worked best in the first year, but for now, I know I’m getting email off the blog. And potential interest from people who’ve asked about the book. A year from now, maybe I’ll say the blog generates the fewest sales.

But I don’t care, because it’s a helluva lot of fun, and you all make it worthwhile.

My harshest criticism has been for my involvement with Spinetingler. I can only shake my head in amazement. I get emails from authors of international best-sellers, referencing the magazine. Simon Kernick, Mark Billingham, Cornelia Read, Laura Lippman, Duane Swierczynski– not one of these authors blew off an interview request. Every author whose work I’ve reviewed has commented to me on it.

These are people who seem, like me, to think that every avenue of promotion you get helps. That nothing should be dismissed out of hand.


I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on promotion. Not just writers. What works for you? What turns you off? Clever marketing strategies you think really worked well?

I’m a bit frustrated by all of this, honestly, because my husband and I have devoted so much of our free time and money to Spinetingler. We do it to promote emerging and established authors. We’ve published a 17-year-old Canadian girl, and we’re publishing short stories by authors. The line-up so far for Summer, Canadian Issue and Fall is amazing.

And more than that, we do author interviews and profiles. Reviews. We’re amassing a huge review site that people contribute to. We’ve offered to put up links for any author who wants them – our free time invested, as well as the editors who invest so much energy in helping us with each issue.

So many great people have encouraged us and applauded our efforts.

And others have called us idiots.

Are we fools? Should we chuck it in and kick ourselves for wasting our time?

No. We generate thousands of downloads each issue. We have more submissions than we could hope to take. People are sending me arc’s and review copies of books and asking if I’ll consider doing an interview. I used to just be really picky and muster courage to ask whoever I was reading at the time or knew.

And a year ago, nobody had heard of me. Not like I’m anybody special or anything. Just a booklover who will shamelessly promote her favourite authors as long as anyone’s around to listen, who also happens to be about to put her first book out there for the vultures to shred.

So, what do you think? Is online marketing pointless?

I’m still pretty firmly of the belief that this is a wonderful way to communicate with other authors, with readers, and for me, it’s been great.

Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark: you know what you are doing, but nobody else does. - Edgar Watson Howe, American writer

*What I find particularly incredible is when I’ve never heard of the author saying this or their books. I’m not saying that to be rude. It’s simply a point – obviously something in the current marketing strategy isn’t working or I’d know who they are…right? I mean, I spend into the thousands each year on books. I love to buy books. Just got Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories and Duane’s The Wheelman, to name a few. I've added FIVE new novels, plus a research book, to my shelves in the past week. If a person makes a good impression on me, they get bumped up the reading and purchasing lists. I’m going to be ordering David Terrenoire’s book in so I can read it. My only regret is I won’t be at Thrillerfest this year to meet him.
^ This is a term for new prostitutes – they’re the bottom bitch.

Used Car Dealer
It was a small town and the patrolman was making his evening rounds. As he was checking a used car lot, he came upon two little old ladies sitting in a used car. He stopped and asked them if they were stealing the car.

They said "Heavens no, we bought it."

He said, "Then why don't you drive it away".

They said, "We can't drive.”
He said "Then why did you buy it?"

They answered, "We were told if we bought a car here, we'd get screwed, so we are just waiting.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Writing a book is like having sex...

...All the technical explanations in the world can’t prepare you for the experience.

I always wanted to write a novel. I’d written some children’s books. I’d written plenty of articles, even a few short stories.

But nothing matched that compulsion to author a novel. No matter how happy I was writing, that was what I really wanted to do.

I decided to give it a try. Followed the instructions from a book on novel writing to the letter – plotted out the story, did character profiles, yaddi yadda. Wrote the first 80 pages or so, convinced myself it was crap and quit.

First mistake. I decided to try.

Second mistake. Following instructions from a book. More on this later.

Third mistake. Listened to my doubts and chucked it in.

Well, the third mistake might have actually saved the thing, because I’m convinced my second mistake doomed the project to failure.

A year later, I found those 80 pages. We’d moved. I’d lost the outlines and everything else. Thankfully.

I realized those pages weren’t complete crap. I wasn’t sure where the story went now, I couldn’t remember. But the pages had potential.

So, this time, I made a decision, to finish this book, let the characters tell me who they were, and not worry about good, bad or whatever. Just finish the book.

And when I did, I became a novelist.

That’s how I wrote Suspicious Circumstances. Of course, I’ve since shredded it a few times, and it still has huge room for improvement. But the bottom line is, I wouldn’t have a deal today if I hadn’t decided to finish that book.

I cut my teeth on it. Oh, yes, there were some horrendous juvenile mistakes. Some pathetic writing. Some weak characterization. Thankfully, I’ve got time to go over it again, with a pro, and hopefully fix any lingering errors.

We’ve all heard the saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And in writing, that’s really true.

But it’s also true that writing a novel isn’t a technical exercise. Part of it comes down to instinct, to being able to listen to your gut, to knowing when moving a certain way or using a specific tactic will please the reader and make for a more memorable experience.

There are some things about novel writing that can’t easily be taught. They can only be truly comprehended through experience.

The bottom line, for me, is that there are no magic formulas. I think we fall into the trap of believing if we just do everything the same way someone else did, we’ll succeed.

Which is ridiculous. I can wear a nice suit, stand on a stage, tell jokes and look stupid, and people still won’t treat me like Seinfeld. I lack the spark he’s got that engages people. It isn’t me. It isn’t in me to do that.

This is one of the reasons that I love interviewing authors. I can ask them how they approach writing, plotting, whatever. And no two answer quite the same. It’s different for everyone. Everyone has to find their own path, their own way, and trust their instincts instead of trying to conform to how someone else is doing it.

I’m not big on formulas. It is true that doing certain things can improve the odds, but at the end of the day, it’s still you, the muse and your keyboard or notepad. And no matter how many people tell you to do it this way or that way or try this move, it’s all worthless advice if none of it works for you.

Question for the writers. How do you guys plot your books? Fly by the seat of your pants? Distant Shores method? Driving at night? Complete roadmap with trip planner in hand before word one?

Or if you prefer, you can try to prove me wrong about technical books on sex.

And don't forget! Pseudo-stalker* Cornelia Read will be penning her first blog post today as part of Naked Authors. Make sure you drop by and ask to see her goodies.

On a Sears hairdryer -- Do not use while sleeping.

On a bag of Fritos -- You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.
(The shoplifter special?)

On a bar of Dial soap -- "Directions: Use like regular soap." (And that would be…?)

On some Swanson frozen dinners -- "Serving suggestion: Defrost." (But it's just a suggestion.)

On Tesco's Tiramisu dessert (printed on bottom) -- "Do not turn upside down." (Well...duh, a bit late, huh!)

On Marks &Spencer Bread Pudding -- "Product will be hot after heating." (Really?)

On packaging for a Rowenta iron -- "Do not iron clothes on body."

On Boot's Children Cough Medicine -- "Do not drive a car or operate machinery after taking this medication." (We could do a lot to reduce the rate of construction accidents if we could just get those 5 year-olds with head-colds off those bulldozers.)

On Nytol Sleep Aid -- "Warning: May cause drowsiness." (I'm taking this because…?)

On most brands of Christmas lights -- "For indoor or outdoor use only." (As opposed to…?)

On a Japanese food processor -- "Not to be used for the other use." (The other use? C’mon, tell me more!)

On Sainsbury's peanuts -- "Warning: contains nuts." (Talk about a news flash)

On an American Airlines packet of nuts -- "Instructions: Open packet, eat nuts."

On a child's Superman costume -- "Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly."

On a Swedish chainsaw -- "Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands or genitals."
(Got that fellas?)

* Pseudo-stalker, lurker. Tomato, tomahto.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Take 237 and counting

I remember the first real critique I got. I didn’t write new material for days.

It took time to process it, to decide if I was going to be a self-righteous jackass or a serious writer.

It wasn’t even a bad critique. The critiquer – a professional, by the way, a published author – had good things to say. The writing wasn’t the problem. It was the structure of information in the story. She pointed out things I did well, even things she said I did extremely well.

Feedback can be hard to swallow. It’s like handing over your newborn baby to the doctors for inspection – all you want is your baby back and to be told everything is great.* And one of the reasons we don’t like critiques is that we’re struggling already with our own self doubt and self criticism. We really want our egos stroked – we don’t want our fears validated. But once your baby is published, it’s out there for the world to see. You can’t undo mistakes. Your last chance to fancy yourself up before the prom has come and gone and if the lipstick’s too thick and bright and the make-up gaudy and the dress trampy, well, then you’re the prom ho this year.

Editing, critiquing – these aren’t dirty words. These are the chances you get to review everything you’ve worked so hard for and make sure it’s perfect.

I’d much prefer someone tell me in an edit that I made a mistake than to see it when I’m skimming the hard copy of my finished book.

I was looking over something I wrote months ago, making notes. All those lines, squiggles, inserted words? Those are my notes. Things I want to change. Almost every page I’ve read so far looks like that.

Thank God!

Why, you say? Because it means I learned something in the past few months. It means I can step back objectively from my stuff and see room for improvement.

Authors struggle with hitting the wall of self doubt, no matter how many books they’ve written.

That’s one of the reasons I read author blogs. The refreshing honesty balanced by insight from people who really know what they’re talking about is a godsend, because when you begin this publishing journey it’s pretty scary.

And the minute you get somewhere in your career, all sorts of weird stuff starts happening. Which will be the subject of another blog post some other day, I’m sure.**

But this is why I don’t prop myself up as the voice of knowledge about publishing, because I’m still muddling my way through, still learning, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I still will make mistakes. Routinely, I find the people who assert they know it all often know the least. Listen to the people who’ve been there, not the people who’ve never gone through the process, or – like me – are just starting the journey. At the end of the day, all I’ve got is my experience and my advice, which people can take or leave. And do routinely. It’s the people with 1,2,3,10 books under their belt that actually know this business.

If you go here and click to view the original post, you can read Miss Snark’s recent comments about editing. She talks about sending your work out to get it marked up to be ready for submission, to be ready for acceptance.

Great advice that everyone should take seriously. Even those of us with book deals.


There have been a few occasions when I submitted short work and there was no editing process. I found out after it was published that it was published. That was hard for me to take, as a former journalist. I was used to getting back copy covered in red ink, and then having one more chance to tweak in the production phase.

What have I learned? When you submit your work, you’d best make sure it’s ready.

Now I’ve got friends that are authors I can turn to. And do turn to, shamelessly. I signed my deal and recruited 7 professionals to read the manuscript. It’s interesting hearing back from them, because they don’t all catch the same things, and that’s wonderful. That’s why I’m glad there are 7 of them. Different people have different writing pet peeves, different styles, different experience, and they all push me to make this a better book.

I’m grateful there are people with more experience, with more talent than I that are willing to share their insights with me. I admire the hell out of them, because they’ve proven themselves not only talented professionals, but generous people.

There are those that seem to feel the way to make them feel better about themselves is to kick others that are “ahead” of them in the game. I experienced that with my former writer’s group. I’ve seen it happen to others.

But that isn’t how I feel. I’m just honoured that I get to run with the pack. It doesn’t matter if I finish in the top 100 or the bottom 100 – when my book is published, I’ll have crossed the first line.

Right now I could name several authors in a heartbeat, each struggling with deadlines, with the muse, with major life stuff that’s impeding their writing. I wish I could carry their burdens for them. Each one has helped me so much, so selflessly, and I feel for them. I want the best for them in their lives and their careers.

A lot of people start out on this journey, and only they know deep down why they’re in the game. I’m here because I love to write. Storytelling is a compulsion, a passion.

I started with the goal to get published. Not self-published, but to have someone else believe in the merit of my work enough to invest in it.

That’s validation.

There will be other goals later. But this is the first major milestone on my journey.

And a big part of the reason I’ve made it this far is because I listened to the person who told me I could do better, instead of throwing a hissy fit, tucking my tail between my legs and running off, sulking, making up excuses for not writing. I licked my wounds for 30 days, and then I grew up.

Think of it this way. When I worked with children, some days I lost my temper. Some days, I was just tired of the discipline routine. There were days I didn’t give 100%.

But the only days I didn’t get paid for were the ones I didn’t work.

That doesn’t mean it’s okay to slack off on the clock – please don’t misconstrue my meaning. But there were also days I’d try a strategy with a child and it wouldn’t work. I’d assess it, take it to the team (a speech pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, certified teacher, and program facilitator – all educated professionals). We’d discuss it and come up with another strategy to try, then assess the results… That’s the way it went. There was no formula. No absolute certainty that even the plan devised by the professionals would be foolproof.

And if there’s room for improvement in every other job, why would I seriously think everything I write, first draft, is flawless?

It isn’t. My blog posts prove it, but on the average day I can’t be bothered going over them, because this is just me chatting with the world. I’ll spend my time and energy rewriting what’s really important.

I’m realistic enough to know that not everyone will like it. Thank God there are so many different styles of books to meet different tastes. Nothing wrong with that. We find what we like and enjoy it.

But I can at least give people no structural cause for complaint. That the craft is there, the writing is solid, etc. The story might not be for you, and that’s cool. Yours might not be for me either.

For now, I’m taking every last opportunity to re-read my work before it’s set in stone. And shamelessly taking all the advice I get from people who have been so good to me.

Hopefully I can pass on what I learn to others and cheer their accomplishments in time, as well.

My question to you: What was the best advice, or the hardest criticism, you got that later helped you really grow as a person or artist?

Or, you know, we can just talk about the usual. I’m easy.

* Author John Connolly made this observation on his blog, which was down when I was typing this originally. Hence not finishing this post yesterday when I started it. But I’ve re-written it and John’s angle on the baby analogy is a bit different - still worth the read, though.

** Though I’d like to say to those who’ve attacked me that I hope it goes better for you when you’re in my shoes. Truly, because nothing sucks more than being alienated routinely, and when you express frustration over that, you’re the naughty one. It’s a no-man’s land, not yet published but no longer “just” aspiring (as others have put it). You don’t really belong anywhere. I feel more alone now than ever before in this journey, which is really, truly sad. Every sincere good intention is judged, every time you defend yourself you’re unreasonable – it’s so easy to blame someone who must just be getting too big for their britches…

Truth is, I’ve never been so scared, thinking about putting my book out there. Letting go of my baby - a baby I was convinced would never be published.

I wouldn’t wish this petty bullshit on anyone. But I’m also not going to keep bending over for the same people to kick me some more. Life’s too short. Their energy is better spent getting their own publishing deal. Shame they waste it on me.

Monday, April 24, 2006

I'm not a very funny person...

I bought a used sense of humour through the bargain finder, and I'm not sure it works most days.

But Terrenoire had me gasping for air and crying like a baby.

And that while he was still behaving.

Right, real post below. But I have to wave a flag and send everyone to read this. Too fuckin' funny.

Satanic sputterings

There are 3 things about JA Konrath that I like.

1. He lives far away from me.

2. He thankfully keeps his face covered with a pitchfork

3. He says stupid stuff on his blog I can ridicule

That Joe, he’s an endless source of amusement.

I managed to hijack his latest blog post, about how hard it is for publishers to make any money. How, you ask?

By posing a legitimate question about whether or not a publisher would see a higher return if they doubled the piddly amount they allot for promotion. Out of a $36,000 launch budget (not including publisher staff costs) a measly $1900 is allotted to ads and promotion, and $300 to galleys. $1900 is approximately 5% of the total initial investment.

The model goes on to show how the publisher doesn’t make money because not enough books are sold. Well, duh. Yeah, if you don’t sell books, you won’t make money. That’s a no-brainer.

But what I said I’d like to see is some cost comparisons for what the returns are if that promotion budget is doubled, for example.

And in typical stick a pitchfork up your butt and screw with you fashion Konrath has been mocking my points in his comments.

What I don’t get is, Joe has often said you should reinvest your advance, that authors should self-promote. Okay. But now he’s mocking me when I suggest publishers should assess how much their promotion budgets are if they want to see a return.

If there isn’t a return for investing extra energy and resources into promotion, why should authors shoulder that expense to earn nothing? They shouldn’t. I’m not saying publishers should throw caution to the wind. They should show discretion.

But a business is a business. I grew up in a home that served the dual purpose as headquarters for the family business. I was answering business calls when I was 8. If there was one thing we understood in our house, it was that you had to work to build a business.

And you had to advertise. Simply put, you needed to be seen. Need an electrician, don’t know one? Who do you call?

You check the yellow pages.

Which is why A.D.A.M. Electrical replaced the original name of Ruttan Contracting – using the initials for Arden Douglas and Annie May put them at the top of the yellow pages listings. Did it cost money to change the name? Yep. New stationary, business cards, signs, lettering on the business trucks. Plus the advertising costs.

Was it worth it? 25 years and still in operation, still turning a profit. You tell me?

Bottom line is, nobody will buy your book if they haven’t heard of it. We can debate all day what the best ways are to reach people.

Have I ever just picked up a book off the shelf, read the back and bought it? Yes. Ian Rankin, The Falls, for example.

Have I bought books off of author referral? Yes. Val McDermid, The Wire in the Blood. To name one Joe. Have I bought books I’ve heard about over the radio? Yes, I have. Advertisements? Not exclusively, no. Reviews, yeah, but not for ages.

Bottom line is, to hire a web designer, register a domain and secure half-decent web hosting costs on average $500 US. A really fancy site with lots of graphic design work costs even more. When my husband (a business analyst and software developer by day) designs them for businesses, the costs soar into the thousands.

That’s a quarter of that promotion budget, right there. Then you’re supposed to go out and meet booksellers, do signings, all of which cost gas money at least, sometimes hotel, sometimes plane costs. There are phone calls and business cards to consider.

We haven’t even touched the cost of going to conferences like BoucherCon.

In other words, that money is gone in the blink of an eye. Not to mention that it actually costs money for shipping to send out arc copies to get the Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus reviews, as well as others.

It’s true it’s very hard for publishers to make money. It’s hard for authors to make money too. In a perfect world, it would be easier. Good books – the really good books – would sell by the hundreds of thousands and bad books wouldn’t be made into movies.

It isn’t a perfect world.

We need to invest time, money and energy in promotion. We also need to look at the long haul. It can take 3,4,5 books to grow a series.

Just look at Ian Rankin. An “overnight success” on book 10 of the Rebus series. Years of thinking he’d be dropped by his publisher for failing to deliver more than tens of thousands of sales.

And now he sells millions worldwide.

If publishers and agents want to see more Rankin’s make it to that level, it takes faith and commitment.

And if writers want to get there, they have to work their ass off too.

We’re all in this together.

Big blogging news! Naked Authors have joined the blogsphere!

And Tarquini’s trying to re-write a quote from me, shamelessly! Lies! Slander! Perjury! Okay, maybe not perjury, but still. She should be handcuffed and spanked – where is Rickards when you need him?
Deleting comments I made on his blog, apparently. It was there earlier. Didn’t want me showing him up over the horsefucking thing, no doubt.

And the real three things I like about Joe?*

1. He’s committed to giving advice to aspiring authors.
2. He works like hell to sell his books.
3. He may be wrong, but he’s never dull.

* There might be others, but I’m not publicly admitting to them.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

for authors who want links, etc.

In my earlier post, I forgot to mention my good bookshopping day! Duane Swierczynski, the Pole With Soul has graced my shelves with The Wheelman - wahoo! Only looked in three bookstores to find this one! Also managed Kate Atkinson's Case Histories - part of my pre-Harrogate reading.

Unfortunately, all reading has a wee little delay as I work on the next Spinetingler - which, by the way, has had a complete site facelift and I keep forgetting to mention that! So check it out. There's a bonus interview, a new article will be going up soon, and I'm still working on adding author links to the review site and main site SO if you're an author and want a link, email me.

And for those that need a smile, Bonnie has a funny joke up in her Saturday post - the second one.

Read on if you want to experience my latest little rant. Have a good one!

Set to Burn

It should be legal to kill some people. Like neighbors from hell.

The first place Kevin and I lived after we got married was pretty good, except for the partiers upstairs. They dropped a guest’s keys over the balcony – the idea being to stop him from finding them in his drunken state in the bush below, I guess. They landed on our balcony, so instead of hearing them run around, yelling and partying, we got to hear people banging on our doors. Jerks.

For those of you who’ve read my latest short story Twitch’s apartment is my old abode. I deliberately picked the place in New Westminster because it was one of those weird places where the bizarre clashed with normality. I used to get headaches from second hand smoke from joints. Plus there were the neighbors across the street. They’d get into it and start throwing furniture off the balcony. Then the cops would come. We had one of only two suites built on the roof of this building, with gorgeous views, and huge patios. We could stand out there with our closet neighbors (friends Steve and Alison) and watch the fun. Better than Springer and free.

Of course, there was the old man across the street with diabetes who used to drink himself into the hospital, and then we could watch Steve respond to the call in his uniform, glaring at all the spectators getting in their way…

Yes, neighbors can be cheap entertainment at times. But they can also be a royal pain in the ass. Just ask Mr. Van Wormer.

“Joseph Sybille in First Colony, Texas, pounded his neighbor with a shovel in 1996 after years of arguing over every blade of grass and drop of water that crossed "enemy" lines. His neighbor, Charles Van Wormer, suffered a minor concussion.”*

The Japanese don’t mess around with this – a woman gets a one year sentence in jail for playing loud music.

Oh, if only.

And this complaint. “We are trying to put a fence up because of our rude neighbors who think they can drive their vehicles through our backyard. They let their boy ride his bike and play there anytime...”*

Now, let the rant really begin!

Last night I was filling up a water bottle and glanced out the window. Across the street I could see the flames shooting up over the hedges, which are about 5 feet high. When you’re 5’4, you can get a pretty good read on heights in that range, especially when you walk by them all the time.

I went into the living room and asked Kevin if he was going to do his civic duty. Problem is, technically, the chief is responsible for fire bylaw enforcement and he wasn’t home. All the officers were unreachable or too busy adjusting their asshats.

So, where did that leave us? Well, wondering what to do.

Technically, Kevin’s done the training but is one formal piece of paper shy of having the authority to take action. All we could do was watch and hope it didn’t get out of control. Not likely, since if had snowed, but still.

To me, that wasn’t even the point. It gets dry here in the summers – bone dry. We get lots of fires, and these are new neighbors that just moved here. Kevin and I have one of the most-treed properties in town. Fire is a legitimate concern, and this guy’s fire was not only above the metal grating, but also closer than the required 15 feet to both his garage and his hedges.

Where the hell is his brain? On vacation? Or is he a medical miracle, born without one?

It isn’t just that neighbor. Our other neighbor’s have one of those freestanding stoves sitting on their back deck, not 5 feet from the edge of their house!

Of course, those would be the same neighbors that walked all the way on to my property, took a coffee table and set it up on their back deck and used it all summer when they barbecued.

Um, a coffee table that was more than 20 feet on my property, against my garage, that they should have known they didn’t buy, so they should have known they didn’t own it. Duh!

Of course, my annoyance was balanced by amusement. After all, I put the coffee table outside after our puppy had sprayed diarrhea all over it, on the underside (because the dogs had knocked it over) that isn’t treated, and the shit had seeped into the wood.

And they wondered why they had such a bad problem with flies last summer.

Of course, they also let their kids play on our yard. Even adults visiting them have walked onto our property, a good thirty feet over to where our dogs are, and, yup, approached our dogs.

I had one of my best laughs one day when I was doing dishes.

See, the kitchen is in the corner of the house. From one window, you can see the front gate, and across the street to last night’s bonfire people.

And from the other window you can see across the other road. We have another gate there, and a driveway that’s four carwidths – a two-car garage and two extra parking spaces between our house and the neighbors with our coffee table.

This kid apparently thought he’d run across from gate to gate and cut the corner.

He rounded the corner of the house and ran back in a hurry when he discovered a full-grown husky just ready to jump up and greet him.

Chinook would never intentionally hurt anyone, but seriously, this is a dog that was so excited he jumped up and broke my nose.

And what’s wrong with these kids that they have no respect for property? When I was a child you understood that if you didn’t own it, it wasn’t yours.

All of these annoyances have culminated with one revelation today.

The other day, some kids knocked down part of our fence.

Why didn’t I notice, you ask? Well, our property is 130x100 feet, and we have lots of trees. Okay, so I didn’t notice. We also have only one window – our bedroom window – that faces that side of the property. And I do tend to keep those curtains closed.

But our neighbors in the other direction, across the lane, saw it. And they didn’t do anything, except tell Kevin a few days later.

Who then waited a few days to tell me, making him officially the knucklehead of the week.

And I have decided to lurk amongst the trees with our rottweiler cross and a camera, just waiting for those little punks to come back.

The lack of respect some people have for other people’s property, even the local laws, is unbelievable.

Come on. Indulge me with your horror stories. Make me feel petty for whining about this. I mean, it isn’t really that bad. I can’t complain much about our neighbors. Okay, the theft is pretty fucking amazing.

But then, they only took a shitty coffee table.

* quote source

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Saturday Smiles

Not nearly enough people tried out the slogan generator yesterday, but James did make a comment about it that prompted me to test out his name:

“It’s a James Oswald Adventure.”

What’s wrong with that, James? Just because it infers you’re like a Disneyland theme park or an amusement ride… Ahem, moving right along to Stuart MacBride.

“Only Stuart MacBride can prevent forest fires.”

By not playing with matches to start with?

John Rickards is back after a long holiday, chasing horses and badgers around various undisclosed locations. Since I didn’t talk about him behind his back while he was gone, I thought I’d try him out today too.***

“Nothin’ says lovin’ like John Rickards from the oven.” JA Konrath? “Leaves your JA Konrath minty not mediciney.” So he’s more breath mint than lozenge?

Tribe? “Don’t get mad, get Tribe.”

After all that, I still had to try out Cornelia Read, because Cornelia will be joining the world of bloggers next week!** What did I get?

“It’s a lot less Cornelia Read than a Hoover.”

Are they suggesting Cornelia lacks suction?*

Still having some time to kill instead of mowing the lawn, I tried out the automatic flatterer. Lonely, with nobody to tell you how great you are? This is the thing for you. I got:

“Sandra Ruttan, you are one of the most talented people we know.” Why thank you.

“You are smart, intelligent and beautiful Sandra Ruttan.” Liar, but tell me more.

Of course, my online entertainment continued. I dropped by James Lincoln Warren’s excellent blog and
found something priceless that requires the sound on! (Wait for it!)

Although it does seem a bit perverse to find it funny that a guy who failed a suicide attempt with a nail gun ended up with a headache because of – you guessed it – having nails stuck in his head.

Come on guys. Try out the flatterer and tell me what you got. I showed you mine…

The Perfect Dress
Jennifer's wedding day was fast approaching.
Nothing could dampen her excitement -- not even her parents' nasty divorce. Her mother had found the PERFECT dress to wear and would be the best-dressed mother-of-the-bride ever!

A week later, Jennifer was horrified to learn that her father's new young wife had bought the exact same dress! Jennifer asked her to exchange it, but she refused. "Absolutely not. I look like a million bucks in this dress, and I'm wearing it," she replied.

Jennifer told her mother who graciously said, "Never mind sweetheart. I'll get another dress. After all, it's your special day."

A few days later, they went shopping and did find another gorgeous dress. When they stopped for lunch, Jennifer asked her mother, "Are you going to return the other dress? You really don't have another occasion where you could wear it."

Her mother just smiled and replied, "Of course I do, dear. I'm wearing it to the rehearsal dinner!"

*** Not like that, Boy Kim.

** I tried Russel D. McLean and got, “Tonight, let it be Russel D. McLean." Okay, the slogan generator has a one-track mind…

* I’m going to be spanked for this, I just know it.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Eating emails

Much to my annoyance, I've been having an email problem lately.

So, I get literal duplicates of some messages. Others, I'm not getting. And same going out. Some people aren't getting emails, they're getting them eons late, or they get them in triplicate.

I'm not sure who the lucky ones are. But suffice to say that if you sent me a businessy email that I didn't respond to within 24 hours, I didn't get it.

Now, on down to today's real post. And then yesterday's bonus post, in case you missed it. And the debate goes on about women and men and noir...

Sandra's sexy slogans, and then some

This has been a weird week. I’ve confused people over noir and tried to psychoanalyze my own bizarre reading habits. All I’ve concluded is that I’m weird, but at least I’m making a concentrated effort to branch out. I have Denise Mina, Karin Slaughter, Steve Mosby and Lesley Horton in the tbr pile. Not inferring Steve's a woman. Just that there's diversity in what I've got to look forward to.

But despite the report of one heroic cat, courtesy of Kate, I’m still not keen on cat mysteries. I like cats. I have three. But none solve crimes and they only catch flies.

You can always tell when I’m a bit bummed. I start rearranging my office or redesigning the blog. An effort to fix my internal discontent by adjusting the physical? Aw, who the hell knows?

But thanks to Rockrebel, from the Billingham Talk Zone, I have been able to find the perfect slogan for my name.

What did I get when typed “Sandra Ruttan” in the little box?

Melts In Your Sandra Ruttan, Not In Your Hand.

Evilkev tried again and got, “Have you forgotten how good Sandra Ruttan tastes?”

I wonder if the slogan machine's been reading my blog. Or if it was programmed by Boy Kim.

It should never spew out such lines just before dinner.

And in rare form, I leave you with one joke. If you need more of me, there’s a link in the post below. Or email. I like getting nice email. But then, hate mail is occasionally amusing. You can use the account for that, okay? Thanks.

Little Johnny's neighbors had a baby. Unfortunately, the baby was born without ears.

When mother and new baby came home from the hospital, Johnny's family was invited over to see the baby. Before they left their house, Little Johnny's dad had a talk with him and explained that the baby had no ears. His dad also told him that if he so much as mentioned anything about the baby's missing ears or even said the word "ears" he would get the spanking of his life when they came back home.

Little Johnny told his dad he understood completely.

When Johnny looked in the crib he said, "What a beautiful baby."

The mother said, "Why, thank you, Little Johnny."

Johnny said, "He has beautiful little feet and beautiful little hands, a cute little nose and really beautiful eyes." "Can he see?" asked Little Johnny.

"Yes," the mother replied, "we are so thankful; the Doctor said he will have 20/20 vision."

"That's great," said Little Johnny, "cuz he'd be shit outta luck if he needed glasses."

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Seriously, I thought the new Demolition issue wasn't going live until Monday, but since people are already reading it...

Time to tell me if I can do noir.

This issue includes:

Wish You Weren't Here by Sarah Weinman

In Other News by Jen Jordan

Low Drama by Kim Harrington

The Squatter byPatricia Abbott

Penzance by Aliya Whiteley

X by JT Ellison.

and the party-crasher that somehow elbowed its way into such esteemed company: Fucked Again.

Heart of Darkness

Yesterday, I asked if men do it better.

And I got some interesting responses.

Kate said: "I don't see why female crime writers would feel they had anything to prove... Historically in the UK crime fiction has been dominated by women."

Tania stated: “I probably read slightly more male authors because lately I've been dipping my reading toes into the darker end of the pool, and there are more male authors writing those kinds of books. It has to do with availability rather than any conscious effort to seek out male authors.”

Of course, the one person who stated that they liked male writers better commented via email and I don’t have consent to quote, so you have to take my word for it…

But that isn’t the point today. Besides, those of you who’ve been hanging around for a while were likely thinking (if you didn’t email me to point it out) that my tendency to get on better with guys might have something to do with problems with my mother. But I’m going to save the psychoanalysis for another day.**

I was reading Karin Slaughter’s introduction to her story in Tart Noir. She said, “I’ve always thought of noir as a male-dominated genre, not because women can’t do noir, but because the moral of these stories generally seems to be that men are basically solid, upstanding citizens until they meet the Wrong Woman. It’s a classic retelling of Adam and Eve, only with more liquor and sex… The women of classic noir were defined by the men in their lives: they were dames and broads, singled out as real lookers for their gams that wouldn’t quit. To get away from one man they would latch onto another.”

And the men are all saying bring back classic noir, right?

When I read this comment, I was surprised. I’d never thought of this as the moral of these stories. I'd never thought of noir as being about men and women.

In fact, recently I participated in a discussion about noir. Nobody even went near this idea.

It was the combination of that comment, and the fact that “who writes better crime” will be debated at Harrogate Crime Festival that got me wondering about it all. Until then, I assumed it was just me being an oddity, that for the first long while I had a hard time finding women writers I really connected with.

That’s long past. Laura Lippman is cozying up to my Rankin collection. Cornelia Read is snuggling with Stuart MacBride, and Simon Kernick rubs shoulders with Val McDermid. I just got the latest Natasha Cooper, so Steve Mosby is sandwiched between her and Denise Mina. I really want to reiterate I’m not anti-women! Even my musing about whether or not women felt they had something to prove was not intended to infer that they do have something to prove, but rather that some of them believe they have something to prove. One thing’s for sure – this will be a hell of a start of Friday morning at Harrogate!

I really do believe that noir is about stripping the hope and faith out of a person’s life, until there’s nothing left but darkness. There might even be hope there, but they can’t see it. They can’t find their way to it. They’re lost.

I don’t think it has anything to do with men or women. Cornelia Read’s debut book is being called WASP Noir. And even it isn’t completely bleak.***

Next week, you’ll be able to decide for yourself if I can do noir. One of my short stories will be wondering how the hell it managed to crash the swanky party that features such ladies of taste and talent as Sarah Weinman, Jen Jordan,
Kim Harrington, Aliya Whiteley, Patricia Abbott,
and JT Ellison.

In the mean time, I just love the challenge of fleshing out real characters of all kinds and trying to make the story come alive. Keep hoping to improve, keep setting new goals and working towards them. Sometimes I aim to write first person. Sometimes I try to write tough chick. Sometimes, the goal is to elicit one single emotion. When I write short stories in particular, this is how I do it. I have to think narrow framework, or else they start turning into novellas.

You writers – have you set any goals for yourself lately? Tried to stretch yourself in any way?

Maybe I should make a real leap and try to do romance… Speaking of which, any men that write good romance? Oh, come on, I bet we’re all thinking this is something women definitely do better!

Because I’m obsessing over the genders lately…
You may not know that many non-living things have a gender:.
For example:
1) Ziploc Bags- They are Male, because they hold everything in, but you can see right through them.

2) Copiers- They are Female, because once turned off, it takes a while to warm them up again. It's an effective reproductive device if the right buttons are pushed, but can wreak havoc if the wrong buttons are pushed.

3) Tires- Male, because they go bald and are often over-inflated.

4) Hot Air Balloon- Male, because, to get it to go anywhere, you have to light a fire under it, and of course, there's the hot air part.

5) Sponges- Female, because they're soft, squeezable and retain water.

6) Web Page- Female, because it's always getting hit on.

7) Subway- Male, because it uses the same old lines to pick people up.

8) Hourglass- Female, because over time, the weight shifts to the bottom.

9) Hammer- Male, because it hasn't changed much over the last 5,000 years, but it's handy to have around.

10) Remote Control- Female...... Ha! You thought it'd be male. But consider this - it gives a man pleasure, he'd be lost without it, and while he doesn't always know the right buttons to push, he keeps trying.

** I know some of you are wondering and I’ve been mum on the subject since I talked about what happened. I have begun to rebuild a bridge with my mother. It’s pretty surreal after 8 years, but there you have it. I’m fine, things are fine, it’s a fair start.

*** Trying to avoid spoilers of any kind…

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Amendment: Do Men Do It Better?

Who writes the best crime? Men, or women?

Friday morning. Harrogate. Val McDermid and Denise Mina take on Mark Billingham and Ian Rankin.

I can already hear the knives being sharpened.

That's the start of my post below. Comments and emails have prompted me to add two things:

It has been brought to my attention that in my post today, I have NOT explained what Harrogate is.

Harrogate, in this reference, is Harrogate Crime Festival. For more information, please visit this site.

It's been pointed out that in the world today, it's one big 'whose is bigger' contest out there, so do women really have more to prove?

I should have distinguished in my post that it is not that I think women do have more to prove - I just think some women think they do. Anyone want to debate it on the blog? That could be fun.

My opinions on those books that fell a bit short are subjective, and that's why I don't name them. Women are holding their own in what I read these days.

But I'll be looking at something different and yet sort of related tomorrow...

I really must stop writing up posts at 4 in the morning...

Do men do it better?

Who writes the best crime? Men, or women?

Friday morning. Harrogate. Val McDermid and Denise Mina take on Mark Billingham and Ian Rankin.

I can already hear the knives being sharpened.

So, who do you think writes the better crime fiction? Men, or women>

*NOTE: All photos are based on concept If women ruled the world.*

I’ve skirted around this issue a bit here, and I guess I figure I may as well dive right in. After all, if I haven’t already said something potentially offensive, then somebody must be translating my blog into “niceness” before it hits the internet, just letting me see the dummy version.

Not because I’m trying to be offensive. I just try to be honest.

In the past, I’ve had a really hard time with women crime writers.

I’d be guessing this goes back about ten years, when I was trying some different authors. Mistakenly, then, for lack of access (I lived on a Gulf Island) I’d end up buying whatever was in the grocery store or drugstore, because there was no bookstore in the town the ferry went to. So, I’d be reading whoever had profile.

And at the time, I seemed to be getting my hands on books that were mostly by women, and I never got hooked on any.

I rectified that one sunny day in the Greater Vancouver Area when I went right to the mystery section and started looking for books. I was doing the fingerspread rule – extending my pinky and thumb as far as possible in opposite directions. If an author had enough books to fill that space (typically 6) then they were in the running. Then I started reading back jackets.*

This was when I discovered Ian Rankin. Pulled down the first book off the shelf, looked at the back, and bought it. I didn’t even read the whole back. Three sentences and the decision was made.

And for a few months, I steadily added to my collection until I reached that sad day when I’d read them all.

Rankin was the first author that compelled me to be a series reader. I didn’t have that rule going in, I just wanted to find authors that were consistently delivering good books. Hence checking the backlist. If I found somebody I liked, I didn’t want to read one book and then have to look for somebody else.

I’ve gotten over that now because I’m fishing from a big pool of authors with books I love. Rankin. Stuart MacBride. Mark Billingham. Simon Kernick. John Rickards.

I bet you can guess where my preferences have been in the past. With men. Can’t help it – shameless hussy I am, I love men.

Seriously, for a while, the overwhelming majority of my reading was dominated by books by men. British men at that. I’m not going to start psychoanalyzing that peculiar quirk. In fact, I never really assessed it. All I knew as a reader was that I’d had a real hit-and-miss period with books by women, and that I was completely satisfied by men.

Now, as a writer, I’ve had to look at that, see if I can come up with a theory.

And I do have one.

You see, I read a fair number of women now. In fact, about 40-45% of my “must buy” list is now filled by women writers. Recent great reads have come from Cornelia Read, Natasha Cooper, Val McDermid,Laura Lippman.

I have to be really honest, and I know this is based strictly off experience. There will be a day, I’m sure, when I’ll read a book by a man that I hate.

It just hasn’t happened yet.

So, I wondered what made me dislike the books that had failed to reel me in, the ones written by women a few years back, the kind of writers with enough profile to make it to the promotional spots.

To be honest, I think it goes to the challenges of being a woman in modern society. Let’s face it: some women try too hard.

I’m speaking in generalities here, all-way round. But I’m not really a feminist. Not the way some people are feminists.

Every time I hear women whining about how they should be hired on fire departments just so there are women, I cringe. My friend Alison and I – we’ve talked about this. Her husband is a professional firefighter in New Westminster BC (Hi Steve! – he reads my blog at work) and my husband is a volunteer firefighter and doing all his training. He’s maintaining a 96% average on his training thus far, including his Safety Codes - congrats honey! That’s almost as high as my post-secondary average…

But I digress. Bottom line? Alison and I don’t care if the person is a man or woman – we just want the best qualified person hired. End of discussion. When my husband has to enter a burning building, I don’t want the explanation of his death to be that the woman backing him up wasn’t strong enough to pull him out so she left him.

Okay, I’m not against female firefighters or cops or anything. I’m just saying people shouldn’t be hired just because they’re women. They should be hired because they’re qualified.

Bring on the hate mail...sandra.ruttan@i-don’

I’m also not anti-women. But a good friend of mine from high school days, we were talking last night. She prefers to play poker with her husband’s friends instead of hanging with the wives. Her and I are unusual friends in that we’ve both always been better friends with guys.

We were debating why that was last night, and a lot of it has to do with the two extremes of women. Women who either push so damned hard to prove they’re every bit as good as a man, or women who are all frills, heels and glossy lipstick.

When women feel the need to prove they’re as good as a man, isn’t that because they feel they’re inadequate? Okay I know this isn’t true of all women. But generally, if you feel you have to prove something, isn’t that rooted in the belief that you’re inferior?

It isn’t about women who need to prove something, either. It’s about women who need to prove something as compared to men.

The other extreme is the girly-girls. Bottom line is, it’s wonderful there are nice, soft, delicate women out there. I’m just not one of them. My mother used to tell me not to lift weights because those were for men. Huh. And wearing pants used to be for men only, too, but thank God those days are gone!

I’ve always been a tomboy, so I think a lot of my reasons for liking certain books and not liking others are much the same as everyone else’s – it boils down to personal taste.

I’m the one who, on family trips to the mall, could be found sitting on the floor in the bookstore, reading the backs of covers, deciding how much money I had and which books to buy.

Even now, my husband is more of a “shopper” than I am. I’m good at getting gifts when I travel, but new clothes for me? Occasionally I get around to it.

So I’ve found that when a book centers on a female protagonist that likes to shop and party, I just can’t connect.

Not as easily as I can connect to a good strong man.**

In the end, what it boiled down to with some books for me was healthy balance. I can’t speculate on whether those women were trying too hard or really writing for themselves. All I know is, this is one of the wonderful things about having a wide range of books out there to choose from. There’s something that fits everyone. The people who like cat mysteries (shudder) have books they enjoy. Those who relate best to female protagonists can find them in all shapes, sizes and shopping preferences.

So, traditionally, I’ve always liked men. Still do.

But I’ve found that my earlier misses with women had more to do with who I was reading than any failing of the gender.

That being said, the boys are still slightly ahead of the women in my purchasing percentages. So, maybe I can’t say that this is because men do write better crime fiction, but that I have found more male crime writers I love.

Although Mark and Ian won’t win the debate.

I mean, be serious. What man ever wins an argument with a woman?

There is a question today. Tell me your favourite male and female writers. I’ve got my first Denise Mina on my TBR pile – really looking forward to that. Also planning on Kate Atkinson and Margaret Murphy before Harrogate. But I’ve been looking forward to reading some Al Guthrie, Peter Guttridge and John Harvey too. And then there’s the pre-BoucherCon reading – Swiercy-howerver-you-spell-it and Terrenoire…and my apologies to anyone I’ve forgotten.

Although I can see I’m going to have trouble finding these guys in Canada, because I’ve been striking out so far.

With thanks to Trace for this:

Your Theme Song is Beautiful Day by U2

"Sky falls, you feel like

It's a beautiful day

Don't let it get away"

You see the beauty in life, especially in ordinary everyday moments.

And if you're feeling down, even that seems a little beautiful too.

*If the book is paperback, I expect there to be a bit of a summary of the story on the back, or you may just lose a sale.

**Bring it on, Boy Kim. Bring it on.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Do not pass go, do not collect $200, go straight to HELL! And then figure out if you should sleep with your wife.

There are a few things in this world that convince me there is such a thing as evil. For one, telemarketers. For another, Jehovah’s Witnesses.

And the ultimate: Spammers.

Yesterday, we got this bulletin in the email:

The Word to the World is a non-denominational not for profit organization founded to give Churches and Christian Organizations the ability to put their Church Service Videos and Classes on the World Wide Web 24/7 Worldwide at extremely low cost. All videos start from the Church or Organization web site through a link we send to you. Live or Delayed, Video or Web Audio or Web…

Well, you get the idea. It came to the Spinetingler email. Not my Spinetingler email, but the email.


And some of you will notice the word verification has been on and off on my blog lately. It was keeping some commenters out, apparently, but I turn it on every now and again when blog spam gets bad.

I turned it off and I got this:
Cool site on penis enlargement surgery Check out my Penis Enlargement

Now, I haven’t been over there to check it out. Please don’t go. Don’t encourage this vulture, the guy with the blogger name “superlong”. I beg you, for a variety of reasons. I mean, we all know that guys who have to brag about it are compensating for something.

Plus, if you were that inadequate that you had to get surgery, should you really be bragging about that? It’s not like he’s a natural superlong. A wannabe who scraped up enough money so that he could look like a big boy. It’s like advertising to the world that you know you’re naturally pathetic, isn’t it?

I mean, I wouldn’t go out there bragging about breast implants. Not that I have them. I don’t have that problem. I.. oh, never mind. (Come on Boy Kim. I just know you’ve got a response for this!)

But why bring all of this up? Why draw attention to this on my blog, which is a sanctuary devoted to purity, goodness and light, solace from the pressures of the world, a haven I’ve sought to create for you all?

Because I have seen some of the most ridiculous comments made recently by authors, and they related to blogs and spam.

An author actually encouraging other authors to follow their example. They do searches on blogs and go on, comment on the blog and then introduce themselves and their book. This is how they’re marketing their work.

I stood right up and said, “NOT ON MY BLOG.”

There were strong opposing views on it, and I was shocked. I could fathom one or two people being clueless, but publishers weighing in, encouraging their authors to do this?

Let me tell you something. Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve gotten a fair bit of spam. I hate spam. If it pops up on recent, active threads, I delete it.

I’ve also gotten unsolicited emails that are form letters, actually adverts, promoting books, telling me why I should buy this book I’ve never heard of before.

I hate those people. Passionately.

Average day, I get about 200 emails. Some of it is pretty easy to filter through. Some demands my attention. Some demands a lot of my attention.

And I like to keep my plate clear instead of letting things pile up.

I love emails from friends. I love emails – don’t misunderstand. But people who decide they’re going to take my private address and force their junk in front of me?

I hate it when I walk out of a store and am bombarded by people selling stuff on the sidewalk. I hate it when people come to the door pushing their cause.

I absofuckinglutely hate telemarketers.

This one guy, he kept calling here and wouldn’t leave me alone. Every day, same time. I finally stopped answering the phone. Then one day, I did answer and he asked if my mother was home.

I said no. (It wasn’t a lie!)

So he asked me when my mother would be home.

I said I wasn’t allowed to tell strangers things like that on the phone.

Bastard finally stopped calling. Thing is, he wanted to come clean our furnace. But he didn’t believe me when I said we didn’t have one – not like he meant. We have a boiler and it doesn’t work that way…

So every day for three months, he subjected me to the ringing phone. The same conversation.


If I feel that strongly about people telemarketing and about people who go door to door, you’d better believe I’m not happy with people who spam via email and blogs, or forums.

I know I have to get used to telling people about myself and my book. That’s one thing here. But even joining listserves I never introduce myself properly. I can’t. It’s so showy. It’s so ‘in your face’. It’s so, ‘grab the microphone from the mc at the wedding reception and start telling everybody about me’. Blech.

There are things that inspire me to buy books, and they are never adverts. Interviews. People posting really intelligent things on blogs, forums or listserves. Yep – I pay attention. I decide someone’s pretty smart, and I want to get their book.

Last year, when I was picking books to read before Harrogate, I looked at Simon Kernick’s website. Snapped my fingers, and put him up at the top of the list. There was humour and automatic likeability.

You’ll always find me to be more of a cheerleader for others, more enthusiastic about the latest great read from so-and-so. I much prefer to speak on what I love.

As for the spammers, they get one of two reactions.

I reply to an email and say that if they want to send a free review copy to Spinetingler, we’ll consider doing a review.

Or their name goes on a list of books/authors I have no intention of buying.

It’s petty. But it’s true. We put up a “no solicitation” sign at our house when we lived in the city, and anyone who knocked on that door and tried to sell something, if they weren’t a kid selling girl guide cookies, that business went on my mental list.

It’s the only power I’ve got against these people. So I use it. Any of the authors that frequent this joint are most welcome to mention their books if it fits the talk.

But you show up on my blog with a float and a box of goods to sell, and I’m shutting you down. It’s no different than someone from Dunkin’ Donuts walking in to a Krispy Kreme store and trying to sell their donuts there.


They make ambulance chasers look tolerable.

Bad news, worse news

Mr. Smith goes to the doctor's office to collect his wife's test results. The lab technician says: "I'm sorry, sir, but there has been a bit of a mix-up - we have a problem. When we sent the samples from your wife to the lab, the samples from another Mrs. Smith were sent as well and we are now uncertain which one is your wife's. Frankly, it's all either very bad or terrible!"

"What do you mean?" said Mr. Smith.

"Well, one Mrs. Smith has tested positive for Alzheimer's, and the other Mrs. Smith has tested positive for AIDS. We can't tell which is which.

"That's terrible!” said Mr. Smith. “Can we do the test over?"

"Normally, yes. But you have Ontario Health Care, and they won't pay for these expensive tests more than once."

Well, what am I supposed to do now?" said Mr. Smith.

"Ontario Health Care recommends that you drop your wife off in the middle of town. If she finds her way home, don't sleep with her."