Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Because Sometimes Kids Just Kill

My blog can be heated at times, but death threats? Over blog posts?

One of the reasons I like crime fiction is that it’s a platform for exploring social issues. I’m a self-confessed news junkie. I like to keep an eye on the headlines, and follow stories of interest.

But there are stories out there that pass me by on a daily basis that I’m not even seeing.

Well, obviously, you think. Who has time to read everything from every newspaper, everywhere? Fair point. But when I was doing some research not that long ago, I discovered a blog that opened my eyes to a whole new side of the blogging world.

Oh, I know not everyone who blogs is a writer. Many people have that idea, but it isn’t true, and my recent research led me to one of the blogs out there that has a completely different focus and has earned the creator, Trench, more than one death threat.

Why? Well, read the most recent post and join me in scratching my head.

Now, any of you who read the interview that JB Thompson did with me a few weeks ago know that I was assaulted when I was 14. My jaw was permanently injured. The bullying was so bad that school officials transferred me for my own safety.

But it never occurred to me to go home and get one of our guns to solve my problems. Hell, it never occurred to me to just hit back.

The Trenchcoat Chronicles is a sight dedicated to debunking myths on both sides of the school shooting equation. It’s filled with news articles on teen and children committing violent acts, follows sentencing… In short, it’s a site that automatically fascinated me. I think, in part for me because I never defended myself, and for society, because people are often compelled by the need to make sense of what they don’t understand so they feel less threatened, most people want to understand school shootings.

Maybe we think if we understand, we can stop it from happening here, to our kids.

This is one topic I certainly don’t have all the answers on, but I decided to approach Trench and ask for a short interview, to learn more about the goals and purpose of his blog. If you’re a crime writer, like me, you may find this site to be an excellent resource. And if you’re a parent, you might be surprised at some of the things that are out there that you don’t know about.

Q. Tell me about The Trenchcoat Chronicles. First, when did you launch the blog?

A. The blog was actually launched in April of 2000, a few days after the one-year anniversary of Columbine. It wasn't really a blog then either. It was just a website that I maintained on Tripod where I basically just gave my opinion on different subjects, Columbine included. I did the entire HTML by hand on a Web TV, so you can imagine how primitive that website looked.

Q. Why blog about this topic? What inspired you? Did you have a specific goal in mind, an objective?

A. I didn't originally start out talking about just this topic. At first I talked about politics and current events but within the past two years the news about school shootings and related crimes has skyrocketed. So not until recently did I focus strictly on those issues. Columbine inspired me more or less. You could also say Columbine dragged me into it. I started making websites using TheTrenchcoat name back in 1997. At first it was basically the 1997 version of a MySpace page. Then I started posting my poetry online. My poetry was very dark and my site could have been construed as "goth" even though I was never a true goth.
When Columbine happened in 1999 the Washington Post and other media outlets reported my website as either belonging to or having some connection to the "Trench Coat Mafia". I received e-mail death threats from people who thought my site had something to do with Columbine. I took down the site and laid low for a year. When I came back in April 2000 I started talking about what Columbine on my website and I've been talking about it ever since.
I do have a few specific objectives actually. The first is to dispel the myths on both sides of the argument. Like the myth that bullying causes school shootings and conversely that not all goths are school shooters waiting to happen. Or that videogames and music do not make kids violent. Another one of my objectives is to make parents more aware of what could possibly be going on in their kids' lives and for what behavior to look for. The odds of your kid being a school shooter are almost the same as winning the lottery but that doesn't mean that it can't happen to you. Some parents let their kids go to school wearing Harris and Klebold t-shirts. That would be a good sign that your kid may have a problem. Also some kids have created these online shrines to Harris and Klebold and that parents should monitor their kids' online activities for signs like this. Also there are adults who make what I call "worship sites" of Harris and Klebold and parents should be made aware that sites like these actually exist. Lastly and more importantly my objective is to let kids know that school is just a very short part of their life. It's not worth throwing your life away and someone else’s over something as petty as school. In my experience the bullied kids leave their schools behind and go on to lead fruitful lives while the bullies end up in jail or at some menial job.

Q. What has the response to your blog been like? Do you still get abusive email?

A. The response goes either way. I've gotten positive responses from the families of school shooting victims, the families and friends of two school shooting suspects who I believe are innocent, and even from a Columbine victim, not to mention various other supporters. The hate mail is overwhelming sometimes. I have an entire section of my site dedicated to the best ones. I get it from people who I refer to as "mutants". These are the people who consider Harris and Klebold to be heroes or victims. I've actually had to block an entire ISP from New England from my site because one kid was so obsessed with sending me hate mail that I was worried for his own well being.

Q. Obviously, there have been some disturbing trends in society over the past few decades, and school shootings have been one of them. Do you have any theories about why this is happening?

A. Not to oversimplify things but I think it blew up with Columbine. The media reported that Harris and Klebold shot up the school because they were bullied and that myth still perpetuates today. So some kids who are bullied or are perceived they are bullied think that killing would be a logical step. Also I think parents today are too busy trying to be their kids' best friend instead of trying to be their parents. The public schools aren't helping either. It seems like their scared to actually punish students whether they be bullies or just violent.

Q. Now, I could be wrong about this, not being up on statistics, but I think school shootings are still primarily occurring in the US. Is that so, and why do you think that is?

A. I hate to say this since I support the right to bear arms but it's because guns are too easily accessible in the U.S. But I should point out that in most cases the guns were obtained illegally or were stolen from a parent or guardian. Harris and Klebold got their guns from a friend of theirs who purchased the guns legally. Jeff Weise, the Red Lake shooter, stole his weapons from his grandfather who was a police officer who he then killed. There needs to be harsher penalties for selling illegal firearms and for not keeping a firearm secure when it's not being used.

Q. Some of your recent discussion has centered on video games. What do you think of the controversy surrounding 25 to Life? Do you think the game rating standards are adequate?

A. I think 25 to Life is a non-issue since the game is so incredibly bad. I haven't played it myself but all of my gamer friends have said the game is one of the worst. A lot of politicians gave that game a ton of free publicity before it came out and it couldn't live up to the hype. As a gamer who has kids I think the ratings are more than adequate. If the parents can't read the back of the box they shouldn't be buying games for their kids. No 7th grader is getting 50 bucks and going to the store by themselves to get GTA. The only way these underage kids are getting these games is because they're parents are buying them for them.

Q. What about movies? Are the standards for what youth can watch eroding, and contributing to school violence, in your opinion?

A. I think just like the videogame ratings the movie ratings are pretty cut and dry. Again it's up to parents to enforce those ratings. When my wife and I went to see Sin City last year we saw parents at the movie with really young kids. It was rated 'R' for a reason. It was a great movie but I wouldn't want little kids to see it. I wouldn't say movies influence school shootings but I find it mildly disturbing that in recent years some of these kids, like Jeff Weise, are fans of the movie Elephant which was about a fictional school shooting.

Q. There's been a real push to address bullying in school, in the hopes that it will prevent school shootings or suicides. Do you think that will help? What do you think needs to be done to address these problems?

A. I think addressing the bullying problem would go a long way in helping. Some people thing I'm some kind of pro-bullying activist. I'm not. I just don't see it as an excuse for murder. The problem is what can schools do realistically to stop bullying? Zero tolerance regulations at schools haven't helped. You can bring in as many guest speakers as you want to a school to address bullying but it's not going to stop. I don't have a realistic answer on how to stop bullying but unfortunately neither does anyone else.

Q. Are the sentences for violent crimes enough of a deterrent? Why or why not?

A. No, if they were we wouldn't have crime in the U.S. Kids think they know everything. I thought I knew everything when I was kid. They think they can get away with the perfect crime. They think they have it all figured out. Harris and Klebold's original plan was to blow up the school, pick off people as they ran out of the school and then escape.
Only when confronted with the possibility of going to jail did they kill themselves. A lot of these kids view themselves as beyond the law anyway. In some case they view themselves as gods that are above the laws of man. It's hard for a self-proclaimed god to consider the repercussions of his actions.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Getting What You Deserve

SW Vaughn confessed something probably most of us have thought: some people get handed writing careers while others, often better writers, get overlooked.

Now, I’m taking it one step further from what SW said, and putting my own spin on it here. So please don’t run over there and comment without reading the post that has inspired mine. (And despite my initial side roads here, this isn’t a Canada-US thing.)

Well, not entirely inspired it. Just prompted me to, yet again, throw all caution to the wind and have a little rant.

Part of this, for me, ties into what I posted about the Canadian publishing industry. I was surprised at how many agents felt the need to point out I was Canadian when I queried. Like I somehow hadn’t gotten that.

But what I really hadn’t gotten was that there are cultural boundaries that affect publishing. I won’t rehash the topic, but I will tell you this. I know Canadian authors that have asserted they are deliberately reading more Canadians and not reading Americans.

Which I think is just sad. It isn’t that I don’t understand… I’m not going to dish paragraph after paragraph of experiences of others I could share. It’s just frustrating that there’s such a move towards insular thinking. “We feel rejected so we’ll reject you.” Where does it end?

This is actually a big part of the reason I’ve had misgivings about the move to exclude translated works from consideration for the top Dagger prize with the CWA, but I’m not going to go down that side road either.

The reality is that some people will have writing careers simply because of their heritage, their connections, their face, their last name… Part of me tells myself to “get over it” and just move on.

And part of me is frustrated.

It isn’t any different in other industries. I remember some years ago – was it 10, 11 now? – when Paul Brandt burst on to the country music scene. His debut single, My Heart Has A History burned up the charts, both sides of the border, making it all the way to #5 on the American Country Countdown.

Which was huge news, because he was the first Canadian male singer to break onto ACC to that level in a few decades. I can’t remember exactly how many years, but quite a few.

Our women do fine. Terri Clark, Shania Twain, Carolyn Dawn Johnson. Our men? Phenomenal talents who are unable to break through on American radio.

It is, in short, weird. I don’t really understand it all.

But when it happens in music, why should it be surprising that it happens in publishing?

Well, it shouldn’t, I guess. We’ve all seen it – celebrities who think they can write, children of celebrities who think they can act.

Children of writers who get every opportunity to make it, while others slave.

One of my earliest experiences of this was with a Canadian magazine. I won’t name it. But I came close to getting something in the magazine.

I read the issue I would have been in, and I don’t think it was prejudice. There were some stories in it that were pretty good. There were others… well, I just kept telling myself they weren’t my thing.

They weren’t Kevin’s thing either. (Good husband. Well-trained husband.)

Later, I found out one of those stories that I’d thought was a lesser work had been written by a friend of the editor, the same editor I got my rejection letter from.

It completely coloured my whole experience.

Had I been rejected because my story really wasn’t as good? Or had I been rejected because I wasn’t friend with the editor?

This is why I don’t read submissions from people I know for Spinetingler. Our next issue is coming out later this week. Even people I don’t “know” but have had communication with through the blogs – Sarah Weinman, Megan Powell – I still haven’t read their stories. Someone else did their edits. I wrote up one set of the editing notes, but that’s it.

For me, it’s a way to keep my head clear of all of this… potential inappropriate influence shit.

Which is also why we haven’t finalized the stories for the fall issue yet. Again, too many I can’t read.

End of the day, we all have to accept that life isn’t fair. People get better jobs all the time, not because they’re smarter, but because their parents paid for them to go to university and someone else couldn’t afford to go, or because they know so-and-so, who’s a friend of such-and-such and a few wheels were greased.

So, it isn’t just the writing world.

For me, this is one of the reasons we need to celebrate good talent and really promote the great books out there.

And this is one of the reasons we started Spinetingler. To give people without a name a chance.

I’m pretty certain that one rejection boiled down to me having the wrong name. As in, not being buddies with the editor.

But you know what? That rejected short story was the premise for Echoes and Dust, my second book. Which I have a contract for.

So, yeah, maybe it didn’t get published for bad reasons.

But it worked out pretty damn well for me in the end.

There are no easy answers on this stuff. All I can say is, keep working. Always be open to the feedback you get, always be prepared to look for ways to improve your own writing. Sometimes, you’ll get rejected because your stuff isn’t as good as you think it is – I have a stack that fall under that category.

And sometimes, you just need to keep at it until you find the right venue for your work.

Good writing will win out, in the end. Have faith, and you’ll find your publisher. And, in the end, your audience.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Cozy Noir Pre-Contest Contest Winner

The votes have been counted. I still have an appeal, with accusations about chads and missing ballot boxes and such, but as far as I can tell, the winner is...

Cozy noir is like a Glock in bunny slippers.

Which was submitted by M.G. Tarquini.

Now, I didn't vote, because I thought it was pretty damn hard! In fact, I liked all the definitions we got. So you guys spared me having to make a decision.

I'll be a hopeless judge of this contest!

Now, DON'T FORGET - go visit Stuart and congratulate him on his Barry nomination.

I mean, I know everybody's out with the BBQ and family gatherings today... Except Brett, who is gloating today. I'd call him names but the other triplets would send me to my room without any supper.

So I'll just sit here and sulk instead. Maybe I should move to California, where all the cool people are.

Oh, and you people, about the tv show - out of pocket? The Wire. Sheesh!

(Big News!) & Not being American or British…

…I commented on a forum about Canadian mysteries.

To get the context, the remark was in response to a write-up, in which author Ray Banks expressed his frustration with the dominance of police procedurals in crime fiction. An exerpt: “The majority of British crime fiction is shite.

I should qualify that, shouldn't I? Fuck it, I don't need to. All you need to do is look around at your shelves.

Go on, I can wait.

No doubt you'll have an unhealthy glut of police procedurals up there, and while some of them are very good, they'll still make up the bulk of your British crime fiction. Why?

They're stories you've read a million times in a million different incarnations. You read them perhaps because you've read them before. You want to be the kid watching the horror movie, a little wary of what's going on, but secretly happy because it will all be resolved in the end. Just as cars get bigger and safer in times of political turbulence, British crime fiction provides you with a womb with a view onto a fictional world you can escape at any moment. It's warm, comfortable and - dare I say it - cosy.”

My response?

“I love British crime fiction. Passionately. And it's all police procedurals? Two words: Simon Kernick. The first hard-boiled book I ever read was The Business of Dying.

Be thankful you aren't Canadian, where the emphasis seems to be quirky cozies about hockey players, puppet makers and pastors.

As for death, here's one thing I heard a fan say about a crime that didn't involve a murder: "give me something I can care about." It should be about a hell of a lot more than just a body dropping, granted.

This is why it's wonderful there are so many different books. There's something for everyone.”

Now, I should have phrased that better. I realize now I’ve treated posts on forums and blogs much the same as casual speech and I haven’t been fussy about precision, which is a mistake. Ray never said it was “all” police procedurals. I got my knuckles rapped for that erroneous statement.

But as much as I never planned to blog on this topic…well, I decided to because I received email about this. Recently. From Canadians.

Who weren’t too happy with my remark about the Canadian slant on the genre.

Now, I should have said, “Be thankful you aren’t Canadian, where the emphasis seems to be quirky cozies and amateur sleuth offerings with crimes solved by hockey players, puppet makers and pastors.”

I decided that, since this started with something I said on this particular forum, I’d post these questions there:

In the past year have you:

Read a mystery/crime by a Canadian author?
If so, was it set in Canada?
What subgenre does it fall into - cozy, amateur sleuth, hardboiled, police procedural?
Would you consider the author a 'must read' author or what overall grade would you give the book?

If no, have you heard of any Canadian police procedurals or hardboiled novels set in Canada that you plan to read this year?

I also took the questions to some friends who don’t frequent that forum, and are themselves avid crime fiction fans or authors. The responses?

Pretty fucking slim.

There was a mention of Michael Crummey’s The River Thieves. It’s classified literary fiction and it’s historical. Nothing wrong with that, but I’m not sure if it qualifies as a police procedural, just Canadian. Could be wrong, though. Another person admitted the only Canadian crime fiction they read is Peter Robinson, who sets his books in Yorkshire. Thus, not within the scope of my question.

Another person mentioned planning to read Mark Harrison’s All Shook Up this year. Another mentioned reading Eric Wright’s books a few years ago. And Giles Blunt was mentioned.

That’s it. Out of all of the people who frequent that mystery forum, plus the people I emailed directly, that’s it.

Do I even need to bother drawing conclusions?

Now, I’ve just been interviewed by somebody in the UK, specifically about the Canadian publishing industry, so I’m not going to steal thunder from that. But I am going to say this: Of the names mentioned, I’ve heard of Peter Robinson, and Giles Blunt.

The rest? Nope. I recently spent two weekend scouring bookstores in two cities looking for Rick Mofina. Award-winning author. You think I could find his books? And this is Canada!

But it goes back to something I said recently here, about the rejection letter I got because of the “murder”. Oooohhhh. And that after an invite to submit after reading a synopsis that discussed… Multiple Murders!

I’m sorry, but if as a Canadian I have a hard time hearing about Canadian authors, something is wrong. I’m obviously tapped in enough to hear about people like Cornelia Read months before her debut. And it isn’t from reading Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, because until someone told me last December that I’d been mentioned in the weekend update (hide my head in shame) I didn’t know who Sarah was.

As much as people may knock my online habits, I don’t live in New York or London and this is the only venue I’ve got for meeting people in the industry. Six months ago that wasn’t a priority, but I began to see that I needed to learn the other side of the equation in order to keep my head above water. That’s why country music stars move to Nashville… Writers don’t have one place to go, but they can network online.

And let me tell you something else. For the upcoming Canadian issue of Spinetingler we did more promotion than for any other issue, and received the lowest number of submissions. Furthermore, I emailed Canadian publishers and told them about the issue, mentioned we were looking for authors to interview and profile. I mean, golden opportunity, free publicity, right? And I do get contacted by publicists regularly, asking me to take review copies for American and British authors, so theoretically, someone would jump at it. I didn’t even ask for free books, just offered interviews. Not a single response. I mean, you have to get on your knees and BEG to promote Canadian authors? Fuck me. That’s just sad.

End of the day, I’ll stand behind this: There’s a problem in the Canadian publishing industry. A real problem if it’s easier for me to get referrals to British and American authors who are satisfying my needs as a reader, and I can’t find books by Canadian authors on the shelves in stores, and none of the Canadian publishers want to promote their authors. Makes me thank God I have a US publisher.

Now, I’m not going to apologize for not being a big fan of cozies. Oh, I like them every now and again. I’m not going to apologize for not being a big serial killer junkie. I’m not going to apologize for loving dark police procedurals.

I mean, there are many books I’ve enjoyed. Cornelia’s debut is an amateur sleuth, but it’s a long way from quirky. Val McDermid’s stand-alones are some of the best books out there, and I’m a fan of all her work – amateur sleuth and otherwise.

And I am a big fan of Simon Kernick’s work.

But I will always have a special place in my heart for Ian Rankin’s Rebus, the Thorne series by Mark Billingham. Stuart’s series with Logan McRae is another on the must-read list.

And since it seems to be so hard to find Canadians writing the gritty, dark style I love set in Canada I’m just thankful British authors keep me satisfied.

To each their own. Oh, and before somebody asks – my first book is set in the US. I don’t feel that’s a sell-out, because I wrote that book with it planned to be in the US. A sell-out would be taking a planned Canadian series and moving it in order to sell it.

One last thing: If I'm going to take shots at an industry, it's most likely to be my own. I've got more of a right to criticize Canadian politics, for example. If I didn't care about the Canadian publishing industry, I wouldn't waste my time commenting. Bottom line: even the bookstores are driving me up the fucking wall. Problems with orders, can't get the books I'm after. More and more, I'm ordered from overseas or at least online.

And it all makes me very sad.

Now, what’s everybody reading?

And Don’t forget to vote in the Cozy Noir Pre-Contest Contest. Winner selected this afternoon.

Blogger News!

Jan Burke has started her blog. For those of you who don’t know Jan, she’s another fantastic mystery author. Check out her blog and her website, and her Crime Lab Project (link on her website). I recently just picked up my first book by Jan and officially have another addiction. Fortunately, being addicted to great books by great authors isn’t something I get too worked up about, unless I’m on a deadline… Oh, and don’t forget to say hi to Jan and welcome her to Blogland. And Jan has just been nominated for a Barry Award!

Still on the Barry’s, The Fantastic Bearded Wonderboy has been nominated for a best first novel! Be sure to go stroke his ego. He gets all edgy when I get more comments than he does. Don’t be scared of his bearded greatness.

And congrats go to Mark Billingham and Simon Kernick for their nominations as well.

Now, this is when I can say that it officially sucks to know authors, even a little bit. Because how am I supposed to be happy about the outcome of the Best British Novel category when two of my favourites are up against each other? Absolutely fantastic novels, and if you haven’t read them, I highly recommend you read Lifeless and A Good Day to Die. Of course, you need to read Mark’s The Burning Girl first, at least, and Simon’s The Business of Dying… (Oh, heck, just go buy their entire backlists. You know you want to. Come on. Give in to the subliminal messages embedded in my post.)

Sunday, May 28, 2006


Yes, this is a kitty post, but first, one more reminder: Don’t forget to vote in the Cozy Noir Pre-Contest Contest.

Some of you will recall that Buttons was first due with a litter back in February. And, on February 14, the very day that Buttons and her brother Rascal were born, Buttons delivered.

It didn’t go well. Three beautiful, breech-birth stillborn kittens. I won’t freak you out with the details of my trauma, trying to help with these deliveries.

It was just all-round sad and disturbing.

As much as we hadn’t really wanted to deal with kittens, Kevin felt maybe we should let her try again. I wasn’t so sure. But then, an inability to persuade him to take action resulted in another swelling belly from our resident female cat.

We were well off the mark in estimating the due date this time. Well, okay, about a week. We’d decided this time, we’d confine her to my office, her own food and litter box and all she’d need, no Skittles pestering her. Rascal’s rather indifferent, being fixed.

Well, in the end, she took refuge in the litter box because it was the only place she could get away from Skittles, and delivered Stuart.

I woke Kevin up and got him to help. While I washed Stuart, Kevin delivered Russel on the bathroom floor.

The deliveries of Simon and Rebus were far less eventful. That’s to say she gave birth in the middle of the night, in our bedroom, and we were woken up by frantic kitty crying.

And this time, all was well.

But I couldn’t stop worrying.

We’d read in the cat book how, sometimes, if the mother doesn’t have enough strength to feed all the kittens she’ll try to kill one. This is something I saw with dogs, as a child. The neighbour’s dog, Taffy, gave birth to a large litter. 12 puppies in all. Faster than you can say “gross” she ate three of them.

And because originally Buttons and her babies were in my office, I was watching like a hawk, for any sign of trouble.

Things seemed to be going well, until the day that I came in and there were only three kittens in their area, feeding. I started having a panic attack, looking around for the missing Stuart.

It turned out that Buttons had carried him all the way to the back of the closet and set her down behind the boxes and files and such.

I started pulling everything out, but it wasn’t until my disruption prompted Stuart to cry that I actually let out my breath.

I returned Stuart to the family. And Buttons promptly picked her up (oh, yeah, Stuart is a she) and returned her to the back of the now-empty closet.

As best as we could figure, Buttons had been scared by Skittles. He’d gotten into my office, gotten close to the litter. Of course we removed him almost immediately, but it wasn’t almost enough.

We moved the gang and all of Buttons’ stuff to our bedroom. And again, when Skittles darted in the door once (he’s fast, that little turkey) I returned to the bedroom later to find only three babies in the area.

Simon was in the far corner of our bedroom, on the bottom of the cat climbing house.

I relocated the family again, and it’s been smooth sailing ever since. I still wake up with this panic in the morning, rushing to check that they’re all alive.

Something I haven’t done for a while, not since Kevin almost died in Africa. Well, technically, he did stop breathing so maybe he was dead. Don’t ask me. I was almost out of my mind with fear.

And it makes me think about how, a character coping with real or perceived fear, can really go right over the edge.

Because having kittens should be nothing but joy and happiness until the day we have to give some away.

But I still worry about them, and they’re four weeks old tomorrow.

Don’t forget to vote if you haven’t already.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Voting Booth Is Open

First, writers might want to check out James Lincoln Warren’s post yesterday about characters. He’s written a few Writer’s Cookbook articles on his blog lately and they’re full of good points.

Now, don’t forget! Read the post below and vote for the best definition.
Voting closes Monday afternoon.

Because we haven’t laughed enough lately

Q: Did you hear about the guy who had his left side bitten off by a shark?

A: He was all right.

Q: What did the ballerina wear after half her body was eaten by a shark?

Q: A one-one.

A bill collector
A bill collector knocked on the door of a country debtor.
"Is Fred home?" he asked the woman who answered the door.
"Sorry," the woman replied. "Fred's gone for cotton."
The next day the collector tried again. "Is Fred here today?"
"No, sir," she said, "I'm afraid Fred has gone for cotton."
When he returned the third day he humphed, "I suppose Fred is gone for cotton again,?" "No," the woman answered solemnly,
"Fred died yesterday."
Suspicious that he was being avoided, the collector decided to wait a week and investigate the cemetery himself. But sure enough, there was poor Fred's tombstone, with this inscription:
"Gone, But Not for Cotton."

The gentleman
A very elderly but bright-eyed gentleman, very well dressed, hair well groomed, great looking suit, flower in his lapel smelling slightly of after shave, walks into an upscale cocktail lounge. Seated at the bar is an elderly looking lady tricked out in a modest but very becoming cocktail dress.
The gentleman walks over, sits alongside of her, orders a drink, turns to her and says, "So tell me, do I come here often?"

Rules of Housekeeping

1. Vacuuming too often weakens the carpet fibers. Say this with a serious face, and shudder delicately whenever anyone mentions Carpet Fresh.
2. Dust bunnies cannot evolve into dust rhinos when disturbed. Rename the area under the couch "The Galapagos Islands" and claim an ecological exemption.
3. Layers of dirty film on windows and screens provide a helpful filter against harmful and aging rays from the sun. Call it an SPF factor of 5 and leave it alone.
4. Cobwebs artfully draped over lampshades reduces the glare from the bulb, thereby creating a romantic atmosphere. If your spouse points out that the light fixtures need dusting, simply look affronted and exclaim, "What? And spoil the mood?"
5. In a pinch, you can always claim that the haphazard tower of unread magazines and newspapers next to your chair provides the valuable Feng Shui aspect of a tiger, thereby reducing your vulnerability. Roll your eyes when you say this.
6. Explain the mound of pet hair brushed up against the doorways by claiming you are collecting it there to use for stuffing handsewn play animals for underprivileged children.
7. If unexpected company is coming, pile everything unsightly into one room and close the door. As you show your guests through your tidy home, rattle the door knob vigorously, fake a growl and say, "I'd love you to see our Den, but Fluffy hates to be disturbed and the shots are SO expensive."
8. If dusting is REALLY out of control, simply place a showy urn on the coffee table and insist that "THIS is where Grandma wanted us to scatter her ashes..."
9. Don't bother repainting. Simply scribble lightly over a dirty wall with an assortment of crayons, and try to muster a glint of tears as you say, "Junior did this the week before that unspeakable accident... I haven't had the heart to clean it..."
10. Mix one-quarter cup pine-scented household cleaner with four cups of water in a spray bottle. Mist the air lightly. leave dampened rags in conspicuous locations. Develop an exhausted look, throw yourself onto the couch, and sigh, "I clean and I clean and I still don't get anywhere..."

Great Female Comebacks
Man: "Haven't we met before?"
Woman: "Yes, I'm the receptionist at the VD Clinic."

Man: "Haven't I seen you someplace before?
Woman: "Yeah, that's why I don't go there anymore."

Man: "Is this seat empty?
Woman: "Yes, and this one will be too if you sit down."

Man: "So, wanna go back to my place ?"
Woman: "Well, I don't know. Will two people fit under a rock?"

Man: "Your place or mine?"
Woman: "Both. You go to yours and I'll go to mine."

Man: "I'd like to call you. What's your number?"
Woman: "It's in the phone book."

Man: "But I don't know your name."
Woman: "That's in the phone book too."

Man: "So what do you do for a living?"
Woman: "I'm a female impersonator."

Man: "What sign were you born under?"
Woman: "No Parking."

Man: "Hey, baby, what's your sign?"
Woman: "Do not Enter"

Man: "How do you like your eggs in the morning?"
Woman: "Unfertilized !"

Man: "Hey, come on, we're both here at this bar for the same reason"
Woman: "Yeah! Let's pick up some chicks!"

Man: "I know how to please a woman."
Woman: "Then please leave me alone."

Man: "I want to give myself to you."
Woman: "Sorry, I don't accept cheap gifts."

Man: "I can tell that you want me."
Woman: "Ohhhh. You're so right. I want you to leave."

Man: "If I could see you naked, I'd die happy:
Woman: "Yeah, but if I saw you naked, I'd probably die laughing."

Man: "Hey cutie, how 'bout you and me hitting the hot spots?"
Woman: "Sorry, I don't date outside my species.."

Man: "Your body is like a temple."
Woman: "Sorry, there are no services today."

Man: "I'd go through anything for you."
Woman: "Good! Let's start with your bank account

Man: "I would go to the end of the world for you.
Woman: "Yes, but would you stay there?

Never Argued
A recent widow was crying to a grief counselor. "We were married twenty-five years before he died," she said, dabbing away a tear. "Never had an argument in all those years."
"Amazing," said the counselor. "How did you do it?"
"I outweighed him by forty pounds and he was a coward."

A sense of Humor
"Women claim that what they look for in a man in a sense of humor, but I don't believe it. Who do you want removing your bra...George Clooney or the Three Stooges?"

Please send all groans and complaints for these jokes to Forrest.

The movie of your life should be an erotic thriller

Erotic Thriller

You've made your own rules in life - and sometimes that catches up with you.

Winding a web of deceit comes naturally, and no one really knows the true you.

Your best movie matches: Swimming Pool, Unfaithful, The Crush

Why is the movie always so much better than reality?

Now, don’t forget! Read the post below and vote for the best definition. Voting closes Monday afternoon.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Cozy Noir Pre-Contest Contest

Time for the Cozy Noir Pre-Contest Contest to move to the voting stage.

I’ve selected a handful of definitions and tag lines for you to vote on. The best one gets a prize ($10 Amazon gift certificate or copy of Spinetingler Anthology) but I may end up quoting a bunch of these when we launch the contest officially the middle of next week. So, vote in the comments. Vote once, for your favourite.

And I’m not above cheap tactics, so tell your friends and their kids and uncles and whoever, and make them all come vote. Votes will be taken until some time on Monday, and the winner announced… Tuesday night. Although anyone counting should be able to figure it out.

And yes, you can vote for yourself, although I’m not identifying the contributor here.

So, here goes:

1. Cozy Noir is hard-boiled with a sense of humour.

2. Cozy Noir – when that sinking pit of dread and despair is home sweet home.

Genre definition:

Cozy noir is set in a world with good and bad, but with a protagonist cut off from the good, usually through no fault of his/her own. The world of the cozy noir story is that of ordinary everyday society. Turned upside down. The inciting incident usually wouldn't make the news, and the crime may be either non-obvious or surreally fantastic. While most of what is called noir today comes from the violent works of Jim Thompson, et al., cozy noir follows from the tradition of Poe and Cornell Woolrich, masters of dread. There is violence, but as befits the everyman/woman characters, the focus is on the fear of impending violence and/or its emotional aftermath, not the details of the acts themselves. There should be a sense of how little force it takes to overwhelm an ordinary life. The ending of a cozy noir may, as in Woolrich, be either bleak or somewhat upbeat. Happy endings shouldn't be scorned, as cumulatively they will add suspense to all cozy noir stories. Characters are to be seen as hostages to fate, which may be good or bad.

3. Cozy noir is like a glock in bunny slippers.

4. COZY NOIR: Story with an amateur sleuth who has no conscience and mutters curses under his breath. His sidekick is a cat, who might actually be the killer.

5. Cozy noir: brooding, blanket-knitting Grandmas with .45s and a hankering to solve a crime. "Pass me the orange pekoe and the hollow-points, honey." Coming to a theatre near you. Rated R for dark themes, heady violence, and resplendent knitting.

6. Cozy Noir: Stories that on the surface seem benign, but underneath reveal a sinister and rotting world. Like Blue Velvet if it starred Ms. Marple.

Okay, so let the voting begin!

And, for the advance information about the cozy noir contest, you can read the relatively exclusive news here or at Anne Frasier's blog. Again, my thanks to Mark Billingham, Anne Frasier, Simon Kernick, JA Konrath, Stuart MacBride, Ian Rankin, Cornelia Read, JD Rhoades, David Skibbons and Duane Swierczynski for contributing to the prizes for the competition. You guys rock!

Keep the women in the kitchen (& kitty pix)

It takes balls to put in print that you don’t think a woman should be allowed to do certain things in this day and age.

“Which leaves us with the thorny question of women serving in armies that are hell bent on slaughtering each other.
To me the answer is simple: Do not send women into combat.”

That’s what Mike Strobel is talking about in his column. I must say, I find it surprising that a number of people have gone on the record, asserting we shouldn’t let women fight in combat.

What has even started this discussion? The funeral for Nichola Goddard, Canada’s first female soldier to be killed in combat, is today, in Calgary.

It is true this is our first “official” death of a female combat soldier. And yes, it does give you a moment’s pause.

But to go so far as to say that we shouldn’t allow women to be in combat situations is a bit extreme. And I can’t help wondering how the families of the men who have fallen in Afghanistan feel. Like their son’s/brother’s/husband’s sacrifice wasn’t as meaningful? Because the media attention over the death of one female soldier has been unlike anything since… Well, four of our soldiers were killed in tragic circumstances.

Now, Kevin tells me that Nichola was an artillery officer. Being somewhat unknowing with respect to military stuff, when he tells me her death was likely an accident, I figure he probably knows what he’s talking about. What she was doing is elusive to me, mentally, with respect to where she would have been in this particular situation. Kevin, being trained, actually being one of only two men in a whole unit (probably not the right term. Company? Whatever. Big group of soldiers.) to “survive” a training exercise in which all his commanding officers were even “killed”. I should get him to do a write-up on how they do these training exercises – pretty interesting, actually.

I’ve always been more interested with his weapons knowledge, because he’s a good marksman. Even impressed the guy at the firing range when he was teaching me to shoot and he hadn’t used a gun in years.

But I digress. Now, some might think I’m being hypocritical here. I’m not always terribly keen about “affirmative action” being used to hire woman as firefighters, for example.

Look, bottom line: women should be able to do whatever they’re capable of.

I just don’t think the standards for police officers or firefighters or soldiers should be lowered to make it easier for women to get in.

Height regulations, sure. But not when it comes to safety.

I feel saying that we shouldn’t have female combat soldiers is actually disrespectful to Nichola Goddard and undermines her sacrifice and the loss her family has suffered. She chose to be in the military. And believe me, not just anyone gets in. If she had the capability, the qualifications, to be there and to serve her country, she’d earned the right to be a soldier in every sense of the word.

And that includes the right to die.

It doesn’t make me happy about it. But if a woman is fully trained and every bit as capable to serve as a police officer or a firefighter or a soldier, I have no problem with that either. And that means I’m accepting the fact that they might die.

Yes, they might die. Those jobs are dangerous.

I have a few problems with some departments, who have promoted women because they aren’t capable of physically doing front-line stuff. In those cases, I have to ask why they’re letting the women be on the department. So for those who saw my rant about that, well, it’s one of those ‘knowledge isn’t always a good thing’ things, because it isn’t for or against women. It’s for each person on a job being capable of doing the job. I don’t think we should hire “token minorities” just to fill quotas IF the person being hired isn’t capable.

Especially when there are lives at stake. And I can’t get over that, because it’s important to me that my husband have the best possible back-up available when he goes into a fire.

And, in fairness, there are a few men as well who should be put on leave until they’re physically capable of doing the job.

But don’t get me started.

As I type this, I can imagine that people elsewhere are wondering, “Why the fuss?” Us wussy Canadians… It’s 2006 and people are grappling with the death of the first female soldier killed in combat?

We should consider ourselves fortunate that our losses have not been greater, for certainly, the loss of a woman in combat that our American friends know something about.

I think we should show our respect to Nichola Goddard’s family and to her, by honouring her choice to serve her country and mourning her loss as we would any other soldier, instead of turning this into a discussion that seems to infer the loss of a woman in combat somehow matters more than the loss of any man.

As far as I’m concerned, each death is tragic. If only our soldiers never had to face combat, but that isn’t the reality of the world we live in.

And I’m thankful there are those who choose to serve, whatever colour or gender they may be. They are heroes, all.

There will be COZY NOIR definitions to vote over, posted tonight. Still a bit of time to email me with one. Be sure to drop by over the weekend and cast your vote.

And I’d like to introduce you to a new blog. Well, not exactly new, but he’s made the leap from aol to blogger, so that pesky people like me can comment occasionally instead of harassing him with emails. Bill the Wildcat’s blog is one of the more eclectic blogs I visit regularly. He talks about soundtracks and fiction beyond crime fiction, about trips to the store and cats with blue stripes…

In short, it’s pretty interesting. And he writes with his wife, which proves what a brave man he is!

Funny courtesy of JT Ellison who has a very interesting post up today that writers should check out.
A pompous Baptist minister was seated next to a cowboy in the first class section of the plane on a flight to Texas.

After the plane was airborne, drink orders were taken. The cowboy asked for a whiskey and soda, which was brought and placed before him.

The flight attendant then asked the minister if he would like a drink. He replied in disgust, "I'd rather be savagely raped by brazen whores than let liquor touch my lips."

The cowboy then handed his drink back to the attendant and said, "Me, too. I didn't know we had a choice."

Kitty Pictures!


The gang - Left to Right Stuart, Rebus (all black), Simon, Russel



Yes, the playfighting has begun!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Did you want your critique with a two-by-four or battering ram?

I’m limping to the computer this morning with a sprained ego and a new list of writing rules.

#1. PISI. People Introduced, Setting Introduced - no white rooms!

(This scene’s happening amidst fluffy clouds in heaven. Right? Because you haven’t described trees or roads or buildings…)

Geez, Sandra.

You know, in real life I’m really bad for that. Just start talking about something without giving the person a bit of a clue at the jumpstart to let them know the who-what-where. So often, Kevin responds with, “Huh?”

Of course, he’s just as bad. But that’s beside the point, because I’m supposed to be a writer.

As much as this is an obvious weakness of mine, at least it’s a pretty damn easy one to fix. New scene - people introduced, setting introduced. Movement through the scene to a new location, just throw in a few tidbits to let people know.

Really, a short sentence here, a few words there.

The nice thing was, it was readily apparent where I should do this. And really, truly, this is such a simple thing for me to fix. I can’t imagine anyone having a flip-out over the need to put in a few descriptive touches, so no, my critiquer, I'm not offended.

#2. MALT. More Action, Less Thinking (Or Talk.)

Oh man, overkill. I mean, reader, did I mention overkill? Maybe you missed that the first time? And the second? Because I had a serious problem with overkill.

Get the idea? Man, these people talk too flipping much! Or they think too much!

In other words, Sandra, let the reader know what they’re thinking by what they do and how they act.

#3. PUW. Prune Unnecessary Words

Anyways, you know, it’s, um, like slightly okay

I, like, can’t hardly believe it’s so, you know, nasty. Like, anyways, actually thought I could like write?

Like, WHAT THE FUCK was I thinking? Or was I even slightly thinking at all?

I went through a manuscript and removed every occurrence of the word ‘slightly’. And there were a few other phrases that went choppity-chop-chop.

Now, I somehow managed to word something horridly in my post yesterday. And need to clarify, though I made a comment about it, because some seemed to miss that.

Yesterday, I did not receive a This is Shit letter. I have. Oh, believe me, I have.

In fact, I got a rejection letter yesterday from an agency I forgot I submitted my manuscript to, because it took them 9 months to respond.

But yesterday, I was lucky. Oh, I felt like I’d been run over by a truck by the end, not because the critiquer was cruel. It’s just that it required thinking, concentration and it was a lot to go through.

I know that nothing but an honest critique, tempered by sincerity, is the only thing that will do a writer any good. (Sorry, but if you get someone who wants to see you fail, their critique may very well be worthless. That’s the people who write “THIS IS SHIT” or “THIS IS SLOPPY WRITING” or “YOU SUCK” on your stuff. It isn’t really feedback, is it? It’s just an opportunity to insult you, and yes, I’ve gotten that.)

But If you can’t handle having someone who actually wants to see you get your stuff published give you feedback, take a hammer to the typewriter now and do something else. Because there are reviewers out there who won’t care if they rip you to shreds, no matter how certain you are that your work is perfect. And everyone gets bad reviews.

Next week, I’ll probably blog at more length about some of my rejections, some of the critiques I’ve received, and some of the days I wanted to crawl under a rock and die.

But I wanted to share a few things with you, because you know what? I laughed at myself a lot yesterday. Oh, yeah, I feel like an idiot. And incredibly embarrassed that some people are seeing my beginner’s mistakes.

But every smidge of self-consciousness about that is overridden by one thing – the fact that I’ve got friends out there who care enough to take the time to not only read my work, but offer extensive commentary on it. When I do the re-writes to Suspicious Circumstances and Echoes and Dust/Terms of Redemption they’ll be better books for everything I’ve learned from talented writers, like James and Trace and Russel (who has returned to the blogsphere this very day!) and Stuart and…and…and…

There’s a long list of people I hope I can thank in print in my book. Each one gave me a spanking, in their own fashion.

And each one has contributed to everything I’ve learned that’s going to make me better as a writer.

I’m lucky to have friends who push me to be as good as I can be.

I’ve shared a few of my new writing rules with you – anyone got good suggestions or rules they use to help them?

**Don’t forget the cozy noir pre-contest contest two posts down. Everyone is eligible to enter the pre-contest contest because readers here will vote for the winner over the weekend.** Unless I have no readers. But I plan to post those definitions sometime within the next 36 hours…with votes taken until Monday afternoon.

I swear, there was something else… But I’ve forgotten. If you know, email me and remind me.

** There is one raging debate still going, and I’ve got a 50-50 split on responses. TFONTF. If you know what that stands for, weigh in with your opinion.***

Now I’m going to go do something I didn’t get to do yesterday – jog!

“No passion in this world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.” - H.G. Wells.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Head on the chopping block

(Sandra's editing post)

There’s a new blogger in town, and in two months, he/she/it has had more than double the profile views I’ve had. If you thought Miss Snark had cornered the market on exposing nitwits, then you haven’t seen Evil Editor’s blog.

I was reading this post about the guy whose ex girlfriend prompted him to query, cackling mercilessly. The guy writes in, saying, “I am only sending this to you as my ex-girlfriend is making me... The crux of the matter is she that thinks what I write is profound and needs to be seen, whereas I write to fill my time and consider my “work” not much more than an overblown and frankly worthless etude.”

What does Evil Editor say? “So far, Evil Editor is on your side in this.”

I probably shouldn’t find so much amusement in this, but I can’t help it. I am, after all, an editor. As well as a writer. And despite experience and education in both departments, I still have a lot to learn.

Being in the position of an editor has taught me a lot about the process of submitting work and publishing. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I don’t think I’ve ever talked at length about my shit-list here. Yes, I have a shit-list. These are the names of people who’ve really, really, really inspired a desire within me to kill. The people who’ve pissed me off to the extreme.

All writers.

Now, right off, I wrote this post ages ago and just haven’t posted it. Because I was always worried someone would think I was talking about their story or that this was some sort of inverted complaint against someone who edited me. It isn’t. As far as I’m concerned, if you get edits and critiques before your book comes out, you’re lucky. You’re getting every possible chance there is to catch mistakes and make it as good as it can be.

But, about editing, Spinetingler has submission guidelines posted at Spinetingler. Not every magazine or ezine posts their guidelines, which I find annoying. Those editors don’t have the right to bitch about anything they get, because they’ve left it wide open.

We’ve always had guidelines. They’ve been expanded over time to be more stringent, as situations have prompted us to add stipulations to the list to protect ourselves.

But one sure way to annoy us is to ignore them.

What are some of the things people do that make me scream?

Hard returns at the end of each sentence.(Sorry - I said paragraph, meant to say sentence.) Fuck, I hate them. Originally, my copy said, “it would be kinder to come over and shoot us.” Evilkev took that out, but I stand by it. This creates volumes of work for us, when we do edits, and when we format the ezine. Is it so hard not to hit return? Just say no people, step away from the keyboard…

People who don’t submit the release. Why do we ask for it? We’ve had someone try to sell a story to us and simultaneously sell it elsewhere, more than once. We even had a publication come back on us, pissed that we’d already published the story. That release saved our ass, because it put it squarely on the author’s shoulders – they knew they weren’t supposed to do what they did, and did it anyway and they got a bad reputation with two publications as a result, instead of us getting a bad rep.

We had someone submit recently without the release. I wrote the person back and said we couldn’t consider the story without the release. Few months ago now, still haven’t heard back. Hmm. Guess they weren’t serious.

Another thing annoys us is people using email addresses they then cancel. And then they send bitchy emails months later asking why the hell they haven’t heard anything. Of course, sent from their new email address. Which is when we forwarded all the emails we’d tried sending for months to contact them about their story…as well as the final notice that this would be our last attempt to contact them.

But – other than the people trying to sell stories simultaneously – these aren’t even things that will get you on my shit-list. What will, you ask?

One thing is how people handle rejection letters. We try to include some general notes about what went wrong in the story, in a very tactful way. I hate writing those letters - I know what it feels like to be on the other end. But writing back a few hours later, furious that we didn’t accept it or being really snippy about informing us they sold it elsewhere, so there is not something I recommend. If it was up to me, I don’t mind simultaneous submissions. We don’t pay much, writers sometimes have to wait an unreasonable amount of time for an answer, but that type of response is why we had to forbid them – and again, why we ask for the release with submission. Unless you write us and pull the story from consideration, you’ve already given us the right to publish it. Writing back snottily saying you sold it elsewhere already (as one person did) just pisses me off because I wasted time on your story that I could have spent on a story for a writer still waiting and hoping. From the writer side of the equation, that might sound draconian, but do you know there are people we included in the anthology who never even replied when we informed them they’d been selected? Some of them finally wrote when they wanted to get royalty payments and payment failed because they hadn’t informed us they’d changed their paypal account… Ugh. The headaches. Truly, no good deed goes unpunished.

So, the whole rejection response can put me over the edge. Plus, some rejected writers that I sent suggestions to responded same day with new submissions. This is NOT a good idea, people. If an editor writes with suggestions and web links to writing articles to be considered, show them the information is read and processed. When the readers saw those stories weeks later, their comments were almost the exact same as for the first story we’d rejected. Believe me, this is a way to get your name remembered and elicit a groan next time you submit. I wouldn’t even automatically reject these people, but they’re making it harder for themselves. We’re all human, and when names become familiar for the wrong reasons… well, you’re stacking the deck against yourself.

And every time it happens, I swear I’m moving to form letters that say nothing about the reason for rejection.

Those are my minor points. What’s my major piss-off?

People who blow off editing.

Bottom line is, as we’ve been working to make Spinetingler better and better and raise the quality each issue, it involves editing. And guess what? Writers are involved in their edits.

Maybe it’s my journalistic background. I remember the red pen all over copy. Actually, for me, that didn’t happen often. Sometimes, copy came back first time with only one or two typos.

I remember wondering why they didn’t just change them there. But now, I remember what I learned from correcting my mistakes.

If someone takes the time to send editing notes, you should always treat them seriously. Not just if they pay big bucks. Even if they pay nothing.


Are you serious? If you’d even ask that, can you really call yourself a writer?

At the end of the day, everything you put out for the world to see if your work, and it reflects on you. I’ve always had a bitch of a time with short stories, because I love subplots, and short stories aren’t my strength. My second book, Echoes and Dust, started life as a short story that turned into a 115,000 word book that launched a series.

In November 2004, I was trying to clear my head from writing that manuscript, and started working on some short stories. Write to Kill was one, Restoration was another. Restoration didn’t come together for me until the Spinetingler Anthology in November 2005. So, winging off a short story wasn’t routine.

But I did fling one off, Breaking The Christmas Curse. I submitted it for a contest. Didn’t think much more of it, actually. I remember I was having a horrid day, really upset about something, but I don’t remember what now. And then I got an email, telling me the story got an honourable mention in the contest.

I rushed to look and there was a typo in the first line.

Talk about embarrassing. I mean, typos happen to all of us. We all get edited. We all make stupid mistakes.

Was it the ezine’s error? No. It was mine. I was sloppy with the details and it showed.

Even in learning, I’ve had moments of frustration. Another story, I was asked to send in edits. I did and they didn’t run them. Argh. But again, it goes back to being as clean as you can with the copy you submit, making sure it’s ready when it goes in the first time – at least, as ready as possible.

But when an editor does take the time to provide feedback, it’s courtesy and professionalism to do the edits. We’ve had a few writers refuse, think the suggestions were debatable when typo corrections are not.

And those people are on my shit-list. I sent a story back once and asked the writer to go over it and correct the typos. That was it – not even structural changes, like clarifying the ending (a common one, actually). He emailed back and said no changes were needed.

Oh, silly stupid me! I mean, what was I thinking, suggesting he fix those typos? I must have been on drugs that day.


This is no different than any other career in this respect. There are learning curves. People make mistakes – get over it. I’ve screwed up, so will you. Do you give up the comedy act and run off stage crying the first time someone yells, “Boo” from the crowd? Or keep at it? That’s what tells people if you’re a pro.

I mean, if you’re going to give up on an edit when people actually want to publish you, quit now, because a lot of reviewers won’t care about your feelings.

The point is whether or not we learn from those mistakes. And how we deal with edits is part of that. If writers don’t understand the editing notes or know how to implement a suggestion, that’s what I’m here for. Each one has only to ask for more feedback or guidance. But just not doing it and sending in the story, saying, “here it is” without telling us you didn’t make the changes?

It doesn’t show a lot of respect for the editors, their time, or your own writing if you do that. If someone else spotted a weakness, you should always seriously consider it. I’ve had cases where three readers have come back, exact same comment (and one is in New York, another in Australia, another in Canada, and I’m the only one in touch with each individual and I SELDOM read submissions unless I’m doing the edits AFTER they’ve been accepted) and the writer has refused to hear it.

Man, three out of three? Hello! I’m not even saying you take every suggestion you get and implement it. But I am saying that you consider it, and if you disagree, you discuss it like a professional.

I think about editing Stuart MacBride’s story for the anthology. Hands down the most experienced writer we published in our first year, and truly, a treat to work with. A real pro. Attitude? He only knows what that means from hanging around me, because he doesn’t have one.

I could understand by the end of our first year why some publications won’t consider new writers. It’s sad. I always try to cut more slack, but it is very hard. There are only so many hours in the day. I haven’t got time to argue with people with egos that are bigger than the size of France.

I’d much rather make fun of them in a future blog post.

Okay, seriously, I’m not posting all of this to put down specific people. Examples are an amalgamation of a few writers from our first year, or apply to several people I’ve dealt with, either in my journalism days or since we started Spinetingler.

But I decided to post it, because I thought it could be helpful to some of the newer writers, and because Evil Editor inspired me.

We’re (almost) always looking for editing help. Especially with the volume of submissions going through the proverbial roof. When Tracy Sharp submitted work, we were really impressed with the caliber of her writing and her professionalism. We added her to the team. She’s one of the people that has read my unedited version of Suspicious Circumstances and provided great feedback that’s been very helpful to me.

Then MG Tarquini submitted. And I dared to have her edit something of mine. She kicked my ass. And you know what? She made me a better writer for it. So I took her stories (great one last issue, great one next issue too) and recruited her.

I’d best end there, but bottom line here is that your attitude shows whether what you’re doing is a hobby or a profession. People in the business will see that, and respond accordingly. Editors and writers should always remember, some day, the shoe may be on the other foot. Just ask authors who’ve edited anthologies…

And I decided to post this while my heart gets dragged out through my bowels by an author who felt dumping a “this is shit” letter on me was taking the easy way out. I think they want to see me cry. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow, if I stop sobbing by then.

Kitty Pictures, as promised!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Tomorrow, I will be having my heart extracted through my bowels, I believe with pruning shears.

In other words, someone's giving me editing notes. And they decided to "talk" to me about it instead of sending a "Dear Sandra, this is shit" letter.

Crap. It must be bad.

So, I have decided that my post on editing will go up tomorrow. So I remember what it's like to be on the other side of the equation and take it like a pro.

Which means crying in private.

Don't forget to check out the sneak peek at the contest details below.

With thanks to James for the link.

You Are Midnight

You are more than a little eccentric, and you're apt to keep very unusual habits.

Whether you're a nightowl, living in a commune, or taking a vow of silence - you like to experiment with your lifestyle.

Expressing your individuality is important to you, and you often lie awake in bed thinking about the world and your place in it.

You enjoy staying home, but that doesn't mean you're a hermit. You also appreciate quality time with family and close friends.

Did I mention a writing contest? Breaking News!

“Sometimes, you just have to get the right voice in your head.”

“Well, just tell all the other voices you don’t want to hear from them today.”

Ah, yes, another insightful conversation with evilkev. Who happened to be home yesterday. It’s called a long weekend, only it doesn’t mean much to us writer-types, who work seven days a week, driven simply by our passion. Or some sort of compulsive disorder.

But it was interesting, because in the past week, he has flooded me with ideas for our upcoming contest. Ah, yes, did someone mention a contest?

Well, I’ll get to that in a moment. It’s our sneak peek, found first on Sandrablabber. Because I’m being contaminated by the evil I married. It’s not my fault.

Anyway, as I was saying, evilkev has given me idea after idea. Man, you’d think he’d learn after all this time, but noooo. He must impose his vision for a story upon me and try to force me to write it the way he sees it.

It’s Misery without the crazed fan. Just psychospouse. Anyway, much as I’ve told Kevin time and again you have to write the story that’s calling to you, he still barges in, like a kid, gushing with enthusiasm about this great idea he has for me.

I remember when he came in and started yapping to me and I said, “Be quiet! There are voices talking in my head and I have to hear what they’re saying.”

Aw, come on. You writers understand. Right? I’m not completely crazy… Am I?

Anyway, it finally happened. Oh, not with the first story he gave me. Or the second or, for that matter, the third.

But I finally found the trigger point, the voice of the narrative, that beautiful first line that just tells you “this is going to work”.

And it’s my own friggin’ idea, so get over it Kev.

Although I will readily admit that he inspires thoughts of murder on an almost daily basis.

But do you know what I mean? Not just with writing, although I think of that, but that moment when you know that everything is just going to go perfectly? I suppose stepping on the ice before performing your free program and having that feeling that you’re just on would be comparable… Oh, yeah, I’m talking about the moment when you have your perfect starting point. Not the moment my husband inspires you to think of murder.

Now, what’s that about a contest, you say?

Next week, we will launch the Cozy Noir contest. What is cozy noir, you ask?

Well, guess what? We need a definition.

And that’s where the pre-contest contest comes in.

Here’s the idea. Noir stories, unusual protagonists. Now, conversely, I suppose cozy noir could also be cozy stories with unusual protagonists. Of course, being the sickos we are, we were thinking of the first definition. If you’re a bit hazy on subgenre definitions, check out the subgenre guide.

So, here’s the deal. I need your tag line and definition. How would you describe Cozy Noir?

Email me at and give me your suggestion. Say “Cozy Noir Definition” in the subject line please so I don’t miss it. If anybody emails, on Thursday, I’ll post the top contenders and let you, the reading public, vote for the winner.

This is when we find out that only two people read my blog, and my mother-in-law is one of them…

The winner will get their choice of a $10 amazon gift certificate or a copy of the Spinetingler Anthology with my signature in it. Or I’ll buy you a drink at a conference if I’m going to see you in person. Or maybe the prize would be having me NOT buy you a drink and leave you in peace. I’m easy.*

Which substantially increases the value. Not. But the anthology does have this really cool short story in it by Stuart MacBride.

And here’s the inside scoop on the contest. Stories can be submitted between June 21 and September 5 – stories submitted before or after will not be considered. You will need to check the next issue and follow the submission guidelines.

And we’re cutting it off at 100 entries. Which is why knowing now is a bit of an edge, because it gives you one extra week to get those creative juices flowing.

No editing on the contest, so take the time to polish your entry. There will be one or two sample stories in the next issue of Spinetingler so that you have an idea of exactly what we mean.

And prizes? Well, publication in our Winter Issue and an autographed book. No, you don’t get an autographed book by each author, but you get at least one book, maybe more. We will have autographed books by Mark Billingham, Anne Frasier, Simon Kernick, JA Konrath, Stuart MacBride, Ian Rankin, Cornelia Read, JD Rhoades, David Skibbons and Duane Swierczynski. Some will be ARC’s of their next works, some will be UK copies of books not yet released in the US…

And I would like to thank all of these fantastic authors for agreeing to sign books for us. No coercion was involved in securing their agreement, I assure you.

Other than the threat of 10,000 spam emails from me. See the lengths I go to to get decent prizes, people? I’m committed.

Oh, and there is NO ENTRY FEE for the contest either.

Blogdom is growing

Another fantastic author blog, The Lady Killers, featuring Lyn Hamilton, Mary Ann Evans, Meg Chittenden, Rhys Bowen and Cara Black. Another clique that’s making me feel alone and unwanted. Well fine, phooey on them.

But they still have a cool blog, so check it out.

Oh, for the love of god (or not) – Da Vinci sequels>

Aparently, Sony has the rights to Da Vinci code movies #2 and #3.

I can see it now: Da Vinci Code II: Jesus’s kid’s stepbrother’s descendants revenge.

And the fantastic JT Ellison sent me a link yesterday to the evolution of dance.

Word is, Stuart MacBride will be performing this live at Harrogate, Saturday 2 am. Right after his karaoke session with James Oswald.

Tomorrow, more kitten pictures! And if you’re artistic and would like to draw a picture for our cozy noir cover, email me. Kevin has an idea, but no talent. And we’ll like you a whole lot.

And damn, you guys! This is just too frickin' funny! Unless you worked at the food plant. Would you like a hand grenade with your fries? Ah, no, I think I'll pass.
Those Europeans. Always trying something new.

* Not that way, Forrest.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Trendy Writing

"Bull fucking shit." The imagery you have used is intense. There is movement, sound, smell. Very evocative. I give it 4 and 1/2 stars. Writer Daniel Hatadi*

Are you in fashion, scoring a 4.5*?

I’ve isolated one of the reasons I’ve been stressed out about my book. It all comes down to this, the phrase de jour, the new trend. Not whether or not you’re noir, but are you an original voice?

Now, most of what I see on this is in the crime genre. It could be pervasive, across the board for all I know, but specifically I’ve seen these comments from crime writers. And one of the things I’ve seen referenced by numerous people is the push towards lean, tight writing. I’ve seen some authors comment that a book shouldn’t be over 100,000 words, for example.

People debate whether they like short or long. Some publishers will only publish books a specific length.

In my opinion, that constricts what one can do with their style, making it even more difficult to be a “refreshing new voice” that rises above the din.

I started reading a book by one of the publishers that will only publish books in the 80,000-word range. There was a lot of “telling” writing, as you could guess, because the author simply doesn’t have room, or the ability (who knows, without seeing other work?) to really get the sensory descriptions in. Honestly, it didn’t hold me and I put it down and forgot about it.

I mean, you can’t “show” everything in a story or it would be 10,000 pages long. But sometimes, those nice, descriptive touches really add. And I’m one of those people who loved LOTR The Two Towers in the theatre, and loved it even more when I got the extended version with an extra half hour of footage in it. And I think we all know it wasn’t a short story to begin with.

That’s something that still lingers with me, to this day, when I think about reading my first Rankin book, The Falls. I felt like I was right there. The book just evoked this atmosphere, it was so vivid in my mind. And I was absolutely hooked.

You don’t even need to use an abundance of words to say a lot. From Fleshmarket Close, “Knoxland had been built in the 1960s, apparently from papier mache and balsa wood. Walls so thin you could hear the neighbours cutting their toenails and smell their dinner on the stove.”

Can’t you just picture that? Papier mache, balsa wood. Cheap, flimsy, the plaster crumbling off at the slightest touch, paper-thin walls that give the illusion of privacy when in reality, your neighbour can hear you burp. You can imagine the defeated looks on the faces of the people scampering through those hallways, trying to hold it together, wondering how their lives came to nothing better than this.

There’s a lot to be said for not wasting words. But there’s also something to be said for flow. If you cut the words so tight, sometimes it gives the reader a headache trying to stay on top of it. I definitely get that when I read some work. Not everything, but some. It’s like trying to play music that has no pause in it at all but start to finish is furious. Any of you who, like me, play the piano, the bass guitar, the fiddle, know how hard that is. It’s taxing. And reading something like that becomes exhausting sometimes.

Not that long ago, I was going over a story for a fellow author, and there was one thing I commented on, something I was wondering about at the beginning and still wondering about at the end. Doesn’t matter what or who, but I passed on my comments. The person came back and said they’d added seven words, showed me the change to one paragraph.

And they’d filled the gap and tied up something else I’d commented on, all in seven words. It might take nothing more than one short line, but it can make all the difference to making a story read complete. Less isn’t always more. And this person’s an absolute pro to know that, and to go back to their work and find a way to put it in.

As an editor, I walk the line all the time between addressing questions of technical error, and issues of style. And often, that line is no wider than a thread.

Now, I want to apply everything I’ve learned in the past few months, and make my book as good as it can possibly be in the final edits.

But I also want to make sure this is still my book.

When I was first writing Suspicious Circumstances, I couldn’t read anything at the same time. I would take a few days off – I remember that summer, I took time off to read A Question of Blood - and then I’d go back to writing. I worked pretty hard to keep my head clear so that my own style of writing wasn’t contaminated.

Now, I have more experience and can usually separate out my writing and reading, but I did realize over this past weekend that part of the reason I was worried about my book was because of talk I’ve seen from writers about liking books lean.

I like my weighty tomes. I love 400-page + books by Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Simon Kernick, Mark Billingham… Makes my mouth water, thinking about sinking my teeth into one of their books, knowing I’ve got plenty of great reading ahead of me. In fact, I’m more likely to pick up a longer book than a shorter one, and I know I’m not alone. Oh, I know there are others who prefer small books, but you see, that’s just the whole point. People have different tastes, they like different styles.

I mean, look at music. Even within country music. I like Corb Lund, and he calls his music scruffy country. And by God, it is. Bar music too. It’s Time To Switch To Whiskey. Guy music. Then you’ve got people like Shania Twain, Faith Hill. All flash, all playing to the mainstream, much loved and loathed, megastars.

Then there are those like Big & Rich. In-your-face artists who worked controversy with their first single, Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy and became superstars.

Now, I have a distant cousin, Deric Ruttan, who is a musician and songwriter. He’s co-written songs recorded by people like Dierks Bentley – songs that have been number 1, award-winning hits. And songs recorded by Canadian country superstar Paul Brandt, plus Aaron Pritchett, and American Gary Allan.

Deric was interviewed on radio, asked about songwriting, and one of the things he talked about was that not every artist felt comfortable with expressing things the same way. Which explains why he co-writes these fantastic, fun songs that Dierks records, like Lot of Leavin’ Left To Do and What Was I Thinkin’ -

She snuck out one night an' met me by the front gate,
Her Daddy came out a-wavin' that 12-guage
We tore out the drive, he peppered my tailgate.
What was I thinkin'?

Oh, I knew there'd be hell to pay.
But that crossed my mind a little too late.

'Cause I was thinkin' 'bout a little white tank top,
Sittin' right there in the middle by me.
An' I was thinkin' 'bout a long kiss,
Man, just gotta get goin', where the night might lead.
I know what I was feelin',
But what was I thinkin'?
What was I thinkin'?

- and then records thoughtful story-songs like I Saved Everything himself

In a drawer there's a key with an old wooden box
Sometimes Jesus and me, sit down and unlock another time
When you were mine

Rose petals and a letter,a piece of baby's breath
A single white feather you found the day we met
You said it came from an Angel's wings.

It really helped me to think about this. I was having a great weekend, playing hooky, reading a Simon Kernick book, exchanging emails with some of my favourite people, playing with kittens.

I’d been thinking stupid stuff, like “People who like Cornelia Read aren’t going to like my stuff. They’re going to laugh at it.” I mean, how many times have I seen Stuart MacBride talk about the inevitable comparison to Ian Rankin that Scottish authors face. Some guy moans on amazon, “This isn’t Ian Rankin.” No shit, buddy. That’s why it says, “Stuart MacBride” on the cover.

Right now, walk into bookstores all over and what do you see? Da Vinci Code knock-offs. Harry Potter-esque children’s books.

And I shut my eyes to all of it and go after the books I like, the ones I’m interested in.

Now, why is it so easy for me to be that way as a reader, and yet so easy for me to be afraid that my book will suffer by comparisons?

I mean, my book shouldn’t be just like Cornelia’s. It shouldn’t be just like Ian Rankin’s.

It should be like Sandra Ruttan. I’m either a writer, forging my own path here, or I’m nothing but a cheap imitation that will be here today and gone tomorrow. For all I know, my book could come out and I could be compared at length to existing writers. I haven’t got a clue. What I know is, compared to what I read, this isn’t a replica. I hope there’s shades of influence in terms of effective writing, but not imitation of individual style.

It’s a simple saying, but I guess it’s one I needed to remember. Just be yourself.

End of the day, I’m a person who prefers The Wire over Law & Order. Oh, I like Law & Order. But The Wire has a hell of a lot more story, more characters, more intricacies that play out over 12 hours instead of one.

That’s more how I write. Mega subplots.

I’m going to stop apologizing for that.

Oh, and, by the way, I’m now officially on the editing schedule. There are a lot of moments we authors go through, from sale to print, and seeing my name on the house update at TICO is one of those moments for me. One of those ‘My God, this is for real’ moments.

* Thanks for the approving comment regarding yesterday's post Daniel. Or at least that line. If I’m not mistaken, Daniel and I are making our Crimespree debuts in the same issue this year. He’s an exceptionally talented writer, great guy, and it’s nice to share the experience of magazine publication together.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Headphones and ear muffs

“It's surely now firmly established that Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is not just a work of fiction. He claims certain parts of the book to be factual and must therefore be held accountable. Problem is, almost all of those alleged facts are false.”

Michael Coren’s column, Da Vinci Code a Disgrace, goes on to discuss why Christians have a right to take offense with Da Vinci Code.

I’ve gone blog to blog, seeing post after post about DVC, but when I saw this editorial...

You see, I haven’t read The Da Vinci Code. I have absolutely no interest. It always brings to mind The Bridges of Madison Country, which I didn’t buy, but a friend gave me. And I read it and was disgusted.

Get beyond whether or not the writing is good writing. That’s not what I’m talking about. Bridges annoyed me because of everything surrounding it. Interviews with the writer, talking about how his mom had sacrificed this great love to keep their family together.

Bull fucking shit.

Where do you get that in the book I read?

Okay okay, I read Bridges a long time ago. But what I remember is some housewife, with all the pressures of real life, getting infatuated with a guy who paid a bit of attention to her. Was it the love of her life? Hello, people. Marry anybody, and I don’t care how perfect you are for each other, sooner or later reality kicks in. You know, the part that boils down to having jobs, cleaning the house, doing the chores, raising the kids, paying the bills… The part of marriage that’s about seeing each other at their worst and still loving each other.

Cover your eyes you romantics. It isn’t all being swept off your feet in a Harlequin moment.

And that really bugged me about that book. Well, I guess it explains why I don’t read much romance. Or, well, any romance. Hell, it probably explains why my weekend has been spent curling up with Simon Kernick books. Uh, if you haven’t read them, insert not fluffy and romantic right here. Incidentally, the two first quotes on my blog post yesterday were from his book, The Murder Exchange.

To get back on track, for whatever reason TDC has stuck in my head as the new Bridges and that played against it from the start. It was the book too many people were talking about.

And then someone actually told me what it was about.

I knew right then I didn’t want to read it.

Because I knew it would offend me.

Now, those of you who are familiar with Simon’s books likely know nobody does hard-boiled like Simon Kernick. Especially when power tools are involved. The fact that nobody’s made movies of his books astounds me. They are edge-of-your-seat, action-packed total guy movie stories. Ian Rankin single-handedly converted me to the crime genre. Simon Kernick single-handedly converted me to hard-boiled. I think if anyone inspired me to write Fucked Again, it was definitely Simon.

So you might be wondering why on earth TDC would offend me. I mean, if I can handle some of the blood splatter in a great Simon Kernick read, what does it take to put me over the edge?


I wasn’t raised to be religious. I was raised to be an atheist, essentially. And I am not Catholic. But I believe in God and I sorted out my beliefs on my own. I’ve read the Bible. I’ve graduated from Bible school.

I’ve also been a, ahem, missionary. A lifetime ago.

This isn’t something I like talking about. As far as I’m concerned, my religious views are none of anybody’s business. Okay, I’ve come a long way over the past 19 years and there aren’t too many people who see things the way I do. I’m not involved in anything organized. I left the church. My faith, my convictions, are between me and God.

And like I said, they’re nobody’s business.

Now, I haven’t gone around and read everything Mr Brown has had to say on the subject, but apparently – and I’ve seen this in several sources, heard it on tv – he’s asserted that the conspiracy in TDC is true.

And as this column By Michael Coren asserts:

“Uncle Tom's Cabin was just a novel but changed attitudes towards race and slavery more than any noble work of non-fiction. Charles Dickens' novels transformed British social policy in the nineteenth-century, H.G. Wells' science fiction heavily influenced European views on disarmament and peace, George Orwell's fiction changed our vocabulary and our perception of state power.
Brown is no Dickens or Orwell, but surveys have revealed that enormous numbers of people believe his book and assume that organized Christianity is indeed an international conspiracy based on lies and violence.”

I know it’s just a book. And you won’t see me at a book burning or campaigning to have the movie boycotted.

But, particularly if surveys are demonstrating that people really believe in this, I support the right of the Catholic Church to take offense and to stand up against this movie.

Bottom line, supposedly, free speech is still valued in our society. People have the right to express their views.

So why the hell shouldn’t people in the church have the right to take a stand for theirs?

Honestly, I haven’t wanted to wade in because I have no interest in this book, no interest in this movie, and no plans to ever subject myself to so much as an hour’s entertainment based off of TDC. I’ve got nothing personal against Dan Brown. I don’t know him. I just have no interest in this.

And I wish fervently that people wouldn’t see the movie, it would tank and people would stop talking about it because I’m sick of it. Horridly selfish of me, isn’t it?

But just because I’m sick of it, it doesn’t mean I’m going to slam anyone’s right to free speech or free choice.

If people take offense to this movie/book, they have the right to go out there and say what they feel.

Meanwhile, I’m going back to wearing headphones covered by ear muffs, even if we are in the middle of a heat wave. Because I’m hypocritical enough to say that while I respect their right to free speech, I also respect my right not to listen to any of it.

For or against the damn movie.

PLEASE, somebody tell me you did something this weekend OTHER THAN go see TDC.