Monday, May 29, 2006

(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.)


Sandra Ruttan said...

I'm out of pocket this morning but will be back later and will post the results of the contest. So, until I post them, the voting booth is still open.

And if you can name the tv show I'm watching at the moment, (hint in this post) then you get bonus points for being smart. And having good taste.

JT Ellison said...

Nashville Stars???
This is a fascinating topic, as we've discussed before. How this happpens is beyond me. Maybe brining it to light in the blogosphere wil kick start something???

Brett Battles said...

You're Canadian? Perhaps my time would be better spent not reading such cozy, hockey player related blogs...

Ah, screw it. You did drop the f-bomb in your post, so I guess I'll hang around for a while.

Let me take a guess on the TV thing...hmmm...The Shield?

Cornelia Read said...

I think the ONLY Canadian crime fic books I've read are Robertson Davies and YOURS, Sandra. And they're both really good.

God, I'm so provincial, it's just sad. Ugly American...

Sandra Ruttan said...

JT, you think I was watching Nashville Stars?

Out of pocket. Nashville Stars?

Yes, this is an interesting topic, and I felt I could only blog on it after doing a little internet research. And I must say, it's not that encouraging. Was looking for a few of the books mentioned in the bookstore today too. Came home with no new books because I couldn't find any.

Brett, LOL! Clearly, you haven't discovered the benefits of Eskimo foreplay and the use of snot in instigating sex. Which means you haven't read Cornelia's book yet.

Aw, shucks Cornelia, aren't you sweet... You aren't an ugly American, though. You're actually pretty damn knowledgable and sophisticated. You make me sound like an idiot on a daily basis.

Brett Battles said...

"...use of snot in instigating sex..." I have no comment for that. I'm trying, but I just don't have anything. Well, except Eewww.

And no, I haven't read Cornelia's book yet. I'm planning on picking it up this weekend when she's in town doing signings. Who's the jealous one now, huh?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well gee, aren't you unadventurous! Come on, long cold winters are supposed to be good for something, Brett!

And I am jealous. You get to see Cornelia. Damn, that's so unfair.

For The Trees said...

I've heard others, long ago, bemoaning the blurring of the border between Canada and the US. That probably occurs, in MY estimation, because of the similar language. I mean, you can't blur a border where the other guys speak something called Spanish. After all, most Americans can't even begin to speak any Spanish after they say "Jose."

So I can understand - although not relate to - your identity problem. No WONDER that beer commercial "I Am Canadian!" was so damn popular. Isn't it about time they brought it back for another three year run?

Sandra Ruttan said...

LOL Forrest! Yeah, they should bring the commercial back.

Except I think the company was bought out by an American or something.

Go figure.

Lisa Hunter said...

The non-promotion issue is a problem with all Canadian arts. The government is quite generous with grants (compared to the U.S.), but there's little expectation of drawing an audience to the work. Publishers get subsidies, so they don't necessarily work as hard to help the work find an audience. Of course, neither do many U.S. publishers!

Sandra Ruttan said...

That's a good point Lisa. The grants are a mixed blessing in Canada. We need them to survive, but then we rely on them instead of running profitable companies, publishing what sells.

I wonder what we can do to promote more of our own art...but some days, am really at a loss to know.

Boy Kim said...

Loads of small print on mortgages, life assurance, pensions, income protection/sickness&disability insurance and home insurance.