Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Place To Begin

I don't pre-plot novels. Only once have I known part of the ending from before I began, and that was for WHAT BURNS WITHIN, but I can't talk about it, or I'd have to kill you.

No, for me, there is some idea that is the genesis. It could be the case, it could be to do with the characters, it could be a theme. Recent events have required a shift in focus for the moment, so I'm actually working on two manuscripts at the moment, something I've never done before, and it may be enough to drive me mad - we'll see.

I've had the idea for the follow-up to WBW since I wrote the first draft. I've always known some things that would happen in the sequel. I don't know how it will end, don't know who's guilty, don't know a lot of things... But finally, at long last, I know how the story begins.

Beginnings are a bitch.
Of course, I also think titles are a bitch.
And synopses.
And teasers? Yeah, those pretty much suck to write as well.

No, for me, my favourite part is when I'm just into the book, have the foundation down and build to the end. It's like having the salad out of the way, and now I can enjoy the main course.

Now, if I can just remember which book I'm writing when I'm working on it, I'll be set...

And I only mention this as a way of saying I may be a bit hit and miss around here for the next while. If you miss me there's always email.

The New Spinetingler features the photo from Kevin's car accident on the cover. We aren't hoping for a repeat for the next issue.

Friday, March 30, 2007

New Spinetingler

The new issue of Spinetingler is up. Since my site isn’t uploading to Crimespot these days I hope some of you guys will help spread the word, as there’s lots of great stuff in this issue. You can follow this link for the PDF download and table of contents.

Or take the direct links below for the stories, interviews, reviews, website features, a sampler of Harrogate 2007 and a very special article.

I asked blogger and author Sela Carsen to give us some insight on the romance genre. Crime fiction readers and authors regularly toss out the ‘we’re discriminated against’ mantra when snubbed for literary fiction by reviewers and major awards. But are we any better, or do we, in turn, snub our noses at romance? Great article.

Anyway, no sooner are we done one than it’s time to catch up on the editing and reviewing submissions for the next one. The fact that so many of you look forward to each issue makes it all worthwhile – we appreciate it, as do the talented authors we’re featuring.

Blue Diamond Pool by Kris Ashton
Final Level by BJ Bourg
Bloodlines by Peggy Ehrhart
A Study in Curiosity by Karen Hall
And Then There Was One by Lauri Kubuitsile
The Man in the Mirror by Russel D. McLean
Dream House by Christa M. Miller
Memorandum by Stephen D. Rogers

Anthony Bidulka interviewed by Sandra Ruttan
Anthony Bidulka: STAIN OF THE BERRY reviewed by Sandra Ruttan

Allan Guthrie interviewed by Sandra Ruttan
Allan Guthrie: HARD MAN reviewed by Sandra Ruttan

Profile: Beth Groundwater, by JB Thompson
Beth Groundwater: A REAL BASKETCASE reviewed by JB Thompson

Profile: Tim Maleeny, by Angie Johnson-Schmit
Tim Maleeny: STEALING THE DRAGON reviewed by Angie Johnson-Schmit

Profile: Phil Hawley, by JB Thompson
Phil Hawley JR: STIGMA reviewed by K. Robert Einarson

Profile: Marc Lecard, by CJ Lyons

Ken Bruen interviewed by Sandra Ruttan
Ken Bruen: LONDON BOULEVARD reviewed by K. Robert Einarson
Ken Bruen: AMERICAN SKIN reviewed by Sandra Ruttan
Ken Bruen & Jason Starr: BUST reviewed by K. Robert Einarson
Ken Bruen: THE HACKMAN BLUES reviewed by Sandra Ruttan

Gillian Flynn: SHARP OBJECTS reviewed by Sandra Ruttan
Victor Gischler: SHOTGUN OPERA reviewed by K. Robert Einarson
Adrian McKinty: THE BLOOMSBURY DEAD reviewed by Sandra RuttanAmanda Stevens: THE DOLLMAKER reviewed by Tracy Sharp
John Rickards: THE DARKNESS INSIDE reviewed by Sandra Ruttan
James Sallis: DRIVE reviewed by K. Robert Einarson
Carol Anne Davis: SOB STORY reviewed by Sandra RuttanPatrick Hyde: THE ONLY PURE THING reviewed by Tracy SharpAllison Brennan: SEE NO EVIL reviewed by Toni McGee Causey
Alain Mabanckou: AFRICAN PSYCHO reviewed by Sandra Ruttan
Charlie Huston: SIX BAD THINGS reviewed by K. Robert Einarson
Gregg Olsen: A WICKED SNOW reviewed by K. Robert Einarson
Sean Doolittle: THE CLEANUP reviewed by K. Robert Einarson

Martin Amis: NIGHT TRAIN reviewed by Claire McManus
Steve Rigolosi: CIRCLE OF ASSASSINS reviewed by Claire McManus
I.J. Parker: BLACK ARROW reviewed by Wayne Sears
DVD Review: A CHRISTMAS FAMILY TRAGEDY reviewed by K. Robert Einarson

Harrogate 2007: A Quick Chat With Program Chair Natasha Cooper, by Sandra Ruttan

Website Profile: CRIMESPACE by Daniel Hatadi

Article: PERCEPTIONS OF ROMANCE by Sela Carsen

Whine, Bitch, Laugh (Or Groan)

First, Whine.

NAMING OF THE DEAD took Crime Thriller of the Year at the British Book Awards. Why is this under 'Whine'? Well, thanks to snafus that will make the new Spinetingler a day or two late we'll be able to update the ad for this book to include this information. So blame Ian Rankin, because he was probably conspiring against us so we'd be delayed.

Seriously, it's a mammoth issue, and the more stuff that comes up with the fire department, well... The harder it is to get it all done. But it should be up this weekend. My blog isn't uploading to Crimespot for some reason, so we'll see how I do getting word out when the issue is up...


Again, Rankin related. Yep, full-on grumble on my part. Someone goes on a Rebus discussion list, says they're a journalist writing an article on the Rebus books and could we help them with some background? Some of the questions:

- How old is Rebus at Knots and Krosses, how old is he now?
- Has he ever been married? Any kids?
- Has he ever had a lover in one of the books?
- How is his health?
- favourite Bands (I know about the Stones, and Dylan, of course)

I could answer these... but I won't. You see, the journalistic side of me kicks into high gear. Do your research. Don't expect us to do it for you. Anyone can do a google search and read a few interviews with Rankin and answer a lot of these questions. Not to mention troll through the discussion group's archives and find answers to a lot of these.

Answers off a listserv aren't exactly credible quote sources. And asking a bunch of people to tell you without checking the books and interviews to get sourced answers from Rankin himself is just plain lazy. Should have lied and said he was new to the books and wondering about the following. Tell me you're a journalist and doing an article and expect me to provide the background for you? Nah. Not happening. I mean, there's only a whole friggin' site that lists all the music from the books, each and every one, chapter by chapter. Could it be any easier?

(See, I'm a bitch...)

And laugh. Or groan, depending on your opinion...

Why did the chicken cross the road? (From Norby)

Jessica Simpson’s Answer:

Why would he be on a road? I thought chickens lived in the ocean.

Homer Simpson’s Answer:

There was free beer on the other side of the road.

Bill Cosby’s Answer:

Weeelll, ya see, the chicken crossed the road, and to get…to…the jello pudding pops.

Isaac Newton’s Answer:

The duck suggested to the chicken that they play follow the leader then the duck crossed the road, causing the chicken to cross after it, but at the same time holding up traffic, thus proving that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Shakespeare’s Answer:

To cross, or not to cross, that is the question.

John Kerry’s Answer:

I agree that the chicken should cross the road, but I believe that the chicken should not get to the other side…

Moses’s Answer:

And God came down from the heavens, and he said unto the chicken “Thou shalt cross the road.” And the chicken crossed the road and there was much rejoicing.

The Sphinx’s Answer:

You tell me

Neil Armstrong’s Answer:

To go where no chicken has gone before; That’s one small step for Chicken, one giant leap for Chicken kind!

Al Gore’s Answer:

I invented the chicken. I invented the road. Therefore, the chicken crossing the road represented the application of these two different functions of government in a new, reinvented way designed to bring greater services to the American people. I fight for the chickens and I am fighting for the chickens right now. I will not give up on chickens crossing the road! I will fight for the chickens and I will not disappoint them.

Bill Gates’ Answer:

I have just released eChicken 2003, which will not only cross roads, but will lay eggs, file your important documents, and balance your checkbook- and Internet Explorer is an inextricable part of eChicken.

Dr. Seuss’ Answer:

Did the chicken cross the road?

Did he cross it with a toad?

Yes, the chicken crossed the road,

But why it crossed, I’ve not been told!

Martin Luther King Jr’s Answer:

I envision a world where all chickens will be free to cross the road without having their motives called into question.

Grandpa’s Answer:

In my day, we didn’t ask why the chicken crossed the road. Someone told us that the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough for us.

Jerry Seinfield’s Answer:

Why does anyone cross a road? I mean, why doesn’t anyone think to ask, “What the heck was this chicken doing walking around all over the place anyway?”

Albert Einstein’s Answer:

Did the chicken really cross the road, or did the road move beneath the chicken?

Colonel Sanders’ (the guy from KFC) Answer:

I missed one.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Interpreting Email

I may regret doing this. Undoubtedly someone will read this and think I’m talking about them.
“Is it my last email she’s going on about?”
“How did I sign off the last one I sent her?”
“Geez, I didn’t want her to know I was pissed off…”

Sometimes I hate writing emails, because I certainly know how my mind works when I get them. And there have been a number of times when I have conveyed the wrong… sentiment or impression because of a poor choice of words.

Or, in some cases, because the person getting the email is quite sensitive. Or because I misunderstood their email. Who knew something meant to be so convenient could be such a headache?

I have a stack of emails here I’ve been meaning to reply to. Sometimes, with good friends I exchange longer emails with, I save them up and then write the equivalent of a letter, so I don’t tend to respond quickly. I have some emails that relate to a panel I’m doing, and I didn’t want to rush those off, I wanted to check out all the books involved. So those take time.

Then there are the other ones, ones I’m still hmmming over. People I genuinely like, but I’m not sure if by continuing to write back I’m pestering them. Just don’t know them well enough. Or bizarre-out-of-the-blue-I-don’t-know-you-weird emails that I’m still trying to figure out.

Fortunately, those are few and far between.

I was having a recent email discussion with author Carol Anne Davis about how people read things into books that aren’t necessarily there. I do think based on our own experiences, things that are on our minds, we can sometimes heighten the significance of something in a story or interpret more into it because of things in our own life. Laura Lippman’s TO THE POWER OF THREE is a good example for me, because I partially severed my foot, and so all the stuff about learning how to walk again nearly sent me over the edge. I kept wondering if Josie realized her life – as in, the ability to do many of the things she was great at – was over? Almost 27 years later and the muscles in my foot still cramp with agonizing pain from time to time.

In the same way we do this with books, we do this with emails. But with email I think it’s even worse. There are so many obvious things to consider.

1. How the email is addressed.

Sandra. Hi Sandra. Dear Sandra. My dear Sandra. S. Sam. Look woman. Mrs. Ruttan. Ms. Ruttan. Dear Ms. Ruttan.

Yep, every single one of those tells me something right off and sets a different tone for the email. Anyone who calls me Mrs. Ruttan doesn’t know me. Anyone who calls me Ms. Ruttan either a) doesn’t know me, or b) is deliberately trying to piss me off. (This is an example of when how this element is interpreted is contingent on other variables, as in sender and purpose of message.)

“Look woman” is rich. I got an email from someone I didn’t know once that started that way. The reason was, they’d emailed me (and they had a reason for having my address) and asked me for some information. I’d emailed back and when they replied to that their response started, “Look woman.” Yeah, it wasn’t the nicest exchange I’ve ever had, but there were legal variables involved and I didn’t feel comfortable supplying the information to someone I didn’t know. Guess they didn’t like that answer, and this was a case where you didn’t have to read past those first two words to know what the email would be like.

My closest friends use Hi Sandra, S or Sam. People who don’t know me but are trying to be polite are probably going with Dear Sandra. See, first few words and it tells me a lot.

2. Content.

Yeah, this shouldn’t be a newsflash. Length might be relevant. Might not be. But things like whether the person imparts any information about themselves or strictly sticks to business is very telling. If they share personal details they probably consider you a friend. If they don’t, well, you figure it out.

The shortest emails I get are usually from my closest friends, in a way. They’re the people I’ll one-off with half the night. In those cases the emails are more like an ongoing conversations. Salutations are dispensed with, as are signatures.

3. Signatures.

These are my favourite things to interpret. Or maybe least favourite. I find these to be the most subjective thing in the average email, and I hate choosing one.

So, I usually sign off my emails with ‘XO, S’ or just ‘S’. Or ‘Cheers’. Because it’s a casual ‘so long’ or in the case of ‘XO, S’ it’s with affection.

‘Best’ is…ambiguous, at best, unless it comes from Val McDermid. To me, that’s Val McDermid’s signature and she owns it. If I used it I would feel like I was copying her.

‘Regards’ is... Polite friendly.

‘All the best’ is… ‘We aren’t close but I wish you well’. Or ‘Fuck off’. Or ‘I wish you well but thus ends our correspondence.’ Definitely a case where context matters. Could also be ‘We aren’t close but I’d like to be friends’. Hmmm. Tough one.

‘Hope you’re well’ can be:
a) ‘Really hope you’re well but don’t want to know if you aren’t.’
b) One persons way of saying they don’t know what’s going on with you and, they either don’t want to or want to but not right now.
c) They haven’t got a clue how else to sign off.

‘Take care’ is a fun one. Could be genuine sentiment. A way of saying, ‘See you around, take care of yourself’ to someone you don’t know well. Could also be that you have some reason to be concerned about a friend and you’re saying, ‘Take care of yourself, I care about you!’

I do get emails from good friends that sign off this way. I just got one from Jayne this morning. Again, a situation where context is everything.

Really, it’s the people I don’t know well who throw me for a loop. There just seem to be so many times I get an email and find myself thinking, What the hell does that mean? but I don’t want to cite example from private correspondence.

And then, there are the people who don’t write you back. I don’t write back if

a) it was spam (duh)
b) the person is annoying the hell out of me
c) my interpretation of their email leads me to conclude they would rather be soaked in honey and locked in a barn with a thousand bees than hear from me
d) I’m upset by something in their email

I suppose there could be other reasons, just as there may be plenty of other interpretations for stuff in emails. And I’m sure that I’ll get some emails this morning, from people who try to explain their emails or wonder if I’m talking about them.

Or people will just stop writing to me…

The reality is, we all know our choice of words is partly based on how comfortable we feel with someone, and how you phrase an email will convey that. If I seem to wing emails off casually to a person it’s likely because I feel comfortable with them – I trust that if there’s a misunderstanding we’ll sort it out. It’s when I don’t know people well that emails become a far more arduous task.

I’ve been thinking about this because I think I really pissed someone off with an email… this year. (See, how’s that for generic? Three months worth of emails – what are the odds it’s one I sent to YOU? Not good, so stop worrying.) And I have no way of knowing, unless they tell me, respond to me, or I follow this up with an apologetic email.

But what if I still get no response?

And then it might be a million other things going on that have kept them from writing back.

See, interpreting emails sucks. It isn’t just what you put into one that will matter – it can matter as much or more if you don’t respond. In the same way that we lose the nuances of communication – the twinkle in the eye, the wrinkling of the nose, the tug at the corners of the mouth – on forums and lists and blogs, we lose all of that in email.

I hope someone has some funny ‘misunderstanding’ stories to share or alternate interpretations for signatures and stuff. I could use a good laugh.

Cute (From Norby)

One summer evening during a violent thunderstorm a mother was tucking her son into bed. She was about to turn off the light when he asked with a tremor in his voice, "Mummy, will you sleep with me tonight?"

The mother smiled and gave him a reassuring hug.

"I can't dear," she said. "I have to sleep in Daddy's room."

A long silence was broken at last by his shaky little voice: "The big sissy."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Music of the Soul

Yesterday in the comments I said that listening to music helps set my mood for when I’m writing. Sometimes you need something energizing, sometimes something mellow, sometimes something life affirming, and sometimes something a bit depressing. There is little beyond the physical aspect of our emotions – crying when sad, laughing when happy – that so astutely reflects our mood as our choice in music.

I’ve always been a big fan of music, and my tastes are eclectic. At the moment I’m listening to Philip Fogarty. I have no idea what to call his style but I love it. The CD was a gift and it’s introduced me to a new artist I could easily see myself getting addicted to. There’s a title on the CD I could name a book after.

I know referring to music in books is a pop culture reference but it is an exception to my aversion to pop culture references that I’ll gladly make. Even if I don’t know the artist I connect to the music through the emotion of the characters. Most people pick music based on their moods. For years reading the Rebus novels I wondered what Jackie Leven’s music was like. I had an impression through the books and it wasn’t off. Of course, every artist has range. Jackie’s music isn’t all depressing or all cheery, but there’s something about it that connects on a deeper level. You know what it is I don’t like about most mainstream pop? There’s no substance to it. Anyone could sing it, it doesn’t convey any insight about life, human nature, our deep desires, dreams, fears…

That’s not what you’d say about musicians like Jackie or Philip here. The music transports you.

That is, for me, always what makes the difference between the good and the great. The sense that some understanding of what it is to be human has been conveyed, the sense that if the song goes on a little longer, if I listen a little more closely, I’ll begin to understand myself.

That doesn’t mean that all ‘pop’ music is meaningless or empty. It’s just a real rarity to find an exceptionally popular band that offer something more than catchy dance songs. For me, one of the bands that actually did this in the 80s was INXS.

Playing in the dirt
We find the seeds of doubt
Don't water them with your tears
Don't think about all the years
You'd rather be without

Eden let's me in
I find the seeds of love
And climb upon the highwire
I kiss and tell all my fears

Even after all this time, LISTEN LIKE THIEVES is one of my favourite albums.

This is the power
Since time began
Every single hour
That we have known
And from each moment
All that is left
Sleep of the innocent
Just one desire

By comparison, you couldn’t get me to listen to a lot of the other bands whose albums I used to buy back then.

For me, music has memory. There are some songs I can’t listen to without feeling as though close my eyes and reopen them and I’d be ten or fifteen or twenty years earlier, in another place and time, right at that moment. I’ve got Tom Cochrane and Red Rider on now, with Ashes to Diamonds. He’s got this one song that I guess appeals to the crime author in me, atmospheric and depressing as hell:

God I hate your needles and

Your dirty little vial of pills

I guess I love the sweat you put me through

I know I love your body

Like I used to love your mind

But now your soul's a slave

To all the things you use

I put you in the tub babe

With five big pounds of ice

If you don't get back up

I don't know what I'll do

I've walked around the room

Here nearly 37 Times

Can you hear me now

And am I getting through

Get up, get back up

Get up, get back up

I thought I heard you laughing

I thought I heard you scream

I thought I heard some wailing

Like lovers in heat

I thought maybe we'd been

Somewhere that we've never seen

Still you lie so still like

A china doll lost in a summer dream

Here I am way down here

Way down upon my knees

You're looking awfully blue

We were having such a good time

We were having so much fun now

We'll lock the door change the sheets

But how do I get to you?

Oh yeah, that song will be playing at some point in the new manuscript.

For some reason I listened to a lot of country music when I wrote the first draft of SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES. I can’t write while actually listening to music these days – I use it as a mood setter sometimes, but then I have to turn it off. Not sure why. Maybe it has something to do with how scrambled my brain feels this week.

I’ll leave you with lyrics from a song that is referenced in WHAT BURNS WITHIN, from the amazing Bruce Cockburn:

Past the derelict mattress
and the overgrown pavement
over the tracks
and through the hole in the fence
Past graffiti-bright buildings
and the junkyard alarm bell
and the screaming police cars
and it's all present tense
It's my beat
In my new town
Past the drunk woman reeling
with her bag of provisions
Down through the tunnel
with the stink-fuming bus
On to the bike path
where it's something like freedom
and the wind in my earring whispers
Trust what you must
It's my beat
In my new town
Ancient and always
The wheel's ever whirling
Today I'm riding
Tomorrow I walk
Step through forever
into this very moment
The heart is pumping
and the heart rocks

What are you guys listening to these days? Anything good I should be picking up?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Blues and Blahs

Last week, Trace had a post up about depression and how it affects writers. She left off with the questions But how does a writer work through depression? Are you one who can put everything out of your mind and just plow on? Or do you struggle to focus and get the words down?

For me, I write better when I have just a healthy bit of depression. That might sound like a contradiction, to say a healthy bit, but there’s depression that’s debilitating and there’s just a bit of depression that sharpens the senses, otherwise known as Sandra’s Hypersensitive Mode.

The thing is, I’ve always been inclined to think that my emotions translate through into the writing to some degree. With more experience you can deal with that, but I do find I write better when I’m a bit down. Of course, when you write dark stuff it’s probably understandable. I can vent the emotion into the page and that works for me. I can write when I’m happy, I just usually have to make myself miserable in the process.

What I have a terrible time dealing with is when things are just blah. Blah is when I feel nothing in particular. There’s no oomph, no spark, no motivation.

For me, I find the blahs are much worse than the blues. Then again, I’m not one to run lukewarm. I’d rather be in tears or jumping up and down for joy.

Today, I feel a bit spent. We’re scrambling on the last of this issue of Spinetingler. Heaven help me if I forgot anything I promised to do for anyone – a distinct possibility. I feel like my brain was sucked out my nose and spit up on a sidewalk like so much discarded phlegm for people to step on and then curse over.

What about you guys? How much does your mood affect what you do? Or am I the only crazy one?

If I was clever and witty…

Invasion of the Panty Snatchers would have potential. I mean, there’s weird and then there’s weird, and stealing underwear from apartment laundry rooms is definitely weird.

This strikes me as another one of the things that would be hard to sell realistically in a crime fiction novel. It ranks right up there with the guy with the mannequin fetish, and he’s got company.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Stop, Thief! And a couple other things...

Mouse steals man's dentures. After being captured three times and escaping a mouse stole his captor's dentures, which were later recovered from inside a wall in the man's home.

That comes from the strange but true file.

This comes from the shocking file. A Texas man dismembered his former girlfriend and burned her on his barbecue. I wonder if they'll be going for an insanity defense on this one?

And my final note of the day: For at least 24 hours I'm going to hate John Rickards. After that it will be replaced by undiluted jealousy. Nobody that young should be allowed to write so brilliantly, it just isn't fair.

Genuine Enthusiasm

I had a really great moment on the weekend. Kevin and I went to the local grocery store and I told him to go check out the publishers of the books they had stocked. You know how it is, you see the paperback display in the drug store or the grocery store, bestselling authors, and not that many make it to the little village I call home. I always look to see if I see familiar names. The odd time I do, but last week there was a real treat.

Gregg Olsen's A WICKED SNOW was on the shelves.

From Publisher's Weekly:

From Publishers Weekly
In his first novel, true crime writer Olsen (The Deep Dark) brings complex mystery and crackling authenticity to bear on a cold case police procedural. Hannah Griffin has spent most of her life trying to forget the notorious Christmas Eve house fire that claimed her family and turned up almost two dozen other bodies buried in their yard; though the case remained unsolved, Hannah's mother became, posthumously, the de facto prime suspect. Twenty years later, Hannah's a happily married mother of one, a crime scene investigator for Santa Louisa, Calif., and a lifetime away from her traumatic Oregon childhood—until a series of mysterious events indicates that her mother may still be alive. Hannah reopens the case, as well as old wounds, after enlisting the help of FBI Special Agent Jeff Bauer, the still-haunted chief officer from the original investigation. Thanks to Olsen's true-crime work, the case's particulars—both grisly and mundane—all carry genuine weight... Olsen's flashback narrative shines with lurid, carefully distributed details, and if it ultimately overshadows the present-day plot, his bizarre, many-layered mystery will keep fans of crime fiction hooked.

We'll be running a review of this book when the new Spinetingler is up later this week. It was very exciting for me to see the book all the way out here, because I keep my eye on the new releases by friends of mine and a lot of them don't make it into the Canadian chains, even. Gregg is a friend, he's a NY Times bestselling author and he's a fantastic writer. Kevin told me he found a lot to like in this book.

Sorry, I'm slamming on Spinetingler deadlines and other stuff, so I've been hit and miss here, again. I hope life will be like something I call normal next month, but I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Ugh. Is It Friday Yet?

Kevin Wignall has a post up about balance, really. How do you manage your writing life? Seems he, like me, has no balance when working on a book.

Yeah, you know me. All or nothing. And so it is with great honour that I share the news of yet another blog. Except this one is a group thing, in conjunction with Crimespace.

It’s called Crime Zine. The purpose? It’s intended to be a group blog where publishers of ezines can post updates about new issues, contests, news of interest to readers.

The reason for doing this? Well, in hashing it over with Mr. Hatadi, one of the concerns is that Crimespace stay as free of BSP as possible and just general ‘announcement’ type posts on the forum. Here here. By forming a group blog we can keep the information from getting in the way of things. An RSS feed will be featured on Crimespace so that all the traffic on the way to the bar will get to see teasers about the latest updates.

Any eligible ezine publisher interested in participating should email me, using their Blogger2 email address. Let me know the name of the ezine and url. These ezines should publish some crime fiction content to be eligible.

In other news…
Jim Winter wants us to join in celebrating Laura Lippman’s NY Times bestseller list debut. As I mentioned yesterday the book is getting a lot of buzz. Check out What The Dead Know.

Friday Funnies... Or not so funnies, as the case may be (Courtesy of Norby)

One day my housework-challenged husband decided to wash his Sweat- shirt. Seconds after he stepped into the laundry room, he shouted to me, "What setting do I use on the washing machine?"

"It depends," I replied. "What does it say on your shirt?"
He yelled back, "University of Oklahoma."

And they say blondes are dumb...
A couple is lying in bed. The man says, "I am going to make you the happiest woman in the world."
The woman replies, "I'll miss you..."
"It's just too hot to wear clothes today," Jack says as he stepped out of the shower, "hon honey, what do you think the neighbors would think if I mowed the lawn like this?"
"Probably that I married you for your money," she replied.
Q: What do you call an intelligent, good looking, sensitive man?
A: A rumor
A man and his wife, now in their 60's, were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. On their special day a good fairy came to them and said that because they had been so good that each one of them could have one wish.
The wife wished for a trip around the world with her husband.
Whoosh! Immediately she had airline/cruise tickets in her hands.
The man wished for a female companion 30 years
Whoosh...immediately he turned ninety!!!
Gotta love that fairy!
Dear Lord,
I pray for Wisdom to understand my man; Love to forgive him; And Patience for his moods. Because, Lord, if I pray for Strength, I'll beat him to death.
---------------------------------------------------------------- -
Q: Why do little boys whine?
A: They are practicing to be men.
Q: What do you call a handcuffed man?
A: Trustworthy.
Q: What does it mean when a man is in your bed gasping for breath and calling your name?
A: You did not hold the pillow down long enough.
Q: Why do men whistle when they are sitting on the toilet?
A: It helps them remember which end they need to wipe.
-- ---------------------------------------------------------
Q: How do you keep your husband from reading your e-mail??
A: Rename the mail folder "Instruction Manuals"

Thursday, March 22, 2007


If you want to be a carpenter you can do an apprenticeship. Teacher? University degree and bachelor of education plus practical experience. Social worker? Again, degrees. Firefighter? Intensive training that involves practical and written testing.

For the majority of careers out there it’s possible to be trained. It’s possible to watch professionals at work, have them guide you, take a program that will cover all the skill sets you need.

So what, exactly, do you do if you want to be an author? There is no degree program. Hell, there isn’t even Nashville. You can’t get invited to the studio for drafting sessions and see an author writing, or in the process of pitching to an agent, or an agent to an editor. Much of the time authors seem to learn by failure. You learn how to assess the rejection letters. Or you pay for a professional critique. You go to writing workshops, try to meet people in the industry.

I’ve seen the approach. I’ve been on both sides of it. I’ve forced myself to go up to someone and ask them about something they’ve said on a panel. I’ve watched other people as they’ve seen someone approaching them, seen their shoulders tense, the smile slip from their lips as they wait to hear what they’ll be asked this time.

Once I went through it myself I started to understand. You just never know what people will ask you, people you don’t even know. Because I understand both sides of the equation I’m painfully aware that a lot of writers and even some authors have no idea what they ask of reviewers/editors that might be shockingly inappropriate. And when you’re asked in person it’s a thousand times worse because you have to find diplomatic tact and put it to a person face to face.

And some of these people just don’t get it. An example I’ll use out of the publishing world: Back to Nashville. Everywhere the successful performers go songwriters will try to pass them recordings of their work to get them to listen to their stuff. They can’t do it. Legally, there’s a process. And if they take work from someone and end up recording a song the artist contends is similar – even if the song is written by someone else – there can be lawsuits.

You also have to remember that the ‘successful’ people are being asked constantly for introductions to agents, producers from record labels, etc. Our industry, like theirs, involves connections. There are two roads you can go: The standard route or referrals from people with connections. And the overwhelming majority of people get where they’re going the standard route.

And really, it’s much better. It means you know you earned your spot. You weren’t just pay-off as a favour to someone.

Still, it’s not easy sometimes and the temptation to go for shortcuts is a reality for a lot of aspiring authors. I remember trying to navigate the publishing world at first. It was confusing and frustrating. It was clear some opportunities were only open through connections – you’d check out an agent’s site, who said they only considered referrals from existing clients. And they wouldn’t list all their clients. But this meant you had to know one of their authors.

And so it begins, anxious aspiring authors start approaching authors at signings, festivals, conventions, hoping they can build that bridge and get a referral. Thus begins the nightmare of the author.

When we started Spinetingler we decided we were going to try to make it as writer friendly as possible. We allowed simultaneous submissions, because we didn’t want people having work tied up for months. Of course, someone took advantage of that in a way that almost got us into legal hot water and we stopped allowing them. These days, our submission volume is such that if I find out anyone has done it they go on my banned list. Well, it’s a list of one at the moment, and hopefully never gets any longer. The reason for that name on the list leads into how we used to handle rejection letters: We used to offer some general critique of the story and identify where the readers had trouble with it and why it wasn’t being accepted. I never tried to be cruel to people. Lord knows I’ve had a few nasty rejections for short stories and I never find sending out a rejection letter to be an enjoyable experience. I won’t say it hurts me as much as the writer, but I do think about their disappointment and try to be as positive as possible.

One Sunday morning, quite a long time ago, I sent out some rejection letters. One person came back within an hour blasting me for the comments on their story.

Then, they dropped in a lovely line, about the fact that the story was going to be published elsewhere anyway.

I wrote back and pointed out that our submission guidelines did not allow for simultaneous submissions and we would have appreciated the story being withdrawn when they had it accepted elsewhere.

This is when they said that they only submitted it after I rejected it and already had an acceptance. Wonder if his nose grew. Within an hour of rejection? Considering the problems with that story and the clear fact from the initial response that the writer thought it was perfect? Yeah, right.

But after a number of variations on this shade of response we stopped offering any specific comment on why the story was rejected. Sad, because if people don’t give pointers and let writers know where the story needs work, it’s harder for the to improve. And the whole fucking point was to be helpful.

My instincts have always been to be helpful. If someone asks for an opinion or if I know about something (ie how to write a synopsis) they’re stuck on and they ask for help I see no reason at all to just outright refuse. I mean, it’s one thing if you’re sick or swamped with work or something, but to just make a deliberate decision not to be helpful if I can be? That’s never jived with me.

I implement my policy across the board, even subconsciously. Up to a certain point in the day I try to respond to every person who comments – be they completely anonymous, an author, a writer, a friend, a complete stranger. This isn’t a club where only certain people are allowed. Well, no assholes. But otherwise the doors are open.

The reality is, for the majority of us, spread to the four corners of the globe, the way we network and learn is through the internet community. Forums, blogs, listservs. This is how we form connections now, and so it’s impossible for me to talk about supporting new writers without talking about the internet aspect of it.

I’ve found varying levels of willingness to deal with newcomers in the writing community, from open acceptance to being completely snubbed. Quite possibly the rudest experience of my life happened at Bouchercon. It wasn’t an author or anyone employed in the industry either. It was an aspiring author, and the only reason I say this is to make the point that this is not just about authors and how they treat newcomers. And to say that the way some newcomers/aspiring authors behave certainly justifies some reluctance on the part of those who’ve been around for a while. There is a difference between confidence and arrogance. Nobody likes a self-important, conceited newcomer who’s been on the scene five minutes and puffs themselves up like they know-it-all.

I guess I know for myself that when people have questions about doing research and such and I have information that can help them I just want to point them in the right direction. But I’ve recently come to a point where everywhere I go online if I even get to the point that I feel inclined to respond to a blog post or forum remark and start typing, about 50% of the time I delete the comment. I did that on the weekend at Stuart MacBride’s, the other day at John Rickards’ blog. Crimespace. The list goes on.

It isn’t anything against those people or sites. The main reason is that lately I’ve noticed it more and more, this trend to pick arguments on forums and blogs. I mean, I’ve seen it before. I’ve left forums over it. But three times recently I either posted an offhand observation about something that related to the post or information intended to be helpful to someone based on questions they asked or comments they made about a concern and someone else came along and decided to rip my comments apart. It’s very strange, because I certainly didn’t feel I posted a comment that was argumentative in any of those cases. I’ll be the first to admit that we don’t always come off as ‘casually disagreeing, just stating a different perspective’ sometimes, even if that’s what we intend. A lot of how we take comments depends on our own mood at the time and our experiences. And how well we know a person. There are a couple people I don’t know well that I occasionally exchange emails with and every time I get one from them I critically analyze it, and I’m never sure if they’re mad at me or not. The good thing about that is, I recognize how much how I’m feeling when I read it factors into how I read it.

And so it’s easy for people, in a bad mood, perhaps misreading something, to wander along, not like an inference they draw from an offhand comment and go medieval on the commenter’s ass.

I had this experience once, where things got heated between myself and another person, and I did go and try to sort things out. They never responded to my messages. Then, through a bizarre set of experiences, they ended up talking to me and I found out they hadn’t ignored me – they’d never gotten the messages. Misunderstanding compounded by technological snafus eventually led to sorting it out and being friends. Being an adult isn’t about not ever having conflict or making mistakes in your relationships: It’s about how you own up to them and learn to move on.

Sometimes it will be possible to repair what’s been broken. Other times not. But that’s a different discussion.

But back to the point, I have often seen people getting/giving bad advice on forums and blogs. I’ve said it before: I have a real concern with unpublished people dispensing advice like they know everything. Such sites have been dissected time and again – anyone remember the discussion about the site where aspiring authors were encouraged to lie about publication credits in their query letters to agents? Miss Snark, rightly so, ripped that person a new one on her blog months ago. No matter who you get advice from check it out. You can’t afford to be a copy of Writer’s Market? Go to a second-hand store and get a used one, at least to start, but in all honesty if you’re serious about becoming an author you can’t afford not to. Far too much of “the blind leading the blind” these days. And you know what? You will waste a lot of time and spend a lot of money on submissions that will not produce results if you listen to some of the half-baked advice out there. I mean, damn, I’ve been in this game long enough to have a book out and an agent, and I will be the first one to admit I’m still learning.

And I have news for you. Think that once you’ve crossed the line and become an author that all other authors will embrace you warmly? Not so. Sadly, you start to experience different requests. I recently saw an author be publicly rude to another, completely unprovoked. And the person they did this to was an author they’d asked to blurb them, who had. I could go on with this story, but I won’t. I’ll end it here with simply this: You pay back the kindness shown to you. That doesn’t mean you blurb the people who blurbed you, but when others ask you to blurb them you at least consider it. I’m making my way (either by name or Spinetingler review quote) onto a third book cover presently (although it will be months and months before some of them are out). I prefer they use Spinetingler, as my motive certainly isn’t publicity for myself, but when I’ve been asked for a straight blurb obviously my name is used instead. And the only thing I can say is that I am thankful there’s a small thing I can do to pay back some of the kindness shown to me by people in the industry, who were willing to endorse my first book. I went through all manner of stuff – those who offered to blurb and then didn’t, being told said author only blurbed books from big presses or whatever. I don’t care about any of that stuff. If the book is one I’d recommend I’ll consider blurbing it, end of story. It’s about the writing.

The recent situations certainly haven’t been limited to me, as I’ve said. I’ve seen this happen time and again to others, and it got me thinking. Wondering about how to handle things. I think it’s safe to say that beyond email queries from writers, which I handle case by case, I’ll be very careful about saying anything on forums.

It certainly helps me understand why some authors withdraw from the public domain between book tours. I understand why some are apprehensive when approached by new writers and even other authors. There are those that will take any access and use it to their advantage if they can. I’ve never wanted to be like that, but how do people know unless they know you? I have my own set of rules and standards I go by. I would never, for example, ask Ian Rankin to blurb a book. I had someone willing to blurb the last book, but they gave me a lot of other help so I passed on the blurb offer and said next time. Crazy? Maybe. But so goddamn appreciative of the wonderful friends I have, grateful for their support, and I never want to take advantage of them.

I have never wanted to be perceived as a snob. It most certainly isn’t about me being better than anyone else – I’m just a person who happens to be published.

And the one thing I do know is that people will always read into your motives. People who don’t even know you will take two things that may not even be connected (book published/stop posting on this forum) and form conclusions (snobby bitch thinks she’s too good for us now).

The other thing I know is that you can’t let that stuff consume you. There are always people who will jump to conclusions. There will be people out there who, for whatever reasons, will be predisposed to think the worst of you. Trust me, not everyone is happy for you if you have any level success. (And frankly, I’m pretty low on that scale. I’ve enjoyed a few achievements, that’s it.)

Your real friends, the people who really matter, won’t jump to conclusions. Even if you say or do something that seems stupid they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. And the people worth knowing will keep an open mind as well.

No sense worrying about the rest.

And in other news, It doesn't matter how many copies have already sold: This is a fantastic author with a book that's receiving much critical acclaim. If you haven't bought your copy yet go and do it today. Could not happen to a nicer person either.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


It took me fifty long years just to work out that because I was angry didn’t mean I was right.*

If your life isn’t what you want it to be, whose fault is that? You know who is responsible for my failures?

Me. I am.

Okay, I’m not saying there aren’t times we’re sabotaged or that something happens that ruins an opportunity for us, and it may be out of our control. But I am saying that much of the time the reason we don’t achieve our goals is because we don’t believe enough to strive to make them happen.

We give up. We quit. Or we set up roadblocks to our own success.

“Oh, so many other authors don’t get their first book published. I think I’ll go on and write another one,” and that after it took you five years to finish your first attempt. Or, “Well, I know I’ve gone over it four times and had it professionally critiqued but I still don’t think the ms is ready.”

Some people nitpick to the nth degree, and despite encouragement and support from experienced people in the publishing field they resist sending out their work. I once knew someone with an invitation from an editor, who’d read the synopsis and opening chapter, to submit the full. Did they do it?


We are all at risk of playing mind games with ourselves, talking ourselves out of getting things done, because then we’ll have no excuses. If I finish these edits then I’ll have to send it out… If I get an agent I might get a book deal, I don’t think I’m ready… This isn’t a good time for me to get published… I’m not as good as so-and-so… You only have one chance to make a first impression and I want to get it right.

The last thought there has some merit, unless, of course, you’ve had short stories published before. Then you’ve already made your first impression.

I look back on some of my earlier stuff and think what I’m sure many people think - GROAN. I should have done this or that or look at that mistake or that cliché…

It’s all part of the learning process.

I’m sure it’s nice for those people who debut to instant success, but you know what I find myself thinking about? The pressure they’re under. To perform first book out of the gate. The fact that authors don’t get the same learning curve they used to.

You know, you think it would be great to hear people saying your debut is a masterpiece, but then imagine trying to follow it up with something better. How do you top perfection?

I suspect most people here are familiar with a poem, If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence. There’s a lot to this.

And now I’m going to say it to myself, and all the infant writers out there like me: If you listen to a lot of negativity you’ll lack optimism. If you believe that you’ll fail, you will.

Just to go supernerd here, there was a great line in Star Trek TNG, from the last episode of the third season, The Best of Both Worlds 1. Captain Picard has been captured by the most deadly enemy to face The Federation yet – the Borg. He’s been assimilated. The Federation is getting its ass kicked and death or assimilation seems imminent. Riker has been left in charge when Guinan delivers the sage advice:

If a man is convinced he’s going to die in the morning he’ll find a way to make it happen.^

Guess what? If you’re set on a course of playing mind games with yourself, persuading yourself you won’t succeed, setting up obstacles to keep you from finishing that manuscript or shopping that manuscript, you are responsible for ensuring you’ll fail.

In extreme odds someone might stumble across a waitress and give her a part in a movie, but there isn’t any way a NY editor is going to trip over your lawn ornaments in Red Deer Alberta and with one look at you be convinced you must be a writer and ask to see your WIP.

You’re only going to get where you’re going if you try. And if you don’t, you’ve got nobody to blame for your failure except the person you see in the mirror every morning.

Just because you’re angry it doesn’t mean you’re right, and just because you’re nervous it doesn’t mean you’re not ready. Emotion doesn’t always reflect reality.

It just means you’re human.

(Okay, so, the manuscript is off and out there and yes, I’m nervous as hell, and asking myself if I’d tweaked everything I should have or if maybe I should have spent more time on this or that… But you know what? I’m happy with it. My agent’s happy with it. One of my best friends - the only other person who’s read it and who is an incredible author - has chimed in. Indulging in self doubt and worry now would be foolish, and really, rather insulting to those who believe in me.)

* Jackie Leven, Classic Northern Diversions, from the album Shining Brother, Shining Sister There’s a line from that song that I’m thinking of using as the book title for the follow-up to WHAT BURNS WITHIN but that’s a subject of discussion for another day. Brilliant album, though. Although Creatures of Light and Darkness remains my favourite… I think.

^ Working from memory, so sue me if I didn’t nail it 100%.

And in the truly pathetic files...
Somebody fell for one of those Nigerian email scams.

Monday, March 19, 2007

No Mushy Love Stuff Here

This just in: "Court TV Seriously EntertainingSM becomes “cult TV” with the irreverent new scripted series, ’Til Death Do Us PartSM, the network’s first venture into original scripted series. Recalling great anthology series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt, ’Til Death Do Us Part features fabled director John Waters starring as “The Groom Reaper,” guiding viewers through the true stories of doomed marriages that end with one spouse murdering the other. Premiering tonight at 10pm and again at 10:30pm, each episode dramatizes the events of a true crime, opening at the couple’s wedding, with the time-traveling Groom Reaper as an unexpected guest, foretelling the worst."

The Groom Reaper. Yeah, this one isn't for any die-hard romantics out there!

Post 532

Over the weekend Kevin and I watched two movies. One was Casino Royale.

The other was a 1949 flick called D.O.A. which is part of The Ultimate Film Noir Collection.

If you’re looking for people to gush over the latest Bond you’ll find plenty of sites online where people are praising it. For me, it was a movie that had all the components to give it great potential, which made the fact that it didn’t work for me even more disappointing. I feel absolutely certain Bond must have been a champion runner. I had no issues with Daniel Craig, but overall found the movie to be uneven. There were abrupt scene cuts that were disorienting. In one scene in the high stakes card game they leave for a break, then return, and no sooner has Bond sat down at the table than –snap- now he’s walking down the hall for another break. Bad editing.

And the cheesiest love lines I’ve heard in a long time. Kevin and I were both howling. When I recovered I went to drink some lemon juice, it was so nauseatingly sweet.

Great action, especially in the first half of the movie. One nagging question I won’t put here because it would be a huge spoiler, and really, it’s only one of many. That was the thing. I would ask Kevin something and we’d try to sort it, and couldn’t come up with the answer. I watched 99% of the movie, but left right before the end. So, for me, not a hit. I have no idea how it compares to the book, this is just my opinion, one which many people will disagree with. Next time I have the flu I might watch it again to see if it improves on me, but no instant hit.

On the other hand, I watched D.O.A. with no expectations. I’d never heard of this movie before, and I don’t want to say too much here because I don’t want to ruin it, but it has an intriguing plot premise. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen something like this done before. Frank Bigelow goes on a holiday, only to discover he’s been poisoned and has only at most a few days to live. Frank is determined to find out who is responsible for his death, and in a frantic race against the clock pursues leads until his murder is solved.

This movie engaged me all the way through. Sure, there are things about the time that are enough to make me roll my eyes (like the way women behaved) but that’s how things were and certainly isn’t the fault of bad writing.

This movie is rated: Questionable For Children. I love that, and I'm not making it up.

My feelings about these two movies left me thinking about how much more likely it is we’ll be disappointed when there’s a lot of positive hype around something. When you hear nothing but good your expectations get ramped up to a point where you might be impossible to please. I have never not liked a Bond movie before. I mean, there have been decent ones and ones that were good and some that were great, but I’ve never watched one and said That was a waste or Huh? Okay, I’ve also not seen them all, but I’ve probably seen at least 10 of them. And this time I was glad I hadn’t gone to see the movie in the theatre.

Any of you have that happen to you? You really look forward to something and then find it’s a disappointment? Or by contrast decide to try something you haven't heard of and really enjoy it?

SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES received another nice mention by Daniel Hatadi when he was invited to discuss his recent reads. I am nowhere near the level of John Connolly, Charlie Huston or Jess Walter – this girl has a lot of growing and learning to do – but being mentioned in the same discussion with them is a real compliment.

And, in other news, 20 years ago today a fictional legend was born: The first Rebus book was published.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Great Literature

Spinetingler Magazine, of which I am co-founder and editor, is non-genre specific. We publish literature.

In my opinion, one of the best examples of this over the past year was MG Tarquini's story, ABSOLUTION. Brilliant, haunting. The caliber of the writing convinced me that I wanted MG on my editorial team. In fact, I am hoping there’s a suitable award to nominate that story for, because it’s an exceptional piece.

We review non-genre books too. Ian Rankin’s THE FLOOD was used in university courses in Scotland. Next issue I’ll review AFRICAN PSYCHO, which I would not label as crime fiction either. THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING is in the pile, as is LIGHT ON SNOW, AS I LAY DYING and THE SOUND AND THE FURY.

Hardly what I’d call exclusively crime fiction. Not by a long shot.

Google alerts have tipped me off that my recent post on reviews has revealed that I am a member of the forces of evil. Oh no, my cover’s blown! (Not like that’s a newsflash – evilkev’s been saying that for years. And at least I’m in good company.)

The funny thing is, I have nothing against “literature” except one thing: A lot of the authors and anti-genre lobbyists are arrogant. They are all about putting others down to elevate themselves. I can’t be bothered with that.

Funny thing is, I even have a non-genre author on my list for upcoming interviews for Spinetingler. Ooooohhhh, look at me. Really being evil, promoting someone outside my genre. (Where is the roll eyes emoticon when you need it?)

The only thing I’ve ever been interested in doing is promoting great books. You want to know why we don’t run more stuff from outside crime fiction? We don’t receive it. It isn’t genre authors who turn up their nose at the thought of being interviewed by us or having us review their book. And with so many authors eager for the attention we certainly won’t waste time and energy on those who are difficult.

We deliberately made Spinetingler non-genre so that what we published wouldn’t be narrowly construed. A great story is a great story, no matter what label it falls under. Movies like THE HOURS or AMERICAN BEAUTY are far more poignant and meaningful than movies like CASINO ROYALE.

I’m not begging for review copies. I have more than I can handle already. But maybe the reason we aren’t offered non-genre fiction more is because the authors are afraid of whether or not their work will measure up under the scrutiny of people who are not automatically predisposed to be impressed by it.*

* This is referencing published authors and review copies, not unpublished stories. We actually have published quite a few that fall outside "crime" or "genre" fiction.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Happy St. Patrick's Day

There are two basic types of Yoga

One requires much practice, patience, and discipline

Yoga from India

Irish Yoga

Courtesy of Norby
Paddy was driving down the street in a sweat because he had an important meeting and couldn't find a parking place.  

Looking up to heaven he said, "Lord take pity on me.   If you find me a parking place I will go to Mass every Sunday for the rest of me life and give up me Irish Whiskey!"

Miraculously, a parking place appeared.

Paddy looked up again and said, "Never mind, I found one."

Final Destination
Father Murphy walks into a pub in Donegal, and says to the first man he meets, "Do you want to go to heaven?"
The man said, "I do, Father."
The priest said, "Then stand over there against the wall."
Then the priest asked the second man, "Do you want to go to heaven?"
"Certainly, Father," was the man's reply.
"Then stand over there against the wall," said the priest.
Then Father Murphy walked up to O'Toole and said, "Do you want to go to heaven?"
O'Toole said, "No, I don't Father."
The priest said, "I don't believe this.   You mean to tell me that when you die you don't want to go to heaven?"
O'Toole said, "Oh, when I die, yes.   I thought you were getting a group together to go right now."

Gallagher opened the morning newspaper and was dumbfounded to read in the obituary column that he had died.   He quickly phoned his best friend, Finney.

"Did you see the paper?" asked Gallagher. "They say I died!!"

"Yes, I saw it!" replied Finney.   "Where are ye callin' from?"
Whatcha Drinkin'?
An Irish priest is driving down to New York and gets stopped for speeding in Connecticut.   The state trooper smells alcohol on the priest's breath and then sees an empty wine bottle on the floor of the car.

He says, "Sir, have you been drinking?"

"Just water," says the priest.

The trooper says, "Then why do I smell wine?"

The priest looks at the bottle and says, "Good Lord! He's done it again!"

Marital Bliss
Walking into the bar, Mike said to Charlie the bartender, "Pour me a stiff one - just had another fight with the little woman."
"Oh yeah?" said Charlie, "And how did this one end?"
"When it was over," Mike replied, "She came to me on her hands and knees.
"Really," said Charles, "Now that's a switch!   What did she say?"
She said, "Come out from under the bed, you little chicken."

Ass-Covering 101

Flynn staggered home very late after another evening with his drinking buddy, Paddy.   He took off his shoes to avoid waking his wife, Mary.

He tiptoed as quietly as he could toward the stairs leading to their upstairs bedroom, but misjudged the bottom step.   As he caught himself by grabbing the banister, his body swung around and he landed heavily on his rump.   A whiskey bottle in each back pocket broke and made the landing especially painful.

Managing not to yell, Flynn sprung up, pulled down his pants, and looked in the hall mirror to see that his butt cheeks were cut and bleeding.   He managed to quietly find a full box of Band-Aids and began putting a Band-Aid as best he could on each place he saw blood.

He then hid the now almost empty Band-Aid box and shuffled and stumbled his way to bed.

In the morning, Flynn woke up with searing pain in both his head and butt and Mary staring at him from across the room.

She said, "You were drunk again last night weren't you?"

Flynn said, "Why you say such a mean thing?"

"Well," Mary said, "it could be the open front door, it could be the broken glass at the bottom of the stairs, it could be the drops of blood trailing through the house, it could be your bloodshot eyes, but's all those Band-Aids stuck on the hall mirror.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Why Review Space Is (and possibly should be) In Decline

A recent article citing that the L.A. Times is expected to end freestanding book reviews is but one example of a growing trend and serious issue for authors: Book review space is in decline.

Author J. Peder Zane has chimed in on this trend, with his fear - no, make that prediction - …that literary fiction will be increasingly marginalized as general interest publications focus on "books people actually read."

So, wait a second? We actually have people advocating that review space should be devoted to books people don’t read? The temptation to start criticizing here and now is great, but in order to fully appreciate my disgust with this very notion, we need to first look at the job of the reviewer.

For the purpose of this post we’ll only look at the definition that’s applicable.

re·view n
A journalistic article giving an assessment of a book, play, movie, concert, or other public performance

A reviewer is someone who writes an article giving an assessment of a book, play, movie, concert or other public performance.

Now, let’s examine journalism. Journalism works the same way every other commercial product works. You produce a product which you sell. If you sell enough you stay in the game. If you don’t sell enough you fold.

In the case of newspapers you need to sell advertising space and you need subscribers. One hand washes the other. Why do you think newspapers give steep discounts to subscribers? Because it is the subscriber base that is used to persuade advertisers that this is a solid avenue to market to consumers through. If you don’t have sufficient circulation you won’t get those ads. And, let’s face it. There are tv ads, radio ads, billboards, ads on buses and subways and online. It isn’t like there’s a shortage of advertising space to consider. Therefore, everyone who relies on ad revenue must be a viable player. In this case, newspapers must have solid readership.

This is, in my opinion, why review space in many newspapers is decreasing. Reviewers fail to understand their role is not to be a cultural innovator. Their role is to reflect popular culture. Why do you think that so many newspapers report on Brangelina and TomKat? Why do we see cover after cover on People with Jennifer Aniston etc? Not because they are the most important people in our society, but because they’re popular.

Let’s face it: Nobody picks up a newspaper for the review section, unless they suspect their book/play/movie/CD is going to be reviewed.

What does entice people to read reviews? People read reviews of books they’re thinking about buying, or of books they’ve written, or of books their friends have written. The average person does not put their feet up and read the review section for entertainment.

And this is where the issue is. If the review section is filled with assessments of books people haven’t heard of and have no interest in reading they’ll just move on to the next section.

Now, I’m not up on the current statistics, but let’s make up some just for the sake of example. Last time I was given stats I was told that 28% of the market was mystery books, so I’ll work from there. (And my apologies – I don’t remember if this was Canada, North America, America or global, but the point is, these aren’t accurate numbers, although they are loosely based off general comments I’ve heard on the stats.)

So, let’s say the sale of books breaks down like this:

22% mystery
22% romance
17% non-fiction/resource
2% western
5% horror
5% fantasy/sci fi
15% childrens
12% literature

If these are the sales figures then review space should be allotted accordingly. 22% of reviews covering mystery. 22% cover romance, etc.

I am saying this as a person who counts Bronte, Dickens and Austen amongst their favourite all-time authors. I’ll happily pull out Joseph Conrad for an afternoon and indulge. The Chrysalids, Fahrenheit 451, Anthem, Heart of Darkness, Jane Eyre, Hamlet, Brave New World… these books are shelved along with works by Tolkein, Lewis, Christian philosopher Francis Shaeffer and Anita Shreve.

However, when I open up the arts and entertainment sections, when I see the entertainment magazines, I see them touting the latest over-hyped movie. I see them discussing the current blockbuster.

In 23 weeks The Departed earned $132,310,442. By comparison, in 31 weeks Little Miss Sunshine earned $59,831,476.

Do you want to hazard a guess which movie I saw more reviews and advertisements for? Come on, go out on a limb here. That’s right. The Departed.

The reality is that reviewers of CDs and movies all seem to understand that you need to cover enough of what’s popular in order to keep people interested. If Ebert and Roeper (or whoever it is now) decided to stop reviewing Hollywood films and only discuss French imports do you think their show would still be on the air? Of course not.

It’s the first rule in any commercial enterprise. Know your audience. If you aren’t appealing to your target market you aren’t going to stay in the game – end of story. This is why there are award-winning authors who find themselves without publishers – the sales aren’t there. Awards and good reviews are nice, but if you don’t sell it’s ‘don’t let the door hit you on the way out’. Publishers will only stay behind you for so long and then you have to start performing and that’s reasonable.

Therefore, it’s also reasonable to point out that reviewers have to cater to an audience, and if they don’t they’ll lose the audience. And if they lose the audience they’ll lose their ad revenue for their section and, ultimately, their job.

You know how the newspapers know enough people aren’t reading the reviews? They take away the space and nobody complains, because nobody notices.

Now, the truth is, people do read reviews. However, I can honestly say that most people I know will read reviews of books they’re already interested in buying. I don’t read many reviews myself, but I’ll read reviews of the new Rebus books. I mean, I have a cat named Rebus – do you really think I might not buy the new book? There isn’t even a remote possibility I’ll skip it, but I’ll tune in to see what the buzz is before I get a copy.

Another thing I can honestly say is that almost exclusively, the reviews I read are online. I have been told by authors that when we’ve reviewed their books their sales figures have spiked on amazon. I have no idea. I have no idea if the reviews of my own book corresponded to any sales spike, because I didn’t monitor my sales ranking (an idiotic form of self torture – past week 1 I was pretty much done, although Kevin continued to watch the stats).

When it comes to reviewing in Spinetingler I have certain luxuries. For one thing, I’m not paid. We don’t get advertising revenue to support our review site or that section of the ezine. So I don’t have to concern myself with whether anyone other than the author reads the review. Therefore, I never have to consider what books are marketable and what books aren’t when I do reviews. I insist on the liberty of choosing things I’m interested in, since this is an investment of my free time.

If I wrote for a newspaper it would be a different matter entirely. I would certainly hope to have the liberty of inserting my own personal pick of the week, but I would expect to be assigned to review more popular books people are interested in reading about.

I’ve known people who’ve read reviews, thought a book sounded interesting and then they went to look for it and couldn’t find it anywhere. Not knowing anything about the inner workings of the publishing business they expressed extreme frustration – why was a reviewer even talking about a book they couldn’t get? And in some cases, couldn’t order into local stores?

Such occurrences contribute to a jaded outlook amongst consumers. If it happens a few times they’ll stop reading those reviews, because the books are inaccessible to them anyway. You scoff and say they can order through amazon, but my own best friend, who is a nurse and two years younger than me doesn’t have the internet at home and makes no online purchases. I had to order in my book for her. Same with my mother-in-law, and half a dozen others.

The reality is, if reviewers are going to insist on largely covering books people have no interest in reading, it stands to reason that nobody will read those reviews either. I don’t have to care for Spinetingler – I could stop reviewing tomorrow – but if you get paid to do this then you have to care. It’s the same as running an ice cream shop. It doesn’t matter if your favourite flavours are mint chocolate chip and tin roof sundae – you have to sell cookies ‘n’ cream, bubble gum and tiger tiger if those are the most popular.

We all understand that when we go to a car dealership the most popular models are the ones they carry more stock of, and that when we go to HMV we’ll find more albums in store by The Rankin Family than Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans.

Well, end of the day, review space is a commercial product. And if it doesn’t reflect the interests of consumers it’s just an indulgence destined to go the way of the dinosaur.

The moral is, if we can’t get reviewers to be relevant enough to save the review space, we have to be forward thinking. As a reviewer I am contacted routinely with offers of books.

As an author, I see that we have to move beyond conventional reviews and find other avenues to promote our work. Bookstores like Murder By The Book have exceptional staff who hand sell books – authors have told me in some cases hundreds per copy.

And the other obvious avenue is to support the fan magazines and e-zines. There is more innovation to be discussed. One would hope that it isn’t too late to salvage some review space in conventional outlets.

Then again, with newspaper readership declining, perhaps we need to stop flogging a dead horse and move on. It seems to me the writing is on the wall, and the publishers who will gain the advantage now are the ones innovative enough to find new, effective methods of promoting books.

(And before anyone jumps on a tangent and starts bashing away, celebrity couples, what Paris What's-her-face is doing or who she's doing and Britney's breakdown are of no interest to me. You can't help learning about it - bad enough it's all over the news but then people hash it over on blogs. I mean, fair enough, talk about what interests you, but to me, it's of little to no importance. I'm not personally happy that they get as much coverage as they do, but I understand that the reason they get coverage is because they sell papers. In order to fix that we need to reprogram the future generations to have some taste and common sense.

And what's worse is, there are far more important things to focus on than subjects such as this. Moan all you want - the writing is on the wall as far as review space and newspapers are concerned. We can either stand and moan and say that things should remain as they've always been, or start addressing the reasons people are tuning out and fix them. I wouldn't be overjoyed to open up a review section that only covered Patterson, Steel, Crichton and Brown, but if I opened up a review section that had 60-70% allocated to covering popular sellers I could at least understand it. Truth is, despite picking up newspapers on a regular basis, and despite the fact that I always skim the review section, I can't remember the last time I read a review in a newspaper.)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Something I Needed To Get Off My Chest

I was not crazy about the recent addition to the rules on one listserv I read, but I have to say if you’re going to have rules, for crying out loud, enforce them.

In many respects, I’m still an internet babe. As in newbie, not hottie. There are those who’ve been on listservs since the 90s. Me, I went on my first forum less than 3 years ago.

It was an author forum, long since shut down. The reason?

Well, I got off it when posters started making disparaging remarks about the author and… things of a personal and private nature. If you were there, you know. And if you don’t know, you don’t need to.

The solution, instead of moderating it or deleting comments, was to close it down for a while. This was the second shut down in my existence over there. When it came back, I went read only. Which is when someone went on and began impersonating the author. After that the plug was permanently pulled.

And I’ve seen problems elsewhere. These days I hang my hat almost exclusively at Mark Billingham’s Talk Zone, which has an exceptional, professional moderator who makes everyone feel welcome and maintains the wonderful atmosphere. There’s a real community spirit over there, and even if I don’t post much, I read.

And, of course, now there’s Crimespace.

But other than those two places I’ve whittled my reading down to blogs or listservs. Why? Because most of the other forums don’t moderate. And the result is, people start flaming posters, authors and the atmosphere is horrid. It’s like going into a bar where your book club meets and having to duck punches, or push your chair back when someone smashes a bottle against the table. They’re unpleasant experiences at least, and at worst you get drawn into a fight.

Believe me, if I felt a commenter was being intentionally rude and insulting to another person who reads my blog, I'd delete the comment. I don't care if I lose a reader - I don't need a reader like that. That's not community, welcoming behaviour.

I was royally pissed off with something I read on this list and that’s what I need to vent some angst about today.

It’s a list that has posting rules. I have seen people threatened to be disciplined. I’ve known people who were disciplined. One got in trouble for mentioning Methodist jell-o…. because there’s a no religion (unless it directly relates to a book) rule. One was cautioned with a warning they’d be disciplined if they did it again when they said they were having problems with their email and not getting the digest.

Someone posted about a school shooting that happened in Montreal and they were threatened with discipline because it was off topic. See - they're that anal about the rules, and I know several other great people who've been disciplined there. So, it seems like they enforce the rules... right?

There is another rule on this list – no flaming.

What, exactly, is flaming? Flaming is the act of sending or posting messages that are deliberately hostile and insulting.

So, if I went on the list and called an author a moron – no qualifiers, just said “Mr. Bookwriter is a moron,” would that be a flame? I would think so.

And if I went on the list and said that my protagonist had written a review of Mr. Bookwriter’s latest book and that Mr. Bookwriter was a moron… in my opinion, still a flame.

And tacky, tasteless beyond belief. And this is hot on the heels of a recent discussion there about an author who ran off with his assistant. People wanted the name posted to the list - it happened some years ago. I didn't want the name posted - it has nothing to do with me. What the fuck is this, Author Gossip And Bashing Central? Whatever happened to doing your whispers to one or two people at a time, not several thousand?

Now, because at the bottom of the rules it says, “If you have a problem with a topic or feel someone is beyond the pale, please come to us. Topic vigilanteism is frowned upon” I decided to go to the moderators with a complaint about the post.

In this case, the author of the post declared that their protagonist had determined an author was, in a past life, a mass murderer and racist. Someone actually considered to be one of the worst mass murderers in history.

In my opinion, that’s a flame. I mean, if going on a public list read by thousands of people and stating an author is the reincarnation of a mass murderer isn’t “deliberately hostile and insulting” I’m not sure what is. Since this (apparently) doesn’t qualify I guess you can pretty much go on there and call anyone a fucking cow, a whore, slut, imbecile or otherwise with no fear of repercussions.

I don’t believe in reincarnation, but that’s part of the problem to me. This is something that pertains to religious beliefs. I can make it no clearer than this: If some psychic posted on there that they’d probed my psyche and determined I was Hitler in a past life I wouldn’t just be offended about the Hitler comment. I’d be offended because you keep your religion/witchcraft/voodoo/psychic bullshit philosophy for yourself – you don’t impose it on me. Kind of the same way I feel when JW’s come to the door. Religious freedom: Great. Imposing it on others: Pathetic and offensive.

Now, I addressed the moderators on this, and they tell me they find nothing offensive about the post. Part of the reason is that it can’t be taken seriously because it was posted as though the author consulted their protagonist, and their protagonist came to these conclusions.

Which is absurd. This is a list for readers to discuss mystery books. In fact, permitted topics are:

Announcements, by the Author, of their Forthcoming Books
Reviews, criticisms, comments, and appreciations of mysteries (books, plays, films).
Great mystery book shops.
Awards. It can take a long time to learn which are the annual prize winners.
Mysterious events. Mystery travels, mystery walks in cities, mysteries of life.

Where does it say that characters from books can post opinions about authors? If that’s the basis on which this kind of thing sneaks under the radar then it means my reporter can post scathing reviews of books that include personal attacks on the author, as I already said.

It also means anyone who writes a religious series can post their minister character’s sermons (because the exemption to the religion rule is when it directly relates to a book). This would also mean if a character in a book was racist or a Neo-Nazi, they could post their dogma on the list. I mean, once you open these doors, where does it end?

And in my opinion this is 100% bullshit.

What’s worse is, I took this to the moderators instead of posting a comment on the list, specifically out of respect for recent arguments there and because they have the rules, they’ve always seemed to enforce them rigorously… There should be no problem, right?

Nope. It’s okay for authors to post that their protagonist has made an absurd determination about a person.

And if this is okay future psychic protagonists will be able to post that they’ve determined who’s having affairs, who slept with a reviewer to get a good review, etc… Even if there is no factual basis to the comments whatsoever.

See, 100% bullshit. 100,000% bullshit.

The problem with other forums I left in the past was that readers and posters were left to make their own determinations about what was acceptable, and when insulting posts were made against authors they were also left to argue it out.

Back to the bar brawl scenario.

I have been of the opinion for quite a while that the main reason people lurk on some of these lists is for fear they’ll be attacked. I’ve certainly experienced it myself, so I am completely sympathetic.

But this is a real problem. I mean, even just yesterday I had an email from someone saying that the reason they don’t post on this particular lists is that they’re afraid, because the atmosphere isn’t welcoming.

I completely fail to understand why anyone would want to have a forum they didn’t want people to feel comfortable posting on. I always save my stronger opinions for my blog (and lord knows I have ‘em).

It’s also funny, because on the weekend I got an email from someone I hadn’t heard from in a while, responding to a comment I’d made on the list and saying they always enjoyed my posts but I don’t think I’ll be posting any time again soon.

For the most part, I believe in adults behaving like adults. I think most of us can self regulate, and when we do say something out of line we can suck it up and apologize. And things are good.

But when people impose rule on a group, but only do it selectively, that’s absurd. The thing is, a recent new rule was added, in part because of how a topic escalated to include attacks on various authors and reviewers. I don’t see what the difference is. This person may have made their post as a publicity stunt but they insulted a real person when they did so, which is not cool and shouldn’t be allowed.

Now, it’s also a rule that you can’t question the moderators’ decisions on the list. So, since I respectfully went to them with what I still consider to be a legitimate complaint about a post that was a flame against an author who is a respected member of our writing community and they won’t take action, I now can’t say something on the list or I’ll likely be the one who gets in trouble.

What have I learned?

Next time I won’t bother wasting my time taking it to the moderators – I’ll take it to the list.

I mean, this is the equivalent of the old days when I used to get beat up at recess and went to tell the teacher. The solution wasn’t to take the offending bullies to the office. The solution was, “walk with me.” Yeah, like that’s a pretty fucking fun way to spend my break, and like you don’t think that if they can’t beat on me they won’t just start beating on someone else? Hell of a solution.

I don’t want to be part of communities like that. You know what? If that’s how someone thinks they can get ahead as an author – by tearing others down – it definitely makes an impression. Just not a good one.

(To be honest, I think this list is really anal about the rules most of the time. And that's what I don't get. The things they jump all over and the things they ignore. I'd much rather be on a list that occasionally strays off topic than allows people to be insulted. People wonder why the authors leave or don't participate? Hell, we get shredded by reviewers already - do we really need to read lists where people can personally insult us?)