Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Time To Kill?

One of the books that had a big influence on me as a teenager was The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. It actually formed half of the basis for my grade 12 English essay. The other source book? Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

What great insights to these classic works of literature did I have at the ripe old age of 17? I haven’t got a clue. If I was so inspired (and at 5 am I am rarely functionally {see, that makes no sense}, never mind inspired) I’d dig through the trunk containing my unusable records that for some reason I’ve saved from the 80s (and probably should just toss in the garbage in a massive purging around here) and see if I still have this essay. I’m nowhere near as bad as my sister in the packrat department, but there are some things I’ve kept over the years, although I suspect this isn't one of them. My grade 13 essay on Hamlet is more likely, but that's another story, one that’s not important for the purpose of this blog post. I wasn’t sure if I’d blog today. I haven’t been in a wonderful mood the past few days, and the main thought that I kept coming back to is that I just don’t belong in this community. Now, don’t presume you understand what I mean by that – if I can sort it with enough clarity I’ll explain tomorrow. Or I might never explain this one.

But the feeling of detachment - of not belonging - goes to the heart of what is significant about these two classic works of literature. What is it these books share in common? One is about mutants facing persecution by religious zealots. The other envisions a future where firemen don’t put out fires – they start them, to burn books. An underlying theme they both share has to do with control.

The other day news broke that a man was burning books. It was hours before I waded in with a firm opinion on it, and when I did it was an indictment. This goes back to the history of the printing press and the first Bible reproduced for the common folk to read: What threatens people about the written word is that they lose control. Control of information, the ability to mislead, brainwash, to influence thought. It makes me think of Nazi Germany, and of religious fundamentalists burning Harry Potter. No matter what the reason, burning books bothers me. (Whatever his real intent - protest, publicity stunt, stupidity, boredom - the message this guy sent is that books aren't very important, because he's certainly saying they don't need to be cherished and appreciated. If he wanted to just get rid of them and didn't care how he'd donate them to street people for their fires so they could stay warm at night, at least.)

It’s really the bit about control that gets me. In The Chrysalids the mutants are sent away after being sterilized, so that they can’t reproduce. Because they aren’t allowed to stay in “society” children grow up hearing they’re evil, that they aren’t created in the image of God as the scriptures say, and they have no information to suggest otherwise.

It’s a lot easier to brainwash people who are, by default, ignorant.

That’s the great threat of books. A program is on television. It is easy for someone to share the experience with you, to monitor the information you’ve been exposed to. Books, by their very nature, must be read alone. Hours of time spent digesting information that (unless they have their own copy) others don’t have access to. Hell, some kids might get some ideas reading a book on their own. They might learn something their parents don’t know.


I’m familiar with this line of thinking from some religious communities. Don’t let the common folk handle the scriptures because they aren’t enlightened. They don’t know enough to get it right. This is where cults are born. Although it’s certainly true that people misinterpret books (the Bible being a biggie when it comes to this) due to a lack of understanding that may be corrected through further study, or deliberately to suit their own purposes, taking away a person’s access to information is a way of handing over mental control to those who profess to know more. One only needs to read some medieval history – about indulgences and the crusades and witch trials – to imagine the rant I could go on here about the abuse of religious authority over the history of time.

Yesterday I read one of the stupidest things I’ve ever read in my life. The gist was that spam couldn’t be made illegal because that would violate a person’s right to free speech. I suppose the next time JWs come to my door I have to listen to them to respect their right to free speech? I think not. I have the right to kick them off my property – they do not have the right to impose their philosophy on me, but let’s not get me started on this today.

I believe in free speech. I don’t always like the bi-product, but I figure at the very least it allows us to see who the real freaks in our society are. That’s what people find so frightening about secret societies. Any time you can’t gain access to information about a group right upfront and have to pass through a number of rituals while receiving their ‘code’ in little bits and pieces you are yielding mental control to a group you actually don’t understand. I mean, evil incarnate as he was, Hitler had brains. He didn’t get elected and then start killing people the next day. He didn’t even start a war the next day. What did he do? He started disseminating false information. He started youth programs geared at giving kids things they otherwise wouldn’t have had, inflating them with pride in their country. He muddied the waters so much that when he started his atrocious acts, the thinking was already compromised. (How did this get dropped off in the cut and paste process? Geesh.)

But free speech allows us to know who the people worth staying away from are.

Now, what on earth has prompted this rambling bit of nonsense from me this morning? Do They Deserve To Be Born?

Yes: No civilized society considers expense and practicality to be more important than goodness and humanity
Tatiana and Krista Hogan-Simms appear to be on the wanted posters of every euthanasia advocate in Canada.

Because the little girls were born as conjoined twins there is some bloody, vulgar rush to argue that they should not have been allowed to be born or, in some cases, that they should now be exterminated.

Instead of relishing life and praying and hoping that the girls will survive and even be surgically separated, the foot soldiers of the eugenics movement shout for death. But it should not really come as much of a surprise. 

The eugenics movement in question became immensely popular in the early 1900s. It was embraced by the socialist left, with famous authors such as Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells advocating all sorts of extermination policies.

Humanity had to be purified and improved, they argued, and this meant emulating the animal kingdom and removing the weaker of the species. The ideology became intensely racist under Hitler, but was at heart no different even from what many Canadian "progressives" were saying at the time.

The list of undesirables included homosexuals, Africans, the "slow and simple" and, according to Wells, the author of the Time Machine and the Invisible Man, "anybody who doesn't fit into the demands of the modern age."

Which quite clearly these little girls do not. They'll never appear on American Idol, never take illegal drugs and be promiscuous, never scream and swear at anybody who challenges them. Never be typical stars of the contemporary mess in which we live. Even worse, they'll be different!

Yet I meet people every day who are not very clever, not very attractive, not very entertaining. They ostensibly contribute very little and may appear to make society less compelling than it could otherwise be. Thing is, according to whom?

It's easy to see that someone like Stephen Hawking expands our knowledge and imagination to an enormous degree, but may well have been killed if the social engineers had their way. Yet even if he'd only sat in a chair for his entire life his life would still have possessed an objective quality.

And this surely is the point. Objective quality. If we are subjective and make our own value judgments we might as well wipe out all sorts of people. Or we could simply grow up, develop our compassion and intelligence and realize that existence is a sufficient contribution in itself.

There is an absolute that we have to tackle. Life is either sacred or it is not. If it is, preserve it at all costs. If it is not, we might as well destroy it at will. It is terribly expensive to keep the sick alive and wholly impractical to prolong the life of an ill person who will die anyway.

No civilized person or society, however, considers expense and practicality to be more important than goodness and humanity. If it did, it would immediately wipe out, for example, drug addicts, the homeless and people with AIDS.

Tatiana and Krista will be loved and, important this, will love back. They will smile, laugh, cry, be sad and happy, sometimes frightened, sometimes excited. Just be. Which is quite enough. And God forgive anyone who awards themselves the right to decide who may be and who may not.

No: This should be a wakeup call for us to prevent unimaginable future cruelty of this kind
Six months ago Tatiana and Krista Hogan-Simms entered this world in British Columbia as conjoined twins. Now they and their parents have become international celebrities appearing on major television shows. In the press the conjoined twins are described as "little angels." But every time I see their pictures I wonder why anyone would allow this cruelty to happen.

The tragedy of conjoined twins occurs in the early stages of pregnancy when the fertilized egg fails to divide completely. Few such tragic newborns live long enough to be considered for surgery.

Reports claim that Felicia Hogan-Simms was advised by doctors that her pregnancy could be terminated, but she refused. I assume that she considers life of any kind sacred, and abortion never an option.

What a tragic life awaits the twins. For as long as they live they will be unable to care for themselves or lead a normal active life.

It's hard to comprehend a parent who would want such a tragic pregnancy to continue. Nature in this case has created a catastrophe. Why compound the mistake by subjecting these twins to this fate?

Hogan-Simms is quoted as saying, "At least they will never be alone." How correct she is! It may be their greatest misfortune, never having the option of being separated. No chance of ever enjoying one pleasant moment to do their own thing, imprisoned together on their backs.

Hogan-Simms also believes "the girls were born for a purpose to teach people about tolerance; that it's OK to be different." But the point is, how much different? Unless there's a cataclysmic change in human nature, she has destined her girls to be stared at as a freak of nature as long as they live.

They will never walk, joined at the head in such an abnormal position. Physically they are destined for ill health, lying on their backs forever. They will become obese and develop the myriad of diseases that accompany this problem. Their lives will be a living hell.

This should be a wakeup call for us to prevent unimaginable future cruelty of this kind. We are a compassionate nation and we routinely remove children from parents who abuse them. I would ask this question. Is there anyone among us who would want to be born this way or willing to trade places with these conjoined twins?

Hogan-Simms should not have been allowed to make the ultimate decision. I have in the past always cast a jaundiced eye on committee decisions, but I like to believe in this instance an ethics committee would have seen the logic of terminating this pregnancy.
Hogan-Simms may be a caring mother, but not a rational one. After all, she has stated publicly she believes in a magical life and says, "I do believe in fairies. I always have. They're magical and mischievous creatures like a mystery to life."

These unfortunate conjoined twins will need more than magical fairies to help them face the misery that awaits them in years ahead.

Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, believes that children with major deformities of this kind should have life terminated within 28 days of their birth. But in my opinion it would have been a greater kindness to terminate this pregnancy in the early weeks of gestation.

Well Dr. Gifford-Jones, if the argument that because I wouldn’t have wanted to be born that way is justification for killing these children, the doors are wide open. I wouldn’t want to be born into a family where there’s abuse. I think most people wouldn’t choose to be born into a family that’s poor, or born with cancer, or with dna that makes them prone to genetic illnesses. Why not kill them all? Hell, just take a look at your life and decide that it’s not stacked up as favourably as you like and check out. No biggie.

I don’t really need to write a commentary here, do I? Reading this, it made me think of The Chrysalids automatically. Little Sophie is a threat because she has an extra toe (or toes, I can’t remember if it was six on each foot).

It made me think of the gift of every child I’ve worked with who was considered “different” but knew how to laugh and love and had a beautiful heart. I would certainly wish that no one, least of all a child, had to suffer if it was possible, but to say they should be exterminated? Thrown out like trash?

Michael Coren has already said it, and so, so well, so I won’t try to do it justice. That’s why I included the whole thing here. I think the ultimate tragedy is that supposedly educated individuals have and do support such things like extermination policies. It ties in with The Last King of Scotland as well (a movie my good friend Ken Bruen repeatedly told me to watch, and I forgot to give him his due in my recent blog post about it and thank him for the recommendation) and every political regime we’ve condemned in the history of time. Dictators control information, and they annihilate the threats.

When we kill what we don’t understand, we open the doors to justifying all the atrocities since the dawn of time. We allow what is different about us to become the dividing line and use it as a justification. Black, white. Male, female. Short, tall. Blonde, brunette. Where does it end?

As much as I’m repulsed by the extreme of the belief – that anyone endorses that children who don’t fit a certain “image” be exterminated – I can thank free speech for making me aware this morning that man is not nearly as civilized as we think. He’s one small step away from Sparta, Carthage, from the thugs of the past.

And finally, thanks to Anne of the haunted flat and vibrating bed I bring you the answer to which tarot card I am, because I’m sure you’ve always wanted to know.

You are The Lovers

Motive, power, and action, arising from Inspiration and Impulse.

The Lovers represents intuition and inspiration. Very often a choice needs to be made.

Originally, this card was called just LOVE. And that's actually more apt than "Lovers." Love follows in this sequence of growth and maturity. And, coming after the Emperor, who is about control, it is a radical change in perspective. LOVE is a force that makes you choose and decide for reasons you often can't understand; it makes you surrender control to a higher power. And that is what this card is all about. Finding something or someone who is so much a part of yourself, so perfectly attuned to you and you to them, that you cannot, dare not resist. This card indicates that the you have or will come across a person, career, challenge or thing that you will fall in love with. You will know instinctively that you must have this, even if it means diverging from your chosen path. No matter the difficulties, without it you will never be complete.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Author Egomaniacs: Do You See What I See?

Which authors do you think are egomaniacs? Any bestsellers you’ve got stashed on your shelves? Newer authors you think are already too big for their britches? Anyone spring to mind?

I’ve been thinking about this over the weekend, for a variety of reasons. One is the comment trail here. Another is a private communication. Then there was that email I referenced last post. And the final straw? The comment trail over at my friend Vincent’s blog.

We all know that the average person is prone to thinking the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. How many people do you know who could look you in the eye and say honestly - honestly - that they’re completely happy with their life and career right now? I bet not very many. I certainly don’t know many myself.

As writers, I think we live with the yo-yo of success and failure… or perhaps better put, the yo-yo of confidence and insecurity. I would wager a guess that less than 1% of the writers out there haven’t had a rejection letter at some time or another. We all know what it is not to be wanted.

But I do think it’s easy for us to think that the very successful, that authors like Ken Bruen, Val McDermid, Stuart MacBride, Laura Lippman, Ian Rankin etc. never face insecurity. That they’re completely confident in their career and work and never have a moment’s doubt. Well, okay, it’s not so easy to believe that with Stuart. One needs only to have read his blog posts about Book The Fourth to know differently… And as someone said to me recently if ever Ian should have moments of doubt he only needs to read himself referred to as God* here to feel better, not like the “rest of us mere mortals.”

The thing is, I get people emailing and saying to me they’re nervous or embarrassed to ask me to read their stuff, and I find it rather heartbreaking. Why should anyone be nervous about asking me to read their work? Is it because they’re that insecure, or because they think I’m someone special? Because believe me, if it’s that latter, let me be the first to say that I have a lot to learn myself.

I do know there are some authors who are egotistical jerks, although I’ve encountered precious few. And to be honest, when I do encounter someone who is all “look at me, aren’t I hot shit?” I’m pretty much done with them.

I’ve never really been one to think that way. On a daily basis I doubt my ability to pull off the next book, to make the short story in progress come out just the way I want it to, that anyone will care about what I write, that I’ll find a new publisher. I read books by other people and they get me thinking about all sorts of important things – I’m one of those people who cherishes important books, far more interested in stuff with substance than fluff – and I feel this sense of failure. “I didn’t do that with my first book” or “I could never pull this off.”

I’m never one to rest on my laurels. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who thinks they’ve ‘arrived’ and ‘made it’ is kidding themselves. As one international best-selling, multi-award-winning author said, “You're only as good as your next book, not the book you wrote 20 years ago!"

I know some people might find this hard to believe, but there are a lot of successful authors who feel pretty isolated. The result of achieving some status is often alienation from within the community. People presume the ego into them. I’m terrible for this. I just assume people don’t want to hear from me. I tend to think so-and-so’s very important and I’m nobody so why would they talk to me?

And you know what sucks? I tend to think that even after I’ve met people.

I thought about it a while back, and started a thread about it on Crimespace, about why we don’t encourage each other more. I think some people are afraid showing any vulnerability at all will be interpreted as a sign of weakness, so they keep it bottled up, hidden away. The results? Others often don’t understand that they, too, are human and struggle with their own insecurities. And the author feels that sense of isolation more profoundly than ever and never really gets that reassurance.

Now, I’ve been aware of the ups and downs that come with being in this business and being in the public domain, to a certain degree, for a while. Yes, I’ve been trashed on forums and blogs. Yes, I’ve been trashed via email. There have been a good number of days that I’ve cried. And there are people I’ve never met that I never want to meet because they are malicious and mean, horrendous gossips and have hurt me deeply, despite the fact that I don't even know them. (This is part of the reason I tend to be defensive of friends under attack. In recent months when people have been piling on I've felt alone, and nobody likes to feel that way.)

If asked, I’d put myself on the insecure side of the fence. I think this is both a good and bad thing. The good thing about it is, because I am not so conceited as to think I’m God’s gift to the literary world, I’m always pushing to do better. I’m willing to learn. I dream more of having an editor that will believe in me and invest the effort in me through a few books to build my career than having a six-figure advance. And I know there are a lot of people who wouldn’t like that, who’d think I have it backwards: I don’t. There is nothing more important than the craft. The sales will be what the sales will be, and you’ll get it in an advance or on the back end as royalties, but no amount of money or promotion can change the reality of putting out a sub-par book. And that’s something I never want to do. I look back on my own early efforts (especially short stories – ugh) and my new policy is that I only want to have 2 or 3 stories published per year, and they have to match or exceed the quality of what I’m currently producing. I mean, if I place more, great, but I’m not pushing for that. The point is quality, not quantity.

I don’t really want people saying I’m the richest writer out there. I want people saying I’m a great writer.

And you know what? That’s something you’re always struggling for. Nobody “arrives” and then everything they do is perfection. Every single author I respect pushes themselves to always do better. Their focus is on the quality of the work instead of the sales.

And I would bet money that all those authors I respect have their dark days when they struggle with doubt and feel like the writing isn’t going as well as they’d like. I bet they all have days when they get horrid emails and letters that make them feel lousy. I bet they all have authors they look up to and respect and think they wish they could do what that person’s done with their work.

Wherever you are on your journey, you aren’t alone in how you feel. We all relate to that. The big problem is, most people just can’t, or won’t, admit it. I haven’t got much room in my life for people who’re pretty full of themselves. But I’ve always got time for anyone who needs a shoulder and someone to tell them to keep going.

Just remember when you look at someone who seems successful, who seems to have it all together, who appears to have everything you want, often all you’re seeing is the image. A lot of dark days and less than perfect moments go into every second of success.

(And if you’re linking to my blog, please drop me an email and let me know so that I get your blog added to my links. Yeah, I still haven’t finished updating them…)

* If I was Ian, I'd hate me for it.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Tough Thing About Choices

My pick for an overlooked, underappreciated novel is now up on The Rap Sheet, and I have to confess it was a tough question for me. I'll admit it readily: I haven't been reading crime fiction long enough to have much to choose from in terms of older books, or more obscure titles.

That said, I didn't mind selecting something more recent, because perhaps making mention of it actually gives the person a chance of benefiting from some sales.

I strongly considered John Rickards and Steve Mosby as well. In terms of full disclosure, I met John in person at Harrogate and know him a bit from the blogs. I think he gets better and better with every book out, and the good news is that some of John's Hardboiled Jesus will see print in the next Out of the Gutter issue.

Steve Mosby is a friend of mine, and his writing skirts the fringes of the genre more than the works of some others. Because of that, his stuff is always original, and I've gone on the record pegging him as the breakout author of 2007. If there's any justice he will be, and a US deal will follow. Steve and I have a lot in common, and soon we'll share a special day. He's getting married on my birthday, so no excuses for me not to remember and send a present.

Today, I've been working on Spinetingler stuff, and I wrote a review that made some predictions. It was truly one of the toughest things for me to put down. I believe what I said - no question - but one of the things about being out in the public domain is that if you end up with egg on your face, it happens publicly too. I think that's one of the things about the blogs, in a way, that helps people. You see, if you decide to write a novel and do so at home, quietly, and try to get it published by it never happens, if you haven't told anyone you at least don't have to face public humiliation.

But when you're out there, talking about it, if it never happens you carry that with you. People know you failed.

I think that's one of the reasons some people get really sensitive about blog conflicts and accusations. It's definitely the reason I don't read a few blogs. There's almost a sense of... gloating. I find that rather sad. Actually, one thing I found rather sad was an email from someone we're publishing in the next issue, talking about how embarrassed they were to submit work to me, convinced I'd think it was crap.

And it's one of the best stories we've ever had submitted to us. And that's not to dismiss other stuff we've published and accepted - it's just that this story is amazing and this email broke my heart. I think mainly because I completely understood. I got a piece of fan mail today for Suspicious Circumstances. It made me think of how, most of the time, we work in isolation and we don't really get to enjoy any sense of accomplishment.

And then I was talking to Jon Jordan today, and was reminded of how horrid I am about showing my own appreciation for the hard work others put in, and the fantastic job they do. The new issue of Crimespree is out, with the incredible Laura Lippman on the cover, someone I count as a major inspiration. (She's a top-shelf author in this house, a must-buy.) The Jordans do a fantastic job with Crimespree, and it is so important that we have wonderful magazines focusing on the genre. It's worth every cent, and if you don't subscribe you should. (Plus, ordering back issues of #13 from last July is the only way to get a copy of my short story, The Butcher.)

Anyway, I'll go back to my cave now, slogging away on this issue. I still have a few interviews to finish and several reviews to write, so if you don't see me around as much for the next few days you'll know why. And if a whole week goes by, send chocolate. Why is it thinking about failure always makes me want chocolate?

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Last King of Scotland… and a word on books

I was going to talk about collecting books yesterday. Yet another thing that’s fallen by the wayside.

In a recent discussion on Crimespace about hardcover vs paperback, I got thinking about a number of things. One of those things was another notation I’d seen recently, about a drop in book sales. It was the kind of frustrating thing that only served to annoy me, because statistics can be skewed to mean anything. I would expect that we would see a decline in book sales in a year that no Harry Potter title was released. It’s been a few years since The DaVinci Code created the stir it did… What other books have stepped in to fill that void in the same way?

You see, there’s something to worry about if you’re seeing a decline across the board, genre to genre, when the numbers haven’t been skewed by some mega-successful book. Face it – there were a lot of people who bought The DaVinci Code who don’t normally buy books. Same with Harry Potter, in reality.

The real way to measure the business is to gauge if regular book-buyers are buying fewer books.

Because of concerns over declining book sales a lot of authors think paperback release is the way to go. I’m not hosting that debate here…

But that was what led me to think about collectible books, the books I cherish.

Just three years ago I didn’t have even one signed book on my shelf. Then I got a signed Ian Rankin book, the only signed Rankin book I have. Then a Val McDermid book. And I have a handful of books Val has signed – four.

From there, I added signed Mark Billingham, Stuart MacBride and Simon Kernick books. I have a signed Steven Torres book that also thanks me in the acknowledgements, which is kind of cool.

And I have a stack of signed Ken Bruen books.

I’ve always been a person who’s loved books, and perhaps it’s silly, but the signatures do mean something to me. I got thinking about this, as I thought about the most important books in my collections, the ones I won’t lend anyone.

They’re all signed. They’re irreplaceable.

From Sean Chercover’s “in joke” signature to Steve Mosby’s amusing note that brings back to Harrogate memories from last year, I enjoy all of them.

In a way, we’re more impersonal than ever. I used to write long letters to friends. Now, it’s instant emails, often quickies. The form allows for that brevity. I mean, if you’re going to take the trouble to write something you may as well write a note, especially if you’re paying to mail it anyway. Email? You can send one-word messages effortlessly.

It’s funny. There are more personal memories stirred up from the front of some of my books than anything else.

I haven’t signed very many books. I got an email earlier this week, asking about getting a signed copy of my book. Why is it when it comes to my book I still think, you really want it signed? but when it comes to books by others I value the ones that contain a note?

I did mention elsewhere one of the things I like about Orion is that they’ll release the hardcover and trade paperback simultaneously, because the recognize that there are different markets for them. If I could go out now and replace all my Rebus books with hardcover, I would. Well, except for the one signed one that I do have.

Am I nuts? Alone? The only person who treasures books? We already know I’m freaky enough to re-read them…

Last night, Evil Kev and I watched The Last King of Scotland. Now, people like Norby understand that I’m a bit out of touch when it comes to movies. (I think she’s given up asking me about movies and tv shows.) This was a good movie, and I’m glad I took the evening off for it. I don’t know how much of it was true, but I enjoyed it.

Although I have to ask, What’s wrong with Canada?

Okay, but setting that aside, it was nice to see Gillian Anderson on the screen – it’s been a while. I’m not big on giving spoilers, but this is a movie that takes you on a young man’s journey. He’s not a likely candidate for working as a doctor (to me) much less helping in an impoverished nation. He’s there as much to have fun as anything. Will he grow up in the end? You’ll have to watch it to find out.

And the actor playing our young doctor Nicholas, James McAvoy, reminds me of Ewan McGregor from back in Shallow Grave.

I recommend the movie. I loved to hate Forest Whitaker on The Shield, and he proves his range with this film.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Technological Help for the Do-It-Yourselfers

I should always be concerned when I get an email that says, "I know you're a prude, but just look."

Now, I had actually meant to do a rather serious post about the things we cherish. I was going to talk about my growing collection of signed books. I have the one from Sean Chercover that mentions deep tongue kisses (which Evil Kev had a few things to say about) and the one from Michael Connelly wishing me all the best with my book and writing.

There's the one from Mark Billingham that talks about Stuart MacBride and beards and legs and whose are better (and I have no opinion. Honestly). I have a few books signed by Simon Kernick, including a first edition.

In fact, I have multiple books signed by just about all the authors who've scrawled a signature on a book for me. A handful from Val McDermid and several from Ken Bruen. I used to have more signed by Val than anyone, but then Ken came along...

And I even have one lonely hardcover signed by Ian Rankin. I know, I know, one signed book, and I call myself a fan...

But I've forgotten whatever I was going to say about signed books completely (other than something about really liking them) because of this:

In fact, if you'd like the details about music activated orgasms, this would be the link.

Now, if that isn't incentive to learn to use an iPod then you're either a) dead, b) a nun, c) impotent, or d) a real prude. Or e) happily married.

There's just so much stuff nobody told me about in sex ed. And I just want to say that whatever you do in the privacy of your own home is nothing I want to know details about.

The Chicken & The Egg & Where Is Global Warming When You Need It?

Where is global warming when you need it? Really, I’d like to know. If I have to hear about the havoc it’s causing all the time could it at least get off its ass, this 24th of MAY and come shovel all 230 feet of sidewalk we have? Because it’s that wet snow, the kind that’s really heavy and useless, and that’s hard on the back when you’re doing all that bending and lifting.

Yes, I am whining and I’m entitled. It is MAY, for crying out loud. It is AFTER the Victoria Day long weekend. It is not even 10 flippin’ days until my birthday, and if there’s snow on the ground then I will have a little temper tantrum.

Well, okay, I won’t, but I must admit when I got up at 3:30 am because of one extremely annoying cat rubbing my head and purring I was stunned when I looked outside.

We have more snow now than we did at Christmas, and it’s still snowing.

So, on that note, I bring you wholly unrelated proof that the world is on her ass or off her axis or something.

A chicken has gone through a rare, spontaneous sex change in eastern India, a veterinarian said Thursday. The bird laid eggs six months ago -- and some hatched -- but it later began to grow a rooster's comb…
And the owner is calling it a ‘miracle’. If it had been a rooster that turned into a female I wonder if he’d use the same word?

I really need some good jokes today guys. Ones significantly better than the ones Mother Nature is playing.

And another note about Media Predict. I think every single person has a responsibility to do their homework when it comes to an agent, publisher, contest. Many are quick to rush to judgments without all the facts. The initial criticisms I read were based more on speculation about the process, rather than anything substantive (and no, I haven't read it all). Even after my quickie interview earlier this week there were still a lot of unanswered questions, as the comment trail here alone proved.

My thanks to Brian for emailing me and mentioning the terms of use on Media Predict's site. After taking some time to look at them I have to say I have no desire to participate in this. The 'perpetual' right to sell your work will be a deterrent for agents and the ownership issues are of some concern. I'm no expert with contracts but I strongly recommend that anyone considering participation do their homework and consult a lawyer. I will be watching to see how this unfolds, but at this point in time I have to say that my long-term speculation is that it won't produce anything of note to the publishing world.

In short, experienced editors who have been working in the business for years cannot always predict what will catch on and what won't. The reality is anything posted to this site will be likely a minimum of 18 months from publication. By that point, any 'hype' from the process will have eroded. It will make no difference to bookstore staff and readers, who ultimately decide what succeeds and fails in this industry.

I applaud the idea of listening to readers to some degree, but that remains my single biggest issue about this: There is no guarantee that readers will participate. In fact, the proof is that the main crime fiction 'industry' blogs haven't even discussed this, but my interview was picked up by Midas Oracle, a site that focuses on market predictions.

It is my feeling that this approach will attract game players and not readers, or book-buyers. And one thing that anyone in this industry should know is that a lot of us readers don't like being told what books to buy by people who don't know anything about our genre or our industry.

No snap judgments. Two days of thinking about it. And I stand to be proven wrong, but that's my present position on the whole thing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

School Shooting

A Toronto school shooting has claimed the life of a 14-year-old boy and forced a lockdown as police investigate the incident.

Trench at The Trenchcoat Chronicles (remamed will probably have all the latest news as it unfolds.

More Than Enough Blame To Go Around

The failure of our courts and legal system to appropriately deal with sex crimes is a crime itself. Honestly, I don’t know who to be angriest with.

We have the dad, who is admittedly a sick person, having confessed to raping his daughter repeatedly over a 14-year period and committing acts of bestiality.

Then we have Mom, who knew what was going on and didn’t leave, keeping her three daughters with him and exposing them to that risk.

And then there’s our wonderful so-called justice system. “According to agreed facts, the man and his hearing- impaired wife have three daughters, of which the victim is the oldest, who lived with them since they were born… However, there were two times in the early 1990s when the father did not reside with the family. That was when he was convicted of sexually assaulting the daughter and other children and sentenced to nine months in jail… After being released, the man was allowed to live with his family in a trailer on their Wabamun acreage. On his second day out, he raped his then-eight-year-old daughter, an event which occurred almost nightly for the next 14 years.”

He was convicted previously for sexually assaulting his daughter, and other children, and not only did the mother take him back but the courts let him go back.

You know, I’m sorry, I’m sure Mom’s a nice person and all, but where was the follow-up? We’ve got so many abused women staying with their abusers that relying on the mother to show common sense where raising her children is concerned is just stupid. After all, she let him come back to the family after his conviction. Should there not be some automatic follow-up when it’s been proven in a court of law that a parent is abusive? Who was watching out for these kids?

This is one of the most infuriating news stories I’ve read in a long time, because the extent of the abuse this woman suffered was completely preventable. She was failed by her father, her mother, and the legal system that knew he was a sick pervert.
“The man would threaten that if she told, she would break the family apart and they would have no money, and say "you don't want this to happen to your sisters… The victim was last raped in August 2003, but continued to live at home over concern for her sisters' safety."

If I were that woman, I would sue the ass off whichever fucked up agency let dad go home to his family after he was released from jail.

Why is it I have the impression that we just don’t take the sexual abuse of children very seriously in this country?

May he have many horrific shower experiences and rot in prison.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Betting on a Bestseller: Media Predict responds to questions about the stock market approach to publishing

Yesterday Simon & Schuster was (again) setting the publishing world abuzz with a strategy to involve the public in the publishing process. Brent Stinski, from Media Predict – the company overseeing the stock market game for S&S and the person who came up with the concept – takes some time to answer a few questions and explain how this process works.

Thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions about this new project with Simon & Schuster. First, can you explain a little about how it works? Can any writer (unpublished or published, agented or unagented) participate? What about those involved in the stock side of the equation? Can anyone participate or are there guidelines?

Hi Sandra. Thanks for writing. Let me start out with a few big picture comments – and then we’ll get into details.

Media Predict will help media companies do what they’ve never done very well: make good forecasts. Traditionally in media, around 10 percent of the product line generates about 90 percent of revenue. So – whatever method they’re using – media companies most often aren’t honing in on what people want. It’s a very inefficient process, and we’ve all come to accept it because, I think, we assume there’s no better way.

Media Predict uses prediction markets to address this problem. Prediction markets have built an astonishing record in forecasting election results, box office revenue, sporting events, and more. And this is true even when it’s a prediction market game like Media Predict.

So in a nutshell Media Predict uses markets to make sure good stuff gets through the system. That’s the goal.

Now to answer your question: yes, any writer can submit to the site, agented or otherwise. And anyone over 18 can register on the site and trade. We need avid readers (like Spinetingler readers) to look over the book proposals and trade shares of the book proposals according to their careful deliberation.

What would you say is the primary purpose behind this plan?

The primary purpose behind Project Publish is to ensure writers and users that at least someone will get published off of Media Predict. If you’re a trader, your predictions will have a huge impact. And if you’re an unknown writer then you can come to our site have a chance at getting published. All you have to do is impress the traders who evaluate your work at Media Predict.

How did this originate?

The idea started about two years go. I was in Iowa City (my hometown) and I had a cup of coffee with one of the people at the Iowa Electronic Markets at the University of Iowa. He encouraged us to forge on, and we did.

Is there any guarantee that a participating writer will get a publishing deal? Or is it possible several will, or nobody will?

I assume you’re referring to the setup of the contest. Some attention has been paid to this, but I think it’s a storm in a teacup. Basically Simon & Schuster wanted the right to opt out if we simply couldn’t provide them with any good, publishable books. Looking at what we launched with, we’ve already surpassed that goal. There’s some great stuff on the site. So yeah: there will be a winner.

Now, remember that anything that appears on Media Predict is eligible for publication at any time. Simon & Schuster will choose from the top-50 scoring works at a future date. But if a publisher wants to buy a book tomorrow, then they can. Given the quality of material we have, I expect that to start happening soon.

Author Barbara Fister has commented on this plan, saying, “On the other hand, I'd much rather be asked which book I'd like to read, not which book is likely to sell the most copies. This approach just seems to keep pushing away the question of what readers - real readers - actually like and gets the public involved in the same guesswork now done by publishers.”

I can sympathize with this view. The thing to bear in mind is that – one way or another – we’re all dependent on the internal mechanics of publishing houses to deliver our books to us. If we improve that, we all win.

I think the key is confidence. It’s hard to have a lot of confidence when less than 10 percent of books are supporting the production costs of almost 90 percent of what publishers put out. As it is there’s an overwhelming temptation for publishing houses to go for blockbusters, or cookie-cutter stuff that they think people will like.

But what if media companies had more confidence? At the moment, they often see unusual or innovative material as too much of a risk, but they’ll put out these kinds of works if they had good predictions to back them up.

So this author may chafe at having to make predictions about books he or she might never read. Then again, there are lots of different kinds of books on the site, and there’s no requirement to trade in them all. In the end, the method does its work – and the more it’s applied, the more we’ll raise the level of content that publishers put out for everyone.

Two questions came to mind when I read Barbara's comment. One was, what’s to stop the people from putting stocks on the books they do want to read, rather than what sells? Is there some incentive to “win” the game with the stocks by “investing” in a way that means you become the virtual Donald Trump of the game? If not, how do you gauge the intent behind any of the participation?

You become the virtual Donald Trump merely by predicting well what will happen. Will a book get a deal? Will a band get a deal? Will a television pilot win its timeslot? These are the questions.

What’s nice about markets is that I don’t have to know the individual psychology or motivation behind someone’s predictions. As long as they’re right, they’ll prosper. So one person might just bet on what they like as an individual consumer. Another person might make complex calculations in making a prediction. It doesn’t matter – in the end the market brings together everyone’s best ideas. And the end prediction is usually very, very strong.

And part of the article in the NY Times referred to this being used as a variation on a focus group. The commenter above clearly distinguishes between the question of what a person is interested in reading and what a person thinks will sell. For example, I read a variety of lesser-known authors – Steve Mosby, Carol Anne Davis, Allan Guthrie, John McFetridge – that I will happily buy future books by, but I know that an autobiography of Bill Clinton is going to sell more copies than any of their works. What would you say to those who wonder if this plan only gives ammunition to support projects that would be an easy sell anyway?

Going back to my comments above, the goal is to improve confidence. A guy like Steve Mosby (we can ask him) probably had a tough time getting people to pay attention to him at one point. But he’s good. He fought through, he got into print, and now he has his audience.

With greater confidence everything about media improves. Niche-specializing publishers put out and profit from niche books. Mainstream publishers put out and profit from high-volume books. The real problem is the risk and uncertainty – that’s what makes record companies crank out synthetic bands and movie studios put out something like Big Momma’s House 3. This kind of decision-making is based on a rational desire to recoup investment, since to executives these things seem like safe bets. Ironically in the end they’re not – since all kinds of derivative stuff fails too. But that’s the vicious cycle we’re in.

We say: if you have an audience, you have a deal. That’s the way it should be. Or at least that’s a future we’d like to see. And that goes for niche products as well as mainstream ones.

I recently discussed focus groups and having more reader feedback in the publishing process, which is something I believe in to a point. With this approach, what ensures that actual avid readers will participate, as opposed to those who enjoy playing with stocks?

We have no assurance. Media Predict makes some people very excited. Others don’t have the same reaction. So we’ll just work with the users who believe in us.

What’s nice about prediction markets is that you can generate very accurate predictions with only a few people – with only a few dozen, some researchers say. We may need higher numbers in the case of Media Predict. But we’re confident there are enough avid readers out there who will get hooked on this. (The site is supposed to be fun, you know.) We invite avid readers to join in and trade at Media Predict. It is their participation that will propel good stuff through the system. Their participation will be enough for us to generate good results.

Will there be status reports or updates through this process to try to drum up interest?

I’m not sure – we have a blog, and I’ll post there when I have time. As with any internet company, we’ll have to see how things go.

Now, how can writers participate? And how can readers get involved in playing the stocks?

Anyone can submit to Media Predict without any commitment whatsoever. Our current books were referred to us by agents, but we’ll include user submissions as well. Unfortunately we’re limited in the amount of material we can put up, but we’ll include as many books as we can on the site. After that, it’s up to the users to call the shots.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Not really . . . I guess we realize it’s a lot to take in, and that all of this can be confusing. I think some of the press coverage in the publishing community reflects that confusion. But we’re not trying to please everyone, and this isn’t for everyone. We’re really looking for the people out there who believe in this method – they’re more than enough to help us achieve our goals.

So if anyone out there has read this far, I’d encourage them to get involved. It’s your site. You can make it work.

Thanks for your interest Sandra. And thanks to your readers.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions Brent. This is one of the more original things I’ve seen lately, along with the author bus tours in Scotland. Very creative, and more than anything, it will be interesting to assess the entire process and see what happens.

Well, we never said we could compete with the bus tours in Scotland…

There has already been discussion about this on Crimespace, and undoubtedly as the industry takes note there will be more discussion. I guess you could say the jury is out – on the authors under submission and the process. The one thing I feel confident about is that a lot of people will be watching.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Things To Make You Think: Marketing, BSP & Publishing Thoughts Bring Me To A Bit of Rant

The Rap Sheet marks its one year anniversary with a series of posts that feature authors and reviewers naming books and authors they wish would enjoy a wider readership. My pick should be up later this week, but this is well worth checking out.

As it is, The Rap Sheet is one of my regular reads, and I think anyone interesting in the publishing world should make a point of dropping by – it’s always filled with interesting stuff.

Now, speaking of things to think about, Simon & Schuster have been setting the publishing world abuzz lately. First it was the criticism of changes to their boilerplate contract drawing fire. Now, in what feels a bit like déjà vu after my recent post about focus groups and reader involvement, comes word of a virtual stock market that may result in publishing contracts for writers. can crowds predict whether a book will succeed?

That is the hope of the founders of Media Predict (, a virtual market beginning today, and Simon & Schuster, a publisher that plans to select a book proposal based on bets placed by traders in the new market.

Media Predict is soliciting book proposals from agents and the public, and posting pages of them on the site. Traders, who are given $5,000 in fantasy cash, can buy shares based on their guess about whether a particular book proposal is likely to get a deal, or whether Touchstone Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, will select it as a finalist in a contest called Project Publish. If either happens within a four-month period, the value of the shares go to $100 apiece; if not, the share price falls to zero.

The site also allows traders to bet on the chances that unsigned musicians who currently top the rankings on, the social networking site, will get a record deal.

Media Predict is modeled after other so-called prediction markets like the Hollywood Stock Exchange, which allows traders to bet on the four-week North American box office receipts of movies, or the Iowa Electronic Markets, which allow people to bet on election results.

“Being able to predict the performance of something is key,” said Brent Stinski, founder of Media Predict. A prediction market, he said, “is a very powerful tool.”

For Simon & Schuster, the partnership is yet another attempt to gauge popular tastes. Earlier this year, the publisher teamed up with, a social networking site, to run an “American Idol”-style contest in which voters pick a manuscript for Simon & Schuster to publish.

In the case of Media Predict, traders are not voting on the book they like best, but rather are placing bets on which they think will do well. According to Mark Gompertz, publisher of Touchstone Books, Media Predict could do for book publishing what focus groups do for soap and soda and what screening audiences do for movies.

“Since Gutenberg first printed the Bible, critics have always said publishers don’t know what they’re doing. Just throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks is a crazy way to do business,” Mr. Gompertz said.

Well, I agree. The pasta approach to publishing isn’t a very sensible one. That said, there are all sorts of potential problems with this approach.

For one thing, I consider myself an avid reader. Okay, so I’m not a speed reader – I’m still someone who reads a lot, and reviews. I’m definitely part of the target audience for crime fiction.

But I know nothing about the stock market. Other than buy low, sell high, and there’s a gambling rush that goes with the territory and some people get addicted.

I can see that this approach will draw the interest of people who like to play these games. I can’t see this drawing the active participation of people like me who are too… non-math-brained to be able to figure out how the system works.

I have not done a full investigation of this new scheme, so I can’t comment on all specifics. (Yes, yes, I know, remarkably shoddy of me, but I wasn’t prepared to come blog until I’d done my minimum word count on the manuscript for the day.) However, I have serious concerns (as always) about people posting work online. How many of us have heard the story, of someone pitching a proposal, only to see a remarkably similar work pop up months later from the same source? I don’t believe this venture is limited to one genre, so there are a number of variables to consider. Do the traders understand market share? Do they know what percentage of the market is owned by fantasy/crime/horror/romance?

Anyway, if anyone goes to play with this and learns more, I’d love to hear about it. Okay, this is one of those ‘truth moments’ from me. Yes, I kicked some ass in my day in school. I believe my college math grade was 97%, for example.

But I have never been motivated to learn the stock market, and I have no desire to do so now. I’m writing a book at the moment. Well, to be technical, I have three under development, and one being shopped. And an issue of Spinetingler to finish up, and a bunch of submissions to wade through.

However, I would like to direct you to one other place for worthy thoughts. Kevin Wignall has another thought-provoking post up at Contemporary Nomad and it ties right in with this. I’ve already said more there than I probably should have, but they are thoughts I stand by. I want readers to have input in the publishing community, to a point. I specifically want devoted readers of a genre to be heard. Now, I’m not American, so this doesn’t affect me, but when poster after poster on DorothyL is saying they don’t want books by British authors ‘Americanized’ I think we should pay some attention. In fact, Spinetingler’s policy is, if the author is British they write British, if American they write American. As a result you might see both styles used in the same issue. I am Canadian and I still use the ‘u’ key a lot more than my neighbours to the south. I use American spelling for manuscripts, but when it comes to blogs, emails, etc, I usually use Canadian spellings.

However, the thought that publishing is being driven more by marketing groups than editors is cause for some concern. What will this mean for quality? Will we see more gimmicky books and fads filtering through the bookstores?

Meanwhile, John McFetridge sent me this link, about hip-hop lit, more than a week ago, and I’ve still been mulling over it. On the one hand, the proof that there is a market and appetite out there for some things traditional publishing venues have previously been overlooking.

On the other hand, there’s more emphasis here on marketing and concept than quality writing. Now, that’s an assessment based off reading one news article, and since I haven’t read any of the books I don’t mean for that to be a hard and fast judgment. Just a note – the founder of Triple Crown says herself she isn’t concerned about the technical writing, just the authentic voice.

I feel caught between two worlds. On the one hand, I have no problem with the fact that I need to have a public face and that I need to have a role in marketing my work.

On the other hand, if I felt like I was becoming one of the bsp brigade, and spent my time selling books out of the trunks of cars and invested more energy in promotion than writing, I’d be concerned.

That’s actually one of my big concerns about leaving authors to do their own marketing. It’s as bad as the pasta approach to publishing. Most authors don’t have a marketing background, and some have no idea how to handle the public sphere. On the whole, authors invest more money in bookmarks, postcards, coasters and paraphernalia than they do on public speaking lessons. Some spend more time on forums, blogs and network lists than writing their own stuff.

On a closing note, I would like to direct your attention to this post on publicity by Jon Jordan, over at Crimespace. Jon gives some good advice. I’m going to take it one step further.

A lot of people ask for publicity. And very few people give it.
This brings me full circle, right back to what I like about The Rap Sheet’s anniversary celebration idea. Here’s a way to get publicity – offer to write some reviews. Offer to do some author interviews. You get the profile, and a publishing credit, while doing something good for someone else.

And I’m so much more interested in people who participate in this community as a community and are happy to help other people who need it than those who just look out for number 1.

In fact, the more I think about this, the more I think that part of the reason I’ve wanted to see some more constructive methods of promoting books is precisely to do away with the bsp* brigade.

Then again, I’ve thought that being here, in my own little corner that nobody has to come to, promoting books I love, would be a relatively safe, painless thing. We started Spinetingler to give new writers a chance, and quickly expanded to promote authors at every stage of their career, to help out as many people as we could.

And the result of that has been a lot of criticism, that we play favourites, yaddi yaddi yadda. Earth to morons – how many Rankin books have I read since we started Spinetingler? And how many have I reviewed? Chew on that.

No matter what you do, someone will be right there to criticize you. But at least if I’m going to be criticized it can be for expressing my sincere enthusiasm for the authors who’ve entertained me and restored some of my faith, that great books still do get published, and that discerning readers still champion them.

And I hope those who only get ahead by puffing themselves up or cutting others down have short careers. I won’t just take note of the recommendations on The Rap Sheet this week – I’ll take note of every author willing to endorse someone else’s work.

* By this I’m talking about extreme self-promoting types, who only turn up on lists to proclaim ‘LOOK AT ME’, add people to spam mailers without their request, and think the way to get ahead is to harass people to death. Every conversation is about their book. Gag.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Meat Market

While I’m not particularly bothered by the sexist Spiderman figurine I am stunned by the results of a new survey about the dating scene. Another startling finding in the survey is 3.5% of the women asked said touching their breasts was an "acceptable alternative to hello".
Now, 3.5% is not very high, but if you're in a bar with 200 women, that means statistically somewhere there are seven of them who will let you shake more than their hands when you introduce yourself.
Of course, the secret is always figuring out which ones they are.

I can name at least one who falls in the 96.5%...

A few years ago there was a discussion about how group sex was popular amongst youth. It was the current trend. People speculated that it was the daycare mentality carrying over, with so many kids being raised as part of a pack by people other than their parents. I’ve been in and out of countless daycares and preschools and elementary schools – sometimes as staff, later as an aid to children with special needs – so I’ve seen a fair bit.

Especially when it comes to bathrooms.

And I’ve certainly seen a few boys streak through their classroom. Oddly enough, I’ve never seen a girl do that.

Which is why, I think, this survey is pretty surprising. Someone approaches you, says they’re doing a survey, and asks what’s an acceptable way to introduce yourself in the bar. And you just say it would have been okay if the guy had just touched your breast? What’s the follow-up line to that? And will we see the day when it’s okay to introduce yourself to a guy by walking up and grabbing his crotch?

While most women in the survey said they preferred a man introduce himself and start a conversation when they first meet, about 30% said "grinding" is an acceptable way to pick someone up.
"Grinding" is exactly what it sounds like -- a man introduces himself to a strange woman by coming up behind her on the dance floor and rubbing his pelvis against her.
In case you think this is a bit exaggerated, 84% of the women in the survey say this is how they have personally experienced new men introducing themselves.
And to think I wasted all that money on business cards.
Just in case you think this is a man thing somehow coded in our leftover male monkey DNA, a little less than half the women surveyed said they, too, first introduced themselves to men at a bar by rubbing a man's behind.

Now I’m really wondering what that movie, Grindhouse, is about.

All I have to say is that if people thought I was a prude 15 years ago, these young pups today would be calling me a dinosaur. I certainly didn’t see any of this at the bar last Bouchercon. Maybe I was looking in the wrong places.

As in, not at boobs or backsides.

On a different note, this totally cracks me up. I don't blame the police officer one bit, and I bet he enjoyed this one.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Of Babes & Studs, Take 2

With pictures.

The response to the above is what you see below.

Hell, I don't care which one it is, as long as one of them comes to do my laundry.

Thanks EAB.

Of Babes and Studs

"I can just picture the manufacturer saying, `What's wrong with that?' but if you stop and try to picture the roles reversed – of a man decked out like a total slut and subservient to his superhero wife, the image is just ludicrous," says "nolan ash" on

You mean the idea of being married to a hot guy subservient to me is ludicrous? Well... damn.

Okay, okay, so I'm not a superhero. But what is all the fuss about? A collectible of a busty Mary Jane doing Spiderman's laundry has sold out already, and created quite a stir.

Someone called Simon weighs in: "I'm a guy, and I'm as grossed out and offended by this as you are. I'm the goddamned target market for this piece of shit and it makes me want to go scrub myself with a wire brush.... Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go mow the lawn shirtless."

You know, I don't recommend that. Sometimes the lawnmowers shoot things out and then if there are mosquitos...

Okay, seriously. Is the fact that (some) men like boobs a newsflash? I wish the picture thing was working on blogger today, because I'd be tempted to dig out an old yearbook. There was this guy in high school, one of the athletic crowd, who dressed up for a costume contest as a male stripper. Tight black pants and nothing else but a bowtie and the applause he got when he won best costume in the assembly that day was proof the girls loved it.

If I was going to be bothered every time we're reminded that men like to look at women I'd never stop taking offense. And I'd be morally opposed to this.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Theakstons Old Peculier Longlist

The long list for the Theakstons Old Peculier prize, given out at Harrogate Crime Festival in July, has been announced. You can vote online. The shortlist of six is then selected and there's a second round of voting.

The nominees:

Dead Place by Stephen Booth
All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye by Christopher Brookmyre
Death of a Chancellor by David Dickinson
Never Go Back by Robert Goddard
Two Way Split by Allan Guthrie
Little Face by Sophie Hannah
Ash & Bone by John Harvey
The Stranger House by Reginald Hill
The Pure in Heart by Susan Hill
Blood and Honey by Graham Hurley
The Lighthouse by PD James
The Death Ship of Dartmouth by Michael Jecks
Cold Granite by Stuart MacBride
The Train Excursion by Edward Marston
Ratcatcher by James McGee
After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson
Dance with Death by Barbara Nadel
Jacquot and the Angel by Martin O'Brien
End in Tears by Ruth Rendell
Mr. Clarinet by Nick Stone

Vote here

My congrats to all.

Not on the list of inclusions

When you buy a home you often get a few surprises. There are usually things left behind by the previous owners. In our case, the strangest thing was a box of Paris Green. Turns out Paris Green was used as a pigment, until it was linked to deaths.

But that doesn't quite compare to this story:

A man making his first visit to a home he bought in a foreclosure auction found the former owner's mummified body sitting on the living room couch, police said Tuesday.

Coroners estimate the woman's remains had been there since 2001, when she stopped making payments on the residence in the coastal town of Roses in Spain's northeast Catalonia region.

The body mummified instead of rotting partly because of the salty seaside air in Roses, a Catalan regional police official said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

The woman, in her mid-50s, was estranged from her children in Madrid, and no one had reported her missing. She was not identified by officials.

See, absolutely nothing controversial from me today, but if you have stories about strange things you've found moving in to a house, feel free to share.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Focus Groups, The Americanizing of British Novels & How Publishers Can Join The 21st Century

(Quick news insert: Scotch on the Rocks over at Pulp Pusher, which you should bookmark because they’ve just accepted a story from yours truly for the July issue.)

”I am thinking it would be fun to do an arc in a f2f group. Discuss a book in detail BEFORE it is published and then give the author the feedback - or at least the feedback that might be useful.”

When I read that my automatic response was It’s never going to happen. Yes, call me a pessimist, call me a cynic. Lynne’s idea (posted on my Crimespace chat wall) has merit but adds a layer of work to the already lengthy publishing process.

Only a few days later an article in the NY Times said: The hunt for the key has been much more extensive in other industries, which have made a point of using new technology to gain a better understanding of their customers. Television stations have created online forums for viewers and may use the information there to make programming decisions. Game developers solicit input from users through virtual communities over the Internet. Airlines and hotels have developed increasingly sophisticated databases of customers.

Publishers, by contrast, put up Web sites where, in some cases, readers can sign up for announcements of new titles. But information rarely flows the other way — from readers back to the editors.

“We need much more of a direct relationship with our readers,” said Susan Rabiner, an agent and a former editorial director. Bloggers have a much more interactive relationship with their readers than publishers do, she said. “Before Amazon, we didn’t even know what people thought of the books,” she said.

Most in the industry seem to see consumer taste as a mystery that is inevitable and even appealing, akin to the uncontrollable highs and lows of falling in love or gambling. Publishing employees tend to be liberal arts graduates who enter the field with a starting salary around $30,000. Compensation is not tied to sales performance. “The people who go into it don’t do it for the money, which might explain why it’s such a bad business,” Mr. Strachan said.

I agree that reader feedback is important and that publishers should be seeking it. However, I don’t think that Amazon is the best way to get the kind of feedback publishers need. More on this shortly.

Evil Kev and I have been talking about this a lot lately, for a variety of reasons. Part of what spurred it was the fact that Lynne has read my new manuscript. Lynne read SC for me when it was in ARC form. A 4MA-er, she knows her in-depth book club discussions. She made a list of discussion questions for me that I could provide to book clubs.

Since she was interested in reading What Burns Within I thought that was more than fair, since she’d helped me out with SC, despite the fact it’s manuscript stage. I was a bit unfair to her, because I didn’t even give her a teaser to ground her with the story. Just handed her the manuscript. Duh. When people read books they have the back cover description to tell them who the main characters are.

Lynne’s response to WBW (“I stayed up till three thirty this morning reading it. WHY did that publisher turn it down? Nice or not whoever it was has made a mistake - this is really good. I am totally enjoying it, I like the characters and the story has me totally sucked in.”) was what ultimately led to our discussion about readers giving feedback at the ARC stage.

As Evil Kev pointed out to me, movies have been doing this for ages, with focus groups. Writers often participate in critique groups, but that’s not the same thing. Those are selected groups of writers who see your work again and again, and who pass their work back to you. I’m not discounting the value, but this is about giving readers some say. I don’t want to touch on the issue of sensitive writers but believe me, if someone offers me an ARC or manuscript to read to blurb and doesn’t ask for feedback, I don’t give it. I know better than to mess with an author’s ego about their work and I actually do value my life.

End of day, it is the readers we write for. Without an audience no books will see print. And sometimes publishers underestimate their readers.

What justifies that assertion? Well, here’s just one example. Several months ago I was working on a profile for a new publisher that had a focus on imported British fiction. The profile fell apart, but the groundwork was there, in reader surveys I did.

“I frequently order from the UK or Canada,” DorothyL reader Sarah B told me. “Why? Because either the book is not available in the USA and I've had it recommended to me, or it's not available YET and I can't wait. Recent examples are Anthony Bidulka from Canada, and Jo Bannister and Val McDermid in the UK.”

Sarah isn’t alone, either. “When the US release is a year or more later than the UK release, I find a way to purchase the UK version,” Kim in Minnesota told me. “I'm impatient. I can generally wait a month or two but not a whole year.”

Deb in South Carolina voiced stronger opinions. “The main reason that I order books from the UK is that I don't want my UK mysteries or fantasies 'Americanized'. I find the 'Americanization' changes to be demeaning to me as a reader -- and an insult to the author. The author intended the book to have a certain impact on the reader and I have to believe that that impact can change with the 'Americanization' - changing terms, spelling, etc. If I don't understand a term, I look it up on the Internet or in one of the marvelous books such as BOB'S YOUR UNCLE or FANNY PACKS AND BUMBAGS. Most of the orders took a week or more -- depending on what I wanted to pay -- or could afford to pay -- for postage.”

Within thirty minutes of posing the question on DorothyL on a Saturday morning I had half a dozen responses in my inbox. What that tells me is that there are a high number of American readers who feel strongly about this issue.

American publishers are automatically losing domestic sales to the international market because of “Americanizing” the novels or bringing the books out months behind their original release. I understand sometimes this is necessary to accommodate author tour schedules and for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with ‘Americanizing’ the books, but a good example would be the most recent Rebus book. There was no new US Rankin title in 2006. The Naming of the Dead could have been moved up to coincide with UK/Canada release. Don’t give me the song and dance about touring. Allan Guthrie was in NYC recently doing promotion and Hard Man doesn’t come out in the US until June. In Ian’s case, this would have allowed US fans to get the last Rebus book alongside everyone else. I mean, imagine asking the US to wait six months for Harry Potter. Right.

Instead, what happens is that reviewers in the US acquire copies early and say, “Don’t wait for the US release, get it now.” And people do, and down go the US sales figures.

This could be the same with American books being released in the UK – I honestly don’t know, so please don’t take it as US bashing. (If you want to hear someone bash just get me started on generalizations about Canada’s love of bloodless murders and stupid cops.) This is just one example of something I’ve seen readers discuss, that I know some feel strongly about.

I would like to see publishers utilize the internet to maximize their effectiveness. Having a website isn’t enough – it needs to be a professional website that suits needs. Friend of mine in the business told me about one night that $10,000 of sales were put through (educational publisher). She was finally able to persuade her boss that having a functional website that allowed direct purchasing was a sound investment. Go back to that last paragraphs in the NY Times article. Most in the industry seem to see consumer taste as a mystery that is inevitable and even appealing, akin to the uncontrollable highs and lows of falling in love or gambling. Publishing employees tend to be liberal arts graduates who enter the field with a starting salary around $30,000. Compensation is not tied to sales performance. “The people who go into it don’t do it for the money, which might explain why it’s such a bad business,” Mr. Strachan said.

We may love writing and books, but this is a business. Presently, the method for determining popularity seems to be based on sales. However, that becomes cyclical at some point. Someone has a great book out. It gets lots of attention. The publisher puts money behind pushing the paperback release. It’s stocked in Wal-Mart and Costco and all the right places to fly off the shelves. Bestseller. Comparable success follows for the next book. The author becomes a bit of a brand name and so then every single title they produce is automatically stocked in those outlets. Of course the books will do significantly better than the one by the new author who got a $5000 advance and no promotional budget. Sales only show us part of the picture. This does not necessarily mean that there is more of an appetite for Mr. Bestseller’s book than for Mr. Unknown’s. It just means Mr. Bestseller’s book is more readily accessible and heavily promoted so more people are likely to see it and buy it.

A lot of authors seem to be invested in finding the way to get on that promotional cycle so they can get exposure. What I think could be great for everyone is if publishers would shift it in a different direction.

Here’s a thought. Okay, not all logistics considered. But what if publishers started forums attached to their websites. They pick focus books each month and the author comes on to do an online discussion of the book, interacting with readers. This would be an attraction feature. By that, I mean that if word got around that JK Rowling was going to be on one website interacting with readers and answering questions and reading their comments I bet the traffic for the site would go through the roof. HBO did this a few years ago, for THE WIRE, with David Simon. I hide behind the luxury that we aren’t on Orion’s radar and they’ll never offer me an ARC of a Rankin title. I’ve never had to make a choice about reviewing a Rebus book. I do still review books I buy but I use it as my ‘out’ with those titles so that I can just sit back and enjoy them instead of doing a more critical assessment when reading. But if there was an in-depth discussion Ian participated in on an Orion forum I doubt I’d be able to resist.

So, you have your attraction that draws an audience. In addition to selected monthly discussion titles you also have general discussion sections for news about upcoming releases and customer comments on books. Why? I have mixed feelings about Amazon, because of how the system works. Since Evil Kev orders the books when we do use Amazon I can’t post reviews because I’m not considered a customer. And since we share the same credit cards (you know, being married and all) well, I can’t participate. Then we see the power of anonymity at work and we know how some people use it to bash people they don’t like.

The forum could conduct polls, provide authors and editors with feedback on new titles, provide feedback on things such as covers, and properly designed be an effective promotional venue to spread the word about new titles from that publisher.

By comparison to some things publishers invest major promotional money on, this could actually be cost effective.

Now, I’m going to leave you with more thoughts from Lynne. She gave me permission to use them. They are her opinion, but I think they highlight things I’ve heard other readers say on lists, in one cohesive email, and these are things worth thinking about. Please overlook the fact she’s talking about my manuscript (I mean, bless fans like Lynne, this is who I want to please with my work and I’d keep writing if for no other reason than that she’d come kick my ass if I didn’t, but she was reacting to the reasons I’d been given for a rejection) and see beyond to what she’s saying about styles of writing and what does and doesn’t have a place in a story, as well as older books that are still popular that don’t fit the modern conventions.

Your book is good. Yes you have a lot of characters. Yes you have to read into it a bit to sort them out --- what are we? Stupider than a hundred years ago?

H Rider Haggard, Erle Stanley Gardner, George MacDonald, SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE -- not one of them would get picked up today because you have to read three chapters to get a start on the story and even then it is slow and takes time to learn who is who and what is going on. People today want instant gratification - open the book and the first person you meet is the only name you need to remember, and the action is right there. That is fine now and again but it is not the only way to write and certainly it is not the only thing to read!

Edgar Rice Burroughs - like how famous is Tarzan? - and his first book of the series is almost entirely a buildup for the rest of the series! One of the best stories I ever read was People of the Mist by H Rider Haggard and really getting into it was work. Getting into Lord of the Rings is work. Why do people still read it? Because we know it is worth it. Without already knowing that would they still keep going through chapter after chapter of scene building? Can you tell this is a rant?

The bottom line is that your book is worth getting through the beginning with. Has Bob Fate read it? In some ways it is not so far off from his style. Baby Shark took a bit of reading to get going in too. Yes there is, in both cases, action at the start, but there is also character building and set up, explanation of future events, background - all good stuff. It can and is overdone at times but not by you. There was one author who went into detail on the wife of a retired cop who was not in the story and the wife was certainly not in the story as she had been dead ten years yet he gave detail on her social life and colour preferences and stuff - now THAT was unnecessary and really ticked me off (in fact that whole book ticked me off and the author was and is widely published but I never tried another of his).

Okay, rant over. I am not saying your story is perfect - I am not qualified to judge really but I do know that I enjoyed it and expect a number of other people will too given the chance. It is better than what I am reading now.

Of course, maybe this is the reason publishers don’t have forums. Maybe they’re afraid…

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

At What Point Do You Pack It In?

Last week I learned that fellow blogger and author Sand Storm had packed it in. There was a message up on the old blog site, but even that’s gone now.

Snap. Just like that, gone.

Elsewhere I was reading about someone who’s letting another manuscript languish in a drawer.

One of the things I was told very early on was not to give up. The words came from an author who told me how many rejection letters they’d received before finally getting published.


We tend to take bad reviews and rejections much the same way. It doesn’t matter how many acceptances you’ve had, or how many good reviews, it’s always the biting one that gets to you. Criticisms ring louder.

The reality is, editors rejected Harry Potter early on. This article from the NY Times is well worth the read, but one of the things it talked about was a book that many publishers passed on that eventually sold to Random House, and then through word of mouth became a NY Times bestseller.

Sometimes, you just have to believe. It really doesn’t matter about all the editors who say no – all that matters is the one who says yes.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because of something that Steve Mosby said for an upcoming Spinetingler interview, about having the support of your publisher behind you in the long term. Steve has that, and truly, it’s what every author should really want, more than the flashy deals and advance touting as a mega-star.

Perhaps the problem is that sometimes, we get sidetracked into thinking we should have what others have and that that’s the way. I am always mindful of the fact that many of the authors I respect the most - Bruen, Pelecanos, Lippman, Rankin - spent time paying their dues. They were not overnight successes. And that’s why none of them have been a flash in the pan either.

It’s easy for others to look at their current success and envy them. It’s also lazy. I guess it's the way of the world, to want today what others worked for years for.

Set realistic goals for yourself. There will be moments of discouragement. Okay, some times, there will be whole weeks of discouragement. At the end of the day the love of writing remains the same, and it’s the one constant. Even if nothing I produced ever went into print again I’d still be writing.

And hey, I’d have a lot of free books to give away as downloads.

Speaking of which, the free books draw winners:

Simon Kernick’s The Business of Dying goes to… Terry.

Ian Rankin’s A Question of Blood goes to… Rosemary.

And I have concluded from the number of people who said they’d never read a Rankin book that I have obviously not been doing enough to promote him, so there are subliminal messages in the text of this post telling you to read Rankin. It's my blog, I can do what I want.

Monday, May 14, 2007

I Feel Like An Idiot

I mean, more than usual. How is it that you can grow up in a place and not know things about it? Or maybe you did know but you suppressed it all, but I don't think that's the case.

Still, the ongoing process of discovery is something I find fascinating. I thought of this when I read that a certain author had gone to a place not so far away from their home on holidays, and discovered this site they refer to in the back of their latest book as 'skin-crawling'.

What is it that's making me feel especially dumb? I didn't know that the town of Bracebridge, Ontario was named for Bracebridge Hall, a work by Washington Irving, who also penned The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

What started me on this path to enlightenment, you ask? Well, the discovery that the neighbouring town of Gravenhurst, Ontario was originally named McCabes Bay. A perfectly good name discarded in favour of a literary reference that we don't even talk up. And thus the rumour it was named after two items used by the biggest local business (grave & hearse) is disproven.

You know, I was always told Bracebridge got it's name from the bridges. And I always thought the name Gravenhurst was depressing. Scroll through these and you'll see why it strikes me as an underwhelming name that doesn't fit the landscape.

Life Sentence

Ah, what it is to be young, naive and foolish. I can hardly believe my niece was once that sweet. Now she's practically 13 going on 23.

But once upon a time, I was pretty naive myself. And from time to time when we're young and foolish we make some choices that end up having long-lasting consequences.

I'd met this guy with a highly impractical convertible. I mean, come on, this was Calgary. Not exactly an all-weather vehicle.

I was a bit cautious. After all, I'd certainly dated a few monkeys in my day.

But although Evil Kev could be pretty mysterious...

And I can ride a horse while he can only sit on one...

Despite all that, and the fact he's part Scottish, when Kevin got down on one knee and proposed eight years ago today I said yes. And no, you don't get any mushy pictures of us smooching or anything like that. This is about as sappy and sentimental as it gets here - a dedication, to Evil Kev.

"Who Needs Sleep?" by the Barenaked Ladies

Now I lay me down not to sleep
I just get tangled in the sheets
I swim in sweat three inches deep
I just lay back and claim defeat

Chapter read and lesson learned
I turned the lights off while she burned
So while she's three hundred degrees
I throw the sheets off and I freeze

Lids down, I count sheep
I count heartbeats
The only thing that counts is
that I won't sleep
I countdown, I look around

Who needs sleep?
well you're never gonna get it
Who needs sleep?
tell me what's that for
Who needs sleep?
be happy with what you're getting
There's a guy who's been awake
since the Second World War

My hands are locked up tight in fists
My mind is racing, filled with lists
of things to do and things I've done
Another sleepless night's begun

There's so much joy in life,
so many pleasures all around
But the pleasure of insomnia
is one I've never found
With all life has to offer,
there's so much to be enjoyed
But the pleasures of insomnia
are ones I can't avoid

And for this occasion, a rare treat... The very real face of Evil Kev.

I love you honey and I'd say yes all over again. Not sure you'd be dumb enough ask a second time, though! At least, not without checking the warranty more carefully.