Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tuesday Tips: Fatal Flaws and Research

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

Sometimes, we’re simply too close to our own work to see it objectively.

I have experienced this, both as a writer who has looked at something until my eyes burned and the words blurred, and as the reader who has been asked to offer feedback, only to find what the writer really wanted was praise.

I was asked to critique something once, and I won’t use that specific example here. But I’ll use a comparable one.

Imagine a seventeen-year-old Amish girl who’d left her community to live in the big, bad world. She has a contact, a friend who left before her, that knows a person that can teach her how to drive a car.

Only when she goes to meet her friend, he’s on a stretcher, being lifted into the back of an ambulance. The scene is a mess of vehicles – none damaged – blood on the pavement, stressed onlookers and cops in uniform taking statements.

The person who was supposed to teach her how to drive a car approaches the Amish girl and she asks what happened.

He says, “Can you keep a secret?”

She nods.

“It was a 480.”

WTF? Okay, if you’re a cop, you should know what that means.

If you’re an Amish girl and have just moved to the city, that moment of profound revelation falls flatter than a camisole on an undeveloped girl’s chest.

And it is a line just like that that can pull a reader out of the illusion and kill a story for them.

This is trickier than it might seem. We think we can make everything up, but there has been a push for realism in fiction, for writers to make their world seem believable. Readers are increasingly critical, down to nitpicking over historical accuracies, use of proper police procedure, the month of a year that an item was invented or a coin was released… I mean, damn, sometimes writing non-fiction is a lot easier.

This is why it’s important to find people you trust who can look at your work with a critical eye – people who know nothing about it. In the case of the work I referred to, I knew what the phrase used at the end of chapter 1 meant because it had been explained to me. But putting myself in the protagonist’s shoes, there was no way that character would have understood what the term meant, or the significance.

That bothers me more than nitpicky research. When something said in the story is supposed to have significance and yet it contradicts what the character should legitimately know or understand, then I have a problem. It throws the character into doubt for me. Are they really a naïve Amish girl who has just moved to the city, or are they a street-wise punk that’s been studying law enforcement?

One of the most interesting things for me was to research a dog search for Echoes and Dust (or Terms of Redemption). I thought I understood how it was done. I’ve read an extensive amount about dog training and have some limited experience.

And I was wrong.

If I’d set the book in the US, I might have been right. But I wasn’t. And the top dog trainer for the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) not only called me to answer questions but read that portion of the manuscript and then called me again, to tell me what I got wrong.

I had to rewrite the entire scene.

First of all, the RCMP don’t use a scent item for tracking. They don’t stick a shirt under the dog’s nose and tell him to search.

The dogs are trained to search for a general scent trail in the area. This is often more effective, for a variety of reasons.

One is that items of clothing or possessions are often contaminated by other scents when handled. Another is that if a person has fled a murder or robbery, they’re usually running.

Which means sweating.

Which means they leave a strong scent trail, the one the dog is most likely to pick up.

The next thing I’d gotten wrong was that nothing was going to stop this dog from running for hours, certainly not the piddly river I had running through my scene that stopped the search in the story.

Geographically, I needed a wall of rock going up or a Grand Canyon, or an act of God to stop that dog. These dogs are hard-core.

It was a phenomenal experience. It isn’t quite the same as correcting a fatal flaw, but it is a critical piece of research that, neglected, would have jeopardized the believability for some readers.

And you know what the great thing was? Revising the scene not only made it believable, it made it a better.

I'd also made the mistake of writing in a highly trained husky - not in the same scene. No matter how much I read about husky temperaments, it wasn't until a few months after draft 1, when we got Chinook, that I understood just how unbelievable a highly trained husky that could go off-leash and always respond to his owner was.

Anyone who has ever owned a husky would laugh at me.

Oh, it's possible. I've talked to some husky owners who say their dog will always come back. We used to say that about Nootka, that he'd never run off...

Used to.

The bottom line is, it pays to get your facts straight, and I’m really glad I didn’t shrug off the research.

Writers always need to consider that readers may not understand something in our work. We know the story and the characters, but we do not always convey everything precisely in our work.

Read my interview with Cornelia Read in the Spring 2006 Issue of Spinetingler, and hear how a pro dealt with revisions. The attention to detail, to accuracy, is staggering.

And inspiring.

Because great authors try to get things right.

And they understand the value of feedback.

Here's something from someone who never included me and evilkev in their study.


Because he shops more than I do.


Now, about that pesky contest, if you didn’t check out the website yet, visit Sandra Ruttan.com and at the bottom of the front page there’s a link to the Quill Review.

Yes, that’s right, I’ve been interviewed. And this time not by the police.

And the interview may, or may not, help you with tomorrow’s trivia contest and question.

Yes, the prize is a copy of the 2005 Spinetingler Anthology, BUT if you have a copy already (Stuart) then a substitute prize may involve alcohol.

Check back tomorrow for the trivia question.

Which may be as simple as, “What is Sandra’s nickname for her husband?”

Or then again, maybe it won’t be…

Monday, February 27, 2006

Another ripple in the pond

What will it mean to the future of publishing when authors like James Frey lie, and authors like Dan Brown are taken to court for charges of stealing other author's work for the popular The DaVinci Code?

My usual post is below, but when I saw this I was shocked to think that we have had so many scandals in the writing world recently. I can't help but wonder if this is some twisted effort to raise authors to the newsworthy level of Hollywood celebrities, or if reckless authors (be it the writer charged or the writers making the charge - I don't know which) are going to undermine the publishing business as a whole.

Your thoughts?

The Fairer Sex, The Fouler Sex?

What men desire is a virgin who is a whore. Edward Dahlberg

Now, I’m going to generalize a bit here, but it’s a bit unfair at times that a man can be crude and that’s fine, because he’s just being a man, but when women talk straight, then they’re being extremely unladylike.

It goes to the heart of Mr. Dahlberg’s comment. There’s still an idea in society that women are supposed to pretend to be all modest and innocent, but once you get behind closed doors it would be good if you aren’t so innocent.

Or even inexperienced, I suppose.

Evilkev and I have been re-watching one of our favourite shows, and we came to one of my favourite lines:

The Greek

You should have had a son.


But then I would have had a wife.

Ah yes, one of the great trials of life. Wives. Lord knows I wouldn’t want one.

Especially this one. I mean, it begs some obvious questions about what legally defines a marriage when a seven-year-old girl marries a dog. Because you know, in most places, the lack of some, um, particular bonding activities would nullify the marriage.

And in some places, that’s illegal.

Not to mention…well, okay, never mind. I’m just not going to go there on the blog. I’m sure you’re all wondering the same thing as me and then I have to ask myself, do I really want to know?

I found it rather ironic, though, that I’d just received this.

Jokes play to the stereotypes, but there was something in that which my friend and I both found sadly true.

The tendency of women to be jealous of each other.

It isn’t universally true, but it definitely is something that comes up. It’s certainly something I’ve experienced, both ways.

Do guys get jealous of each other? You know, that just isn’t something I see, in my experience, much. It makes me wonder what it is about women that can make us sweet us pie and tough as nails, loving and generous and yet cruel and vindictive.

Because I see all of that in me. And I think most women have at least seen those extremes in others, even if they haven’t expressed them themselves.

I’ve heard some crime writers talk about how women seem to take things just that bit further, they’re willing to be that much more graphic.

I wonder about that.

Are we more cynical because we have to live with men?

Or are we more competitive because it’s been harder for us to survive independently in the past?

Or are we just more fair on the outside because we're expected to be, and inside balance that out with a foul streak?

Tossing my rambling sexist thoughts aside, I’ve put it out in stages that I’m going to have a contest! And with that in mind, there will be something today and tomorrow I’ll mention, and then on Wednesday, just before I leave town for a few days and abandon you to suffer blogdom without me until next week, I’ll post a trivia question and tell you how to enter.

For now, I leave you with the news that Sandra Ruttan.com is now complete. Until somebody tells me there’s a horrendous typo or something. But you might want to check it out, as it might help you with the trivia contest.

Oh, and the prize is a copy of the Spinetingler Anthology, featuring 2 short stories by me, one that’s only appearing in the anthology, and a previously unpublished short story by The Multi-talented Birthday Boy, Stuart MacBride! Don’t forget to drop by his blog and with the old man happy birthday, you never know how more he’ll have.

I’ll have Tuesday Tips tomorrow and another trivia clue.

And now I expect you all to tell me how right or wrong I am about women.

Or how much you love my website.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Laws of Nature

Stellar headline.

What's really funny here is that anyone who has ever had to write a headline for print before knows you're supposed to keep them short and sweet. Not only did they go for loooooonnnnng, but they still managed to mess up the message.

Moral of the story: more does not always mean better.

I'm thinking about this as I think about the fact that I have to write a thirty-word blurb for my novel.

And I thought a 500-word synopsis was tough.

So tell me, what is it on a book blurb that will catch your attention?

Oh, and that surprise I was mentioning... I'm going to have a contest. And I'll heavily favour those who post a reply to this post, because I'm petty that way.

Bring on the burritos!

Or don't drink and make signs?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Saturday Smiles

It's the weekend, Saturday specifically, which means that it's time for some r&r. Evilkev and I will head off to the city, try to survive Costco and have our usual weekend breakfast. Eggs, toast and bacon.

I don't know how we got into that habit, but somehow, we did.

And in keeping with my occasional Saturday habit here, I've got a few cartoons for you. Except they're kind of real. One at least I'm sure you'll have seen before, but it's still worthy of a smile.

Prompt attention

Superior city planning

Decisions, decisions

When it's time to change your name

What will you guys be doing today?

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Friday Funnies

For John, because of his special use for cereal.

Not Cheerios

A 6-year-old and a 4-year-old are upstairs in their bedroom.
“You know what?" says the 6-year-old. "I think it's about time we start cussing."

The 4-year-old nods his head in approval.
The 6-year-old continues. "When we go downstairs for breakfast I'm gonna say "hell" and you say "ass."

"OK!" The 4 year old agrees with enthusiasm.

Their mother walks into the kitchen and asks the 6-year-old what he
wants for breakfast.

"Aw hell, Mom, I guess I'll have some Cheerios."

WHACK! He flies out of his chair, tumbles across the kitchen floor, gets up, and runs upstairs crying his eyes out, with his mother in hot
pursuit, slapping his rear every step. The mom locks him in his room & shouts, "You can just stay there till I let you out!"

She then comes back downstairs, looks at the 4-year-old, and asks with a stern voice, "And what do YOU want for breakfast young man?"

"I don't know," he blubbers, "but you can bet your fat ass it won't be

Yes, that’s right ladies and gentleman and others who frequent this place, it’s time for the Friday funnies.

Brevity. It’s the order of the day. Less me, more to laugh at.

Although some would say more of me is much more to laugh at.

And because I’m a glutton for punishment, especially your punishment, I’ve come up with a usable photo for now.

I’m going to make due for a couple months with this one. Bottom line is, yes, it would be nice to get the professional shot done, but at the pricetag…ouch. Not when I’ve just paid for Harrogate and am registering for BoucherCon and am saving up for my bar tab and, well, frankly, don’t need a headshot for my book yet.

And when I do, I’ll bit the bullet. And hope this wasn’t the early work of the make-up artist.

I must say, I'm disappointed in all of you.

I'm disappointed that, despite my error in not putting the footnote into yesterday's post, nobody took the opportunity to comment on me landing on my head potentially explaining a few things. Shame on you people! You're falling down on the job! Every exposed weakness is supposed to be an opportunity to slam someone. You just aren't cruel enough!

What will next week hold? Well, a mix of writerly and non-writerly topics, as per usual, and a big surprise. I can't tell you, or it would ruin the surprise and I'd have to kill you for spoiling it for everyone.

So don't make me tell you.

I'll likely be posting as usual this weekend, but I hope all of you are doing something far more fun and exciting and that you have a safe, happy time, whatever you're doing.

And on that note, I bring you True Doctor Stories - for M.G.

A man comes into the ER and yells, "My wife's going to have her baby in the cab!"

I grabbed my stuff, rushed out to the cab,
lifted the lady's dress, and began to take off her

Suddenly I noticed that there were
several cabs, and I was in the wrong one.

--Dr. Mark MacDonald, San Antonio, TX

At the beginning of my shift I placed a stethoscope on
an elderly and slightly deaf female patient's
anterior chest wall.
"Big breaths," I instructed.

"Yes, they used to be,"
remorsefully replied the patient.

--Dr. Richard Byrnes, Seattle, WA

One day I had to be the bearer
of bad news when I told a wife that her
husband had died of a massive
myocardial infarct.

Not more than five minutes later,

I heard her reporting to the rest of the family
that he had died of a
"massive internal fart."

--Dr. Susan Steinberg, Manitoba, Canada

I was performing a complete physical,
including the visual acuity test.

I placed the patient twenty feet from the chart and

"Cover your right eye with your hand."

He read the 20/20 line perfectly.

"Now your left."

Again, a flawless read. "Now both,"

I requested.

There was silence.

He couldn't even read the large E on the top line.

I turned and discovered that he had done exactly what
I had asked; he was standing there with both his
eyes covered.

I was laughing too hard to finish the exam.

--Dr. Matthew Theodropolous, Worcester , MA

During a patient's two week follow-up appointment with his cardiologist, he informed me, his doctor,
that he was having trouble with one of his medications.

"Which one?" I asked. "

The patch.

The nurse told me to put on a new one every six hours and now I'm running out of places to put it!"

I had him quickly undress and discovered what I hoped I wouldn't see.

Yes, the man had over fifty patches on his body!

Now the instructions include removal of
the old patch before applying a new one.

--Dr. Rebecca St. Clair, Norfolk, VA

While acquainting myself with a new elderly patient,

I asked, "How long have you been bed-ridden?"
After a look of complete confusion she answered ...
"Why, not for about twenty years -- when my husband was alive."

--Dr. Steven Swanson, Corvallis, OR

I was caring for a woman from Kentucky and asked,
"So, how's your breakfast this morning?
"It's very good, except for the Kentucky Jelly. I can't seem to get used to the taste," the patient replied.

I then asked to see the jelly and the woman produced a foil packet labeled "KY Jelly."

--Dr. Leonard Kransdorf, Detroit , MI

And Finally, the one worth waiting for
A new, young MD doing his residency in OB was quite embarrassed performing female pelvic exams.

To cover his embarrassment he had unconsciously formed a habit of whistling softly.

The middle-aged lady upon whom he was performing this exam suddenly burst out laughing and further embarrassed him.

He looked up from his work and sheepishly said,

"I'm sorry. Was I tickling you?"

She replied, "No doctor, but the song you were whistling was 'I wish I was an Oscar Meyer Wiener."

--won't admit his name

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Pet Peeves

Should children witness childbirth?

Due to a power outage, only one paramedic responded to the call. The house was very, very dark, so the paramedic asked Kathleen, a 3-year-old girl, to hold a flashlight high over her Mommy so he could see while he helped deliver the baby. Very diligently, Kathleen did as she was asked.

Heidi pushed and pushed, and after a little while Connor was born. The paramedic lifted him by his little feet and spanked him on his bottom. Connor began to cry.

The paramedic then thanked Kathleen for her help and asked the wide-eyed 3-year old what she thought about what she had just witnessed.

Kathleen quickly responded, "He shouldn't have crawled in there in the first place......... smack his ass again!"

When I got that joke, it resonated with me. I remember once, I was staying at the friend of a friend’s place. Less than two hours after arriving and meeting her for the first time, the hostess offered to show us the video of her child’s birth.

I would rather scrub vomit off the toilet in a bus station.

Since then, I’ve ranked offers to watch women give birth on video on my top 10 list of pet peeves.

Not that I really have a list, per se. I just know when I see something that rankles me that it’s one of my pet peeves.

The other day I was driving into the city, and I remembered another pet peeves. Crosswalks.

Okay, before all the pedestrians have a coronary, I used to be a true pedestrian. I walked to and from work every single day. I would walk to the malls, although it took me an hour each direction. I was just an avid walker.

But the way that the crosswalks are set up bothers me, and so do the laws that go with them.

We have controlled and uncontrolled crosswalks here. Some, you press a button and a light goes on instantly and people just walk right out. Others, there’s no light, and people walk out as well, hoping people clue in and stop.

I hate the second kind of crosswalk completely. But I have an issue with the first as well.

Why? Because there should be a warning delay. We have warning lights that alert drivers that the light at the intersection ahead is about to change to red. But when someone wants to walk out in front of moving vehicles that can splatter their bodies in bits all over the pavement, there’s no warning.

Really, it isn’t safe for the drivers or for the pedestrians.

What also bothers me about this is that the new generation of kids growing up has the mentality if they point and walk out, the traffic has to stop for them, and they do it without looking to see if the traffic CAN stop for them in time.

I was driving along the Trans Canada highway when I was stewing about this. One would think highways would be exempt from such ridiculous systems, but no. Not here.

And the city council is too cheap to build walk-overs or walk-unders that could save lives.

So instead, they spend money sending firefighters, police and paramedics out to scrape the latest human pancake off the road. What’s another dead pedestrian?

What’s another dented car with a traumatized driver?

Truth is, a lot of drivers don’t pay enough attention. But neither do a lot of pedestrians.

I have my own experience on the subject, because I was hit by a car at the age of 8. Now, I was hit while riding a bike, but it still counts.

Because bicyclists on the road are another one of my pet peeves.

But I’ll resume the story.

I was following my sister home. Riding right on the edge of the road like I’d been taught. There was traffic in both directions because it was shift change time at the Muskoka Center, down the road from where I lived.

A gentleman decided he would try to pass anyway. If he’d been driving a VW Rabbit it wouldn’t have been a problem.

But he was elderly, and he was driving a boat.

To make matters worse, it was his eightieth birthday, and he’d just gone to town to pick up his birthday cake, which was on the front seat.

Until he rammed into the back of me and I flew through the air in perfect synchronization with his cake, which sailed off the front seat. We did our spins and turns and both landed on our heads. My neighbours went to his place for birthday dinner. They said the cake didn't look quite right...

My white t-shirt was blood-soaked by the time I wobbled to my feet. You know what I remember most about that moment?

The asshole who got out of his car and picked up my bike and threw it in the ditch and walked away. Never underestimate the lack of willingness of some people to do the right thing. I mean, so sorry I was blocking traffic for you, buddy.

The other thing I remember was my dad blaming me for the accident. I felt so vindicated when I studied for my license to learn that the law was that bicyclists are entitled to one full lane in passing.

But here’s the deal, it doesn’t matter what the law is. It doesn’t matter what’s right. What matters is that I'm pretty lucky I wasn't dead after that.

Any idiot – whether they’re punk kids street racing that don't have enough time to stop or lose control and plow into people, or one that thinks that driving around with a ‘baby on board’ sign swinging wildly in the back window gives them a free pass on paying attention, or one that thinks they can hold their liquor - can run into you and take your life away in the blink of an eye. (I don’t mean to pick on 99% of parents. Just the few that make everyone else look bad.)

Now, I’ve also been hit by a drunk driver. Fortunately, he was one of those that moved slooooooowwwwwwly when drunk, but that’s another story.

While thinking about my annoyance about how crosswalks are set up, I started to realize what’s really at the root of the problem.

Money, and indifference.

Governments are too cheap to invest upfront in building walk-overs and walk-unders, and they don’t even put the lights up at all marked crosswalks, which makes some exceptionally hard to see, even in average driving conditions.

And people are too lazy to fight for change.

We often tend to wait until something affects us before we’re willing to take action on it. It’s human nature, I suppose.

This was on my mind yesterday, when evilkev told me the local town council wants to slash the fire department's annual budget.

Know how much it cost to have a fire department here last year? Less than $30,000 Canadian dollars. They barely pay the firefighters - likely works out to about a 50 cents per hour for all the time they put in. And the town uses the fire station, so they waste gas and electricity and supplies that come out of the fire department's budget.

But they still want the department to spend less.

So the chief said that the next time one of their houses caught fire, the department had a way to save some money...

I told evilkev that they'd better believe that if slashing the budget caused my home to burn down, I would sue the town's ass off. And you better believe that if they don't change their tune, I'll be having a few things to say to them at a town meeting.

Plus writing a letter to the editor...

Kevin always thinks I overreact about stuff like that. But I disagree. Every time he goes out the door to a call, it could be the last time I see him, and I don't need some small-town shitheads on the local council who've been there longer than I've been alive deciding that they're going to jeopardize lives because they want to save a few bucks.

Plus they increased my property taxes a lot last year. And they re-paved a bunch of streets in town and poured new sidewalks. So don't tell me they don't have the money.

I’d better stop this before it turns into a political ramble about my failure to understand why governments tend to be reactive instead of proactive.

But I did learn something from my musing on my pet peeves. What I thought was the root of my annoyance was, in fact, just the byproduct of my real issue.

Of course, I could go into great length about my feeling that all bike couriers that disregard the rules of the road should be fair game and people shouldn’t care if they get creamed, except for the car damage… Man, I hated it when I worked downtown. I know everyone wants to penalize people who drive downtown, but that’s where the office and supplies were, and then I had to drive out to the quadrants of the city and visit clients, and so I needed a vehicle to get there on time, and to cart the training equipment around.

And I do have a real problem with the fact that bicyclists follow both pedestrian and vehicle laws whenever one suits them better.

And since, as a pedestrian, I was run over by a bicyclist once, I feel I have a right to gripe.

You’re probably seriously doubting my assertions by now. Believe me, I wish I was lying. I’m one of the most accident-prone people you’ll ever encounter and the only thing that surprises me is that I wasn’t run over by a runaway camel when I was in the Sahara.

But when that bicyclist hit me, my head struck pavement* and I was knocked unconscious. That hurt.

So I’m scared of walking, scared of riding a bike, and as a driver wary of both bicyclists and pedestrians.

Not to mention the other drivers. Don’t even get me started on my pet peeves with them.

Truth is, we can find fault with almost everybody, can't we?

But if you’ve got some pet peeves, I’d love to hear them. I usually find people’s pet peeves are born out of common sense, and the failure on someone’s part to acquire and demonstrate any.

And in true Sandrablabber fashion, another joke. Because it’s been pretty serious around here lately! And tomorrow I’ll be back with the Friday Funnies.

All of his life George from Caribou, ME, had heard stories of an amazing family tradition. It seems that his father, grandfather and great- grandfather had all been able to walk on water on their 21st birthday. On that day, they'd walk across the lake to the boat club for their first legal drink.

So when George's 21st birthday came around, he and his pal Corky took a boat out to the middle of the lake. George stepped out of the boat and nearly drowned! Corky just managed to pull him to safety.

Furious and confused, George went to see his grandmother.

"Grandma, it's my 21st birthday, so why can't I walk across the lake like my father, his father, and his father before him?"

Granny looked into George's eyes and said, "Because, you dumb ass, your father, grandfather and great grandfather were all born in January and you were born in July."

And don't forget to visit John Rickards for some Hardboiled Jesus. If you were ever wondering why he's going to hell...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Miss Snark made an oops, a cartoon for Kim & an update for anonymous

Yesterday I dropped by Miss Snark’s blog, and found this comment in regards to a question about how to know a publisher is legitimate:

“Are there specific but standard QUERY guidelines? No publisher who is legitimate as far as I know, will take full manuscripts on the first go round.”

I must say, Miss Snark’s is wrong here.

NeWest Press says “We are accepting only complete manuscripts at this time. Please send us your manuscript along with a covering letter.”

And you can find them in the Writer’s Market, another good sign someone is legitimate.

Ronsdale Press says, “What to send?: If you are in doubt, send a query letter with a sample. If you are persuaded that Ronsdale is the press for you, then you can choose to send the entire manuscript. That's fine with us.”

Dundurn says to send, “Either a complete manuscript or at least three sample chapters. In either case, we require a hard copy of the material. Please use Times New Roman (or comparable font), 12-point type, double-spaced, standard margins (1"-1.5"). It is not necessary to bind the manuscript.”

Mundania Press says to send:
Mundania Press is open to all unsolicited manuscripts. PLEASE DO NOT SEND A QUERY ONLY! Queries without a full manuscript will be ignored. Do not mail us a printed manuscript through the post office. We only accept electronic submissions as an email cover letter with your manuscript as a file attachment.

Why am I taking the time to make this point here? Because this is a good example of the fact that, as much as you can get really good advice online, sometimes the experts even get it wrong.

No matter who gives you advice, you should always check it out. Always.

And for the benefit of anonymous, the publisher from Orion said they take unsolicited manuscripts when speaking at Harrogate last summer. And they most certainly have books on the shelves in both Canada and the UK, as they're a UK publisher - the publisher of Ian Rankin and Lesley Horton, to name a few.

Okay okay, alright already. So Miss Snark made a mistake. Nobody’s going to sentence her to thirty lashes with a wet noodle or anything.

In my experience, people only want to hear what they want to hear anyways, no matter what a professional says. You can share from your own experience, but still many people will remain skeptical until they’ve heard it a zillion times, or from someone “famous” or until they’ve found out the hard way themselves.

One of the things about me is that I want to shield people from the pain of bad choices. And I have often referred people to Miss Snark’s blog, and will continue to do so.

But I do trust people to know not to jump blindly based on the decisions of others.

This issue has come up for me on a few things lately. I’ve had people question me about submitting work to my publisher. In the end, it’s their choice. What works for one person might not work for another. Everyone is different in this regard. Some will thrive on being with a large publisher and it will work well for them. Others have had extremely positive experiences with small publishers, even new publishers.

Then there’s been the writing group discussion. I still have friends there. And as far as I’m concerned, they don’t need to know the ‘who’ and ‘what’ in nitty-gritty detail. Only a couple people could even know from my post which person I was speaking about and they were part of the group argument, so it wasn’t a secret there.

But as far as I’m concerned, they don’t need to jump ship to be my friends. I’ll only say that this was my issue, and that there were a number of factors that played into it that have been going on for over six months. What happened most recently was the proverbial straw, and it doesn’t discount what I learned during my time in the group, or that others may find tremendous benefit from it.

It speaks more to me getting actively involved and participating on boards and giving of my time and energy and consequently, being sucked into the politics at play. The politics were bad enough. It was when it got personal I had an issue.

So I would always encourage people to keep an open mind to some extent. Just because you read something here, or at Miss Snark’s or JA Konrath’s, it doesn’t make it necessarily right. Especially Konrath’s. He is, after all, a man. Which means he lacks inborn wisdom and needs help from his long-suffering wife.

Oh, did I type that? I only meant to think it…

Another picture to consider. Gawd, you poor, poor people. See thread below to cast your vote...

And here’s a little joke for you. Especially you, Boy Kim. Because even the people who elect you can do an about-face. Which says more about them, doesn’t it? After all, if they elected you and end up not liking you, it means they were wrong…Right?

Did you vote for Bliar? Well, you can convert the joke whichever way you want...

Canada Post has created a new stamp with a picture of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.

The stamp is not sticking to envelopes, which enraged Chrétien, who demanded a full investigation.

After a month of testing, a special government commission presented the following findings:

1) The stamp is in perfect order.

2) There is nothing wrong with the applied adhesive.

3) People are spitting on the wrong side.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Cover your eyes...

Once you get past the writing, the editing, the querying, cursing, praying, and finally sign a contract, life begins to change.

And one of the scariest realities is, people actually want to know about you.

Not only that, they want to know what you look like. Can you believe I've already had photo requests? Not for Stuart's dartboard either. I think it's that Konrath character impersonating a normal person. And see what happened to his picture? Can't wait to see what he'll do with mine...

I've redesigned my website. So far, only one page is uploaded - the rest is coming. Kevin's just so busy with his course, it isn't even funny. So hopefully, this time next week when I'm packing for my flight you guys can sniff and eat popcorn while reading my website.

Now, I have to pick some publicty photos...and I have a few differences of opinion already expressed.

Bear in mind I hate them all like I hate all pictures of me, and will be posing for the camera as soon as possible in the hopes that something better will emerge.

Or pay to hire a stand-in to fake being me.

So, cast your vote:

Photo A: I might need to vomit

Photo B: Not amused

Photo C: Curses the fact that she was born with curly hair, dammit!

None of these are the ones that are actually on my home page home page. I guess you can vote for the slightly freaked look as well.


And on that note, I'm going to bed. I will have a more normal post up in the am my time - I'm just so damned fried at night these days that it's all I can do to find my pillow.


For Sale: How To Get Your Book On Store Shelves

Last week, I mentioned during a visit to Bernita's blog that I'd just heard a bookstore owner speak about the challenges authors are facing to get their books on store shelves. It was suggested I write up a post about this.

Canada's large bookstore chain, Chapters/Indigo, has finally turned a profit. The reason?

Fewer books for sale and more gift merchandise.

We've all seen it walking into bookstores. The area at the front of the store is filled with cd's, games, stuffed animals, photo boxes - a bizarre assortment of things that really don't have much to do with books.

And almost every outlet here has a coffee shop on the premises.

During a reacent trip to one Indigo branch we were astonished to find that not only had they taken out a hefty chunk of floor space and turned it into Starbucks, despite being located in a mall, but they'd also removed 50% of their magazines.

The rules for independents
The bookstore owner spoke about a number of variables. As a small independent bookstore, they are more particular with what they carry in stock. A local author won't necessarily get on their store shelves if they don't think the book is a good fit for their clientele.

One of the key suggestions was, when choosing a publisher, to find out what kind of distribution they have. Ingrams in the US has a phenomenal reputation, and essentially all the bookstores deal with them. In Canada, Trafford is one of the distribution networks - before you sign, make sure you ask if it matters to you.

Why? If the book comes from the US, it may be more expensive to carry and therefore bookstores are less likely to risk it. This is something I saw happen with an author I knew a few years ago, and they were extremely frustrated by the unwillingness of the Canadian bookstores to carry their book.

Here are the cruel truths for Canadian writers:
A best-selling novel in Canada is one that sells 3000 copies.

10 years ago, the average Canadian-authored & published novel sold 1400 copies. Today, the average is 800.

What is contributing to this? From Jan. 13/2006's Quill and Quire:
"The loss of many independents has been a loss of the best form of marketing, the one literary (i.e.fiction) books rely on the most - word of mouth, handselling, endorsement by bookstore owners and staff."

I know I've experienced standing in Chapters, biting my tongue as someone who clearly hasn't read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe tries to say it's sorta like Tolkein, but different.

Get to know your independent bookstore owners
Why? They have the personal passion to discuss books. They know their books. They're selective about what they carry because they know their customers.

They have to.

Around here, it is the independents that host book launches and author readings. They're very supportive of the local writing community, which means they're important people to talk to.

So draft up some questions for them, or if you aren't ready to query yet and haven't really gotten a handle on the marketing and selling side of the equation, then my recommendation is to just get to know them. Tell them you're working on a manuscript but leave it there. Just take whatever nuggets they can give you and store that advice away.

This store's customers:

90% female
40-75 in age, on average
Not into strong forensic detail
Place/Setting/Character is tantamount

Typical reading averages:
1. People aged 20-30 are reading fewer and fewer books.
2. However, people 40 and up are reading more.
3. Fewer books are getting onto store shelves, so people are reading more and more of the same books.

What can we take from this?
I always wondered why some series writers started with characters around 40 in age. Perhaps its because the majority of readers can relate to that? I'm just speculating.

People aged 20-30 are too busy with university, establishing careers, starting families... It's really important you understand your target audience as a writer. There may be subtle and not-so-subtle thing that you do differently in your writing.

This doesn't mean you're catering to the audience at the expense of your art, but I know that if I want my book in this particular bookstore, it needs to go soft on the forensics. Suspicious Circumstances could be a good fit. My other manuscript wouldn't be such a great fit, as it currently stands.

Now, I've taken some of the meat out of this in writing it, because what I learned about covers could make up for an entirely separate post, so I'll save that for next time. As it is, I've ended up with 2 posts again today, but I'm making up in advance for the fact that I'm going to be away for a few days next week.

More on that later!

Have a good one. And don't forget: Leave me a comment with a suggestion for future tip discussion topics. I'll try to cover what's of interest as best I can, and can do some research as well if I think further ahead than Monday night!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Tuesday Tips: Showing a little leg to get a john

The end of the writing and re-writing and editing and another re-write, hairpulling, cursing and swearing or weeping and gnashing of teeth and finally re-writing again is something not unlike having your tender regions mashed through a cheese grater - querying publishers and agents.

Once you believe your book is ready to be marketed, it's time to step out there and show the world what you've got. The majority of writers are limited to querying agents and publishers via snailmail, or in some cases, email.

What this means is that you can't rely on your boyish charm, your winning smile, your funny jokes and your easy-going manner to get an agent or publisher to warm up to you. You'll actually have to sell your work to them first.

The cover letter is your first introduction to the person you're trying to get to look at your work. When I attended Harrogate last summer, the panel of agents and publishers agreed: typos in the cover letter show me you're lazy and don't take writing seriously. One even said that typos in the cover letter means the rest goes in the garbage.

Sound harsh? You bet. But here's the reality: Once you start trying to sell your work, whatever you've called it up 'til then, writing is your career. If you drag your ass into the office half hour late with your face unshaven, smelling like gin and with your shirt untucked, your pants having more wrinkles than a 105-year-old woman's face... well, most employers are only going to let that go so long.

Your cover letter is you walking in the door for that interview. You need to impress.

This is where it helps to know a bit about who you're approaching. I find this part hard. Not all agents publish client lists, but if you can find out who represents the authors you write like, then it's a good starting point. Those agents already know where to market your work because it fits with the list of material they've been selling.

So, no typos. No coffee stains. No crumpled corners or handwritten notes from the last agent that rejected it.

Clean, crisp, professional.

Some agents and publishers want a letter and a synopsis. Some want a few chapters. Whatever they ask for, that's what you should send. Nothing irritates an agent more than getting what they don't want, and remember, you want them to recognize your name for positive reasons, not because you're the latest person added to their shitlist.

To be honest with you, I think it can be hit and miss when it comes to writing a good query letter. This is the beginning of the one I used for one of my manuscripts:


My husband once told me a true story about three small-town drug pushers who were decapitated in an accident when their truck drove under a semi.

As a volunteer firefighter, he was thinking about the strain of searching through ditches for heads. I was thinking that if you could find a way to stage such an accident, it might be the perfect murder. That was the genesis of ECHOES AND DUST.

Constable JACK ROBERTS has spent years trying to deal with his past by avoiding it. Since he was arrested as a teenager for assaulting his mother he’s worked hard to establish his career in the serious crime division of the Surrey Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Department in British Columbia’s bustling lower mainland area.

Jack’s career path takes an unexpected twist when he is temporarily transferred to his hometown after an officer there is injured in a suspicious accident. He is unaware that the injured officer had been investigating the team, and is faced with open hostility from Constable VAN MCIVER, including open allegations that Jack is connected to the local drug trade through the criminal activities of his family, known for smuggling various contraband across the Canada-US border for decades.

Galveston, a growing city in the BC interior, is experiencing an influx of crime including drug trafficking and vicious attacks that hint at gang activity. Shortly after Jack returns to Galveston, the body of a young girl is found on the street. Jack’s new sergeant, already under pressure to address the local drug trade, now has to deal with a sixteen-year-old runaway who died of an overdose...


Technically, I don't know how well it measures up to the standard advice. But something about it got a lot of interest, because I had multiple offers for publication or representation on that manuscript. And each one came after I got in the door with this query.

One of the things I did was write it, send it out a few places that I thought there was no chance in hell I'd get a look from, and wait for the rejections. Then, I tweaked the query with each rejection. It wasn't long before a form rejection turned into a personal note, and then the "This sounds really interesting, but I'm afraid my client list is full at the moment" turned into, "Send me more."

So, that's how I figured out I was on the right path. Trial and error.

If you can think of your book in terms of a back-jacket blurb and get that into a query letter, then tack on the ending so they know where the story is going and how it's resolved, it's the best way to approach writing a query. Quick, tight, concise writing that reflects your style while giving enough of the plot to wet the appetite.

I'm planning the Tuesday Tips as a new thing to discuss writing topics, since some people have asked for that regularly. And I don't mind having something I try to do every week, but you can't get mad if I miss one every now and again.

But I would REALLY appreciate topic suggestions, so if you're into this, leave a comment with an idea for a future Tuesday. I started this week with something boring and safe. Next week, I'll maybe discuss how to kidnap a publisher and use the 'Misery' strategy to sell your book.

Or not. If my publisher is reading, I meant talk about the terrible people who harass publishers...

Now, off to la-la land. But I will have the article up about the bookstore owner and some general advice in the morning.

My morning, that is!

And now, A Wish For All The Difficult People In Your Life (boy this would have been great yesterday)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.*

Forgiveness isn't the same as reconciliation.

Today's post will be one of my most personal ever on this blog.

This is something that a lot of people overlook. They think that forgiveness means patching it up, playing nice again, completely letting go of whatever happened and resuming the relationship as is said offending incident never even happened.

Which is, in some cases, not only unjustified but foolish.

I know this isn't exactly the "christian" thing to say here. Believe me, I know what it is to be under the pressure to put on the smile and pretend everything is okay, but I really believe a lot of people abuse scripture an expect that everyone should forgive their behaviour when they show no evidence of genuine repentance.

That's something I've experienced on multiple levels. Something a lot of you don't know, and something I dread having come up in an interview, is that I'm a Bible school graduate and spent three years in full-time christian ministry. How I got there starts with my upbringing.

I wasn't raised in a particularly happy home. Even as a child I was remarkably aware of the undercurrents and the tension in our house. I knew how to duck from backhanders, and by the time I was 7 if I accidentally broke something I would send myself to the corner or my room.

For me, one of the greatest curses in that house was being super-sensitive. I was keenly aware that my sister was my mother's favourite - this is an open point of discussion between my sister and I, no dark secret. My dad never wanted daughters - we were both supposed to be Douglas - and when I was a girl he didn't even bother coming to the hospital. Despite the fact this was the 70's and my mother was kept there for four days.

And oddly enough, my parents never thought better than to tell us shit like this.

Life was always a series of time bombs. There were my mother's multiple suicide attempts. The times my parents had knock-down, drag-em-out punch-kick-and-pull-hair fights. Not to mention that he used to rape her.

The times I came home from work as a teenager to find Mom dancing drunk on a picnic table shouting 'God will forgive me.'

I distinctly remember when I was 16, my mother flipping through the newspaper and casually saying, "Your uncle died." I was astounded, shocked. Uncle Charlie?


Turns out she had another brother, a much older half-brother, that she'd never mentioned, that I'd never met. He was born before my grandparents had married, and nobody knew who the father was. Until then, when Grandma finally came clean that her brother had raped her, and my Uncle Joe - whom I never met - was the byproduct.

Mentally and emotionally I was one completely fucked up teenager. You'd expect full-out rebellion, right? And my parents got it, only not in the way they expected.

When I was 14 I had a nervous breakdown and was placed under the supervision of Children's Aid. This stemmed from incidents at school, where I was beaten up by a gang. I grew up in a tough town and had an anomaly. I wouldn't hit back, which made me a prime target for bullies.

So, at 15, I was transferred to a different high school in a different town, for my own safety. And by the time I was 16 my rebellion was in full swing - I had joined the church.

When it comes to religion, it's nobody's business what I believe. It's personal. Not even the born-again Christians want to claim me amongst their numbers anymore, and I couldn't care less. So this isn't about what I believe, spiritually.

But I'm glad that I didn't end up doing drugs, getting pregnant or drinking. When I look back on it all, it could have been much much worse.

It still wasn't perfect. Things came to a head when I spent three years in ministry work. The administrator I worked under could give lessons to the devil about how to gossip. Not to mention that a student was raped there by another student, and the school's response was to persuade the girl not to press charges.


What about facing the consequences of your actions?

Now, Heb. 9:22 says "and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness."

I know the point of the passage, but apply the broader principle. In order for a sin to be washed away, something has to die.

And sometimes, it's the death of a relationship.

With my parents, it happened several years ago, and in stages. The last time I was ever in my family home with them was 11 years ago this April. My dad had a loaded gun. The tension was high.

And a few weeks after I left he was arrested after he strangled my mother half to death.

That was also when I learned the full truth about my dad's sexual deviance. I'm not getting into that here. But it was something that sent me reeling.

I spent so much time growing up thinking I was genetically destined to be a freak.

At first, going to church gave me a security blanket away from my parents, and I know a lot of wonderful people - some I still know - from that time. I met some people who genuinely cared about me and tried to help.

But I also knew people, like my employer at that Bible school, who slandered every other person who walked onto our property and she was such a hypocrite, she had an affair with one of the other staff members.

We were all supposed to forgive that and keep working there with our mouths shut. Anyone who said anything got reprimanded.

It was a hypocrisy I couldn't live with, and in the end she asked me to leave. I was relieved, but it took me a long time to make peace with what happened and be able to visit friends there without hating the place.

I've never seen my dad since the last time I was in the family home. I've seen my mom a few times, but not for over 8 years now. Ultimately, my dad got out of jail, my mom went back to him and then she tried to take my niece without consent. My sister and her husband moved out here to get away from my parents, and we've put the past behind us as much as you ever can.

"Learn from the past but don't let it control you."

This was something Kevin said to me early on in our relationship. He, too, knows about family issues. I always believed I'd never get married if I couldn't find someone who understood the family problems. Every time I dated a 'nice Christian boy' from a 'nice Christian family' I heard the same thing from his parents - we don't think you're the right girl for our son.

It taught me a lot, being so tainted not even those who preach about acceptance and forgiveness and loving all of mankind and not judging didn't want the likes of me in the picture. And I didn't even swear back then.

Over the years I've had to learn to accept who I am. I've also had to learn to deal with criticism because I don't have a relationship with my parents.

Bottom line for me is, it isn't safe. Physically or emotionally. I did everything in my power for years to try to fix problems in that house and all it did was keep me from moving on with my life and starting to heal.

I always want to find the best in people. I always want to believe. I've actually, if anything, been too quick to forgive, too quick to be fooled again.

Which is something I don't do as much anymore.

You might be wondering 'why this post, why now?' I know it's one of the most serious ones I've ever done. But I've just been through an exceptionally painful few weeks, because of the actions of some people I thought were my friends. I've hinted at it, talked generally about it here, had a lot of support from you guys.

But things reached boiling this past weekend and I've had to make a difficult decision, not to return to my writer's group.

I spent the first 24 years of my life playing at pretending things were okay, trying to hold it all together while I was living in emotional agony and fear. I finally got to the point where I decided I wasn't going to let myself be a victim any more, that I wasn't born just to take this shit.

I still have lapses, but as soon as I start getting the doormat feeling it brings a lot of old feelings back. It isn't something that will ever entirely be gone - it's more like something I've been able to put a lid on, but if things get heated that poison boils over.

I never find these decisions easy, but it has come to this for me. I can't pretend things or okay, or that I can just overlook what some people have done.

And the chief person I've been having problems with carte blanche refused to deal with it any way but her way, which meant I either had to put myself under her terms when she's the one who owes me an apology, or as she put it, "drop it."

I will not put myself through the emotional self-abuse and I've had to find my own path to healing on this. When someone I considered a friend demonstrates this kind of behaviour towards me, things will never be what they were before. Ever.

Now, in 6+ years of marriage, I know a thing or two about forgiveness and reconciliation. When both parties are committed to working something out, they don't come at the other person with an ultimatum. They find a way to address it that allows both sides to feel safe, save a bit of face, and meet in a neutral space.

So, I'm not incapable of healing old wounds, of putting the past behind me.

But I am unwilling to let someone who has done something extremely hurtful and wrong to me dictate the terms on which I can approach them about this problem. I'm not going to be manipulated, I'm not going to be abused, I'm not going to be a doormat.

(PLEASE see the post below - there's something interesting there!)

* I would like to dedicate this post to the person in my writer's group that has reminded me that every trust can be betrayed and that cruelty knows no bounds. Thank you for making what should be a happy time for me be completely undermined by one of the most petty, callous acts I've experienced in a long time.

In the Shadow of Burnaby Light

Jason Evans has a habit of making beautiful posts, combining a cemetery photo with a verse he's penned below.

If you haven't visited his blog yet, then today's the day. His blog features my first collaborative effort on a blog - my photo and his prose.


Saturday, February 18, 2006

Cry Freedom!

When the Nazis came for the Gypsies, I did not speak out because I was not a Gypsy.

When the Nazis came for the homosexuals, I did not speak out because I was not a homosexual.

When the Nazis came for the Jews, I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

When the Nazis came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me...

Borrowed from JA Konrath's blog.

There's a debate going on out there, about prejudice and how it affects writers. In this case, it seems a black-and-white example of discrimination.

I must say that in my own experience, I've even encountered a different kind of "prejudice". The "we-don't-want-to-publish-Canadians" line.

On the one hand, I completely respect the editor who told me that before I wasted my money and time submitting my work.

On the other hand, it still stings a bit.

I've talked to authors here, and one thing I heard was murmurings of a knee-jerk reaction. The person said they weren't reading the American authors now - they were deliberately choosing Canadians.

Frankly, I find it sad. Okay, I've always been a sucker for those British boys* but at the same time, I've deliberately forced myself to read from a larger pool. I've got Laura Lippman, George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, Tonino Benacquista, David Simon, Felicity Young, Andrew Pyper, Maureen Jennings, H. Mel Malton - amongst others - on my shelves, contributing to my literary mosaic of influence.

I would agree that we need to show support for our fellow writers, and I believe that one of the things we can do is speak out for them and try to promote their work. Bolster their sales a bit. Build their rep. Talk them up to anyone who will listen.

I don't think people should get deals based on the colour of their skin, their heritage or how good-looking they are. People should get deals because they can write a damn good book that deserves to be in print.

Of course, in a perfect world, right? Because even I admit to my soft spot for the British boys. But that's because they converted me to the world of crime. It is by looking at the recommendations of other authors like Ian Rankin that I have come to read some of the others, and I am so glad I did.

Seek out the new guys, the overlooked, and find the hidden jewels that should be championed to the world - no matter if their name is Lin or Tarquini or Garelick or Schultz.

Or even Konrath!

* yes, I see how you can take that out of context. Dream on Kim!

Saturday Funnies: Visual Puns & a penis joke

Assaulted Nut

Palm Pilot

Dr. Pepper

Lite Beer

Swimming Pool

Basebal Bat

Then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien was out with his wife, being questioned about his plans to retire. In an unexpected twist, a reporter asked Aline Chretien a question.

"What are you looking forward to you when your husband retires?" the reporter asked.

"A penis," she replied.

Embarrassed, a hush fell over the crowd of reporters, none sure of what to say.

Jean leaned towards his wife and whispered, "Aline, in Anglaish, dey say dat word 'appiness."

(My apologies to the French!)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Who you are when nobody's looking

The true you is who you are when nobody's looking.

A lot of people put on facades, cozy up to people they think they can take advantage of or use as a stepping stone in their career. I've heard a lot of talk lately about trying to achieve success in the writing business, and I have to ask myself how people define success.

Writing is a lonely occupation. Hours of living inside your head. It can be cut-throat. Everyone feels entitled to criticize authors and their books, sometimes rightly. Sometimes people just do it spitefully.

In the past two weeks I have:
a) signed a publishing contract for Suspicious Circumstances.
a) signed a publishing contract for Echoes and Dust (tentative new title Terms of Redemption).
a) had my short story, The Butcher accepted for publication by Crime Spree.

Some have been genuinely happy for me, other have been resentful. Such is life.

It's just sad that one person's happiness can sometimes be the source of revealing who their real friends are.

Which character am I?


Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

Possessing a rare combination of wisdom and humility, while serenely dominating your environment you selflessly use your powers to care for others.

Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.

Galadriel is a character in the Middle-Earth universe. You can read more about her at the Galadriel Worshippers Army.

With thanks to Jason for the link.

Finding the right publisher/politically correct funnies

Why Preditors and Editors is Wrong

“It is with publishers as it is with wives: one always wants someone else’s.”
Norman Douglas

I have worked at dozens of places. For tyrants who just enjoyed bullying. For thieving crooks who nickel-and-dime past every safety code regulation at the expense of the safety of children – which is generally when I get on my ethical high horse and give them the old two finger salute.

I’ve worked for some wonderful people who were bad bosses. And I’ve worked for some wonderful bosses who were regular people.

In my working life, I probably haven’t seen it all, but I feel I’ve come pretty damn close.

In the quest for publication, I’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs. My initial goal was to find a reputable Canadian publisher. Why? Why not? I hadn’t much insight into the workings of the book business then.

I was encouraged to try to find an agent. An arduous task almost as difficult as finding a publisher on your own.

What I ended up doing was trying a multifaceted approach. I queried both agents and publishers. Small publishers, because very few of the larger publishers accept unsolicited work.

And then the responses started coming in.

I have, in fact, been offered four contracts in the past…10 months or so I was actively looking. One agent turned out to be the kind that asked for cash when you signed. No thank you.

Why? Publishers know which agents are getting clients to pay for representation upfront. It means the agent isn’t necessarily passionate about the writing, and they have no incentive to push your work into the right market. They only commit to sending the book out to a set number of publishers.

The publishers I sent packing

I was offered a contract with a small publisher. Something about them didn’t smell right, from early on.

Then came another offer. This one seemed all very legit upfront. I did my homework and couldn’t find anything to suggest otherwise.

Until week 2 of discussions.

I got my contract, and there were problems. For one thing, they wanted rights to all my subsequent writing at the same contract terms for life. No out clause.

For another, they referred to “investing” in the publication of my book. All the percentages of returns were based on my “investment”.

Now, when I spoke to the publisher on the phone, he said I could invest for a higher return, or take a standard royalty with no investment.

So I had the contract checked over. And there were some other problems with it.

I sent off questions. The publisher would return with an email saying, “Good questions. Call me, let’s talk.”

Except once I phoned the UK at my own expense, I still didn’t have answers.

And then when things finally did come in writing, they weren’t what was said on the phone.

Turned out in the end, the publisher wanted to take 80% of my subsidiary rights.

And several days after getting the contract, I got a letter telling me the offer was based on the condition I “invest” 10,000 pounds in the printing of my book. No money, no publishing.

Fuck you very much.

Preditors and Editors has given that publisher a ‘not recommended’ rating.

Now, I was told a long time ago to use P&E as a reference. For a variety of reasons. I was under the impression they researched publishers to make an assessment.

Until I saw that they said, “Poor contract. Not recommended” about my publisher.

I’m going to get back to that in a second. But seeing that made me look through other listings. Wow.

I found some publishers of authors I know, with no warnings. And I know things about those publishers, things that contradict the P&E recommendation guidelines.

One of these publishers has it in the contract that any subsidiary sales the publisher gets all rights to, the author gets nothing.

I looked through their rating criteria, and the only thing I could find on their “not recommended” list that could even possibly apply to Tico Publishing was, “Offers a contract slanted heavily against the writer.”

Which is rather subjective.

Now, in correspondence with them what they said was that they didn’t like the publisher’s terms on subsidiary rights. Yes, the publisher asked for a percentage.

I argued the point on them. For one thing, that other publisher wanted 80% of my subsidiary rights. Tico wanted significantly less if someone made a movie.

And I think they deserve it.

Why? For one thing, it’s getting harder and harder for new writers to get agents and publishers. If a small publisher is willing to invest in finding new talent, they need to see a return on that.

For another, they are committed to shopping those rights, the same way an agent would. Since I don’t have an agent, I won’t sell movie rights unless my publisher works it out. And they aren’t going to do that for free.

How I assessed the contract.

I had two legal advisors review the contract for problems. There were very minor things, writing glitches actually, to be addressed.

I spoke to published authors about the pros and cons of small publishers and the terms of the contract. The authors essentially felt that the contract was fine, that for a new writer it was a pretty good starting point.

I spoke to a friend in the publishing business. She used to work at Mondo and now works at Rosen. She actually told me that they have people come to them all the time and ask for subsidiary rights for their writers – publishers in Malaysia, Japan, Singapore – that it’s standard practice anymore. And she asked me pointed questions about the contract – every question came back with the right answer. She works in publishing so she knows what she’s talking about and as my friend she wanted me to have a fair deal.

Also, after the last fiasco, I had read up on contracts. I knew what I was looking at. So had Kevin, and he deals with contracts in his work all the time.

I also talked to a bookstore owner about the distribution in place and got the thumbs up on it. It was, as I was told, a good option. No reason not to sign on based on that – they distribute in Canada, the UK and elsewhere.

I fired off a list of questions and points for change to my publisher.

My publisher phoned me to discuss these points. Every single thing I asked to have changed in the contract was changed. Every question I had was answered to my satisfaction.

And the conversation has been backed up via written correspondence, so there can be no “he said, she said” like what happened in the end with the other publisher.

Great editors do not discover nor produce great authors; great authors create and produce great publishers.
John Farrar, What happens in book publishing1957

I not only stand by my decision to take this contract: I will be mailing out my contract for a second book to them today.

Here’s why.

I’ve talked to a lot of authors. One of the questions I asked was, “Big or Small?”

The response I’ve gotten is that both can be very good, there is no hard or fast rule here.

In one case, the author said he made peanuts for his first four novels at a small publisher but when his editor went to St. Martin’s, he got taken along and got a six-book deal.

In my upcoming interview with Tracy Sharp one of the things she talks about is watching ebook authors get snatched up by large publishers. Starting small can mean moving big later, if you want to. Though not everyone does, and not everyone should.

Really, it boils down to the experience you have. I’d rather go with a small publisher I feel comfortable with than a large one where I feel lost.

The reality is, each person’s experience will be different. Many authors have started with small publishers – John Grisham was selling books out of the trunk of his car. Alexander McCall Smith, JK Rowling – I believe they started small.

In some cases, starting with a large publisher can be a problem. The publisher has other big names to push and you get very little of their promotional attention.

The truth is, there’s no right or wrong way.

But I find it astounding that a publisher that wanted to charge me 10,000 pounds sterling has been put on the level with a publisher that’s taking no fees from me, that’s invested in promoting my book, and that has shown me an exceptional level of professionalism. Why, just this morning at 5 am I got an email from my publisher telling me he was reading my blog.

And every question I’ve asked has been answered promptly, efficiently.

My input has been treated with respect.

If my publisher has any “alleged” flaw, it might be being too transparent on their website. I understand what they’re trying to do. Trying to be open and honest in publishing – which automatically makes many people suspicious.

But I really appreciated always knowing the status of my submissions. And these guys don’t just publish everyone who submits to them – you have to pass two review processes, minimum.

The truth is, some people have tried pretty damn hard to rain on my parade. Fine. They don’t want to go with a US publisher or a small publisher, that’s their business.

But I, for one, am thrilled with the publisher I’ve chosen. I’m ecstatic that my work will see the light of day.

And after having an agent tell me I couldn’t sell my work in the US, I’m pretty pleased to have a US publisher taking me on!

Plus, having authors tell me the contract was fine was enough. These are people who’ve supported and encouraged me.

And this was one of those times when I had an instinctive feeling – everything I’d been told I should hope to hear from an agent was what I was hearing from the publisher.

Besides, when I go into the bookstore, I don’t look at the spine and say, “I won’t buy a book from that publisher.” I go in and buy an author.

I know I’m in the honeymoon phase with my publisher and some of you are likely wondering if it will last. But let me at least say this: I did my homework on that contract. I got the amendments I asked for. And I am happy with it. The authors, editors and people in the publishing business I’ve talked to are really happy for me.

Oh, and one more thing about P&E. I can’t find on their site what qualifies a publisher as “recommended”. Does anyone know where that is? Because it’s making me pretty suspicious, considering I’ve seen people signed to questionable contracts…and dump the publisher after book 1.

As I mentioned earlier, and P&E has no warning on them, despite the fact they take 100% of subsidiary rights.

Not to mention that I wrote back to P&E about these points.

They didn’t answer any of my questions.

It’s got to make you wonder. I still think they’re worth checking as a resource, but I don’t think they’re the be-all and end-all to assessing publishers. When the time comes for you, proceed cautiously, talk to lawyers, authors, editors, people who deal with these things.

And for those that put subjective advice up on websites and fail to respond to emails addressing their ranking of publishers…Grain of salt.

Incidentally, I was surprised at how many people who are published and who are signed with agents, or are magazine editors, told me they didn’t trust P&E. I won’t betray confidences and quote names.

Don’t take their opinion as gospel, or mine. Just make sure you do your homework. At the point where you start querying, you should be researching publishers and contracts and be prepared so you know what you’re doing.

It’s the best protection you can possibly have.

And, since I've gone all taboo by taking on the might P&E today, why not encourage political correctness with everything else? Oldies, but still funnies. And Kim will likely feel all nostalgic reading them.

1. She is not a BABE or a CHICK...She is a BREASTED AMERICAN.
6. She is not an AIRHEAD...She is REALITY IMPAIRED.
7. She does not get DRUNK or TIPSY...She gets CHEMICALLY INCONVENIENCED.
9. She does not NAG YOU...She becomes VERBALLY REPETITIVE.
10. She is not a SLUT...She is SEXUALLY EXTROVERTED.
12. She is not a TWO-BIT WHORE...She is a LOW COST PROVIDER.

1. He does not have a BEER GUT....He has developed a LIQUID GRAIN STORAGE FACILITY.
2. He is not a BAD DANCER....He is OVERLY CAUCASIAN.
7. He does not act like a TOTAL ASS....He develops a case of RECTAL-CRANIAL INVERSION.
10. He is not HORNY....He is SEXUALLY FOCUSED.
11. It's not his crack you see hanging out of his pants....It is MALE CLEAVAGE!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Sportsmanship of Mystery Writers

Have you heard the story from the Olympics, the one that will melt cold hearts and bring tears to your eyes? Well, if you're a sap like me, anyway.

I've been sitting here reading about how aCanadian team won silver at the Olympics. And it isn't the usual back-patting kind of story.

It's all because another team helped them out.

Yep, that's right. The Norweigans, who ultimately placed fourth, noticed one of the skiers had lost her pole. Instead of using it to their advantage, a Norweigan skier gave the short-changed Canadian their pole so she could finish her leg of the race.

I wouldn't care if that was an American and a Brit or someone from France or Timbuktu - that's just plain nice.

Which is what my experience in the world of mystery writing has been.

The congrats on my book deal came in from people like Stuart MacBride, John Rickards, Steve Mosby, Mark Billingham, Cornelia Read, Sharon Wildwind, Lorna Schultz Nicholson, to name but a few. Other authors didn't think, "Crap, now I have to compete to sell books against that little Canadian upstart." Okay, maybe one or two thought it, but nobody said it.

Actually, some authors started emailing me advice. I am so blessed to be part of a generous writing community, and so touched at the encouragement I've received.

And now you may go read about why we don't see more authors naked, in the real post for today, below.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Peep Show

If sex sells so well, why don't we see more pictures of authors naked?

I mean, they have the firefighter calendars (no, evilkev isn't allowed to pose) and they have policeman calendars. Why not author calendars? I could just imagine JA Konrath holding the manual of his words of wisdom over his...what's the phrase de jour? Manhood? Is this where I say it's a good thing he doesn't need mu...

Okay, maybe I'd better not say that. Not where he can read it, anyway. But aren't you all dying to know if Stuart MacBride really does have both nipples pierced, or just one?*

Now, if you're wondering where this is going, and if it's anywhere intelligent, likely not. But I've had a lot of things going through my mind the past few days, and one of them is about the extraneous job requirements authors face.

When you start out, usually it's the love of writing, of storytelling, that's compelling you. But when you start to think about selling work and being published, you have to think about book signings and speaking on panels, public readings and such.

People who know me reasonably well usually can't comprehend how shy I can be, especially with strangers. The Blog is one thing - I can say anything here. I'm not making anyone read it. I don't have to see how you react (unless you kindly leave me a comment). But this is a very controlled medium of communication.

I was recently on a panel, talking about Harrogate, and one of the questions I was asked was how you could register to just go to one session instead of the whole thing. I was sitting there thinking, "Why would anyone from Canada go to the UK for one panel? WTF?" See what I mean? Public setting = no control. And then you say things, like Mark Billingham's admission that he generally leaves about 15 minutes for sex on a panel at Harrogate, and people never forget.

Which made me really unsure how to respond when he said he'd give me 15 minutes this year...^

I did a reading of my work last year and it was brutal. As much as I "can" put it on and perform in public, this was my work and it was the first time I was reading from a manuscript of my own. I had classic verbal diarrhea and the front row was sweating profusely from the amount of heat in my cheeks.

And lucky them, I've signed on to do it again.

Now, I think we've all heard the old saying "picture the audience naked."

Is this really helpful? What if you look out into the crowd and see John Rickards in a tutu? Would the thought of him naked help me relax and enjoy the reading experience?

I think I'd be trying to stifle the laughter, reach for the water and snort it through my nose, just for good measure.

Which reminds me of one of my most embarrassing moments. My 16th birthday party, my cousin, his girlfriend, a guy I had a crush on all at my house pre-party. We're having dinner. I'd just taken a sip of coke and someone made me laugh.

I sprayed pop all over the floor. Yep, that Sandra, she's one classy chick.

Why is it I can be such a total performer with a group of children and I can turn into a quivering idiot around adults?

This year, I've had to do a lot more public speaking than usual. Introducing speakers, some teaching again, including teaching adults. Oh fun. But it has really helped me mentally, as I start to think about reading from my actual book in public. And facing those completely off-the-wall questions.

Fortunately, I know I'm not the only one who goes through this. I was surprised at how shy Michael Connelly seemed last year at Harrogate. And when Ian Rankin was in Calgary in 2004 he put his foot in his mouth and there was probably a solid five minutes of laughter over the slip of the tongue.

It helps when you have a supportive crowd of admirers. But I think when you're able to laugh at yourself, like he did, you can also win sympathy.

At least I hope so.

Though I'm definitely not picturing the audience naked. Or co-readers or co-panelists. Or interviewers.

So what strategies do you guys have to help you get over your nerves?

Now I'm off to learn a new signature so that anyone who should ever ask for a signed copy of my book can't forge my cheques.

^ For an interview. Really, you people are just disturbed, always twisting things.
* No, I'm not telling how I know. I don't tell everything!

Obstacle Course & Sizzling Sex

If at first you don't succeed, maybe you were born to fail. Right?

Now, if the goal was to turn this into a religious or philosophical debate, we could go on forever about free will versus predestination, karma and whatnot. And no matter what I believe spiritually, I find those opposing philosophies intriguing.

Clearly, some people believe that you make your own path (free will) and others believe that you're on the path you were put on and it's out of your control (predestination). And if that's the case I want to order my future life with cabana boys, close proximity to Bunions and more money than Bill Gates has.

Let's put the religious aspect aside and look at the day to day. I believe both free will and predestination are true, in a matter of speaking. Somee people were born to be writers. Others were born actors. And others still were born artists.

But I'm convinced that the ones who actually become writers, actors, artists or whatever are the ones who choose to make it happen.

When I studied the elements of a classic quest story, it boiled down to this:
- hero with special calling or powers
- hero is given a specific task
- hero acquires helpers to assist him in his goal
- hero must overcome obstacles that try to prevent him from fulfilling his quest
- hero fulfills quest
- hero returns home from quest

I think the problems most people face are creating their own obstacles to keep them from fulfilling their quest and lose site of the goal.

This is something I did in my own life for many years. Every guy I dated was a jerk, completely uncommitted to me or a control freak, and I knew it going in, I just refused to accept it. I wanted to write but my study of journalism almost killed me. I was working full-time shift work doing care for the elderly and studying by day and six months into year 1 I was in the hospital. But I couldn't afford university and I wasn't eligible for a loan because my parents made too much money. Didn't matter that they thought school was a waste of time...

I've definitely made some bad choices in the past. Sometimes they came full circle and I ended up getting a second chance to make it right. Other times, I missed out on opportunities. When I look back on my track record for screwing up, it's no wonder I was convinced I'd never have a healthy relationship in my life and that I was going to spend my years living in my sister's basement eating kraft dinner until my teeth fell out.

Ultimately, I had to make some firm decisions about what I wanted in life, and then I had to learn to make choices that would increase the likelihood of getting what I wanted. It took me almost 28 years to find Kevin, and when I did I was the worst woman ever. I totally kept it cool, all cards on the table from the beginning, no bullshit. And I wouldn't even kiss him on our early dates. Lucky for him it didn't take long for us to get engaged.

Career-wise, I've still been learning how to make the future I want happen. Ever since I was a child I wanted to be an author. I loved putting words together and making stories.

But every time I got close to a career writing, I got scared. I put up mental and emotional obstacles and persuaded myself I should be working, even after I was married.

Finally, almost two years ago, Kevin was out of work. It was just after we'd bought our house too, so it was a super-stressful time. My work was a nightmare - a full caseload was two children and I had three. I lived out of my truck, I ate while driving, all I did was sleep and work and I was miserable.

Kevin told me to quit my job.

It may have seemed the most ludicrous thing in the world. Here we were, no income, and I was turning into a full-time writer. That was June 2004. And while I was writing, I didn't even care about if it was good.

I gave myself one attainable goal. Good, bad, whatever, I was just going to finish that manuscript.

And I did.

I couldn't write a query for it. It was impossible. It was a bitch to edit because the story is huge.

I got one place to look at it. They passed.

I got another publisher interested, but they wanted something 80,000 words. And I was still swelling at 133,000.

I thought about making it a romantic suspense and trying to sell it to harlequin because I didn't know where else to try with this particular manuscript.

Finally, I submitted it to Tico. And they loved it. It won best fiction out of six months of submissions, and earned a publishing contract.

I got my editing notes from the reviewer. "Within the suspense/mystery genre it stands out as a complete tour de force for the main character" and a ranking of 9 out of 10. And this was a manuscript I'd almost given up on.

Now, this fall, I will see another dream realized. I'll be a published author. There will be more dreams, I suppose.

But considering that even just two weeks ago, I was thinking that all the manuscripts I'd been working on might not be there yet, I can honestly say that I'm glad I didn't let self-doubt get in the way.

Part of the reason for that is that I have a helper. I dreamed. Kevin believed.

There have been other helpers too. Alison. Stuart MacBride. Marsha. Simon Kernick. Kate. Cornelia Read. Mindy. Mystery Writers Ink.

And their belief in me helped me persevere. For that, I'm grateful.

On Monday JA Konrath was posting about planning for success in your career. If you haven't checked it out, you should, because there's a lot of good advice in there that isn't only for writers. It applies across the board.

Whatever your dream is, make a plan. How are you going to make it a reality?

Then get to work on it. Life is too short to be spent living with nothing but what if's and might-have-been's.

On The Wire, Lt Daniels' wife said, "You cannot lose if you do not play."

But you definitely can't win either.

Sizzling Sex

An elderly couple is enjoying an anniversary Dinner together in a small tavern.

The husband leans over and asks his wife, "Do you remember the first time we had sex together over fifty years ago? We went behind this tavern where you leaned against the fence and I made love to you."

"Yes," she says, "I remember it well."

"OK," he says, "How about taking a stroll 'round there again and we can do it for old time's sake."

"Oooooooh Henry, you devil, that sounds like a good idea," she answers.

There's a police officer sitting in the next booth listening to all this, and having a chuckle to himself. He thinks, "I've got to see this... two old-timers having sex against a fence. I'll just keep an eye on them so there's no trouble."

So he follows them. They walk haltingly along, leaning on each other for support, aided by a walking sticks. Finally they get to the back of the tavern and make their way to the fence. The old lady lifts her skirt, takes her knickers down and the old man drops his trousers. She turns around and as she hangs on to the fence, the old man moves in.

Suddenly they erupt into the most furious sex that the watching policeman has ever seen. They are bucking and jumping like eighteen-year-olds.

This goes on for about forty minutes! She's yelling, "Ohhhh, God!" and he's hanging on to her hips for dear life. This is the most athletic sex imaginable. Finally, they both collapse panting on the ground.

The policeman is amazed. He thinks he has learned something about life that he didn't know. He starts to think about his own aged parents and wonders whether they still have sex like this.

After about half an hour of lying on the ground recovering, the old couple struggle to their feet and put their clothes back on. The policeman, still watching thinks, that was truly amazing, he was going like a train. I've got to ask him what his secret is.

As the couple pass, he says to them. "That was something else, you must have been having sex for about forty minutes. How do you manage it? You must have had fantastic life together. Is there some sort of secret?"

"No, there's no secret," the old man says, "except that fifty years ago that damn fence wasn't electric."