Thursday, August 31, 2006

Never Let Them See You Doubt (& George Pelecanos live)

There are unwritten rules for authors. One is you can never express your insecurity.

Well, okay, you can if you’re really popular and successful and destined to be regarded as a great writer. Then, people will smile sympathetically and chalk it up to nerves and modesty and think it’s cute that someone so talented isn’t completely conceited.

But if you aren’t in that category, it’s almost as though showing any signs of doubt or weakness is an invitation for your work to be dismissed. You aren’t well known. There must be a reason you aren’t well known. You look nervous. Ah, deep down, you know you aren’t very good.

I mean, it isn’t like every single book published gets dropped on all the famous author’s doorsteps, they read them all and then pick a few select books to blurb. Same with reviews in the major press. A lot of it has to do with name recognition, with an agent and publisher behind the author giving them lots of support, talking them up.

If you’ve got that, you can afford modesty. If you haven’t… Maybe you can’t be too honest.

I suppose there are some people out there who never second-guess themselves, who are completely assured, who trust that every time someone reads their book they’ll think it’s wonderful. I tell you, I wish some of that would rub off.

It doesn’t matter how many people have said they like it. Husbands are suspect (sorry honey). Friends, the same. And I hate to tell you this, but at least for me, that niggling self doubt, the worry that it wasn’t good enough, didn’t go away when I signed a publishing contract.

I’m staring at a September 1 deadline on, well, a handful of things. One of them being turning over my book to my editor, for the ARCs to be printed. Sounds exciting. For the first time, I’ll hold an actual printed copy of this work in my hands – not one I printed on the laser printer, but one that’s come from somewhere else. It’s the first moment that you really, truly know what it’s like to hold your book.

Which is why I’m scared to death.

I’ve been over the thing backwards and forwards. I’ve had readers comb it for mistakes. Kevin just read it, for the first time since the original draft was done two years ago, and even he missed typos that I picked up on when I went through. And damn, he was thorough.

All of which leaves me certain there must be more mistakes in there that I’ve missed as well. Oh, I know, it’s an ARC. It’s not the final version.

It’s just the version the reviewers are going to read. It’s going to be what sells them, or invites them to rip it to shreds.

You think you know how it will feel to be here. How exciting it will be. And that’s a complete and utter fantasy. Well, for me, anyway. I have a bit of a workaholic perfectionist streak to me, about certain things. And this is one of them.

I’ve decided that the reason you ask authors for blurbs is not to endorse your book (although that happens as a result). It’s simple. When you’re scared to death the book won’t measure up, along come the blurbs that tell you it’s wonderful.

So that you can convince yourself it’s worth pressing on for just a few more days and getting it done.

I’m now, officially, tying up the loose ends on these deadlines. I would think it would feel good to pass my baby over and know that it was moving on to the next phase. I’d be able to breathe deeper, right? At least sleep? Because there wouldn’t be anything else I could do anyway.

The past few weeks I’ve been lying in bed when I should be sleeping, thinking about the book. Thinking about the growing list of places the ARCs are going. And felt sick to my stomach. I’ve got to admit it. I’ve been grumpy and irritable and short-tempered. And prone to bursting into tears for no good reason.

Yesterday, I made my trek over to JB Thompson’s blog to see what was new with her. And you can see for yourself what I found her talking about.

It wasn’t long after that that JB emailed me with a blurb for Suspicious Circumstances. I spent a lot of time misty-eyed as we exchanged a few emails, and she told me at length what she thought of the book.

All you really want to do is connect with the reader. To convince them of your story. To sell them on your characters and have them say it’s a damn good read. But books, art, music, movies – this stuff is so subjective. A person might read your work and not be crazy about it, and that doesn’t mean the book isn’t any good. It just means it isn’t their thing.

So when someone comes back and tells you all the things they liked about your work, and they’re all the things you hoped someone would say, you breathe a little easier. You did your job. You succeeded.

Although, since I’m a big pessimist and worry-wart, that feeling only lasted for about ten minutes before panicking and worrying resumed.

I think this is never going to get any easier for me. I’m my own toughest critic.

The up side to that is, I could never imagine just coasting in my career. Of course, the down side is, I’m going to go through this again and again and again…

This is kind of cool. George Pelecanos and Steve Wynn, live.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Joke That Will Make My Husband Blush

And proof I really don’t understand guys. It’s HERE at Mai Wen’s. I swear, this is not what I thought guys did in their bedrooms behind closed doors. And watching to the very end is worth it, even for the torment of the noise pollution that passes for music. The facial expressions are priceless.

It’s Wednesday, which means I have a new post up at Killer Year. But I can’t post this joke over there, and it’s funny, in a tasteless kind of way.

First, though, the news that someone ended up on my blog from googling ‘squelching the gag reflex during oral sex’. I’m fairly confident I never discussed that during an actual post, but this could be the residual effects of that conversation David Terrenoire and I had end of March, following the post I did make on oral sex. Wonder if I should go sanitize that?

Oh, and it’s Wednesday. Which means Dar Wednesday.

And, because there must be higher intelligence in the universe, that means it’s Cornelia’s day over at Naked Authors, and it’s Naomi Hirahara at Murderati. How did I end up on Killer Year on the day all the smart people blog? Maybe I’m the counterbalance of intelligence in the blogsphere…oh lord. That’s it, isn’t it?

Well, at least I have proof that many of the best jokes come from my Uncle Charlie.

In Pharmacology, all drugs have two names, a trade name and generic name. For example, the trade name of Tylenol also has a generic name of Acetaminophen. Aleve is also called Naproxen. Amoxil is also call Amoxicillin and Advil is also called Ibuprofen

The FDA has been looking for a generic name for Viagra. After careful consideration by a team of government experts, it recently announced that it has settled on the generic name of Mycoxafloppin. Also considered were Mycoxafailin, Mydixadrupin, Mydixarizin, Dixafix, and, of course, Ibepokin.

Pfizer Corp. announced today that Viagra will soon be available in liquid form, and will be marketed by Pepsi Cola as a power beverage suitable for use as a mixer. It will now be possible for a man to literally pour himself a stiff one. Obviously we can no longer call this a soft drink, and it gives new meaning to the names of "cocktails", "highballs" and just a good old-fashioned "stiff drink".

Pepsi will market the new concoction by the name of: MOUNT & DO.

Thought for the day: There is more money being spent on breast implants and Viagra today than on Alzheimer's research. This means that by 2040, there should be a large elderly population with perky boobs and huge erections and absolutely no recollection of what to do with them.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

How Dumb Do You Have To Be To Drive A Car?

We were getting ready for bed last night when the call came in. MVA. Single vehicle MVA. You’d be surprised how many of those we get in this area, being on the intersection of two secondary highways. It’s the ‘secondary’ bit that makes the difference – people always think they can speed and won’t get caught.

These guys…barreling along the road when a deer runs out in front of them. Hit the brakes and spun the wheel. NOT a good idea. Once you hit the brakes, you don’t have as much control over the vehicle. Yanking on the wheel? Inviting the vehicle to decide where it wants to go.

This one chose the ditch, in a roll. Car with a canvas roof, which was ripped right off as the vehicle spun, not around but over.

One of the guys inside said he felt the dirt on his head when it happened. The other guy was ejected.

You hear about an accident like that, and it’s easy enough to understand how it happens. You’re tearing along the highway after dark. All of a sudden an animal runs out in front of you. Not everybody reacts with calm, calculated logic. Hitting the brakes is the obvious thing to do. A lot of people don’t realize pulling hard on the wheel when you’ve hit the brakes can be a bad combination. The two guys in that car? They’re lucky to both be alive.

And then there are people who’re just stupid. Surely you’ve heard by now, about the woman who decided to give her dog driving lessons.

I mean, some people are stupid, but this really takes the cake. Should anyone who actually thinks it’s okay to give their dog driving lessons be allowed to have a license themselves? Doesn’t the very act of putting your dog behind the wheel demonstrate your two random brain cells don’t connect often? I mean, I’m sorry. I love dogs. But thinking one has the intelligence needed to drive?

It can be really easy to identify idiots, once they’re behind the wheel of a car. The only problem is, they often have a sufficiently large vehicle that can be used to kill people.

The other day, author Eileen Cook mentioned the road trip relationship test on her blog. I had to smile. On our third date Kevin and I did a full day trip, out of the city. But it was about a month later, when we drove to Vancouver to visit my friends that a whole new side of his shiny personality emerged.

His pissed off at how stupid people drive personality. What were some of those golden lines? If I were that old I’d drive everywhere fast because I’d be afraid of dying en route. I know, I know, but it is kind of funny. It’s not getting any greener! Who hasn’t wanted to shout that at somebody who’s sitting there at a green light, staring off into space? Then they clue in, just in time to get through the light themselves and keep everyone else waiting.

And you don’t want to hear either of us talk about bicyclists in the downtown core. Really. I’ll make enemies. Oh, come on. Go green and all that, but get a brain while you’re at it! What burns me about these bike couriers is that they don’t follow any rules of the road. They’re a car when it suits them, a pedestrian when it’s to their advantage, and go completely rogue when they feel like it. They have no rules.

Kevin got hit by a bicyclist once. Guy whipped into a parking lot and hit the front of Kevin’s car. And you know what? The bicyclist tried to blame Kevin for hitting him, but witnesses came forward and the bicyclist got charged.

I was hit by a bicyclist once myself. I was running up a footpath at night, to my house. It was dark, and this was British Columbia, on the coast, so when I say it was dark I mean BC pacific dark, not Alberta semi-dark. I didn’t see the bicyclist whipping down (no bike light) until it was almost too late. We both had a split second to make a decision – I moved right, he moved left. Since we were heading in opposite directions, that means he ran right into me. I was lucky enough that my head hit the grass and I was still knocked unconscious.

I’ve also been hit by a car while riding a bicycle. I’m hopelessly accident-prone, although that incident wasn’t my fault either. I was on the side of the road, which was the law. By law I was entitled to one full lane in passing – Ontario in the 70s. This guy, it was his 80th birthday and he’d just gone to town to pick up a cake and thought he’d try to get by with his boat anyway, despite the oncoming traffic. He hit me. I don’t remember what I hit in the process – something after flipping through the air, because I had to have stitches in my head.

And I’ve already shared the story about our accident in Tunisia.

So, I’ve had my share of accidents on vehicles, or with vehicles. And you know, I think that’s what it is that brings out so much rage for people when they’re driving, when they see people doing stupid things.

It’s an anger sometimes born of fear.

Everyone I knew was chomping at the bit, anxious to get their license when they turned 16. I didn’t get my license until I was almost 20. Oh, I had my learner’s when I was 16 and I even drove a few times, but I was always keenly aware of the fact that I had the power in my hands to take lives. I’ve always had a heightened sense of responsibility that way. I could never just take on that privilege with the casual attitude almost everyone else did, like driving was their entitlement.

I know there are people who aren’t going to like me for saying it, but that’s one of the things that irks me about some drivers with the ‘baby on board’ signs in the back. It shouldn’t matter. People shouldn’t ever need to be told to treat any vehicle on the road any differently, because everyone should be driving with due care and attention… Right? And I’ve got to say that I think this woman got off lightly. I think they should have charged her for child endangerment as well, but I’m not going to get started or this will be a full-blown rant. But for crying out loud, if you’re in an accident what do you think will happen? Your baby is going to go flying out the window. Don’t people think?

One of the things I had to look up and correct in Suspicious Circumstances had to do with road laws. Well, I wrote the book originally two years ago. Things can change. And one thing I needed to know was if it was legal to drive and talk on a cell phone. What a pain. I’m even trying to be law-abiding in fiction.

There’s no doubt in my mind I could go on and on about the stupid things I’ve seen people do while driving, but maybe you guys have some stories.

And if blogger plays nice today (wow, has it been grumpy this past week – I’ve had trouble commenting everywhere) you can share them with me. Come on, I’m in the home stretch on these edits. I could use smiles and distractions.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Open To Interpretation

I haven’t heard this song in years, but it’s been playing in my mind for days, the question, “What does it mean?” gnawing at me. I used to think it was so clear, but now I find myself seeing another interpretation to the lyrics, and it has me wondering.

Exit by U2

You know he got the cure
You know he went astray
He used to stay awake
To drive the dreams he had away
He wanted to believe
In the hands of love
His head it felt heavy
As he cut across the land
A dog started crying
Like a broken hearted man
At the howling wind
At the howling wind

He went deeper into black
Deeper into white
Could see the stars shining
Like nails in the night
He felt the healing
Healing, healing
Healing hands of love
Like the stars shiny shiny
From above

Hand in the pocket
Finger on the steel
The pistol weighed heavy
His heart he could feel
Was beating, beating
Beating, beating oh my love
Oh my love, oh my love
Oh my love

My love

Saw the hands that build
Can also pull down

As a teenager, I was told this song was about suicide. There was more than one heavy discussion about whether it was safe to listen to it. I know that sounds crazy, but debating whether TV and video games were responsible for increasing violence amongst kids was common. Music has a huge impact on people, particularly teenagers, and this song was controversial.

Probably, in part, because it was open to interpretation.

I have never felt inspired to read about what the writer (I presume it was Bono) meant the song to be about but lately I’ve been wondering if it was about religious fundamentalists.

You see, people I knew interpreted the song as being about someone who’d lost their salvation, who’d lost hope, and killed themselves.

But you could look at it differently. About someone who had an opportunity “out” - they wanted to believe, but they were trapped. Because of family or the feelings of expectations or circumstances… for some reason, they weren’t able to break away from picking up a gun. Not to take their own life, but to kill someone else.

This might not seem terribly important, and maybe it isn’t, but I’ve been editing lately. And reading through the book the final time before it goes to ARC format has been a bit of a shock. There’s a lot of stuff I cut out. I was encouraged to do it – told the story could stand on it’s own without repetitions. And that is true enough on the face of it.

But I always give my stuff to fresh readers, and one came back to me with something they didn’t understand. I knew the answer, and knew it had been written into the original. But in the tweaking, it had been pared down to being non-existent in the current version.

This is the risk a writer faces. It’s all very clear in your own head what’s going on, because you know the story, but the reader doesn’t have the luxury of reading it through your eyes. They take it at face value and can bring their own presumptions to the story. For example, think of books made into movies, particularly where it’s been debated that the actor doesn’t look the part. Some people don’t like Hermione Norris as Carol Jordan, others don’t like Robson Green as Tony Hill and there was endless debate about John Hannah as Rebus. If you pick up a book that has their photos on the front cover, you can presume that appearance to the character, and you might be wrong.

I used to argue with my dad all the time about music. We were only allowed to listen to country in the house, but that changed when I started discovering rock music. Oh, not that it was acceptable to listen to that “crap” but I certainly did it anyway. I remember one of the big criticisms about rock – the songs weren’t about anything.

In many respects, the songs were about more. Some might say rock music was to country what literature is to pulp fiction (very hard for a genre writer to figure out how to word this without offending someone). Don’t get me wrong – I like country music. But a lot of rock songs have layers of meaning to them. Well, or they’re best understood high or intoxicated because they really aren’t about anything.

But U2 is certainly not a band I’d accuse of being about nothing. I find myself wondering now why I never considered alternate meanings to Exit years ago. I liked U2’s music from before The Joshua Tree and there is no doubt songs like Sunday Bloody Sunday brought a political edge to their music back then. It was clear they had opinions about what was passing for routine in the religious conflict in Northern Ireland at the time, so why didn’t it occur to me that Exit could have been as much about that as anything else?

I mean, maybe not. Maybe I’m overreaching, but I think some of the most powerful music/literature/movies in our lives are ones that stand the test of time. Ones that resonate with us and have us thinking about them years later. They have those layers of meaning – perhaps in some cases because they pose questions and don’t try to offer all the answers.

I recently had a bit of a disagreement with an author about a book they wrote. They felt they’d failed to address the impact of suicide on the living. I completely disagreed and started citing examples from their book – a book I read more than a year ago, but the names, the scenes, were all still there.

That’s power in a book, because there are some I read last month that I can scarcely remember the protagonist’s name from.

There seems to be a lot of pressure on writers sometimes, to wrap everything up in a nice, neat bow, but I think the books that often stay with us are the ones that leave a few questions lingering in the mind. A Question of Blood pissed me off to no end. Did the…uh, guilty, get off or did he get what was coming to him? Who knows? The reality is, at the end of one week of investigation, even with proof enough to proceed with charges, who would know? Court cases drag on for months. So, I was annoyed to know and yet know it was possible this person would get off for what they’d done, yet I wasn’t complaining because it was completely realistic.

I’d been debating whether or not to put an epilogue in Suspicious Circumstances. I’d actually written one. Kevin read it and came back to me and said, “Where were you going with that?” I said some people might be upset if I didn’t make X and Y clear (sorry, no spoilers folks). He argued he didn’t think it was necessary. Now, this would all make more sense if you’d read the book, but I think he makes a compelling case.

In thinking about books and songs and the deeper meanings within, I keep thinking about those magic pictures, where when you look at them a certain way you see another picture inside the picture. The moment when everything clicks into place and you can see it clearly. You don’t need someone to explain to you what’s in the picture anymore because you’ve found the trick yourself.

In many ways, we humans are strange creatures, because we try to assign meaning and structure to everything. Who hasn’t watched the clouds go by, labeling them a bunny or a duck or a platypus… something real, tangible, that we can define?

Sometimes, I think we’re very uncomfortable with what’s elusive precisely because we can’t put it in a nice, neat box and label it.

Not that I actually think my book is that way, at all. But it’s interesting to think about. I do love to mindfuck people in writing, occasionally (as anyone who’s read The Butcher knows) but that’s not my driving focus with SC.

But enough about that. I wonder if I’m the only one who has things that pop back into their head (ahem) 19 years later and starts wondering what they mean? What books have lingered with you, and why?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Lighten Up

I don’t know about you guys, but this has felt like a long, sober week.

Which perhaps is evidence of a lack of booze, for starters.

I’ve been keeping really busy. About 90% of the next Spinetingler has been put into the first format. From here, it goes out of my hands, gets checked for errors, formatted for the web, etc. My new website design is almost ready to be put in place. I’m going over Suspicious Circumstances again, and have a few things to adjust in it before the ARCs are printed in a few weeks. I have a bunch of interviews I’m supposed to schedule for September.

I’m writing what’s proving to be one of the hardest reviews…ever. I knew I should never have decided to review a Rankin book.

My niece turns 12 tomorrow and I haven’t finished getting a birthday present together.

And I’ve been sick. So it’s been a lovely week filled with naps and grumbling. My new nickname is Surly Bear and I’m not complaining, because it’s much nicer than Bitchy Chick.

So, in celebration of the week being over, we shall have jokes.

From Deletta (yes, dammit, I am going to call!)

The blind date hadn't been all that great and she was happy when the evening festivities were finally over.

At her apartment door, her date suddenly said "Hey! You wanna see my underwear?"

Before she could respond, he had dropped his pants, right there in the hall, revealing that he wasn't wearing any underwear.

She glanced down and said, "Nice pattern. Does it come in men's sizes?"

A Joke From JT

A nun is sitting with her Mother Superior chatting.

"I used some horrible language this week and feel absolutely terrible about it."

"When did you use this awful language?" asks the elder.

"Well, I was golfing and hit an incredible drive that looked like it was going to go over 280 yards, but it struck a phone line that was hanging over the fairway and fell straight down to the ground after going only about 100 yards."

"Is that when you swore?"

"No, Mother," says the nun. "After that, a squirrel ran out of the bushes and grabbed my ball in its mouth and began to run away."

"Is THAT when you swore?" asks the Mother Superior again.

"Well, no. says the nun. You see, as the squirrel was running, an eagle came down out of the sky, grabbed the squirrel in his talons and began to fly away!"

"Is THAT when you swore?" asks the amazed elder nun.

"No, not yet. As the eagle carried the squirrel away in its claws" it flew near the green and the squirrel dropped my ball."

"Did you swear THEN?" asked Mother Superior, becoming impatient.

"No, because the ball fell on a big rock, bounced over the sandtrap, rolled onto the green, and stopped about six inches from the hole."

The two nuns were silent for a moment.

Then Mother Superior sighed and said, "You missed the fucking putt, didn't you?"

JT censored out that word, but I put it back in. There’s no shame on this blog.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Surviving Prejudice, Surviving Hate

Yesterday, I promised a rant on my blog today. Brace yourselves.

The next Survivor will see tribes divided by race.

Now, let me be clear. I don’t watch Survivor (anymore). I might have been tempted to tune in for the first episode, just to see the Cook Islands, because I’ve always wanted to go there.

But this stunt has guaranteed I’ll never watch the show again. Ever. I find this concept exceptionally offensive. Now, men vs women doesn’t irk me, in part because there are a healthy number of extreme feminists out there who are always asserting they can kick a man’s ass in anything. So let them try. I couldn’t care less. Boring. I think they did a Survivor that was men vs women? I don’t know. It long ago got old, and they should have known when to quit. It’s like Dallas for heaven’s sake. A show that just went on way past its prime.

So, the gender thing wouldn’t irk me, but race definitely does. Have we really not moved forward at all? As the article says, Black Tribe! White Tribe! Latino Tribe! Asian Tribe! Survivors ready ... let the social Darwinism begin!

I mean, come on. If they wanted to stir interest with controversy, why not have the Jews and the Islamic fundamentalists on two opposing teams? Can the producers of this show really be so ignorant as to think that it’s a good idea, or even just OKAY to play with old prejudices?

Just the other day, I was >reading this column – are Hezbollah and Hamas freedom fighters or terrorists? The ‘war on terror’ has become the new war of hate, like WWII and the Cold War with the Soviets. Is there a right and a wrong? Is it all as simple as we think?

No, of course it isn’t. But as the columnist astutely points out, we’re in the midst of decided what side we’re on, if we haven’t already, and prejudices are being formed. Prejudices that will cut deep and mark society. Prejudices that, in some cases, will set us back decades, maybe cause irreparable rifts.

We experienced that in varying ways after 9/11. Kevin and I had a trip planned, to Tunisia. So it wasn’t a hotbed of terrorism – it was still a Muslim country, still too close to that ‘bad part of the world’ in many people’s minds. We had a number of people criticize us for not canceling our trip. I remember phoning the travel agent, and being assured we could have all our money back before we even got the question out – all we wanted to know was that we could still go.

And when we got there, people would come up to us in the market and clasp my hand and tell us, in varying degrees of broken English Thank you for coming. Thank you for not blaming us.

How could I? Blaming one Muslim country for the actions of an extremist group is like blaming America for the actions of televangelists. Or cult leaders. Religious extremism is often not a ‘national’ issue. It may be more prevalent in some countries…

But instead of identifying the source of the prejudices so that they can be addressed, perhaps corrected, we put up barriers of hate. We refuse dialogue. At what point do we become as prejudiced and narrow-minded as the people we accuse?

Now, I’m not saying any of this in defense of terrorists, believe me. But when I was in Munich back in 1989. I went to Dachau. At the concentration camp, they have a film and it covers some of the history leading up to the events that happened at the camp during WWII.

I was 18 and na├»ve, and I’d thought it was so fucking simple to say the Germans were all wrong. But a lot of them were deceived. If you read the history of how Hitler came to power, how he used economic problems and reigniting national pride as a basis for preaching hate, you see that it wasn’t so simple. Oh, with some, sure. Some were people filled with hate already and only too happy to jump on the bandwagon and start locking people up. There are always those who crave power.

But there were a lot of people who were misled, one small step at a time. It’s always easy to look back later and see you’re off course. But if it takes a while before you realize it, it’s a lot of work to get back to the point where you first wandered off the path.

I grew up in a town that was essentially all white. A token black family (from South America, so just add in the complexity there of shattering a prejudice – what? You’re not from Africa?) and the people who ran the Chinese restaurant. A few Native kids in school, but, for the most part, white.

I knew a lot of people who were pretty narrow-minded.

And I never got that. Ever.

I know I’ve mentioned it here before, about how when I was quite young, there was a Japanese family living down the road. Their son was my age, a classmate in our school. They lived in town less than two years, and I clearly remember Ben phoning my house to see if I could go ride bikes, and my parents having a debate about whether or not to let me play with him.

Because… why? His eyes were ‘slanted’? His skin was darker than mine? It wasn’t that he was a boy – most of the kids my age on my street were and I played with all the other ones without issue. So, why?

And why was it such a big secret that my hometown was one of the places where Japanese people were set to “internment” camps during WWII?

Yeah, we bury our shame down deep and never address it, never really, truly let the wounds heal.

The original Survivor concept was a good one, if for nothing more than the intrigue of watching people sink lower and lower in their quest for fame and fortune. It was one of those baffling things, how people who’d essentially done nothing became celebrities.

Really, the appeal of the original Survivor - and reality shows to follow, like Big Brother - was to satisfy the perverse curiosity of the viewers. It’s all very Then Again, Maybe I Won’t adult-version, with film crews filling in for binoculars as we sneak a peek at the person undressing in the house next door.

Now, whenever discussions have come up on Val McDermid’s forum about could she please please please let Carol and Tony have a roll in the hay, I find it amusing. And, on occasion, disturbing. Do I really need to see the two get up close and personal? No. If that was essential to my reading, I’d read romance or erotica. I always wonder what it is that makes people want to watch.

Of course, someone did point out to me that it can be about wanting to know we’re normal ourselves. Which raises a whole other topic about what is normal, because we all know that there’s more than one way to have sex and not everybody likes everything. And that’s about as far with that tangent as I’m going to go at the moment.

So, there are two things about reality shows that are interesting, to me, as a writer. One is what it is that makes people want to “spy” on others.

And the other is, what it is that makes people want to live in a fishbowl.

Now, you might say, But you’re here, blogging, sharing your personal thoughts with anyone who walks by. Isn’t that living in a fishbowl? No, it isn’t.

I have the choice over what I put here. Nobody forces me to expose anything I don’t want to. That’s a marked difference between a blog and a forum – on a forum, anyone can start any topic. On a blog, the blogger retains control of the conversation. I’m very free, and the usual crew who comment are awesome, so the only thing I’ve ever had to delete is spam.

I know that ‘celebrities’ like actors and musicians do live more of a public life, but even their lives aren’t as exposed as the lives of the people on reality shows. Big Brother even had an internet feed you could subscribe to, so that you could watch people between episodes. There truly was no moment of privacy in their lives the entire time they were in the house.

Now, if I were to follow this tangent, I’d end up launching into a discussion of ‘front-stage’ and ‘back-stage’ theories, going back to one of my pet topics (communication theory) but I’ll spare you. Suffice it to say one of the reasons blogging works for me is because it’s the interactive online option that gives me the most control over my life and what becomes public.

I’ve had my private life exposed in a way that nearly destroyed me, many years ago. Fucking Christians. Okay, a generalization, I’m sorry, as I do have many good friends who are Christians, and some people still call me one - I prefer not to talk about my beliefs, or lack of beliefs. Some specific fucking Christians, who thought they had a divine right to meddle. They had a natural talent for being self-righteous assholes, I’ll grant them that.

If there’s one thing I learned – and by this I mean practical knowledge, for I knew it in my head, but this is what made it hit me in the heart - through that experience, it’s that you can be judged on multiple levels. Not just for gender or for race, but for what you’ve endured in your life.

You can be ‘not good enough’ because you’re ‘damaged goods’. And it’s no fault of your own, it’s just what is. But there are those who will still set themselves up as better than you. And it isn’t just ‘do you believe’ or ‘do you not believe’ but how much do you believe, do you go to Church on Sundays, how much do you pray, have you read your Bible this week, do you speak in tongues, what spiritual gift do you have? Because all of that is going to prove how ‘righteous’ you are, or aren’t, as the case may be.

I lived with that for too long. I’ve explained here before how I ended up (raised atheist) turning to religion in my teen years. What I might not have explained at the time was that it came down to slashing my wrists or finding some shred of hope in humanity to hold onto so that I could keep going. So, in many ways, my religious experience saved my life, only ten years later to spit me out the other side when some of the worst things that ever happened to me nearly destroyed me, and the people I knew were only too quick to say I wasn’t good enough to be one of them because I was contaminated. Too much sin in my family.

It’s been ten years since that happened, almost to the day. And sitting here typing this, I can feel the anger in me still and tears burn in my eyes. I’ve been sexually abused as a child, physically assaulted as a teenager and endured more emotional torment than I could stand for many years, but it was Christians who taught me how to hate. Yes, I hate those specific people. (And I still have a knee-jerk reaction as a result - tell me what to do and I'm going to argue, even if you're right.)

And so I look on this “new” concept of Survivor with disgust. Let me tell you, I always favour my right foot, the one I partially severed. I still get shooting pains sometimes, and so if I’ve been walking a lot and my feet are sore, it’s the first to get rubbed or soaked or whatever. There are some things that, even once ‘healed’ always have to be treated with care. I know the pain when I push too far.

And I know emotionally what a journey it's been to try to come to terms with some things just in my own life. I've seen my husband's family come through that, after his brother committed suicide. There are multiple levels of forgiveness and healing, and we don't get through it all in the snap of a finger. There is a time that the wound is still covered with a thinner skin, and it takes less to break it.

There is a time to just let things be so that they can begin to mend.

At a time when there are so many who could be easily persuaded to hate and fear those who are ‘different’ this Survivor is exploiting old prejudices for ratings and money. Am I the only one who finds this deplorable?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

We interrupt crossing 23,000 to share this:

It's being reported that Rankin will continue writing Rebus.

Of course, I don't automatically believe anything they report about Rankin anymore, because the speculation has been rampant. Just the other day I read that he wouild be writing comics when he stopped writing Rebus... today he's still going to write Rebus... I think it doesn't have to be one or the other, but whatever.

The nice thing about this is, people obviously care. What more could you hope for as a writer? Certainly beats the alternative of people not giving a shit if your character fades into oblivion or not.

Which, in a way, is too bad. People fixate on Rankin writing Rebus, when it isn't Rebus that Rankin writes best*.

But enough of my Rankin commentary. Still, this is hopeful news for Rankin fans, and all the people who (knowing I was going to Harrogate this year) begged me to persuade Ian to continue the series. Believe me, I had nothing to do with it - it's a conversation I never had. I just think he's tempted by the idea of going retro with the music selections.

More Rebus?

* Not that I don't love Rebus.

Crossing 23,000

Well, if today is an average day - even a below average day - around here, I'll pass the 23,000th visitor mark on my blog. Considering we're still a few months off from my one year anniversary, and I don't lure you with exciting contests and I'm not famous, nor do I look like Grace Kelly, the way Cornelia Read does, I consider that pretty impressive.

There should be a joke or something to celebrate, but all I can tell you is that my post is up on Killer Year - The Right Kind of Reader - check it out.

Oh, and this just in: From my friend, DW. There are a zillion things I could add to this, but in an exceptionally rare moment of self restraint, I'm going to go. Right now.

But first, remind you that it's Dar Wednesday. I find it perversely amusing to laugh at stupid people.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


The vet just called and Skittles' surgery went well. He'll be coming home later today.

Damn Lazy Criminals

They’re stealing ideas from my Canadian book, before it’s even published.

Okay, okay. So I can’t take the credit. When I wrote that one, it was inspired by two true stories and a weird convergence that occurred from listening to Copperhead Road and Five Dollar Bill too much that summer.

I mean, it’s all been done before. And what worked in prohibition might work now…Right?

Not likely.

You have to be original. If you want to be a successful criminal, you have to show a little bit of imagination. Which is why my book involves smuggling with a twist.

And that’s sort of a secondary plot, anyway.

I’ve always had a very scattered mind, in that it’s thinking ten steps ahead on some things and sideways on others and there are several trains coming and going from the station simultaneously. Drives evilkev mad when we talk, because I’ll just suddenly pick up something that was part of the discussion an hour earlier, or that we haven’t been talking about at all.

I used to be even better at simultaneous processing. The good ol’ days of youth, when I could have the tv on, music on the stereo, a phone stuck between my shoulder and ear and be reading or writing or doing homework as well. Damn, I miss that. How did it all make sense?

Now, I can’t even talk on the phone and type emails. Occasionally, I manage to wash dishes, but only when evilkev isn’t home, or he distracts me.

The funny thing was, when I wrote Suspicious Circumstances, I listened to the radio while I was writing. Hence the weird convergence of too much Copperhead Road and Five Dollar Bill. And this music, bouncing around in the back of my brain, clicked into place. It helped spark an idea.

Now, I can hardly even listen to music while I’m dealing with email. Which is kind of sad, because I officially have a very cool addition to my electronic gadget collection. Which is really evilkev’s electronic gadget collection, but when he says he’s buying it for me, it eases his guilt.

And I’ve learned to just lay claim to it anyway, since he said he was buying it for me.

What is this I’ve acquired? Cordless headphones.

Of course, evilkev was only too quick to point out that on my upcoming trip to the US – because I get to go everywhere while he stays at home and does nothing - that I can show off my cool headphones.

To which I say, “Are you an idiot? People get knifed just to steal an ipod, never mind blue tooth cordless headphones that show off you’ve got an ipod. They’re staying at home.”

Which, you see, has brought me right back to what I started this post with: crime.

And somehow it all makes sense in my brain.

I suppose this is one of the merits of being an organic writer. Perhaps one of the advantages. You think about things sideways and let them connect in ways that people don’t necessarily expect. If you can make it convincing and believable in your fiction, you’ve got a real edge, because the way your brain processes and connects seemingly random things is probably fairly unique, and therefore it isn’t as easy for someone else to guess how it will piece together.

Well, you hope, anyway.

This is why I have a hard time with questions about where I got an idea, or how the idea for the book started. Whatever started it is probably so peripheral to what becomes the main story that people would be baffled if they’d already read the book.

I suppose this is why, for me, writing something new ends up feeling like an adventure.

So, am I a freak? Or do you guys find this happens to you as well?

Side note

I was going to write about something else today, but it was depressing. Ever notice how one thing happens that bums you out, and suddenly everything seems bleak? We lost one of our dogs on the weekend, and I’m off to take Skittles to the vet right now. So, I haven’t been feeling very chipper the past few days, but it’s getting better.

JT Ellison sent me a link to a very funny joke.

I must admit JT, we’ve established I don’t listen very well. LOL! Evilkev would say that’s not exactly a news flash…

Monday, August 21, 2006


Certain things are. Like sex on the beach. Please. I don’t like sand in my bathing suit, or in my socks, or even in my shoes, so do I really need to spell out why sex on the beach has to be one of the most overrated things… ever?

There are plenty of things that are hyped up, and not at all the grand experience people make them out to be. I tend to find this happens with movies, a lot. Which may be why I pretty much ignore movie trailers now, and everyone buzzing about them. There has to be…something special in the discussion of a movie to catch my interest anymore. I’m trying to remember if I’ve been to more than one movie in a theatre this year, and I don’t think I have.

Thinking about all of this has a direct transfer to books. At what point is too much hype an issue? When did Harry Potter go from being something I’d heard a lot about to something I never wanted to read? How did The DaVinci Code make that leap? I don’t know. Oh, I know I will read Harry Potter, eventually. Just not when everyone keeps telling me too. Well, okay, not when my sister keeps telling me too. That might explain that. There’s something about older siblings that brings out the automatic rebellion in me. You think green is my favourite colour? I’m changing it to red, just because!

I differ from some people in my philosophies. I think there is such a thing as bad publicity. Ask Mel Gibson. Ask any celebrity that’s lost a lucrative endorsement contract.

I also think that there’s such a thing as laying low for too long, in some industries. Hollywood would definitely be one of them. A few years out of the spotlight and people have moved on to the next big thing. If you haven’t acquired legend status, being on the sidelines too long could be the death knell on your career.

Writing seems a bit more forgiving… Doesn’t it?

Now, personally, I think there is such a thing as too much advanced hype. And there is always a risk of feeling let down by something that’s been built up to be this great experience.

An example of a book with a lot of buzz around it this year would be Cornelia Read’s stunning debut, A Field of Darkness. Praised by numerous authors, with a lot of buzz coming from the readers as well.

What was interesting – and Cornelia could speak better to this than me – was watching the reviews come up on DorothyL. There were many glowing, positive reader reviews.

But there were a few who basically said, “After all the hype about this book, I decided to read it and was I ever disappointed.”

Which always prompted me to write Cornelia an email, reviewing the review. We writers take it hard.

And in her case, I think that for some people the hype had that negative effect. They’d probably read everything praiseworthy said about the book in every review out there, and then had the meh, it ain’t all that reaction.

And not because it isn’t a great book - it is a great book! - but because it had been built up into this phenomenal experience and for some people, no book could actually deliver that.

None of this was Cornelia’s fault. Nor was it because the book isn’t an excellent book. I’m going to keep saying that. Because I don’t want anyone to think I’m slamming Cornelia or her book. Not for a second. Definitely one of my favourite reads this year.

But it does make you wonder at what point pushing something is too much. And I’m so guilty of this. I mean, I’m nothing but a gushing cheerleader over the things I love. If it’s a song, you have to hear it. A book, you have to read it. An author, you have to worship them too. I could never sell myself as a sales person and talk up things I had no interest in, but you couldn’t stop me from promoting the things that capture my imagination, the things that speak to me.

Is that always a good thing?

I don’t think it is, necessarily. And it’s something I have to pay a bit more attention to, I think.

In thinking about my own book being five months away from reality, I wonder what the point is where it’s bad to not have people talking about it is? Obviously, advanced hype is important. Remember back to what I said on my posts about BSP and winning new readers – it sounded like some people (based on their emails) wrote me off because I’m not available for pre-order on amazon yet. Geesh, I know people who have books coming out later next year who’ve got their cover art up on their website, and a long list of blurbs. Some days, it’s downright depressing, because you think you can never do enough to promote your work. You can never be ready enough…

But you can obviously be pushed too hard.

Finding the balance is the trick. I haven’t said much about the storyline for Suspicious Circumstances. The tiny write-up on my website covers about two chapters, hardly a fraction of the book. I had to pare it down to a thirty-word blurb, which was torture.

I was discussing all the intricacies of this business with an author over the weekend, and one thing that came up that we both seemed to believe in was growing a body of work.

The author’s first responsibility is to write the best damn book that’s in them.

The publisher’s priority is to produce the best book possible.

We can’t dispute that marketing is important. You don’t just have to market yourself to customers. You have to market yourself to the bookstores. I’m not an idiot, I know how this works. I already know how hard it will be to get stores to stock my book. And in reality, I know there’s precious little I can do about it.

An author I know went through this. Poor Canadian distribution. This author worked her ass off, going to bookstores around the country, and even in the city she grew up in, where most of her family still lived, she couldn’t get the local bookstores to carry the book. And she was published by a known and established US publisher (though I’m not saying who, because then some people would know the author’s identity).

This could be a point where I launch into a tirade, about how consumers don’t get all the options out there. My book will be distributed by Ingrams. Excellent reputation, standard return policy, same as a zillion other books out there. Same for other authors I’ve known.

I went through this a few months ago, trying to order a book. One thing I’ve learned about the big chain stores in Canada is that if you order online, they charge you shipping. So why bother? Go to amazon, right? Right.

I was in the bookstore, looking for some books, and found one I was after. Two I still couldn’t find. I decided to order them there, to the store. No shipping charge, for one thing.

It was no trouble for me to order Dublin Noir. It was quite another story for me to order Steve Mosby’s The Third Person. And this pissed me off, to no end, because in Canada Steve’s book comes out through Orion. They publish Ian Rankin, so it isn’t like they’ve got a distribution problem here.

But they told me I couldn’t order Steve’s book into the stores.

What the fuck?

Oh, it wasn’t just one impatient customer service chick. A manager as well. They never rushed me or brushed me off, and it took ages to deal with this order, because they could order Dublin Noir into the store, but not Steve’s book.

Anyway, long story short, they ended up not sending me the book, I complained, and then I got two copies.

But since then, Steve’s made the jump from the online computer system to the store computer system. I’ve been in three of the big chain stores in the past week, and guess what? There are his books.

That I paid an extra $8 to have shipped to me. Grrrr.

And people wonder why it’s harder and harder to make a living selling books.

Some days, I just want to crawl into a hole and forget about all of this stuff. Talking up your book, getting all those good blurbs, having an eye-catching cover, all the gimmick stuff… It feels like such a competition sometimes.

When was it just wonderful to know you were going to be published? Because it’s not enough – you have to be a success. A smashing success.

And then, when you are a successful author, you’ve always got that pressure on you, to live up to what you’ve done before.


None of this helps me sort out in my head how much advanced hype is too much, or at what point you’ve risked missing the mark for building up the anticipation for your work.

Today, I feel exceptionally bummed.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


You go out for a few hours, and look what happens.

My blog is a googlewhack.

Yes, I received an email, informing me of this.

Now, the whole concept of googlewhacking is new to me. Apparently, it's a game to enter two words, not in quotes, into a search engine and produce only one result from the search.

And (sniff) my blog is the product of the unholy union of two real words that nobody else has put together on the internet... yet.

Due to change tomorrow.

I'm not going to tell you what the words are, though. Although Mr. Stephen Wood - who informed me of this glorious declaration - did share in his email.

Because if I tell you, you'll all go mention them elsewhere so I won't be special anymore.

See, you really do learn something new every day...

Friday, August 18, 2006

I Guess It Won’t Be Hard To Find Me After All

10:30am Friday September 29 I won’t be able to hide. I’ll be on a panel at Bouchercon, a panel being chaired by John Rickards! Yes, he's coming to Bouchercon! I’m guessing that obscene t-shirts and horsefucking likely won’t go over well with the B’con people, so once we’ve figured out what we’re talking about, I’ll tell you more.

Seriously, it looks like a good group and like John has some pretty good ideas already. Hopefully, he won’t take revenge on me for writing poetry laced with sexual inferences about him and Stuart MacBride months ago.

If you’re in the mood for some righteous indignation, check out Jeff Shelby’s You, My Friend, Are A Huge Jackass. This is simply one of the best blog posts…ever.

Some People Are Just Sick and why the hell haven’t they released the name?

Don't forget to check out the book meme below. Oh, and, in case this post is still here twice, it has been deleted. When I click on the editing button, it says it doesn't exist.

From my friend Linda

1. If you are choking on an ice cube, don't panic. Simply pour a cup of boiling water down your throat and presto. The blockage will be almost instantly removed.
2. Clumsy? Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.
3. Avoid arguments with the little woman about lifting the toilet seat by simply using the sink.
4. For high blood pressure sufferers: simply cut yourself and bleed for a few minutes, thus reducing the pressure in your veins. Remember to use a timer.
5. A mouse trap, placed on top of your alarm clock, will prevent you from rolling over and going back to sleep after you hit the snooze button.
6. If you have a bad cough, take a large dose of laxatives, then you will be afraid to cough.
7. Have a bad toothache? Smash your thumb with a hammer and you will forget about the toothache. Sometimes, we just need to remember what the rules of life really are. You only need two tools: WD-40 and Duct Tape. If it doesn't move and should, use the WD-40. If it shouldn't move and does, use the duct tape. Also, remember everyone seems normal until you get to know them. Never pass up an opportunity to go to the bathroom. If you shop anywhere but Wal-Mart, you are just showing off! And finally, be really nice to your family and friends; you never know when you might need them to empty your bedpan.

GURNEY TALK from Forrest.

Two little kids are in a hospital, lying on gurneys next to each other outside the operating room.

The first kid leans over and asks, "What are you in here for?"

The second kid says, "I'm in here to get my tonsils out and I'm a little nervous."

The first kid says, "You've got nothing to worry about. I had that done when I was four. They put you to sleep, and when you wake up they give you lots of Jell-O and ice cream. It's a breeze."

The second kid then asks, "What are you here for?"

The first kid says," A circumcision."

The second kid says, "Whoa, Good luck buddy! I had that done when I was born. Couldn't walk for a year."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Of Books

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, and I liked this one, so I decided to fill it in. I know I’m supposed to tag five people, but to hell with that. People who find it interesting will do it. Those who don’t, won’t.

Courtesy of Dana, the book meme.

A book that changed my life.

Hmmm. I could say Rankin’s The Falls, which was the catalyst for converting me to crime and ultimately paving the way to me writing, but also all those other books I read as a kid (see next question) that instilled in me the love of reading.

A book that I’ve read more than once.

A Question of Blood by Ian Rankin. And The Call of the Wild by Jack London, the Narnia Chronicles by CS Lewis, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein…

A book I’d want on a desert island.

Well… Rebus’s Scotland would probably be the one, because it’s so damn hard to choose.

A book that made me laugh.

The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery. There’s something about Valancy as the non-typical girl, her willingness to say all those ‘improper’ things, that I just love. I read it when commuting, which was a pain as I struggled not to laugh out loud on the bus.

A book that made me cry.

To The Power of Three by Laura Lippman. I’m not going to say anything, other than read the book.

A book I wish I’d written.

This is a tough one. I think I’d say To The Power of Three as well.

A book I wish had never been written.

The Bridges of Madison County. Gag, I intensely disliked that book.

The book I’m currently reading.

The Flood by Ian Rankin

Yes, I’m finally going to review a book by Ian Rankin in Spinetingler. And this was his first novel, not a mystery, so it’s unlike anything else I’ve read by him. What do I think? You’ll have to wait until next month to find out.

A book I’ve been meaning to read.

Anything by Michael Connelly (don’t hate me Boy Kim!). I do plan to read his work! As soon as I wade through the review copies that keep stacking up around here.

How Old Do You Have To Be To Be A Criminal?

There’s a controversy brewing here, because our justice minister, Vic Toews, thinks children ages 10 and 11 should be brought into the criminal justice system.

Toews thinks youth courts should have the power to intervene in the lives of younger children who have fallen "under the influence of criminal elements." A judge could be given the power to "assist" a child by ordering treatment or some other "disposition," Toews said, adding that his main interest is treatment, not imprisonment. Courts should be able to step in before a child has established a pattern of behaviour that could have harmful, long-term consequences, he said. "I'm sometimes provided with anecdotes about people coming to the court by age 12 and they've had a horrendous involvement with the police and other social agencies, but the courts have been unable to intervene.
"There needs to be more flexibility in the act," he told reporters later. "We need to find ways of ensuring children are deterred from crime.

End of discussion. What intelligent person would have a problem with this? Children already demonstrating a pattern of repeated behaviour that has put them on an intersect course with the police don’t just get sent home and told to ‘sin no more’ but actually face consequences for their actions.

Of course, the critics disagree. "Kids need to stay out of the criminal justice system," Ontario child advocate Judy Finlay says.

Fantastic. Then Ms. Finlay can come over and clean up the part of our fence a group of youths knocked over and pay to have it replaced.

And while she’s at it, I’m sure she won’t mind picking up the garbage they dumped in our hedges.

Oh, and scrubbing the graffiti off the railcars at the train museum. Can’t say it looks terribly appealing to potential visitors.

We all know that there are patterns of behaviour in serial killers that emerge in childhood. The overwhelming majority don’t just wake up one day and say, “Oh, I can’t get a job at McDonald’s, so I’ll go kill a few people.”

Now, before anyone jumps all over me and says I’m anti-child, I’m not advocating that kids as young as 10 go to jail. What I’m saying is what our justice minister is saying, which anyone who took the time to get off their self-righteous high-horse and actually listened would hear. There needs to be a system in place to address kids that are repeatedly coming into contact with the police and demonstrating a pattern of unlawful behaviour. Obviously, these ‘repeat offenders’ aren’t being dealt with at home. Sending them back to that environment may not be the solution… Or, at least, there should be counseling, a special ‘youth probation officer’ of sorts – somebody to step in and keep an eye on things and try to address the root issues.

This is, after all, the real problem. The crimes are often the symptoms of much deeper problems. I mean, my niece is still, for all of 9 more days, 11. Yet she’s a smart kid and knows right from wrong. If she went and torched someone’s house or killed a cat, should we really just send her home and shrug our shoulders and say she’s too young to understand?

I don’t think so. I think that’s just ridiculous.

I sure as hell knew right from wrong by the age of ten. Okay, maybe not in every single situation in life. But there are basics. Like, if it doesn’t belong to you it isn’t yours and you don’t have the right to destroy it or break it.

I remember once we were visiting family friends. I was 8 or 9 at the time. These people had two children, a girl and a boy. Of course, their son was my age, their daughter my sister’s age.

Now, I can’t remember why their son wasn’t around… but I was pretty much shafted, because the older girls were shutting me out, hanging out in the girl’s room, listening to records.

So I broke the needle on the record player.

Do you think my parents just said I was misunderstood and needed more hugs? Hell, no. I paid to fix that needle out of my allowance. And you know what I learned? That, no matter how mad I was, I didn’t have the right to mess with something that didn’t belong to me, and if I did there were consequences.

It wasn’t a cruel lesson. It was a fair lesson. One that stayed with me. Part of the reason I’m so fucking annoyed at having neighbours who’ve stolen stuff off our property. Some people shouldn’t be allowed to have kids, and here they are, modeling their shitty lifestyle for two impressionable children, one of whom has developed a habit of taunting our dogs.

I can look back on my own childhood and honestly say that a lot of the kids doing bad things were crying out for help. I knew these kids – for the most part, you were in class with the same 27-29 children every year. This one girl, TM, was the bane of my existence at school. In grade 1 she stole one of my Christmas presents out of my desk. I told on her. The next year, she cornered me outside at recess and beat on me. That actually happened most years.

I’d venture to say the only problem about my ‘conditioning’ where that was concerned was that I wouldn’t hit back. You weren’t supposed to hit back. A philosophy that stayed with me to the night when I was 14 and was beaten to the point where I had permanent damage to my jaw. A week later I was hospitalized.

I remember being so angry that the schools did nothing to stop me from being beaten up. Most times, these kids didn’t get any punishment at all. I remember ending up in the office sometimes, filling in time so I didn’t have to be subjected to that. Others who had similar problems used to spend recess walking with the on-duty teachers so they couldn’t be caught alone.

It’s the innocent who get punished, not just as kids on playgrounds, but in society. Money and energy and time goes into dealing with the criminals, while there are people out there trying to figure out how to put their lives back together.

After the incident when I was 14, the government did step in. I became a case file. I was monitored. Through that, family therapy was to follow, though it didn’t do much good. You can’t fix people who like being broken, or have been that way for so long they think it’s normal.

But my case worker sifted through a lot of shit to figure out what the root issues were in my life. And she mandated a transfer to a new high school in a different town. I went from a school with 300+ kids, most of whom I’d been in school with my whole life, just a few grades behind them, to a school of 1000. Where I knew exactly 2 people – one of whom is my brother-in-law, who was already dating my sister way back then.

But through the move, I connected to a lot of other ‘case file’ kids. Many of whom I’m still in touch with now, because we had that foundation. We understood each other.

I wasn’t a criminal, but I got lucky. Back then, all I saw was that I was getting out. Away from some of the people who’d been abusing me for years. All that time, nobody did anything to make them stop.

And we wonder why kids are going to school with guns these days.

I’m not justifying that. I just look back on my own experience, and I’m frustrated. Still frustrated more wasn’t done to stop those bullies.

Not surprised to know some have since ended up in jail.

The difference between what we’ve got now and what our justice minister wants is simple. A chance to stop some criminal activity and actually get these kids off that track before it’s too late.

And maybe, inadvertently, to keep some other people from being victimized until they can’t take it any more.

Ms. Finlay can hand out hugs all she wants.

But then she should be prepared to clean up the mess.

And you likely won’t find very rational discussion from me on this one. I’ve worked with kids. I spent the bulk of my adult life working with kids. I’ve been beaten over the head with a wooden board by a five-year-old. I’ve been bitten to the point where skin was broken. I’ve been kicked, had property destroyed… And we aren’t even talking about what I’ve intervened on, that one child has done to another.

I’m not saying the solution is locking young kids up. But there is no mechanism. I know teachers who are physically afraid to go to work. I have colleagues who’ve come to the point where it’s them or the child, and they’ve quit, because they couldn’t endure one more day of being beaten on by a kid.

We have a faulty system in place. We need something that protects everybody. Nearing the end of my career, I worked with two boys who were school-aged, who were caught abusing animals.

You know what was done.


And I happen to think that’s pretty fucking sad. There are days I might be disappointed about not having children.

Then I remember what the world is like, and it makes me feel a bit better.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Mainlining The Testosterone

”I also noted, because the book is very dialogue and action-driven, that it reminds me more of mysteries written by men than those written by women. Do you think this is the influence (if only unconscious) of some of your favorite male writers in the genre--such as Rankin, MacBride, etc?”

If I had been sitting across from author Julia Buckley when she asked me that question, she would have seen me staring at her with my mouth hanging open, speechless. Of all the possible things she could have asked me about my debut novel, Suspicious Circumstances, discussing if I have a “male” writing style hadn’t even occurred to me.

I’d never thought of it before.

I mean, sure, I read a lot of books written by men. In general – this is a generalization people! – I seem to connect more with male authors. Even male protagonists. But I am a woman. I never thought about whether I wrote male or female, until the moment Julia* asked the question. I mean, I always just thought I never wanted to write one thing, one way, that I wanted to try doing whatever interested me. I’ve written from the perspective of a young girl, from the perspective of men… and women. Even an old woman.

(This post does connect to my Killer Year post, by the way. Which is very short, but you might want to read it and then you tell me if I write male.)

This has been on my mind a lot since Julia interviewed me. My friendships with women are tight – I’m talking about my close friends here - but historically, I have had a tendency to have more guy friends.

From the time I was very young, seven or eight, I was entranced by The Call of the Wild, by Jack London. I have his collected works here, still. And I wasn’t much older than that when I was introduced to the works of CS Lewis. I was a fan of The Great Brain series, and the first chapter book I bought my nephew Athaniel was This Can’t Be Happening At Macdonald Hall by Gordon Korman, the start of a series I loved as a child.

It wasn’t like I thought about it, and it wasn’t as though I didn’t read Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume as well. But the books that had a big impression on me, that have lingered with me to this day? A high percentage were written by men.

A few weeks ago, in my Harrogate recap, I said men did write better crime fiction, and I’d finally figured out why. Of course, I didn’t explain my reason for saying that at the time. Some might wonder at the insanity of a female author making such a statement.

But it is a generalization, and it has to do with appearances, perhaps not even fact. How do I put it delicately? Women seem to write a wider range of novels within the scope of crime fiction. The crime-solving cat books tend to be dominated by female authors, as far as I can see (without reading them). The quirky amateur sleuth books, again, tend to be championed by women writers. Women have their own little subgenre, meshing crime fiction with chick lit. And even romantic suspense, which hovers on the edge of the mystery world, tends to be dominated by women authors.

So, I think it might be fair to say that women write across a broad spectrum. Superficially at least, if not in actual fact, it seems like men stay within a narrower framework for what they do, while it could be said women are all over the place. Or, diplomatically, pushing the boundaries.

But that is, I think, why I have more consistent success with male authors. I have yet to pick up a book by a man that heavily features shopping, manicures and obsessing about weight.

And, dear God, shoot me now if you want to subject me to a few hundred pages that prominently features shopping. Getting dragged to malls by evilkev is torture enough. But putting me through that in my fiction? It’s enough to inspire crime, I’ll grant it that.

For me, I would lean on the side of saying that men do it better, because men more consistently write the type of books that appeal to me. A woman? She could be writing to all sides of the genre, which makes me less certain about the automatic appeal of her work. I need to know she’s a Val McDermid or Natasha Cooper (who knows hideous ways to kill people) or Denise Mina or Laura Lippman.

I need to know she isn’t going to work out her angst through a protagonist with a gold card and a love for shopping at Saks. Gag.

I realize this is all subjective. It’s a matter of taste. Was my brain wired to the male way of thinking from the womb? Was I born without the capacity for producing estrogen? Have I been mainlining the testosterone?

Who knows. The point is, some people think I write ‘male’. And one thing that’s interesting is, statistically, men tend to read books by men and not by women. Which makes me wonder if women will like work by a woman who writes more like a man.

Should I change my name to Sam? A very small number of people do call me Sam, fyi.

Now, some people have told me they don’t really get what it means to ‘write male’ or ‘write female’ so I want to quote Val McDermid, from her forum:

I think, as a generalisation, that we write different styles of book. Men tend to be better at the more linear style of book, the thriller as opposed to the convoluted whodunit. Whereas women are generally better at the sort of complexity of character, at what lies beneath. I think much of the reason for this is the social conditioning we get from early childhood -- boys learn to fight for what they want, girls learn to manipulate. This is all very broad brush-strokes, obviously, and there are lots of exceptions, but I think it has some validity.

I’ve talked about content. Val has talked about style.

It reminds me of what Denise Mina said at The Great Gender Debate panel at Harrogate, when she said that women just didn’t have the same ability as men to go on at length about cars.

As much as the participants in that panel poked as much fun at themselves as they did each other (you had to be there to really appreciate Natasha Cooper asking Ian Rankin if he was in touch with his inner girlie) there was also some serious talk. That there were things women could get away with writing about – pedophiles, for example – that men couldn’t delve into to the same degree.

This is all stuff I’d never thought about, in terms of gender.

Maybe, instead of being a writer without an audience, I’ll find myself being a writer able to cross both sides of the gender lines and address more interesting topics without the restrictions of being male or female.

Or maybe I just won’t care about people dictating what I feel inspired to write.

I don’t know. What I do know is, I find this interesting. I’d never thought of topics in terms of ‘taboo for a man’ so much, other than presuming that men don’t write about female protagonists as much because they don’t want to write sex from a woman’s point of view. Guys actually think about sex from the woman’s point of view, never mind write it? I still harbour a sneaking suspicion this is why Siobhan Clarke hasn’t had a serious relationship… ever. (I wished Ian would bring back Holmes. Kill that bitchy chick he went off with and bring him back with a vengeance, maybe to hunt her killer down and thank them. He could have gone back to the police, to a quiet branch out of the city doing routine stuff to have the seniority to move back...)

Anyway, now that I’ve thought about it, I wonder if it will affect what I do in the future. And now I wonder, how do men feel about writing rape scenes, for example?

What do you think? Is there anything a man or woman can’t do, in writing? Is there anything you don’t feel comfortable approaching yourself?

Or is this all obsessing over nothing?

Today I’m listening to Fairytales For Hardmen.

*Let this be a warning to you. If Julia asks for an interview, be prepared for tough questions you’ve never been asked before, and aren’t sure how to answer!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Mission Impossible (and perhaps the best joke ever...)

“A signed first edition.”

Evilkev opened the book and started to read the inscription. “Sandra, the most patient woman in the world. I appreciate all the support. Simon Kernick.” By now, he was laughing. “Boy, you can tell he doesn’t know you because if there’s one word that does not describe my Bear, it’s patient!”

By that point I was smiling too. It’s true. The only ‘patients’ I was born with were the ones in the hospital.

I could blame it on being poor as a kid and always wanting what others had, or on being the baby of the family, always striving to reach the same point my sister was already at, but in truth I’m just an impatient person. In a way, I consider it a good thing. I set goals and work my butt off to achieve them. I’m driven.

SW Vaughn posted something that got me thinking about this a few weeks ago. The crux of the post was, “What’s your brass ring?” What will it take to make you happy?

To be honest, I couldn’t believe anyone said they’d ever be happy.

I know myself well enough to know that it will never be enough. Oh, sure, you might kid yourself into thinking X or Y will be, for a while, but deep down you know it won’t be.

You start off with the goal of writing. That takes discipline. Then there’s the goal of finishing a novel. Don’t get me wrong – I applaud great short story writers because I struggle with them myself – but writing a novel is a whole different ballpark. When you complete one, you’re a novelist. In my own head I went from a wannabe to someone who could actually finish a book. And, in fact, in reality too. I could query a manuscript at that point. I knew I was capable of completing a manuscript.

But then it isn’t enough just to finish a novel. It has to be a good novel. Maybe even great, but that’s not a word you’re letting your brain form. You want to make it better. You want to write another novel and make it better still.

Of course, at some point, you actually decide you want to see your work get published…

And then it still isn’t enough to be published. You want to get good reviews. You want to be nominated for awards. You want to sell well. You want to win some of those awards.

You see, I know already that I’ll never be satisfied.

I heard someone say once that if you’re happy with where you’re at spiritually, you can die.

I’m not going to go anywhere near that in terms of a discussion and whether or not I agreed with the person, but when it comes to writing there’s a bit of truth in it. This is certainly something I’ve heard Val McDermid talk about – the pressure on yourself to write a better book.

In fact, I know I’ve referred people to it before, but Val sent out a newsletter earlier this year, in which she shared some of her struggles writing The Grave Tattoo. It was a nightmare. I really was beginning to wonder if I had lost it. If I had come to the end of the road as a writer. But again, the deadline was looming and so I tried to get the book down. It felt like walking out on a high wire without a safety net. And the first time, I fell off. I got about fifty pages in and I panicked. I would sit for hours staring at the screen, trying all the tricks I knew to kick-start myself. But nothing worked. I crashed the first deadline with embarrassing aplomb. I'd never been late before, had been scathing about the irresponsibility of authors who messed everyone around by not delivering on time, and here I was, being scathed by my own words.
I was so embarrassed about the whole thing, I pretended it just wasn't happening. I was nonchalant when asked about the book, insouciant about its potential delivery date. It was awful. I wasn't sleeping properly, I was avoiding other writers and I felt like a fraud.

Now, Val has something like 24 books to her name, as well as years of experience in journalism behind her. If there’s one author I know who shouldn’t feel like a fraud, it’s Val.

But I think this marks the difference for me, this is the attitude that sets certain writers apart in my head and makes them the ones I look up to. All the authors I truly admire continue to strive to do better. They never rest on their laurels.

What they’ve achieved is never enough.

To me, I think this is what it is to be a writer. A writer, simply, must write. It goes beyond sales and money – it’s a part of who we are. ”I’m working when I’m fighting with my wife. I constantly ask myself, ‘How can I use this stuff to my literary advantage?’” - Art Buchwald

Evilkev has been reading Suspicious Circumstances this week. It’s the first time he’s read it in two years, since I wrote the first draft on it. I keep asking what he thinks and he keeps telling me it’s good.

This is why spouses are useless as critics. Well, unless we’re talking about housework, cooking or time management. Then he’s a great critic.

I know my editor (who is probably cringing right now) told me that the worst was over. Not much left to address. From here, it should get easier.

Not to worry.

Telling me not to worry would be like telling a shark to stop swimming. The only way that’ll happen is with death.

Yes, I’m obsessive. It used to be enough to be getting published. Already, now it isn’t. It has to be the very best book it can be. What if so-and-so doesn’t like it? What if I’ve missed something critical?

You tell yourself, contractually, you don’t have final say over the title or the cover and much is out of your hands.

But you still worry about it all anyway.

Believe me. I’m one of those people that, told the sky is blue today, would go outside and look to make sure for myself.

My advice to you is that, whatever goals you’ve put in front of yourself for your life, your career, add another one. Make it a goal to actually take some time to enjoy each achievement. There’s nothing wrong with taking a moment to smile when you’ve overcome an obstacle, or cheer when you’ve experienced victory.

And if you find someone who teaches classes in how to appreciate the special moments of life, can you give me their name?

John Gooley writes some pretty amusing poetry. Stop by, check it out, and welcome him to blogging!

My thanks to my friend Linda for this one!
I am writing to say what an excellent product you have! I've used it all of my married life, as my Mom always told me it was the best. Now that I am in my fifties I find it even better! In fact, about a month ago, I spilled some red wine on my new white blouse. My inconsiderate and uncaring husband started to belittle me about how clumsy I was, and generally started becoming a pain in the neck. One thing led to another and somehow I ended up with his blood on my new white blouse! I grabbed my bottle of Tide with bleach alternative, and to my surprise and satisfaction, all of the stains came out! In fact, the stains came out so well the detectives who came by yesterday told me that the DNA tests on my blouse were negative and then my attorney called and said that I was no longer considered a suspect in the disappearance of my husband.

What a relief! Going through menopause is bad enough without being a murder suspect! I thank you, once again, for having a great product.
Well, gotta go, have to write to the Hefty bag people.

Monday, August 14, 2006

All For One and One For One?

Over the weekend, there has been a lot of discussion about the fact that on some flights, people haven’t been able to take books as carry-on.

There are a lot of things people haven’t been able to take as carry-on.

And the ultimate conclusion I’ve reached after reading an assortment of stuff about this is that some people are just selfish.

Newsflash, right? I mean, we’ve all known people who are completely self-absorbed, who’ll never lift a finger unless there’s something in it for them.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Certainly, I’ve seen my share of examples, and it goes right back to BSP and all the examples people shared last week. My friend, Bill Cameron, posted a story that demonstrates the me-me-me focus of some authors, to the point of making people want to run for their lives.

Now, I’m not saying people are selfish because they’re upset because they can’t take books on planes. Rather, I made a suggestion that the planes make audio books available on their system – they have all those channels anyway.

And I received some interesting responses, one of which was the sad truth that, apparently, the airlines want to charge the publishers too much money to make it feasible.

What the fuck is wrong with companies anymore? Years and years ago, when I used to work in stores, you put up stuff on end displays that was needed, that your customers would be looking for. If it was spring, maybe it was easter bunnies, chocolates and gardening tools. This time of year, school supplies.

In other words, you never forgot that customer service was about serving your customer.

Now, you go into bookstores and don’t kid yourself. The end display isn’t a selection of books the staff are enthusiastic about. Nope. They’re the books someone paid to have there. A good friend of mine in the publishing business tells me it’s typical to pay 50 grand for an end display, per store.

And we wonder why books cost so much money, and publishers are still going under.

I’m tired of being nothing but a wallet, everywhere I go. I mean, when was the last time that somebody didn’t have what you wanted and told you where to go find it, instead of trying to persuade you to buy something different?

An author even told me recently they didn’t like a particular initiative, because given the nature of it and their material, it couldn’t benefit them.

Now, I don’t want to get specific, other than to say the point wasn’t about individual authors, but about reaching readers.

But for some, that was a waste of their time if their books couldn’t be front and center.

This was on my mind already. I’ve been thinking about the people out there, who for nothing more than the love of books, volunteer. To read to the blind. To read to kids. To read to people in hospitals.

People who don’t get paid, don’t get a commission off a book sale, but just share their love and try to make someone’s life a little better at the same time.

I find myself thinking, “What can I do?” And I’ve been thinking about this a lot, lately.

We authors owe our livelihood to the community of readers out there. The truth is, taking time to visit schools or hospitals might win a new reader. And a new reader might not read my books, but they’ll read someone’s books.

And you know, when people start to love books, they’ll read books by more than one author. They’ll support their local library, they’ll support their local bookstore, and help keep both in business.

And you never know - they might influence others to start reading.

I look at how one author for me led to countless others. Rankin recommends McDermid, who blurbs MacBride, for example. Almost everything on my bookshelves can be traced back to a recommendation from one author to another author, who recommends another author, etc.

My buying Rankin books wasn’t just good for Ian. It’s been good for Val, for Mark Billingham, for Simon Kernick, Stuart MacBride, Allan Guthrie…

When we win readers, we all win.

And instead of always thinking about the immediate cash in our pocket, maybe we should think about the industry as a whole, occasionally. Because we can make all the money in the world, but if the industry dies, we’ve all lost.

I’m still left wondering what I can do. Not because I don’t have lists of options already, but because I’m trying to decide what the best approach is, for me. But you’re going to hear more from me on this, because I’ve decided to get involved somehow, in sharing my love of books with others.

Which means I told Kevin I need more bookshelves so I can unpack all my children’s books I own from when I worked in education.

Which has him moaning that I’m going to need the bigger office…


Fred, the crime-solving cat was killed last week.

The Boy and the Priest

A little boy got on the bus, sat next to a man reading a book, and noticed he had his collar on backwards. The little boy asked why he wore his collar that way.

The man, who was a priest, said, "I am a Father."

The little boy replied, "My Daddy doesn't wear his collar like that."

The priest looked up from his book and answered, "I am the Father of many."

The boy said, "My Dad has 4 boys, 4 girls and two grandchildren and he doesn't wear his collar that way."

The priest, getting impatient, said, "I am the Father of hundreds" and went back to reading his book.

The little boy sat quietly thinking for a while, then leaned over and said, "Maybe you should wear your pants backwards instead of your collar."

Saturday, August 12, 2006


Yesterday, I spent most of my afternoon swearing at someone.

Oh, not to their face. I was here, at my computer, going cross-eyed, trying to fix the *!@*ing mess someone had sent me for the next Spinetingler. Not someone just submitting a story for consideration, but someone submitting their edits back.

Someone who clearly didn't think the submission guidelines were anything more than constructive suggestions, to take or leave at their own discretion.

I've gotten used to it. No matter how many time you say "DON'T DO X" someone will do it.

No matter how many times you say, "WE PAY THROUGH PAYPAL" someone will tell us after their story is printed that they don't have paypal and want a cheque. (Which they won't get, btw. TFB. If we had to get Spinetingler cheques done and incur banking fees on top of postage, we'd spend a lot more money on Spinetingler... and we'd rather raise the rate of pay for the writers. Not to mention occasionally give our editors something for their trouble.)

But then, after grinding my teeth and uttering oaths until I felt fairly certain whatever is left of my soul is safely beyond redemption, I'm reminded of why we do this.

Because when Miss Snark is referencing you alongside some of the best magazines out there and saying she likes you, you realize all that hard work might just help someone land a book deal.

A stepping stone on someone's journey.

I'm glad Miss Snark likes what we do. I know we've worked hard to improve the quality of Spinetingler and to put out the best material we can each issue.

Some days, it feels like a lot of work for no apparent reason. But today, I can go back to these edits with a smile.

Even if someone did indent every paragraph with the space key 5 times instead of using a bleeping tab.

New policy. If that person submits again, they have to send a voodoo doll...

Oh, and there is a fantastic interview with Pari Noskin Taichert. Be sure to check it out!

Did you see the article about same sex marriages?
Right now, I'd settle for a some sex marriage.

(Rescue Me)

Thanks Uncle Charlie

A retired corporate executive, now a widower, decided to take a vacation. He booked himself on a Caribbean cruise and proceeded to have the time of his life, that is, until the ship sank.

He found himself on an island with no other people, no supplies, nothing, only bananas and coconuts.

After about four months, he is lying on the beach one day when the most gorgeous woman he has ever seen rows up to the shore.

In disbelief, he asks, "Where did you come from? How did you get here?"

She replies, "I rowed from the other side of the island. I landed here when my cruise ship sank." > "Amazing," he notes. "You were really lucky to have a row boat wash up with you."

"Oh, this thing?" explains the woman. "I made the boat out of raw material I found on the island. The oars were whittled from gum tree branches. I wove the bottom from palm branches, and the sides and stern came from a Eucalyptus tree."

"But, where did you get the tools?"

"Oh, that was no problem," replied the woman. "On the south side of the island, a very unusual stratum of alluvial rock is exposed. I found if I fired it to a certain temperature in my kiln, it melted into ductile iron..I used that for tools and used the tools to make the hardware."

The guy is stunned.

"Let's row over to my place," she says.

After a few minutes of rowing, she docks the boat at a small wharf.

As the man looks to shore, he nearly falls off the boat. Before him is a stone walk leading to an exquisite bungalow painted in blue and white.

While the woman ties up the rowboat with an expertly woven hemp rope, the man can only stare ahead, dumb struck. As they walk into the house, she says casually, "It's not much, but I call it home. Sit down, please.

Would you like a drink?"

"No! No thank you," he blurts out, still dazed. "I can't take another drop of coconut juice."

"It's not coconut juice," winks the woman. "I have a still. How would you like a Pina Colada?"

Trying to hide his continued amazement, the man accepts, and they sit down on her couch to talk.

After they have exchanged their stories, the woman announces, "I'm going to slip into something more comfortable. Would you like to take a shower and shave? There is a razor upstairs in the bathroom cabinet."

No longer questioning anything, the man goes into the bathroom. There, in the cabinet, a razor made from a piece of tortoise bone. Two shells honed to a hollow ground edge are fastened on to its end inside a swivel mechanism.
"This woman is amazing," he muses. "What next?"

When he returns, she greets him wearing nothing but vines, strategically positioned, and smelling faintly of gardenias. She beckons for him to sit down next to her. "Tell me," she begins suggestively, slithering closer to him, "We've been out here for many months.

You've been lonely. There's something I'm sure you really feel like doing right now, something you've been longing for?" She stares into his eyes.

He can't believe what he's hearing. " You mean . . " he swallows excitedly and tears start to form in his eyes.

"Don't tell me you've built a Golf Course?"