Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Great Religious Debate

The God Delusion makes the case that the existence of a supreme being is supremely improbable, and that religious belief is not only wrong but deadly. Author Richard Dawkins

Meanwhile, youth enter oblivious, hands outstretched, fat cheeks and watery eyes staring skyward to the Lord.

They are to leave warriors. Convinced by arguments crafted from statistics and fear, these children of God are told they are to be the salvation of a generation in decline, one beset by the perils of pop culture, advertising and corporate greed.

They absorb those lessons, squealing in delight whenever a speaker mentions the righteousness of Jesus.

So goes the Acquire The Fire youth rally in Hamilton, part of a nation-wide tour promoting the idea of branding teens with God.

Ah, brings back some memories.

I actually found the interview with Dawkins quite interesting. No, I’m not a Darwinist. I don’t believe in the theory of evolution. I equate the idea of the big bang to being as probable as an explosion in a printing press producing a perfect dictionary. However, the main thing here is that to me, it just doesn’t matter. Okay, I don’t like the implications of social Darwinism. Hitler practiced an extreme form of social Darwinism, mixed in with his own rhetoric. If you weren’t part of the ‘superior’ race you were expendable. In fact, it was probably best to rid the world of the vermin.

And I definitely don’t think he’s advocating for religious freedom.

But there is something he’s pushing for, and that’s a change in perception. The point that atheists must lie in order to be elected in the US is not a good thing, for the atheists or for the religious. This is how we get so-called God-fearing religious leaders who turn out to be hypocrites. They prove their own lie by their actions, but they do damage the image of religion in the process.

To be honest with you, I just don’t see what difference it makes if people believe in God. Sure, there’s the idea of believing in a higher authority you have to answer to, but that hasn’t stopped politicians from lying, stealing, cheating on their wives.

Do I think it’s amusing that someone wants to convert me to atheism? Absolutely. I was raised atheist.

Really, I just find it intriguing that the same criticism of one group ends up being what the criticizing group is guilty of themselves. You find religious beliefs threaten your freedom as an atheist. So the solution is to convert enough of the religious so that you will have a majority and therefore be able to impose your values on believers.

You know, if we didn’t teach people facts but taught them to think and encouraged people to actually reason things out for themselves, think of how much energy normally invested in bickering would be saved.

For at the end of the day, does it matter? I mean, really? If the Buddhists are right, they can feel humble about it for eternity… or whatever would be appropriate there. Likewise any other religious group.

And if the atheists are right, once we’re gone our consciousness or spirit won’t be able to give a damn anyway. You know, this is one of the reasons I have a real aversion to authors who over-promote and use all kinds of marketing gimmicks. I figure, if you’re confident you’ve got the truth, you don’t feel anxious about it. You exude your confidence in your convictions. That will appeal to people without you saying a word. But when you feel the need to shove it down everyone’s throat and try to convert every single person you meet, it smacks of desperation and uncertainty. To me, anyway.

Maybe just from being there myself and being around too many who carried themselves that way.

All in all, I found the articles interesting. They made me think.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Happy Anniversary Hoopla

I suppose I should be all sentimental and nostalgic, thinking back over my first year of blogging, but first there is big news.

The city of Calgary is trying to pass a bill that would see tough fines in place for bad behaviour in public.

Which automatically rules out any thought of having B’con here and hoping John would be one of our featured guests. And I’d so like to see him do a public reading of Hardboiled Jesus at Olympic Plaza. Oh well. Some things just aren’t meant to be.

I did think that, in honour of Calgary’s penny-pinching municipal government, perhaps I should consider pledging to go one whole week without using profanity on my blog, but fuck that. I doubt I could last five minutes on an average day.

Now, let’s see. What happened this year.

November 16
The first person other than my husband commented on my blog.

Hmm. I’ve noticed my blog posts were considerably shorter way back then, but as early as last November I made fun of somebody who submitted a query to Spinetingler.

December 20
I wrote a very naughty Christmas poem about Stuart and John. This poem was accompanied by various Christmas stories that involved Santa, sex and special cookies.

I signed a publishing contract at some point in February as well.

Placed a few short stories. Demolition, Crimespree… I have stuff that will be in Mouth Full of Bullets in the new year and possibly two anthologies.

I interviewed Simon Kernick, after many delays. Of course, I was happy to accommodate Simon, as he’s one of my favourite writers and I enjoyed talking to him.

I met Cornelia Read.

In fact, I met virtually all of you for the first time through blogging. Not Stuart. Not a few others who read and don’t comment (but I know who you are). But most of you.

There have been times I’ve been bummed and times I’ve been psyched, and maybe a few times I’ve just come off a bit psychotic. If I don’t say it, Stuart will.

Other highlights of the year?

Edinburgh. I’ve been to something like 26 countries on four continents and I still tend to be a bit anal when traveling, like to do my homework, pre-plan for convenience. Not with Edinburgh. It’s a city I feel comfortable enough to just go to, and then make plans. I guess it would be best to say I feel at home there. If there is one place in the world I really want to take Kevin to some day, it’s Edinburgh. Of course, we’d need to tour Scotland, to look up that damn family castle of his. His grandmother was a Ramsay.

Some Scottish Author. Well, specifically, the one who got me drunk.

Some Other Scottish Author. This one kicked my ass. What’s with it with these Scottish authors and their abuse? And this one has what remains my sentimental favourite blog.

This Other Scottish Author, who completely cracks me up on an ongoing basis and has a unique relationship with an American who does the same.

And this Other Scottish Writer who is one of my favourite people to hang out with. It’s so much fun to bug someone who’s always more inebriated than you are. And, really, effortless.

Hanging Out With Mark Billingham. Any day with Mark is a good day. He’s a great person. And I interviewed him… finally.

In fact, I’ve had some awesome interviews this year. Mark. Simon. Laura Lippman. Cornelia Read. John Rickards. Upcoming ones with Jess Lourey and Duane Swierczynski. I’d venture to say that it would be hard to top that in the coming year, except I have David Terrenoire, Steve Mosby, Julia Buckley and Allan Guthrie on my list for 2007 already, so I have some great ones to look forward to.

I started the blog with the idea that it would force me to work on writing short, focused stuff on one topic, and when I wasn’t working on a new manuscript it would provide the reason to write something every day.

I think I’ve completely failed on the ‘short’ and ‘focused’ anyway.

The blogging has brought things I didn’t expect. A way to meet people online, many of whom I’ve met in person as well. A sense of community. Through the blog, I hear from a lot of people I suspect I wouldn’t otherwise.

All in all, I’m glad I decided to blog. I personally don’t think you should blog if it’s just to sell yourself, or if you find it a chore. It’s only something you should do if you enjoy it.

And I do. Mostly, because you guys make it so much fun.

On that note, I have some frivolous stuff for you, but first I was thinking that with so many bloggers taking on NaNoWriMo starting November 1 that it will likely be quiet… everywhere. For all of you who’ve decided to take on the challenge, I wish you the best of luck. For those of you still slamming on edits on manuscripts already finished in one form, but needing to be pummeled into another, I hope you have inspiration as well.

And I’d like to point out that all of you starting this challenge November 1 will have an easier day than Rebus.

He’s getting neutered.

An oldie

An extremely modest man was in the hospital for a series of tests, the last of which had left his bodily systems extremely upset.

Upon making several false alarm trips to the bathroom, he decided the latest episode was another and stayed put. He suddenly filled his bed with diarrhea and was embarrassed beyond his ability to remain rational.

In a complete loss of composure he jumped out of bed, gathered up the bed sheets, and threw them out the hospital window.

A drunk was walking by the hospital when the sheets landed on him. He started yelling, cursing, and swinging his arms violently; trying to get the unknown things off, and ended up with the soiled sheets in a tangled pile at his feet.

As the drunk stood there, unsteady on his feet, staring down at the sheets, a hospital security guard, (barely containing his laughter), and who had watched the whole incident, walked up and asked, "What the heck is going on here?"

The drunk, still staring down replied: "I think I just beat the shit out of a ghost."

Bug Off

Wait for it…

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Call For Equality For Women

Is there still enough of a belief in the nurturing, maternal instincts of women that courts are less inclined to jail them for crimes against children?

This is what I’m left wondering, as I try to understand a recent court ruling in Scotland.

Primary school headteacher Catherine Taylor, 47, who dragged the ten-year-old girl across a school canteen to "shock and humiliate" her for not eating her lunch, was fined £750 at Aberdeen Sheriff Court.
She was found guilty of that assault and of an "unnatural" attack on an eight-year-old boy when she grabbed his private parts in front of other pupils in the canteen. She has been placed on the sex offenders' register for five years, effectively ending her teaching career.

But Ms. Taylor has not been sentenced to time in jail, and I have to ask why the hell not?**

Now, this is not the first time I’ve chimed in on my concerns about a potential double standard with the law, a previous example during a discussion over the Mary Kay Letourneau case over on Crime Rant. Specifically, I said:

Okay, okay, people have the right to make their own choices, but there are laws out there, ones to protect children. And not all children are in good situations, so there’s an age that someone legally has to be before they can consent to sex and get into a certain kind of relationship.
As someone who spent years working with children ages 3-15 at different times, I appreciate the law and how it works to protect both kids and the people who work with kids. What bothers me about stories like this is that it erodes the inherent credibility of all people who work with children, regardless of their age. One place I worked at, I worked exclusively with what I called my “pack of boys” but I was the staff willing to do floor hockey and construction and the kinds of things boys were interested in. Since I was often alone with my group, an allegation of wrong-doing could have sunk me, professionally. You work hard to keep those boundaries and to present yourself as a professional, then cases like this come along and it doesn’t matter that you’ve never done anything questionable, ever. Parents are looking at you funny.

Now, in case you’re missing part of the background here, Mary Kay Letourneau was a teacher who had a sexual relationship with a twelve-year-old student.

I wonder about the perception in this case. If a man is a bit affectionate with a female student, he’s a perv, maybe a pedophile. But if an older woman hits on a boy it’s all wink wink, nudge nudge, score. Okay, so there is a belief in our society that boys want sex sooner than the average girl. I’m not arguing for or against that belief… What I’m prepared to ask is, do we really want young boys to be vulnerable to letches like this? Do we want to say that it’s okay for women in their thirties to initiate sexual relationships with twelve-year-olds?

I find that to be the most serious breach of trust. Not just of the adult-child dynamics, but also of the teacher-student relationship. A considerably older woman has a lot more experience and has had full guidance in assessing what is right, wrong and how to make personal choices that she can be happy with (I’m not saying she’s got common sense, but she’s had a lot more time to have a chance to figure things out). A boy who’s twelve has not had that. If he’s eighteen it’s a different ballpark, but twelve. And a student.

At least she went to jail.

But a female teacher can be convicted for grabbing an eight-year-old’s private parts in public, plus the assault of another student and she doesn’t get jail time for that?

I’m sorry, but I don’t consider the conviction, fine and end of her career sufficient.

The loss of her career goes with the territory of being a criminal. It isn’t a court-ordered punishment. Ask anyone who’s ever been convicted of a crime. Do we say that the nurse who is convicted of trying to kill infants at a hospital has suffered enough since she won’t be able to practice medicine again? Hell no! Or should we expect business owners to employ people convicted of robbery and theft? Uh, hello people, unless you’re a career criminal being convicted tends to mean you’ve considerably narrowed your career options. I mean, if you use the reasoning that losing her career is punishment enough then we should unlock the prisons and let a lot of people out. Poor poor criminals, it’s so much harder for them to find jobs.

Okay, I’m not meaning to do a full-scale mock of criminals. I’m not saying there aren’t those who reform in jail, and there are always those wrongly convicted, and there are those who were young and showed bad judgment and clean up. One of my youth group leaders when I was in high school was on probation for conspiring to murder his (then) wife. I know people who’ve done time and come out to be responsible, gainfully employed citizens… but after they did their time.

I’m not the first person to think about this stuff, and I’m not even the first person to say it. A female high-school substitute teacher in Utah will serve no time behind bars for performing oral sex on a 17-year-old male student, despite comments from the judge that a man would have likely gone to prison.
"If this was a 29-year-old male and a 17-year-old female, I would be inclined to order some incarceration," noted 3rd District Judge Mark Kouris during sentencing...

There is still sexual discrimination in our society. Typically, we hear people complain when they don’t feel they’ve been given equal opportunity at a job, or when they aren’t getting equal pay just because they’re a woman.

I’d like to see the women’s rights activists get out there and lobby that these women should get equal treatment, and get locked up.

Look, it isn’t a newsflash that I’m not exactly a feminist. I believe in equality. (One of the issues I have with some advocacy groups is that they start off with the best of intentions, and they are born out of necessity. But somehow, over time, some of them become more about dominance. Not about getting equal treatment but getting better treatment. I’m not knocking all of them in one fell swoop here because some are great and necessary and do important work... I’m just saying that there is a tendency with some to cross the lines, the oppressed becoming the oppressor, and that bothers me. Here, the debate has been raging over women wearing veils, with reporters asserting that wearing a veil isn’t a choice a feminist can make.

If we go back into the history and context of the obligation to wear any particular item of clothing I think we could present a compelling argument that feminists should never wear skirts or dresses.

Hell, it would be anti-feminist to wear white at your wedding, wouldn’t it? Damn, do we really not have anything better to do than to argue over whether or not someone is allowed to cover their face? I’m sorry, but I believe in balancing religious freedom with reasonable expectations involving doing your job or providing safety. By this, I mean that if someone is wearing something and they have to be asked to remove it for screening purposes at an airport, then provide them a place that affords the greatest amount of dignity involved in consideration and do only what needs to be done. I’m sorry, but if a nun needs to be searched, she needs to be searched. Same for a Muslim cleric.)*

Equal treatment. Tempered with respect. Trust me, when I went to Tunisia I went through my own experience in security. A female security officer frisked me front and back, in front of Kevin. It’s what they do, it wasn’t sexual or personal and I can’t say I enjoyed it because I didn’t, but it was only a few weeks after 9/11 and I respect that these people were doing a job and taking pains to ensure the safety of everyone in the airport and on my plane. If it had been a guy I might have felt differently, but that’s what I mean by affording the person the greatest amount of dignity possible and then moving on.

I’ll always draw the lines a bit tighter for those less able to protect themselves. We need greater measures in place to deter people from picking on the most vulnerable members of our society. The elderly. The infirm. The handicapped.


And I believe this sentence sends the wrong message. It says that crimes against children aren’t as serious. A teacher touching a boy is grounds for a criminal charge, never mind grabbing him. I don’t care if she’s lost her job and been placed on the sex offender’s registry. You’ve got her solicitor saying, “She is very happy with the great support she has had since the conviction, both from former colleagues and members of staff and pupils.
"She appreciates she will not be able to teach again. She found herself in a very difficult school in a difficult situation and she did a lot of good over the years."

Well la-de-frickin’-da for her. She found herself in a difficult situation.

She found herself in the kind of situation hundreds of thousands of educational professionals find themselves in on a regular basis. An incident between students that resulted in her needing to intervene an provide a reasoned, adult response with explanations and fair consequences, if warranted.

In short, she found herself in the position where she needed to do what she was paid to do. And that was not dragging a student across a room and over a garbage can because she wasn’t eating her lunch.

Good lord – when did not eating your lunch become a punishable offense in a school? Come over here lady and I'll show you schools with real problems.

I say this as someone who has had to physically intervene with children in order to ensure the safety of others. I required medical attention myself after being assaulted by a five-year-old. I know what it is to work with tough kids. I actually know what it is to be afraid of kids I’ve worked with.

And this woman wasn’t in that kind of situation. She dealt with situations in a manner that was grossly inappropriate and criminal.

And when people commit crimes against children they should go to jail.

These children do not have the same level of emotional maturity as the average adult. They are young, and by definition vulnerable. Whether they realize it or not, children rely on their teachers to provide a safe environment.

Not to bully and abuse them.

If this had been a male teacher, would he be in jail today? I think so, and that concerns me, because these are crimes where jail time should have been mandatory. Ms. Taylor grabbed a boy’s privates publicly and dragged another child from a room…for not eating her lunch…

And all she got was a slap on the wrist.

I think that if it had been a male teacher who’d done the same things, he would have been branded as a pedophile and locked up. And the fact that I think that bothers me.

When we lobby for equality, let’s go after the equality to not only earn the same wage but pay the same price. You do the crime, you do the time, regardless of gender.

Accepting anything less would be a setback for the rights of women everywhere.

** Now, bear in mind, if I was reporting on this as a journalist it would be my responsibility to look up more of the history and alternate sources, etc. I’m strictly commentating on what I feel about this after reading the news accounts. There may be variables that would make me change my mind about any one specific case, but the point here is actually that there is a pattern of behaviour involving cases with female teachers and students where the teachers seem to be let off with next to no suitable punishment, while a man in the same position would likely have been given a harsher sentence, a judge even going on the record and saying so. And that's wrong.

* I know, I know. A bit of a tangent. Happens when I rant sometimes.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Score Two For Hollywood

Explosions. Fist fights. Suspense. Sex. The Departed has all the usual ingredients in an entertaining film.

But while some movies take all the basics, put them together and fail to impress me, this is a movie that I really enjoyed. The best evidence of that is that we’d been in the theatre more than 2.5 hours and it had never even occurred to me to look at my watch once and wonder how much longer.

And believe me, I usually do that, even with things I enjoy.

This is a movie that overall worked well for me. The performances were stellar, and I’m someone who’s never felt enticed to watch Titanic. Can’t say Leonardo ever really did anything for me, until this role. I loved his character. And the way Matt Damon played his role was convincing.

This is a movie where trust is questioned and compromised throughout. Often, movies let bad guys show themselves with a change in facial expression, some tell-tale sign that they’ve lied. Not so much here, as is evidenced by the multiple twists. Shit, I never really knew what was going to happen next.

There was something in the movie I could cite as a criticism, but as I said I enjoyed this film. It is hardboiled noir… and damn, Mark Wahlberg’s character – I loved that character. I wish I’d written that character.

I could say more, but suffice it to say I don’t think the female audience will complain much about what they have to look at in this film.

So, score one for Hollywood. We don’t go to the theatre often, so when we do, it had better entertain me. Especially since Famous Players was bought out, because the theatre has gone downhill. You go in to get your seats 15 minutes before and they don’t even have lights on. What the hell? And this is the biggest theatre line in the city. There were other things I could gripe over, but why bother? All of it just goes to me questioning paying the money to go out and see a film when it’s significantly cheaper to buy the dvd, you only have to wait a few months longer and you can eat decent food while you watch it.

Enough said.

The other hit this week? Midnight Cowboy. A classic. Okay, it’s an old film, as old as evilkev. But I still enjoyed it, and sometimes it’s a good thing to go back and indulge in some of the classics.

One of the things I used to like about going to movies was seeing the trailers and getting ideas about films I’d like to see. We saw lots of trailers. The Good Shepherd was the only one that sparked some interest on my part, on any level. I’m not sure we’ll go see it in the theatre, but if we don’t, we’ll buy the dvd.

I hope you appreciate this Angie and SW! I’m always thinking of you.


I have been having some email problems over the past few days. Mainly with comcast, but also a few other wild things going on. So, if you haven't heard back from me on something, have patience. I'm working on it...

Bit of a bitch, though. I got a message my mother was hit by a car and I haven't been able to even email her yet. In case she's reading, hope you're okay and I'll keep trying on my end.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Interpreting Ian Rankin & Thank You For Smoking

You know that guy who could pick up any girl? I’m him. On crack. - Nick Naylor, Thank You For Smoking

If you haven’t seen the movie it’s a black comedy that opens with a number of guests on a daytime talk show. Someone from a mothers against smoking group, an anti-tobacco activist, a politician’s representative…

Cancer Boy. 15 years old, the picture of sympathy with his bleak prognosis.

And Nick Naylor. Who represents big tobacco. About himself, Nick says in the narrative, I don’t have an MD or law degree. I have a bachelors in kicking ass and taking names.

He starts off on the talk show by asking How would big tobacco profit off of the loss of this young man’s life? We’d be losing a customer. The (insert name of activist here) wants Cancer Boy to die because their budgets go up.

Okay, that’s not the whole spiel, but it’s the kind of thing you have to see. I mean, the crowd is booing and jeering when he’s introduced and by the end, Cancer Boy is shaking Nick Naylor’s hand. Throwing in a remark about big tobacco launching a $50 million campaign to prevent teens from smoking was a nice touch.

Now, you might be wondering, What the hell does this have to do with Ian Rankin and interpretation? What, exactly, have you been smoking Sandra?

I read on Sarah Weinman’s blog about a recent interview with Ian Rankin. I’ll excerpt the quote from the interview that’s the focus here:

“The people writing the most graphic violence today are women," he says when I ask what he thinks of them. "If you turn that off," he looks nervously at my tape recorder, but continues regardless, going public about one of the great unsaids among crime writers, "I will tell you that they are mostly lesbians as well, which I find interesting."

Now, I’m not going to draw anything else out from the article here. You have the link and through it can go back to the source. But I am going to explain why this made me think about the movie Thank You For Smoking.

The brilliance of the movie Thank You For Smoking is that it goes to the heart of one of my favourite subjects… and no, I don’t actually mean Ian Rankin. I mean communication theory. How you convey words is sometimes as important and sometimes even more important, than the words you choose to use. We all know that if someone says “I don’t want to talk to you” and they’re snarling, saliva dripping from their bottom lip, their mouth curled up into a sneer, cheeks red, fists clenched, word pushed out between clenched teeth… They’re probably really angry, and you should back off. And we can appreciate that if someone says, “I don’t want to talk to you” and they’re cowering in a corner, huddled on the floor with their arms over their head, barely daring to peek out at you, they’re really saying they’re afraid of you.

There are several things about that quote that’s being referenced that bother me, and I’m going to get to that. In order for you to see exactly where I’m coming from, I’ll do my best here (without writing a whole thesis on the subject) to reference my perspective, by pulling some quotes from Neil Postman’s brilliant book, Amusing Ourselves To Death – Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.

“Beginning in the 16th century, a great epistemological shift had taken place in which knowledge of every kind was transferred to, and made manifest through, the printed page. “More than any over device,” Lewis Mumford wrote of this shift, “the printed book released people from the domination of the immediate and the local…” (page 33)

That’s one facet to consider. A few weeks ago I interviewed Mark Billingham. Could I relay that to you with smoke signals? Well, certainly not much of it. It would lose a lot in translation. This goes to the heart of what Marshall McLuhan meant when he said The Medium Is The Message.

That’s a concept I got in stages, over time, despite my studies in journalism and communication theory. I could never quite wrap my head around radio as the tribal drum until I was doing an essay on this when I took the psychology of education, but that’s a bit of a side story I don’t have the luxury of time for today. All that matters is that different methods of communication convey different things by their very nature.

Spoken words and written words carry different weight. Postman recounts a story that reinforces this fact in the book on pages 20-21. It’s about a college candidate who uses a verbal statement in support of his thesis. As Postman tells us,

”You are not a journalist,” one professor remarked. “You are supposed to be a scholar.” Perhaps because the candidate knew of no published statement of what he was told at the Roosevelt Hotel, he defended himself vigorously on the grounds that there were witnesses to what he was told, that they were available to attest to the accuracy of the quotation, and that the form in which an idea is conveyed is irrelevant to it’s truth. Carried away on the wings of his eloquence, the candidate argued further that there were more than three hundred references to published works in his thesis and that it was extremely unlikely any of them would be checked for accuracy by the examiners, by which he meant to raise the question, ‘Why do you assume the accuracy of a print-referenced citation but not a speech-referenced one?’

The answer he received took the following line: You are mistaken in believing that the form in which an idea is conveyed is irrelevant to its truth. In the academic world, the published word is invested with greater prestige and authenticity than the spoken word. What people say is assumed to be more casually uttered than what they write. The written word is assumed to have been reflected upon and revised by its author, reviewed by authorities and editors. It is easier to verify or refute.

What people say is assumed to be more casually uttered than what they write.

One of the things I always consider when I interview is that I know the subject in some fashion. I have communicated with them in person or via email. More and more of the interviews I do are with people I’ve met beyond the online context. When I sat down and interviewed Simon Kernick I could see the expression on his face, there were things going on at Harrogate we both knew about and talked about that were interspersed throughout the interview. There were things I cut out, both at Simon’s request and because some of them would have been open to misinterpretation for anyone who hadn’t been present. I don’t editorialize in the interviews much – what you get is what people say.

Part of the reason for that goes back to those interpretations and misinterpretations. A person smiles. One person says they’re giving a wicked grin. Another says it’s a gentle smile. Who is right? Have you ever looked at one of those pictures where you can’t tell if the person is laughing or crying? I know I've had experiences where I haven’t been sure if someone was laughing or crying for a moment.

And I know I’ve had moments after responding to something where I wondered if they meant what I thought they did, or if I misinterpreted.

So, my rule is always to hand back my interviews and at least give people a chance to read them over and remove anything they don’t want included. What people say is assumed to be more casually uttered than what they write. And believe me, sometimes people who know me say things because they’re comfortable with me, but when they see it written down in black and white and think of other people reading it, they realize the comment could easily be misconstrued. I let them rephrase or remove. I have that luxury. My interviews are not about exposing the sins of others or trying to trip people up and make them look bad.

When I was studying journalism, one of the things that happened in our ethics class was that we were taught how to write smear stories. We were also taught about political slant. Specific articles were referenced from magazines like Maclean’s, where journalists had inserted words like, he frowned, snarled, rolled his eyes between the remarks a candidate had made. In the next article, featuring an opposing candidate, he smiled, laughed, chuckled, stroked his chin thoughtfully. It’s the kind of thing I wish I had on tape now, because we were actually taught how to manipulate readers to sway political favour. I mean, should it not concern everyone that newspapers here have declared political biases and are known to support certain political parties?

So, with all of these things in mind, we get back to Ian Rankin and a remark – one remark, I remind you – from an interview.

When I read it, I actually laughed. Now, maybe it isn’t fair. I know Ian. Okay, we’ve never exchanged Christmas cards and we don’t golf on Saturdays. But I’ve exchanged numerous emails with him, I’ve talked to him at length… I know a fair bit about him and I know him.

I know Ian isn’t anti-lesbian or anti-woman.

There will always be people trying to tell you what to do and what to think… You have to think for yourself. Nick Naylor - Thank You For Smoking

I am aware of how the media can manipulate people. I am also aware that, when removed from the physical context and transferred to the page things can come off differently. The medium is the message, and the medium can alter the message by its very nature. Best example I can think of is when you take Bible verses and put it to rap music – any of you ever heard that? A lot of pro-Bible people get bent out of shape when you put the good word alongside that devil music, and it does change the feel of it. I could do a real tangent here and quote the story of Daniel, as told in ‘Where Is God When I’m Scared’ – a Veggie Tales video. The wise men conspire against Daniel, singing, Oh no! What we gonna do?
The king likes Daniel
More than me and you
Oh, no! What we gonna do?
We gotta get him out of here…
And the eventual conspiracies include:

We could give him jelly doughnuts, Take them all away
Or fill his ears with cheese balls And his nostrils with sorbet

We could use him as a footstool Or a table to play Scrabble on
Then tie him up and beat him up And throw him out of Babylon

I suspect most people know that they conspired to have Daniel thrown in the lion’s den, but that’s really not the point here. The point is, a Bible story is a Bible story, right? Not if it’s done Veggie Tales style.

So, when I read this remark, the first basis from which to evaluate it was what I know of Ian. Honestly, something about it sat wrong with me from the moment I read it… It isn’t the first time I’ve read something referencing a comment from Ian that hasn’t sat right. And by that, I don’t mean that I don’t like what Ian’s saying, but that the full truth of the comment isn’t being conveyed because it contradicts what I know of him. My other experiences with this were all before July, so those were based strictly off of what I’d read about him and his own words. But then, it goes to what I know of the possibility of media manipulation, so I am prepared to give someone – even someone I haven’t met – the benefit of the doubt, particularly if I know enough about them to question the context.

The very fact that Ian referenced he wasn’t going to say more without the tape recorder being turned off tells me that he didn’t fully explain his comments here and, since they lacked full context, they can be easily misconstrued. It may not have been the best choice of words, but that’s moot. It appears that the reporter used this baited statement as leverage to expound on a topic on her blog. I haven’t gone over and read the blog post, although Sarah links to it and quotes from it. I don’t think my Irish temper is safe over there.

Now, I do have a luxury some people don’t. I can think about sitting across from Ian, talking to him, and watching his facial expressions. Some people say more in a moment with the half-smile, the glint in their eye, the arch of an eyebrow than they do with words.

And people can smile sweetly and state words that could read on the page as uncontroversial, but the tone of their voice is enough to start a war.

It’s context and how that changes the meaning of the words.

One of the reasons I found Thank You For Smoking to be interesting was watching a person who took insults, found himself being baited and set up, had to sit across people he knew were lying to him and smile, and somehow managed to use spoken words to come out of every situation looking good.

Well, not every. But without that slip there couldn’t have been character growth in the movie.

If you decide to watch it, you’ll see what I mean. How can someone say all the wrong things and come off sounding so right? Actually, one thing the character says is, “These days when someone smokes in the movies they’re either a psychopath or European.” And a lot of my European friends (and even some non-European friends) do smoke, so my apologies to them when I say I don’t like it much. Now, I’m allergic to cigarette smoke and do get sick from a certain level of exposure (extreme migraines) but that’s only important to say, because that movie cracked me up. I was swayed to the point of cheering for a lobbyist who worked for big tobacco. It represents in my mind how words can be twisted to change your interpretation and make you sympathize with what you oppose.

It reminds me of how people can be trained to manipulate. Some might do it just for kicks, some might do it with an ulterior motive (the subject is part of an agenda… hey, just like the journalist in Thank You For Smoking) and some might do it just because they can. I’m not speaking to people who accidentally misconstrue things – that happens too.

But you know another thing that crossed my mind? The scene in Return of the Jedi, when Luke confronts Ben about why he never told him Vadar was his father. Obi-wan tells Luke that what he said was true, from a certain point of view and he reasons out what some would call an outright lie.

You know more than anything what bothers me in this excerpt from the article Ian was quoted in? he looks nervously at my tape recorder How did she know he was nervous? Did she ask him if he was nervous? Did he say he was nervous? There is no evidence of that presented. Now, if she’d said he frowned, his eyes narrowed, he started to tap his fingers on the arm of the chair as he shifted in his seat, his eye twitched… anything like that, and we would have interpreted what he was feeling.

Instead, we weren’t given the context that led to the conclusion. We were just give her assessment of what he was feeling, which lends itself to a specific interpretation of the words that may well have been misconstrued.

I’ve already pointed out I have the luxury of drawing on my knowledge of Rankin when I read him quoted. Without saying anything more that I don’t feel comfortable putting on the record, this is one of those situations where I’d put my confidence in the person first and take the inferences of the quote with a grain of salt.

Writing Contest w/Big Money for Prizes

Sorry - I had meant to post this today. To be brutally honest, I'm not sure why I only got the notification on it yesterday, since the deadline is Tuesday, but some UK writers might have a story kicking around that fits the bill, so the least I can do is mention it.

2007 National Short Story Prize Submissions deadline 31 October 2006

The National Short Story Prize is the world’s largest award for a single short story. It had a hugely successful launch in 2005, with James Lasdun winning the inaugural award of £15,000 for 'An Anxious Man' in May 2006.

Entries will close for the 2007 prize on 31 October 2006. Submissions can be made by authors, their publishers or their agents.

The National Short Story Prize terms and conditions and entry form can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/arts/frontrow/short_story_prize.shtml

Same Old, Same Old

There are a lot of things I occasionally read but don’t comment on. Certainly not for lack of interest, and this particular topic is one of them. Do you ever find yourself getting bored with crime fiction?

In most typical annoying fashion, it was a question that lingered with me long after I read it. The reality for me is, I’m an exceptionally slow reader. I don’t know why that is, exactly. I love to read and always have but I certainly don’t move through books at the speed of some other people I know, and I envy them that.

Being a slow reader and the need to write reviews compounds my problem. I don’t have that much free time anymore to just read whatever I want to read. As a result, there isn’t even room for the question in my mind of what to do if I get bored with crime fiction.

Do I get bored with it? Yes, sometimes I do. I get bored when the stories feel one-dimensional. Now, I’m in a bit of a different boat, in a way. I had been working on children’s fiction, and had initial positive feedback on my project. I’d queried it to HarperCollins, and received a personal letter from an editor there, expressing enthusiasm despite the fact that the age didn’t quite fit what they were looking for, and recommending three other publishers who might be interested.

But I’m one of those people who always has to be doing something fresh, and I’d had the foolish idea to try writing crime fiction, because it was what I liked to read. The thing is, I hadn’t read widely in the genre.

At the point at which I finished my first two books (in first draft form) I’d never read Val McDermid, Laura Lippman, Mark Billingham, Simon Kernick… I still haven’t read Ruth Rendell. I know, I know. And you call yourself a crime fiction author? It’s weird to say that in my own writing I like the luxury of variety so that I never get bored, but in reading I tend to be monogamous. One author, all the way through, then depression as I look for another one.

I’m much better at moving around from author to author now, and trying new authors. In a way, that’s the good side of reviewing. It brings a lot of authors to my attention I otherwise might not have heard about, and some of them I really like.

But all of this means I don’t ever feel the luxury of stepping away and reading something different. I don’t feel that widely read within the genre to begin with. Oh, my bookshelves are overflowing, and the last names that you can see on spines include Rickards, Swierczynski, Guthrie, Burke, Harvey, Wilson, Taylor, Bruen, Reah, Sharp, McFetridge (John has a new website!), Torres, Cooper, Mofina, Connelly, Frasier, Mina and many, many more.

I just still feel like there’s so much ground I haven’t covered.

Now, despite the fact that I don’t feel the luxury of reading much outside crime, it doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally find books to be lacking. There are definitely ones that just seem to go through the motions.

Sometimes, it might be on me as a reader. It may well be that I am bored with reading the same old, same old, so everything feels stale. It may also be that I’m so anxious to write something fresh myself that I’m distracted. Let’s face it – there are times in our lives when a book has to be better to hold our interest because we’ve got a lot going on. Well, for me, anyway. When I have a lot on my mind I find it hard to read because I’m always thinking about what’s weighing on me.

Which circles right back around to the other thing I was thinking about yesterday. The fact that I was happier than I had felt in a long time.

Oh, that doesn’t mean life is perfect. Not by a long shot. But I restructured some things in my life. I actually could write for prolonged chunks of time. And I couldn’t remember the last time that had really happened, not like that. I hadn’t realized how much some things were stressing me out until I put them in a box. I had actually expected to feel more stressed. Instead, I felt relieved.

I’m one of those people who doesn’t like group work. I never have, because even as a kid others wanted to partner with me because they knew I’d pick up their slack. I always felt a bit like why bother even giving them part of the job when they won’t do it? I may as well do it myself and save myself the time.

That mentality hasn’t served me well. In fact, it’s contributed to me being a bit of a control freak. And it’s contributed to a lot of burn out, as I continued to try to carry more and more on my plate than I could manage.

In a way, working with kids was the best lesson, because you can’t do their craft for them. That’s the whole point. You guide, you demonstrate and then you let go.

I still have a really hard time learning to let go.

Which leads me back to the initial question. Am I doing more harm than good to always read in the genre, despite my time constraints? Would it rejuvenate my level of anticipation for books by occasionally varying what I read?

I was going to say that I couldn’t remember the last time I read something that wasn’t crime fiction, but I can. Ian Rankin’s The Flood. Given the subject matter I’m not sure it’s appropriate to say I really enjoyed it, but it was a great read for me.

I guess the trouble is, as always, down to my own prejudices. I deliberately went to the mystery section five years ago to find something to read (and ended up picking up my first Rankin) because I hadn’t been satisfied with what I had been reading. A few misses in the mystery genre had put me over in the fiction section, and I tried a number of books I didn’t like or finish. I created my own system for selecting new authors within mystery, one that really worked for me, and was walking away with a high level of satisfaction.

Hence my not feeling the need to look elsewhere when I went back to the 'mystery' section. A philosophy which must change somewhat anyway, because Cornelia is over in general fiction as well.

I just wish that had occurred to me five months ago when I was scouring stores for a Rick Mofina book and couldn’t find it. Fuck, that was annoying. I literally went to two cities and I think in the end something like seven stores and didn’t find the book.

Because he isn’t shelved in mystery.

Yep. A wee bit slow on the uptake there, Sandra. And that’s what you get when you go to stores where the staff don’t read.

So I’ve made a decision. I’m going to pick up Anita Shreve’s Light on Snow, just for something completely different.

I believe in giving credit where credit is due, so I must thank Norby for THIS. It is, as Norby said, “sort of wrong, but funny.”

Too true, Norby. Too true.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Which Mask To Wear Today?

If you rely on maintaining a facade in order to be accepted by people, what do you think will happen if you ever let your mask slip?

This came into my head as I was typing an email to Angie this morning. Not because of any criticism or complaint from her or issue there - it just happened that one thing I was responding to made me think about a series of different things in my life that happened ten years ago, and that was the thought that popped into my head. In fact, the only reason I'm saying that's what prompted it is because there are people who've made assumptions about why I've said things on my blog and who they're directed at. (So, sorry to drag you into this post Angie, but I almost typed this in the email to you. Of course, you might be able to figure out why, based on what I was saying about myself.)

I can come off as being pretty 'in your face' about myself. Some people don't like it. Which is cool.

Ten years ago, I had to worry about playing games with with people, making nice, putting on a facade. Not that I can't be a nice person and be genuine. But this was a specific kind of image, because I worked at a residential Bible school.

And over time, I watched as circumstances forced the masks to slip off of others. Things in their lives far beyond their control, like grief from death, trauma from rape... things you would expect people to have some emotion and shock processing.

You don't expect people to snap their fingers and just be okay. It was no real surprise when it happened to me. After all, I had always had my share of turmoil in my life.

And I'll never forget being told, I think you've had enough time to get over it.

I was dealing with a death, the end of an engagement and something else that not even I will talk about here. The person who said those words to me was having an affair, was the biggest gossip I'd ever met (and still I haven't seen her outdone) and was actually responsible for interfering in a criminal matter that would have reflected badly on the school.

But she was still smiling. And that's what mattered.

When I walked away from that world, it was with a vow that I was never going to be that. Ever. That I wouldn't be fake.

The up side is that I can live with myself. The down side is that there are a lot of people who don't feel comfortable with my candor. I can only say that the advantage to me is that the people I do become friends with end up being good friends. I don't have to worry about shoes dropping later when they suddenly realize I'm not the person they think I am.

I don't even put every aspect of my life on my blog. I do work out stuff here. It's always been that way. If you're looking for a regular dose of marketing advice, go see Joe Konrath. If you're looking for someone ultra cool, go read Cornelia.

This blog is about what's on my mind, what's going on in my life. Sometimes it's me venting my frustrations. Sometimes it's strictly me mocking myself. I haven't got a clue why anyone reads it, other than the 'watching a disaster in process' fascination factor. That's a real, definite possibility. But in the same way that I never intend to walk around giving off the 'fake' vibe to everyone I meet, this blog isn't going to become some pared down version of me. It's me, it's my life and what I feel comfortable expressing.

Oh, and I've been meaning to link to this post by Anne Frasier. It's fascinating, and a look back at 20 years ago in the business. My, how things have changed! For all the criticisms I read all the time about the publishing industry, I have to say I think things are much better now than this.

Life Is Like A Box of Chocolates

Overpriced before Halloween and discounted after Christmas. And it tastes good when you’re indulging but afterwards you kind of feel sick to your stomach.

Blogging is a weird thing. It gives you a feeling of community amongst people who are, for the most part, nothing more than names on screens. I’ve maintained from the beginning that this blog was about my life. And so it’s been a bit of an ongoing disaster – one chapter after another in the ongoing saga that is Sandra Ruttan’s twisted little life. I’ve said things I’ve regretted. I’ve been yelled at over a few things. I’ve received emails of support from people sharing their personal stories of similar struggles.

It’s been a wild ride.

Next week will mark my one year anniversary blogging. It is all Stuart MacBride’s fault, he of the Not To Be Read Before Teatime or it will make Val McDermid sick to her stomach blog. Poor Val. Then again, she read Dying Light which was appropriately titled for MacBride’s insidious plan to kill people through weight loss.

Now, originally, I figured I’d do something festive or reflective next week. But my post about bridges prompted a lot of remarks that got me thinking. I know a lot of people say cut bait and move on. I know that there’s a point in life were you have to decide you aren’t going to take any more shit.

I’ve thought a lot about where that point should be. And I have to say that I think that point should be where you feel under pressure to give up yourself.

Everyone has different objectives in life. For some people, nothing less than supremacy will do. For others, measured success is enough to satisfy. Some people go straight to the top. Others take a more scenic route on their rise to fame and fortune.

As far as I’m concerned, the most important thing is that you don’t lose yourself along the way.

To be honest, I felt like I was losing me. Lately, I’ve felt pulled in a thousand directions, to the point of snapping. The bottom line for me is that in my career my first priority is the writing. All of the other incidental stuff that goes with the terrain falls somewhere behind my own work and Spinetingler. I’ve talked to other writers who’ve given up blogging because it was impeding on their work. And before life gets any crazier, I’m drawing a line in the sand and I’m going to work very hard to overcome one of my weaknesses. I have no balance. I’m always all or nothing, in everything. Obsessive, a complete workaholic.

Kevin always says he can’t bring home chocolates, because I have no self control and will eat the whole box and make myself sick.

I’m going to do things to make sure I’m getting R&R. Like putting down read 2 chapters of Buried on my list for tomorrow. That way, when I do, I can feel like I’ve completed another item on my agenda instead of feeling guilty for taking time to read.

And I’m going to turn my computer off after 11 pm. And some weekends, I’m not going to blog.

Oooohhhh. I’m not sure if my body can handle the shock to my system all at once. I might have to take baby steps.

And in case any of you were wondering, off-hand, about that silly arbitrary target I set for myself to reach by the time I had my one year anniversary… I crossed it today.

Now, as for contests, I want to reiterate that I didn’t judge Cozy Noir. In fact, yesterday when I spoke to our winner, he laughed when I said I still hadn’t read his story. But that’s how much I trust my judges. I only read stories before announcements if there is an extreme difference of opinion.

Now that the announcements have been made, I’ve been reading some of them. And I have to say the ones we’ve picked are great.

Plus we have some other stories going in the next issue that are excellent.

And I’m working on a third interview for the issue that is going to be amongst my most memorable. I have to say all three of my victims – Jess Lourey, Mark Billingham and Duane Swierczynksi – have proven unique subjects. And their interviews overlap and intersect in very strange ways.

For today, I’ll be happy about the next issue, anyway. Four weeks from now I’ll be uttering curses about pulling the plug on Spinetingler, which is always the way right before we go live because of all the work involved. But until then, congrats to Angie and all those who placed. You might want to check out Angie’s happy dance.

Those boys are a bit disturbing.

Bonus Payment – this joke courtesy of Bonnie. Who likely doesn’t want me to share that.

The Pentagon recently found it had too many generals and offered an early retirement bonus. They promised any general who retired straight away his full annual benefits plus $10,000 for every inch measured in a straight line between any two parts of the general's body, with the general getting to select any pair of points he wished.

The first man, an Air Force general, accepted. He asked the pension man to measure from the top of his head to the tip of his toes. Six feet. He walked out with a check of $720,000.

The second man, an Army general, asked them to measure from the tip of his outstretched hands to his toes. Eight feet. He walked out with a check for $960,000.

When the third general, a grizzled old Marine, was asked where to measure, he told the pension man ... "From the tip of my penis to the bottom of my testicles."

The pension man suggested that perhaps the Marine general might like to reconsider, pointing out the nice checks the previous two generals had received. The Marine insisted and the pension expert said that would be fine, but that he'd better get the medical officer to do the measuring.

The medical officer attended and asked the general to drop the pants. He did. The medical officer placed the tape on the tip of the general's penis and began to work back. "My God!" he said. "Where are your testicles?"

The general replied, "In Vietnam."

Monday, October 23, 2006

When You Can’t Unburn The Bridge

All relationships go through peaks and troughs. It’s one of the constant cycles of life that we can bank on. We’ll sometimes fight with our friends, and sometimes things will be perfect.

I think one of the hardest things to deal with is where the personal and professional intersect. I know I certainly encounter that potential conflict of interest in my own life, and have built some walls to protect myself from it. Not because I even doubt my own ability to be impartial, but because the appearance of impartiality can compromise the merit of the achievements of others if I don’t have those boundaries in place. Take the cozy noir contest with Spinetingler. I had to send out multiple emails yesterday, telling some people good news, telling a lot more people unhappy news. There were people I knew on both lists, and I felt it when I sent out those notices.

Especially the ones to people who didn’t place.

As I explained to someone else, having the boundaries enables me to approach my role pragmatically. I mean, it’s all good and fine to be personal and fun when the news is good, but it’s far from that when the news isn’t what the recipient hopes to hear.

This isn’t on my mind so much because of Spinetingler today, but because of other things, and it’s going to get pretty personal after my initial comments, because I’ve been working through a lot of stuff lately. I had a high school friend visiting last week, and it had been years… I think five years, since I’d seen her last. A lot has changed in my life in that time. A lot has happened in her life. It isn’t always as though you can just pick up where you left off, especially when she’s meeting my husband for the first time, and for the first time since high school she’s seeing where I live. There are growing pains that go with the territory.

And that’s one of the strongest friendships in my life. We’ve literally been friends for 20 years, and the ties that bind us have survived time, distance, marriage and divorce, kids, career changes, sickness etc. Peak or trough, we’re always friends.

It can be trickier to know that about people you build friendships with as an adult. You don’t have a shared history, a track record. In my experience, a lot of people have been users. They come along for a time and take what they can get and move on.

There are those you’ll try to befriend, but there’s something that keeps you from building the bridge. It can be nebulous, elusive, hard to define. It might be that their quota is full – they have a full stable of friends and don’t feel the need for more. Or they’ve been burned and aren’t sure if they want to risk opening up to you, because they fear they might be hurt. Or they have their own reasons to doubt your motives.

I worry about stuff like this a lot. I know, I worry too much sometimes. But when I first started meeting people in the writing business, I used my married name, didn’t mention Spinetingler and approached people strictly as a fan.

And I watched.

I’ve seen aspiring authors try to work an introduction to people in the business from successful authors. I’ve seen the guard go up as authors are asked for favours. I’ve seen that invisible yet tangible shield go up around editors, agents and publishers when they see a writer charging a path toward them.

You know, in some ways, it sucks to be successful. Think about it. If you were a millionaire, would you ever really trust that someone loves you for you, or would you wonder if they loved you for your money? I mean, come on, surely that must occur to everyone.

I worried about all of this as I was getting into the business. I worried about it because I feared I’d be viewed like so many others out there, looking for a hand out. Willing to step on anyone if it would help them get to the top.

That’s why there are some people I’ve been extra enthusiastic about. They’re the people who never graded me with a checklist before they decided if I was worthy of being acknowledged or not. They also happen to be great writers, authors who top my list for must-reads.

I still don’t like where friendships and the business side of this industry collide. Some people thought I was nuts to not ask Michael Connelly to blurb my book last week, but as far as I’m concerned, if Michael Connelly reads it, what an honour. I decided that, since Stuart helped me so much this past year, I didn’t want to impose on him for a blurb. I know he said he would, and he’s sweet and all, but it just didn’t seem fair to ask for more of his time. The book is stronger because of the counsel he gave me, and for that, I’m permanently in his debt. If I’m a better writer now than I was four months ago, you can credit Stuart for that as well.

I didn’t want to ask Mark for a blurb either. I know he’s a friend, and I’ve asked other friends… it’s hard to explain. Mark is one of the people in this business I’ve known longest, and the kind of friend I’d take any problem to. This past year, at a few of my lowest points I’ve had a ‘virtual’ cry on Mark’s shoulder. Lucky for him he hasn’t had to deal with me actually blubbering in person. He’s gone way beyond the realm of acquaintance and has become one of the people I trust most in this business. If there’s one thing I know about him, it’s that he won’t feed me any bullshit, and boy, do I ever appreciate people who’ll be straight with me and not change their tune depending on who they’re trying to impress from one day to the next.

This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned trusted friends and the people I’m thankful for, but it’s on my mind today because I’ve been struggling with a situation that has me wondering. It’s a situation where I’ve been feeling betrayed.

The truth is, the past few months have been very stressful. When I talk about being down, people sometimes express surprise, that I don’t sound like I have been, but I tend to let things build up to the point where I can’t cope anymore. Then everything simply adds to the stress, and I don’t handle anything particularly well. It affects my personal life, it affects my concentration, it affects my health...

And when things get like that, I do vent. And when I vent, I say, I’m not thinking clearly. I can’t really explain it all. My judgment is clouded. When I’m talking like that, I’m not looking for answers. I’m looking for ears and shoulders.

The trouble is, I said that recently to someone, and instead of being an ear and a shoulder, they relayed stuff I’d told them to someone else. Someone I don’t really know.

I’m not going to take the situation any further than that here on my blog, but this is where I’m at with it. It’s made an already stressful time in my life feel unbearable. Instead of just dealing with the things that were already weighing on me, now it’s been compounded by external pressure... Pressures that involve commitments I’ve made, finances, my publishing contract, everything. There are some things I’ve been actively involved in that I think people want me out of and I’ve had almost a week to think about it. I can’t shake that suspicion.

Of course, it goes back to what I already said. When I’m stressed, my judgment isn’t the best. And so it doesn’t necessarily matter if I’m right or if I’m wrong. What does matter is that someone I trusted to talk to about my feelings has made me question if I was wrong to confide in them.

To be brutally honest, I can’t remember a more difficult week in my life in quite a while, and I have had some rough spots recently. I didn’t think it could get much worse, but it has. And I’m not interested in pity. 100% not. The truth of the matter is, I’m left questioning a lot of things right now, and first and foremost, I’m questioning my judgment.

I’m going to be rather selfish and say that it sucks Mark is still on tour, because if there was one person I would talk to about absolutely everything, it would be him. But then, that’s hardly fair of me. He’s given me advice and support on more than one tough situation this year.

Unfortunately, we all like to turn to the people we’ve found reliable in the past. The people who’ve already proven that they will keep our confidences and give us space to say a few things we don’t mean and retract them later, because they know we’re blowing off steam. I mean, if there’s one thing I know this year it’s that I’ve struggled with some situations that prompted snap judgments. And I’ve had to consciously choose to step back and force myself to keep an open mind while I got all the facts. There were people I thought were responsible for some problems I was having, and when I looked into the whole situation, I found out they were just the people who actually brought it to me – that the problems didn’t start with them but others.

I believe in forgiveness. I just don’t believe in laying back down to be a doormat again and again for the same people, so if you believe someone is just going to keep kicking you, you don’t get down for them. You steer clear.

There are things I’ve been told this year that I feel the weight of knowing. Things I’ve experienced that automatically set me apart from some others. There have been a few times I’ve wondered why a person told me what they did, and hoped to hell everyone else they told has tight lips because I don’t even want to deal with being suspected of betraying their confidence.

And there are times I’ve had to make choices to break confidences in the past. When I believe that someone might actually be hurt, for example. Or when the situation is having a direct impact on me and I’ve been pressured to keep an unreasonable confidence. Those are painful situations to be in. And I'm not perfect. I've shown errors in judgment in the past, and there have been times I've had to own that. I'm not saying I'm faultless, not by a long shot.

Where I go from here in this situation is completely up in the air. I have resolved only one thing, and that’s to do nothing about it right now. Usually, I like to clean things up and move on, but not this time. This is one of those times I feel the need to emotionally withdraw and protect myself first. It may well be the only way to avoid making a snap decision that wouldn’t be wise and could have a negative impact on a lot of people.

It means leaving a few things hanging for now, but this is one time where I can’t worry about that. I have my priority list for this week, and those are the only things I’m dealing with right now and until I’m emotionally ready to address this problem, it’s going to have to wait.

It does leave me wondering how you guys decide if trust can be repaired or if it’s been completely destroyed.

The Segregation of Certain Types of Books

I don’t like the term ‘mystery’.

I haven’t always felt this way, and I’m a bit of a hypocrite on it, because I still head straight for the ‘mystery’ section when I go into a bookstore.

But I don’t like the term. I much prefer crime fiction over mystery. And arguing over labels might sound about as fun as arguing over infant baptism, but I’m actually starting to think that the prevalence of the term ‘mystery’ is hurting the crime fiction industry.

A little less than a year ago, Kevin went on a search for a few books for me for Christmas. According to the Chapters/Indigo computers, the books were in the stores. But he couldn’t find them.

After visiting three stores, he did locate them. In Fiction & Literature.

By the time he located them, he was extremely pissed off. And I was baffled. What were the books doing there? They say they’re thrillers right on them.

Which, of course, was the problem, and is where the divide comes in. A mystery, by definition, is typically about an unsolved crime and the driving force of the book is to resolve the case by determining who did it. It’s a situation where something isn’t known, and a lot of people like their mysteries to provide the answers and resolve the crime.

A thriller, by definition, involves knowing. In a thriller the emphasis is on a chase, showdown, rescue… stopping something bad from happening, be it from within or outside the bounds of the law. You usually know who the bad guys are. You might not know everything, but that isn’t the point. The point is about how our protagonist will rescue his kidnapped daughter, or how our hero cop will prevent the robbery.

Not how to figure out who committed the crime.

One of the things that continued to baffle me for the longest time was why I couldn’t find some books in the ‘mystery’ section. I always maintained that when my book came out, that’s where I wanted to find it. I couldn’t figure out why some of the books I associated with my genre weren’t there, and it bugged me.

Until I figured out that 99% of the thrillers were being put in general fiction.

It explained why I couldn’t find Tess Gerritsen, PJ Parrish, MJ Rose and many others in the bookstores. I’m one of those people that carries a list of names, and can be swayed into purchases based on what’s in the store. But by sticking in the mystery section, I wasn’t seeing a lot of authors that I associated with my genre.

Now, what’s funny is that Ken Bruen and Lee Child are both over in mystery. So is Simon Kernick (who is moving more and more into thriller domain with each book, and does it brilliantly).

I have to say that I think it’s a bad move, having them separated out. Perhaps some other people don’t care, but I do. The majority of the people I know, people like me who focus on crime fiction, don’t really look outside the mystery section. That’s where the big table display for hot books is put out. It’s where I can find Mark Billingham, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Laura Lippman, Stuart MacBride, and Simon, so why would I go anywhere else? To me, the ‘mystery’ section has been the cornerstone of my reading life for a good few years now, and that’s not likely to change any time soon.

I find myself wishing they’d rename it Crime Fiction – which is what it is. Crime fiction encompasses mystery and thriller territory. I can understand from a simplistic point of view why some people don’t consider thrillers to be mysteries. The main focus of the story is different. But thrillers and mysteries are still first cousins. They're part of the same family - there's more common ground between John Rickards and Stuart MacBride than there is between John and Mordecai Richler.

It seems silly to get into debates about semantics, even to me. I’m not terribly keen on narrow labels, although I’ve admitted I understand how they evolve and that they’re here to stay.

But if I was going to fight over one change, I think this would be it. I hate wandering through Fiction & Literature. It’s such a nebulous section of the bookstore, where action-packed thrillers cozy up beside airy-fairy nonsense about the meaning of light. I can’t quickly put my hands to the stuff that interests me over there.

And I have bought authors off of browsing through the mystery section. Several, in fact, right back to purchasing my first Rankin book. More recently, names that have been on my radar, and because I know every book in that section fits my area of interest, I will peruse the A to Z and select a handful of books from new-to-me authors to give them a try.

But I won’t do that in fiction & literature, because there’s too much stuff over there that doesn’t interest me and it takes far too long to wander through.

I guess, if there’s a moral of the story in this, it’s that if your book is being called a ‘thriller’ and is likely to be put over in that general fiction category, getting into bookstores isn’t going to be enough to get a sale from me. You’re going to have to get my attention some other way. I don’t have the luxury of living anywhere close to an exclusive ‘crime fiction’ bookstore – in fact, I’m about 50 km away from the nearest chain store (one way – that’s a 100km round trip) - which means I’m stuck with how the chains decide to categorize their books.

I’ve got a limited amount of time to make my selections when I do go. Since I tend to always find something I want over in ‘mystery’ I really have no reason to look anywhere else unless I have a specific name I’m looking up.

Most thriller writers will need to find another way onto my radar and, from talking to other readers, I know I’m not the only one who isn’t very likely to pick those books up on chance, either. Being on store shelves is a good thing, but it isn’t enough. You need to be on the right shelves to get noticed by your target audience and I firmly believe that most ‘thriller’ writers are missing a good chunk of that market here. Being more of a ‘mystery’ junkie than a conventional thriller reader, figuring this out isn’t enough to entice me out more. I have limited bookstore time because of living so far away.

Sometimes I wonder how long it will be before I give up and just start ordering all my books online, but I still love going to the store, holding books in my hands and finding one to leave with that I’m excited about reading. And that’s an experience you just don’t have online.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Michael Connelly Echo Park

I was a bit worried about the Michael Connelly event scheduled for last night. Sounds silly, but the one thing that really stood out for me from seeing Michael at Harrogate in 2005 was how shy he is. He wasn’t one to relax in front of the crowd while being interviewed. Instead, he seemed nervous.

Not that he wasn’t interesting and enjoyable as one of the special guests. It was just the impression I was left with, which had me wondering how he’d handle an event on his own where he wasn’t being interviewed.

And he was, quite simply, perfect. Michael started off telling everyone a bit about writing the books, why he takes a break from Bosch every now and again (“to keep him alive”) and he also commented that it was his first time coming to Calgary. I hadn’t realized that.

He did read a brief excerpt from the book. I was smiling as he explained he doesn’t like reading much and that he thought it would be better to answer questions. Yes. The man is a pro. And he fielded questions from the crowd right to the point where he was given the one question warning, and then signed books graciously.

Some of the general remarks Michael made that struck me:

- Harry must evolve every book. Everything else is window dressing – the character is most important.

- True and believable are two different things. (Well said!)

- Never miss a chance to say something about character (referencing a quote about ‘make sure that on every page someone wants something, even if it’s just a glass of water).

- The best crime novels are not about how cops work on cases but how cases work on cops.

And Michael will not use the word 'serendipity' for probably a month now until he gets it out of his system.

I waited in line to get my hardcover of Echo Park signed and had a pleasant chat with Michael… about Harrogate, Bouchercon Alaska, Killer Year, etc. And what he wrote in the front of my copy is something that’s always going to date the book for me and make it significant.

I haven’t read Echo Park yet, but I am looking forward to it. Based on the premise, it sounds intriguing.

Now, in light of my original post yesterday, I was directed to this post, which puts some of that article I was referencing in perspective.

Thanks Stephen. It did make me feel better. It’s still an uphill battle when you’re starting out in this business, and I don’t think it’s wise to indulge delusions of monstrous sales. But this does show how some of the numbers were skewed to make it seem more hopeless than it is.

Just insert IRS for Revenue Canada if you want to make this joke American

In a long line of people waiting for a bank teller one guy suddenly started massaging the back of the person in front of him.

Surprised, the man in front turned and snarled, "Just what the hell are you doing?"

“Well," said the guy, "you see, I'm a chiropractor and I could see that you were tense, so I had to massage your back. Sometimes I just can't help practicing my art!"

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" the guy replied. "I work for Revenue Canada. Do you see me fucking the guy in front of me?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Okay, Fuck My Depressing Post

About the publishing business and just go look at this.

That's like my every day these days.

Predestined to Fail, Predestined to Succeed

When a book doesn't sell right away, the large chains sweep it into the back room, making space for the next aspirant. With 172,000 books published last year, shelf space is limited.*

Which means the competition for that shelf space is fierce.

The article I’m referencing above is discussing a publishing failure. In the book’s first week, it only made #18 on the NY Times extended best-seller list. The following week, the book dropped to No. 30 on the New York Times list. Any lingering hopes of achieving breakthrough sales were finished. Nielsen BookScan, which says it tracks about 70% of retail book sales, says "Murder" sold 12,400 copies in its first 19 days. Barnes & Noble alone sold nearly 15,000 copies of " The Thirteenth Tale" in only five days.
Holt invested $1.3 million in buying and marketing the book, a sum that doesn't include the cost of manufacturing. It will need to sell at least 150,000 hardcover copies to recoup its investment. Barring an unforeseen spike, it will be lucky to get to half that. Next year, Holt hopes to benefit from paperback sales. And there's always the chance a movie might get made.
Still, the book never caught fire and could leave Holt in the red.

I have heard it said that the success of a book is determined in the first month of release. If the book doesn’t make it into bookstores, it doesn’t generate sales and it doesn’t generate interest from booksellers in keeping it stocked.

In many respects, the battle for sales seems to be determined long before your book is officially published.

I read this article with a fair degree of interest and a growing feeling of depression. Is this really where the publishing industry is headed? Will we see publishers wiped out of business over one bad decision, such as this one? Why has it turned into bidding wars anyway?

What happened to producing a product you believe in, putting it out there and everyone earning off of what’s sold?

Now, clearly, there are a number of things about the publishing business I still don’t understand. And being a little shit-disturber, I’m prepared to question them all on my blog and display my ignorance.

But this goes back to some conversations I had with various people at Bouchercon. One author, whom I shall not identify, spoke candidly to me about the frustration of seeing new authors being signed to six-figure deals and getting enormous marketing push put behind them.

I had to say I was glad that wasn’t me. The author seemed surprised by my response, but as I pointed out to him, a debut author with a lot of money thrown at them, time and energy, has everything to lose. Publishers are less likely to throw big money at someone twice. If the author fails to live up to their expectations, it won’t matter that the publisher’s assessment of the potential of the work was off or that a bidding war drove them to offer more money. What will matter is how much they lose. I discussed this recently with another friend in the UK, who told me about an author who is no longer being published after failing to meet the sales expectations of the publisher they were with, and the author had money and marketing behind them.

I have stated here before that being someone with big push and big expectations makes you a target. I know I’ve felt that my friend Cornelia Read has received criticism she otherwise wouldn’t have gotten, if her book hadn’t received the buzz it did. When you’re the front-runner going into a race or a series play-off, everyone’s watching you.

And if anyone takes you down, it’s big news. It’s a bigger victory to upset the expected winner.

Despite saying that, I have to admit that there is truth to the fact that for the majority of books, whether or not you’re going to be considered a ‘success’ is going to be determined months before your book is released.

It’s a cycle. Bookstores carry the books they’ve been hearing about, books they believe will sell. Therefore, having publishers behind the books and publicists who’re talking up the books is essential. Getting the book reviewed is also critical. And book reviews require three to six months leeway before the book is released in order to get them. I went to the Reviewer’s Ethics panel at Bouchercon – I heard what those reviewers said. Six months. Wow.

And people wonder why it takes so long to get a book out…

This all meshed in my brain with a recent review I read, where the review for the book quoted blurb sources for the author. The review took the blurbs as validation of the quality of the book. When I read that, I really started to see how the game was rigged from the outset.

Now, I’ll switch gears to the person who hears from publicists. Because increasingly, publicists are asking Spinetingler to do reviews or interviews. And this is in no way directed at the ones I like (you know who you are!) but several have turned me off. This author is going to be huge. Why> Everyone is talking about them. Why Because they’re going to be huge…. Uh, should I repeat the question again?

There is nothing that kills me more than a publicist who clearly hasn’t read the work of an author trying to sell me on it when I know more about it than they do.

But that isn’t even the point. The point is, so many people who talk up authors to me don’t reference the quality of their work. I’ve been told ‘everyone’s talking about so-and-so’… uh huh. Why? What is it about THEIR WORK that is going to make them a huge author? Because I’m sorry to say it, but the author being cute, having a sexy accent, or even a big publishing deal doesn’t mean shit to me as a reviewer.

I’ve heard no end of great things about Mo Hayder’s work. And some of those compliments come from friends of mine, people I really respect. But I had issues with Birdman that kept me from finishing it – I thought the violence was gratuitous and I didn’t like the protagonist at all (I have no respect for men who can be led about by their genitals and lack the backbone to stand up to a manipulative woman) – and haven’t been enticed to try anything else she’s written yet.

I know she does well. I know that in the publishing world, she’s a success. But that doesn’t earn a buy from me automatically, nor does it garner a guaranteed review.

One of the biggest compliments I had at Bouchercon was from the author who told me that when I reviewed his book, his amazon sales ranking spiked. It was the first time that it really hit me that any of the reviews we print might have an impact. I’ve been telling myself that they don’t so that I don’t feel guilty about pointing out issues with books that don’t quite work for me.

So, I’m thinking about all of this, about how many places won’t review a book after it’s released, about the lead time needed to get the reviews, about the need to have a publicist who is making those phone calls and sending out the information to the bookstores that will entice them to carry your book… And I’ve realized how much of an anomaly Spinetingler is, because if I discover a book/series/author a few books along, I’m happy to choose to feature it. Let’s face it – in the competition for reviews and PR, a lot of books get overlooked when they’re first released. And some of those might well be by the long-shot players in the game who stage the upset victory. The ones nobody was talking about four months before their book release, but that people will be talking about later. I mean, we could compare the initial sales figures for Rankin’s books fifteen years ago to what they are now…

Now, that article goes on to speculate about why this particular book failed. Still, the book never caught fire and could leave Holt in the red. What happened? A timing issue, say several rival publishers. Holt may have erred in promoting its book so heavily six months prior to publication. Booksellers might have been talking about "Murder" during the summer, but they were recommending " The Thirteenth Tale" in early fall. Mr. Sterling disputes that, saying it was imperative to get the industry talking about the book early, given that it was a first-time effort.

I understand that how my book will do is predetermined. The decision’s being made right now, either by the reviewers who don’t have the book yet and therefore won’t review it even if they get a copy now, the booksellers who haven’t heard of it and are hearing so much about other January releases they couldn’t care less about one more book coming out that month, the reviewers who do have the book who aren’t seeing big enough names blurbing and endorsing it to warrant the checkmark of approval from them.

Reading this speculation about why this particular book failed was the first thing to give me any hope. Did that book peak too soon? Was there too much advance buzz, months before release, and not enough timed with the book’s actual launch?

Who’s to say?

There is a big part of me that wishes that books were published because the publishers loved them and believed in them. That everyone came in on equal ground and received the same level of support, and that readers - not critics – would determine whether or not the book succeeds or fails.

It isn’t the way the world works.

A lot of people have asked me questions about my contract, my career, what I’ll be doing to promote my book when it comes out.

And all I can really do is shrug. If I get the promotional grant money I applied for, then I’ll be doing a bit of traveling in February in support of the book. And if I don’t, then there’s nothing planned.

It really is down to the roll of the dice. Maybe that’s why I’m cynical about the way the publishing business is sometimes. I mean, this book had a $500,000 marketing campaign, 10,000 ARCs printed and a $10,000 website behind it.

To make #18 and then fall to #30.

I know many consider me a pessimist, but I consider it pragmatic. I hold no delusions about making the best-seller list. I am well aware that the chances of my book ending up in a lot of stores is slim to none. There are some authors who will only blurb writers from big publishers, from the same publisher they’re with, or people they personally know. Without a big marketing campaign and a lot of money coming at you from a publisher, it almost feels like you have to be rich to even just be in this business.

And you end up feeling like it doesn’t mean shit if your book is great, because it doesn’t seem publishing is about putting out a great book anymore. It’s about knowing how to play the marketing game and having the money to stay in instead of folding.

The one thing I’ve always maintained when people did agree to consider blurbing the book was that they weren’t obligated to. If they didn’t like it, there was no pressure. I actually believe – based on adjoining emails and comments- that each person who blurbed my book really liked it.

I hope so. Because success for me is going to be having readers who say they felt the time they spent reading my book was time well spent.

* Quote from One Publisher Rolls the Dice

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Why I’m Not Allowed Out In Public Much

Yesterday I took my friend Kerry to Drumheller to do a bit of site-seeing and souvenir shopping. There are a number of places worthy of note because of how unique the landscape is. When we went to the museum, of course we were going to climb up to the lookout.

Now, it was plain as day what was happening at the lookout, even before we got over there. A large group of children were at various levels on the stairs, all the way up to the lookout.

And at the bottom, across the road from where the stairs started, were three women. Gossiping.

There were no adults up with the children.

What I couldn’t be certain of was whether they were daycare or school. The kids looked 4-5 years old. Here you can start Kindergarten when you’re 4, and most daycares combine 4 and 5 year old kids.

Plus, when they got picked up, it was with a school bus. Which means nothing, because it could have been a rental – that’s what they do here. Unless the kids were picked up with a daycare vehicle with a name on it, there was no way to know for sure.

Anyway, Kerry and I are climbing up the stairs and a child is at the top, crying. Kerry automatically went to him to see what was wrong, and the boy beside him asked me to help him with his backpack. Of course, since all that separated the children from the ‘forbidden zone’ was a simple wooden fence, they were going out of bounds on the other side of the stairs and lookout area.

And the gabbing women couldn’t even see them.

Of course this raised all kinds of questions for Kerry, about ratios and what not. The kids had no ‘tag’ on them – usually, daycares will pin tags on kids to identify where they’re from in case they do get separated from the group.

So, I can’t be certain, but I think this was a school class.

Kevin knows this all too well – I see something like this I’m usually in someone’s face. This time, I was warning Kerry, because as soon as the crying child went to her for help and the other boy came to me for help with his bag, one of the three women came up to the top and then sent all the kids down.

And I had to warn Kerry about the risks of approaching a child, thinking all the while Has it really come to this in our society?

It has. Sadly, with the way that allegations are reported as fact and with the damage they can do alone, many people are reluctant to be a good Samaritan anymore, because they might get themselves into trouble. Approach a child who’s crying, what if that child had been injured? Three staff there who deserve to get their butts kicked, but if there had been an incident that caused injury (the reason for him crying) do you think they’d acknowledge not being there to see it? Kerry could have been a scapegoat – just make the accusation that this woman did something to detract from their own guilt.

Now, I’ve been on the reporting side, so I’m also aware of how little the regulating agencies typically do about even serious allegations. I once filed 28 pages of code violations against an employer of mine – as though you didn’t know it already, do NOT piss me off when it comes to the safety of kids – and the licensing board did nothing.

Pathetic. Doubly so because I had supporting witnesses.

The incident yesterday was minor. It was nothing more than a boy who’d slipped and started to cry. No serious injuries and nobody to report anything to, although I still feel like shit about that. I’ve been wondering if I called the Museum if they’d know what school group was there in the morning.

I’ve been wondering if they’d tell me.

Meanwhile, The Children's Aid Society was twice alerted to the mental problems suffered by a Barrie mother accused of killing her two preschoolers, but only removed them from her custody temporarily during hospital stays, newly released court documents show.

Now, this really breaks my heart, because of the reason for this investigation now. The mother killed her two children.

Some days, I read stuff like this and I’m really angry. Other times, I’m just depressed. We have these agencies in place in order to protect children. And there have been times they’ve gone too far, erring on the side of caution, removing a child who’d had bruises from falling off their bike, for example.

But then situations like this come up and they don’t do nearly enough. And files are getting opened.

I have a lot of friends who grew up in the system. Some of them have wanted to read their files. I personally have never thought about reading my own children’s aid file. It isn’t likely to tell me anything I don’t already know.

Still, I look at situations like this and wonder if it should be the people who’ve been through the system who should stand up and call for change. I’m always a sucker for a cause, but how do you convey to people who’ve had no direct experience with the system what the problems with the system are?

Do people only stop to care when a mother murders her one-year-old and three-year-old daughters?

It’s a source of frustration for me, and part of why I couldn’t stomach working in education anymore. So many people are just content to turn a blind eye. They don’t want to take the risk or make the effort of getting involved.

Which always ends up leaving those who are willing to stand up standing alone.

In my mind, one little incident at a museum yesterday isn’t so far removed from the grieving family who buried two children. It’s symptoms of the same problem: indifference, bred of laziness and a lack of real concern for doing the right thing instead of a willingness to do what’s convenient.