Thursday, November 30, 2006

How Far Will You Go?

Whenever there’s an unusual amount of blog traffic I try to check my referrals to see if someone’s linked to me or something. I try to make sense of it.

As a result, I’ve discovered people blogging about me. And I’ve discovered I’ve had posts linked to news services.

I’ve also discovered that some people type in the weirdest things imaginable. Thanks to a comment Anne Frasier once made, in connection with my own post, “Sandra wonder boobs” typed into a google search brought people here. Probably disappointing for them.

Today, someone ended up here googling “Canada first Prime Minister”. WTF?

It’s hits like that that have me wondering just how far people go in a google search for something. I’m pretty lazy. Unless I have some specific reason to be motivated to look further, I’ll go two, three pages deep. That’s 20-30 hits.

Last week, when I saw an odd combination pop up on the referrals I typed it in and started going through the pages. The referral to my blog was #92.

Do people not have lives? Who would be so motivated to wade through 90+ links on a google search, just to end up here?

It does seem like an appropriate day to share the following, sent to me by Norby. I’m slamming on a pressing deadline – as in, it’s due today – and going cross-eyed.

Hopefully, things will be back to normal around here soon. Whatever normal is.

Interesting Things You’ll Learn If You Have Boys

1.) A king size waterbed holds enough water to fill a 2000 sq. ft. house 4 inches deep.

2.) If you spray hair spray on dust bunnies and run over them with roller blades, they can ignite.

3.) A 3-year old boy's voice is louder than 200 adults in a crowded restaurant.

4.) If you hook a dog leash over a ceiling fan, the motor is not strong enough to rotate a 42 pound Boy wearing Batman underwear and a Superman cape. It is strong enough, however, if tied to a paint can, to spread paint on all four walls of a 20x20 ft. room.

5.) You should not throw baseballs up when the ceiling fan is on. When using a ceiling fan as a bat, you have to throw the ball up a few times before you get a hit. A ceiling fan can hit a baseball a long way.

6.) The glass windows (even double-pane) doesn't stop a baseball hit by a ceiling fan.

7.) When you hear the toilet flush and the words "uh oh", it's already too late.

8.) Brake fluid mixed with Clorox makes smoke, and lots of it.

9.) A six-year old Boy can start a fire with a flint rock even though a 36-year old Man says they can only do it in the movies.

10.) Certain Lego's will pass through the digestive tract of a 4- year old Boy.

11.) Play dough and microwave should not be used in the same sentence.

12.) Super glue is forever.

13.) No matter how much Jell-O you put in a swimming pool you still can't walk on water.

14.) Pool filters do not like Jell-O.

15.) VCR's do not eject "PB & J" sandwiches even though TV commercials show they do.

16.) Garbage bags do not make good parachutes.

17.) Marbles in gas tanks make lots of noise when driving.

18.) You probably DO NOT want to know what that odor is.

19.) Always look in the oven before you turn it on; plastic toys do not like ovens.

20.) The fire department in Austin, TX has a 5-minute response time.

21.) The spin cycle on the washing machine does not make earthworms dizzy.

22.) It will, however, make cats dizzy.

23.) Cats throw up twice their body weight when dizzy.

24.) 80% of Women will pass this on to almost all of their friends, with or without kids.

25.) 80% of Men who read this will try mixing the Clorox and brake fluid.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I Can’t Even Remember Yesterday

Ever get to the point where you’re so overwhelmed that what you thought about five seconds ago has evaporated and you have that nagging voice in your head that’s insisting there are several very important things you’re supposed to do… but you can’t remember a single one of them?

Welcome to my yesterday.

Here’s what I remember:

In desperation I turned to some debut authors of 2006 and a few good friends to help me out with my Killer Year blog post.

(And it isn’t like there isn’t already enough about me online, what with part 1 of a new interview going up today. Thanks Chris. It’s neat to be a guest on someone else’s blog.)

This is why I couldn’t use the printer. But if I hadn’t taken the photo, recall might have been sketchy.

This is the most innovative way to bring media attention to a problem that I’ve seen in a while. Maybe the Killer Year boys should bare all...

And nobody makes me laugh the way Ken Bruen does.

Seriously, the post is over at Killer Year, and it is not filled with pearls of wisdom or witty banter from me. Instead, authors share memorable moments from their career and talk about what they’ve learned.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

That Was a Monday (So Monday's News Comes Today)

I had things I needed to do yesterday. A healthy list of stuff that was pressing, and it all got knocked sideways.

It ended up being the kind of day that really annoyed the hell out of me. It's been -38 with the wind chill during the day. Know what that translates into? Fucking cold. And because of the snow and road conditions Kevin took my Rodeo. Which meant when I went out for my appointments I had to walk.

I'd forgotten what it's like to walk three blocks in freezing cold weather. Today, I pledge not to set foot outside the house.

Of course, this is always when life gets interesting. The internet goes down for a while. Late Sunday night Kevin was called out for a car fire. Come on people - I know it's cold but a car fire? That really smacks of desperation.

And just as I was about to leave for my appointment yesterday morning the fire alarm in our house went off. Wouldn't you know it, it was the one at the top of the basement stairs. Even standing on a chair I can't reach it. The dogs, because it's so cold, are inside going mad and howling while I'm checking rooms to make sure it's nothing more than a dying battery and looking for a broom to hit the alarm off.

I leave. Come back. The alarm goes off again.

I finally had to beat it off the ceiling with the broom handle to make it stop.

And I had another appointment in the afternoon, so the fun wasn't over.

Somewhere, in the midst of all of that and a lot of other stuff, the things I'd meant to do were put on hold.

So, it's official. I've launched a second blog, a group blog focusing on industry news but the kind of industry news that doesn't always get the same play on the major news sources. I've done a more thorough explanation over there. In a way, it's a very selfish thing, because with Spinetingler I want to stay on top of new authors to watch and profile. This gives me a chance to hear about things early on.

Honestly, some of the authors I've been most excited about discovering this year - Robert Fate, Troy Cook, John McFetridge - haven't arrived with major press announcements and fanfare and anticipation. I've heard about them first from readers, saying, "WOW. Why haven't I heard of them before?"

It should be interesting to see how this goes. I expect a few more contributors to join our numbers, so you can expect news when we have it, occasionally commentary (see SW's interesting post on the independent press advantage) and to hear about some interesting projects and authors.

THIS JUST IN! I'm going to steal Sand Storm's list for discouraging spammers. Brilliant!

And courtesy of John McFetridge, I have a joke

A man who just died is delivered to the mortuary wearing an expensive, expertly tailored black suit. The mortician asks the deceased's wife how she would like the body dressed. He points out that the man does look good in the black suit he is already wearing however, she says that she always thought her husband looked his best in blue, and that she wants him in a blue suit.

She gives the mortician a blank check and says, "I don't care what it costs, but please have my husband in a blue suit for the viewing. "

The woman returns the next day for the wake. To her delight, she findsher husband dressed in a gorgeous blue suit with a subtle chalk stripe; the suit fits him perfectly.

She says to the mortician, "Whatever this cost, I'm very satisfied. You did an excellent job and I'm very grateful. How much did you spend?"

To her astonishment, the mortician presents her with the blank check."There's no charge," he says.

"No, really, I must compensate you for the cost of that exquisite blue suit!" she says.

"Honestly, ma'am," the mortician says, "It cost nothing. You see, a deceased gentleman of about your husband's size was brought in shortly after you left yesterday, and he was wearing an attractive blue suit. I asked his wife if she minded him going to his grave wearing a black suit instead, and she said it made no difference as long as he looked nice. So I switched the heads."

Monday, November 27, 2006

Violence in Crime Fiction: The Forgotten Factor

Again, the debate is raging on listserves, forums and blogs: Are we getting too dark? Where do we draw the line with violence in fiction?

It’s a topic that feels to me as though it’s been done to death. I have read listserves and forums long enough to see routine comments from people, about the fact that they won’t read about the torture and murder of children, or book with rape. Someone from a forum once emailed me and said they were disgusted with Mo Hayder, because she’d written an extremely graphic and violent book while pregnant. I think it was Tokyo she was referring to. But the point is, not offended by the violence, but offended the author wrote it while pregnant.

You never know what it is that will offend readers.

I can even tell you more than one person expressed some misgivings about Cold Granite because of the murders of children in the book. And yet Stuart doesn’t think he writes dark stuff.

When I think of Stuart’s first book, I think of one scene that gave me a good laugh but I think of a lot of other scenes that were pretty grim.

In the intro to The Flood Rankin mentions Reader Response Criticism Theory – which basically states that it isn’t what the writer was trying to say that’s important, just what the reader got from the book. This theory infers one thing we all know: sometimes people see things in books that authors don’t intend.

I happen to know some people who wouldn’t let their children watch The Lion King because they thought it was too graphic. I have a really good friend who won’t even watch the news. A Field of Darkness wouldn’t get to me the same way a book like To The Power of Three would get to someone like her.

Face it. A woman who’s just been raped isn’t likely to find a book like Wire in the Blood to be an easy read. I think we can all understand that.

All of this to say that I believe violence is relative. And I believe that there are two key components that affect how people perceive the violence in books. One has to do with who the reader is. A friend of mine always asks for referrals. Bear in mind none of these friends I’m mentioning are mystery readers. They only read what I refer to them. When I make those lists I consider their threshold. One friend, who has young children, can’t handle anything with violence against children. I respect that. It’s enough that I’ve won her over to the likes of Rankin and McDermid. I’m not going to stick a book in front of her where young children are being killed in a graphic manner. Give her a few years. Then she’ll probably want to read those books. (Joking…)

So, one key component is the reader. The other is who the victim is.

This connects to recent discussion on DorothyL about Joe Konrath’s books, particularly the belief of some readers that the books contain excessive, offensive violence. Joe himself commented in response:
“I write just enough to set the scene, then let the reader fill in the blanks. Don't agree? Please try to point out one of these vivid descriptions of torture.
You'll find that it's really less vivid than you originally thought, and that your imagination made it worse than it actually was.”

(Kevin’s waiting for him to write a cozy called Shirley Temple, but I suspect that’s not coming any time soon.)

I needed a diversion between edits of my own work this weekend, something to clear my head at night. I didn’t think it was a good idea to watch a ‘mystery’ movie, so I picked something I hadn’t seen for a while.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

I picked a movie with plenty of violence, battle scenes and some brutal deaths. Meanwhile, in the discussion on DorothyL most of the people commenting have been readers. Whether I agree or disagree, these are the ones who may pick up my work and dissect it. I am always curious about how they respond to different things. And some of them have been quite critical of violence in fiction.

Joe’s response was also interesting. I completely agree with him about what the mind fills in being worse than what writers actually put down on the page much of the time.

In The Two Towers there is a fierce battle, the battle for Helm’s Deep. The great moment is when the elves come, to honour their old allegiance with men and fight by their side once more. Haldir leads them.

But the battle does not go well. Helm’s Deep is breached. King Theoden calls Aragorn to fall back to the Keep. Haldir is wounded. And then he is struck from behind.

You only see the Uruk Hai swinging the weapon down. You see Haldir’s body lurch forward, presumably as the sword hits him. You see the look on his face as he falls, you see what he sees, the bodies of the other elves who’ve fallen in battle. You don’t see the blood spatter or the wound.

And Aragorn reaches him just as he dies.

That is the only point in the movie that almost reduced me to tears in the theatre. It is by no means as graphic as when some people are skewered by spears, heads are severed, some are eaten by wargs. The truth is, there are a lot of points in this movie where more blood is shed, yet it is the scene with Haldir that affected me. Why?

Because I liked him.

I can think of similar examples in fiction. Val McDermid has written her share of rape scenes in her Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series. The extent of the mutilation of one character I really liked in The Wire in the Blood really bothered me. Of all of the rapes, it is the rape of Carol in one of the books that stays with me. The characters of Shaz and Carol weren’t just objects that violence was done to. They were characters I cared about. I felt their pain in a different way.

Beyond crime fiction, how about my favourite of all of the Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine? In the last season there’s an episode called The Siege of AR-558. Ezri Dax becomes friends with one officer, who is ultimately killed. The tension, the desperation, the very real stress on soldiers and the effect of the violence they’d seen on them. It’s a rarity, because this is an episode where they’re fighting a ground war, and there are aspects of this episode that make you think of classic war movies.

I remember watching that and feeling like someone had just punched me in the gut, because they’d put a real human face on the losses. Not just numbers of people killed in war, but people with names, hopes, dreams killed in a battle.

To me, this is one of the critical things we overlook when we’re addressing the subject of violence in our fiction. It is not always about what we do and don’t show. It is often about who the victim of the violence is.

It is my personal belief that when we care more about the characters, when we empathize with them, we feel any violation on a deeper level. And in situations like that we’re inclined to infer more into the violence than the author necessarily writes or intends.

At the end of the day, each reader has the right to decide what goes too far for them. Each author must accept the fact that not everyone will like their work. There are some people who might like my first book who will not find my second book easy to take.

I have stated elsewhere that I write the level of violence that I believe is appropriate for the story I’m trying to tell. I do hold to the idea that less is usually more. The only thing that I take exception to is violence that, to me, reads as showy or unnecessarily gratuitous. And even I must say that applying that label is a highly personal thing. I mean, I’ve written my share of assaults, rape scenes and murders, but the one thing I’ve taken offense over recently was Gingerbread cookies in Nazi uniforms.

This is, ultimately, an issue where there is no right or wrong. Everyone will put that line in a different place. We aren’t always going to agree with each other.

One just hopes we’ll try to respect the author’s right to produce the work they see fit… and the reader’s choice to embrace it or reject it. However, the fact that this is such a subjective issue means that, while I think the stuffing has already been beaten out of this topic, undoubtedly it’s one we’ll continue to hear people discuss for years to come.

My question for you is, where’s your line? Is there anything you won’t write, or won’t read?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Would I Be Angrier If I Was A Lesbian?

Recently Ruth Jordan offered one of the most insightful commentaries on the topic of how men and women view sex and violence. Despite her wise words there were those who continued to maintain that Rankin was attacking lesbians when interviewed last month for the Independent on Sunday. This is evidenced in the comment trail, specifically this remark: “I think that the upsetting part of his comment was that the women who write so much violence are lesbians…. it's also a hurtful thing for Rankin to have said. Lesbians have taken enough knocks without this one.”

Yesterday the reporter who interviewed Rankin and elicited the comment that caused the uproar, and international bestselling author and lesbian Val McDermid, were on radio discussing the topic. You should listen for yourself.

Back to the comment that started it all: Any time you see narration inserted in an interview you should be wary. When the interviewer inserts narration they’re interpreting the piece and can misconstrue the meaning.

I didn’t respond to the question addressed to me in the comments on Ruth’s article because I hadn’t seen it until yesterday, although I do fail to see the point. I’ve said my piece here and elsewhere. Whenever you read something in the paper you should keep an open mind. I have sat in classes where I was taught to write scandal pieces. We were actually taught political manipulation by inserting narration into politician profiles. Let me show you an example from an interview I did.

Sandra: Do you find it harder to write women?
Simon: Yes.
Sandra: Why?
Simon: Because I’m not one? I don’t know. It’s harder. It is harder. I like women. I like women’s company, but I think if you ask a lot of male writers, most find it harder. Just because they’re not one, really.
Sandra: But then look at how many women write men.
Simon: I think women understand men much, much better than men understand women, in real life, in general. They’re more cunning and manipulative. You notice it when you see children. The boys are more easily led and a little bit more upfront. What you see is what you get. With the women, from a very young age, they’re cleverer and they seem to understand which buttons to press with men. So I think they just know a bit more about men then perhaps we know about them, so that’s why they can do it.
Sandra: So you experience that with your girls?
Simon: Yes.
Sandra: They know which buttons to push?
Simon: They certainly do. From a very young age. My three-year-old, she was like that when she was two, and my older one was like that very young. They learn very young. They’re much more intelligent, at an early age, than boys. It evens out, but at a young age they mature much quicker. You can really spot it, because my brother’s got three boys. You see the difference and it’s quite amazing.

That’s how this portion of the interview appears in the fall Spinetingler. Now try this version of the one paragraph on for size:
“Women understand men much, much better than men understand women,” Simon said as his eyes narrowed and his mouth twisted with distaste. “They’re more cunning and manipulative.”

All of a sudden this statement could be taken as being anti-woman. Now I was sitting right there. This is absolutely not what Simon meant. I’ve worked with children – I completely agree that in general, you see notable differences in boys and girls from a young age. In fact, this is an example of where Simon and I both checked it over to make certain there would be no misunderstandings. I was curious about why his books tend to be dominated by male characters. There’s nothing wrong with him writing about more men than women. I write about more men than women. There’s also nothing wrong with my curiosity. And there’s nothing wrong with what he said in the interview, which if you click on the link you can read in full.

But the insertion of narration could have changed the meaning and if I was an unscrupulous person with an agenda I could have done the same thing that reporter did to Ian Rankin – stirred up controversy to use someone else’s name to elevate my own. It leaves me wondering, again, why so many people – people who are writers, who use words for a living, who are reasonable and intelligent, people who went and commented on Ruth’s post and elsewhere – couldn’t see that.

Could it be that some people felt automatically defensive about the whole subject? Could it be that some people are just jealous of Ian Rankin and will take any opportunity to bash him mercilessly? Could it be that some people just like to jump on bandwagons and support causes, and since beating on Rankin and accusing him of making anti-lesbian statements was the hobby of the day they went with it without even stopping to think?

And any of you who think I’m just defending Ian Rankin here because it’s Ian Rankin, remember there will be a lot of people who will show private support and in public say nothing and leave you hanging. I’ll tell you right out I had no intention of getting involved initially in the ITW scandal last summer. It seemed pointless from the moment I first read about the sexism allegations on Sarah Weinman’s blog, but one of my friends, Jason Pinter, asked that I take a look at the comments. Then I couldn’t stay silent. Things were being asserted that were against people I know – judges like Anne Frasier and Elaine Flinn, and people who’d defended the ITW, like Jason Pinter. It was one thing when it was a controversial subject. Once I read the remarks it went further, to personal attacks on people. I wasn’t willing to let that go. I won’t stand by silently while friends are falsely accused or mistreated. It may be true that the same courtesy is not always afforded to me by others but that doesn’t change who I am and what my principles are. I’m disappointed when my friends don’t have my back: I defend my friends. It’s as simple as ‘do unto others as you’d have them do unto you’ and when a friend is falsely accused, I’m not going to just turn a blind eye if I know about it.

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been times I haven’t jumped to conclusions and been shown to be wrong, but when that happens I own it, which isn’t something I’ve seen people do over this topic. Ian has been judged, guilty until proven innocent, and considering the artistic community is usually pretty liberal this is a surprisingly narrow-minded reaction.

Here’s what we don’t know from the interview with Ian. We don’t know what the reporter left in and what she cut out.

Here’s what we do know. Ian refused to elaborate on the topic on the record. That means he did not fully divulge his thoughts on the topic. Therefore, for anyone to think that from that one statement they could completely understand what he meant and what he believed is ridiculous. It would be like pulling this one statement:

Sandra Ruttan said in her blog post Friday November 24, 2006, “There is a disproportionate number of lesbians writing crime fiction.”

and using that as the summary of what I’m talking about here today. One statement pulled out of the context of the whole changes the meaning.

Here’s what I know about Ian. He’s not anti-lesbian. He’s not homophobic. He’s not anti-women. Some of his best friends in the business are lesbians. He’s a good person and didn’t deserve to be dragged into this.

Here’s what I know about the reporter.

1. I hadn’t heard of her before this interview with Ian.
2. She’s a freelancer. This means she needs to stay in demand to earn her living.
3. She took this comment from the interview and wrote about it on her blog.
4. She was invited on radio with Val McDermid to discuss these assertions.
5. She admitted on radio that she had a specific purpose in mind when she chose to include these points from her interview.

She inserted narrative stating that this is one of the great unspoken truths in crime fiction, which in the context infers that this is a widespread belief, but has given us no names or evidence to even support that anyone else has ever made this comment to her. That is not the same as quoting a source that doesn’t want to be identified. She’s using inference to strengthen her assertions, and using her inserted narration to influence what people interpret from the alleged quote in the interview.

I recently interviewed Mark Billingham. He said something I was really interested in pursuing in an article in Spinetingler, but later withdrew the comment. Now, by all typical standards I interviewed him, I have it on tape, I can back up that he said it.

I’m not going to print that comment.

Why? It’s simple. For one thing, there was a greater context involved. What it was doesn’t matter. It was of interest to me, but the manner in which he mentioned this item was as one friend talking to another, not so much subject answering interviewer. I have to have the ethics to understand that.

We all have to have the ability to understand when someone tells us something we need to keep quiet about, and when it’s okay to share.

Not one person I’ve interviewed has let the interview stand exactly as transcribed. Each one has asked to remove at least one line, where they either repeated themselves or where their words came out wrong, and ended up inferring something they didn’t mean.

I go for the overall truth of the interview. That means that if there’s something in there that could be misinterpreted I suggest it be cut out. I did that with Simon – I emailed him and told him I thought we should remove one section. He agreed.

Now, if you actually go and listen to the audio discussion about this you can hear what the journalist actually said, about the fact that many other authors have mentioned this to her, always off the record, and that this was why she chose to bring this up and leave it in – because nobody will talk about it.

You know what I believe? I believe she baited Ian in such a way that she had something she could twist and that she used his name as leverage because he’s internationally known. I believe if it had been any of dozens of other authors – my friend Steve Mosby, or John McFetridge or Sandra Ruttan, for example – the issue wouldn’t even have been raised.

Picture the scenario. Ian sits down for an interview. Partway in, the interviewer asks, “Why do you think it is that there are so many lesbians writing extremely graphic, violent crime fiction?”

“I won’t go on the record and say that the people writing the most graphic violence today are women. That isn’t something I’ll tell you, or that they’re mostly lesbians as well.”

“I won’t go on the record and say that the people writing the most graphic violence today are women. That isn’t something I’ll tell you, or that they’re mostly lesbians as well.”

You see, editing quotes in newspaper articles is standard practice. It’s something people do with reviews, cutting out tiny excerpts to make it look like they’ve gotten an exceptionally positive assessment of their work, when in fact the overall review was negative. A recent story was told on DorothyL about someone getting a review that said something to the effect, “It’s a waste of money. Don’t buy this book.” The excerpted portion used as a blurb? “Buy this book.”

This is a common occurrence. All of us know it’s done. Anyone- anyone- who’s been interviewed has dealt with the possibility of being misquoted or an inference put into their words that wasn’t meant.

And if you think I’m reaching for an excuse here, think again. This was the quote as it appeared on the reporter’s blog and in the interview: “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."

You can already see that one thing Ian was quoted as saying was cut right out during the Woman’s Hour version. Which begs the question: what else did they cut out that we don’t know about?

Now, I’m only prepared to say this much more specifically on Ian’s situation. Anyone who’s a friend, anyone who would not want to have their name used as part of a journalist’s crusade would give him the benefit of the doubt. They’d afford him the courtesy of not jumping to conclusions and at least trying to keep an open mind, that just maybe there’s an explanation that would change how they see the situation.

This is what I actually believe on the subject. There is the appearance that there is a disproportionate number of lesbians writing crime fiction. By disproportionate I mean out of sync with the standard averages in society. I am a bit obtuse where orientation is concerned, but I can say that in the village of 800+ I live in, I’m only aware of 4 lesbians. I don’t know if there is anyone living in town who is gay. I’m not a good judge. I had a horrid crush on a guy years ago who happens to be gay.

If you look at my bookshelves you’ll find a hefty chunk of fiction by the likes of Val McDermid, Natasha Cooper, John Morgan Wilson, Timothy Findley, Alex Brett, Anthony Bidulka… I have to honestly say I’ve heard it suggested that others on my shelves are lesbians but really don’t have a clue. I really don’t. Because it doesn’t make any difference to whether I’ll read their book or not. This is a question I don’t even ask myself about the author. I don’t find it necessary to introduce myself as Sandra Ruttan, straight. It isn’t usually the first point of curiosity I have about a person.

Here’s a thought, and it’s just a thought. Perhaps there appears to be a disproportionate number of lesbians breaking ground with violence in crime fiction because lesbians have already addressed the issue of defying the mainstream. I’m not saying it’s right, but I’m saying that it’s a reality that people still have to ‘come out of the closet’. You are presumed straight until you say you’re gay. Why is that? Only because the mentality in our culture still perceives being gay or lesbian as an ‘alternate’ lifestyle, and no matter how politically correct the words and labels are, it boils down to the same thing: Different.

What’s relevant is that because people who are gay have already dealt with ‘coming out’ maybe they’re more willing to cross other boundaries, like the idea that woman shouldn’t be violent. We still do have this perception based on gender roles, and people do get rankled a bit when women are violent or write about violence. So, perhaps because lesbians have already dealt with breaking out of one ‘box’ there are a higher percentage of lesbians willing to tackle another taboo area.

I don’t think the issue is that there are more women writing violent crime fiction today. I think the issue is that nobody has the statistics. What percentage of teachers are lesbians? What percentage of musicians are gay? What percentage of bankers or politicians or journalists are gay?

And what percentage of crime fiction authors are gay?

You see, that’s the fact that’s relevant. Everyone can say they absolutely don’t believe, or do believe, that there are more lesbian authors writing graphic crime fiction, but nobody has numbers. Until then it’s all just opinions and assertions.

I honestly think that there is a perception, a feeling, belief, that there is a higher percentage of lesbians publishing crime fiction than say working as accountants. It may or may not be true. I honestly think that the reason people have those perceptions is because those who are gay have already dealt with disclosing their orientation and are more vocal about their status. It isn’t that there are necessarily more people who are gay, it’s just that we know about the fact that they’re gay.

Appearances can be deceiving. Do I honestly care if a book is written by a homophobic man, a straight woman, a gay man or a lesbian? To be honest, the only one who gives me a moment’s pause is the homophobic man, because if there’s one thing I’ll refuse to read it’s something that seems to support prejudices. So if someone wrote a book and used it as their soap box to slam homosexuals I’d never read them again. Same if they used it to slam Jews or Asians or Arabs or anyone else.

It certainly does seem, if you look at the bestseller lists, that women who write about graphic violence are doing better sales-wise than women who don’t. Val McDermid. Mo Hayder. Karin Slaughter. Patricia Cornwell. And of those four names, I know two are lesbians. I know one is straight. I don’t know about Karin, because it has no bearing on anything to me. But let’s go with 50% from that short list – that does seem to be higher than the average. I mean, I don’t think 50% of woman are lesbians.

But what do I know? Maybe they are.

I don’t think anyone wants to discuss the math, because I don’t think anyone is actually interested in the facts here. There are some who may - may - just be interested in stirring up controversy. There are some who, again, may feel threatened because they’re homophobic. There are some who may just be curious to see if there are trends. I’m a writer. By nature, I’m a curious person. I wonder about all sorts of things and ask questions that might not be politically correct. It’s just curiosity.

Do we see more women engineers today than 30 years ago? Do we see more female police officers, doctors, pilots? I believe we do. And as a result, we’ll also see more lesbian engineers, police officers, doctors, etc.

To me, it’s fascinating to look at the trends in society. Maybe… maybe lesbians are breaking new ground in fiction because they understand what it is to face persecution, alienation, animosity and so they’re writing about things I don’t have the same experiences with as a straight woman. Maybe that sells because it’s heartfelt writing and it appeals to people.

Maybe it’s as simple as the fact that more women are proving themselves in the crime fiction genre ranks, and as a result, more lesbians are proving themselves as well.

Now, I don’t know if part of what has spurred alleged whispered commentary on lesbians in the crime writing community is jealousy. Since none of those people who allegedly made statements have been identified I can’t ask, or really speculate based on any knowledge.

What I will say is this. I’m a woman. I’m heterosexual. I write violence when I believe it’s warranted within the scope of the story I’m telling. I don’t like graphic violence and I don’t write violence just for the sake of shocking people. I have never considered marketability of my work when choosing to include violence.

Like I said here Wednesday: “There is nothing to be feared in asking healthy questions, other than addressing them to a person who shuts their eyes and closes their ears and refuses to consider that things could be any different than the way they see it.”

Here’s what I believe: There are times when silence is the same as a lie. That means sometimes, while others are playing their PC kiss-ass games, I might be the one who will speak out about something. I’ve had a couple people back out of interviews because of my directness online. I don’t worry about that.

I worry more about being so pressured by others and their expectations that I’m afraid to say what I honestly think, in case it’s not ‘popular’. It doesn’t matter to me if the trend of the day is to mock Ian Rankin. I’m not going to do that just to fit in. And I’m not even going to shut my mouth and ignore it.

There are several things about this entire mess that bother me. One misconstrued comment in an interview has meant Ian has born the brunt for all of those alleged people who allegedly made statements to this reporter.

I respect Val McDermid’s concerns over what might be prompting people to whisper about this topic. However, as she said herself, Ian is a good friend of hers and danced at her wedding, and is not homophobic. Without knowing who it was this reporter allegedly spoke to about this subject there’s no way to figure out what the reason for the comments was. And what this has done instead is ensured that people will stay silent on the issue and avoid going on the record about the topic. The actions of this reporter have not exposed any great unspoken truth (as she alleged in her interview with Ian) or done anything to change public perception or any prejudices anyone might have. They’ve just ensured that people won’t talk about this.

I worry about the willingness of people to rush to judge Ian. It tells me that if this ever happens to me in an interview I’ll be tried and convicted without even having a chance to answer for myself.

I worry about people selling out on their honest views for fear that it will hurt their sales. This is now the topic nobody can talk about. And I just find it interesting. Not the lesbian aspect of it, but the idea that women are writing more violent stuff, in general, than men. If you look on my bookshelves you can argue for that point of view. There is no book I’ve finished that I found more disturbing than Wire in the Blood. I abandoned Mo Hayder’s Birdman because I felt it was gratuitous.

Go back to Ruth’s article, about how men and women deal with violence. Think about what she says.

I worry that this assault, which has been twisted into an attack on Ian, may hurt his sales and his reputation. Think that’s silly? Think on this. Michael Richards had a racist tirade just when Seinfeld season 7 came out on DVD, and there are people already commenting that they won’t buy it now because they didn’t like his behaviour. Kevin and I were talking about this just last night.

Earlier this week someone hit my blog googling Rankin lesbian violence crime. You know what that tells me?

This issue has become so tied to Ian that people are still reading about it, still discussing it, and still associating it with him when in reality it should be associated with that reporter, who admitted in the radio broadcast yesterday that she had an agenda behind including the comment.

So this crusade has accomplished nothing, other than hurting someone who was baited in an interview in all probability because he has such a known name that it could be used to get extra mileage out of the topic.

And you know what? Ian Rankin is not only someone who has had an enormous influence on my writing career. He’s someone I’ve corresponded with, someone I have a lot of respect and admiration for, and I’ve been a guest at his house. Seeing him used this way offends the hell out of me.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Eileen needs help. I mean, only because of the internet would I get an email sent in the wee hours, talking about the fact that I’ve made it into her dreams and on to her blog.

And it turns out I can kill people with my pinky finger.

Now what is it, I wonder, about my blog posts and my charming persona and happy homemaker personality that has her subconscious perceiving me as a dark superhero capable of fashioning weapons with my bare hands?

I think she needs some help psychoanalyzing this one. Me? I’ll be in the kitchen, sharpening the carving knife.

But in regards to the topic of pertinent email discussion from yesterday the answer is: maybe.** Check back tomorrow.

**Update** The answer is definitely. It hasn't taken all of 22 seconds of listening for me to decide that.

And I leave with you the result of letting the men do the clothes shopping. Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

When The Fur Flies

One of the things most interesting about yesterday’s post was the lively discussion in the comments. We have our moderates, we have those who’ll argue to preserve freedom of speech/expression at all costs.

And there’s no doubt that this is a pertinent topic today, in light of the recent uproar over the planned, then scrapped, book by OJ Simpson If I Did It. Steve Clackson took the opportunity to poke fun at some of the biggest celebrity scandals of late, with some priceless covers of books you won’t be seeing in stores.

In truth, the foundation of the debate is a pertinent one of late. Many people slammed Mel Gibson for his outburst during his arrest. I’d missed Michael Richards’ stand-up routine but thanks to cell phone video cameras and the internet am now up to speed on his use of racial slurs onstage.

Thing is, I find myself wondering about all of this. If someone says something offensive and we slam them, are we not opposing freedom of speech? If someone makes an art display and we oppose it, is it the same thing?

I think Patrick put it best when he said Should the guy get in trouble for this display? Absolutely not. Should everyone who was disturbed by the display tell him he’s a jackass? Absolutely.

All of which leads me to a lovely moment in the House of Commons here in my own country. As most of you no doubt know, many international leaders were recently at the Asia Pacific Summit.

As you might know, it’s the tradition for the leaders to pose in the dress of the hosting country.

Of course, that didn’t stop our interim Liberal party leader for taking a shot at our nation’s leader. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and interim Liberal leader Bill Graham traded barbs over the recent Asia Pacific Summit and the best place to wear a silk gown. It started by Graham kidding the prime minister about the blue gown he wore for a photo op in Vietnam, telling Harper he "looked spectacular."

But wait. It gets better. The prime minister shot back that wearing local garb is a tradition at the APEC summit and that unlike Graham, he was wears his "silk on the outside."

Kudos Stephen. I mean, damn, talk about hitting a man below the belt. Personally, I think Graham deserved it. Stephen Harper went to an international summit. There is a tradition. He respected the tradition, along with all the other world leaders there.

Is this really what we pay these yahoos to fight over in parliament? I mean, is there nothing wrong with the world… I don’t know, maybe environment issues, the homeless, aids in Africa… something pertinent Mr. Graham could invest his energy in? Last I heard we still lived in a flawed world.

So, here I am, wanting to curtail free speech again. Because I really really really wanted to tell Mr. Graham to put a sock in it, and by that I didn’t mean his silk shorts.

But what’s really interesting is that if you read the article, our PM makes a joke that goes to curtailing freedom of the press.

And that touches on things I think about how media has changed, lost focus and credibility. I mean, why should the media have any interest in a spat over our PM following international protocol? WTF? Yet days after the fact it’s still being discussed, so here I am, continuing the trend. Things Daniel Hatadi referred to in the comments here yesterday tie in: “There are far more offensive things happening in the world that most people wouldn't even contemplate trying to stop: it's just too frightening. What's offended me of late is the conversion of reputable Australian newspapers into trashy celebrity mags. It's like nothing is valid until there's a large amount of money or good looking people attached to it.”

And Vincent added a great comment, about the current situation in the UK. “A Muslim teaching assistant was suspended for wearing the veil, a British Airways employee was suspended for openly wearing the cross. I agree with Bill in that right and wrong, good and evil is never a clear cut distinction, but the curious thing for me is how symbols are given such significance. Nazi uniforms didn't attempt genocide, the people inside them did, people very much like those who attempted genocide in Bosnia, Rwanda or Darfur. Yet this symbol and others are attached with such significance that their expression is at risk of becoming as much of a media issue as the behaviours and ideologies they're associated with.”

Which ties right in with a news story from yesterday that’s being buried in the press. I had to dig to find it online but saw coverage on TV yesterday, including an interview with one of them men, who claims they were removed from a flight because they were praying.

I completely agree with the sentiment that Nazi uniforms didn’t commit atrocities – people commit atrocities. Yet we can’t deny what some things represent and what there associations are. I can’t even deny that, to some people (particularly in the US) being on a flight with Muslims engaging in their prayer ritual could be a bit disconcerting. I’ve been to a Muslim country, and flown on a Muslim airline, so I’m leaning way more on the side of taking offense that this flight was delayed and these men were removed and questioned, just because they were praying.

The question remains. At what point should we ever allow freedoms to be curtailed?

What if I came on here and said, “Bill Graham (because I haven’t picked on the interim Liberal leader enough today) is a pedophile.” I have no proof. I have no photos, emails, video to support it.

I just say it.

I can be charged with slander.

So what is it that makes that different then just exercising my right to free speech? We say I’m just being silly or just trying to make a point, but what if I completely believe it?

Okay, I’m not German. My German blood runs very thin – less than 5%. But what if you called someone German a Nazi today? The consequences could be extreme. I can imagine it being the kind of thing the media would catch on to.

But I can also imagine people believing it.

What if Charlie Palmer, the man who owned the hardware store that was decorated with Gingerbread Nazis, was part German?

Would that change how people felt about what the artist did?

I have a real problem, in that I’m one of those people that always wants to prove the point. I do not like leaving misunderstandings hanging or people having the wrong impression about something. Yet there have been a lot of times when I’ve born the brunt of a situation and had to learn to walk away and let it go. I’ve lost friends over it. To this day I find it baffling that anyone doesn’t have something better to do than gossip about me.

Should gossip fall under the same right as freedom of speech?

A few weeks ago I was offended by inferences that were drawn from an interview involving Ian Rankin. And I’m sure a great number of people thought, Yeah, but you’re such a Rankin fan, of course you’d defend him.

It wasn’t just because I was a Rankin fan. It wasn’t even because of what I knew but couldn’t say. It was because the insertion of these words, "he looks nervously at my tape recorder, but continues regardless, going public about one of the great unsaids among crime writers" into the quote changed the manner in which his statement was interpreted. People asserted that he was anti-lesbian as a result, something I abolutely know is not true.

And if offends me when someone spreads falsehoods about someone I know.

I did the exact same thing when an author accused the ITW of sexism months ago. I was not a member of the ITW. I was not attending Thrillerfest. But I was offended by the fact that someone leveled serious charges against them without a shred of evidence, or without even asking the ITW for comment or why it was only men were nominated for the awards last year.

And it still pisses me off. Why? For one simple reason. This year, those judges will all think carefully about trying to find women to put on ballots. Oh, maybe not consciously. But it will be there. If the nominations lists come in with only male names, I doubt they’ll be put forward that way. And not because the ITW doesn’t have credibility. Because the reckless accusations of one person, hiding behind their right to free speech, have made it impossible for the process to be untainted for fear of scandal.

It’s sad.

And at some point, I think people do have to take responsibility.

EvilKev added to the comments from yesterday:

“I think the right to free speech has been eroded a great deal by the political correctness and a fear of offending anyone. The measure in law is how a "reasonable man" would act or respond in a situation. Now it is how the most over-sensitive person would respond. Freedom of speech can cause discomfort, but a different opinion should not be censored. But at the same time, I think to often the same people who invoke the free speech defense too often abuse it. Freedoms are not free, but have costs and responsibilities. All freedoms are based off the principle of fundamental respect for other people and the tolerance to allow them to live without persecution. I can’t stand on the street yelling racist remarks and claim free speech. My actions violate the greater principle. As far as the cookies go, they are just cookies. But by the same token, why Nazis? This is a powerful symbol that almost everyone recognizes. To inflame and call it free speech is a very dangerous thing, Ask the cartoonists who created those cartoons that defiled Muhammad. Their free speech cost some people their lives. When an artist chooses an inflammatory topic, I feel they must defend their choice and why that choice was the only valid one they could use to make their point. Why not CIA cookies or North Korean Leader cookies? A freedom as noble as free speech should never be used as a publicity stunt.”

He raises some good points too.

I’m going to make a confession here, and I hope it won’t offend people. People know I have a lot of issues with the church. I certainly have issues with a number of evangelicals I know. But I have serious issues with Catholicism. The Ruttan’s were Huguenots, this is true. My Grandmother was Irish Catholic but my Grandfather was an Orangeman.

And I was raised an atheist.

So I don’t automatically defer to respecting someone because of their religion, or beliefs, or their role. I’ve been to the Vatican. You don’t really want to hear my opinion of the opulence. You don’t want to hear me talk about how unscriptural I think that is. You don’t want to hear me rant about how sick it is that there are those in the church (Catholic and Protestant alike) who use their position to harness wealth for themselves while people live in destitution.

There’s a lot for us artists to think about. About where our responsibilities begin and end.

For me, the best thing is not having fixed answers. Because for me, it means I’m always keeping an open mind. There is nothing to be feared in asking healthy questions, other than addressing them to a person who shuts their eyes and closes their ears and refuses to consider that things could be any different than the way they see it.

A Joke For Your Wednesday... Which is kind of appropriate to topic. But not PC.

A successful rancher died and left everything to his devoted wife. She was determined to keep the ranch, but knew very little about ranching, so she placed an ad in the newspaper for a ranch hand.

Two cowboys applied for the job. One was gay and the other a drunk. She thought long and hard about it, and when no one else applied she decided to hire the gay guy, figuring it would be safer to have him around the house than the drunk.

He proved to be a hard worker who put in long hours every day and knew a lot about ranching. For weeks the two of them worked hard and the ranch was doing very well.

Then one day, the rancher's widow said "You have done a really good job, and the ranch looks great. You should go into town and kick up your heels."

The hired hand readily agreed and went into town on
Saturday night.

He returned around 2:30am, and upon entering the room, he found the rancher's widow sitting by the fireplace with a glass of wine, waiting for him.

She quietly called him over to her.

"Unbutton my blouse and take it off," she said.
Trembling, he did as she directed.

"Now take off my boots." He did as she asked, ever so slowly.

"Now take off my socks." He removed each gently and placed them neatly by her boots.

"Now take off my skirt." He slowly unbuttoned it, constantly watching her eyes in the fire light.

"Now take off my bra." Again, with trembling hands did as he was told and dropped it to the floor.

Then she looked at him and said: "If you ever wear my clothes into town again, you're fired!"

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Major Breaking News!

I've posted some of it here and some of it here.

And since this is my blog, let me say congratufuckinglations, again, to Steve Mosby! I'd drink with you Steve, if you didn't live so far away.

So instead, I'll drink for both of us. Cheers.

Another Kind of Nazi?

We have a ritual. On Monday night we watch The Wire while we eat dinner.

I have my own ritual. I watch it Monday while I eat lunch because I have no patience whatsoever. If it wasn’t on so late, I’d just stay up and watch it.

Last night when we sat down I told Kevin that I thought his opinion of one of the characters would be adjusted in this episode. Oh, I didn’t think he’d suddenly like the guy. I just thought he’d hate him less.

You see, The Wire is the kind of show that can make you love the “bad” guys. In season 1 I was hooked on D’Angelo Barksdale, a murderer and in line to inherit the Barksdale drug enterprise.

And I still am crazy about Omar, the gun-slinging killer who robs drug dealers.

But a new breed of dealers has been in town, courtesy of Marlo Stanfield, and his muscle is a new breed of muscle. A kind of calculated heartlessness. And every week, Kevin mutters about why those two haven’t been offed yet.

Well duh. Because everyone shits bricks when those two come around. You take a walk down an alley with them and you don’t come back.

One of the other storylines being developed this season centers around a boy. Young teenager. I’ve known for ages that this kid was sexually abused by his stepfather. It’s never been said but the character is played brilliantly. It is just the looks, the way he responds to being alone with men, that clue you in.

So, last week he was at his limit. Stepdaddy has come home, and he’s trying to assert control over the family. The kid isn’t quite big enough to give the ol’ man a whipping. He also doesn’t know how to trust people who seem to be nice.

Which is why he turned to Marlo Stanfield’s hitters. Specifically, Chris.

Now, we all know Chris is a killer. That’s pretty much all I’ve seen him do – that, and drive his boss around.

Last night, his job was to help Michael out with his problem. Felicia, or Snoop as she’s called, asks Michael, “What the fuck he ever do to you?”

Chris looks at Michael. And Michael looks at him, and not a word is said. Chris breaks it off and says it’s on.

And when he meets up with stepdaddy later, he asks him if he likes little boys before he beats the man to death, leaving him a bloody pulp in an alley.

You know, you have to have a certain respect for a character like that. Episode after episode Chris has gone around, killing someone. And usually it’s someone he knows. He and Snoop have a systematic approach that’s kept them from getting caught. They use a plastic drop sheet, usually make it one clean shot, in a vacant building where the bodies won’t be readily found.

Yeah, they’re smart. Cold. Calculated. Professional.

This is the first real time I’ve seen emotion from Chris. That I’ve seen proof of his ‘code’ or that he has one. It added a dimension to the character that I hadn’t seen before.

To me, that’s genius. I’d love to be able to develop something far enough that you can see both sides of a person. I swear, every end to a season leaves me with mixed feelings. I was upset at the end of season 1 when D’Angelo went to prison. I was upset season 2 when he was murdered. I cheered season 3 when another popular drug figure was killed. I’m still rooting for Omar.

I remember when I read my first hard-boiled novel – Simon Kernick’s The Business of Dying. I felt so guilty for liking someone who was so wrong. That’s exceptional characterization, in my opinion, because you haven’t made me warm up to someone likeable.

You’ve made me love someone I should loathe. Drug dealers and murderers. Humanizing the bad guys.

Now, I had been thinking about all of that, when I saw a bit of news. An odd bit of news. You’ve probably been wondering what this has to do with Nazi’s, right?

Well, an artist’s depiction of gingerbread Nazis has caused quite a stir, and he was ordered to remove them from the store window he did the display in. The artist said: "I can differentiate between real Nazis and that the atrocities they performed compared to these little gingerbread men, but I guess some people can't," said McGuckin, 50.

You know what? I feel like a complete hypocrite, because I can sit here thinking about brilliant characterization on The Wire, but in my opinion there are no two kinds of Nazis. They’re all evil.

There would have been more to be amused at if the gingerbread men had had horns, pitchforks and tails.

I actually really find the concept of this display offensive. I’m surprised that it stayed up as long as it did.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe I’m just a hypocrite, and as Patrick has pointed out, it’s better to be a sinner than a hypocrite.

I just find this concept repulsive. There are certain things that just represent evil in this world. Nazis. The Ku Klux Klan. And I hear about a display like this and think more about how it contributes to conditioning young minds. Nazis are suddenly cute. Did anyone read The Boys From Brazil> I did my grade 13 major essay and presentation based off of that book. That book scared the crap out of me.

And this is one case where I would be inclined to think that the artist has some responsibility. Perhaps if this was a painting in a gallery where adults would see it, I could accept the argument that he wants to make people think. But putting it on the window of a store in town where kids will see it? Why not make them stripping gingerbread men with breasts and genitals?

What’s your verdict? Am I a hypocrite? Do you agree or disagree about the display?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Reader Review

I don’t know if other authors do this or not.

I picked someone from a discussion list, someone I’ve gotten to “know” via email over the past few months, and sent her a copy of Suspicious Circumstances. I asked if she’d be willing to try to think of book group discussion questions to go with my book. Knowing that she’s participated in a lot of book discussions prompted me to ask.

Late last night she fired back her list of questions.


I am so thankful that she took the time to read the book, and was willing to give this some thought. I think we can get too close to our own work, and it’s harder for us to look at it objectively.

But some of these questions… I’m not sure I want to know the answers to them!

“Do you feel that there were any underlying messages (feminism etc) and if so, what were they and how were they presented?”

Why do I suddenly have a feeling Ty is going to get roasted by some readers?

I think this was a smart move on my part, and that I picked an exceptional person, because I wouldn’t have thought of a lot of these questions. Honestly. And she did questions for each chapter, plus a few overview questions, like the one above.

The questions surprised me, but they’re good. I actually suspect this person could be a hell of an editor. Perhaps I should run all future manuscripts by her with an eye to hearing her answers to some of the questions.

It’s made me aware of the fact that there are things people are not going to find believable. Just reading the questions produced a, But I can name examples… response in me. I’ve always known that whatever criticisms I level at a book in a review can come back on me by some reader at some point… or another reviewer, for that matter. This is a reality, and it’s probably why this is the scariest part of the entire process for me, the waiting to hear back.

I’ve never read a book with a list of questions beside me. My participation in book discussion groups has been limited to online, and has been rare, so I’ve never been in something very organized.

It makes me wonder. What about you guys? Do you find value in book discussion groups? What is it about them that you like? Do you ever feel you come away with a better appreciation of the book?

Me, I just like gushing about books I like, and that’s it. And I’ve never downloaded the questions off of an author’s site and used them as a reading guide.

But I’m going to print these ones out and have them handy as I read my book this week.

And while I’m at it, I have to try to find some scenes to read aloud, at the very least for that school visit.

I find that hard as well. I’m not one that likes a lot of stuff read aloud…

Damn. It was so much easier when I only thought about writing the books! Now I have to think about all of this stuff!

But speaking of readings, I took Arriel to her first book launch yesterday, to see Anthony Bidulka. He’s got great stage presence and really does his readings well. In fact, he was so impressive I could feel chills trickle down my spine with the one scene – it was freaking me out. Arriel actually said that when he raised his voice at one point, she jumped.

I don’t like hearing people who read well. More pressure…

Here’s a question for those writers out there. What are the things that scare you the most? Is it readings, edits or fearing one of my reviews?

PS: In addition to a copy of Anthony's book, Arriel picked out a book by Tamara Siler Jones to add to her tbr pile. She loves fantasy, and was intrigued by the premise of the book. When I told her I read the author's blog sometimes, she chose it. I look forward to hearing what she thinks.

FYI, Arriel now thinks Eragon is better than Harry Potter.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Author Bond

After Bouchercon, it was the birthday boy himself, my “brother” who blogged
In a larger sense, the thing I take away from Bouchercon is a growing sense of place. Brett Battles made a comment that encapsulates the event well. “I feel like I’m with my tribe.”
And what is the tribe? A bunch of writers? The writers are an important part of it, certainly. But it’s bigger than that. Every time I turned around I met someone new with whom I could sit and talk about this thing we love so much. Readers, like me.
Writers or not, we were all readers. A tribe. A family.

Yesterday, I got to recapture a bit of that feeling.

Last month I was happy to have a chance to hang out with Mark Billingham. I made a point of traveling to Calgary to see Michael Connelly although I don’t really know him, I’ve just met him in passing twice.

Yesterday, I got to hang out and interview one of my Canadian friends, author Anthony Bidulka. I met Anthony at Bouchercon, and we made plans to link up when touring brought him to Calgary. It’s so nice to have a chance to connect with other authors and hear about their work, what they’re doing.

Like a mini reunion. And we’ll repeat the process at Left Coast Crime in a few months.

I know that it might not always make sense to others, why I love hanging out with writers, but so much of this work is solitary, done in isolation, and I miss the interaction.

Like I said to Tony, you can’t really have a staff Christmas party. (Or winter holiday party or whatever they call them now.)

Nope – this is about as much conversation as I have on a regular basis with fellow authors, here on the blogs. With a few via email. With most people it’s exceptionally sporadic. Everyone’s busy.

I guess that’s why we look forward to the conventions. A chance to reconnect and catch up.

Speaking of catching up, you probably all know by now that there’s a new issue of Demolition up. This issue includes work by Dave White, Jordan Harper, Tom Wohlforth, Patricia Abbott, David Terrenoire, Chris Everheart, John Weagly, Colin C. Conway and Russel D. McLean. I posted that news elsewhere earlier in the week, but I’m still not going “official” about that alternate blog. So, you’ll have to wait for more news on that, still to come in the next week or two.

And I wanted to post about Demolition on a different day, in case anyone missed the news.

Speaking of Bouchercon and great authors I’ve met this year, Elaine Flinn has interviewed Robert Fate, author of Baby Shark, over at Murderati. If you haven’t dropped by yet be sure you do – this is one of the hottest debut authors of 2006. I had the pleasure of having dinner with him in Madison and he is one of the people I most look forward to seeing at Left Coast Crime. If you haven’t read Baby Shark yet, I suggest you do – I predict it will make a lot of top 10 lists this year.

In Other News…

Kevin has updated the front page of my website. However, it still doesn’t have all my big news.

Should I share some more now?

Well…. Okay. Maybe one more thing.

Check this out and you’ll see Yours Truly listed. I am excited to be part of this. It marks my first booked author event in Calgary, and I get to spend the day hanging out with my niece and all her friends. So the kids can’t even get away with anything, because I know them, and in some cases, their parents.

Plus it’s a paying gig. I get to read from my own work. I also get to do writing exercises. I’m planning to use a short story by Ian Rankin and one other source, tbd. Has to be someone who doesn’t have perpetual potty mouth.

Sort of begs the question, how did you end up getting invited, Sandra? Ah, sources. I did my practicum under the principal of this school. He’s participated in the Oxford educational think-tank thing they do every year, which is invite only. He’s a fantastic principal, and this is a revolutionary school, the only arts charter school in Calgary.
And since I haven’t shown you an update in ages, we have photos of the kittens!

Russel and Simon

Russel and Rebus

Simon and Stuart

Rebus and Russel

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Measure of Success

There is probably one thing I’m always going to be misunderstood for, and that’s my attitude towards success, and what really makes a person successful. Is it awards? Because Britney Spears has won her share of those. Is it fame? We all know who Kevin Federline is, and I wish I didn’t. Is it money? I could throw out a long list of people with plenty of money that I would never want to trade places with.

Yet for some reason I can’t seem to make people understand that to me, success is being read. Success is the chance to do more with your work. Success is having the opportunity to grow through your work.

I have heard some say that if they didn’t have a publishing deal they’d likely never write another book. Me, I can’t imagine that. Writing has always been a part of my life – it’s just that my fiction has only been public in the past few years.

Success is being able to keep doing what I love.

That’s why I’m thrilled my name will be in the first issue of Out of the Gutter. Another chance for me to try something new, and in that case twisted. I’m sure you all know now that Killer Year sold the anthology, and that’s another golden opportunity to do what I love.

And I’m working on something else that, if pulled off, will be the coup d’√Čtat – my biggest personal achievement.

It’s a good thing to stop sometimes, and appreciate how far you’ve come, but I’m more inclined to make the pause short and keep my eyes on the road and think more about where I’m going.

I know I’ve said it before, but when I took down the book that ultimately set me on this course years ago, I didn’t know anything about the author, and I didn’t care. I didn’t know if he sold 10,000 copies of each book, 30,000 or half a million. I didn’t know if the author lived in a small flat or an enormous house, or if he could afford a car or not. It made no difference to me, or my appreciation of his work. All that mattered was that I read that book and thought, If I could write half as well I’d be happy.

Great authors are about more than money and sales. They’re about the art of writing. They live for it. If I had a day job outside the house I know I’d write less. But I also know I’d never stop.

I can blame SW Vaughn for tagging me with the Six Weird Things About Me meme. As though my blog isn’t proof of enough weirdness…

1. I have been hit by a car twice. On each occasion I was hit while riding a bike. I have technically been in three car vs bicycle scenarios, but in the last incident the car pulled out in front of me, so I hit it. They failed to stop at a stop sign (and it was in a parking lot, so they were obstructed from my view by a dumpster). On one previous incident I was hit by a drunk driver who failed to stop. The first accident happened when I was 8 years old, and it was the worst incident. I was sent flying through the air and cut my head on landing, requiring stitches. The man who hit me had just turned 80. His birthday cake also flew through the air.

I was not at fault in any of these accidents, btw. That should count for double weirdness.

2. My right foot was partially severed just before I turned 9. As a result, my right leg is a touch longer than my left leg, and I had to learn how to walk again. The main muscle was only nicked enough to require dissolving stitches, or I wouldn’t have been able to walk again.

It is true that the doctor who stitched my foot threatened to cut it off if I didn’t stop screaming. I would have suggested he had issues with children, but then, I went to school with his son so I could sympathize…

3. I dressed up as a pregnant woman in a human scavenger hunt once. It was so convincing that when I dropped something in the mall, people came over to help me.

4. I hate – absolutely hate, with a passion – being called Sandy. For some reason, Sandra is a tough name. I do not mind people pronouncing it Saundra. I do not mind the shortened Sara, which some children I worked with used, because they couldn’t pronounce the blended consonants. Some friends do call me Sam, which I also do not mind. But I hate Sandy.

5. The names for my male protagonists in the two different series were chosen based on male names I liked that my husband would never have let me pick for a child, if we’d had one. Jack is a name with family and personal history. I worked with a child named Tymen, and was exceptionally fond of him.

6. I don’t know if it counts as weird, but it definitely fits with stupid. I have kissed the Blarney Stone. And if it doesn’t count as weird, I’ll give you a bonus fact. I don’t like the name Ian. I knew this real jerk named Ian as a kid… I’m sure I’m not the only person whose impression of a name is tainted by association.

Speaking of weird, it’s official. Calgary law bans spitting, swearing and urinating in public. Fuck. I’d better start going to Edmonton. And if they’re going to start being so anal, why couldn’t they ban farting in public?

And in other news…

As long as there are idiots handing down light sentences for serious offenses there will always be room for the social and political commentary that crime fiction is. I have to say that I’m disgusted by the Lack Of Justice System operating in this country. I’m surprised they didn’t call these young girls into court and tell them it was their fault they got raped, because a sentence of two years time served for one participant pretty much translates into that sentiment. It’s more than an insult – it’s a tragedy.

Did you know that the province of Alberta is rat free? An Edmonton cop is in hot water for wanting the police department to live up to the provincial standard.

The possibility of parole in 7 years? What does it take to get locked up for a significant amount of time in this country?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Backscratching 101**

Whenever someone helps me out, I like to return the favour. And when someone does something nice and unexpected, I like to express my gratitude.

Today I’ll be writing a thank you note to Clive Cussler, for example.

(And in case you’re wondering, I won’t be dishing details about this little bit of news. You can find more to read here. But you really should check out this which is looking incredibly cool.)

Getting back on track, one of the things I do have some trouble with is the expectation of backscratching. Or asskissing…whatever.

Now, the reason I’m thinking about this is because of a fair enough question a bookseller asked on Murder Must Advertise. Local author comes in to say they have a book coming out several months down the road, would like to do a signing, blah blah. They’ll send an ARC when the time comes, but the guy never shops in their store between first contact and release. Another author who does shop in their store has a book coming out, but it doesn’t quite fit what they sell as well as guy #1. Is it fair to think that the local author should support them?

This discussion went on to talk about authors who state they don’t read in their genre, authors who state they only read library books, etc. Now, you don’t even want to get me started. I personally can’t comprehend these booklovers and writers who don’t buy books, but that’s not the point.

In the context of local, I can completely understand where this bookseller is coming from. And this post isn’t about the bookseller or their question, because the context of the situation made if a fair question. However, in the ensuing responses, very few people have actually analyzed the situation and what reasonable bookstore owner expectations are, but have instead talked about how they always buy something at every bookstore they do a signing in.

No wonder authors are permanently broke.

I’ve got to tell you, when I travel I take the cheapest means available. Part of the reason is that I get to do a lot of traveling, while my husband gets to do a lot of working to pay the bills. So, when I go to Harrogate (for example) I weigh my bags before I leave and I know exactly how much stuff I can buy while I’m there (because I weigh them without books and then insert books until I’m at my luggage limit). I still ended up paying an overage last July, despite being careful. That happens.

But if I was doing 10 cities in the US, traveling around, I can honestly say that buying things would be least on my mind. First, the luggage aspect. Second, the cost. Third, customs.

I’m looking at it from a pragmatic viewpoint. Personally, I do think there’s a double standard on this. Do not even try to tell me if you owned a bookstore and Michael Connelly was willing to come and do a signing that you’d think twice about it unless he agreed to buy something in the store while he was there. If well-known authors come to town, people will happily host them because they’ll sell.

In my opinion – and I may well be corrected if wrong – it seems like a bit of a double standard. If you’re Mr. NY Times Bestseller, nobody will think twice if you do or don’t buy something while touring. If you’re Little Newcomer, people may well notice.

But toss that aside. Bottom line is, when you go out and meet with booksellers, you want to create a positive impression. It’s an important business relationship. You don’t want to fuck that up.

My own personal thinking is that authors need to promote their events, wherever they’ll be, and try to generate awareness and bring business to the store instead of just sitting back and expecting the bookstore to do it for them. In my opinion, that’s a better way to support the bookstore. I mean, think of it this way. Suppose you live in a city where there are five good bookstores and you like all of them. But you get a newsletter from your favourite author saying they’ll be at Bookstore C. If you’re me, you’re more likely to go to Bookstore C next time you’re looking for a book, and see what other author events they’re having. I mean, if they’re having my favourite author, they may have some other authors coming that I’d be interested in.

You know how we found out Michael Connelly was going to be in Calgary? A fluke. We went to the independent bookstore on our way to see Mark Billingham. I really should sign up for their newsletter.

All of this talk does leave me wondering. I have some concerns about the direction this topic goes in. Does touring, does who gets to have a book launch and local bookseller support really come down to whether or not the author buys something at every bookstore they visit?

I should ask JA Konrath – I doubt he bought something at all 500 bookstores he visited over the summer, but I could be wrong…

I’ve talked about this, from my standpoint, how I don’t read submissions from people I know. I’ve even had to make decisions about how to handle Killer Year books – which I’m not eligible to review. It just makes sense. If Killer Year authors want those reviews they can follow the same submission guidelines we ask all authors to follow re: sending ARCs, but somebody other than me will have to pick the book. I won’t make anyone, and I won’t ask them to go easy.

Just trying to keep a fair and level playing field for everyone.

So, the bookstore discussion unnerved me, because some of the responses made me think (and I could have misread them, or maybe I allowed my feelings on the subject to cloud my objectivity) that there are authors who buy at stores just to get readings. Would you really like that author any better if, a few months before each release they came in, told you about the new book, bought something, and then did a signing two months later and you didn’t see them for another 9 or 10 months?

And I say all of this as someone who lives about 50 km from the nearest bookstore and still resists buying on Amazon unless absolutely critical so that I do my bit to support the industry. It’s more than 70km each way to the nearest independent, and since it’s downtown it takes an hour to drive there, and an hour to drive back. Do I shop there every week? No. Do I shop there? Yes. I was there twice last month. That may not sound like a lot, but that’s as often as I went to Costco.

I’m telling you guys, there are so many things I didn’t even consider when I started writing. You know, it was just about writing. And now I have to think about all these things. Because it doesn’t matter what I think is best and proper and appropriate.

Really, all that matters is what’s expected. And if bookstore owners expect visiting authors to buy something at their store, then I need to factor that into the budget, and I need to factor that into the baggage allowance.

I seldom walk into a bookstore without buying something anyway, and I would be inclined to do whatever I could to support the bookstores that I did signings in, but damn, would someone please get on with the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being a New Author so that we can know what we’re supposed to do? Because if there's an expectation then surely there must be an acceptable expenditure amount too? Is $8.99 enough, or must it go to two digits? To be honest, when a place hosts something for me or a group I'm organizing (like the MEs office did) I usually send chocolates or something. If I know it's possible I'll be going to someone's house I always try to take a gift for them. So, while there's definite frustration at this (one more thing to think about) I sincerely want to know what the expectations are.

I’m sure I’ve posted this before, but it seems appropriate today.

Ever wonder about those people who say they are giving more than 100%? We have all been to those meetings where someone wants over 100% How about achieving 103%? Here's a little math that might prove helpful.
What makes life 100%?
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z is represented as:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26.
8 1 18 4 23 15 18 11 = 98%
11 14 15 23 12 5 4 7 5 = 96%
1 20 20 9 20 21 4 5 = 100%
2 21 12 12 19 8 9 20 = 103%
So, it stands to reason that hardwork and knowledge will get you close, attitude will get you there, but bullshit will put you over the top.
And look how far .........
1 19 19 11 9 19 19 9 14 7 = 118%
will take you.

** After an evening of painkillers I've noticed that my typing is mostly backwards this morning, but I'm too lazy to check and see if this makes sense. Hope it does...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Breaking All The Right Rules

They’re the mainstays of formulaic writing. You know the stories, like Pretty Woman, where poor misunderstood or unfortunate character is going to be faced with a moment of self discovery, when they realize what they were meant to be, and of course they’ll have a chance to change everything and become fulfill their destiny.

And I don’t mean to mock fantasy in saying this, because I love that stuff. This is strictly mocking tired, predictable plotlines that have been done to death.

(And this post should have a warning – it’s one of the ones that proves how strangely my mind moves from one thing to another and dammit, it all makes sense to me so just try to follow along.)

I got thinking about this, in part because I’m going cross-eyed transcribing my interview with Mark Billingham for the next Spinetingler. I can’t reference the offending comment that’s prompted this chain of thought, because until my victims sign off (Ken’s going to back out now that he knows I call them victims) I won’t quote them. They get full chance to retract. Some think that’s being unnecessarily cautious, but most people I interview these days know me. And I’m not sure if anyone wants to go on record for each and every time they said, “Fucking MacBride.”*

But I can tell you that one of the great things about Mark is that he makes me think. I spend part of the time laughing so hard I miss half of what he said, and the other part with my mind ten steps sideways, thinking about something interesting he said. People always think of Mark as funny – and he is – but he’s also one of the smartest people in this business that you might ever have the good fortune to meet and talk to.

Anyway, the interview got me thinking about formulas. Formulaic plots, formulaic characters, the same stories retold, just change the genders or the scenery or the age of the protagonists.

Which leads to my thoughts on comparisons, and how we have this human tendency to box things in terms of likeness. I’ve had a few comparisons made after people read my book. One person said I reminded them of Julia Spencer-Fleming. Another said Michael Connelly. I even have permission from another (someone who blurbed my book) to quote them saying I’m the next Laura Lippman. (From your lips to God’s ears, my unnamed source. I’m total fangirl where Laura’s concerned.)

Much as I find those comments incredibly flattering, I’ve avoided referencing them in any lasting capacity (eg: in blurbs). I’m convinced it could only do me harm, because it automatically sets the bar for measurement. Laura’s had something like 14 books to hone her craft. If I’m comparable to her when I reach book 14, I’ll be happy.

But this is a bit of a side note to the point, because in thinking about comparisons, I got thinking of the tendency to compare an author against themselves. There’s a point where some readers start asking, if only subconsciously, Can this book be as good as their last one?

That’s an unfortunate place to be in, as an author. It means you’ve hit a threshold that readers may find it hard for even you to match. For some authors, it’s the plateau before the plummet. Some are sensible enough to avoid that, but many, mostly those who fall prey to formulaic writing and just producing what people want instead of continuing to grow as an author and take risks, falter.

Just the other day I was mentioning about the fact that I want to try whatever is interesting to me in my writing. That I’m not at the point where I have anyone putting expectations on me, and I’m enjoying that. It might sound like a bit of a contradiction, coming from me, because I’m such a fan of series characters.

I mean, I’m a huge fan of the Rebus series, with book 17 just being released last month. Well, some authors can do 17+ books in a series and never lose the touch, but not many.

Reading The Naming of the Dead was something I’d looked forward to for a long time. It was my first Rebus book since visiting Scotland. The Naming of the Dead takes place in July 2005, which was when I went to Scotland for the first time. In both 2005 and 2006 I drank in The Ox. I’ve seen Gayfield Square, and the station where Rebus works. Been to Mary King’s Close, and I could bore you to tears listing off the other Rebus-related sites.

Now, all Rebus fans know that the end is near. I’m on Inspector Rebus, so I’ve seen all the talk and speculation about raising the age of mandatory retirement for cops in Scotland and whether Rebus could continue as a PI… blah blah blah.

A couple years ago, it bothered me. Now, it doesn’t. If Rebus ends up six feet under I just want a headstone so I can pay my respects, and I can’t imagine a greater compliment to an author, that their creation would be so real to people that they’d actually care if they lived or died or carried on.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t skeptics, those who think the series has gone beyond where it should have ended.

So… what’s my verdict on The Naming of the Dead?

I think it’s in my top three Rankin reads ever. Top five for sure.

That’s all I’m going to say about that book. I don’t see any reason for me to review it. End of the day, there are some books you just want to have the opportunity to enjoy and I was completely absorbed by the book.

Now, for those who know a fair bit about Scottish crime fiction, John McFetridge raised in interesting question on his blog and perhaps someone knows the answer. I don’t. If Christopher Brookmyre, Ian Rankin or Denise Mina could just hop on over to John’s blog, maybe he’d get the answer.

And damn, now I’m curious enough to want to know. I think I’d suppressed that Rankin scene. Nasty.

Now, this is where I wish I could cite something Mark said in the course of our interview, but I can’t. What I will say is this. Thank God for the authors that don't write to formulas. There are certain authors that have become for me my comfort reads, authors that never fail to push themselves to raise the bar higher, and never cease to amaze me with what they do.

Rankin’s one. Mark Billingham’s another. Edits, travel and a myriad of things have conspired to keep me from reading some books the minute they came out this year, but I have to buy them right away, so that as soon as I have the time to read them I can. There is nothing like going back to a trusted author, one who’s impressed you time and again, and settling in for a great read, and that’s what I’ll be doing a lot of next month, once all this stuff is cleared off my plate. Oh, I know I still have a pile of work to do, but I’ll have a clear head, and I’ll be able to lose myself in more great books. Until then, I’m holding on so that when I crack them open, I can savour them.

Who are the authors that never disappoint you guys?

* This may or may not be an actual quote. It might also have been something I thought when Stuart was editing my book. It could also be what Val McDermid thought when Stuart called her Valerie…