Sunday, December 30, 2007

THE WIRE - The Feminine Equation

The first in a planned series of posts on the female characters in THE WIRE is now online, and open to discussion.

Should be interesting to see if I manage to offend anyone with it... but no, this is not the controversial post that's forthcoming - that's still to come. Promise. : )

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Backwards & Forwards

I had a dream last night, and in it I was let down by someone really important to me. If that doesn’t sum up 2007, I don’t know what does.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because it’s the time to put up those year-end posts, talk about all the milestones of 2007 and the things to look forward to in 2008. I’ve seen them around the internet. And if you were to ask me to write a post based on how I’m feeling right now, it would be a reasonably cheery one.

It’s when I start thinking back to the beginning of the year that things run dark.

What I’ve learned? Not much I can share here. As it is, some have a tendency to read into my posts and take personal inferences from them – presuming I even know what’s going on with them. Truth is, I’ve only limped by a handful of blogs in the last few months.

But if I were to put down the things I’ve learned this year, they would come back to certain people, and what they taught me about “friendship”, careers and knife-sharpening.

I was thinking about it last night, when I noticed that someone had gone on a tirade, attacking a respected author. Left me thinking that when you sling mud, you inevitably get yourself dirty too. That’s why I’m not mentioning names.

Maybe I have learned something.

I’ve definitely learned that there are a few people who’ve been in my life for a short time who have been more sincere and honest with me than some others I’d thought were my friends for a few years. It’s funny, because I’d think by now I’d know that…

One bad incident after another, where people proved they’d rather lie, abandon or betray than stand by someone, I ultimately thought I might never trust anyone new again. You could say my inner circle’s smaller these days, though I’m tight with the people who are there.

But a few people still managed to work their way in. One has, in such a short time, taught me more about loyalty and friendship than I could have imagined possible. Got there with consistency and the patience of Job, and really snuck up on me that way.

To the “old” friends – the remaining faithful – I raise a glass and send my love. I wish we lived closer, that we could cross paths more often, but no matter how long it’s been or what’s happened in between, I’m here for you always.

To the new friends, I feel fortunate to know you.

To the other one, the healer, pouvez-vous jamais savoir combien de force vous m'avez donnée? Rock and anchor.

I feel honoured and blessed.

To all, I wish you the very best in 2008.

I’m not doing a best reads list for the year, or going to tell you the books I’m looking forward to next year. I can tell you I’ll be blogging less, but I’ll be around in different ways, ones I hope you’ll enjoy.

And in the next week or so you just may see what could be my most controversial blog post ever. Proving I may have been down for the count for a while… but I’m definitely not out.

And it should be noted there are 9 days left until the last season of The Wire begins. There is a conversation some of you may find interesting and wish to join in on. It would be great to get others to post their highlights.

Oh, and courtesy of my friend Rob Lord, more on The Wire.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Greatest Gifts

A $50 gift card for the bookstore. The Wire, Season 4 on DVD. A teddy bear for charity. Handmade Christmas cards from Arriel - sorry, Arrielle - and Athaniel. Seeing my niece knitting on Christmas Eve. Telling my elder nephew for the millionth time that no, we can’t play Monopoly. Watching my younger nephew try to fit himself into the box his Christmas presents came in.

Feeling happy. Enjoying quiet time with a good book (Craig McDonald’s HEAD GAMES). An e-mail from a friend. A great photo from Russel.

In the midst of the craziness, of the commercial rush, the shopping and competing and piling on the credit cards to the point of breaking the very best thing about this year has been the quiet, and the reminders about what really matters.

After weeks of feeling lost inside myself really being able to write again. And being able to forgive.

It’s the wrong holiday, and it’s unlike the usual over-the-top comedy of a Munsch story, but it’s so well done. LOVE YOU FOREVER by Robert Munsch.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Awwww, Shucks Darn, You Really Shouldn't Have

Even the Canadian Press gave me a Christmas present. From terrorism to Tasers, from pensions to the perils of solitary policing, the RCMP have been squarely in the public eye for the last 12 months - though not for the reasons the force might wish.

The troubled Mounties are the collective choice as Newsmaker of the Year for 2007 in the annual poll conducted by The Canadian Press among newsrooms across the country.

Voters cited a variety of reasons for their selection, but the bottom line was summed up by Jack Romanelli, editor of the Halifax Daily News: "The RCMP dominated Canadian news this year".

"Many of the stories they generated shook the traditional view of the 134-year-old force as a scarlet-clad symbol of national identity".

Going on to cite the Maher Arar affair, the death of a tazered Polish immigrant, the Air India inquiry, hinting at the problems in the administration, the government scandals and more, the historic national police force has taken its share of beatings this year in the press.

I have to reiterate how much respect I have for the RCMP. For all the scandals and problems of recent years, when you consider the number of cases, the number of arrests, the number of inquiries and the day in and day out service of loyal men and women who do us proud and risk their lives to make our streets safer, on the whole, we have a great national police force. Not perfect, and that's of course the problem. Canada, and our national police, share a goody-goody image and it's easy to highlight the flaws of something that's been upheld as perfect.

We're human.

However, my genuine respect for the Mounties may become the chorus I have to keep singing as this year progresses, as WHAT BURNS WITHIN first (and THE FRAILTY OF FLESH later in the year) portray a less-than-perfect RCMP, with political and bureaucratic blunders contributing to mistakes on the job.

And honestly, it isn't because I just want to stand here pointing out their faults. It's because until we start acknowledging the problems with how something is run, we can never properly address how to fix them.

It's a quiet Christmas for me, which is good. I'd been feeling better but woke up hacking away again. The extended family always has the big turkey dinner on Christmas Eve, so I enjoyed being seated between my elder nephew Athaniel and my younger nephew, Dashiell, at the table. Dash thought my sweater could use some rice stuffing. Dinner was delicious, and my sister's father-in-law made Baked Alaska (Alaskan?) for dessert. OMG, and I don't even typically like meringue. Yum.

So I'm now wondering how to work off the ten pounds of Christmas, like everyone else...

A happy, healthy holiday season to you all.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Santa Slain For Your Shopping Sins

In an attempt to protest the commercialism of Christmas a man nailed Santa Claus to a five-metre crucifix in front of his house…A photo of the crucified Santa adorns his Christmas cards, with the message "Santa died for your MasterCard."

Does that mean the Easter Bunny died for my visa?

Well, anyway, in the spirit of the season, a little something from a more serious (and probably respectable) Ruttan.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Scandal! Outrage! Protest!

Not only is this beautiful bear being held hostage, but they're threatening to shoot him! Help SAVE THE BEAR!

Oh, and btw, I've had the please* of reading THE FEVER KILL already, and here's an excerpt from my summary:

"This is a classic story of a man who must confront his demons before he can move forward in his life, but Piccirilli goes beyond that, to show the ultimate futility of trying to settle old scores while you compound problems from the past with new mistakes. Through Crease, I could understand the sound logic behind many flawed choices people make, a logic Crease can’t argue with, as much as he tries. No trite or contrived twists, the story is so natural you feel you should have seen what was coming, but didn’t. The writing is superb, the suspense is intense, and Piccirilli caps it off with one of the best endings ever. One of the best reads of the year."

So what are you waiting for? Go get yours from the Horror Mall and have a shot at winning the bear.

And this one's for Brian.

* Of course, that should be pleasure. The 'u' ad 'r' went on strike, for some reason.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

No Good Deed

I should have known having Spinetingler Awards would cause me a lot of grief, and I really wish I could say that I don’t care about the criticisms, but I do. And not just for me. The reality is, whenever people start their commentary on who’s worthy and unworthy to be nominated for an award, they not only criticize the decisions of the judges, but they’re criticizing the authors of those works.

So when some loudmouthed asshole with more ego than talent comes along and starts trashing nominees,* I’m getting a bit pissed not just for myself, but for the writers and editors who deserve their nominations.

What ‘noirboy’ fails to grasp is that the award shortlists were compiled off of popular nominations. And because of how tough the short story category proved to be, I ranked the points differently. If an author recommended their own story they got one vote. If someone else recommended the story, it counted for two votes. And yeah, if there were ties, I cut Spinetingler stories first. Sorry, it was just impossible to be impartial.

In other words, Amra's story had to kick some serious ass and have strong public support behind her to get there. And she, like so many others, had no idea.

In other words, the people who made the list had readers recommending them. People liked their stuff. I think the best e-mail I had was from one of those writers, completely shocked that they’d been nominated. And then I saw Chris’s comment on his post, about how he had no idea people were even recommending his story until he saw the nomination list.

Which is a pretty cool feeling for a writer.

Maybe we should all pat poor little noirboy on the head and commend him for having the courage to go online anonymously, with no link to a blog of his own where people can express their dissenting opinions. I mean, it takes a real man to run around trashing people and scurry back under the woodpile like a rat. But I especially love how he seems to think he knows who people are voting for. He seems to be trying to badger other nominees with the threat that he’s campaigning for Charles Ardai’s story to win. Oooohhh. I’m sure everyone else is quaking in their boots. And thanks for the tip-off that if a bunch of Ardai votes start coming in “anonymously” I’ll have to check tracking on the e-mail source to make sure noirboy isn’t trying to rig it.

Like, for fuck’s sakes, you can’t do anything intended to be helpful or supportive without getting pissed all over in the process. I think at age 36 I’ve given up on the dream of getting substantially thicker skin. When people kick me (as someone else did this week about something else) it’s one thing. It may hurt but I can handle it for myself.

But I actually feel some responsibility, as though I set these writers up to be put under attack, because I put them on the ballot. I know – believe me, I know – that’s not the most rational way to think about it, but if it’s a sin to care about how others feel I’m guilty. Every potential nominee I cut from the list in every category was done with a knife in my heart. Some of my own favourite reads from the year didn’t make it.

Here’s my little challenge for the person Steve Allan so appropriately termed fuckhead: Put a name and a face to your assertions. If you really believe it all, if you really stand behind it, get a blog, use your real name, have an e-mail address and maybe your balls will drop. I’d dearly love for there to actually be something there for me to aim at. Otherwise it won’t hurt as much.

To those of you thinking about starting an ezine or running an award or doing anything else of value that’s meant to contribute to the genre you love, bear all this in mind. Think twice. Because people will come at you and try to get the knife in your back far faster than they’ll thank you for what you’re doing. If you’re doing it to be popular, I hate to be the one to break it to you.... Think I’m joking? For every story I accept there are several I reject, and some of those people walk away associating me with their negative feelings about being rejected. I know writers need to learn to deal with it, and I’ve been through it myself, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there who can’t wait to have a chance to take a shot at me to get even. Think it buys me favours and gets me positively reviewed? Man, most industry people don't even consider me an author because SC didn't have the "right" publisher, so I have to wait until May, 2008 until I'm "in" - whatever that means. I don't want reviews I don't deserve based on the writing, but the hard thing is that SC wasn't widely reviewed just because of industry prejudices and politics. I'm not even self-published but I've been treated like a leper.

(And hey, when people go on their blog and publicly criticize you and then say they're concerned about you, they're just full of shit. Someone who's concerned e-mails and discusses their concerns with you privately, instead of trying to trash you publicly and then cover over their bad behaviour with glib excuses.)

It’s just a reality of life. You get that kind of bullshit in everything, not just writing. Yes, I suspect a scathing Amazon review to turn up on my book any day now… Because that’s the petty kind of asshole noirboy is. I know it. His own behaviour proves it.

And truly, if noirboy wants to get published, perhaps he should spend more time writing than running around slamming people.

But he can pat himself on the back and feel mighty fucking special because yes, he hurt my feelings and he made me cry. I mean, yes I’m really sick right now and last night couldn’t sleep at all because of the coughing… and I am getting divorced, so maybe I’m a tad more emotional than usual, but still, kudos to you noirboy.

Between noirboy and the other person who did something more personal and private this week, it’s been a banner one for life in the writing business. This is why I sometimes think the authors who only look out for themselves are smarter. You try to do something, genuinely intended to help raise profile for quality work in the genre, to keep talented writers in the game particularly as it gets harder and harder to stay published, and people are only too happy to pile on and tell you to do things differently or that you got the nominations wrong or whatever. (Authors who blurb get criticized for blurbing too much, so they stop, while others will only blurb those from the 'right' publisher or those they're friends with - it's no wonder some people don't have much respect for this industry. Some days, I don't either.)

Well, you’ve got opinions about the awards, noirboy? Start your own fucking ezine and build it up over three years and then start your own awards so you can run it how you want to. It takes nothing but a big mouth and a lot of insensitivity to express a criticism, particularly one based off taste, but it takes a hell of a lot of work to get to the point where writers tell you you’ve helped them get an agent or a publisher.

I’m proud of every nominee on our list. And so glad I don’t have to vote in the short story category, because I loved all the nominees. So to you writers on the list who may have been feeling a bit down because of this, who are you going to listen to? A self-important jackass who uses anonymity to attack people, insulting women, Native Americans and others…

Or me. Sugar and spice personified. ; )

* Follow all the links from here to get the full background if you want to.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Making The List

I guess Santa won't be sliding down Sandrama Lamy's chimney next week, as she's on the naughty list.

What the hell kind of name is Sandrama anyway? I guess she takes the 'drama' part seriously.

I'd better stop with the jokes before I say something really inappropriate...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Canadian Crime Report

– Because we all know there’s no crime in Canada

Taser That
In Calgary a 250 lb nude man got into a physical altercation with the cops. Because of the issues nationally about Tasers, Calgary Police showed restraint – and one officer was punched repeatedly and a police dog was attacked. It took several officers to bring him down.

Me, I would have aimed below the belt and fired away.

National Mess
While politicians and citizens are calling for action cleaning up the problems with our national police force, the Mounties have conceded that organized crime is still winning the drug war.

Under Lock & Key…Sometimes
Triple-murder suspect Jesse Imeson made an appearance in court today, while three dangerous suspects have escaped from prison in Montreal.

There Aren’t Words
Every now and again, a crime hits the news that hits hard. There’s absolutely nothing funny about the fact that a 72-year-old man was attacked and killed while delivering Christmas cards.

For those who gasp in disbelief when they cross the border to Canada and hear someone saw a four-letter-word, let me tell you something: We’re as good at crime as anyone else. I actually have a lot of respect for our law enforcement in this country, but we’re not perfect, and that’s part of the reason I write about the RCMP.

Oh, wait? Were you thinking I'd do a recap of the year in Canadian crime fiction? Hmmm. I'd give nods to DIRTY SWEET and EVEYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE by John McFetridge, only I read both of them last year... I don't think I've read another book set in Canada this year. Hmmm.

We seem to sing about it better than we write about it.

Gowan’s Criminal Mind.

Not Canadian, but the ultimate spy thriller song of the 80s, since I’m now on a music kick… (With women in tight leather, which I'm certain adds to the male fantasy aspect of the video.)

And not a crime, but ouch, that had to hurt.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

'Tis The Season...

...for Buckley's.

And for crying out loud if you're sick, stay home. Germs are just the gift the cheap and lazy give.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

So, What Do You Get The Person Who Has It All?

If the uranium option doesn’t appeal, I heartily recommend a weekend of noir. A long weekend of noir. I mean, what could be more noir than spending a weekend in Philadelphia, in the presence of Duane Swierczynski, Ken Bruen, Megan Abbott and yours truly?

In fact, sign up right now, and you’ll get a free commemorative t-shirt! Not from me, from the organizers.

Plus, the tentative line-up for panelists includes…

Charles Ardai, Megan Abbott, Ken Bruen, Shannon Clute, Stacia Decker, Seth Harwood, Vicki Hendricks, Matthew Louis, Gary Philips, Jonathan Santlofer, Jen Siler, Duane Swierczynski, David Thompson, Sarah Weinman and many more.

Dates: April 3rd to April 6th, 2008

Costs (per person):

4 Days - $180.00 (includes all panels and Award Dinner)
Single Day Attendance Fee - $100.00 (does not include Award Dinner)
Two Day Attendance Fee - $150.00 (does not include Award Dinner)
Award Ceremony Dinner - $35.00 (Deen/Jay Kogan Award and David L. Goodis Award Presentation)

Society Hill Playhouse [Conference]
507 South 8th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147

Saigon Maxim Restaurant
[(4/4) Award Dinner]
612-632 Washington Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19147 (215)271-8838

Triumph Brewery
[(4/5) AWASSA Auction]
117 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106 (215)625-0855

Society Hill Sheraton [Hotel]
One Dock Street (2nd and Walnut Streets)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106

There will be a Book Room at the Society Hill Playhouse where attending authors’ books can be purchased!

And I can tell you at present I’m tentatively scheduled for the female noir panel with Megan Abbott, Vicki Hendricks and Jen Siler, moderator Jonathan Santlofer. Hope to see you there!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Much Ado That Does Next To Nothing

In north Calgary there’s a Tim Hortons. Big surprise, you say. For the benefit of locals, I’m talking about the one on Country Hills Boulevard, by the Shopper’s Drug Mart. Anyone who’s been to that part of the city now knows why I’m talking about that one, because that strip of shopping centers along Country Hills is a testament to the absolute idiocy of city planners. Yes, barely had the pavement dried and road crews were tearing it up again. Flooding was a huge issue because they didn’t put in drainage, and for some reason they never anticipated the volume of traffic that the roads in that part of the city would have to deal with.

And so the shopping centers are something of a problem as well. For one thing, they divided them in a number of sections, thus forcing traffic back out onto the main road in order to get from one to the other. (Until you learn how to cheat and use the back roads for delivery trucks, which to my way of thinking is not a good idea.) There are a number of intersections without lights, and again, anyone who’s driven there knows why I’d curse at anyone who would go to one of those intersections, as I once added five gray hairs to my head during the wait to get across the road.

Add to all of that, they build a Tim Hortons. Nothing special about that, this is Canada after all. But I know people with bigger walk-in closets than the parking lot for this particular Tim Hortons. The drive-thru line is often overflowing. In fact, if I have to go there, I’ll plan my driving route around it.

On the surface, you might be inclined to think I would agree with a move to restrict drive-thrus, something that’s coming up in a number of cities where politicians now see drive-thrus as an environmental and safety issue. London council is gathering public input on a range of options, from banning new outlets to tightening zoning bylaws to make more areas of the city drive-thru-free. City staff have floated the idea of restricting the hours of operation for drive-thrus, and a decision is expected in the new year.
In Hamilton, Ont., where Mayor Fred Eisenberger describes himself as "reasonably anti-drive-thru," council is studying an environmental group's call for a moratorium on new drive-thrus.
In Kings County, N.S., one politician has argued that only people with decreased mobility should be entitled to get their food while in their vehicle.
"I think a pregnant mom or a disabled person or a person who couldn't get out of their vehicle or an older person, they could use the drive-thru," says Wayne Atwater. "But these people that are able-bodied men and women, I certainly don't see any reason why they can't get out of their vehicle."

Does that mean if you’re pregnant you’re not able-bodied?

What these politicians all conveniently ignore is how much time people spend with vehicles idling at intersections on any given day of the week. A percentage of the driving population uses drive-thrus. Every single driver on the road deals with intersections.

You drive, you’ve been there. Stopped at a red light. The guy in front stops picking his nose and putts through the intersection. The girl behind him finally notices the light is green and attempts to engage her standard with one hand firmly pressing her cell phone to her blonde curls. The guy behind you is honking, as though that will somehow motivate people, and finally, you get through…

Only to be stopped at the next intersection. And the next and the next and the next.

I can’t even got to Airdrie without being stopped at on average two intersections going in and two leaving the city. And I’m being generous when I say two. There are two sets of lights prior to hitting the overpass, and if I need gas before shopping I have to go through a third intersection. If not, I have to merge onto the highway. The road where that gas station is on has crosswalks, and that means often stopping along there as well.

Then, to go to the shopping center, there are two more sets of lights. It isn’t stretching to say that there have been times I’ve had to stop at 8-10 intersections. Putting the average at four per trip is generous.

And we haven’t even discussed the joys of parking lots.

Red Deer actually has a great system with their lights. They’re timed so that once you hit a green, if you drive the speed limit you’ll hit green all the way through. And why speed when you know you’ll make that next green light? It’s perfect.

Meanwhile, in Calgary, they continue to throw up lights in order to slow traffic down and keep them from speeding through.

Well, does it ever occur to the politicians and planners for a second that part of the reason people are using drive-thrus is because of all the time in their lives being eaten away sitting at intersections? Look, you want people to slow down? You’ve got photo radar (for all the good that does. I mean, it doesn’t slow anyone down, other than the observant drivers who spot the vehicles) and you’ve got cops. Pull them over and ticket them. Raise the fines. But the pressure has been on for a long time, to build a ring road, because currently the Trans Canada Highway runs right through the city. You want to see pollution problems? Try getting stuck behind the semis on 16th Avenue, light after light after light after light. (We used to live off of 14th and Northmount, so I’m quite familiar with traffic. In fact, since we could see two intersections from our front window, I’d say the only time vehicles weren’t lined up was during the witching hours.)

It’s easy to pick on drive-thrus, and play the environment card and make it look good. I can actually see the safety argument, to a certain degree, but all of this is more evidence of politicians wasting time and money doing what they do best – evading the real issues. The problem is, traffic congestion gets worse every year, particularly in Calgary, where growth has the city bursting at the seams. You would think they’d build the roads right the first time, but all too often they don’t. I have to wonder how much unnecessary pollution is generated from having road crews go out and do a job a second time to fix the mistakes that passed through planning first time around.

They actually did that here. We bought this house in the winter, so we didn’t realize the one road in front of our house wasn’t paved. The next year they ripped up the sidewalks and did a cheap version of paving the roads. The sidewalks were moved down right beside the road, whereas they used to be located at the edge of the owner’s property. For us, just on the other side of our hedges. When they moved the sidewalks down, they did a number of things:

a) narrowed the road so that there wasn’t as much parking
b) told the property owners they now had to cut the village grass between their property line and sidewalk
c) made shoveling the sidewalks in winter a real bitch, because the ploughs push snow up on to the sidewalks, and
d) caused a flooding issue, because they did this without putting in drainage.

Last summer we get notice they want to rip it up and do it again. Only they’re going to charge the homeowners an extra tax to pay for it.

We lobbied against it and defeated it.

I mean, is it too much to ask elected officials to make sure things are done right the first time? And maybe if they screw up they have to pay for it?

Do I see a potential problem with drive-thrus contributing to damage to the environment. Sure. But certainly no more than I see the potential problem from cigarettes, or from traffic congestion on the roads.

It’s just that drive-thrus are an easy target. It doesn’t cost much money and it looks productive. Fixing the roads would actually involve admitting mistakes have been made, and spending money. I mean, if you want a real solution, pedestrian overpasses. Stop having people walk across major roads, particularly four-lane roads. It’s not just to help keep traffic flowing, but to save lives. How much time does an emergency vehicle spend idling if they have to deal with a pedestrian being struck by a car? And this goes over to the idiocy of moving a sidewalk right beside a road – it isn’t such a big deal here, as we don’t have much traffic, but that’s how 16th Ave is (or was, as construction’s been going on there for about two years now, I think) and there was an incident when a man slipped on ice and fell in front of a vehicle and was killed. Then add in those bicyclists who think one minute they’re a pedestrian and the next they’re a car…

In other words, it’s a typical half-assed solution, the kind I’ve come to expect, and anyone who thinks they’ve come up with a novel plan to help save the world here is, bluntly, a moron.

And for the record, I really, really, really want moms with kids to use the drive-thru. One parent told me their coping strategy: get the food through drive-thru, then take the kids and food inside and eat. Genius. Anyone who’s been in line behind a mom with a couple of kids knows what a nightmare it is trying to keep a handle on them while you get food.

But selling this idea behind the idea drivers are able-bodied and should get the exercise opens a floodgate of points to consider. Smokers don’t need cigarettes. Hell, do any of us need fast food at all?

And for the record, ever driven by a school at lunchtime? Parents trying to avoid lunchroom charges and bussing fees picking kids up and dropping them off. If every child had paid-for bussing how much would that save in terms of traffic congestion and idling time in front of schools four times a day? (Drop off, pick up for lunch, return from lunch, pick up after school.) As someone who has worked in education, I’ve seen it on a daily basis. All because school boards and governments are too cheap.

Hell, this is the richest province in Canada and we can’t afford to do things right? Sure, sure, now let’s go pick on the people in the Maritimes and point fingers at them.

I think what we all want – and maybe, yes, need – is to feel we have time in our lives for ourselves. Drive-thrus are a convenience born of necessity. As people spend more and more time commuting, shuffling the kids from one thing to another they’re struggling to do the best they can. Has anyone ever noticed how many of these environmental issues rely on the individual changing their lives, while industries go on spewing toxins?

It gets a little wearying, being expected to bear the brunt of it all to save the world. And for parents juggling jobs and 2.4 kids and everything that comes with raising a family, I can imagine it’s both frustrating and overwhelming.

Rezone for those drive-thrus, make them safe. But if some politician comes up and tells me I shouldn’t use them because my vehicle will be idling, I’m going to point at all the intersections I just had to stop at and ask them what they’re doing about that.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Tra La La De Da

'Tis the season, and everyone's posting about their Christmas memories, their bests of the year and all that jazz. I can't think of a better time for me to cut back on blogging a bit, to focus on the current manuscript. I'll be pretty hit and miss for a while. It really is force of necessity. Last week I went into Wal-Mart and started scripting one of my most violence short stories because I absolutely hate the idiocy of shoppers this time of year. Of course the center of the aisle is where to stand when you're checking your list, staring off into space or need to scratch your ass. And the one nice thing about not having kids is not having to hear them whine about the toys they want, so no, I don't enjoy listening to that either.

But because I don't begrudge those who are excited about the holiday season (after all, Christmas is typically my favourite holiday of the year) I leave you with a little light holiday fun...

And the reminder that there are only 19 shopping days left.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Value of The Critical Commentary

It has been five days since I announced the nominees for the Spinetingler Awards and already 100 email votes have been received, their selections recorded in all the categories they selected, and we’re well on our way to exceeding the 200+ received in the first round of the recommending process. In fact, with 27 days left to cast votes, I expect hundreds more emails to come.

And it’s been interesting, in the same way the first round was interesting.

Since some people vote in only one category, some vote in four or five, and some vote in all, it’s easy to lose count of the literal number of votes. However, in the first round, I did start keeping track of one statistic because I knew this could come back to haunt me later: The gender factor.

47.7% of the emails received round one were clearly from women.
26% were clearly from men.
8% were either from a couple or from an unspecified gender. “Chris”, “Taylor”, “Mittens”. (I remember when I did conference registration, years ago, and people would send in a form with the name Chris and not check their gender. Bastards.)

Anyway, what’s the point of the above? 86.8% of the votes cast in the novel categories were for men. The majority of voters were women…and the majority of votes were for works written by men.

My conclusions?

The information is too limited to have a clue what it means. It could just be as simple as the fact that the books that left the biggest impact were written by men, end of story.

It could also be that the readers online prefer a certain style of book. I certainly don’t see a lot of cozy nominations, while several of the titles fall under the noir/hardboiled classification. Even most of the editors nominated – Dave, Charles, Stacia, Alison – primarily focus on darker works.

I knew that the first time around, we’d have some kinks to work through, and the reason that the gender stat became the one I tracked was because I saw it as the one with the most serious potential backlash.

In the wake of all the criticisms about the Edgar Awards I really didn’t want to get bogged down in controversy. The truth is, I can be as critical and judgmental as the next person. However, there reaches a point where criticism isn’t helpful. If it doesn’t prompt action, it’s limited in its usefulness. And at some point, any collective starts to look ridiculous if it’s continuously pointing fingers at itself.

For example, some of the emails have come with votes and commentary, which ranges from amusing to awww-inspiring to laughable. Someone didn’t like the selections in the Best Cover category. Well, this was done primarily off popular vote. What’s the point in saying that, that all the voters were idiots? It means little to me, as I went with popular vote and used editorial input to break ties. In the end, I couldn’t settle the tie for the short story category, so it got 8 nominees.

Is any award process flawless? No. Don’t kid yourself. There is always room for improvement. I’ve judged public speaking competitions, I’ve judged educational contests, I’ve judged performances (music and dance) and I’ve judged writing. I haven’t seen one example of a process that, under scrutiny, couldn’t be improved. (Let's not even talk figure skating...)

That said, some commentary is dismissible. When decisions are primarily made by popular vote, if you have strong feelings, vote. Ask your friends to vote. Threaten your family until they vote. And then let the chips fall where they may. There are books nominated I haven’t even read myself (honestly, being such a slow reader, it’s a good year for me if I’ve read 40+ books) and I’ve since ordered them on Amazon because I now need to read them. Fortunately, I knew ten days before I announced the shortlist who would be nominated in those categories. The next two months have a lot of reading for me. Fortunately, the other judge reads much faster than I do…

But there does come a point where we risk tearing ourselves apart over constant nitpicking. Face it: there is no central registry where all publishers around the world log in what stock photos they’ve used for a cover and when and with what distribution, so there’s no way for people to know if they’re duplicating sometimes. Okay, when a publisher duplicates themselves there’s real commentary to be made, but outside of that, it’s going to happen. Sometimes, editors need ammunition to fight for the investment of special cover art, or for certain authors whose sales might be borderline, etc. The reason for doing this was to hold up the people who are getting our attention because they’re doing a damn good job, and to hope that it motivates others to ask what they’re doing right, and why it’s having an impact.

If we want to maintain a strong genre, producing the best books across the board year to year, sometimes we have to let people have their say about what’s working. There’s a time for saying what isn’t working too, but if the criticism of the industry is incessant, it loses it’s impact, becomes white noise people just tune out... like bsp.

You don’t like some of our nominees? Cool, fair enough. I’m considering everything said to me in terms of process and what it will mean for next year. I am keeping an open mind.

But personally, I think those covers rock… And although I’ve only met one of the editors nominated, I have nothing but respect for all of them, well-established in our genre and people who’ve made significant contributions to producing the best crime fiction out there.

All in all, there isn’t a single nominee I’m not proud to have held up as someone deserving of recognition. All I can say is, it isn't easy, as the short story nominating process taught me already.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

If You Like Your Roses Wilted...

There is one person who completely understands how to satisfy me, and at my lowest moments always manages to make me smile.

And today, they've done it again. Finally, unlike breast enlargements, a gift that really does keep on giving.

Buy it now on amazon.

Not sure of how you could use this wondrous product? It really is multi-purpose, something for everyone! Let me share just a few of the remarkable reviews with you:

An adequate solution...., November 30, 2007
By Chris Gladis "Chris"
I have to admit, I've tried many different power sources for my orbiting satellite death beam, and nothing does it like good old U-238. If you've never held an entire nation hostage for your maniacal whims (I always ask for my ransom in kittens), then you haven't lived yet. And this can make it happen!

It's also a wonderful dessert topping. A little of this on your ice cream and the kids will just scream and scream and scream....

It's been rated better than ovaltine:

November 30, 2007By J. Stanfield (Austin, TX United States)

When mixed with Tuscan whole milk I gained the power to control deceased woodland creatures. I am now in the process of raising an army of undead wombats to overthrow the government from deep within my volcanic lair. Soon you all will bow down before the wombat king!

Still not convinced? Read on!

For the man who has everything, December 1, 2007
By T. Koboldt "MUM1" (Columbia, MO) - See all my reviews

With the holiday season coming up, many of us are wondering what to get the special people in our lives.
For the man who has everything...why not try cancer?
One slather of this (hypo-allergenic) body cream will not only give him something he never expected to get, but he'll also learn his lesson for being so uppity and having everything in the first place.

Radio-licious!, December 1, 2007
By Shannon M. Kinsella "shannon" (Columbus, OH United States) - See all my reviews

Thank god, finally a product that is both fun for work and home! It's something you can play with together as a family... heck invite your grandparents! Amaze you bosses to be the first one to bring this to the corporate cookout, watch everyone be stunned with ooh's and ahh's.

I cannot recommend this enough. But it NOW!!!

Miracle Product!, December 1, 2007
By D. Welker (Alabama)

I purchased this item and mixed it with my wife's lotion, hoping to collect on her life insurance policy. We hadn't been getting along, to say the least. Next think you know, she's growing another set of breasts! I've never been happier.

This product saved my marriage!

I wonder if Chris Gladis is a pseudonym for John Rickards?

I'm telling you, some Uranium Ore and this book in my stocking and I could deal with the door to door salespeople once and for all...

All I Want For Christmas

For just $16.29 EXECUTION: The Guillotine, the Pendulum, the Thousand Cuts, the Spanish Donkey, and 66 Other Ways of Putting Someone to Death* by Geoffrey Abbott. Of course, I can buy a copy anyway and deduct is as a legitimate research expense – I swear, it’s for the writing, not the divorce.

Of course, having people go pre-order my book is also acceptable, in case you want to save on the shopping headaches.

I mean, are you done your shopping yet? Ponder all of this, and then tell me that a genuine gift certificate promising a book to be delivered to their door in May is such a bad idea.

So if you'd like to avoid
a) crowds
b) donations
c) wrapping paper
d) being threatened by me
e) whiny kids
f) being squished like a sardine at the mall

Just take advantage of this.

And don't worry - since book 2 is scheduled for release in November I can look after your holiday shopping once again next year. Although you might want to give book 2 with either antidepressants or top-shelf Scotch.

AND, for those of you who've waited until the holidays to dump that unwanted spouse, something more immediate, something to suitably scare the crap out of them (now on YouTube)


How strong is your love
Make your choice - are you a traitor or a victim
your judge: a daemonic serial killer
What can stop him
love can’t
Stay alert
because nothing is as it seems

Okay, okay, I'll stop about the book now. But I have updated my website, and even put up a (shudder) photo of myself that isn't 30 years old with my bio. And for those that would like some instant reading, there's the annual round-up of Bad Sex nominees in case you haven't already read it, and a rather festive intro to the new THUGLIT issue, from Big Daddy Thug.

* Thanks Norby for recommending it to me.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What Do You Mean You Haven’t Bought My Book Yet?

Today is one of those days that’s been very cool on a personal level. First of all, WHAT BURNS WITHIN is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Just in time for you to give your loved ones certificates confirming that the book will be shipped to them, hot off the press, in May.

Come on. Why should every Christmas present be opened in December? It’s the gift that has the greatest impact, because your loved ones will get to look forward to it for about five months.

Okay, so I’m not entirely serious. But I am thrilled the book is there. Somehow, that moment when you’re on Amazon makes it all so real.

As though that isn’t enough good news for one day, I’ve updated my Publishers Marketplace page with the information about the German agency representing WBW, and I see from their sales records I’m in impressive company.

But wait - more good news. Next time you're in London, you'll only need a phone to find a toilet. SatLav. Pure genius.

So it seems appropriate to put this one here for today:

(Courtesy of Angie)

Moving Beyong Ezines (Or moving beyond, if I could spell today...)

Ever since the discussion about whether or not the genre has stagnated people have floated suggestions for how to breathe fresh life into crime fiction, and at least one new site has been initiated as a result.

It’s something that I’ve considered extensively, and one of the comments Stephen Blackmoore made is the one that still rings out days later. But there is a lot of room for doing something different. Not only in story, but in format.
All of the things you say are not only doable, but I think in some areas are already happening. Web magazines have been around forever. I ran one over ten years ago (abysmal failure, no focus, badly formatted - don’t ask).
But no one has really tapped the web for everything it’s got. Not even close. People are still thinking in hyperlinks, Static images from Flickr and LOLCATS. Mashups are coming close, but they’re not there much beyond mapping data, yet. The web (as are comics and video games) is a medium in its own right. It’s opened up more possibilities for story telling than I think most people realize, and no one is really taking advantage of.
Cheap Truth was interesting because it played with convention and used what was available at the time for effect. It’s all one big text file, which, at the time was perfect for email distribution or hosting online. It worked for what it is, something that took advantage of the medium in which it was written.
The current spate of ezines are doing the same, but I think they’re still behind the curve. We’re using Wordpress, Blogger and hand coded HTML because those are the tools that are out there. Dreamweaver is expensive and really doesn’t give people the simple tools they need to do more than tables and badly formatted CSS. By and large, writers are interested in writing, not thinking in pixels or font sizes. And, sadly, a lot of peopel aren’t designers (really are salmon, fuchsia and a dancing monkey the best way to go here?)
Also, there’s the cost and time in production. To tap the web for all its worth takes a lot of money. Not for hosting or bandwidth, that’s cheap, but for production. It doesn’t have to be all text. Video, audio, interactivity. Something that lets the story play out on multiple levels.
I’d say the only things that are really taking advantage of what digital story telling can be are viral marketing campaigns ( for the next Batman movie and for Halo 2) and video games like Half-Life 2 and its subsequent episodes, including the game Portal (the cake is a lie the cake is a lie the cake is a lie).
And for the record, I’m not talking about something to replace books. That’s not going to happen and shouldn’t happen. I’m talking about the difference between paint and television. As media, they’re not comparable, even though they share qualities (both have visual elements, both can be used to create art, etc.).
So unless there’s money behind it and money to be made (either on the production side or the tool generating side), I don’t think we’re going to see anything much new in terms of types of format.

(As an aside, I have Dreamweaver, and am slowly learning how to use it…)

Stephen is absolutely correct in his assessment of the fact that the potential for the internet as a medium has not been tapped. In truth, he’s steering this towards pet territory of mine: communication theory. This is one of the reasons I believe the Amazon Kindle will fade quickly and be replaced by something else – as with internet ezines, all Kindle is really doing is taking the printed page and putting it on a screen. As with computers there’s the ability to store data and enlarge the text, but it really only transfers written data to an electronic device. What I believe we’ll see happen down the road is interactive audio options, with possible music the same way that TV shows have music, and possibly even action options. In the same way that children’s books have added electronic elements related to pressing buttons and performing various actions, the ebook by its nature demands to see the format of storytelling evolve, not merely be replicated. And as an environmental option, paper is recyclable, and books can be passed on: we must remember the piles of TVs, computer screens and other electronic devices that contribute different issues to landfill sites. Other electronic devices decrease in price over time because development costs are front-loaded to the first tier of consumers, and what typically happens is that the device (and the clones that spring up) become so cheap they’re easily disposable. I have typically found that when going to the store to buy printer ink cartridges (before I got a laser printer) it was often cheaper to buy a brand new printer that included the ink than just to replace the cartridges, and as a result there are at least half a dozen printers in this house – more unused ones in the shed.

In the wake of the transitions with Spinetingler I have considered various options for structuring the site, and one consideration was using Ning. At this time I decided not to, for a variety of reasons:

1. I don’t know the Ning system well enough, and right now don’t have time to learn it.
2. I had concerns about whether or not to ‘let people join’ – as Ning is supposed to be a platform for social networking sites – and the repercussions of uncontrolled content. Bluntly, I worried about what happened in the early days of Crimespace, with piles of bsp-crazy authors jumping on to upload their book covers, book trailers, blurbs and whatever else. While advertising revenue may be a necessary evil in order to allow ezines to evolve to the next level, it still needs to be controlled and I am convinced that excessive volume of self promotion becomes one of two things: a major irritation or a source of white noise that renders all promotion less effective.
3. There are still a number of people online that don’t have computers capable of handling all the graphics and video, and because I was aware some had difficulty getting Ning to load initially, I decided to hold off, for now at least.

While I am certainly not upset that anyone is starting a new fiction site, or even criticizing that (it's another publication venue!), I do think Stephen is right. The time has come for the next evolution of content delivery. What that will look like remains to be seen (but I can imagine crossword mysteries that have interactive games and give the reader the chance to figure them out, for example). While I have some ideas that I don’t want to delve into just yet, I have been perusing the web and looking at other sites for insight and inspiration.

The growth of book trailers demonstrates there is a belief that visual mediums can connect to a wider audience. In only a few days John McFetridge’s trailer has received 93 views. Considering his first book isn’t in wide release yet, until it’s July release from Harcourt (presently available in hardcover from a Canadian publisher) I think that shows the potential that can be tapped by utilizing YouTube.

In Steve Mosby’s case, his German publishing deal has obviously been taken pretty seriously, as someone professionally designed this. I predict we’ll see more of this for the most established, money-making authors in the future.

What we really need is to utilize the interactive capabilities of the internet, to use sound and visual media in order to broaden the reach of the work, and yet to maintain a professional standard with the content.

Sites such as FantasyBookSpot have expanded to encompass mystery, horror and romance, have extremely active forums with dedicated members, and run the Heliotrope cross-genre ezine. They post extensive reviews, interviews and regular news bulletins. It is comparable to Crimespace, although Crimespace does not have its own publication and FantasyBookSpot has a more controlled home page, where it’s not possible for members to affect the content. This ensures it doesn’t become a dumping site for personal promotion.

One of the other sites that seems to be headed in the right direction is one from my own back yard. Eleventh Transmission is pegged as Calgary’s arts, culture, media and activism site. It integrates bulletins on upcoming events, video feeds via YouTube, fiction publications, contests, articles and podcasts to optimize its reach. While some of the YouTube video displayed needs sound work, this is a step in the right direction, and more along the lines of what I believe Stephen was getting at, although I think it still falls short of his full vision.

However, I have yet to see any crime fiction ezine do anything on this level.

Food for thought? Perhaps. I do believe the best outcome for Spinetingler would be if I could integrate other forms of storytelling and interaction in order to utilize the web to its fullest. However, in order to do that, I’d need others with skills on board or the resources to put things together.

In other words, if someone with the financial resources sponsored a site development and maintenance, the potential is there to tap into a wider market. Unfortunately, it would take long-term vision, which is not something the publishing industry seems willing to indulge if it involves financial resources, and so we are, as Stephen says, behind the curve.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Winners, Losers, Spinetingler Awards

By now, the world knows that Norman Mailer has posthumously won the bad sex award, which is not an award title I’d think a person would want to mention casually, or even at all.

But we hope there’s no such shame with the first Spinetingler Award nominees. I must say that in the double-checking to make sure I hadn’t misspelled names and such it was a good thing I didn’t go public with the title ‘Spinetingler Awards Shitlist.’ I swear, it’s the keyboard (I’ve just changed to a smaller one) and the fact that someone conspired by putting ‘o’ and ‘I’ next to each other.

And now, the nominees…

Best Novel – Legend

Ken Bruen, Cross
Ken Bruen, Priest
James Lee Burke, Tin Roof Blowdown
Laura Lippman, What The Dead Know
Ian Rankin, The Naming of the Dead
James Reasoner, Dust Devils

Best Novel – Rising Star

Sean Doolittle, The Cleanup
Charlie Huston, The Shotgun Rule
Larry Karp, The Ragtime Kid
Rick Mofina, A Perfect Grave
PJ Parrish, A Thousand Bones
Steven Torres, Concrete Maze

Best Novel – New Voice

Megan Abbott, Queenpin
Declan Burke, The Big O
Allan Guthrie, Hard Man
Steve Mosby, The 50/50 Killer
JD Rhoades, Safe and Sound
Duane Swierczynski, The Blonde

Best Publisher

Bitter Lemon Press
Europa Editions
Hard Case Crime
Poisoned Pen Press
Text Publishing

Best Cover

Robert Terrall - Kill Now, Pay Later

Gil Brewer - The Vengeful Virgin

George Axelrod - Blackmailer

Allan Guthrie - Hard Man

Nick Stone - Mr. Clarinet

Best Editor

Charles Ardai, Hard Case Crime
Stacia Decker, Harcourt
Alison Janssen, Bleak House
Barbara Peters, Poisoned Pen Press
Dave Thompson, Busted Flush

Special Services to the Industry

Daniel Hatadi - Crimespace
Ali Karim – Shots, The Rap Sheet
Graham Powell - Crimespot
J. Kingston Pierce – The Rap Sheet
Maddy Van Hertburger – 4MA
Sarah Weinman – Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind

Best Short Story On The Web

The Leap by Charles Ardai - Hardluck Stories
Breaking in the New Guy by Stephen Blackmoore - Demolition
Amphetamine Logic by Nathan Cain - Thugit
The Switch by Lyman Feero -Thuglit
Seven Days of Rain by Chris F. Holm - Demolition
Shared Losses by Gerri Leen - Shred of Evidence
The Living Dead by Amra Pajalic - Spinetingler
Convivum by Kelli Stanley - Hardluck Stories

Just click on the link for details about how to vote in this round.

I have already made some new discoveries as a result of the nomination process. The short story category was exceptionally tough, and there were a lot of good stories up for consideration. And perhaps for reasons of a personal nature, I got special enjoyment from Gerri Leen’s Shared Losses. Truly, that category proves there are exceptional stories being published online.

Some friends came close in the special services category – and certainly the Jordans and Russel McLean are deserving as well – but I went with the math as much as possible.

So, for me, there is a bittersweet moment in finalizing the list, because other worthy contenders came close, but not everyone is going to make the shortlist… that’s just the reality.

And if you’d like further food for thought about award nominations and the process and fairness and all that jazz, check out Sarah Weinman’s post about the MWA and the Edgars.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Business Side of Art

The obsessive hunt for sure-fire mass market bestsellers is "tainting" the UK publishing industry, according to Clare Alexander, president of the Association of Authors' Agents….

"We have the stupidest bestseller list in the world at the moment." Publishers are not trying hard enough to creatively market less well-known authors, instead relying on 'Richard & Judy' or literary prizes, she said.

Although this article centers on the UK publishing industry, it isn’t so far removed from North America, where getting on Oprah generates hundreds of thousands of sales. In recent months there have been criticisms for picking well established, successful authors who don’t need the publicity, although in light of the incident with James Frey one can appreciate why she might be cautious.

The first thing about the Bookseller article I’m quoting from that I think is important to note is the reality of the statements being made, and what this means for both authors and readers in the future. Putting extreme emphasis on bestsellers without growing authors means that we’ll see more one-hit wonders in the book business, from people who get one clever idea and can’t match it afterwards (especially if they only get a one-book deal, which is quite common right now) and more formulaic books. It is why a book like DaVinci Code gives birth to dozens and dozens of clones, and it’s why fantasy books are so popular with children’s book publishers in the wake of Harry Potter. Something succeeds and everyone wants to cash in.

Publishing has become a trend follower.

For those – like myself – who find formula gets old fast, who relish in the original works that bring something fresh to the genre, these trends should be of some concern. We may eventually reach the point where fewer and fewer authors are published in more narrowly defined subgenres that are proven sellers.

Those who’ve already read and found much food for thought in John Rickards’ post “The Genre Has No Clothes” will appreciate Clare Alexander’s point: Specifically, the genre cannot expand and grow if publishers are obsessed with only the next bestseller. More and more authors will fall through the cracks, despite their skill.

There needs to be a long-term view in place, instead of solely focusing on the short-term gain. Authors do need to be grown through their backlists, and innovative works need to be supported. The reason is that a high number of readers will abandon the genre or the very form of storytelling through books if every new book feels like a repeat or variation on something else. Many readers will get bored, and in the wake of complaints about the costs of books who wants to spend more and more money on books that are copycats of something they’ve already read?

Following this trend to the exclusion of all else will ultimately result in a more serious state for the publishing industry than it’s ever experienced, and it may well mark the death of fiction publishing.

Ah, but publishing is a business, you say. Publishers should be allowed to focus on what sells.

This is where the publishing industry relies on a double standard.

There was agreement among the panel that word-of-mouth is still the most powerful force. Marketing and publisher's hype can push a book so far, but only personal recom­mendation can generate major successes.

The problem with this conclusion is not that it’s wrong, but it’s what some publishers have determined as a result. In order to generate word of mouth people actually need to have read the book, but distribution issues are also hampering book success.

My own experience reviewing confirms to me that more than 50% of the time I receive books from the authors, and that a startlingly high percentage of the time when an author tries to get their publisher to send a review copy I don’t ever receive it, probably around 40% of the time. I’ve stopped concerning myself with taking on reviewers as a result. I’d love to have more, but I’m not willing to work review copy offers the way I used to (I used to e-mail all listed potential reviewers to see who was interested). Now, I take books very hit and miss, and from the ones I accept at least a quarter of them are never sent.

As authors hear things like that, they feel more pressure to produce review copies and distribute themselves. More and more authors are spending their entire advance, and sometimes more, promoting their books, but there are other issues authors can’t solve themselves. At no point should authors who have major publishers have to make blog posts in order to tell people where to find their latest work because would-be readers can’t find it stocked in stores.

This is why I’m concerned about the focus of author groups on drafting strict rules for legitimate publishers that sometimes exclude valid publishers from their list in their attempts to separate the wheat from the chaff. As more and more big publishers develop a more conservative fiction list (by conservative I mean perceived bestsellers and formula books) it would be nice to believe that the smaller presses will sprout up, the ones who will publish the experimental, the completely original. I want to see books like Mabanckou’s African Psycho in print. Thank goodness we have Creeping Hemlock to bring us new Tom Piccirilli but the result of narrowly construed acceptability lists means that it will be the formulaic, the “bestseller potential” books that get the additional publicity of awards. Many readers don’t understand the eligibility rules, and I certainly don’t blame them for not being interested in the politics, but it gives artificial importance to some books that are nominated against others that don’t make the list that are every bit as good, if not better, but simply have a publisher who pays advances of $900 instead of $1000 or who hasn’t been in business for two years.

Just yesterday Sarah Weinman posted something that speaks to that indirectly. She refers to a review by Janet Maslin in the NY Times, in which Maslin states: Only the toughest and smartest cops could police a city like Los Angeles, with its giant size, ethnic complexity, large amount of crime and chronic shortage of police manpower,” Mr. Leake continues robotically. (Michael Connelly, the Los Angeles police-work aficionado, writes admiring blurbs for many crime stories. “Entering Hades” is not one of them.)

The very act of including in a review a comment on who did not blurb a book should raise concerns within the industry, as well as eyebrows. Such a statement presumes that authors receive copies of all books each year and then actually read all of them and choose to only blurb the most worthy. They do not. In the same way that not all books published are eligible for the Edgar Award or the Dagger, not all books can be blurbed because many are never sent to established authors. To assume the lack of a blurb can be interpreted as a statement against a book shows a lack of understanding of the process at the least. Sarah already said it best: (Maslin’s comment about Connelly) tells us what, exactly? That he should have? That by not doing so he's passing silent judgment? That by mentioning the lack of blurb, Maslin's passing not-so-silent judgment? (Guess what door I'm picking.) I can think of any number of reasons for this so-called blurblessness, from not being approached to this being just another manuscript Connelly turned down on principle now that he's not giving nearly as many "admiring blurbs" as he once did. Editorializing on the book is fine; editorializing about the intentions of a writer unrelated to the book is not.

While I do not think the publishing industry is about to fall apart in the next few months, I do think that ensuring our long-term success and growth as an industry requires assessment and consideration of the trends in publishing. There is already too much of this. I see comments on reader discussion lists about growing disbelief in blurbs, and it’s a cynicism I can appreciate when some authors openly admit they’ll blurb anyone who asks, even if they haven’t read the book, or that they’ll only blurb their friends. Any endorsement that isn’t on merit falls flat on the face of it.

As a result of such misguided philosophies employed by some authors the entire process of author referrals has been tainted. It may not be completely destroyed at this point, but the credibility of that referral has been undermined. And distributing advanced copies to authors in attempts to get them talking about new books to look for has been standard practice amongst the biggest publishers. This is how the cycle feeds.

If publishers want to reach the point where word of mouth can catch on to the point it generates sales they need to make sure that the word of mouth referrals can remain credible, and that people actually get their hands on the books. The focus needs to be on ensuring review copies actually get sent out by publishers, that we preserve review space or find new venues for reviews that are effective, and that books are getting distributed to stores.

For I know one way to almost certainly ensure the failure of a book, and that is to do nothing so that it gets no reviews, nobody can accidentally find it in a store or know it exists.

And from the department of major congratulations, Amra Pajalic is the latest author to be picked up by Australia’s sensational Text Publishing! Breaking open the virtual champagne, three cheers for Amra – another writer we’ve had the privilege of publishing in Spinetingler btw.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Men In Trees High On The Sap Factor

A friend of mine encouraged me to check out the TV show Men In Trees. She thought I’d like it, because the main character is an author (as well as a radio show host) and because I liked Northern Exposure. Plus, MIT is filmed in Squamish, which would be known to most of the international readers here as the location of the mines where all the files are stored in X-Files.

So, I decided to watch it the other night, and it turned out to be a mix of baffling and depressing. Baffling because you’re always trying to orient yourself when you watch a show that’s new to you.

Depressing because of some of the subject matter. Turns out Patrick and Annie were going to get married when Patrick was struck by lightning and now he doesn’t remember anyone, including her – even after sex.

In doing a comparison to Northern Exposure, I’d say the one variable my friend overlooked was the gender factor. NE was a fairly male-dominated show. MIT is pretty female-dominated, and it was probably a bad episode to start with from the perspective of the giddy girl factor.

And at the end, these words from our radio talk show host as they do the montage: Annie packing to move out, Jack’s ship is in trouble off the coast of Alaska (Jack’s the love interest of the radio show host, who spent much of the episode agonizing over the discovery of another woman in his life, who turned out to be his mother), the couple that decided not to have sex but write letters…

“Life would be so good if we could just freeze moments in time.

The time when we were happy, when we knew we were loved.

But we can’t and so instead we find ourselves retracing footsteps that may have washed away.

We fight to remember our connections even as time wipes our slate clean

and we strive to make new connections that we hope time will indulge.

When communication fails words remain behind.

Proof that we were here, that we mattered, that someone cared.

In the end the past may be all we have.”

Kind of show Kleenex should advertise during.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Putting A Different Spin on Auto Erotic

After publicly pleasuring himself on a BMW on display at the Home and Garden Show, an Edmonton man has been sentenced to 90 days in jail and two years on probation.

Court heard Wong was observed checking out three BMW vehicles on display at the Home and Garden Show on March 22. Then, he was seen sitting on the roof of a 2007 BMW 328i sedan, valued at $50,000. Shortly after that, Wong had dropped his sweatpants to his ankles and was spotted masturbating while sitting with his legs dangling over the driver's door window.
Security eventually detained Wong until police showed up and a cleanup crew had to wash down the BMW.

According to psychiatrist Dr. Curtis Woods, Wong says he is "sexually attracted" to the BMW's rooftop because "it's curved like a woman's body, the sex appeal, it felt good."

Woods said Wong reported he also gets aroused by other cars, including a 1967 Camaro and a 1955 Chevy Bel Air, and blames the owners for buying the cars because it tempts him to "pleasure" himself.

You know, for all our jokes the other day about whether the guy who likes to ride bikes should be on the sex offenders registry, I think Mr Auto Erotica should be. Truly, if he blames the car owners for buying these vehicles then it’s a sign he takes no responsibility for controlling his urges, and I really do think that he should be banned from car dealerships, auto shows and parking lots.

Maybe someone should get him a car bed.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ah, I love the smell of righteousness first thing in the morning.*

It is, undoubtedly, one of the best ways to get free publicity for your books: get banned.

Yes, the very top story from The Toronto Star headlines e-mailed to me this morning is the shocking revelation that ”School Board Pulls Anti-God Book: Halton's Catholic trustees and staff to review fantasy that is `apparently written by an atheist'

Yes, Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass has been pulled from display in the library, and December scholastic flyers won’t be distributed because the book is available for sale.

Pullman’s work joins a reputed list of other works, most of which were only banned temporarily, including JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series (because of witchcraft) and Timothy Findlay’s The Wars because of the rape of a Canadian soldier by other soldiers. In both of those cases, decisions were later rescinded.

I now feel fairly confident that if I could write an anti-Catholic book with witchcraft and a rape, I’d be a guaranteed bestseller. Okay, I’m not entirely serious about that, but this speaks to the issues so many people have with religion, the idea that the only way to stay strong in your beliefs is to plug your ears and close your eyes and avoid any influences that don’t support your belief system. If your faith is so fragile that reading one work of fiction can make it come tumbling down or make you start to question what you believe, you’ve got more serious problems.

Now, I don’t really want to make this a ‘pick on Catholics’ post, but there’s a part of me that isn’t surprised at the long-standing sexual abuses and other problems the church has faced when the attitude is still to shun what we don’t agree with, instead of discussing it. So this book is written by an atheist. So what? A lot of books on school shelves are. A lot of textbooks are written by atheists. And actually, so are a lot of religious texts. There are many people who pursue religious studies who support no particular religion.

But this kind of narrow-minded thinking goes to the heart of the problems that we live with on a day to day basis. Support ignorance instead of understanding. Support righteousness instead of acceptance.

If books like this were read and discussed it could actually expand a person’s understanding, both of their own faith and of the views others have. Instead of arming kids with reasoning that helps them have confidence in their beliefs the door is shut and now it’s taboo. Verboten. Hell, for kids in grades 5 and 6? You may as well slap a picture of a naked woman on the front with the headline “BOYS DON’T LOOK”. Kids will be sneaking the book home, passing it amongst friends, talking about it… and all without the benefit of adult input or discussion because for many, if they were discovered reading it, they’d get in trouble.

Which just contributes to the rift between child and parent. A secret that becomes part of a lie that drives a wedge between family members, that becomes the pebble in the shoe, the one you wear to Mass, that makes you just a bit uncomfortable every time you go there because you did something naughty.

If we ever want kids to grow into reasonable, mature adults we have to limit our knee-jerk reactions. Particularly when kids are entering the teen years. When you show your child you don’t trust them or accept their choices – before they even make them – you make them less likely to discuss their feelings or thoughts with you for fear of judgment or rejection.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have rules. You should. But this book has been out since 1995 and it’s being banned now. Perhaps the best question of all is why the school board doesn’t review all books before putting them in the library if they’re so concerned with censorship. Instead, they’ve given the book a front-page headline and made it a tempting source of rebellion for young people, whether they go to these schools or not.

One thing any person of faith should know is that the God of the Bible, who parted the waters for Moses, who made it rain for forty days and forty nights, who rose from the dead, can’t be killed by one little ol’ atheist with a pen. The very act of pulling the book suggests a faith so fragile people feel they have to protect God in order to keep Him alive.

Which doesn’t suggest any kind of God worth worshipping to me.

*I realize I’m posting in the afternoon, but I did see this in the morning, so I’m not taking liberties.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Artificial Motivation

I have a secret. NaNoWritMo, the Three-Day Novel Contests? I don’t like them.

Now, I’ve never admitted to it publicly, and anyone who enters has my support and encouragement behind them, so before you get your knickers in a twist let me explain.

What I don’t like about them is the artificial motivation factor. Well, that’s not all, but I’ll start there.

The reality is, from the time we go to school we’re conditioned to operate on deadlines and schedules. I agree with that, to a certain extent, because in the real world most jobs operate on schedules and deadlines. You at least are supposed to show up for work at a certain time, or punch a clock.

Now, a few years ago I completed a creative writing diploma, and I learned a number of things through the process, and not exactly what they intended to teach me. For one thing, I started writing SC as an assignment for that course… where they taught me to pre-plot. The very best thing that ever happened was that I moved and lost the outline and when I went back to those chapters just had to learn to move forward from there. But what I realized was that programs teach how to plot a book because they can’t teach you how to write organically, or be a pantser, or whatever you want to call the approach I use to writing.

And schools don’t teach you how to be self motivated because it’s not an easy thing to teach you.

I don’t really blame schools, because they’re overloaded with issues these days. It’s just an example of how, from youth, we’re programmed to operate a certain way.

The people who end up breaking out and being huge successes are people who are self motivated.

Now, before you really freak out and think I’m criticizing all writers who prefer deadlines or those who pre-plot, I’m not. As far as I’m concerned, there are a million things vying for a person’s attention and to get to the point where you finish a manuscript, polish it and actually sell it requires enormous self discipline.

But it’s easy to slip back into old habits and get used to relying on those deadlines.

Certainly if I had a number of deadlines competing for my time and attention I’d be more deadline-driven. But this comes down to why I’m not a big fan of things like NaNoWriMo and the Three-Day Novel Contest: They don’t focus on quality. What they focus on is creating an artificial motivator to get people to write. And there's a time and place for the focus just on completion... but the reality is, if you can’t learn to apply butt to chair and fingers to keyboards on your own, you’ll have a short career.

I thought I’d be more focused with a deadline looming over me for FRAILTY. Truth was, it completely undermined my self confidence and became an albatross. I realize that may be hard for some people to believe, but it’s the truth. I’d never had a problem being self motivated about my writing… until I had a deadline this year. I agonized over every word. But then, I was writing a book that was already sold and instead of writing for myself I had the nagging fear, What if my editor doesn’t like it? It sucked.

Now I’m deadline free, other than impending edits, and it rocks. My creative juices are flowing at an unbelievable rate, and the biggest problem is that it probably isn’t a good idea for me to work on eight novels at a time, because I have ideas for about that many. Instead, I’ll focus on two for now, and then move on.

I know that some of these contests work really well for some people… but I guess I’m more about the long-term, day to day, consistent writing than anything else. And I also think it sort of sucks that there’s all this encouragement for people who commit to writing a certain word count in a month when others are slaving away all year long.

But I also appreciate the fact that I’m weird and prefer the voices in my head to most real people, so writing is like having a social life.

My laugh of the day comes courtesy of Russel.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Someone Once Told Me The Reason People Like Sex In Books to confirm that they’re normal. It’s a chance to peek into a bedroom without breaking a law.

I guess my philosophy is, as long as it’s legal and consensual just close the fucking door and no, I don’t really want to hear about it later.

Unfortunately, closing your eyes to the world doesn’t mean you aren’t affected by it. One of the things I’ve started doing is packing things up. And that means sorting through my extensive collection of stuffed animals – mostly bears.

I actually have a fair number of second-hand bears, because they’re collector bears. And that’s what makes this story all the more disturbing.

There are just some things that… never occur to me, and having sex with a stuffed dog is one of them. As I’m trying to decide what to keep and what to give away or put in a yard sale, I’m suddenly having second thoughts about letting anyone get their mangy paws on my stuffed animals.

But at least I can actually figure out how the guy did it. I’m not sure I even want to try to wrap my brain around how someone has sex with a bicycle.*

I mean, how do you have sex with a bicycle? And how do you have sex with pavements? (Same article as the bike.)

Whatever happened to people having sex with other people? Did that go out of fashion, and I missed the memo?

None of you are ever going to look at a vase the same way again.

* Thanks to Al Guthrie for passing on the link.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ruttan Road A Potential Crime Scene

Bracebridge OPP and members of the Muskoka Crime Unit are continuing to investigate the recent discovery of human remains in a bush near Ruttan Road West in Gravenhurst, off Doe Lake Road. The remains, found by a hunter, are said to be significantly decayed and may have been in the bush for years.

Bracebridge OPP Const. Skeeter Kruger said police have brought in a forensic anthropologist to help determine the age and gender of the remains. (Skeeter Kruger would make a great name for a character, don’t you think?)

I’m sure it will come as no surprise that I’ll be keeping my eye on the Muskoka news to see what comes of this. Although the address is technically Gravenhurst, for those who haven’t been to Muskoka, this is actually pretty far out of town, in a rural area… Which should be obvious, considering the remains were found by a hunter.

The main thing that hits me about cases like this is that in all likelihood, this is someone who’s been missing for at least a year, possibly longer. I can only imagine that not knowing what’s happened to a child or loved one would tear a person apart, that it would be like dying a thousand deaths every day.

And with that, the reminder that Cédrika Provencher has been missing since July 31, from Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, reportedly taken by a man who asked her to help him find his dog. The reward has been raised to $100,000.