Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Cheat of Setting

Ah, New York City. Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, the smell of exhaust and incessant blare of horns honking, more taxis in a row than floors in the Empire State Building.

Can you see it? Does it bring any visual images to your mind?

How about this?

…the gleaming facades of new high rises and business developments gave way to older, established buildings that were gradually getting facelifts. The area was fondly called Old Town by the locals...

or this?

Hilly streets wove past buildings scattered along the roadside. This part of the city was old, the houses and shops plain. The real business of commerce was done in the area where Farraday worked, the other side of the city from this, the original town. This street had a Mom & Pop Convenience Store, a local grocer instead of large chain stores and a no-name hardware store in desperate need of a repairman’s attention. Somehow, this neighborhood had eluded the development overtaking other areas. Branches dangled over the sidewalks; already leaves were starting to collect on the pavement, the red, orange and yellow hues slowly claiming dominance. In the stretches between the buildings bushes pressed against the road. While other cities were defined by steel, cement and man-made structures, this area was distinctly green and ungoverned.

Lara liked driving along these roads. The lush foliage and quiet streets seemed more human than the concrete jungle expanding to the west.

One of the things I’ve looked at, long and hard, is the setting in books and I’ve come to a conclusion. A lot of books skim the setting.

The reason it concerns me is that I’ve started to realize that with a lot of books, whether or not the reader feels there’s a sense of place has more to do with what the reader brings to the table than what the author puts into the book. Face it. Anyone can mention New York, the Statue of Liberty and endless streams of vehicles honking and we start conjuring up mental pictures, gleaned from Law & Order and NYPD Blue repeats. The overwhelming majority of people know a fair bit about NYC and so it isn’t hard for a writer to insert a few token location names and the reader ends up with a strong visual image.

I think it’s when the author writes about a place that’s less known that they’re more likely to get criticized for not giving the book a sense of place.

I’ve been thinking about this for months. The more you write, the more you start reading differently. You analyze the books you read, even if only on a subconscious level, then you find yourself at your desk later, thinking about it.

I think that the authors who do setting exceptionally well are the ones who’ve taken a place they know and love and really made it a character in the books. The automatic one that jumps to mind? Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan books. Well, all of Laura Lippman’s books. I love Baltimore, and a big part of the reason I’ve developed such an interest in that city is because Laura’s love for the city translates through in her work. The city is more than the backdrop, more than a few choice locations and labels inserted to give the books a setting. It lives and breathes and has a life and character of its own.

The other person I consider to be a master of setting is Ian Rankin. (Yeah, yeah, just shush.) Scotland has always had an enormous appeal to me in general, and I fell in love with Edinburgh with the first book. I have never been to Baltimore, but I have been to Edinburgh twice now, and last summer I was freaking people out when I went. Normally I’m pretty obsessive compulsive, and I like to know my itinerary and have my route mapped out. Like I said to Kevin this morning, “I don’t like driving anywhere if I don’t know where I’m going.” (Makes it hard to go new places.) But I stepped off the train at Waverly, had the name of the hotel and knew I’d figure it out when I got there. By the time my travel companion met me at the hotel I had the bus system figured out for getting to and from downtown, with multiple options. I feel at ease in that city, and a big part of the reason is because of how much I’ve gleaned about it in the Rebus books. Kevin and I always say some day, when we can take a month, we’ll go just spend time in Edinburgh.

Sometimes, I wish authors would have the balls to forego the standard advice and instead set their books in lesser known places, but places they love. I just read Alain Mabanckou’s African Psycho, which has its own sense of place, with the story taking place primarily in He-Who-Drinks-Water-Is-An-Idiot. In a story that was dark and disturbing on so many levels the wondrous African town names cracked me up. I’ve always been a huge fan of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I just got Peter Temple’s The Distant Shore, and I’m looking forward to Toni McGee Causey’s Bobbie Faye’s Very (very very very) Bad Day, which is set in Louisiana. Why? Because it’s someplace different. I’m tired of the same-old, same-old. Tired of books and TV shows set in NYC and LA. I want to recapture that feeling I had, reading my first Rebus book, that I could close my eyes and see this place, that it felt so familiar to me just from reading the book that I knew it. I got that sense when I read Bill Cameron’s Lost Dog and when I read Anne Frasier’s Pale Immortal. It was so refreshing to read about new places.

The setting for Suspicious Circumstances was one thing I struggled with. I was unhappy about the pressure to move the book to a US setting. One thing I realized was that if I tried to represent an actual place I hadn’t been to I would definitely get it wrong, so I followed the Lake Wobegon approach, and fictionalized a town, referenced it off real places but tried to make it vague enough that nobody could put a finger on a map and say it was a substitute for any actual real place.

Despite my google searches, my attempts to get professional contacts in the area and input from a friend familiar with the area (the one who recommended the setting to me for that book) I made a technical mistake. I just heard about it Monday. I’m not surprised, but this strengthened an already strong resolve within me:

I want to set my work in a place that lives and breathes for me.

So… The current book I’ve been working on is titled What Burns Within. And it’s set in the Greater Vancouver Area (GVA), specifically the Tri-Cities: Port Moody, Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam. Anybody heard of Port Coquitlam? Maybe something about a pig farmer?

That isn’t why I picked that setting. I picked this setting because I used to live at, essentially, the crossroads, where New Westminster, Burnaby and Coquitlam intersect. From my balcony I could see the Fraser River and into Coquitlam. We spent the majority of our time in Coquitlam and Port Moody. Oh, how we loved to walk at Rocky Point, even at risk of encountering bears, cougars and coyotes. Coquitlam Centre was our favourite mall, hands down. They have a great sandwich shop in the food court. Although I’m not supposed to eat sandwiches I couldn’t resist the place.

(Sunset off our balcony when we lived in New Westminster - this is Twitch's place in Fucked Again. And yeah, it was suitably sleazy for him...)

(Above two photos both taken at Rocky Point park, in Port Moody. The park wraps around the Burrard Inlet.)

My close friends used to live in the same building as us, then moved to Port Moody. Now they’re in Port Coquitlam. This is 100% where I hang out when I visit the lower mainland, and if Kevin had a transfer back there… well, I love Alberta, but I love BC differently. I spent more than six years living in BC, both on Vancouver Island and in the GVA, and I love going back there. It’s a place that has it’s own pulse.

Plus, with my friend Steve being on the New Westminster Fire Department, I hear all kinds of stories. Steve’s wife, Alison, is a nurse, so between the two of them they can keep me suitably disgusted and put me off my dinner any night of the week, although since I started writing crime fiction I’ve been able to hold my own a bit better. When we’d hang out I always felt ganged up on, because Kevin was in the military, he’s a qualified social worker and worked at a mental hospital, and now with the fire department he’s seen his share of wild stuff.

But I digress. I just have so much passion for the GVA. The longer I live here, the more I miss BC.

Someone asked me recently if I would ever set a book here. Maybe. Probably not until I move away, though. I think the distance gives you perspective. In one respect, I’m just like Cornelia Read’s protagonist from her Edgar nominated debut: “There are people who can be happy anywhere. I am not one of them.”

But sometimes, for just a few hours I can be happy in a new place in a book.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Different View

What do you call it when you're driving a small car, hit a deer on the highway and survive?

A miracle.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Is It About Writing or Being Worshipped?

In my opinion, too many new authors seem to think it’s about a glamorous life and instant celebrity. I remember the good old high school days, the sports stars, the “rock” stars, the actors. The things that got people attention. You didn’t become Mr. Popular because you aced your English exams. You didn’t become the talk of the school for writing an award-winning story.

You were popular because you scored the winning touchdown, or because you knew how to play a guitar and sing.

And look how it translates over to society. Even the blogs are all over every aspect of Anna Nicole Smith’s death and the ongoing saga. Now it’s Britney, shaving her head, getting a tattoo, in and out of rehab.

I couldn’t have said it better than this, so I won’t even try.

Are our own lives so empty, that we'll fill the void by any means?

Answer: yup.

Michael Richards, aka the beloved, immortal Cosmo Kramer, pulls a similar total disregard for other people stunt, and it's all we can talk about at work for weeks. Oh, sure, he could be the grand marshall of the stupid parade, but at what point do we stop with the "what will they do next" train of thought? Probably never.

Take the story of a young lady known as Britney Spears. She started out with a certain Christina Aguilera in the Mickey Mouse Club way back when the rest of us were glued to the boob tube watching the antics of one O.J. Simpson with rabid interest.
Years later, while Christina basks in the warmth of her sanity, poor Britney is apparently at her wit's end. Having just divorced professional baby maker and part-time rapper Kevin Federline, Brit finds herself spiralling out of control, partying with the likes of Paris Hilton and forgetting such basics as her underwear and morals at home (20 minute pause to Google).

Then, this past weekend, in order to garner even more of the publicity that keeps her alive, Brit -- who shouldn't be around sharp instruments at the best of times -- shaves her head right down to the wood.

None of us are genuinely surprised when just days later she checks into rehab. Rehab must be an acronym for Really Examining Her Awkward Behaviour.

But, we are again fascinated, enamoured if you will, with her every move. I ask again ... Why?
It's like we're the ones addicted and in need of rehab. We don't necessarily want to know, we have to know what the latest is. Gossip has become our drug, and there's no kicking the habit.

So, while Anna Nicole's estate remains unsettled, as does who the father of her five-month-old daughter is, we await further developments.

And as Mel Gibson continues to direct Oscarworthy movies, we wait for him to slip up again.

And, as Michael Richards has apparently left the planet, we await his return.

It's enough to make me wonder about poor Britney. With all the rumours abounding regarding her sanity, I have to ask ... Is she the one who's crazy?

Or are we?

Whose cheese has really slipped off the cracker?

Who has one wheel in the sand?

Are we the ones who are "all hat, no cattle?"

If so, then watch out. The inmates are running the asylum.

I once asked why a group was tailoring all their activities around one person.

“They’re the closest we have to a star” was the answer I got.

Tells you something, doesn’t it? And when it’s a group of writers, well, it tells me something scary. Something I don’t want to find myself sucked into. There’s a real fascination in our culture with building up “heroes” only to tear them down. People love to see an idol fall, and it’s my feeling that this is carrying over to the writing community as well now. A matter of months ago it was ‘pounce on Ian Rankin’ time. Those of us on the lists and at LCC are certainly aware that another author came under unfair attack recently.

In fact, put to it, I can think of a number of scandals from the past year alone. It makes me sad.

Right now, I’m putting my head down to write.

And I’m afraid the week didn’t end on a high note. Kevin was in a car accident this morning - may the car rest in peace. They say whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…

Well, I hope so.

Until next time… And for now, I'm not sure when that will be.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Is Living With Your Mistakes Punishment Enough?

There is little doubt people do some very stupid things. This for example, is definitely one of the dumber things a criminal has done lately.

But what’s on my mind is the death of a toddler, the day before her birthday, from what is truly a tragic accident. The mother had taken Tuesday off work to run some errands and get ready for the birthday party. When she stopped at her office she left her daughter and six-year-old son in her vehicle… And she left the vehicle running.

Somehow, the child freed herself from her car seat and was able to activate the power windows while her older brother slept in the front seat.
A witness heard the girl’s cries and rushed over to the SUV where he found her caught in the window. The man freed the girl from the window and laid her on the front seat while he ran into the office building to call 911.
In the meantime, the mother returned to the car and, assuming her daughter was only sleeping, buckled her into her seat and drove towards her son’s school.
It was about 40 minutes later, after dropping her son of at school, that the woman noticed something was wrong with her daughter, said MacLeod.

Now, charges aren’t being laid. As the police have said: No charges are expected to be laid against the mother.
“This mother now has to deal with the fact that she’s lost her two-year-old daughter,” he said.

I’m having a hard time accepting that charges aren’t being laid. I’m having a hard time understanding why the mother wouldn’t have concerns about how her daughter got out of her car seat.

And here’s one other thing I don’t get at all. The man who freed the girl from the window laid her on the front seat and ran inside to call 911. Since he was calling for help it stands to reason he didn’t lock the vehicle. How did he himself get into the vehicle? Did he take the time to put the window the girl got her head stuck in back up? I wouldn’t think so… I mean, people do some strange stuff in panic situations, but this is an example of a news story where I feel a lot of critical information is missing.

But if my theorizing is correct, the mother returns to a vehicle that isn’t locked and her child is out of her car seat and she never even stops to wonder?

It leaves me hoping the police investigation wasn’t as shoddy on the details.

And it leaves me wondering when it will be illegal for people to leave kids in vehicles. I mean, a vehicle left running… Let your imagination run wild about all the things that could have happened had the boy woken up and decided to play Nascar.

I meant to mention that Amra Pajalic shared her thoughts on SC on her post on Monday:
Book of the week: Sandra Ruttan's Suspicious Circumstances. A really good read with constant accelerating of tension and plots that keep coming. What I loved most about it was the breaking of stereotypes. An ethical reporter, a cop who took duty seriously and wasn’t jaded. I also liked the romantic angle not becoming typical with an emphasis on respect between Ty and Lara as well as timing. That is there a time and a place. I really, really enjoyed it. Congratulations Sandra on writing such a great book.

Thanks for sharing your insights Amra.

And (another update) I guess I should share that I have signed on with an agent. I will be updating that information on my website soon.

And I'll have another story coming out soon...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Oink Oink

Welcome to the Year of the Pig. Expect epidemics, disasters and violence in much of the world.

So, more of the same old, same old. Don’t blame global warming and George Bush, blame the calendar dates. (I am joking.)

This is actually the year of the red pig. Let’s get more details:

Pig is a Lucky and Mild-tempered Animal
President Ronald Reagan was born in year of Pig. He was very happy to know that Pig is a very lucky animal in the Chinese horoscope. The Chinese see that pigs eat food all the time, enjoy sleeping all day long and worry about nothing during their entire lives. Therefore, pig is a lucky animal.
According to Chinese Five Element astrology. the animal sign Pig contains Water and Wood. Pig doesn't fight with Metal, because Metal, Water and Wood have a Circulating Relationship. Pig doesn't fight with Fire, because Water, Wood and Fire together have a Circulating Relationship as well.
But the Water element will fight with the Earth element. Earth animals are Cow, Dragon, Sheep and Dog. Cow contains Earth, Metal and Water. Cow and Pig don't fight directly, because Earth, Metal, Water and Wood are in a circulating sequence. We can find the similar circulating relationships between other Earth animals with the Pig, so it doesn't have a face-to-face conflict with the other animals.
Snake and Pig have a Fighting Relationship. But Snake contains Fire, Earth and Metal. If we put Snake and Pig together, we can still find Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal in a circulating sequence. This means that the fighting relationship between Snake and Pig is not that serious. The conclusion is that most of people born in year of Pig don't have any unyielding argument with other people. Since Pig-type people have more peaceful lifestyle than others, they are therefore luckier.
Red Pig and Lucky Element
The past three years, Monkey 2004, Chicken 2005 and Dog 2006 are Metal cycles. Year of Red Pig 2007 is the beginning year of the Water cycle. Therefore the coming three years are favorable to people whose lucky element is Water.
Basically, Pig contains Water and Wood. Red is related Fire. In short, people will have better luck in 2007, if their Lucky Element is Water, Wood or Fire.

What about those born in the year of the pig?

“According to Chinese astrology, people born in pig years are polite, honest, hardworking and loyal. They are also lucky, which is why many Chinese like to have babies in a pig year.”

I’m a pig.

Well, okay, according to this thing I filled out at the site I’m a brown horse born in the year of the white pig and my lucky element is metal.

I have no real idea what that means, other than that it sounds like I live on a farm.

When the Metal is your lucky element
-1. Monkey and Chicken are your lucky animals.
-1. Years of Monkey and Chicken are your lucky years.
-1. Months of Monkey and Chicken are your lucky Months.
-1. Fall is your lucky season.
-1. 15:00 - 19:00 (3 P.M. to 7 P.M.) are your lucky hours.
-1. Western direction is your lucky place.
-1. It will bring you luck to live in a house that faces west.
-1. You should choose a bedroom on the west side of the house.
-1. It's good for you to keep the west side window(s) open.
-1. When arranging the office desk, you should sit facing the west.
-1. A metal bed is good for you.
-1. Your lucky color is white.
-1. You should wear white often.
-1. Driving a white car brings your luck.
-1. Wearing jewelry will bring you luck.
-1. It's a good idea to wear golden rings.
Take care of your respiratory system - Lungs, Nose and Skin.

I can’t sit facing west in this office. That exposes my back to the door and I don’t like having people be able to sneak up on me. Although I’ve always known I had a thing for the west – I dreamed of moving west as a child. My house has doors on the north and west side – does that count for anything?

A metal bed, though? And driving a car? I don’t consider white a good winter colour, poor visibility.

Well, anyway, it is now the year of the pig, I’m as confused as ever, and I figure I probably have a second contradictory horoscope anyway because I’m a Gemini.

And my twins are polar opposites.

Norby sent me a joke, and it’s been a while since I’ve posted one, so here you are. Happy Sunday. (And for those who’ve emailed about links, I’m working on that too.)

In the beginning there was the plan.
And then came the Assumptions.
And the Assumptions were without form.
And the Plan was without substance.
And darkness fell upon the face of the Workers.
And they spoke among themselves, saying, "It is a crock of shit."
And the Workers went unto the Supervisors and said, "It is a pail of dung."
And the Supervisors went unto the Managers, saying, "It is a container of excrement, such that none may abide by it."
And the Managers went unto the Senior Managers, saying, "It is a vessel of fertilizer."
And the Senior Managers went to the Vice Presidents, saying unto them, "It promotes growth and it is very powerful."

And the Vice Presidents went to the President, saying unto him, "This new plan will promote the growth of the company with very powerful effects."
And the President looked upon the Plan and saw that it was good.
And the Plan became Policy.
And this is how shit happens.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Time For A Little Sex Vacation?

Tourism Victoria is defending a new advertising slogan that says "the search for your perfect orgasm is over".

So, um, if you don't achieve that do you get your money back?

On Display

Exactly one week ago, I unexpectedly walked into a whole bunch of them. Hopefuls. It was easy to tell who they were, too. Numbers pasted to their shirts, that gleam of hope in their eye as they scoped out the competition, assessed their appearance, weighed their chances... Which weren’t good.

I mean, I have no actual idea how many hopefuls showed up for the Calgary auditions of Canadian Idol, but I saw far more than would be handed a gold ticket or whatever it is they do anymore to invite people to Toronto to compete as part of the 100.

Now, I didn’t plan to go to Southcentre Mall to see them. And as soon as I realized what was going on part of me wanted to get out fast.

But I was just too curious. What drives each of these hopefuls to line up for hours, to scrutinize the competition, to be a spectacle, knowing that the Canadian Idol judges can be completely merciless? I mean, I’ll admit to seeing part of one season on TV, the first year. Ouch.

When we put ourselves out with our writing it’s a bit different. Usually done with some degree of privacy. I’ve known people who’ve subbed, got deals and not even told anyone until closer to the release. Some people keep things really quiet.

Writers can cover a lot of ground without public humiliation. Not these singers. They have to put themselves out there. I can read a review in private in my office 99% of the time, and cope privately if it hurts. If they suck they get told to their face.

And it’s an interesting thing, because I understand the reason American Idol has been so popular this year is that they’re showing the rejects for a portion of every show.

Boy oh boy, some people love to kick a person when they’re down. And some people just love to kick others, period. This is one of the things Kevin and I have talked about at length, how our society seems obsessed with creating ‘heroes’ and then tearing them down. Always looking for the great story, the waitress who gets discovered and becomes a millionaire acting in some movie, or cutting an album. We’re all over any rags to riches tale…

Until a person makes too much, is a little too successful or whatever. Yes, it’s possible to lose your sweetheart status and be, essentially, dumped.

I’ve always had my own philosophy where all this stuff is concerned. It’s about the readers. The coolest thing is hearing that someone has read the book and enjoyed it. And yet…

I have to admit that I have no idea how to handle the compliments. When someone comes up to you or emails and says they loved your book do you just say, “Thank you?” Seems a little hollow. But really, what can you say? I’m pleased? It means a lot to me? Glad you enjoyed it?

To be honest, I’m still getting over the shock that anyone’s read the book. Because it isn’t like singing on a stage and we don’t get those immediate reactions. You never know when an email or letter will come, or someone will walk up to you to talk about the book.

Anyone have any stories to share about that, from either side of the fence?

I can only say one thing: I hope the thrill of hearing that someone enjoyed my work never fades, because I really believe it’s the highest honour.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Ah, research. And edits...

Okay, I'm motoring along on revisions here and then I hit something.

"Like the people campaigning for a change in daylight savings time?"

Just last night Kevin and I were talking about the change in dst. Unreal. But when I drafted this ms, that hadn't happened.

Could the world not change for a few years so I don't have to worry about updating my manuscripts? Is that too much to ask for? See, I didn't think so.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled blog-hopping.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Get Creative

I swore I wouldn't do any kind of mushy, sentimental love post today...

However, I want to pass on a tip or two. When I was at the mall on the weekend (which I should post more about, as I was watching the Canadian Idol audition shenanigans) I found something every man needs:

The emergency sex kit. Complete with glow in the dark stickers.

Use your own imagination.

Now, maybe someone can confirm a tip from the pages of Chatelaine? (Don't get used to this, as I don't read magazines like this as a rule, but I was at the hairdresser's, and there was a great crime-related article tied to the Reena Virk case.) After I finished reading the article (Murder and Mercy, Chatelaine, Jan. 2007) I was skimming and read that if a woman practices tightening certain muscles and then relaxing them for only a few minutes daily she'll have orgasms faster.

It seems to me that, if this is true, this is advice every man would want to circulate promptly.

However you spend your day be safe. I'm going out for dinner with my husband.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Real Education

I wasn't the type of kid to question or challenge much. I was pretty weak that way.

When I did my recent school events I worked with 111 students over the course of three hours. Wouldn't you know it, session #1 as I'm being introduced the teacher says something about me having written a great book.

Which is when the student, who I'll call Axel in this post, piped up and asked the teacher if he'd actually read the book.

The teacher admitted he hadn't.

Axel asked why he said it was great if he hadn't read it.

I was standing behind the teacher trying not to laugh. I'm sure my amusement was as plain as the teacher's embarrassment. Okay, I did jump in and rescued the teacher, or at least tried to. Here we were, not one word out of my mouth, and the first session was almost derailed.

It didn't stop there with Axel either. He made me work for it. But I have to say that my other sessions that day were better than the first, because he made me think and he pushed me.

Now, Axel was... 12 or 13. All the kids I had that day were. I was talking to the teacher at lunch about what had happened and he said that when he was younger a teacher had told him there are two kinds of people, those who follow and those that will change the world. And he said, "Axel wants to change the world."

That isn't meant on the Nelson Mandella scale. It means that there are people who just except the way things are put down to them and follow along. And there are others that challenge. Instead of adjusting themselves and their behaviour to conform, they want the rest of the world to conform to them.

Now, this is true of criminals, as much as it is true of leaders. So perhaps I shouldn't express my blatant admiration for Axel, but I do respect the process of questioning.

It's no secret I spent a lot of time in the church community, much of it being treated like an outcast because I wasn't a "born and bred" Christian kid. But I'll tell you one thing I always knew about myself - I knew I'd made my own choices to be there. I heard how these "good" kids talked about their parents and church when they were out of earshot. They were itching to run wild. One of the gals held up as the role model to us all is a single parent now.

And I would say it's the direct result of not being given some latitude for freedom of thought. Even if I disagree with a person I can still love them. I mean, I have friends who vote NDP.

But for me, nothing shuts a serious conversation down faster than someone who doesn't have reasoning behind their beliefs. You know, this is one of the reasons I really enjoy interviewing authors. I love seeing how they think, hearing what they think about all manner of stuff. I just love talking to intelligent people, because it makes me feel smart by osmosis.

I should have clarified that I wasn't defending the kid who wanted to start a riot yesterday. As I said, the ones who were legitimately questioning the policies shouldn't have been expelled. I also agree that talk off of school property is a sketchy thing for the school to discipline for. Come on, I'm not the only one here who's called a teacher an asshole, am I?

I also mentioned yesterday that a teacher blamed me for being fired from their job. This was a substitute teacher, brought in for a few months to fill a mat leave or something - that I don't remember now. But he wasn't unionized with the same protection as everyone else, and he was new, so he was on probation.

He was a horrid teacher. I mean, horrid if you wanted to learn something. The mouthy kids ran the classroom. I guess they'd pushed him to his breaking point, because it was mid-term exams.

It was also just after I'd been assaulted, in the grand scheme of my life. I was trying to write the exam and a couple kids around me were bashing a box back and forth and giggling and it got to the point where others were joining in. I lost it and yelled at them to stop - Mr. Dickless up front sure as hell wasn't going to do it.

He ripped up half of my exam because I had spoken while writing it.

The next day I was in the hospital. I don't know if the beating I took was solely responsible for the surgery I had, but it sure didn't help.

The school principal came out on my side of the equation, made the teacher allow me to re-write the exam, and a couple months later when the term ended the teacher was out of a job, and I was in therapy and ultimately sent off to a new school - the one I blogged about last week. A fun time was had by all.

I know what it is to feel both powerless and afraid going to school day in and day out. The ultimate reason I was transferred was for my own safety, because two of my attackers attended the same high school. Now, they attacked me off school property, so the school couldn't touch them, and maybe we didn't crack down hard enough on young offenders back then. But the school had the decency to say that they couldn't guarantee my safety, and sent me elsewhere. Of course, they were really saying that they couldn't guarantee anyone's safety, but since I was already a 'victim' it was just easier to send me away.

Well, anyway, enough about that. Kids can be a lot of things, and chief amongst them cruel. Expressing opinions, showing independent thought... This, to me, isn't a bad thing. It's a good thing. This subject should be discussed in social studies classes in that school - in the same way that when I did my school events I used To The Power of Three and discussed school shootings. I brought it to the kids on their level, to discuss real issues that affect them.

That is, ultimately, why I love writing crime fiction. It's a platform for doing that.

**I should add one thing. Part of the reason the beating I took wasn't worse was because one person - ONE PERSON, a fellow high school student - put himself between me and my attackers. There were others who turned a blind eye. This guy came to my defense. And that's the kind of independe action that I can really admire. He was and is for me, in every sense of the word, a hero.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Cry Freedom (& Dictators Be Damned)

At least 11 students at a Catholic high school northwest of Toronto have been suspended after what officials call "cyber-bullying'' of a principal.
Students at Robert F. Hall Catholic Secondary School in Caledon East started to vent about their principal Edward McMahon on the popular networking website, calling him a "Grinch of School Spirit.''
But a school board spokesperson said the posted comments then became vulgar, derogatory, demeaning and sexually explicit, according to the Toronto Star.
As a result, 11 male and female students, which included a student council member and a top school athlete, were suspended last week for up to eight days.

(Click on the link to read the whole article.)

I have to say that I’m absolutely stunned reading this. We live in a country where Jewish lawyers will defend those who deny the holocaust happened because they believe in free speech….

But teenagers who question their principal are suspended?

As one of the suspended teens says in the article:

"Some did go over the top, but some of us didn't say a whole lot and we're out," said one student.
"I wasn't saying he was an idiot, I said he acted like an idiot and that's my right, and the fact that they suspended me for saying he acted a certain way is a little over the edge."
Another student said she was suspended after responding to a posting made by a male student who mentioned inciting a riot to fight the ban on electronic devices. She said she was opposed to the riot but supported lifting the ban.

You know, I had this fun experience at LCC, because I knew there was someone who would be there I have absolutely no respect for at all. Zero. Why?

Because I used to be on the board, as an elected official of a group that allegedly operated with bylaws and procedures, with her. Until I disagreed. God help you if you didn’t agree with something.

And you know what the issues were? Members had made complaints about our meeting location, because it was in the not-so-savoury part of the city and some members had been approached after meetings when they had to walk to their cars in the dark. There were knifings and the local trade is in drugs and sex.

Uh, gee, yeah, you think some people aren’t crazy about the location?

But there was a refusal to even consider change of venue.

And this person made an announcement that I had resigned and was leaving the group and then ordered me to turn over all my materials.

Yeah, bloody fucking wondrous democracy. You think I respect people like this? Not one bit.

Of course I didn’t just let them kick me. Blogged about it. Talked to several people – perfectly willing to answer questions to anyone who asked. I know others who left the group.

And so they should have, if they didn’t feel the group was being run properly or meetings held in a safe location, or being run by the principles set forth in the bylaws.

It’s the number 1 reason I have issues with a certain political figure, beyond the war, beyond anything else. It’s the way people were made to fear to speak up. If you spoke against anything the government did you were practically a traitor.

Whatever happened to free speech?

Whatever happened to democracy?

What happened to the very principles America was founded on?

Any time I see organizations that clamp down on people with the legitimate right to express a difference of opinion, any time I see them run like a dictatorship with minimal or no accountability to their members, I’m going to think about these kids (the ones who legitimately questioned the policies) getting suspended from school.

And hope that these kids are the leaders of tomorrow – those who do not blindly accept policy but actually use their brains to question it, to think it through and make up their own minds about what they think.

Three cheers for those who are more than sheep.

Maybe if there were more people like that in the world, some of the worst atrocities would never have happened, for people wouldn’t have stayed silent to protect themselves, their job, their reputation or whatever else they thought they had to lose – they just would have stood up on the side of what was right.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Mind Games People Play

One of the things people have talked about over the decades is that silence is akin to agreement. “If you didn’t stand up and oppose the Nazis you may as well have joined them.” I’m sure we’ve all heard some variation on that.

And I’m sure we’ve all met the odd person who loves to mindfuck others. I mean, I’ll admit it. Sometimes I appreciate making a loaded statement and watching how people will cope with it. It goes back to knowing so many people who will try so hard to skirt the subject that they use a lot of words to say nothing. I guess trying to be polite will produce that. With some people I really like but don’t know well I’ll try to be more careful with my phrasing, so there isn’t a misunderstanding.

But often, it seems both the lack of words or the abundance of them contribute at the very least to misunderstandings.

Emails, blog posts, comments on listservs and forums… It’s all a bit of a bitch, really. Nobody can see the twinkle in the eye, the smile tugging at the mouth. I know I’ve said the odd thing people have taken me to task for being a smartass over, when what I actually said was born out of sincere affection.

Maybe I’m just hopelessly fucked up and would be better off not talking to people at all.

I’m not trying to be melodramatic here. Just honest. I know for myself that sometimes silence from a person speaks louder than anything. At a time when you’re feeling vulnerable it might mean they don’t care, at a time others are against you it might mean they are too.

Of course, it might mean nothing at all.

If you’ve got a strong relationship you go to the person and sort it out. If you don’t, well, if you’re me you let it twist your stomach into knots and agonize over it, wonder if they don’t want to see you or talk to you.

I’m bad for that anyway. I know some people who read my blog regularly find it hard to believe that I have any private fears, or that I struggle with being shy. A big part of the reason I’ve been online, on lists posting, not just lurking, is to try to combat that. I’m one of those people that will be a complete extrovert once I find my comfort zone with a group/person – I guess that’s my twin kicking in.

Until then, I guess I can seem cold, distant, detached. Snobby. Which is not my intention.

You know the things that stay with me, to this day? We used to do the competition circuit when I was a kid. Over the summer, all those weekends, fiddle and stepdance competitions. We’d see a lot of the same kids at different venues, and there were these triplets. Three brothers, but different personalities. All I remember is we were playing some large group game, and I crawled out of my shell long enough to invite one of the triplets to join.

I just happened to pick the one who never socialized.

I don’t even remember what I said, but I remember what I was wearing. I remember the look on his face and regretting I’d ever spoken to him. Others might be inclined to have called him a jerk. Instead, I felt like a loser.

Every year at school it was the cycle of friendships that plummeted to cliques and exclusion. I remember every summer I’d think that I should just spend recess reading. Books never hurt you, people did. I actually did become a library assistant and spent three years shelving books instead of hanging around outside all the time.

Of course I know that I did my share of hurting. There was a girl a year younger than me who got it worse than most people. The year I started high school I got pink eye. I went to my old school to say hi. This girl, still there, was going to lend me a brush. I took a paper towel so that I could hold it without putting any germs on it. She thought I was doing it because I didn’t want to touch anything she’d touched, and she started to cry.

Can you imagine what it’s like to feel like a leper? She knew how that felt. To think that she would believe that’s what I’d thought of her. What sins was I guilty of, by action or by inaction, that contributed to that belief? Makes me sick to think of it.

I think this is one of the reasons I really liked Michael Connelly when I heard him speak at Harrogate. The fact that he struggled with being shy was so obvious. It made it easier for me to put my reservations aside and introduce myself to him and shake his hand. I’m a bit defensive where he’s concerned (who me?) because I’ve heard others say he comes off as snobby.

Not snobby. Shy.

And to think that someone who’s had the success that he’s had wouldn’t feel enormous confidence! It’s easy for me to sit here, thinking he should never struggle with self doubt or fear that his work won’t be liked…

Part of the reason I’ve tried being vocal online is that it gives me a basis to talk to people. When I meet blog friends I already know things about them that I can talk to them about. None of that awkward ‘find your feet’ bullshit where you make polite small-talk until you can either escape or find a mutual interest you can discuss.

There are some people I agonize over every email, every communication with. The good news is, I only worry because I actually care what they think of me. I wish to God sometimes I didn’t care, that nobody had the power to hurt me. You know what the schoolkids say… sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.

Somehow, it’s those words that ring hollow And it’s all those nasty names that you can’t get out of your mind.

And sometimes, what lingers is the numbing silence of things unsaid, which becomes a playground for your insecurities.

There’s only one thing I know. Show me someone who’s never felt insecurity and you’ve shown me someone who doesn’t know what it is to be human.

This is super-cool: Young Adults reading.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Kick At The Darkness 'Til It Bleeds Daylight

It’s been twenty years since I walked into the classroom and saw her. You know, the girl every other girl hates. My god, she had a beautiful face, perfect hair. There I was, the new kid, didn’t know a single soul in the room, feeling horridly self-conscious.

I didn’t have to know any of them to know one thing: She was in the popular crowd.

And she gave me such a warm smile. She was the first person at my new high school to acknowledge my existence.

I was too intimidated to say hi to her. In my own head all those clique lines of high school were already drawn and the computations had been done. I didn’t belong in her crowd.

It’s so easy to look at things from the outside and see what you want to see. I looked at Susan Mitchell and I’m ashamed to say I was jealous. I carry that shame with guilt, because of what I didn’t know then.

That the warm smile was a testament to her courage.

That even being in school that day had taken an enormous toll.

That the perfect hair was a wig she started wearing when she lost her own hair to the chemo.

It wasn’t so long before Susan was at school less and less. The odd time when she came friends often carried her up the stairs.

But I don’t ever remember seeing Susan without seeing her smile.

I got thinking about it all today. What’s that they say? God takes the good ones young. How is it we lose Anne Frank and someone like Saddam Hussein should live to see so many days?

How do we not lose faith? Hope in some degree of justice?

** In a drawer there's a key with an old wooden box
Sometimes Jesus and me, sit down and unlock another time
When you were mine

Rose petals and a letter, a piece of baby's breath
A single white feather you found the day we met
You said it came from an Angel's wings.

I saved everything that ever meant anything
precious moments in time, I kept them all alive
These pieces of the past take me back
To the greatest love I ever knew
I saved everything but you.

In the early part of Autumn you were slippin' out of reach
I was running out of options
so I went to see the preacher and we prayed
Lord, take her chains away.

and I never stopped believin' right up til' the end
I know God must have his reasons,
but nothin’ makes much sense without you here...
there's only souvenirs.

...a single white feather I found the day you left
I knew it came from an Angel's wing

One thing I’ll always remember is Deric (Ruttan) saying is that when he wrote that song it was meant to refer to someone who’d been lost. It could just as easily mean lost to an addiction or lost to death.

We lose people in so many ways in our lives. Who amongst us has not been touched by someone who struggles with alcohol or drugs or a mental illness or a chronic illness, or who has been taken from us in another way? We don’t just lose people to death, but also sometimes to a living hell that consumes them.

There are dark paths some people walk. Some by choice, some by force. And there are a lot of people who run at the first sign of trouble, fair-weather friends who don’t stand by those plagued with afflictions, be they of the mind, soul or flesh.

I look back on my self-centeredness with shame. That I was too afraid to confront mortality and didn’t spend more time at the bedside of my great aunt when she was dying. That when a friend lost her child I was trying to placate her with hollow sentiments instead of just holding her while she cried.

And what seems horridly perverse is that back in high school, deep down I thought death might be a welcome release from all of the things I was struggling with. While there was someone a row over in computer class who was savouring every second she had.

In our yearbook Susan was quoted saying, “I used to take a lot of things for granted before, but now I live out each day to the fullest. Each day is a new challenge and, if I just keep my spirits up and my hopes high, I know I can beat this cancer once and for all.”

Susan died in March, 1988.

Life isn’t fair. Yeah, there’s a startling revelation.

Whenever I feel low I look at the photos on my wall. The comments on my blog. The three-digit phone bill. Sometimes it takes a few days. Sometimes longer. I’m not going to discount the legitimate things we all go through that take a toll on us.

But for as long as we draw breath we have a chance to make our lives what we would want them to be. ***But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight -- Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight.

Maybe that’s why I love noir. It’s about people who get the crap kicked out of them over and over again, and somehow find the strength to go on. People wonder how a Bible school grad could cross over to the darkest crime fiction, but think of it this way: In the Book of Job God took everything good from that man and left him with that bitch of a wife. If that isn’t noir I don’t know what is.

There are still those moments when I can look to the positive. Call it faith, call it optimism, call it a grand delusion. It’s a line from an 80s Christian song - He didn’t pull you from the river to drown you in the street.^

In comparison to many the trials of my life have been few. In comparison to many others my trials have been great. There is no measure for sorrow. No allotment – you’ve been abused, you get three years to grieve. You’ve been raped, you get five. You lost a family member, one year for you. Not all grief is created equal. Not all pain lessens with time.

The only thing I know is that it is the moments where I have faced desperation that have made me see beauty in the world, in the kindness of a friend, in simple words that lift my spirits, in reading a book that speaks to my heart.

No matter how bad things are, it could always be worse. There’s something to be said for counting your blessings, looking on what you have instead of what you don’t have.

we are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed but not despairing; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed.

Stand for those who stay with you, even if that’s just the one true friend you’re blessed to have. One true friend is more than most people will ever know the joy of having.

****Spend all your time waiting

For that second chance

For a break that would make it okay

There's always some reason

To feel not good enough

And it's hard at the end of the day

I need some distraction

Oh a beautiful release

Memory seeps from my veins

Let me be empty

And weightless and maybe

I'll find some peace tonight

In the arms of an angel

Fly away from here

From this dark cold hotel room

And the endlessness that you fear

You are pulled from the wreckage

Of your silent reverie

You're in the arms of the angel

May you find some comfort here

So tired of the straight line

And everywhere you turn

There's vultures and thieves at your back

And the storm keeps on twisting

You keep on building the lie

That you make up for all that you lack

It don't make no difference

Escaping one last time

It's easier to believe in this sweet madness oh

This glorious sadness that brings me to my knees

In the arms of an angel

Fly away from here

From this dark cold hotel room

And the endlessness that you fear

You are pulled from the wreckage

Of your silent reverie

You're in the arms of the angel

May you find some comfort here

You’re in the arms of the angel

May you find some comfort here

** Deric Ruttan, I Saved Everything
*** Bruce Cockburn, Lovers In A Dangerous Time
^ Russ Taff, Go On
**** Sarah McLachlan, Angel

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Left Coast Crime & Blogging Thoughts

Some of the panel discussions are still churning through the part of my brain not completely submerged in fog, so I’m going to attempt to exorcise those thoughts here. Let’s hope I’m not a complete babbling idiot.

This is where I have to step in and say that I’m worse. My voice went on strike. Of course, Kevin’s thrilled about that, but I seem to get groggier every day. I last about an hour and then it’s back to bed. I read and fall asleep. And since I’ve been away for a few weeks without internet something like 1100 emails stacked up. I’m so far behind, there’s no way I’ll be climbing out of this until next week.

So what exactly am I doing on my blog? Yes, I’ve posted here. I’ve read a few other blogs. And I’ve posted to DL and 4MA. How is it I’m doing that and not churning through the correspondence?

It leads into one of the points raised on a Saturday afternoon panel about technology and fandom. One of the concerns raised was the wonder at how authors blogged and still managed to produce books – when were they writing?

It’s a fair enough question, but was raised by the panel and not answered. It * seemed * to be a shared opinion amongst the panelists.

So, what do I say to this?

Now, can blogging get in the way of writing? Absolutely. But to assume this is true for all bloggers is to assume all bloggers are created equally. And it also assumes all writers work the same way.

How do I find the time to go around to blogs and read them on a regular basis? Well, sometimes I don’t. I’ve been rather hit and miss the last few months. That’s okay. Life gets that way.

But how do I find the time, in general?

How many of you watch TV every night? I know a lot of people who have their programs for every day of the week. I don’t. There is not one night of the week, save when The Wire or The Shield is running, that I regularly watch TV. I used to spend more time relaxing in the evenings. However, I don’t live in New York. Or London. Or even Toronto. Way over here in my corner of the world I can’t hobnob with industry insiders and learn how things work.

I can learn this off of blogs, to at least some extent.

As far as I’m concerned (although at times I groan about it) you have to do some networking. You have to start knowing names. You should know a bit about what’s going on in the business, who’s getting buzz, who’s getting award nominations, what the trends in the business are.

I find most of my info these days on The Rap Sheet. Reading it isn’t much different than reading a magazine when it comes in, except I get it in pieces. It’s like my daily devotional. When I’m away from the blogs and only able to skim stuff on occasion I always – always always always – end up having someone mention something to me that I felt I should have known.

It is different for me. I wear a few hats. One is my Spinetingler hat, and the longer we run that the more important it is that I keep my eye open for what’s happening in the business.

Blogs might eat up writing time for some, but in my case I can honestly say that I average 10-12 hours a day in my office, and spending 1-2 on blogs is the equivalent of more than reasonable breaks. I have no real social life locally, so it’s mainly times like the last few weeks that I’ve been away that I’m hanging out with people. This is partly because of moving back from Vancouver (and many of my friends being there) and because of our crazy schedules. Between my writing, Spinetingler and the fire department, we don’t have time for much of a life.

Beyond that, I write an average post in 15 minutes. I don’t typically edit them, unless I’ve written something very stupid. Of course, when I write posts at 5 or 6 am, what can you expect? It’s whatever’s on my mind at the time and then I’m done unless there’s a discussion in the comments.

So, how is it I have all these emails to sort through and I’m commenting on lists? It’s easy. The emails become layered, interconnected, one thing leading to another. Having been away for a few weeks, in some cases I have to go through everything related to get to where things are at now and respond.

It’s, like, work.

And I don’t have the prolonged brain juice for it at the moment. It’s very easy for me to write one-offs. In handling those emails I’ve whittled down a considerable chunk.

One of the real problems with blogging and email is the sense of immediacy it gives to our lives. We email someone and expect instant answers. What a surprise to discover we aren’t the centre of everyone’s universe.

And blogging exposes people in ways that aren’t always good.

Now, I’ve always maintained that anyone who’s going to take offense to my opinions/personality and therefore not buy my book is just as likely to see ‘the real me’ in an interview or at a convention some day and I may as well do them the favour of putting them off now.

I blog now mainly to keep in touch with friends. Okay, it is a bit one-sided. Many of you read and don’t comment. Some of you read and email me. A few regulars do comment.

This is what I have to say for writers about blogging. If it’s getting in the way of the writing, stop. But only you know your schedule, how stretched you are. It’s up to you. One thing I do is list all blogs under categories in my bookmarks bar. Some I only check once a week, on average. Some, occasional. Some daily. It’s either cut out a lot of blogs I enjoy dropping by, or make my visits sporadic. I opted for the latter.

And for heaven’s sakes, if you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it.

For readers worried about authors blogging… Well, you’ve got to give the authors a bit of a break here. I’ve been on forums and listservs for a few years now, and I’ve seen everything complained about at some point. I know someone who emails authors persistently and expects prompt answers to every email. I got thinking about this recently, when someone posted on Inspector Rebus asking for an email address to ask Rankin questions because they didn’t want to have to write via post to his publisher – it most certainly is not true of everyone, but there are a lot of people who expect to have direct access to authors now. I have also seen people gripe on forums about authors who don’t give out their email addresses. And I’ve seen the remarks about authors who don’t post on DorothyL – they only show up for BSP, or they think they’re better than the readers. Don’t specify – this isn’t true of everyone on the list or everyone out there. Probably not even true of 10% of the avid readers. But you know what they say about squeaky wheels. The gripes stand out.

The reality is, it’s far easier for me to ‘keep in touch’ and ‘be accessible’ via a blog than to deal with emails one by one. And it takes far less time. I know some authors opt for newsletters instead. I understand that as well. For now, blogging is the road I’ve chosen.

Each one of us is just trying to sort things out, find what works for us, or doesn’t. There are no absolute perfect choices. But one thing is certain. The more technology progresses, the more pressure authors are under to choose how to utilize it. Book trailers, podcasts, live chat, forums, blogs, newsletters, emails, ezines…

I think a lot of authors jumped on the blogging bandwagon because they felt they had no choice. It’s too soon to know if blogging will sell books (I remain skeptical that it sells enough to warrant the time invested IF that’s the only reason you’re blogging) but if the proof comes in that blogging authors are seeing higher sales than non-bloggers, it will be too late for those who stayed on the sidelines to get ahead of the curve.

As far as I’m concerned, the blog tide is ebbing.

I think there’s also a real risk that it’s all been said before, and usually so much better by someone else, that it’s a bit pointless to keep hashing over the same old, same old. This is why I don’t blog all about the book or my author life. Plus, it would bore me to tears.

But when we’re hashing out the topics repeatedly here, what’s the point in going to conventions? Are we going to hear/say/see/think anything new? Not often. The more cons I attend the more panels I leave feeling I haven’t heard much new. The more people blog on the business side/author life the less necessary to read an interview with them or see them on a panel, because it’s more likely that you’ve already heard all they have to say on it.

Now, I have my little addictions, and am unlikely to fully give up the blog any time soon. Really, for me, it’s therapy. I have my little rants and then feel so much better.

And I don’t know if I’ve wrapped this up, but I’ve got to go back to bed. Thoughts, as always, most welcome.

You May Be a Bit Obsessive Compulsive...

Meticulous and detailed oriented, you have some irrational obsessions.
Maybe it's your super neat closet or washing your hands a gazillion times.
You probably know it's weird, but you just can't stop thinking about it.
In fact, the more you think about your quirks, the more you have to do them.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Left Coast Crime Wrap-Up

There will always be something I forget to say in the process of posting. But one thing I want to say right off is that the spirit of my posts is intended to be in good fun and camaraderie. I jest with people I like.

I can’t be bothered with those I dislike.

And any teasing is meant with great affection. That’s why I went and changed what I relayed about the swearing panel. Bruce and I talked about the context of the comment and he 100% agreed it was fair to relay, just that we wanted to be sure people understood the point.

The point is, there I was wondering how we could really get words that were worse than what were being used now, and Bruce nailed it.

Hopefully, I’ve made that clear as mud.

And I could jest about many things said in more private venues, about waking Sean Chercover up on Sunday morning (I phoned him people! Geesh.) and how that led to poker and the debate over who took money from whom… But I promised SJ Rozan I would clarify to the world that Sean did not take her money. And we all know the entire world reads my blog (insert roll eyes emoticon). I think the point here is that the poker game was memorable and fun. Next time, I’m going to the poker game myself, I hope. I love cards, but evilkev hates games.

Now, you might be wondering what the hell’s with the long explanation and the more serious approach here? Seems some people think I mean to be malicious and that isn’t my intent at all. But this is going to get over to issues of loss and how they affect us. The mystery community recently lost a much loved author and wonderful person I never had the pleasure of meeting. Yet her impact was such that losing her touches us all.

There is another community I’m part of, the firefighter community. It’s a brotherhood, it’s international, and it’s a tie that runs deep. Yesterday we learned we’d lost two heroes in a fire in Winnipeg. When you’re the wife of a firefighter you never hear this and dismiss it, it never fails to cut you to the core. You live with the reality that every call is one where your spouse puts their life on the line.

And what’s worse is, I worry about my friends in general. I actually give a damn. If you don’t want me to care about you get the fuck out of my life.

So there.

If I do the great con recap, it started with the drive from Vancouver with Jen and Merlot from the 4MA list, followed by the 4MA dinner, which was fantastic.

Thursday I had breakfast with Toni McGee Causey, and then it was registration and reconnecting. The first panel featured Alexandra Sokoloff and Kat Richardson, both of whom I’d met at Bouchercon, at least in passing. Over the course of the weekend I had a chance to talk to both of them, at least once, which was nice.

I managed two panels on Thursday, but found it a struggle. I was roasting, and the capacity crowd didn’t help with that. However, I already got to have some of those longer, better chats by the afternoon, hanging out for a bit with Alex Brett, catching up with Tim Maleeny, chatting with Anthony Bidulka. And I met Linda L. Richards, who was on the late afternoon panel I attended.

Thursday dinner with Robert Fate and Bill Cameron was wonderful. Bill’s wife wasn’t feeling well, so I’m sorry she missed it. But then, I wasn’t 100% either. Great food, wonderful company though.

Friday. Hmmm. Breakfast via the drug store. You know it’s bad when you’re making that your first stop of the morning.

I went to Tim Maleeny’s panel. I went to lunch with a great crowd, and I’ve already mentioned the afternoon panel.

Dinner was nice and quiet, just what I needed.

Saturday I actually felt like I had some fun.

Now, it’s no secret that Barry Eisler missed the auction Friday night. When there are 500 + people at an event, it’s not what you’d call private so repeating it isn’t what I’d call gossip. But I only mean it in good jest to tease him, because the one thing any of us who know Barry on any level know is that he’s not the type of guy to blow off a commitment. I had tracked down the DorothyL moderators and then saw Andi, and she was saying she needed to find someone who knew Barry to find out what had happened to him. Not to rebuke him but because she was genuinely worried, as was I. It just wasn’t like him.

Mistakes happen to the best of us, and this just happened to be when Barry had a memory lapse. I don’t say it to make him feel bad at all – when he walked into The Green Room in prep for The Liar’s Panel I was just so relieved to see that he was okay. Maybe everyone’s a bit sensitive about losing someone so loved in the mystery community recently. Maybe I’m extra sensitive right now.**

In his good-natured way Barry joked about finding out he had some room upgrade and having chocolates and champagne delivered to his room unexpectedly, and since it was the romance package it included breakfast for two. Hence the joke about the romantic breakfast with Paul Guyot. I mean, if you’ve got it, you may as well take someone out to breakfast, right? But it was romantic in billing terms only.

The people I met and had the pleasure of spending time with were wonderful. I left feeling I’d wanted to spend more time with them, always a good sign.

That doesn’t mean that the conference was without a few clouds for me. There were some things I’m going to carry for a while. It had nothing to do with the con itself, though.

I learned several things during the convention and my travels before and after LCC (so not everything has to do with the con):

1. When someone says, “So tell me all about the book” you’re supposed to talk about your book. Not say it’s out now.

2. When airport security selects you for the full screening process you shouldn’t mention this is very cool and ask if you can take notes.

3. Murder By The Book in Portland Oregon is fantastic and I wish they’d bring the store to Calgary.

4. I have a reputation for being a ‘prolific presenter of strong opinions’. I have no idea where the hell anyone got that idea from. They’re wrong, of course. I’m as wishy-washy as they come.

5. Online I come off as older than I actually am. I’m going to take that as a testament to my profound wisdom and intelligence, which I seem to have acquired young. (Anyone gagging yet?)

6. Some people really are self-important jackasses.

7. I cry far too easily.

I have a long list of people I met or reconnected with. Which means I’m bound to forget someone. But a few highlights, at least for now:

4MA – Maddy, Em, Merlot, Jen, Mary Saums… The whole gang, every single one of them, is wonderful. I cannot tell you how much I love that list. And I met Donna Moore, who won the Leftie. Huge huge congrats to her on that.

Chatting with Jack Getze during my signing time. Jack’s debut, Big Numbers will be out this spring. I am delighted to see that Jack will be at Murder in the Grove in June, so I hope to have a chance to hear how his launch has gone.

The sage advice from Alex Brett.

Finally having a chance to talk to Rick Mofina, who is just wonderful.

Meeting Gregg Olsen, who is one of the nicest guys on the planet and is going to be a huge smash with his debut novel next month. He’s articulate, funny and someone I didn’t spend enough time with.

Hanging out with my brother Bill and his wife Jill – I wish they lived closer because they are a super-cool couple.

The one-liners. Oh. My. God. I heard some of the funniest things over the weekend ever. And saw some of the best book inscriptions ever.


Tim Maleeny.

Hearing great publishing stories from Marshall Karp about MacAdam/Cage and looking at their beautiful book catalogue. I am in love with that publisher. Just beautiful, beautiful work.

Robert Fate.

Troy and Bruce Cook.

Martin Edwards and Stephen Booth.

Twist Phelan. Generous, engaging and incredibly sweet. I’m so glad I got to spend some time with her, although (as always) it wasn’t enough.

Louise Ure.

Hope McIntyre.

And there are a bazillion people I need to email and say it was great to meet.

And another bazillion I wish I’d met but didn’t. I at least met Naomi Hirahara, but didn’t get to congratulate her on the Edgar nom. Ugh.

I know there is more I planned to say. Probably something about The Bible and Baby Shark. (Did I forget to tell all of you how I went for the two-foot meal deal during my panel? They weren't laughing near me, they were laughing at me, and I don't blame them!) However, as I am still hacking up a lung here, I’m going to post this and return to my big, soft, warm bed. The work will wait another day or two, but clearly my lungs intend to move to better accommodations if I don’t placate them with nursing and fussing and chicken soup and Canada Dry!!!!! But my eyes aren’t watery at the moment, so I’m going to try reading.

And to slowly catch up with my friends.

I'm still mulling over some interesting points raised on panels that I may address in posts this week, which is why I haven't said more about those. And since things are still lingering in my mind, they are most likely to come out here.

** And I had some personal bad news recently about someone in my family who’s ill. Facing issues of mortality always makes people smart a bit, I guess. When I was visiting my friend in BC before LCC we were talking about how it was exactly a year since she’d lost her dad. It was hard because it was so sudden. There are a lot of people who could no-show for an event and I wouldn't give it a second thought, because it wouldn't be unexpected for them. There are others who, upon hearing they've missed something, I feel a gripping cold squeeze my heart.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Hmmm. Maybe I'll do a childrens series after all

Hardboiled For Kids:

Bill & Jill went up the hill and came back with a body.

(See the comments in the LCC threads for full appreciation.)

I'll wrap up my LCC thoughts tomorrow.

This was inspired by EvilKev.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

More Left Coast Crime...

I finally made it to Left Coast Crime.

As I mentioned yesterday, I've been sick. One of those deeply entrenched horrid things I could feel coming on before my school event. And after the school event whatever evil virus is within me multiplied faster than rabbits until it made life suck.

Of course, what made life suckier was traveling at the time. I don't think anyone likes traveling when they aren't feeling 100%. All I wanted was a bottle of Canada Dry and some hot chicken soup but it wasn't on the menu.

Anyway, as you all know, I was up early yesterday and I went off to the convention hotel for breakfast. Which was a glass of orange juice. By that point the thought of food was making my stomach rotate faster than a spinning toy in a hyperactive toddler's hand. I did enjoy the company of Toni, Bill and Jill (Bill's wife) but then it was off to do the last-minute prep.

And - of course - this was the morning that my voice had moved from full-time work down to part-time/occasional status.

Fortunately for me Bette Golden Lamb was on my panel, and she's a practicing RN, so she mothered me back to discussion level. Since we were on at 10 am we were up against the heavy-hitters. I thought about wearing a sign: CORNELIA READ IS NEXT DOOR. But for some reason a good number of people had come to our panel.

Now, it's hard to assess a panel when you're on it. Even if you suck you want to try to persuade yourself you were okay. However, I'm fairly certain we didn't suck. I had a lively group - Sam Reaves, Maris Soule, Bette and Robert Fate. Once I'd pulled this group together on Thursday in person it pretty much put my worries to rest. People were on topic, interesting and funny.

Oh, and did you know Robert Fate won an Academy Award? Hey, if you're going to name-drop you may as well get to say you moderated a panel with an Academy Award Winner on it.

Now, I'm not going to even attempt to do a blow by blow of the panel because I am still feeling crummy, but the audience laughed, we ran out of time, and there was one true tell that I made an impression on people:

I became a story.

Yep, later in the day as I joined some 4MA friends one turned and said she was just talking about me, telling the story about me on my panel...

Yep, that would be the story about me putting my foot in my mouth. Let this be a lesson to me - never, ever, ever ever ever, infer your age on a panel again Sandra. LOL. The only thing I'm left wondering is who will be the first to send me a Han Solo t-shirt. For those of you at home wondering what the hell it is I'm babbling about I think it's one of those things that loses something in the explanation. Out panel topic was "Do We Read Thrillers Because We Need Heroes?" and I was raising the question of how our perception of heroes has changed over the decades. Since Sam's latest book (out now) is set in 1969 I was leading into the question by mentioning how it got me thinking about how '69 was apparently a very significant time in history, apparently, because I wasn't born yet. I've been told I dropped that in with just the right humility. I didn't do a survey, but I think that's the moment when I realized I quite possibly was the youngest person in the room.

To make matters worse, when a gentleman in the audience asked who the first anti-hero we remembered seeing was, Sam said Dirty Harry, and I said Han Solo. Now, I think you really had to be there, but when I saw Toni last night she said she nearly fell off her chair laughing, which seemed to be the general audience response. I'm surprised someone didn't come up and ask me where my Mommy was afterwards. Anyhow...

I got great feedback on the panel.

Then it was off for lunch. Marshall Karp, Marshall's publicist, Twist Phelan, Cornelia Read, Louise Ure and Tim Maleeny were most enjoyable lunch companions. I discovered Louise and I have a mutual understanding of adopting a dog with emotional challenges. (This is my note to myself to especially remember to check her Murderati post on Tuesday.)

After this I went in search of a few very important people I wanted to meet - the lovely DorothyL moderators. Even The Saint was here for LCC - for some reason this hadn't registered with me, but I'm sure it was the bug I've been fighting interfering with my brain. Or I'm just forgetful. Lovely to meet them. Oddly enough they said they hadn't been at my panel but one mentioned I was a lot younger than they expected. I think it's the curls, to be honest.

After meeting them it was time for me to return to The Green Room, as Alex Brett had asked me to assist with her panel. Now, there's a story here.

On Friday night everyone was wondering where Barry Eisler was, because he was supposed to do the auction, but wasn't there. Nobody had heard from him.

Turns out he was enjoying the romance package with champagne and chocolates in his room, having completely forgotten he'd said he'd do the auction. But he was supposed to be on Alex's panel, nobody had seen him (except Paul Guyot, and Paul wasn't talking) and when he walked into the meeting room we were all relieved to hear he was okay and nothing disastrous had happened. I'm sure the story will be told repeatedly, but as I understand it I have the inside scoop about the breakfast with Paul and the chocolates and, well, maybe Barry will decide to share.

Back to the panel. This was The Liar's Panel. The object was to determine the best liar. Mixing moderator and audience questions, there was a designated panel liar for each question. The audience voted and there was a point system for lying successfully, lying and failing, telling the truth and being believed a liar...

The panelists were Hakan Nessar, SJ Rozan, moderator Alex Brett, Meg Chittenden and Barry Eisler. I was doing the Vanna thing, except with math, displaying the score and passing out chocolates to the audience members who asked questions.

What did we learn?

SJ Rozan is the best liar.
Hakan is hysterical.
A lot of people distrust Barry and Meg.

Someone in the audience will undoubtedly do a better job recounting this panel, because I was busy during it, but what I remember is that when I left my stomach hurt from laughing so hard.

And on a side note, if you're ever asked to do score-keeping for such a panel consider your clothes carefully. I hadn't thought of needing to bend over in front of the audience was so glad I didn't wear underwear that rode up. Just wanted all of you to benefit from the insight I gleaned from this experience.

Oh, shit. I didn't mention signing books. Well, back up to right after my panel. I went upstairs to sign books. Now, I'll do a proper list of everyone I met at some point, because my brain is still foggy, but I did get to sit beside the charming Robert Fate. But what I really meant to mention was that I sold all the books I had and had to turn away others, but then the coolest thing happened.

A lady came up with a book in hand, bookmark about halfway through it, and I didn't realize (because I was shouldering the lines for Robert and Cornelia Read and because the lady had taken the flap off) that it was my book, and she was actually reading it and wanted me to sign it.

I think that was the coolest thing...ever. End of the day awards are nice (and huge congrats to Donna Moore on her Lefty win!!! Yeah Donna, who told me she knew she wouldn't win but wasn't she wrong!), sales are important, blah blah, but I write because I would write anyway, published or not, and the reason you want to get published is to be read. There is no cooler compliment than someone saying they're reading your book and loving it.

After the panels it was off to the non-banquet party. Cornelia, Rae, Marshall, Tim Maleeny, Madeline Butler, Janine from Seattle Mystery Bookstore, Caroline Upcher (aka Hope McIntyre), Sarah and I'm totally blanking on the other lady's name. *@!*. Okay, I'm pretty sure *@!* wasn't her name but it's flown right out of my head at the moment.

This was completely what I needed last night. Low key but a lot of fun.

Now, this is where I have to get into the annoyance factor. For the past two days nobody has let me buy my own meal. Bastards. How freakin' inconsiderate can you be? Seriously, I'm constantly blown away by the generosity of the people I meet and get to hang out with at these events.

It's the home stretch for me now. Off to Portland in a couple hours, a signing there, then to the airport. I can't wait to get home and collapse for a few days.

Every time I talked to Kevin he asked if I was having a good time because I sounded depressed. Yes, I had a good time. I certainly didn't enjoy this as much as I could have, had I been feeling better. And there were a few low points too. The worst thing about that is when I'm sick I cry easily. That's why it was so good for me to have those quieter meals with good friends so I could just be myself and not worry about anything.

I was a bit annoyed that I woke up so early this morning, but it did give me a chance to see Steve Brewer before he left. Ah, conventions. So many hit and miss conversations with people, but better to have a quick hello than not see them at all. One of the other quick chats I had was with Martin Edwards and Stephen Booth. Now, these are two gentlemen I'd love to have a quiet dinner with. Maybe next time I'm in the UK I'll manage that.

And I do have a list of people I meant to track down and never found. Never got to even say hello to Megan Abbott, for example. We were only signing freaking books at the same time. Never met Theresa Schwegel.

See, no matter how many conventions you attend there is always something left to do next time.

So, until next time.

A note about yesterday's post:

As per request I made a slight modification to the post. I'm not sure that I made it completely clear that the reason the author who used the profane term used it specifically to demonstrate that there is still room for language to evolve. We were discussing how words that used to be "profane" are now normal words and how meanings change over time, but new "taboo" words emerge. That's all. And the author who spoke up did this brilliantly, by coming up with a term that did shock people. It proved that there's still room for curse words to expand into new terrain. Fuck is a lot less shocking today than it was 20 years ago, even. As its impact fades, new words will come up that will take its place as the "biggie". I'd say the use of cunt is increasing. It's just one of those things. Language is a living thing. Well, unless it's a dead language, but that's exactly why we have the term. As long as people are speaking English it will evolve and that means meanings can change over time.

I certainly didn't mean to present Bruce in a bad light. But upon reflection I thought I hadn't done a good job of fully explaining and I didn't want anyone to have a misunderstanding about the context, so I've bleeped the term he used.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Going Through Bruen Withdrawal at Left Coast Crime

There's only one reason I'm blogging at the moment: I'm sick.

Otherwise, I'd be tucked under the covers for at least another 45 minutes. Or running around, stressing, because my panel is this morning. But I don't have the energy to run or stress, and I can't sleep between the coughing.

Since I was up anyway I thought it was a good time to phone Ken and check in on the folks at Love is Murder in Chicago. Sounds like he's keeping super-busy, and from what I gleaned they're having a great time in Chicago.

Despite feeling like death warmed over I have been having a good time. As I mentioned before, I attended the 4MA dinner on Wednesday night. I don't think my brief post emphasized just how much fun that was. We even got to see Colin Campbell's legs.

I had actually been feeling better on Wednesday... See, the bug goes back to the week before, when I did my school event. Which seemed to go well, by the way. After that, I got sick. I thought I'd be over it by LCC, and my body seemed to be cooperating with the plan.

I even went to bed early, no bar, Wednesday night. Good girl.

Woke up feeling like crap. I had a horrid headache all day Thursday. This was not helped by the fact that it was standing room only at the Thursday panels. I managed one, had to escape for air and then went back to the third to see Toni McGee Causey's panel. You know how it is, when you feel like everything's pressing in on you and you can't handle being around people? That's how I felt by the end of the panel - I had to get out of that room.

Where Toni and I were sitting for the first panel was perfect, though. We could see everyone coming in and thus found Gregg Olsen and Sean Chercover.

Between panels I had a great talk with fellow Canadian author Alex Brett. I also got to meet Linda L. Richards.

I met with my panelists Thursday afternoon and was delighted by the group. After that meeting it was the "con tradition" - dinner with Robert Fate and Bill Cameron. We've been trying to persuade Bill to come to Murder in the Grove so that we can go out again. They're such great guys, I love hanging out with them.

After that it was back to the hotel for me. No bar, again. Just bed. In fact, Toni was shocked to discover me already asleep when she came in. I had a really rough night, tossing and turning after that, feeling as though I was burning up. I don't know if I was, but that's how I felt.

Surprisingly, I was up early yesterday and feeling better. And so I was off, grabbed breakfast at the pharmacy (they sell fruit cups there, I discovered) and went to Tim Maleeny's panel in the morning. Tim is one of those wonderful people I met at Bouchercon and have kept in touch with a bit over the months, and we keep having these "in passing" conversations. Tonight, I believe we're having dinner with a few other friends.

I did go to an incredibly fun panel yesterday, in the small room, on swearing. This is a panel topic I'd suggested and really wanted to be on this panel. Alas, Bill Cameron, Brett Battles and Rob Gregory Browne got the privilege, but what a great atmosphere. There was a lot of audience participation and discussion and it was lively and engaging to the very end. The room was pretty packed as well.

And not one of us there will look at Bruce Cook the same way again, as he dropped the "@!#*fucker" bomb on us all. He was talking about the evolution of language and how things that used to be offensive aren't now and suggested maybe @!#*fucker would be the next really offensive term. Judging from the reaction from even the potty mouths on the panel, I'd say that's a possibility.

Of course, what can you expect from someone who had the nickname Juicy Brucey? See, that's why you come early and go to the 4MA dinners. You learn things you can mention on your blog. It is public knowledge.

Bruce is going to be at Murder in the Grove as well. It's so nice reconnecting with friends at these things.

After that I did go to the bar with Rick Mofina. We were having a great chat, so I persauded him to tag along to the St. Martin's party with me, where Rick and Parnell Hall and myself had an interesting conversation about stalkers and reverse stalking.

Next I did make an appearance at the LCC schmoozing thing at the convention hotel. My reservations about going abated when I ran into Cornelia Read right off. Ultimately I went for dinner with her and a great small group, which is what I needed.

And it's at this point I realize I forgot to mention lunch with Alexandra Sokoloff, Toni, Phil Hawley, Rob, Brett, Boyd and Paul Guyot.

Paul loves Canadians.

Oh, and great lobby moment when Rick Mofina held up his nametag to see if we could spot what was wrong with it. Three Americans, one with dual citizenship and one Canadian. Sean and I were the only ones who laughed, because Ottawa was spelled wrong on his card.

Now, this is where I'll take a detour to pet peeve land. Why does where we're from have to be printed is huge lettering on our convention ID cards? I ripped mine off. Kevin flipped when he saw the Bouchercon one, and the town was actually put in small lettering. But he has a valid point, in our case, about me living in a village with only 800 people and being uncomfortable with that being widespread public knowledge. Sure 99.9% of the people at these things are wonderful, but when you start getting 500+ people at a con - or 1200 in the case of B'con - one shady character might slip in.

Normally I'm up and blogging and giving detailed reports if I can at these things. But, suffice it to say that with how I've been feeling I've had an okay time, but haven't been as with it as usual. Thing is, I knew I was getting sick two weeks ago, but was fighting it. This bug is stubborn.

I am looking forward to my panel this morning. I'm looking forward to my panel being done! I'm also looking forward to The Liar's Panel this afternoon, where I will be the Crime Fiction Vanna, keeping score.

I feel as though I'm only skimming the surface of the convention, both in my post and in my experience of it. Yes, I'm not all there. Or here. I may have made it to a bar with Rick yesterday, but it was 4 pm and I didn't drink. If I do make the late-night schmooze it will be tonight only. Otherwise, it's been to bed by 9:30.

Boy do I feel old.

Toni's computer has pop-up blocker. Two versions of it. As a result, I can't disable it and send emails. And as a result of that some people are really wondering where the heck I've disappeared to. I'll do my best to start digging out middle of the week, but tomorrow is another busy day, driving to Portland with Bill and Sean, doing a signing there and then flying home. My flight gets in at 1 am or something ludicrous, so don't expect anything from me Monday.

My general sense of the con is that people are having a good time. However, this is definitely one of those times that someone else will have a more insightful analysis of the event, because I'm not all here.

I look forward to surfing next week and catching up a bit. Oh, Mindy, I haven't met your friend yet. I have met some lovely people, though the names are a big foggy at the moment.

I leave you now, in search of drugs.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Left Coast Crime: Getting There From Here

If it's possible for something to go wrong, it undoubtedly will. At least, if you're me.

Yes, I can post to my blog. But I can't email. I can't even retrieve my voicemail messages off my phone. If you leave one, Kevin will retrieve it and then phone me and tell me.


And I have a headache.

All of which has nothing to do with the wonderful kick-start to LCC last night. I drove down from Vancouver with Merlot and Jen, from the 4MA list, and after several attempts at locating the hotel we managed to get ourselves in and settled. Then it was off to the 4MA dinner party, which was a lot of fun. Although there were 42 people present it still felt a bit like a blur of names, but so many of those names were familiar from posts, and it was nice to start putting names to faces.

Plus, seeing Maddy adorned with handcuffs and chains was a treat.

I'm off this morning in search of Aleve and a dark corner, but when I manage to extricate myself I'm sure I'll have more LCC observations to share.

(So, btw, to those emailing it will be next week before you hear back from me. And I'll be digging my way out from under the stash of emails that have come in, so be patient with me!)

And I can't post a link here at the moment, but Patrick Shawn Bagley has Heavy Metal Noir selections posted on his blog.