Friday, June 29, 2007

The Battle For Scotland...

...has begun. With the official ringing of the second bell, it's the Bearded Wonderboy coming out with a slick, smooth campaign designed to help him jump out in front of the competition. However, Hard Man Guthrie has proven before that marathons are not won with quick bursts but with careful pacing.

And now that he knows what Stuart's up to, he can plan a counter accordingly.

In all seriousness, the polls are open for the shortlist for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. The shortlist:

The Dead Place by Stephen Booth
All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an Eye by Christopher Brookmyre
Blood and Honey by Graham Hurley
The Death Ship of Dartmouth by Michael Jecks

And, of course, Two Way Split by Allan Guthrie and Cold Granite by Stuart MacBride.

So, in light of our discussion about political correctness being overdone yesterday, I feel I can finally ask if people with multiple personalities can vote more than once. Of course, if they can that would greatly favour one of the authors...

Congratulations, again, to all the nominees. I haven't voted yet, so bribes will be considered for a limited time.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Times Change

Lately I’ve been thinking about the fact that memory can be unreliable. I’ve been thinking about how hard it is to get a sense of recent history.

Where we live gets closer to Calgary every day. When we drive to the city and go to Country Hills Boulevard we shake our heads, knowing we’ve been married longer than those stores have existed. Whole communities, hundreds and hundreds of homes, have sprouted up over time, and still the building continues, creeping north. They’re working on a big mall now, apparently one that will outdo West Edmonton Mall. It’s outside the city boundaries, but it just may mean that in the next few years, we can reach a chain bookstore in 20 minutes.

Am I the only person who finds it hard, geographically, when dealing with recent history in writing? Something I’ve been working on has had me scratching my head, wondering, “When did that theatre shut down?” and “What was the name of that restaurant before the new owners bought it?”

In the midst of pondering all of this a friend sent the following. Personally speaking, there are a few that really ring true, so I thought I’d share. I actually remember kids getting the strap at school… Wonder what year that was banned?

SCHOOL 1977 vs 2007

Scenario 1: Jack goes quail hunting before school, pulls into school parking lot with shotgun in gun rack.
1977 - Vice Principal comes over, looks at Jack's shotgun, goes to his car and gets his shotgun to show Jack.
2007 - School goes into lock down, FBI called, Jack hauled off to jail and never sees his truck or gun again. Counselors called in for traumatized students and teachers.

Scenario 2: Johnny and Mark get into a fistfight after school.
1977 - Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up buddies.
2007 - Police called, SWAT team arrives, arrests Johnny and Mark. Charge them with assault, both expelled even though Johnny started it.

Scenario 3: Jeffrey won't be still in class, disrupts other students.
1977 - Jeffrey sent to office and given a good paddling by the Principal. Returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.
2007 - Jeffrey given huge doses of Ritalin. Becomes a zombie. Tested for ADD. School gets extra money from state because Jeffrey has a disability.

Scenario 4: Billy breaks a window in his neighbor's car and his Dad gives him a spanking.
1977 - Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college, and becomes a successful businessman.
2007 - Billy's Dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy removed to foster care and joins a gang. State psychologist tells Billy's sister that she remembers being abused herself and their Dad goes to prison. Billy's mom has affair with psychologist.

Scenario 5: Mark gets a headache and takes some aspirin to school.
1977 - Mark shares aspirin with Principal out on the smoking dock.
2007 - Police called, Mark expelled from school for drug violations. Car searched for drugs and weapons.

Scenario 6: Pedro fails high school English.
1977 - Pedro goes to summer school, passes English, goes to college.
2007 - Pedro's cause is taken up by state. Newspaper articles appear nationally explaining that teaching English as a requirement for graduation is racist. ACLU files class action lawsuit against state school system and Pedro's English teacher. English banned from core curriculum. Pedro given diploma anyway but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he cannot speak English.

Scenario 7: Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers from 4th of July, puts them in a model airplane paint bottle, blows up a red ant bed.
1977 - Ants die.
2007 - BATF, Homeland Security, FBI called. Johnny charged with domestic terrorism, FBI investigates parents, siblings removed from home, computers confiscated, Johnny's Dad goes on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.

Scenario 8: Johnny falls while running during recess and scrapes his knee. He is found crying by his teacher, Mary. Mary hugs him to comfort him.
1977 - In a short time, Johnny feels better and goes on playing.
2007 - Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces 3 years in State Prison. Johnny undergoes 5 years of therapy.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


One of the things I've been guilty of lately is not giving nods to other bloggers the way I used to. Part of this has to do with reading less lately, but every now and again something comes along that simply must be read to be appreciated.

With thanks to Brian for the link, I'm going to point you in the direction of Jeff Somers. Who is he? Yet another author. Boring, right? Like there aren't ten zillion of them blogging already. But anybody labeling their blog with the tag word "Bullshit" has my interest. His post made me smile, although I find myself wondering if there isn't a clause in the contract that forbids him from revealing his publishers sins. He might be on toilet-scrubbing detail sooner than he thinks.

Norby tells me I haven't posted jokes lately. This is true. Norby was so offended by my failure to amuse she sent me a joke to post, so I will.

A woman walked into a Lexus dealership to browse, and spotted the most beautiful, perfectly "loaded" Lexus. She walked over to inspect it more closely. As she bent forward to feel the fine leather upholstery, an unexpected little burst of flatulence escaped her. Very embarrassed, she anxiously looked around to see if anyone had noticed. There, standing right behind her, was a salesman.

With a pleasant smile he greeted her, "Good day, Madame. How may we help you today?"

Trying to maintain an air of sophistication and acting as though nothing had happened, she smiled back and asked, "Sir, what is the price of this lovely vehicle?"

Still smiling pleasantly, he replied, "Madame, I'm very sorry to say that if you farted just touching it, you're gonna shit when you hear the price.

Betty also sent me a joke, and it's worth posting too.

One day a father gets out of work and on his way home he suddenly remembers that it's his daughter's birthday. He pulls over to a toy shop and asks the salesperson, "How much for one Of Those Barbie's in the display window

The salesperson answers,"Which one do you mean, sir? We have: Work Out Barbie for $19.95, Shopping Barbie for $19.95, Beach Barbie for $19.95, Disco Barbie for $19.95, Ballerina Barbie for $19.95, Astronaut Barbie for $19.95, Skater Barbie for $19.95, and Divorced Barbie for $265.95"

The amazed father asks: "You what?! Why is the Divorced Barbie $265.95 and The others only $19.95?

The annoyed salesperson rolls her eyes, sighs, and answers: "Sir...Divorced Barbie comes with: Ken's Car, Ken's House, Ken's Boat, Ken's Furniture, Ken's Computer and...One of Ken's Friends."

And in all honesty... I am slamming on the new Spinetingler issue. I still have a couple reviews to write, and an interview to transcribe. (And that always makes me squirrely.) I'm also reading Christa Faust's MONEY SHOT in an effort to get my advance review done for July. And the dogs have been systematically unraveling the chain link fence that keep them from chasing horses and deer.

In other words, life is conspiring against me here, but one of these days I hope to be alert at 5 am instead of an immovable lump, and to have caught up on all my work. Of course, not only do I need to finish this issue, I need to finish clearing the backlog of Spinetingler submissions first...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Everybody Loves A Good Fight

It’s true, isn’t it? As long as we aren’t emotionally involved, as long as our friends/family aren’t being hurt, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to conflict. Conflict gets people talking, gets people fired up and, eventually, gets people taking sides.

From time to time we see celebrity scraps used as front page fodder for the tabloids and magazines and I can only guess that the reason they do it is to make the papers fly off the shelves. I certainly was taught how to write scandal stories when I studied journalism. One of the reasons I changed gears.

In the past few years, since I first became aware of blogs, I’ve seen the conflicts spill over to the public face of this community. And yes, I’ve been involved in some conflicts. I understand (only too well) my own tendency to defend friends or things I believe in.

The truth is, I’ve lost respect as a result of some of these arguments. Sometimes, I lose respect for myself, because I’m angry that I lost my temper or that I couldn’t resist the urge to speak up. I almost always end up angry with someone who’s waded in on the conflict with complete stupidity. I get angry with the people who accuse and point fingers and mock, especially without taking the time to get their facts straight first. And I really get pissed off when people do it under the veil of “reporting” or “editorial commentary”, which explains why there are some “industry” sites I won’t read. They’re no better than tabloid hacks.

Now, I recently discussed this new trend to let people leave comments below news stories on newspaper sites. Some newspapers have active forums, and pull the topics to their home page to draw discussion. I’m just starting to become aware of the fact that when I click on a home page link, it doesn’t always take me to a news article or even a column. Sometimes, it takes me to a pure reader opinion piece.

Such as this one, Are we going to have a dictatorship in Canada? Well… wow. More proof that most of the people drawn to these “discussions” are narrow-minded idiots using the veil of anonymity to spew hatred and garbage? Read for yourself to decide, but with only four comments at the time I’m writing this, it’s already gotten nasty.

The internet has this wonderful plus of bringing people together, of letting us interact despite the barriers of geography, nationality, etc. I don’t always find it a sad thing that we get drawn into each other’s lives. (I know some think it’s pathetic that people make better friends online than they do in person in their own hometowns.) I think it gives us a chance to connect with like-minded people who share our interests, and particularly for us writers it’s a way of staying in touch in the long gaps between conventions and crossing paths during book tours.

But the same forum that can bring us together can tear us apart.

The reality is, things get said, feelings get hurt, and a lot of people leave things unresolved. I certainly know for myself that if I feel things have been left badly with a person I’m not going to want to see them. I’m going to want to avoid them at the next convention. Even if I have nothing against them, if I think they have something against me, I stay away.

And then there are the conflicts you witness that you do stay on the sidelines for, but nonetheless you know about them. I’m inclined to avoid them too. Is it all water under the bridge? Or are people still picking sides?

We’re human. We all have the ability within us to take offense and give it, to lose our grasp on our better judgment in the heat of the moment…

For the past few months I’ve found myself typing responses to topics on blogs, forums, lists and then deleting them instead of hitting publish. I’ve found myself thinking, again and again, best to walk away. Don’t get involved, no good will come of it.

It’s a human tendency to start forming conclusions when you hear things. And when you hear things under the table, so to speak, so you’ve promised not to repeat it or divulge the source, it makes it hard or impossible to go to other parties involved and get their perspective so that you can form balanced conclusions. You’re left with this toxin there, a pile of stuff in your brain, and you don’t know if it has to go out with hazardous waste or if you can recycle it or if it’s just pure trash. So, it stays there, festers and you either have to find a way to work around it or find a way to get rid of it.

Which, for me, isn’t as easy as it sounds. I’ve always had one of those minds that collects bits of information and pieces things together. Sometimes I’ve intuitively deduced things I had no concrete information to support. Sometimes I’ve been dead wrong about where I stand with a person. The trouble with having a mind that works that way is that if it connects to something on an emotional level or is curious about something, it doesn’t tend to let go easily.

The result is, I find myself reading fewer blogs, reading fewer forums, auto-deleting posts on listservs. And yes, I’ve found myself putting authors on my mental list of ‘will never read’ after being harassed by a few of them.

As I said, I’ve made my share of mistakes, and definitely been drawn into the scraps in the past. I’ve had a few people I’ve argued with, and then have patched things up. But I’ve also seen, as a result, that others who took sides carry the conflict longer than myself and the other party do. They didn’t have the closure of resolution.

I do find myself wondering what readers think of all this. Has easier access given us knowledge of the dark side of the community in a way that’s hurting our image? I think, from time to time, about shutting it all off. And if I shut it all off, how am I going to hear about new authors and books I might be interested in? You have to remember that, where I live, I just don’t have a bookstore I can drop by and get solid referrals from.

And if I’m tempted to shut it all off, how many others are pulling the plug in disgust?

(I didn’t want to use an actual example from the writing world, which is why I linked to that forum discussion, but I think it shows just how volatile things can get.)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Publishing Moving in New Directions

From time to time author forums feature grumbling about the industry and what should change to make it better. However, the complaints often run in tandem with criticisms when publishers do try something new, or when a new player steps on the scene, especially if they do things differently.

An example was recent discussion about SLIP AND FALL, a book by Nick Santora published by and available exclusively at Borders. I’m personally not surprised by moves such as this, and today comes word that the book made the Wall Street Journal’s bestseller list in its first week out.

I did find it interesting that the choice by Borders to publish a book and sell it exclusively raised questions for people. You won’t find me saying anything here I didn’t say on the thread already – you’ll find me saying less. But the idea that booksellers have ever been neutral, or impartial, is wrong. Especially in the US the books that end up prominently displayed have been pushed by publishers who’ve paid for them to be there. What difference does it really make if a publisher is also a bookseller and they push their own book? Poisoned Pen Press does it.

Now, in the case of Poisoned Pen Press, their books are also available at other bookstores. Borders could do that as well. They have (obviously) decided that it would be best to handle sales exclusively. And it appears that this may have been a good decision. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see if they decide to do this again before we’ll really know.

This news comes at the same time as news about a bookseller with a mission. He intends to sell 1001 copies of a book before it’s released through hand sales and word of mouth in the hopes that it will generate interest from a US publisher.

The article is fascinating, and one any author, bookseller, publisher, booklover should consider reading. The author, Papernick, a 36-year-old Toronto native, said that after his book of short stories was published and then favorably reviewed in The New York Times, he thought success would take care of itself. It didn't. Now he's convinced that today's authors have to be more proactive in promoting their work, finding imaginative ways to rise above the crowd.
"Being a writer is only partially about being an artist. It's also about being a salesman, if you want people to read it," Papernick said.

Welcome to the new world order of selling books and getting published.

And what’s really interesting to me is a comment from someone recently about a publisher assessing an author’s marketing strategy and considering publishing them based solely on that. I’ve seen this with a few publishers I’ve looked at – a requirement to submit a marketing plan along with your manuscript.

I have to say that I find that part of it sad. A lot of authors are focused more on selling than writing, more on profile than prose. And I still look to my list of greats – Bruen, Lippman, McDermid, Pelecanos, Rankin – who honed their craft and focused on the quality of the books… which explains to me why they’ve achieved the success they have. The work speaks for itself.

I do think that if someone proves they can sell then certainly a publisher should pick them up. There’s clearly a market for their work. (I also think that aspiring authors should be careful when assessing their options, because some equate the success of one author with the publisher instead of the author. Particularly with very small, new publishers, the success of an author depends on their own marketing strategy. A lot of us are on our own.)

Honestly, I applaud the efforts of the bookstore and the author to raise his profile. I’ll be watching to see what happens.

The thing I note about these two stories is that both of them involve more hands-on involvement from booksellers. For those who dismiss the significance of booksellers and the importance of having people who move books by recommendations this is proof that skilled sales people who actually read books and interact with their clientele can make a significant impact on the success of a book.

Now, the reality is, there’s nothing that a small publisher can do to compete with the clout a large publisher has in the business. But publishers such as Poisoned Pen Press have taken a proactive approach to putting good books into the market and have gained a lot of respect within the industry. Proof that (some) booksellers not only know how to sell books, they know how to produce books that sell. And perhaps the evidence needed to remind those in the business that the way forward is to keep your finger on the pulse of readers and understand their interests, and publish accordingly.

And perhaps all of this is proof that – like it or not – new authors should take marketing courses. However, what this author, Papernick, is doing is actually teaming up with someone who knows how to sell.

Perhaps proof that closer partnerships between authors and publishers and booksellers are the most effective way to sell books.

I honestly don’t know. The real proof will be if Papernick gets picked up by a US publisher. Meanwhile, the armchair critics can sit back, watch it unfold and commentate.

And in other news, the Bearded Liberation Front fights discrimination one contest at a time.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Summer Reading

The Toronto Star has a genius piece on the joys of summer reading. Summer reading ... is that trashy page-turner you plan to devour while reclining on a deck chair with a vodka martini in one hand... is a guiltless pleasure, no matter how trashy the page-turner or how large the martini… ... is like winter getaway reading on a Caribbean island, but lasts longer and – when enjoyed on your back patio – costs a whole lot less and comes with a greatly reduced likelihood of contracting hepatitis. It’s a good list, although I have to say I was in the bookstore yesterday, stocking up on my supply of books, and staff person extraordinaire 'J' warned me off the new Ondaatje.

What did I buy? The collectors edition of Knots and Crosses, because it’s reassuring to see that everyone has to correct typos.

The Darkness Inside by John Rickards. Because, although I’ve already read it, I believe in supporting my favourite authors.
Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt. Because I haven’t read him yet and really, really should.

And two more Hard Case Crime books to help complete Kevin’s collection. Now that he’s subscribed they’ll arrive by mail every month.

I did not, however, buy Hung Out to Die by Brett Battles.

But I did smile when I saw it still listed on the chain store computer here. For the record, they also have the book with proper title (and publisher) The Cleaner. On sale June 26, btw…

The Toronto Star has also compiled a list of some summer beach reads. I decided that I should do a little list of some of my recommended summer reading. What do I suggest? (In alphabetical order, so no squabbling.)

Ammunition by Ken Bruen. Well, anything by Ken Bruen. But there’s something about Brant that suits the summer, when you want to have an action-packed read that has you flipping pages late into the night.

Broken Skin by Stuart MacBride.

Yes, MacBride is back, and this time he’s got John ‘Spanky’ Rickards to torment on the pages. He also includes a hilarious nod to Rankin, although Rankin fans lacking a sense of humour will likely send hatemail and firebombs. Stuart may have to dress up as a woman more often to avoid detection.

Wonder what the hell I’m talking about? Read his blog if you want to know more, but whatever else you do, read his book.

Beneath the Bleeding by Val McDermid.

I’m absolutely choked that it looks like this book won’t hit Canada until next year. It’s been too long already. I may have to order from the UK.

The 50/50 Killer by Steve Mosby

This is an absolutely spellbinding thriller. Part of you doesn’t want to turn the page to face the truth, but you have to know how it will unfold. Mosby expertly weaves the threads of the story to build the tension and just when you think you know how it will unfold he pulls the rug out from under your feet. It may seem early in the year to make predictions, but I doubt a more original work will cross my desk this year. A tour de force, Mosby is my pick as breakout author of 2007 and is now on my list of my annual ‘must-reads’.

A Thousand Bones by PJ Parrish.

A riveting page-turner, I was kept up half the night reading because I just had to know what happened next. Of course, the worst thing about finishing a wonderful book is that you know you have to wait a year for the follow-up, but if A Thousand Bones is any indication of what PJ Parrish can do with this character it will be well worth the wait.

What else do I have on my tbr pile, waiting?

Strangers by Carla Banks
Cut to the Bone by Shane Gericke
Big Numbers by Jack Getze
The Rabbit Factory and Bloodthirsty by Marshal Karp
In this Rain by SJ Rozan
What The Dead Know by Laura Lippman

And still some unread Bruen…

What am I currently reading?

A Perfect Grave by Rick Mofina.

No doubt there will be other books I’ve neglected to mention here that I might make a point of highlighting over the summer, but this is a good start. Feel free to add recommendations of your own below, because you can never have too many books!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Sin Against Victims

I tried to strip emotion out of my disapproval of authors pretending to be something they aren’t to sell books but the truth is, this hurts every single victim of sexual abuse and victim of the sex trade industry, still grappling with their pain.

The reality is, victims of sexual abuse usually go through years of suppressing their pain before they can even begin to deal with it. When someone comes along, creates an alter ego, pretends to be something they aren’t and does it for commercial gain it contributes to an aura of mistrust. The result is that, for victims who actually do speak out, their credibility is called into question because of the deception of others.

One of the reasons most people do not candidly admit to abuse is the shame. There are still a lot of people who believe that if a woman’s been raped, she must have done something to deserve it. Some people cling to that because they want to protect themselves, they need to persuade themselves that it couldn’t happen to them. They don’t like feeling vulnerable, so it’s much easier to judge and blame than to acknowledge that yes, truly innocent people can end up as victims.

Beyond the physical repercussions of abuse, the psychological scars can take a lifetime to heal, if they ever do. And when someone masquerades as a victim for commercial gain it’s like spitting in the face of every real victim out there.

As one amazon review says, The artist is deceitful above all things.

It is unconscionable to pass yourself off as a person dying of AIDS. To those with HIV, AIDS, or those who love or are caregivers to them, it is a horrid, hideous assault. (S)he has insulted every single person who has ever died of AIDS that it defies metaphor.

When I thought the traumas described in this book were part of an abuse pattern that eventually led to HIV infection (by that I mean having been beaten down so horrifyingly that your mindset is such that you are capable of's complicated, but trust me on this), I was moved as powerfully as if I had been hit by a bus. Now I'm furious. The writing, good if written by a teenager, is rather pedestrian now that we know the source.

I'm nearly as sad as I am furious. I thought we had a fascinating addition to the lexicon of literature. Now, we have less than nothing.

I can’t agree with the last line, though. I have to say that we don’t have less than nothing. What we have is an enormous insult, an offense against all who understand what it is to really be a victim.

The truth is, it’s hard to tell these stories. First there’s the shame the victims deal with, and the prolonged healing process that (in some respects) never really ends. There’s also the sense of the taboo around being a victim of sexual assault. Shhhh. It’s not polite to talk about that. People don’t want to know.

Yes, it offends a good number of people and pushes them right out of their comfort zone, to know that people have suffered at the hands of another. Well I’m so damned sorry for you to have to acknowledge that not everyone’s having a perfect existence on planet earth. A serial sex offender who raped a woman at knifepoint and left her in a remote, unheated cabin in frigid weather overnight was handed a seven-year prison term yesterday.
Franklin James Noskey, 45, who court heard has previously been convicted of four other sex attacks - including three on pre-teen girls - was also ordered to be placed on the national sex offender registry for life.
Need more evidence of the number of victims out there? Evil Kev’s hometown is being rocked by scandal as a teacher faces five counts of sexual assault. The victims? Twelve-year-old girls. Not shocking enough? After admitting he brutally raped his two-year-old daughter twice, an Edmonton father blamed it on booze and told cops it might be due to the girl looking like her mom.

I know too many women who’ve been victims not to be upset by this. Part of the reason some victims never try to hide the truth is that they know they have nothing to be ashamed of. Being a victim doesn’t make you garbage. If my being open about that reality helps even one person feel less alienated, less alone, then it’s worth it.

When we conceal the sins of others in some respects we’re condoning them, and help perpetuate further crimes. There were too many years of raped women being married off or girls being sent away, their child raised as their sibling. Too many years of secrets that did nothing more than compound the damage, extend the suffering, and protect the guilty.

And that’s what really gets me about the deception of the author in question. There are a lot of very real abused kids who end up on the streets because of their abuse, who end up enduring more abuse. Someone assuming that identity and exploiting that in order to make a buck is just one more person blatantly trying to fuck them over. Shame on them.

When Is Your Delusion Reality?

In the wake of a ruling against author Laura Albert, who created a fictional persona (JT LeRoy) and wrote an autobiographical novel based on JT’s life as a male prostitute, I find myself wondering how this will impact the writing community… and sadly, I don’t think it will have much impact at all.

To writer Laura Albert, her alter ego was a psychological necessity, but to jurors, the fictitious male prostitute JT LeRoy was a fraud. A Manhattan jury decided Friday that Albert had defrauded a production company that bought the movie rights to an autobiographical novel marketed as being based on LeRoy's life.
The federal jury, after a short deliberation, awarded $116,500 to Antidote International Films Inc…

In bizarre testimony punctuated by tears and laughter, Albert told jurors during the trial that she had been assuming male identities for decades as a coping mechanism for psychological problems brought on by her sexual abuse as a child.
To her, she said, LeRoy was real.
But Curtner (Antidote’s lawyer) said Albert stepped over a line by signing contracts and obtaining copyrights under the phony name…

The article also mentions how Albert had friends dress up in disguise and pose as JT LeRoy at signings, and how she staged calls to a psychiatrist.

I’ve been aware of the case for a while. The information I do have prompts me to agree with the judge in this case. I’m stepping into my reader/consumer shoes when I saw that.

In every transaction that occurs, there’s a certain level of trust involved between buyer and seller. I trust that the grocer has not peed on the vegetables before he puts them out in the produce section and sells them. I trust the cook at the restaurant isn’t spitting in the soup. When those trusts are violated it’s pretty clear that the consumer has a right to take offense. However, when authors or artists lie in order to promote work, it isn’t as black and white. I went to amazon, and the cover blurb for one book - ’long may he have the courage to remember’ - underscores how this book has been marketed: As reality.

The “reality” of JT in Ms. Albert’s mind does not make him actually real. Return to amazon and scroll down to see the tags people associate with the book - faker, dishonest, media scam all on the list.

I think people do have a right to feel betrayed, and one of the things I particularly don’t like about it is that it calls into question the integrity of every other author. When authors such as James Frey and Ms. Albert are revealed as frauds the response from readers can include feelings of betrayal and outrage that people will blatantly lie for commercial gain.

Sadly, it would seem Ms. Albert has a knack for fiction, and it’s a shame she didn’t market her work as such. However, it also makes sense. Nonfiction writers are often better paid than novelists, and I doubt there would have been interest in a movie if the words “based on a true story” couldn’t be slapped down on the front.

Why? Truth has a power that fiction rarely matches. When we read fiction we can retreat to a spot in our minds where we can separate it out, and reassure ourselves with the knowledge that this never really happened. The most inspiring thing I ever write is unlikely to match the truth of the courage of a person such as Terry Fox, and the most devastating thing I write can’t match the depths of pain and rage I feel reading a story like this, where a father rapes his two-year-old daughter. I could kill the bastard myself.

No, no matter what, no matter how skilled we are as authors, the knowledge that a story is true makes it impact us differently. These authors who defraud the public understand that, and then abuse that knowledge through intentional deceit.

One thing from the article that gets me - "They made my life public domain. It's about commerce," she said. "They're going to try to hijack my copyrights, which is like stealing my child."
What I want to know is how that’s any different than what she did, not just to the production company, but to her publisher and the reading public?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Guaranteed Best-seller – The Split Personality, Characters & Writing

So, should I mention I’m a Gemini in my bio when I’m shopping work?

Your chances of writing a best-selling novel are doubled if your star sign is Gemini, according to research.

Book chain Borders studied the birth dates of more than 150 leading authors.

Geminis accounted for the highest number of literary greats. Twenty-seven of the authors were born under the sign of the twins, including Geoffrey Chaucer, Leo Tolstoy, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Bond creator Ian Fleming and Salman Rushdie. Even glamour girl Jordan, who recently published her second novel, Crystal, is a Gemini.

It’s funny, because I have thought a lot about characterization (obviously, as a reader, writer and reviewer) and I see few people who actually endorse my convictions about character in books. Now, maybe plenty of people actually do share my views but just don’t talk about it this way – I don’t know.

One of the things I’m mindful of is that I want characters to read like real people. I always hoped people would feel that Lara and Farraday were the kind of people who could live next door. Whether or not I succeeded is up to the individual reader, but that’s the aim. Of course, with certain storylines and types of characters it’s harder to achieve that. I mean, I’d rather not think about most of the people from Allan Guthrie’s splendid Hard Man living beside me (although some of them might actually be an improvement).

The truth is, people are filled with contradictions, and what generally happens when darker aspects of a person are revealed through their actions is that someone will cry foul. It’s a contradiction, it’s out of character.


I mean, just look at me, as though you need proof. I am a study in contradictions. I can be the life of the party, and I can also be the quietest person in the room. I talk about all manner of stuff on my blog that I’d probably never have an actual conversation about with most people who read here. People have the impression I’m very open, when in reality I can be extremely shy.

I’ve read, or discussed, some books recently where the protagonist has been pushed to the edge in some manner, done something that was shocking. In the three books in question, in only one book did the actions bother me, but even then they didn’t surprise me. And when I say ‘bother’ I don’t mean that I was okay with what all these characters did. But I could understand it. The one that bothered me a bit was where I thought the character went way overboard for what was warranted… but that’s just my personal opinion.

However, one person I was talking to couldn’t get past what one protagonist did when pushed to the limit. They were left uncertain they’d want to spend more time with that character.

As a reader I enjoy the ongoing sense of discovery with characters. I mean, I should always feel like there’s room for growth, or why am I still spending time with them? And that carries over to me as a writer. Particularly for a planned series, what goes in the book should be what’s relevant to the story being told. As much as I love character, if you’re writing a police procedural I don’t think the story should take a complete detour through ten years of personal history to bring you up to speed on the life of everyone in the book unless it’s relevant to the case.

However, there’s a time and place for that as well.

I’m actually of the opinion that the manner in which a story is told is a method of communication as well. By this, I mean that certain stories should be told as slow burns, and other stories should be told with riveting pace. That’s neither an endorsement or a criticism of either. However, the style used communicates things to the reader. I wrote What Burns Within with a certain pace and speed to it because that represented the real challenges the authors were facing. Things are happening fast. They’re under time pressures. A slow burn doesn’t fit the bill for me. You’re thrown in feet first, and you get to breathe later. As my friend Marsha (who works in publishing and used to work in film) always told me, “You hit them on the nose.” That’s how you get their attention, and then the way to hold it is to keep smacking them. What Burns Within isn’t an example of creating a stew, adding one ingredient as a time and bringing it to a boil. It’s an example of weaving, pulling threads together until you have the full picture.

Suspicious Circumstances, however, has a build-to-boil style working with it. A comment I’ve had from a lot of readers is that once they read the first few chapters, they couldn’t put it down. And I’m very happy with that assessment, because it’s exactly what I aimed for.

In a weird way, it makes me feel like I have a split personality that extends even to my writing. And when I shifted back to writing The Frailty of Flesh it felt weird. More narrative again. And then I started this stand-alone and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever tried, so much so I wonder if I can publish it under the same name.

Of course, being one of those people who actually can do two + books per year, having a pseudonym might not be a bad thing. Perhaps I should let both sides of my personality have a career, but heaven help you all if I take the restraints off my sarcastic, sassy side.

One of the things I’m finding when I read is that when characters remain perfectly consistent -as though the writer has made a list of their values, beliefs, interests and they never deviate beyond certain actions – I find them flat. Yesterday, I was commenting in private communication about why I’d stopped reading one author after 20+ books. (I was a real fan, and I think I have actually 26 books by the author, so nobody should consider themselves ‘safe’.) The reason I stopped was that I felt I was just reading the same book over and over again. The characters were all black or white. To be honest, I can’t relate to that. I can’t relate to someone who doesn’t face the temptation to blur the lines when a person rapes a child or butchers a family member. My dark side can completely relate to the temptation to seek justice on your own terms.

And maybe that’s what makes me connect to characters on a deeper level. A Question of Blood is probably still my favourite Rebus book, and part of the reason is the ‘did he, didn’t he’ question playing out with Rebus’s injuries.

Then again, Rankin’s known for being influenced by Jekyll & Hyde and the duality of Edinburgh. In one of the books Rebus is referred to as a ‘knight in tarnished armor’ and I think that about sums it up.

And maybe it’s the depths of darkness within him that contribute to why I find him such a fascinating character.

TRUE CHARACTER is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure--the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character's essential nature.
--Robert Mckee

(Yeah, I like it so much I’m going to keep harping on it.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Standing Together And Falling Apart

Stuart MacBride sucks.

I’m not just saying it because I think he needs to be taken down a notch or two, in light of his recent nominations for a dagger award and being shortlisted for the Theakston’s prize. I’m saying this because just this morning, I stayed snuggled under the covers, Rebus on my feet, racing my way through the final chapters of Broken Skin.

And who needs to hear me talk about it when they can read the glowing reviews themselves?

There is a blessing and a curse when you read a great book. On the one hand – hurrah! I didn’t waste $28 on crap! On the other hand how does this jerk do it and make it look so damn easy? I’m not one to give away spoilers but… well, fuck Stuart, did you have to do that to us? Jerk.

Yep, days like this I’m not sure why I ever thought I should try getting published. Stuart’s the proof to me of how much I have to learn. And I’d swear at him some more, except he’s one of those temperamental artistic types, so I have to be careful with his ego. Which, by rights, should be about the size of Aberdeen by now.

I almost think I might have to wait and not read for a few weeks, so that I can delude myself into thinking I can pull this book off. (I've put the planned sequel to WBW - The Frailty of Flesh - aside, waiting to see what happens with WBW, and am working on a stand-alone. I haven't talked about it much, although I phoned Cornelia Read the other day and gave her the gist of the plot and she gave me the thumbs up, which was reassuring.) I have a short list of books I’m really looking forward to. I have a stack of Ken Bruen’s books to get caught up on. And others I’m really looking forward to include Simon Kernick’s Severerd and Val McDermid’s Beneath The Bleeding. It has been far too long since we last caught up with Tony and Carol, and in truth, far too long since Val’s last book. I still remember the impact of reading my first book by her, and thinking “WOW”. And when a reviewer drew a comparison between SC and Val McDermid all I could think was, “I wish.”

I think that’s the thing. When you read other great authors you get all this insight and inspiration. And then you kick yourself for a while and think, Why aren’t I doing something like that? I find there are two main times self doubt kicks into high gear. One is when the book is out there (or manuscript) and you’re waiting to hear what people think. Am I the only one who thinks the silence means it’s bad news? Damn, that drives me nuts.

And the insecurity kicks in when I read work by others I admire and they make it all look so easy.

Truth is, I love the manuscript that's out there right now. That's probably part of the problem. I went with the 'fuck the conventions' attitude and did exactly what I wanted to do with that manuscript. When Stuart kicked my ass last year (ie: edited Suspicious Circumstances) I took everything he taught me and carried it forward. I'd already drafted WBW, but I went over it again, and tightened it. And it's the absolute worst thing in the world to have it out there, waiting to hear if someone else will share my enthusiasm for it.

Well, okay, it's not the worst thing. I suppose the worst thing would be not having it out there at all. But at this rate with the waiting I won't have any fingernails left. What on earth do authors do to cope with this?

And I suppose I should just be happy about the fact that in a few weeks, I’ll have a new story out there, courtesy of Pulp Pusher and quit my whining and get back to work.

Sorry I’ve been very scattered here lately. I’m trying to finish up the next Spinetingler, still.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

An Eye For An Eye, A Flogging For A Rape & Macavity Nominees

I’d rather be raped in the Bahamas.

I don’t mean to sound completely flippant about something as serious as rape, and any of you who know me know I’m not being dismissive. So, what am I talking about? In parts of Scotland, the conviction rate for rape is less than 1 %. 1 %.

I don’t know what the conviction rate is in the Bahamas, but here, we’re pretty lenient on rapists. Couple years inside, if that. Meanwhile, a Bahamian man who is to be flogged 10 times with a whip for raping a six-year-old girl will appeal that part of his sentence, his lawyer said Monday.
Andrew Bridgewater was sentenced to the flogging and seven years in prison for attacking the girl. He will not seek to reduce his prison sentence but should be spared corporal punishment, defence lawyer Wayne Watson said in an interview.
The whipping - from a whip made of nine, knotted cords - would come in two sessions spread over two weeks.

Gee, you rape a six-year-old girl and you think you should be spared corporal punishment? I’m just thinking about the physical damage (never mind the emotional and psychological trauma) a grown man could do to a six-year-old and I’m ready to get on a plane and come flog you myself. The article says she was in the hospital for two weeks after being found. I don’t even want to think of the hell that girl’s going to go through for the rest of her life.

And really, that’s what gets me about it. You know, I’m fully behind ‘life for a life’. When we sentence a murderer to life in jail they should bloody well stay there for life. But when it comes to other crimes the punishment falls far short of what seems appropriate to me. This six-year-old has been robbed of her childhood. She’s been stripped of her innocence. Whatever the physical repercussions that she’s had to face this will compromise her ability to trust, to form healthy relationships, to have a healthy sex life when she’s mature. She will live with this for decades. And the man who did this will get seven years in jail and he thinks it’s unreasonable he be flogged?

Well, I’m all for letting him off of the flogging if they lock him up and throw away the key. See, I can be reasonable.

You know, I don’t look at Bahamians as savage or uncivilized. In a way, I look at the perverse society we live in, where multiple murders linger in jail before getting released because life doesn’t mean life in this country, and I think that’s savage. We’ll forgive anyone anything. I mean, damn good thing Clifford Olson and Paul Bernardo might actually stay behind bars until they die, but Paul’s former wife and partner in crime, Karla Homolka, is living free and the families of her victims have to deal with the fact she’s now a mother.

That’s savage. Imagine the trauma of being that kid.

And, in wholly unrelated news, there aren’t words. Evil Kev had been trying before to get the old chief to agree to lower the flag every time a firefighter died. Perhaps the new acting chief here will agree.

One other bit of congratulatory news: Cornelia Read, Tim Maleeny, Troy Cook and Denise Mina have been nominated for various Macavity awards. I haven't found the listing online, but the nominees are reported as:

Best Mystery Novel:

Christine Falls by Benjamin Black [John Banville] (Picador)
The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
The Dead Hour by Denise Mina (Bantam)
The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard (Ballantine)
Piece of My Heart by Peter Robinson (McClelland & Stewart)
All Mortal Flesh by Julia Spencer-Fleming (Minotaur)

Best First Novel:

Consigned to Death by Jane K. Cleland (Minotaur)
47 Rules of Highly Effective Bank Robbers by Troy Cook (Capital
Crime Press)
King of Lies by John Hart (Minotaur)
A Field of Darkness by Cornelia Read (Mysterious)
Mr. Clarinet by Nick Stone (Michael Joseph Ltd/Penguin)

Best Nonfiction:

Mystery Muses: 100 Classics That Inspire Today's Mystery Writers
edited by Jim Huang and Austin Lugar (Crum Creek)
The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the
Invention of Murder by Daniel Stashower (Dutton)
Don't Murder Your Mystery: 24 Fiction Writing Techniques To Save
Your Manuscript From Ending Up D.O.A. by Chris Roerden (Bella Rosa

Best Short Story:

"Provenance" by Robert Barnard (EQMM, Jul 2006)
"Disturbance in the Field" by Roberta Isleib (Seasmoke: Crime
Stories by New England Writers, edited by Kate Flora, Ruth McCarty,
& Susan Oleksiw; Level Best Books)
"Til Death Do Us Part" by Tim Maleeny (MWA Presents Death Do Us
Part: New Stories about Love, Lust, and Murder, edited by Harlan
Coben; Little, Brown)

Sue Feder Historical Mystery:

The Lightning Rule by Brett Ellen Block (Morrow)
Oh Danny Boy by Rhys Bowen (Minotaur)
The Bee's Kiss by Barbara Cleverly (Constable & Robinson)
Dark Assassin by Anne Perry (Ballantine)
Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear (Holt)

Congrats to all.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Fantastic News!

The Theakston's Old Peculier shortlist is now public knowledge. Making the list:

All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses and Eye - Christopher Brookmyre
The Dead Place - Stephen Booth
Two Way Split - Allan Guthrie
Blood and Honey - Graham Hurley
The Death Ship of Dartmouth - Michael Jecks
Cold Granite - Stuart MacBride

Well, what can I say? I personally know three of those authors. Stephen Booth was nominated last year, and since I was at Harrogate I had the pleasure of seeing him on the panel.

The dark horse of UK crime fiction, Allan Guthrie, has made it to the final cut. This is fantastic news, because the longlist included a number of leading, established names, including Ruth Rendell, PD James and Reginald Hill. And it's even sweeter, knowing the tough road he had to publication in the UK, unable to get an agent or a deal until Ian Rankin declared it a tragedy he was being published in the US and not the UK.

And... I predicted Stuart MacBride would make the list, about a year ago. It's funny to think that almost two years ago I met Stuart at Harrogate, interviewed him, and of course caught up with him last year. I can't help feeling a bit disappointed that this year he's up for the Theakston's prize and I can't be there.

No matter what happens, I'm thrilled for all of them to be on the list. And it really sucks to have friends up against each other. Last year, I had to decide who to vote for and it came down to Rankin and Val McDermid... and I voted for the winner. Tough choice, though.

Maybe it's a good thing I won't be there. I don't have to buy anyone a drink after to commiserate.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Unbelievable (& a few links)

Funny, isn't it, how willingly we buy movie plots about impossible casino heists, miraculous spider bites and rock-star pirates… And yet something as simple as a beautiful woman getting involved with a not-so-beautiful man strikes some of us as the height of absurdity.
This seems to be another case of men not understanding women. If you go check out the write-up on this movie, you’ll find (in general) the men have projected their own biases onto women, while the women aren’t taking issue with the believability factor at all.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because some readers are so damn fussy. I didn’t think of myself being that bad – I’d stop reading a book if it was boring or stupid or badly written, but all the technical research aspects and actively questioning things as I read weren’t things I’d do. Until I started seeing things questioned on lists and forums and started doing my own research.

However, the issue around Knocked Up goes to one of character. And this is a far shadier area for people to jump on a bandwagon and make criticisms about. Face it: Just because I would react one way in a situation doesn’t mean everyone would. And even with each person there is a certain degree of hypocrisy. We can all be tempted to do things that would not be in our character normally. Extreme circumstances can produce extreme responses.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Part of the reason is that I’m writing something that involves following a group of people over about a decade. Since one of them is a child, there is a lot of change in that character. The whole point is about how circumstances influence changes in her, actually. It’s one of the more challenging things I’ve ever done.

One of the other things that makes it tough is that I believe that what people say and do reveals character. And that should translate over into books. In reality, people think all kinds of things and would like to believe they’d be a hero given the opportunity to prove it, but it’s when you’re standing in front of a burning building hearing someone scream and you decide to act – or not – that you prove whether or not you’re a hero. And this is one of my beefs with some books. They’re so far in the head that you’ve got the protagonist’s idea of who they’d like to be, but little more. I’m a ‘put up or shut up’ person.

In discussion over at Crimespace, Jude Hardin actually posted this quote:

TRUE CHARACTER is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure--the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character's essential nature.
--Robert Mckee

I love it. It sums up my philosophy perfectly. What happens to the character in the book, and what they choose to do as a result, will tell you more about them than anything else.

It’s made me think a lot about my favourite characters, and favourite books, and why they work for me while others don’t.

And reading that piece about Knocked Up? It’s the proof that, no matter what, someone will say the realistic is unrealistic and you just can’t worry about convincing everyone. I had a laugh this week, because of a rejection I got on my book from a partial. The reason it was rejected wasn’t something that happened in the book. It would be like sending a letter to the creator of the X-Files saying, “We’re going to pass on running the show because we don’t think Mulder should become a Christian in season 3.” In other words, what the editor asserted I did wasn’t something that I did, and since they had a partial I had to wonder where they got that idea.

Ultimately, you have to shrug and say, “Whatever.” At every stage of the game in this business – from seeking an agent, to trying to find a publisher, to putting the book out and reading the reviews – you’re subject to people projecting their biases and their opinions on your work. The responses over Knocked Up should be a source of comfort to all creative types who occasionally feel their work is misunderstood. Yes, sometimes it is. Get used to it.

And sometimes, you just can’t worry about it. Sit at the feet of those you admire, learn, apply and don’t worry about making converts out of critics. Just focus on doing the best job you can, and finding those who get what it is you’re doing.

For A Good Cause

Val McDermid and her wife, Kelly, team up to raise money for The Children’s Society. Visit the link to find out how you can get involved.

Free Books

Random House & Transworld Publishing team up to offer free books for a year. Just sign up for their newsletter to be entered.

Suspicious Circumstances, the movie

Marshal Zeringue has had the page 69 test the page 99 test and my book, the movie blogs going, all in an effort to promote books and encourage reading.

Suspicious Circumstances the movie is the latest addition to ‘my book, the movie’. I would have found this easier if I’d based my characters on actors. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t, and I found this quite hard, so feel free to go laugh at my choices.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Medium is the Message

I started the conversation about the new trend, allowing readers to comment on news stories on newspaper websites (rendering them more like blogs than anything) in the comments thread from yesterday and Brian picked it up, so I’m going to elaborate on it. It’s something I’ve thought about doing, but in part didn’t want to because, well, of the person it means dragging into this.

Brian rightly mentions that the ability to comment is part of the appeal of talk radio and the internet… I think he’ll forgive me if I agree with the former and partially dispute the latter. Not everything on the internet allows for the capability of interaction, nor should it. Most websites don’t. Hell, there are places that sell services that make it harder to actually contact someone than to resolve the inquest into Diana’s death.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and had misgivings that have finally given way to full-blown criticisms. Of course, just when I decide to delve into it is when I’m going, what was that news article that really ticked me off when I looked through the comment trail again?

Now, one of the reasons these commenting systems differ from radio is that radio screens callers, or worst-case scenario if a fruitloop gets through is that they cut them off. Rightly so. It keeps the discussion at a certain level of intelligence. That is one of the great risks of forums and blogs: People can abuse the system in order to post inappropriate comments that are personal attacks, irrelevant to the discussion, or to post advertisements. These are things that don’t happen on radio.

For example, let me just stick with one online news source, to compare them against themselves. Why is it possible to comment on an article about a water treatment plant and to chime in on Prince Harry’s reflections on his late mother, but not possible to comment on the latest update in the search for Madeleine McCann. Could it be that whoever runs the newspaper’s website understands the potential for hurtful, biting commentary in the comment trails and wants to spare the McCann’s? The article about Harry and the article about the McCann’s are in the same section of the newspaper, so what basis are they using to decide where free speech is welcome, and where it is not?

I’ve remembered the article that really turned the tide for me, about an elected SNP member whose father was an SS officer. The comment trail here and elsewhere run the risk of descending to personal attack and into areas of irrelevance. (This becomes more apparent if you read some of the other articles on the SNP victory, where the story of Stefan Tymkewycz is continuously raised in the comment trails.)

I guess the real crux of it is, I am for free speech, but in a reasoned, measured capacity. Face it: Print newspapers don’t allow for free speech – not for the masses. Even if you write a letter to the editor it’s up to them to decide whether or not they’ll print it. And now, the question is whether or not they should.

TV news shows have started online polls and pulling select comments and broadcasting them in an effort to get more immediate feedback, but one of the things I see about this is the sensationalist aspect of it. Reality is, a news hour summary of a story is seldom conclusive, could contain errors and quite often is unbalanced, particularly if it’s a question of political views being discussed. The result is that online participants are set up to make comments that portray them as ignorant or extreme. This is part of the reason I stopped watching as much news as I used to. I could get more information in a balanced fashion online within minutes instead of waiting for the news to decide to talk about the issue of interest to me.

We know from the blogs (and I certainly know from forums) that the tendency if these things are left unchecked is for them to get into name-calling and catfights. I’ve been in enough myself. Here’s the real question for you:

Think back 5 years ago, to how you got news. Now, imagine you’re abducted by aliens and dropped on a planet very much like earth and they even speak English. You can’t get a hard copy of a newspaper to find out what’s going on, you can only go online. And when you read the news story you see all these people arguing and calling each other names below it. How seriously would you take the news site? Would you consider it credible journalism or something more along the lines of tabloid reporting?

I think this is my big problem with it: It smacks of sensationalism, and that smacks of tabloid reporting. I find myself wondering if the catfights influence what’s reported. The more people respond and react to something, the more they talk about it, because the hits go up for the site, right? People come back to continue the argument.

I have never commented on articles about Ian Rankin but I’ve certainly seen the comment trail. Granted, quoting him on politics was like painting a target on him. However, this is one of those situations that makes me step back and really think about what’s fair. The reality is, The Scotsman goes to Rankin for a comment on something, or writes up a story without comment from him (like this one, using comments from an appearance) and he gets to be slammed because the newspaper chose to write about him. What exactly is he supposed to do? Don’t talk to the media and you’re a snob who thinks you’re too good for the ‘common’ folk, and do talk to the media and risk being talked about to the point of irritation for some.

However, the comment trails following article after article demonstrate a quick descent into arguing, name-calling and petty commentary. Not just on Rankin, but on a lot of other ones. I wish I could find the one where the mudslinging went beyond anything else I’d seen… ever. However, by the point I saw it the newspaper had started pulling down comments, and what that tells me is this isn’t about free speech. And they’ve failed to control the posts and screen them, so I’m still left wondering at the logic of how this works.

Don’t get me completely wrong. I think a system involving reader commentary could be a great thing, for everyone. However, it needs a screening mechanism. We all know that the ability to speak anonymously is what contributes to the most ignorant behaviour imaginable as people use their lack of accountability as a way to attack others.

One of the things I also mentioned in the comment trail yesterday was that those who review on their blogs should resist any pressure to change the review unless they post a factual error. Part of the reason people can’t treat the internet as serious is that anyone can post anything, and declare a statement as fact without support. I try to back up any research I do online with at least three or four other independent sources. We’ve had scenarios where people have asked us to change their bio in a Spinetingler issue after it’s up, or their work, and unless they gave us the corrections prior to publication and we missed updating them we don’t do it. Everyone has a window of opportunity to make changes and give us updated copy. The problem with opening that door is that it makes it fluid. If you’re going to assert something, as in write a review, it should not be subject to change based on pressure from the author or readers, otherwise the opinion is contaminated. This is part of the reason why people don’t respect what gets published online as much. In general, I don’t care if people revise blogs. But I also don’t kid myself that my blog is some great literary work. It’s just straight thought from me on any given topic, rarely edited and usually pulled off in pretty short order.

If the internet wants to maintain a level of credibility it always needs to ask what the value of allowing something is. I think the current commenting system in place on some of the news sites is lowering the tone and undermining the credibility of those sites. I’ve picked on The Scotsman, because it’s the ‘paper’ I read the most that allows this. (Edited to add: It certainly isn't the only news site allowing comments, so I don't mean to portray them as worse than anyone else.)

I guess I’d like to see some mechanism that screens the comments so that they are relevant, not personal attacks on other commenters or on the people being discussed in the paper. You know what? It’s completely fine for people to be sick of reading about Ian Rankin, Prince Harry or anyone else. But here’s my question: Who forced you to click on the link, read the article and take time to make a comment? Maybe you just forgot to take your chill pill this morning and need to get your anger with the world out?

And I’m still left wondering over the discrepancy between allowing comments on some news stories, but not all. I can speculate on the reasoning myself, but I have issues with it. It suggests the motives aren’t about allowing readers to voice opinions on the news stories of the day…and are instead about something else.

But then, we’ve already established that I’m a skeptic. Maybe I just see conspiracies everywhere. Probably because I’m a blogger.

Yeah, that must be it. My background in journalism has nothing to do with it at all…

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Question of Ethics Shouldn't Be Dismissed

The New York Sun has a piece titled The Scorn of the Literary Blogger that is itself, short-sighted at best in its analysis of the strengths of newspaper reviews compared to the shortcomings of “blog” reviews.

The reason I say shortsighted is that the author has declared, “People who write about books on the Internet, and they are surprisingly numerous, do not call themselves reviewers, but bloggers.” Well, I don’t. Not when I review in Spinetingler. And when Reviewing The Evidence was named a top blog the staff openly declared on DorothyL that they are not a blog, though they’d take the publicity. Considering the reviewing team over there includes an experienced journalist (which Spinetingler does as well) I can imagine some annoyance at the gross generalization that just because a review appears online it is not insightful and cannot be professional.

However, there is something else about the article that I do find interesting, and that is the assertion that it is only the “bloggers” who see conspiracy theories in the business, and Mr. Kirsch’s assessment of what the purpose of a review is.

The National Book Critics Circle did an extensive survey, which forms the background here.

“Yet in the face of the constant shrinkage of newspaper book coverage — as inexorable, it seems, as the melting of the glaciers — the literary world still makes time to fight over some very minor "ethical" questions. "Should a book review editor assign a book on subject A to a reviewer who has also written a book on subject A?" the NBCC survey asked. "Should authors who publish with a particular house be permitted to review other books published by that house?" I can't think of a working editor or journalist who would say no to either question. What's more, such questions demonstrate a basically flawed understanding of what book reviews are for….

“Questions like those raised by the NBCC survey envision the book review as a transaction between author and reviewer, rather than between reviewer and reader. To be obsessed with potential bias or conflict of interest on the book reviewer's part is to imagine the reviewer as a judge, who is obligated to provide every author with his or her day in court. But that judicial standard is impossible, because there is no such thing as an objective judgment of a work of literature; aesthetic judgment is by definition personal and opinionated. Nor would a perfectly objective book review even be desirable. The whole point of a review is to set one mind against another, and see what sparks fly. If the reviewer lacks an individual point of view, or struggles to repress it, there can be no intellectual friction, and therefore no interest or drama.”

The inference I take from this is that reviews should be an opinionated assessment of the work based on taste, and not an objective analysis. I disagree, at least in part.

Let’s go to the one statement I do agree with, that a review is a transaction between reviewer and reader. It is the job of the reviewer to give the reader enough information to decide if they want to read the book. That has nothing to do with the reviewer’s opinion and everything to do with the merits of the book itself.

For example, hand me a cozy, amateur sleuth book and you are not likely to get a passionate endorsement, the way I would laud an excellent police procedural, for example. Why? Because I am more passionate about one subgenre than the other. But what does that have to do with the person reading my reviews? Quite possibly, nothing. To trash a book because it fails to be what appeals to me does not mean it won’t appeal to someone else. A fair assessment evaluates the strength of the writing, the execution of the plot, the development of the characters and tries to assess the overall work against its own genre. It would be ludicrous to try to compare Faulkner to Evanovich.

I actually make a point of trying to get books that fit the interests of the reviewers into their hands. The reason is that I feel they understand the subgenre, have done a wider range of reading within it and can better assess the book for the potential readership of the title. Me? Give me a cat mystery and I’m likely to trounce it for being wholly unbelievable. Of course, believability isn’t the point of a cat mystery, so what good is the review to people who have interest in those books? It’s of no use to anyone at all, least of all me, who had to spend personal time reading a book that I have no interest in.

There is something else in the article that bugged me. The specific question: "Should authors who publish with a particular house be permitted to review other books published by that house?"

Just because reviews are meant for readers, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t ethical questions to consider. I, for one, do not believe that any reviewer should belong to an authors’ organization on the basis of reviewing. Now, opinions will differ on this, and I respect the rights of others to see it differently. However, this is how I see it: I see it as a serious question of ethics.

The truth is, it can be very difficult to assess your peers. Anyone who tells you otherwise has a heart of stone or is lying. This is something you must learn to deal with, and not every reviewer gets to the point where they can do an honest and fair assessment, without considering the repercussions.

A recent example turned up in a discussion I had with a reviewer who decided not to review a book they didn’t enjoy. It was beyond not enjoying. They didn’t feel the book was well written, didn’t like the story at all. However, the praise has been pretty much universal for the book, but they had the liberty of not reviewing it and decided they wouldn’t. One thing that came up in the discussion was the lavish praise through blurbs and reviews. I looked through the names. About 90% of them I could connect to the author in some capacity – they share an agent, an editor, a publisher in one country or another...

I would have to be an idiot for it not to cross my mind that some of the people may have given the book an endorsement because they were asked to as a favour for an editor, agent, etc. I mean, we have some authors openly declaring that they’ll blurb anyone, even if they haven’t read the book, and others saying they’ll always find something positive to say. Of course it calls into question the credibility of the blurbs. Don’t believe me? Read Barry Eisler’s candid take on it, and JA Konrath’s views for yourself.

This connects right over to reviewing, because we do have peer reviews, for one thing. And for another, there are a lot of reviewers who are aspiring authors. Ask yourself honestly, considering what two well-known authors have said about blurbing, is an author reviewing another author from the same publisher going to have the same credibility as a reviewer who isn’t an author?

We live in the age of skepticism, and that has nothing to do with blogs. That has everything to do with the disillusionment society, in general, has gone through. It used to be that you believed in the church and the government and didn’t question them. Times have changed, a lot. Now, we no longer hand respect over to governments. Watergate, anyone? We no longer hand respect over to anyone easily. If we are suspicious of the political leaders we elect, it stands to reason people will be more suspicious of everything. I know journalists, which is why I don’t blindly trust everything I read. If I’m skeptical of those spinning the hard news, of course I’ll be skeptical about those writing opinion pieces. One of the big problems in this country is that the newspapers have known political associations. So much for journalistic integrity. I watch the spin. One of the best shows we ever had in this country was Sunday Edition, hosted by Mike Duffy, an hour of political discourse that included pulling in political pundits from all leanings… even a Quebec separatist. The show had punch because it had every perspective, and representatives from all over the country chiming in. No localized interest special lobby groups with the sole voice. And through hearing the differing opinions you were able to walk away with a more balanced, informed opinion than you could get from any news program or newspaper. Don’t forget, people get misquoted in print all the time. Stuart MacBride recently talked about this. It stands to reason people who are intelligent and aware will give the benefit of the doubt instead of blindly believing everything they see in newsprint.

In fact, it’s in thinking about that that I’ve wondered about another blanket statement that the author of this article didn’t qualify: “Despite what the bloggers themselves believe, the future of literary culture does not lie with blogs — or at least, it shouldn't.”

The question unanswered is where the future of literary culture does lie. Clearly, not in newspapers, not at this rate. In Canada we have Book Television, a full-time channel like HBO. There are programs where the point is to host panels and discuss issues of relevance. In fact, a recent one I watched was on the current trend in “trash” or “slam” reviewing. It was interesting to sit there listening to “respected” reviewers talk about how it’s a good thing for reviewers to just rip a book to shreds.

Of course, I don’t recall anyone qualifying that with “when it’s justified.” Just a hearty endorsement for ripping books apart in reviews. Then, of course, there was the kindler, gentler side represented. I was waiting for the happy medium: Shouldn’t a book get the kind of review it warrants? They were reading from a review of a Martin Amis book that was a personal attack on the author, because the reviewer felt betrayed by him. It was called a review but it was an editorial on Amis as a writer, not a critical assessment of the book (Yellow Dog), which apparently was so offensive. You know what? Even if the next Rankin book was a complete letdown for me, I wouldn’t go and write a “review” and talk about how he’d failed me as a reader. It would be one thing to argue that the current book did not measure up to his established track record, based on an evaluation of the books. It would be quite another to mourn someone as a fallen author who’s just churning out senseless pulp for the masses to make a buck. It’s trends like that that undermine the credibility of reviewing itself. I mean, as a reader and as a reviewer myself, I get the feeling some people are trying to sensationalize reviews with scandalous opinions in order to make them more interesting. And that is not the point of a review either. Frankly, some like prime rib, others like chicken cordon bleu. A lot of people like coffee, but I can’t stand the stuff. It doesn’t make anyone right or wrong, it just means we have different tastes. The reviewer is supposed to be letting people know if the book will suite their taste buds and if it’s a worthy read. The review they talked about on that program was an example of someone who had a pretty high opinion of themselves and who’d stepped way beyond the bounds of what reviewing is supposed to be about – it clearly was about the reviewer and the author, and had nothing to do with being an exchange between the reviewer and readers. (Justifying my skepticism that, no matter what reviews are supposed to be, not all reviewers for newspapers clearly understand that. And if they don’t understand that, it opens the door to asking all those ethical questions I believe the NBCC was justified in asking.)

I don’t have the answers, but at least I’m open enough to admit it. This article doesn’t have the answers either, and doesn’t even assess all aspects of internet review that currently exist. I don’t completely disagree with concerns about general blogging reviews. However, the quality and value of those reviews will vary, site to site, blogger to blogger. There are some excellent bloggers and online reviewers - Lesa Holstine, a librarian with a lot of experience in the book business, Brian Lindenmuth (the link is to his recent review of Hard Man) at Fantasy Book Spot, who does more in depth reviews than most newspaper reviewers do, Russel D. McLean, who does exceptional reviews for Crime Scene Scotland.

One thing is certain: Solving the problem of dwindling review space won’t happen by making sweeping generalizations. You can’t defend reviewing as an institution with blanket statements either. It’s like saying all priests lead godly lives, or all politicians are honourable. There are going to be reviewers who are unethical, because there are unethical people in every business, in every industry, in every walk of life. It’s a fact. Saying otherwise is naïve.

For the record, if I feel there is some relationship basis that makes it impossible for me to defend my credibility on a review, I don’t review the book. Some organizations I’ve left have authors I will never review. It’s more for my own peace of mind than anything. While I can trust myself to be objective and judge work on its own merits, others can look at the situation and speculate that criticisms may have been leveled for personal reasons. I just don’t need the headache. Having left two organizations I did belong to, with hard feelings between myself and some members unresolved, I have no intention of joining other organizations and putting myself in that position again. I recently discussed the spouse of an author who rebutted a review publicly. What nobody has publicly considered is that the spouse has ensured that reviewer can never review works by that author again. If they do and are completely positive, people will say the reviewer backed down to pressure and didn’t want any more hassles. If the review is negative, people will say they’re getting even for the rebuttal. The very act of reviewing another book by the author exposes this reviewer to questions about their integrity, but not because of anything they have done. Believe me, if it was me, I would ban that author from being reviewed in Spinetingler. The potential repercussions simply are not worth the headaches. At the end of the day, we reviewers have to trust our own integrity. Just because I know I endeavor to be fair and honest doesn’t mean others will automatically believe I am. That is another fact of life. I just sign my name to reviews I know I can live with, and don’t worry about the rest. There will always be critics. As far as I’m concerned, the only time I’m at risk of compromising integrity is when I stop asking myself those ethical questions.

In my opinion, it’s a shame more reviewers don’t see that.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

My faith in justice has been restored

Paris Hilton was ordered back to jail. You know, I don't give a $H@! about her and if I never heard her name again I'd be just fine. But I have to say I'm glad that someone in the court system has taken a stand to say that the rich aren't above the law.

Although to be honest, she got off easy. She got a slap on the wrist. She gets to keep her hair extensions. She didn't have to have a cavity search. And a medical condition might make jail risky for her? Well, so might her porn performances. I'm sure there are some who'd like to see what she's capable of in person.

Sorry, fresh out of sympathy. And I'm quite alright with being called a bitch for my coldness here.

Friday, June 08, 2007

You Just Know Somebody's Going To Write A Book...

...influenced by this. Cops killed in murder-suicide.

Police said the two had a "relationship" but did not disclose what it was and would not elaborate further.

Add in that the female officer, acting inspector Kelly Johnson, was the highest-ranking female officer on the force, and had been recently promoted to fill the position vacated by her ex-husband, who just retired. Reads like a soap opera.

It was the kind of headline that, the minute I saw it, I knew would probably influence someone to write a book using the premise. I don't think it will be me. While my mind obviously went into overdrive, wondering at what could possibly motivate this murder-suicide, it somehow feels too close. Maybe just right now. It's the kind of real life mystery with scandal attached that's certain to keep journalists happy for a while.

There is a part of me, though, that can't help wondering if the conclusions will be as simple as the speculation. Johnson was burnt out, overwhelmed by stress, and killed her on-again, off-again lover and herself.

Meanwhile, Amra Pajalic has a great post up, which at first blush appears to be about a new book she likes. However, it goes way beyond that, and delves into how one author built a career, not making much money, but bringing herself up to the point where she got an international deal. This is one of those 'persistence pays off' stories that's inspiring.

Part of the reason I think Amra's post is so worth reading is because my own recent post with the link to the story how some authors claim their book deals ruined their life irked Angie into a full rant.

The past couple of days I've thought about a few things I could have ranted about, but basically couldn't be bothered enough to care enough to put the energy into it. Instead, I've been reading lots.

I think Sonya said it best in the comments - there's a big difference between genre writers and the authors interviewed for that article. Most of us actually write our books before we sell them. Most of the people they talked to were writing non-fiction. You know, I'm sorry, but there's not a whole helluva lot of difference between a biography and a term paper for school. In fact, in school I had assignments to write biographies. You do your research. You write. If it's too much work hand the money back and walk away. Get over yourself.

Life isn't fair, so why should publishing be fair? Every job has it's stresses. Just because a book is published it doesn't mean it's any good (BOMC) and just because one doesn't find a home doesn't mean it isn't genius. Now, this may produce a lengthy post from me at some point soon... but then again, it may not. My thoughts lately have more to do with writing inside and outside genre fiction, but expressing them would no doubt tread on some toes. Since when do you care, Sandra? Well, maybe I just don't care enough about the subject to take the grief over it. I've mentioned here lately I've been writing something that *could* fall outside the genre. It could just as easily fall in the genre. I guess, end of the day, I don't see it as about the writing. I see it as being who decides to embrace you.

Why am I writing what I'm writing? Because I don't want to be a formula writer. I guess that's why the true story I've touched on above isn't appealing at the moment, but someone's sure to use it as inspiration.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

More Congrats & Cry Me A Fucking River

You have to love it when a little box shows up on your computer screen, telling you you have a new email message, and it shows the title as, "Cry Me A Fucking River." Yes, I couldn't wait to see what that one was about! Fortunately, it also identifies the sender, so I knew it was from Brian, so chances were I'd find it entertaining.

See for yourself. Authors talking about how their book deals ruined their lives.

Yes, indeed, cry me a fucking river. My heart just bleeds for James Frey...

And, in the congrats department, my friend Rob Lord marks the publication of his story, For I have Sinned over at Powder Flash Burn. Go check it out!

Wondrous News, Take 2

The debut dagger nomination list has a nice Spinetingler connection: A manuscript based on a short story we ran in the Fall 2006 issue of Spinetingler made the list.

Now that the complete list of nominations is out we can resume the happy dance for James.

I had hoped to post about something else today... but it hasn't gone public, so I'll wait. I would like to add my congratulations to Kevin Wignall and JA Konrath for their short story nominations.

And congrats to Stuart on his nomination as well.

Courtesy of Norby, a joke

On the first day, God created the dog and said: "Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of twenty years."

The dog said: "That's a long time to be barking. How about only ten years and I'll give you back the other ten?"

So God agreed.

On the second day, God created the monkey and said: "Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I 'll give you a twenty-year life span."

The monkey said: "Monkey tricks for twenty years? That's a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back ten like the dog did?"

And God agreed.

On the third day, God created the cow and said: "You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer's family. For this, I will give you a life span of sixty Years."

The cow said: "That's kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years. How about twenty and I'll give back the other forty?"

And God agreed again. On the fourth day, God created man and said: "Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I'll give you twenty years."

But man said: "Only twenty years ? Could you possibly give me my twenty, the forty the cow gave back, the ten the monkey gave back, and the ten the dog gave back; that makes eighty, okay?"

"Okay," said God, "You asked for it."

So that is why for our first twenty years we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves. For the next forty years we slave in the sun to support our family. For the next ten years we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren. And for the last ten years we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.

Life has now been explained to you.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Arguing Against Book Reviews & Defending Yourself

The review is leading somewhere, so just wait for it…

Evil Kev and I had an argument this weekend, about whether or not Edison Force deserved a B or B minus rating. I was leaning for the B minus. For the most part I really enjoyed the movie. However, the problem was the same problem I have with most movies and television I watch these days: Holes.

Now, the movie stars quite the cast. Kevin Spacey. Morgan Freeman. Cary Elwes, of The Princess Bride and Kiss the Girls and Robin Hood: Men in Tights, if I’m not mistaken. (The guy has some range.) Dylan McDermott. LL Cool J. John Heard. And…

Justin Timberlake, who made his acting debut. Evil Kev almost didn’t rent the movie because of JT, but we were both pleasantly surprised. He did decently.

My main issue with the movie was the premise. (If you don’t like spoilers skip this paragraph.) After an elaborate, Hollywood shoot ‘em up to get us started we see Dylan McDermott and LL Cool J out to do a pick up. Rob some drug dealers. When they’re leaving one of the druggies says he’s going to find out who the cop is and complain to justice. So, Dylan McDermott’s character kills him and then pegs it on the other dealer. The real crux of it was, as the story unfolded you realized the corruption in the system went all the way to the top, including local businesses and the DA’s office. That money being taken from drug dealers was being used to fund political campaigns. It was being laundered through the police department. Would the word of one drug dealer have made an ounce of difference? No. And can you see it? “Yes, um, officer, I want to make a complaint. I’m a criminal and the money I make from my criminal dealings was stolen from me.” Ha ha ha, too bad, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Anyway, that was indicative of a few of the holes in the storyline. There were a couple other points where I said, “Okay, there’s no way they could reason out of this. It doesn’t make any sense.”

And all in all, I’d say it was too bad. The basic story (while not highly original) had potential. Of course, it also had some clichés. The journalist burned out, wanting to play it safe, being brought around by the young zealot (Timberlake) on the scent of a story. The bad-ass cop (McDermott) with his partner (LL Cool J) who still has a conscience. There were a few other things that just never would have happened in reality.

That said, McDermott did a good job in the role. He makes a good scumbag. And was handy with a stapler. I just hope he found Vancouver preferable to Calgary, which he thought was a hick town.

I bet most of you are wondering what I’m talking about. And if you click on the link, you’ll see some of us have long memories. After all this time I still remember. In fact, when we ID'd Vancouver as the place where they'd filmed the movie (so obvious from landmarks included) we actually had a chat about how Dylan had managed in this 'backwards' country of ours.

This brings me around to the topic of defending yourself. Now, it seems ironic that, after just so recently mentioning the frustrations over the review section with Spinetingler that this topic has exploded elsewhere.

The reason? Someone posted on DorothyL a rebuttal to a review. Except the review wasn’t posted on DorothyL – it was posted on Reviewing The Evidence. The rebuttal was written by the spouse of the author, and included calling the reviewer anal.

I think each and every one of us appreciates the desire to vindicate ourselves. Just this morning, when I dropped by the Bearded Wonderboy’s blog he, too, was expressing some frustration. In his case, with a reporter who misquoted him in print.

Now, why is it that I have no issue at all with what Stuart did but was bothered by the other incident?

There is a proper time and place. I’m of the opinion people can post pretty much whatever they want on their blog. Nobody is forced to read it. It doesn’t end up in people’s inboxes the way listserv posts do. It’s considerably less intrusive. Would it have been better if he’d complained to the publication? Maybe. But we all know retractions get squeezed into something similar to 6pt print size at the bottom of a page of solid grey so that nobody reads them anyway. The way I saw it, Stuart was getting it off his chest… and who can blame him?

When it comes to arguing with reviews, they are a question of taste, for one thing. Unless the reviewer makes a factual error with the book, arguing over points in a review is the equivalent of boxing in quicksand.

It’s pointless. Beyond that, most reviewers and review sources have policies about arguing with reviewers. Most will ban authors from being reviewed if they (or their spouse) argue over a review. We didn’t start off with that policy. We implemented it after I discussed issues with other reviewers and heard how they dealt with it.

Another thing: Most of these reviewers are volunteers. Abuse can lead to fewer people willing to do reviews.

I have no problem with people disagreeing with reviews they’ve received. I don’t even have a problem with someone discussing a review on their blog and saying why they disagreed with a remark, in general. I wouldn’t identify the reviewer, but if I was discussing something that had been commented on about my book I might say, “One reviewer felt that there wasn’t enough in the book that developed the setting” and then go on to discuss setting, blah blah blah.

To be honest with you, I learn from the reviews. I’ve learned from all the feedback. Yes, sometimes it hurts. Yes, sometimes it’s unfair. Can’t say I’m crazy about getting a review that reads like a personal attack, but when it happens do I really need to say anything? Readers can see it for what it is: A slam. For all I know there could be ten zillion bad reviews or scathing personal attacks out there I haven’t seen. I’m only aware of one, and I got emails from people who expressed venom for the reviewer. I didn’t need to say anything. If reviewers get personal they undermine their own credibility.

Flipping things around, as a reviewer there is one review I regret, and that’s my review of The Last Assassin by Barry Eisler. The reason I regret it is that there was an error in the book that I pointed out in my review. I didn’t cite it as an error, I stated I was confused. This was a case where I was very happy that Barry did explain what had happened – after he’d signed off on the book a typesetter changed a name in one scene. As a result, I thought the person being referred to was someone else… hence my confusion. It was corrected for subsequent issues (I had a first edition hardcover, not an ARC). It was 100% not Barry’s fault, and I felt horrid for him. Things like that, near the beginning of a book, can often do enough to keep you from full submersion, and while it was fair to be confused it was unfortunate I was assessing Barry’s work for an error he didn’t make. It was, otherwise, a great action book and those who like conflicted characters who don’t uphold the law should love the Rain series.

Anyway, this is just my opinion. I think there’s a time, and place. However, it’s also necessary to develop a thick skin. No matter how well you write there will always be people who don’t like your work. They may not be interested in the subject matter. They may prefer something darker or lighter. We all have our own preferences and shouldn’t feel the need to make apologies for them… and we shouldn’t expect others to apologize for theirs.

I’m far more casual about my comments on my blog, because the audience is narrow. I agonize over decisions about what to write in reviews in Spinetingler because those will reach a wider audience. I find no joy in making criticisms when a book falls short.

But this does reaffirm my personal policy – if someone doesn’t ask for feedback, don’t give it. Not unless you know them well enough to survive it. Criticizing how someone writes a book is bit like criticizing how they’re raising their children. The difference with reviews is that we seek them out, we need them to spread the word about our work. And we should just be damn thankful for the ones we get.