Thursday, November 29, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Angie)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Winners, Losers, Spinetingler Awards

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

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

And now, the nominees…

Best Novel – Legend

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

Best Novel – Rising Star

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

Best Novel – New Voice

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

Best Publisher

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

Best Cover

Robert Terrall - Kill Now, Pay Later

Gil Brewer - The Vengeful Virgin

George Axelrod - Blackmailer

Allan Guthrie - Hard Man

Nick Stone - Mr. Clarinet

Best Editor

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

Special Services to the Industry

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

Best Short Story On The Web

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Business Side of Art

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

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

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

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

Publishing has become a trend follower.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2007

Men In Trees High On The Sap Factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When communication fails words remain behind.

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

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

Kind of show Kleenex should advertise during.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Putting A Different Spin on Auto Erotic

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe someone should get him a car bed.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Artificial Motivation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My laugh of the day comes courtesy of Russel.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Thanks to Al Guthrie for passing on the link.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ruttan Road A Potential Crime Scene

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Next Great Crime Novel & My Bests of the Week

Sometimes great things come from new initiatives. Right now, readers have a chance to influence publishing. The way I understand it, only votes of 10 count, and the top ten vote getters get to the second round (not sure how they factor in volume of votes or any of that stuff).

I haven't surfed around or read all the stuff up there, but Todd Robinson from Thug Lit has entered the fray, so if you have time drop by and give him ten.

I know I've stirred up a bit of chat over the last few days. I do love lively discussions. But since we're on the subject of contests, I thought I'd bring you some of my top picks of the week.

Best Line
One of the downsides of reading on the toilet and leaving magazines alongside is that you can, on occasion, find yourself peeing whilst James Bond is smugly staring up at you from the floor - Vincent

(Staying on the pee theme) Best Line in a Commercial

Because we pee on sophisticated technology all the time...

Letting me have a picture like this, he deserves to take the piss, doesn't he? Identify this Cockney Geezer and, well, you can feel special. I do figure it's the result of what he's been drinking, and he might be less inclined to respond to people oui oui from now on.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

If it was proven to me that giving Spinetingler away for free online was having a serious impact on the readership of print magazines, should I pull the plug on Spinetingler?

It might be necessary to read my comment on the post below to Barbara to understand this question, but it is one I'm throwing open for the masses. You see, in debating used book sales (and let me be clear on something: I'm more interesting in the reasoning people put behind their position than anything else. I'm not saying this for people I know online, but for people I know in the "real" world, who buy at least one $3 coffee a day and then grumble about the cost of even a new paperback) I have an actual, practical reality to consider with what I've been doing the past few years.

This might not be true of all e-zines, because we do reviews and interviews as well as short stories, so we do come closer to what many print magazines for our genre offer, so I'm not meaning to put any other e-zine editors in the hot seat.

What do the readers say?

(While I have an opinion, I'm curious to see what others have to say first.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Do We Have It Backwards?

In communication theory, I learned about backstage and frontstage regions, how over time various mediums have eroded the barrier between frontstage and backstage. Decades ago we saw more segregation, between the sexes, between cultures, religions.

It has taken blogs and the rise of the internet to really begin to break down the wall surrounding the publishing industry, and I think even now there are many who would say they don’t completely understand it. As authors become more desperate to understand how to improve their chances of success with their books the result is a rise in opportunistic marketing gimmicks and people who prey on the desperation and prevailing misunderstandings about how the book business works.

I’m not even trying to claim that I understand how the publishing business works, and most of the stories I hear center around the idea of how the publishing business doesn’t work, it’s shortcomings. The only thing that seems to be consistent is the sense that things are out of your control. Even now, it’s often thrown about that nobody know what makes a bestseller. True enough, but I do know how to almost certainly ensure a book won’t be a bestseller – don’t distribute it, don’t send out review copies, don’t do any promotion at all.

One thing I find myself wondering is why any massive advances are paid to untested authors when nobody knows what it takes to make a bestseller. And then, I find myself wondering, if word of mouth is so heralded as the trump card, what makes the critical difference, why don’t publishers hire talkers instead of publicists? I mean, come on. For the cost of mailing out a book and say a blanket rate per book of $50 you could hire people to sign on to DorothyL, 4MA, Rara-Avis if appropriate, Crimespace, various author forums and get them to talk up the book. And if you’re really smart and strategic, you can get it in conjunction – get your talkers interacting with each other.

Oh, and (of course) have them post reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo…

If someone provided me with a book and paid me $50 if I liked the book I’d do it. Of course, that would be the trick with me, as I am a reviewer. But I could see the potential there. At a cost of well under $1000 it would be possible to generate a lot of discussion that breeds name recognition for an author and a book.

The question becomes, why doesn’t somebody do this? Well, I suppose it’s possible that I’m the first person on a planet with billions to have this idea, but I highly doubt it. That means someone already is doing this, and is so skilled at it that nobody has caught on, or publishers don’t believe in the value of word of mouth. I find both hard to believe. After all, this is the same publishing industry that invests in thousands of ARCs for books they want to push hard: 10,000 ARCs of The DaVinci Code were produced and mailed out to promote that book, generating profits in the millions.

I certainly don’t understand the publishing business, but I am always willing to explore options and consider possible improvements.

The genesis of this post actually came from a comment made by Steve Mosby in response to a remark I made.

Sandra: I still think it’s hard on newer authors in hardcover, and honestly, I haven’t found the book in bookstores in Canada at all. I’m blaming distribution and some new stupidity about delaying releases here (HarperCollins has done this in the past year, instead of giving us the books when they come out in the UK giving them to us several months later). Very irritating.

Steve: Sandra - hardcover is a bit of a problem, I admit. It’s rare for me to try out a new writer in hardback, unless the book looks especially great. They’re talking about the death of hardcovers over here, which would be a shame as, personally, I love them. But the book world is currently a little ‘opposite’ to other artistic industries in that way. Both DVDs and CDs, for example, often come out in a cheaper, stripped-down, ‘vanilla’ version first, and then the one with bells-and-whistles comes out afterwards.

Ever since I read Steve’s comment, I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. I must admit to regret, catching on late to some authors as I have, that I can’t now get their work in hardcover unless I buy it used. And I’d really rather not. I love new books.

I have also had some conflict over the fact that my books will be coming out in mass market paperback release. On the one hand, I’m thrilled that they’ll be affordable and Dorchester has fantastic distribution, which was worth a lot to me after my experiences with SC. We did our homework, comparing the Canadian distribution of all the publishers who were possibilities. I can work a book here easily. It’s much harder for me to work a book that never gets in stores proximate to me.

But I have had this twinge of disappointment that I won’t have a hardcover of WBW or Frailty. Part of that disappointment comes from knowing that the books are every bit as good as what does get put in hardcover. I’ve shelled out the ridiculous $32 Canadian (and sometimes more) for hardcovers that are boring, predictable, contain typos and are perfectly forgettable, except as a source of irritation for the money spent on them.

Here are some simple truths I think we can all agree on. Some people are going to wait for the paperback, no matter what. They can’t afford hardcover, don’t like hardcover.

Some people are collectors and love hardcover.

And book profits are definitely impacted by used book sales.

The only thing I can safely conclude from that discussion is that there is a feeling that books are overpriced. One commenter goes so far as to suggest that blaming second-hand book sales for cutting into profits is an excuse the publishers use to pay less. There does seem to be some feeling that the publishing industry is gouging consumers amongst at least a few who are willing to speak up about it.

This is where some further erosion between backstage and frontstage regions might actually be helpful to the publishing industry. I think a lot of the cynicism we have for Hollywood carries over, even on a subconscious level. The media conditions us by showing us overpaid stars squandering money, breaking the law and getting off lightly. I’ve had people who’ve honestly been shocked to learn I’m not on easy street having a book deal, they really seem to think there must be a lot of money in it.

One of the main problems I see is that the authors are on the front lines. They’re the ones who attend the conventions, who sit for signings, who give interviews. And they get to hear the complaints. The result is frustration, for authors who don’t always understand why things go wrong, who legitimately wish they could eliminate the source of a reader’s complaint, but can’t. They often don’t even know who to talk to about whatever the problem was.

I skim blogs, so I hear the horror stories. Publishers pay for co-op space, and the stores forget. Authors turn up for signing events and there are no copies of their books on hand. I’ve lost count of the number of times I was supposed to receive a review copy of a book and the publisher never sent it out.

I keep going back to Steve’s comment, and keep thinking that maybe if we did turn the tables we’d see higher profit margins. Don’t put someone out in hardcover until they are selling phenomenally well, and then give them the bells and whistles for their extra money. Include author interviews, maps of the setting, whatever’s appropriate.

I’d spend money on that. I mean, Kevin spent £20, plus shipping, to get me a hardcover of Rebus’s Scotland.

There is a part of me that’s rather weary with the complaints about the cost of books. There are those who can’t afford new books, or many new books, and I do understand that. But I personally know people with thousands in the bank, with no credit card debt, with a $200,000 mortgage on a $400,000 property, with an inheritance worth more than that in the future, who buy food organic, eat out whenever they want, will spend $3 each morning on their specialty coffee, who will not buy books because they’re too expensive.

Many people have money to spend on what’s important to them. If you don’t have the money use the library: volume protects libraries from being closed down and raises their budgets. Buy used books from the library – it’s a system that supports authors with purchases of new books.

But dvd sales bear the proof that people who’ve seen a movie in the theatre will then pay for it a second time, and even a third. Hands up if you saw LOTR in the theatres and then got the dvds. We did. Both versions of the dvds.

I think the main difference is that people aren’t as willing to spend a lot of money on what might be a dud. It’s easy enough to go to a movie theatre and only spend a couple hours determining whether you like something. It’s harder with books, and taste is subjective (and some really don’t like spoilers) so reviews aren’t always helpful. I can understand why those who have nothing to do with the industry might be left feeling that there’s a snatch and run system at work – bring out the expensive version of the book first to grab the higher profit margin, and by the time the reader finds out it isn’t good it’s too late.

That’s the one thing I can say about coming out in paperback. $8 or $9 isn’t a lot to spend for several hours of entertainment, and I’m confident the books are worth it. Hopefully, this gives me a chance to build a readership. But even in hardcover, I wouldn’t be apologizing. Books, for me, opened my mind to new worlds, new experiences, helped me understand events of the past and made me think about the possibilities of the future. Reading is a skill, and it’s a journey, and it is all the books I’ve read before – good and bad – that have contributed to my growth as an author. TV networks have slogans like “Time well wasted”.

Time spent reading is time well spent, and if you find stuff you really, truly love… priceless.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Spinetingler, Sexism, Rebus & Siobhan and other stuff

Since today is the last day people can send in their picks for the first Spinetingler Awards, I can't draw any conclusions about the outcome... yet. But it will take a real deluge of surprise nominations to make a dent in the data I have compiled so far. It may be more trouble than it's worth to write up a report on my conclusions, based on opening this up to the general public, but at least nobody will be able to call us sexist...

And in case you're wondering, that means that despite a fairly even split between submissions from men and women, the nominations are extremely stacked in favour of one gender.

Still on Spinetingler, when Ian Rankin recently visited Canada for some promotional events, crime fiction reviewer Jim Napier had a chance to sit down with him and ask a few questions. Is Rankin giving us a hint about what the future holds for Rebus and Siobhan? You don't have to wait until January to find out, as it can be read online or downloaded from our site now.

Also, due to the size of the fall issue, it has been split in two parts to make it easier to download. Just follow the link to download the complete file, or parts 1 and 2.

I realize I'm about two months behind on correspondence, and I fully intend to catch up. Just give me a few more days with Tom Piccirilli first...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Useless Cats

Question: Why would a cat lie at the very bottom of the stairs, right next to a door that has not one but two big huskies on the other side of it? Huskies who consider cats to be something of a cross between snack food and play toys?

Answer: There’s a mouse behind the bucket with the dog bones.

Now, at first glance, this actually makes my cats sound quite normal. Even sensible, considering all the years of programming passed on through the generations.

However, when I moved the bucket to see why I had a couple cats fixated on that particular spot, the cats just sat there.

The influx of mice this year has been a bit irritating. I’m not a fan of creepy crawly things in general, and the only thing that ever made me look favourably on mice was experience with rats when I lived in BC. Alberta is blissfully rat-free, but I do not like rats. Or BC spiders, those gigantic ones. Freak me out, I hate those things.

But I digress.

So I left it to Kevin (who I’ve been bugging to do something about the mouse problem for a while) to deal with the mouse.

If I’d been thinking I would have gotten myself popcorn and a comfy chair.

Now, the players in this scenario, other than Kevin were:

Nootka, who is basically the cheering section

Chinook, the alpha male

The Mouse

Skittles, now known as Stupid

Stuart, who is now known as Spawn of Stupid

After I determined there was a mouse there, I replaced the bucket. The standoff had been going on for a few hours, and to be honest there was no better way to prove my point about the mouse problem than the proof that the presence of multiple cats was not deterring them from venturing upstairs.

And admittedly, I didn’t tell Kevin what was behind the bucket when I told him to pick it up.

At this point, it became something of a comedy.

Now, behind the door, as I mentioned, were two big huskies. They were on the landing. Kevin moved them behind another door, the one that goes to the basement, and left the door from the upstairs to the landing open. He got a container and decided he was going to catch this mouse.

Then he looked down and said, “Where did it go?”

Stuart had been lying on the bottom, right by the door, but she’d been tossed up to the top of the stairs. Skittles was lying two steps up, and still lying two steps up.

Kevin moved the few pairs of shoes on the sides of the stairs. No mouse. He then scoured the landing. No mouse.

Surely the mouse didn’t get past Skittles?

Why yes, it had. As Kevin moved more shoes, there it was, having gone up a full step past the cat, who was oblivious to its presence.

Kevin’s attempt to catch it sent it scurrying back down, and Skittles did nothing more than turn his head to watch.

Stuart just sat there, watching as well, proving herself equally useless.

The mouse scurried across the landing, and slipped under the door to the basement. It took less than two seconds for that mouse to do a 180 and run back out to the landing, clearly more frightened by the dogs than the cats, so it headed back for the stairs.

Kevin did manage to get his container over it. He then managed to lose it. Off it went, so fast, it proved itself stupid enough to forget what was behind door #2.

And when Kevin opened the door, there it was, a dead mouse covered in dog saliva.

Our cats are very good sleepers.

Great at grooming.

Outstanding at commandeering chairs and settling down for 18-hour naps.

But two of them have proven they haven’t got anything on the dogs when it comes to catching mice.

(I was going to include more photos but blogger is being pissy this morning.)

In other news the original Spinetingler site has been updated, along with the new pdf for download, and Angie has Megan Abbott In For Questioning this week. Check it out!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Beyond Redemption?

It’s Friday, and I know I should be thinking about something light and suitably fun for the weekend, but in light of the fact that Canada’s youngest convicted triple killer was yesterday handed the harshest sentence possible -- 10 years I find myself wondering about this sentence, and what the judge had to say.

From the article
"You can never undo what you have done to your mom, dad and little brother," he told the girl, who was 12 when she killed her entire family.
"However, what you can do is honour their memory by dedicating your life to becoming the woman your parents and brother would be proud of."
Brooker gave the girl, who cannot be named, the maximum sentence allowed under the Youth Criminal Justice Act for the slayings of her parents and eight-year-old brother in their family home on April 23, 2006.

Here’s what I’m left wondering. Why is it we look at kids who kill and think that perhaps they can still be redeemed?

Add this current Crimespace discussion into the mix and what I’m left wondering is, if we buy the argument that killing is fundamentally in our nature, shouldn’t we be more concerned about kids that have already been pushed to do what most of us resist doing? After all, if you’ve killed once, isn’t it easier to cross that line again? I find with most vices that’s true, because you realize the consequences are (sometimes) not as severe as you initially feared.

Shouldn’t we actually be giving more credit to people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, pushed to kill for the first time, because they resisted their primal instincts for so long?

Instead, we look at it from the opposite perspective, thinking children can still be reformed, and that the older you are, the more responsible you are.

Do we have it backwards?

*Before I forget, Daniel Hatadi has also provided hosting of the pdfs of this issue on his site and I've updated the links at Spinetingler accordingly. I'm hoping to have the original site updated tonight, and to be able to upload the pdf there as well.*

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Uncensored Version

There are a few things to point out about the new Spinetingler and since this is my own blog this will be the blunt version.

One of the reasons for the delays had to do with a reviewer moving to another city. Not just moving house across town, but one of those big moves. Those reviews still aren’t in, and ultimately, I decided not to wait any longer. There are likely a few authors out there wondering where the reviews of their books are… As always, there are no guarantees anyway, but hopefully I’ll have those reviews for the Winter Issue in January.

Another reason for the delay: the new format. Well, and the reason for the new format. I’ve never been the technological brains behind the operation, but now I’m pretty much flying solo, in life and everything else. I did the best I could to deliver as close to usual as possible (the download files proving to eat days of my life because I just couldn’t get the one file to upload, hence the split to two files), and while there have been a few complaints about the new look of things, nobody’s complained that it isn’t functional, just that it isn’t as flashy as the old site. Sorry. That’s beyond me. I can design, but implementation is a whole other ballpark and I don’t have access to or control over the site domain.

The next few months will involve a lot of careful consideration of the future of the ezine. It comes down to me being able to handle it on my own, and I have to consider how much time that takes from other things. We’re already full for the Winter Issue, which is edited by Jack Getze, and something special is in the works for the Spring/Summer Issue in May.

Frankly, I’m wiped out from this, but now I have to give my head a shake and get on with doing the interviews for the next issue… Once I start feeling like this is all I do and I have no time left for writing, it'll be the beginning of the end for the ezine. I'm not actively trying to recruit a technical volunteer to help, because my experience with all other contributors is that life all too often gets in the way. And I can't be upset when volunteers have other legitimate demands pressing on their time, so they can't review/edit/read. That's part of the deal from the outset, but that means the same thing for a technological support person. And to be blunt, there's enough bloody drama with the divorce already. Part of the reason I was behind was also because of my October deadline on the last manuscript. I feel like my brain was already mush and now someone took blenders to it.

I've also gone about this in stages, hoping any glitches will be caught before hundreds of people start trying to download the files, so if you're a subscriber and wondering why you haven't heard from me yet, that's why. In a few days I'll send out the notices, although obviously if you're here reading this, you can be done reading the new issue by then!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Filling The Disaster Quota

We’ve all heard the sayings – break a mirror and you’ll have seven years of bad luck, bad things happen in threes. I could prove the latter. I was a disaster child. First, there was the year I was hit by a car and had to have my head stitched back together. (I know, I know, it explains a lot.) The next year was the year I partially severed my right foot, had to have the muscle stitched back together inside. How does a kid top that?

I fell down a waterfall.

Just don’t ask.

Well, it is officially our third vehicle mishap of the year. The Rodeo had a little electrical blowout while Kevin was driving it, and died. The Pontiac met a deer, up close and personal.

And now, the replacement car for the Pontiac is sitting in an impound lot.

I’m beyond analyzing the particulars of the incident. In a three-vehicle collision, Kevin was the only one they took to the hospital. Because he had a suspected back injury, they taped his head to the backboard. And, while on the side of the highway lying on the gurney, it unfortunately had a brake issue and rolled into the ditch with Kevin on it.

I’m not sure what to make of the fact that all of these incidents have occurred while Kevin’s been driving. I’d like to think we’re at three now, that’s the quota, enough already. However, I find myself wondering if it’s my turn next.

Now, if everything goes according to plan, this time tomorrow I’ll be announcing the new Spinetingler Issue. However, all things considered, I’m not holding my breath. I guess we use labels like lucky and unlucky to make sense of why the cosmos kicks some asses more than others.

Meanwhile, I’ll give you a little taste of my current reading, the tantalizing intro to a collection that’s proving to have some very interesting contributions.

~But…if knowing full well what the subject matter of such books is, you are still shocked and disgusted by a little bad language, then frankly you are an idiot, whose sense of values is way overdue for a service. Just how skewed does your worldview have to be, before you find it acceptable to read about death and dismemberment but are offended if those who come close to it swear now and again? Or go home and have a drink to cope with the trauma? Or, heaven forbid, sleep with someone they haven’t known for very long?

~It has, on occasion, been suggested that my books, and those of equally depraved writers, should be issued with warning stickers, like those on the front of many rap albums. You know the sort of thing:





~I would be perfectly happy with this. As long as the people making these demands are forced to wear stickers themselves. These should be large, square and fluorescent. They should be stuck to their foreheads. They should read:


Mark Billingham, EXPLETIVE DELETED, edited by Jen Jordan, 2007 Bleak House Books

Though I think if someone was to slap such a sticker on the front of EXPLETIVE DELETED they might want to point out that the book not only contains scenes involving toilet parts but scenes of a graphic sexual nature. I mean, Olen, Otis… fuck. I don’t mean that they fuck, or… oh, never mind. It’s just that this anthology, originally titled FUCK NOIR, doesn’t need to be self-conscious about the language to produce in the reader the response fucking hell. And I believe my specific reaction to Otis Twelve’s story was, Holy fuck. I didn’t seen that coming. Uh, no pun intended.

Oh, and for the record, Kevin’s going to be fine. And for some reason, I hope Mindy is inspired by the runaway gurney…

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

It would be tempting to make jokes about Irish men...

I mean, what else can you do when one of them coerces you to answer questions and then calls you a punk?

Seriously, a fun Q&A.

And that's all from me for the moment. Kevin was in a three-vehicle accident on the Deerfoot this morning, so I have to head off to the city. I still hope to have the new Spinetingler up and functioning tomorrow night, if I can just have one day without any drama around here...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

With Prejudice

Discussions here and elsewhere recently have ultimately broached the age-old debate about literature versus genre. From the outset, I want to stress something. At the end of the day, all that matters to me is that people read. Reading is a skill. There is no special learning required to watch television, though I won’t digress with a rant against the medium as a whole. I watch TV. I admit I watch it when I’m tired, burnt out, usually just after finishing a manuscript. I watch it when I need what I call mindless activity. And I watch it when The Wire is on, because that’s quality and you do have to use your brain to follow it, but that’s another tangent.

I’m actually a big believer in letting people find their thing and enjoy it. It might not always seem that way, because I have strong opinions about what I like and why. However, that’s just a matter of personal taste. For anyone who was following my blog last week, you might have a good idea why I tend to shift into a rigorous defense when someone tries to sell me on something I don’t want: I spent far too many years of my life being pressured to do what others expected, to listen to what they thought was acceptable, even to read what met with their approval. And that’s not as simple as Christian vs non-Christian. I remember vicious arguments about Frank Peretti’s books being “unscriptural” and “heretical”.

I learned to defend my choices. And it actually goes back earlier, because we weren’t allowed to listen to rock music in our house, and if you wanted to see me in an argument, you should have seen me argue over music as a teenager. You haven’t got a clue how I can fight, compared to that.

Sure, I probably have a natural disposition toward debate. I’ve been involved in public forum debates. But as long as we’re addressing things that aren’t a matter of law or morality, I don’t really care what others do, as long as they aren’t trying to change what I do. Now, on a regular basis, I get review requests and interview requests and other requests… people wanting me to do something for them, involving their career. Probably easily a hundred requests a year. Obviously, I can’t earn a living doing any of it, so I follow through with a very small percentage of the requests received.

The first ones to go are ones that fall outside my area of expertise or interest. If you’ve written an intellectual discussion about the abuse of Aboriginal peoples worldwide over the last four hundred years, more power to you. Probably some fascinating stuff in there, actually. The topic interests me, but am I the right person to review such a work? Hell no. And is Spinetingler the right venue for such a review? No. It’s not your target audience.

Some might consider me saying no to such a work to be prejudicial, and I suppose it’s their right to conclude that, but I think most of us understand that if you’ve written a paranormal romance, the good lad at Crime Scene Scotland isn’t likely the one best suited to review it. Romantic Times would be a better choice.

Now, how does this tie in with the genre versus literature debate? To be honest, the more that I think about the allegations of snobbery and discrimination against genre, the more I see that this is a wider issue that goes to how we’re taught to classify things from the time we’re young. I’m speaking generally. It’s about the impressions we’re given, based on experience.

For example, the Oscars. I don’t actively follow the awards, but I’m aware of the talk about the rarity of animated movies being nominated for Best Picture. Comedies seldom make that list either. They make no apology for traditionally limiting the top prize to weightier dramas, and even the directorial nod tends to fall in line with that thinking.

If one were to look at music, I think they’d see much the same. There are fine lines that distinguish between music that’s given respect and music that may sell well but isn’t really considered art. How many people consider Bruce Springsteen to be in the same category as Britney Spears? This isn’t about sales power. Britney may make millions, but is her music memorable? I think you could almost consider the term ‘pop’ as the musical equivalent of ‘genre’ in that pop music is often not widely respected. Boy bands and girl bands, manufactured celebrities. You look at the likes of Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and what you see are legends. Who are the modern legends that will be worthy of their place of note for redefining music in the years to come? A whole other discussion, to be sure, but my point is that artists like Springsteen and the bands mentioned pushed the envelope. I can speak more clearly to the bickering within the country music scene, for in the days of Billy Ray Cyrus’s Achy Breaky Heart came waves of criticism from those who thought selling albums by way of butt wiggles marked a new low point for country music in general. He was actually musically typecast and had a difficult time with his career as a result, which was a shame, because he actually was capable of more.

For all our whining over the distinctions within the scope of the book world, the categorization is hardly unique to us.

There is a certain amount of work that we can call “pop” - popular movies, music, books. To me, it’s stuff like what Britney produces. I even look back on what was popular during the 80s when I was a teenager, and can’t bear to listen to Wham, Duran Duran or any of that now. Could I ever have actually thought it was good? And maybe it’s not fair to say that it isn’t, but we tend to say our tastes have matured with age… not that our interests are limited because we’re more narrow-minded.

However, that’s often how people look at it. Older people are ‘set in their ways’. I don’t consider myself as set as some. It is only a few years, really, since I was converted to crime fiction (having actually been put off the genre initially by a few authors I would lump under the ‘pop’ category of books – they get end caps and sell well but I found the work overly formulaic, predictable and it didn’t engage me) and it’s been even shorter since I first ventured outside my police procedural realm to begin to indulge in hardboiled, noir, thrillers and books that defy easy categorization. Four years ago, I just wouldn’t have read Allan Guthrie, and I doubt I would have gotten past chapter one of Ken Bruen’s American Skin - one of my favourites of his. My tastes have really evolved as I’ve explored more. (And as an aside, that’s why I found the whole torture porn criticisms leveled at both Al and Ken bemusing. If anyone is going to slam gratuitous violence, it will be me. I cover my eyes or look away at grisly scenes on TV. I still remember my first Val McDermid, The Wire in the Blood and I had a very difficult time with that book. It made me examine the use of violence and detail within the story and consider what was warranted and what was sensationalized. I became a huge McDermid fan as a result, and that single book probably had more to do with me exploring darker fiction as a result, but there’s no carte blanche acceptance of violence for the sake of violence. I squirmed reading WITB and I squirmed reading Hard Man and if I thought for a second that a work was just an indulgence in violence for the sake of violence I would abandon it in a heartbeat. I have – I just rarely name those authors.)

In Canada, in the chain bookstores, there is a very clear distinction between mystery and fiction/literature and I usually complain about the books that don’t get shelved in mystery. However, there are some books that get shelved in both sections, and I find those examples most telling of the perception of the work. Laura Lippman, George Pelecanos are but two who are getting shelved in both sections in some chain stores here. What that says to me is that there is a recognition that they typically work within genre fiction, and their work will appeal to mystery readers, but that their work has a wider scope and will be of interest to a wider readership. I consider that the best place for an author to be. Honestly, since I rarely wander outside mystery, and only occasionally force myself to stroll through fiction and literature (it’s such a big, generic section and so much that’s there isn’t what I’m looking for) it does irritate me when people clearly writing crime fiction get shelved only in fiction and literature. Rick Mofina, Lee Child, PJ Parrish… Part of the contribution to my late discovery of their work, because they aren’t with the mystery books. I’ll likely be shelved in fiction and literature myself, by nature of publisher, but I’ve learned to live with it. It most certainly isn’t because of any snobbery on my part – I wanted to see my books in the same section with the works of Rankin, McDermid, Bruen. I’m proud to write crime fiction.

I think the most telling example of snobbery, or discrimination, I’ve ever seen in the scope of the book world centered on a Canadian author, who’s a friend of mine. I went to one of this author’s signings and couldn’t find their book before the event. I’d combed mystery, and then looked through fiction and literature. I looked for a special display because of the signing. No such luck. I finally asked. I mean, the author was coming to read and sign books – they had to have it, right?

Shelved under gay/lesbian exclusively.

This really bothered me. Now, I suppose an argument can be made that perhaps I shouldn’t have been so narrow-minded and considered the fact that, since the protagonist is gay, the book might be shelved there. But the gay/lesbian section was a very small portion of a row of shelves in the very back corner of the building, and if I hadn’t asked, I doubt I ever would have found the book. Plus, on the back of the book the category label printed on it is ‘mystery’. I mean, can anyone imagine shelving Val McDermid’s Lindsay Gordon books being exclusively shelved with gay/lesbian? And what does it say if we see books that have gay/lesbian protagonists exclusively shelved elsewhere? Does it suggest that those books can only appeal to gay and lesbian readers? Does compartmentalizing these books contribute to divisions in society, or does it reflect the prejudices that exist? I’m not ashamed at all to walk over and buy a book from the gay/lesbian section. But I am troubled by the implications that fictional works with gay protagonists are categorized exclusively as such (if ever there was an argument to be made for shelving works in two sections!) when we don’t put the works of Rankin, MacBride, Guthrie in sections labeled ‘straight’.

It’s easier, I think, to point out some subtleties with movies. I’ve watched comedies that have cracked me up. But the second time, not so much. And the third, fourth time? Why waste the time? Unless a lot of years have passed, the jokes are now old.

On the other hand, I’ve watched dramas again and again and they’ve still had the ability to reduce me to tears or fully engage me. I’ve probably seen The Lord of the Rings series five times, and in the right mood, I’d watch it again. Or more specifically, The Two Towers, which is my favourite. But some movies are classics, and more often than not, they’re dramas. Perhaps it is based on some outdated philosophy, that what is considered thought-provoking is weightier and therefore more important and therefore enduring. I don’t know. But I can look back on five years of high school, Shakespeare every year, and the works we read were Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Richard III, and Hamlet. Okay, how many comedies versus how many tragedies? In grade 13 we read Hamlet and the other book was Ernest Buckler’s The Mountain and the Valley. I still remember a classmate asking why everything we read had to be so depressing…

Whether intended or not, the result of exposure, the result of the respect we see afforded to certain types of works, has an impact on how much importance we often give them. Beyond the labels of ‘literary’ and ‘classic’ what I see from my own education was a pattern of reading serious work, about issues. We studied the allegory of Animal Farm and the works I wrote papers on were works such as Anthem and The Chrysalids and Fahrenheit 451.

I can talk out of both sides of my mouth. I’m completely proud of writing crime fiction. I’m proud I’ll have two police procedurals out next year. And if I was writing books about Tootsie the Talking Toothbrush, who solves crimes and conveys the solution to her owner by vibrations when she’s brushing her teeth, I’d be proud too… but that would be what I’d put down as a book all in good fun, pure entertainment. I wouldn’t expect someone to nominate it for the Dagger or Edgar, no matter how well written.

And that’s where the subtleties come in. How we evaluate books is about more than the merit of the writing. Comedy is actually one of the hardest things to write and do well, and those who can do it make it look effortless but it takes a real skill. However, even with crime fiction there are arguments that arise, about why cozies don’t get nominated for certain awards, and anyone who’s been on DorothyL for five minutes has probably seen one of those arguments. I won’t rehash the history here.

Here’s the real question, for those who would say the sole purpose is to entertain, or that touching on realistic issues doesn’t matter. Someone’s read your work. They say:

a) Great book, couldn’t put it down. I really liked the characters and couldn’t stop thinking about it after I finished,


b) Great read. I remember I really enjoyed it at the time, but don’t really remember what it was about.

Which would you prefer? Is there anything in what you’re writing you hope will linger on the brain for more than five seconds after a person’s finished reading?

For most people, the reason something is memorable is because it speaks to them in some way. Luke Skywalker was a hero at a time people needed to believe in heroes again. Reacher rights wrongs, and the part of people that craves the justice we’re often denied in life (from the simplest to the most complex issues, because life just isn’t fair) connects with that. There has to be something that resonates with people. I doubt many people who read cat mysteries hate cats.

My main objective is to tell a damn good story, one that entertains. But I also want it to be more than just ticking off boxes and completing a checklist, “Here are the required ingredients and no more.” A story has to be about something, and for me, what interests me are issues. What Burns Within is a police procedural. It’s also a true thriller, because lives are at stake, it’s action-packed, intensely paced and there’s a ticking clock. But there is a thread that’s woven throughout, that goes beyond the adrenaline rush and the entertainment. I’m not embarrassed by that at all. I’m pleased that people who read it got it.

There are books I want to write that aren’t issues-oriented, that are more pure entertainment, I guess you’d say. I have no shame in that. A book should be measured on what it’s intended to be, more than just what it isn’t. It’s not fair to criticize a romance because it isn’t fantasy… unless it’s been marketed as a fantasy.

And that’s where all the genre labels become tricky. Some who want to be shelved in fiction and literature, in my opinion, shouldn’t be. Some who are shelved in fiction and literature, in my opinion, shouldn’t be, primarily because I think they’re missing their target audience. In this era of cell phones and fast food dinners and eating on the go, people rarely have time to browse at length anywhere, bookstores included. And that’s my main worry with the long, rambling fiction and literature section – I routinely start at the beginning of mystery and work my way through, looking for what’s new, because I can stay on top of that section. With fiction and literature? I’ve given up by C…

Ultimately, the works that stay with me long-term are the ones that made me think, or that I connected to on some level. And now I’ll shock you all, by naming one of my most treasured books:

The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

And yes, it’s a romance.
But it made me laugh out loud and it made me cry and it made me think about living my life to meet other people’s expectations, or doing what would make me happy. It was about so much more than just falling in love… it was a journey, how one person discovers herself. In fact, it has all the elements of a classic quest.

You can agree, or disagree with my two cents. They’re just my two cents. I do think that there are many* works within the scope of genre fiction that should be regarded as literature. But at the end of the day, for me, all that matters is that I’ve written the book I set out to write, had it embraced by a publisher, and the early reader reports have been exactly what I hoped to hear. I’m going to measure me against my own goals, not the arbitrary labels and measurements others use, because that will drive a person mental.

But am I prepared to stand up and say that there’s something important about the book? Yes. I imagine a lot of people will read it and be completely entertained and possibly not even think about some of the issues. Others have already proven they saw even more in it than I consciously intended.

Truly, the best of both worlds. Something for everyone. First and foremost, a damn good story. Everything else flows from there, no matter what the label.

The only thing I'm ready to sign petitions over? Categorization by discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender, race or religion. I hope to hell we aren’t going to reach a day where any mysteries with Muslim protagonists are shelved exclusively with books on Islam. That pisses me off, far far more than the genre versus “literature” debate.

* To clarify, perhaps I should have said that I don't think the majority of works within the scope of genre fiction (and I'm using that term to encompass all genres in the above statement) should be regarded as literature. I don't mean to suggest there are only a couple authors who "transcend the genre". It may be only 51% (I haven't done a count, and who could?) but I think the majority of genre works are best classified within the genre.