Thursday, January 31, 2008

So what happens with an Irish Crime Author lets slip at 1 AM that you're going to announce award winners?

Thank you Declan.

Okay, seriously, this was the plan. I just didn't realize I'd be banging my head against Cyberduck, trying to get the damn pdf of the new Spinetingler to upload for hours...

Oh, what's that? Shut up woman, and get on with the awards? Well then...

If I were a better person, I'd be prepared with some sort of formal announcement.

But I'll just say that the winners of the 2007 Spinetinglers have been announced. For the most part, each category was determined by popular vote and a few categories were affected by editorial input due to a tie.

This coincides with the release of the new issue of Spinetingler.

And, in the ultimate act of madness, I picked today to launch the new site, AT CENTRAL BOOKING Originally intended to for launch sometime in the spring, it's been bumped up a bit. Not everything is active yet, and I'm hoping more podcasters and vbloggers will jump on board - so long as it's relevant content to the intention of the site. In other words, promoting great work from our genre, not self-promotion.

My hope is that when Spinetingler is relocated, At Central Booking will move to its new home as well. This coincides with the announcement last week that I've joined Mystery Bookspot as a reviewer, although that was a private announcement to the team at MBS & FBS. My first review should be up over there sometimes this weekend.

Having launched an issue, and a new site, I desperately hope all links are active, that I didn't put Chris Holm's story in the file for Damien Seaman's, or mess something else up.

Fingers crossd...

Do check out the new site. From David Thayer's A Reviewer Goes To The Drugstore, to seeing whether or not Allan Guthrie and Ray Banks can pass the lie detector when up against their Harcourt editor, Stacia Decker, there's a lot of fun stuff.

Plus varying opinions on reviewing criteria for the deep thinkers.

And lots of other stuff I'm forgetting...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Of Milkshakes and Ice Cream

If I’m going to have one of those breakfast shakes, I want it to be strawberry. Chocoholic that I am, the chocolate is… too chocolate. Too sweet, or something.

Or maybe it just reminds me of the sleepover where we baked chocolate chip cookies the night before and had chocolate chip pancakes the next morning. Just thinking about it makes my stomach heave>

No, it’s about more than that, because whenever I go to Peter’s Drive-In, I always have a banana shake or strawberry or blueberry…

Never chocolate.

If we’re talking ice cream I never have strawberry. Or banana. No. I don’t think they make my favourite anymore – peanut butter and chocolate. After that, it’s mint chocolate chip, tin roof sundae, heavenly hash, cookies ‘n’ cream, cookie dough…

It’s funny to me how our tastes can be affected by form. I’ll eat apples, and apple crumble is delicious. But applesauce? Yuck.

It’s also funny to me how our tastes change over time. When I was a kid, asked what my favourite kind of pie was, I would probably have said apple. Assuming chocolate cream pie wasn’t an option.

Now? Pumpkin. Followed by strawberry-rhubarb.

Things like this can be hard to explain to other people. “But you like chocolate and you like breakfast shakes…”

“But I don’t like chocolate breakfast shakes.”

Well-meaning man walks away, shaking his head, because he doesn’t get it and I can’t explain it.

It just is.

I’ve been wondering about this for a number of reasons. Some might make more sense to you tomorrow. One I’ve wondered about for some time is whether or not we read books by people we know differently.

What I mean by that is, because I know the author and can talk to him, am I more critical? Looking for the things that can be commented on for improvement?

Or am I less critical, and only inclined to say what I like about the work?

I mean, if you’d never e-mail up an author you don’t know and tell them of a quirk of theirs that you don’t like, why would you mention it to a friend?

These are all the things to ponder. Sometimes, getting review copies can be a curse. An even greater curse is the manuscripts. See, I’ve learned not to pull my punches, because doing so isn’t helpful at that stage of the game.

But I’ve also learned to silence myself on more subjective areas of criticism. If I don’t like the name Tracy I’m going to keep it to myself if that’s your protagonist’s name. I mean, what good does saying anything do? Are you going to take a poll for a new name? Man, talk about torture. Ask 100 people, you’ll probably get at least 102 different answers…

I’m going to go back to mulling over tastes and form.

And moaning because the only breakfast shake left in the fridge is vanilla.

Monday, January 28, 2008

No Sense Of Place

Canada has long prided itself on being the cultural mosaic as opposed to the melting pot. Retain your culture, celebrate diversity.

Unfortunately, through the disintegration of traditional print media, we’re rushing toward globalization at a disturbing pace, and in the most dangerous manner of all: subtly.

Most people probably don’t even notice it. While I’m specifically citing Canadian examples here, I’m primarily doing that because I feel I can critique my own country. The same holds true of many other countries, particularly where newspapers are concerned.

Over the years I’ve been to 26 different countries. One of the things I used to do, wherever I went, was try to locate an English version newspaper so that I could get a sense of the place. It gave me an idea of what issues the local people were facing, what was happening in their village/city/province/country.

What I find now is that in my own country, I’m hard pressed to access local news.

When I go online to various news sites, many don’t even cite the location of the incident being reported on. CNEWS is particularly bad for that. The other day I saw a headline for a particularly grisly murder. There was nothing on the teaser to indicate location. Now, I’ve just gone over and looked at their home page. Right now the headlines are:

Jury selection begins for mom accused of killing baby (no location cited below)
5 convicted in Britain’s largest cash robbery (LONDON)
Gunmen at Pakistan high school release hostages (PESHAWAR)
Hunt on for two Oshawa siblings (no located cited below, but inferred in title…

And the list goes on, specifically highlighting stories identified as happening in France, Pakistan, Indonesia, and one even located in Toronto. There’s a daily feature about a dog that doesn’t have an obvious location.

I click on the dog story, and it clearly states it’s from The Toronto Sun. I only have to skim four paragraphs down to find it’s specifically Newmarket.

So, I go to the story about the jury selection beginning for mom accused of murder.

Dayton, Ohio.

Oh, now I see it’s the microwave baby murder – not stated in the title. Now I know this case.

Can anyone tell me why almost all the other stories were ID’d by location and this one wasn’t?

In all honesty, it’s what I expect at CNews. Usually it’s the Canadian stories that don’t get a specific location. There have been several times I’ve started reading stories and had no idea where the story was happening.

Is it so wrong to want to be able to identify Canadian news from the headlines? If I go to The Toronto Star, I expect everything’s happening in Toronto unless otherwise stated. After all, it’s a location-specific newspaper. CNews is a central site from the parent company of The Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa Sun papers, and The London Free Press.

Sometimes, I even want to know if things are specifically happening local to me. I live near Calgary. So, what’s listed under Across Canada?

Ont. Should review shaken baby cases: Tory
Gun registry ‘not up-to-date’
Disgraced pathologist set to testify at inquiry
Driver killed in charter bus accident
Fallen soldier returns home
Health care off the radar
Train hit fatal for tricyclist
Bats the primary carrier of rabies
Research shows sunlight assists in cancer battle
Cops dodge bullets in standoff
‘Peg wants Monopoly board space
Tractor accident injures man, 60
Exercise bikes will light up shelter.

How many can I readily identify a location for? ‘Peg (I know it, but do you non-Canadians know it?) and Ont.

I have to click on the stories to see if I can pinpoint a more specific location:


We aren’t even trying to maintain the pretense that the locations are relevant to the story, and they should be. I skim headlines and focus on stories of interest. I do this with several papers. Internationally, The Scotsman. Location-specific, such as The Tri City News - after all, my new series is set in the Tri Cities. It stands to reason I try to keep up with that.

I don’t have time to read all the stories or click on all the links, and when I’m specifically skimming for location-based stories and can’t find them, it’s frustrating.

But it goes far beyond that. Because I live in a village outside of Calgary, there are often things happening that I’m aware of that aren’t being reported. Some I’m aware of because of my ex’s role on the fire department. Some through the grapevine. However, a place like the Tri Cities has the population to maintain a decent regular press presence. Here, there are just over 800 people. The community paper serves more than a dozen communities forming a semi-circle around Calgary, and only comes out once a week.

And being a community paper it talks more about the latest happenings at 4H than hard news.

And after living here for four years, I still don’t know where most of the little communities are or what some of the local organizations do. We don’t get news – we get fluff pieces and occasional spin about our supposedly glowing communities.

Well, and occasional rants about the construction in Balzac…

In fact, it wasn’t even until I stumbled across a poll last week that I learned Calgary had a suspected serial killer murdering women. How is it possible that someone who checks multiple news sources daily wouldn’t know this was happening in their own back yard?

It’s simple. Most of the news outlets, as I’ve demonstrated, don’t feel it’s important to tell you where things are happening. And with our increasingly busy lives, more than ever the headline is critical to directing our interests. A murder. Another murder. Sorry to say, but there’s nothing special about that until you tell me there’s something special. Tell me it’s a child, tell me it’s a grandmother, tell me it’s the third linked case, tell me it’s the microwave baby murder and I’ve connected.

Tell me it’s happening in my own back yard and I’m more likely to read it.

Is this where you ask why I didn't see it on the evening news? Oh, yeah, I forgot - newspapers are irrelevant aren't they? Especially if I have to watch the news to get the news. Used to be I could read it...

Now, from that list of Canadian stories, I knew the charter bus accident had happened in Alberta – Edson, to be specific. But the only reason I knew was from cross referrals to other news sources where they had clearly identified the location.

And that’s the reason we need to have multiple news sources. Just yesterday, I had a small exchange with someone over Canadian journalism and its political nature. Most press comes out with some slant on it. I assume that. It’s only by cross-referring to multiple sources that you start to get the balance of what’s really happening. When even two or three sources are reporting identical facts I start to trust in the accuracy.

However, having been behind the scenes in the reporting world, I’m sticking with the word ‘start’.

It used to be that reporters built up a level of credibility through their work. Part of establishing that credibility and carrying it forward came with name recognition. Now, as news comes at us from more national (and even international sources finding their way into national, provincial and city news) the names on the stories have lost value. Too many to keep track of. People coming and going and being sent here and there or switching departments or what have you.

And as we lose the personal touch, we lose our sense of identification with the local news. Considering I’ve lived here four years, considering the community paper head office is a ten minute drive away, considering how many times Kevin’s been on a call that was newsworthy and sometimes I’ve been out to fires or events, considering I used to work for the library, which is located in the village office, I’ve never even seen one of our local reporters.

Which contrasts with my experience as a kid, growing up in a town with ten times the population and, back then, two community papers. The Gravenhurst Banner and The Gravenhurst News – which I used to write for, but she’s now just a memory. I have clippings of me in the news going back to grade 1.

I got thinking about all of this last night, watching The Wire. Overall, the Sun storyline isn’t working well for me, but there is a lot in it that I can identify with.

A main city paper not knowing about a Grand Jury summons when the TV media has the scoop? Not being able to get the goods on major news from City Hall?

Getting rid of the experienced, established reporters with the name recognition and credibility - and contacts - to make a story happen, leaving in their wake the young, inexperienced, untrusted who can’t make headway?

Print media has a distinct role that must not be forgotten in the march toward online presence and consolidation. It is a record of our history that is accessible in current time. What is online comes and goes, here today, gone tomorrow. There is nothing permanent to it. And what comes out in history books often takes years.

This is our record, right here, right now. It is the moments that make up the sum our lives, our community, our evolution politically, socially, economically. Newspapers used to reflect their domain and identify it.

And now, most are churning full steam toward globalization.

It takes someone from Baltimore to put the situation with the newspapers there in perspective for me, and it speaks to the heart of what’s missing more and more from the media here:

To quote Brian:
The biggest paper in Baltimore, The Baltimore Sun, may have the bigger profile and the most history


the new kid on the block, The Examiner, may come in a more covenant design




My favorite paper has always been The City Paper.

They dig deep where the others won't or don't. They cast a wide net of city coverage. Their arts and entertainment reviews have a unique perspective that cover a variety of styles, genres and mediums.

Two prominent stories from The City Paper demonstrate the audacious idea of digging deep into a story.

The first is called Bloodletting. It takes an (in-)depth look at the murder rate in Baltimore and how those in charge over the year just haven't been able to get it to drop. Fans of The Wire may recognize some of the players here. Fmr. Commissioner Ed Norris is Homicide Det. Ed Norris on the show; Mayor Carcetti is based on Mayor & Governor Martin O'Malley; Narese is based on current Mayor Sheila Dixon & Former mayor Schmoke was the nameless health commissioner that appeared at the end of S3 defending Hamsterdam to mayor Royce.

The second is a two parter called The Dealer: The Rise and Fall of Fred Brooks and How Drugs Get to Baltimore. Part One & Part Two

The truth of the matter is that Gus, Twig and any of the other cast-offs in B-more would probably go work for the city paper.

I guess all I can say is, thank goodness there are still some places in the world where people can get that sense of connectedness, with relevance to their community, through the press. For me, it’s been a great part of my disconnect ever since I moved rural again.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

An Author’s Reviewing Dilemma

As reviewers, we are often faced with dilemmas in the process of assessing a book. Take it on its merits, based on the writing and execution, some say. And that is the goal, to separate out the personal taste issues and say who the book is intended for, and whether or not that audience should be satisfied with the offering.

However, it’s never that simple, because when a book isn’t working for a reader they often either abandon it, or become nitpicky. They aren’t absorbed by the story, so they notice every little thing it’s possible to critique.

There are other variables that can affect our assessment. In going over my reviews for the Winter 2008 Spinetingler issue, I realized many were variations on a theme. I’d had a particularly good run with books in the last few months, some of which I’d received review copies for and others which I’d purchased, and would highly recommend many of those books to readers of hardboiled/noir fiction.

Can anyone take my recommendations seriously if they can’t weigh them against the times a book doesn’t quite work for me, and understand how I assess both positively and negatively?

And yet, I didn't receive a review copy - I bought this book - so I'm under no obligation to review it...

One of the risks when you have a good stretch in your reading is that the bar is raised. Will the next book measure up? So much about our reactions to a book involve our preferences, our tastes. How can we not be enthusiastic about the read that hits home for us on every level and keeps us turning the pages, late into the night?

And how unfair to the next author coming along, because we can’t help but compare the experience of one read and hope to have it repeated or surpassed.

I’m also a person who runs counter to hype, and so I’m prepared to say that my impressions may be affected by that as well. The problem with hype is, just like that last great read we experienced, it raises our level of expectations, and sometimes does an otherwise great read a disservice, because we end up dissatisfied because it was only great and not spectacular.

In the end, as much as we aim for objectivity, there will always be a portion of a review that is much like the artistic impression marks of old in figure skating… It will come down to an opinion. It isn’t a commentary on an author or a personal attack.

My aim is to try to be fair. Not to tell you how I’d write the book, but to try to understand what the author intended to do with the book and measure it against that yardstick.

Some would say I should keep my opinion to myself.

And as an author, things are particularly complicated.

The crime fiction community isn’t exactly small, but it is navigable. I am not a professional reviewer – as in, I do not get paid to review.

I am a professional author.

As an author, I could find myself at a convention in eight months with an author whose work I’ve critiqued.

What if we were on the same panel?

As an author, I also know how it feels to get that negative review. I experienced that with my debut book. One review was scathing. The reviewer basically gave it a 1 out of 10…

And I know the reviewer.

Have I ever spoken to the reviewer about the review? No. Would I? No. Have I stopped speaking to the person? No, not at all. There actually was something in the review that made me laugh at them, because they criticized me over something they clearly didn’t know anything about… but is anything to be gained by arguing?

No, absolutely not. And if you’re going to survive in this business you have to learn to deal with it. Not everyone will like your work. That’s a simple reality. As long as a critical assessment is about the work and not personal, I’m prepared to take it.

Truth is, I feel like a complete hypocrite even asking these questions. Okay, I read a book that I didn’t like. I have explanations of what didn’t work for me and why it didn’t work. I don’t really know the author. Okay, I’ve met them once, in passing. I believe we exchanged a dozen words on that one occasion. From all appearances, this author is loved in the crime fiction community and well respected.

I have nothing against them.

I just didn’t come out with a favourable view of this one book they wrote. In fact, I fully intend to read one more title by them, at least.

The question is, do I run this review?

It’s too late for the winter issue – I’ve put that to bed. It’s ready to roll on Thursday. If I use the review any time soon, it will end up as either a debut review or one of my very first on a new site I’m reviewing for.

And by nature of being one of my first reviews there, it may draw a higher level of attention than just one in a series of reviews.

I get no special joy from negative reviews. Typically these days, I toss books that aren’t working for me. I just don’t have the time for them, with so many great reads stacking up. But they can be important reads, helping me think through plot, pace, character development, tone, more than others.

And truth is, I’ve learned things that I’ve been able to apply to my writing to improve from the reviews of my own work that I’ve read. When you can separate yourself from the emotion of it, you learn to take it like a report card, and if you’re serious about being a straight A student you work hard on your weak spots. That’s how I try to see it, anyway.

The question is, what should I do? What would you do? If it was your book, or your husband’s, wife’s, son’s, daughter’s, how would you feel? What if it was by someone you’re close to, and we’re friends – would you stop speaking to me? Respect me for calling it like I see it?

Lose respect for me if I don’t go ahead with the review?

Or acknowledge that doing so is committing career suicide, and accept that other reviewers may blacklist me, other authors may disassociate with me. I’ve already had the experience once, of being shunned by an author whose book I gave a mediocre review, and it isn't the only negative backlash I've experience, so I don’t doubt that there will be repercussions if I go ahead with this. Right or wrong doesn't matter – it’s the way it is.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Reading The Fine Print

Apparently, men don't like buying underwear. According to the article, men don't buy their own underwear, going from mom to girlfriend to wife as the supplier, and they'll also stick to whatever their mom put them in, in terms of type.

So this company has designed for a few specific goals. Quote:

With style names like "weiner eater," "piggy bottom" and "crotch rocket," they are designed to appeal to the eternal teenager in men. But Sutherland says these wild graphic prints also show a high confidence level in the guy wearing them.

And, he adds, "women love them."

Which is probably just the thing to get men to start dressing to undress.

Those titles aren't doing much for me, but even married I never bought EK's underwear. And the idea of buying weiner eaters isn't exactly enticing me to start buying for the boyfriend.

Although for some reason, I can't help wondering if they have a mazda 'Zoom Zoom' version.

Moving on to other clothing...

Scratching your head all night, wondering what this says? "Nosy Little Fucker Aren't You"

And thanks to Betty for blonde jokes.

Took new scarf back to store because it was too tight.

Fired from pharmacy job for failing to print labels.....Helllloooo!!!.......bottles won't fit in printer !!!

Got really excited..finished jigsaw puzzle in 6 months...... box said '2-4 years!'

Trapped on escalator for hours .... power went out!!!

Tried to make Kool-Aid.....wrong instructions....8 cups of water won't fit into those little packets!!!

Tried to go water skiing.......couldn't find a lake with a slope.

Lost breast stroke swimming competition.....learned later, the other swimmers cheated, they used their arms!!!

Got locked out of my car in rain swamped because soft-top was open.

The capital of California is 'C'......isn't it???

Hate M & M's.....they are so hard to peel.

Baked turkey for 4 1/2 days . instructions said 1 hour per pound and I weigh 108!!

Couldn't call 911 ............ 'duh'.....there's no 'eleven'Button on the stupid phone!!!


A man was in his front yard mowing grass when his attractive blonde female neighbor came out of the house and went straight to the mailbox.

She opened it then slammed it shut and stormed back in the house.

A little later she came out of her house again went to the mail box and again, opened it, slammed it shut again. Angrily, back into the house she went.

As the man was getting ready to edge the lawn, here she came out again, marched to the mail box, opened it and then slammed it closed harder than ever.

Puzzled by her actions the man asked her, 'Is something wrong?'

To which she replied, 'There certainly is!'

Are you ready? This is a beauty..

My stupid computer keeps saying, 'YOU'VE GOT MAIL!'

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Opinions Expressed Are Not Necessarily Those of The Management

I'm always joking about using t-shirts as part of my marketing campaign.

Today, courtesy of Bunny, I bring you various t-shirt designs.

(Someone really must get that one for Ray Banks.)

(If nobody can tell what this says I'll post it tomorrow.)

Now, why is it this design seems to me to be perfect for John Rickards?

And on that note, words of wisdom to live by:

"If you go home with someone and they don't have any books don't fuck them." - John Waters

In answer to the questions about Spinetingler lately, I've incorporated a few updates in a lengthy post at Crime Zine Report.

I'm also officially throwing open the discussion about acceptable standards for writers and ezines. I can't make people chime in, but with a strong discussion of the issues we stand a better chance of drafting a policy about acceptable standards that we can try to advocate both writers and ezine editors adhere to. Please take the discussion to Crime Zine Report, unless you want to talk to me privately, in which case, e-mail away.

Happy Friday everyone. Next week, big news from me...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Of Mousetraps & Typos

It can be hard to catch things.

I’m reminded of that this morning, by my cats. I was woken up by the sound of obvious mischief, and went to check out what was going on.

Stuart had caught a mouse, and all the other cats were around, looking for a piece of the action. It looked like an impasse, this unmoving mouse in her mouth, her just sitting there holding it.

Unfortunately, none of them are very bright. I left to put some clothes on, and when I returned it was to discover Stuart no longer had the mouse.

And the cats were swarming around another area.

Since then, we’ve watched as the mouse was located, managed to jump over the cats and they failed to spot that movement and continued focusing on mouse-free space.

It really is a wonder they’ve ever caught anything.

It’s funny, because I always thought cats were pretty natural hunters. Over the years, I’ve had many cats, and they’ve always had their share of kills, and certainly not from necessity. They’ve been well fed, pampered, and still felt the need to kill rodents when the opportunity arose.

On the flip side, one would think we writers would be pretty adept at catching typos and mistakes in our work. After all, our job involves words…

And yet it’s so easy for things to sneak past us.

You know it every time you put something out, that there’s the chance there’s a mistake somewhere in the copy. In fact, not just a chance. Almost a certainty.

The problem is that our brains are mentally pre-programmed, as authors. We know our story. And so we anticipate what the text is supposed to say.

And we therefore project. It’s easy to stop actually reading the words.

I’ve worked with this from a different perspective. When I worked with kids with speech delays, the main thing we had to concentrate on was getting them to hear the difference between the way they said things and the proper way. Mentally, even at the ages of three and four their minds were so programmed to the errors that you had to help them unlearn to actually hear the difference. You had to train them on those new-to-them sounds. I’d program 6-10 activities, depending on the day, all geared to that. And so, for three hours, it was inundation. Sounds like torture for kids that age, doesn’t it? It’s not as bad as you think. Let’s say the blend being focused on is “sp”. You read stories about Spot or about something spooky. For craft, you make spiders. Maybe you do a cooking activity, and make spaghetti. You play games with sp blend words - I created all my own games, word picture concentration, modified picture bingo, etc.

And believe me, it takes more than one session or even one week of sessions. I’ve worked with kids 15 hours a week for an entire year and not seen full correction at the end.

Imagine leaving those kids until they’re 5 and in a classroom with an overwhelmed kindergarten teacher with 20+ kids.

Bring it back to us, and you can see why it’s so tricky to catch everything. At the age of 36, I’ve been making the same mistakes for a long time. I look up more words in the dictionary now than ever before. When I’m reading other people’s books, I actually take notes… oh, so that’s how to use that term. It jumps out at you more.

And I actually try to get my blog posts right, because if you allow yourself the habit of shitty spelling you're only making it harder on yourself to shift gears... but that's a former education professional talking, so take it for what it's worth.

I never used to notice the typos in my reading. Which isn’t surprising, because we aren’t trained to read letter to letter – we’re trained to read word shapes. We start off in the early years, sounding things out, and soon we’re programmed to recognize words.

That’s why WE CALL IT SHOUTING WHEN PEOPLE TYPE IN ALL CAPS. It strains the eye, because you can’t read the shape.
- spaghetti. This way, the word is fluid. It has letters that ascend and descend.
- SPAGHETTI, done this way, is square. Our eyes can’t immediately process it based on the first few letters and shape.

This also explains why, when asked to read a section from a text book out loud in grade 10 science class, Andrew Wilson said "orgasm" instead of "organism". The first four letters are the same and the last two are also the same. The overall shape is pretty similar... and the mind of a teenage male explains the rest.

The best suggestion I’ve ever heard for catching typos is to change fonts on the text when you print it, so that everything looks a bit different.

Unfortunately, that’s not possible when you get your galley edits. And what happens is that changes are made on the publisher’s side, and then you get back a hard copy and you’d have to manually go against your word document to update it with all the corrections made to that point.

Why don't you just go over the manuscript ten zillion times before then? You reach a point where you can't, because what you've given them is going through editing, and everyone at that stage needs to be working off the same manuscript. Unfortunately, without fully corrected copy, whenever an author produces their own arcs you'll see more mistakes, most likely.

So, yes, plenty of typos abound in the review copies I produced, because they were done before I had my galley edits. Of course, we learn to live with it, and it’s not what we want to hear at this point – we’re already obsessing. I haven’t cracked SC since it was published because I don’t want to see the typos. I still remember last year, getting my copy of something I was published in, flipping through it and happened to be on the last page of my entry and the first page of the next one, and I wasn't even reading it - the word just JUMPED off the page at me, and just that one word on its own... I knew it was wrong.

Sure enough, I checked my file over what I'd submitted. And the word had been changed. Which changed the meaning, slightly, and to me was a mistake.

What can you do about it? Not much...

Now that I’m familiar with the whole process, I’m going back over Frailty and modifying how I do edits a bit, hoping this time, I’ll catch things earlier.

I have to say when that mouse jumped over Pip this morning and none of the cats clued in and following the mouse I thought they were pretty dumb.

And when I see my own typos, I feel the exact same way about myself. When I graduated to high school I received an award for perfect spelling.

If only it was true all the time, and not just in spelling class. (And since they don’t have that in most schools now, I’m sure the typo issue is about to only get worse. I’d say 90% of what I read has a mistake in it somewhere.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

New Perspectives on Noir

The debate over what, exactly, is noir seems unending. Since "noir" experienced a surge in popularity we have books called WASP Noir, Redneck Noir, Tartan Noir...

And if I go by the standard definitions of noir that I've seen, must of what has a noir label slapped on it these days doesn't fall under the traditional definition of noir.

I've been mulling this over for the past four or five days, and still can't get my own thoughts to gel cohesively, because of some excellent perspectives on noir offered in a recent forum discussion.

I think there's only one thing I can safely say about noir - we'll never all agree on the definition, and as long as it's a popular term used more for marketing purposes than truly defining a subgenre we're rushing down a path full speed that ends with the term being irrelevant, because it's so widely applied anymore.

Perhaps when I'm at Noircon (on the Femme Fatale panel and Cyber Noir panel, both on Saturday) I'll figure it out...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Word of Wisdom to Live By

Handle every stressful situation like a dog.  If you can't eat it or hump it piss on it and walk away.

(Thanks Bunny. That was perfect.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

In The Family Way (leads to big news)

Over the weekend, I got a tremendous compliment. An author called me up, and told me that they cried reading The Frailty of Flesh. Which made me feel a bit better about the fact that I’d cried while writing it.

Seriously, it’s a huge compliment. And I’m fortunate that a few blurbs are starting to trickle in. Some are still thinking over what to say on the record, but I did get this one:

"An unflinching look into the dark heart of family dysfunction, The Frailty of Flesh raises difficult questions and shuns easy answers. Sandra Ruttan writes with passion and honesty about every parent’s worst nightmare and the result is an emotionally wrenching experience. "

-- Sean Chercover, author of TRIGGER CITY and BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD.

Leaving all with the certainty that Frailty will be a lighthearted, cheery read. Don’t worry, I’ll remind you in the fall that it’s the perfect book to give Mom for Christmas.

Seriously, it’s a tough book, and any parent is going to feel it, on some level. Your kids… your greatest hopes, your deepest fears.

I think if the early indications are anything to go by, I’m going to have to give out Kleenex with this one.

But there can also be tears of joy, which leads me to the big news…

When they’re babies, you alternate between wishing they could stay that way forever…

…and wondering when they’ll grow up.

You go through rolls and rolls of film, trying to capture them on that special occasion, at that certain age.

And there are times they threaten to hurt you if you take one more lousy photo.

As they get older I guess it’s an age thing, because there are times I really don’t understand her choice in clothing styles.

And, as is true of most teenagers, she can often be oblivious to danger lurking in caves behind her.

However, today is one of those days there’s no real image that can convey what we have to celebrate. Not yet, anyway.

But soon enough, there will be. Word has come that my 13-year-old niece, Arrielle, has made the finals in a poetry competition she entered.

We don’t know if she’ll win or place, but as a finalist it means her story is going to be included in a print anthology.

Yes, at the age of 13 I had my first newspaper column.

And at the age of 13 my niece has surpassed me, and is going to see her name published in a book. It’s a good thing that the manuscript she’s working on (I’m not joking) is fantasy, or by the time she’s 20 she’d be overshadowing me as an author.

We’re all so proud. Three cheers for Arrielle.

And for now, I’ll rest easy that Dashiell seems more intent on strumming than storytelling.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Since The Edgars Are Steeped in Controversy…

again, it seems appropriate to explain why I did not enter the Arthur Ellis Award.

Yes, Suspicious Circumstances was eligible for the main Canadian crime fiction prize. I could have entered it as a first novel.

However, the Arthur Ellis Award doesn’t have the profile of the Edgars or Daggers, so I’m not sure how much influence it carries in terms of book sales or publisher interest. Therefore, that wasn’t a factor for me.

Instead, it boiled down to considerations about practicalities and realism.

I would have had to purchase 5 copies of my book to enter. Since the paperback never appeared when scheduled, that meant purchasing 5 hardcovers.

We’ll generously round that down to a cost of $25 Canadian per book, plus shipping.

Then I would have had to package them up again and include the entry fee and ship them to Toronto.

$125 for the books, $25 entry fee, ship the books to Calgary, then ship to Toronto…

Let’s call that an investment of $200. In reality, probably more, but let’s go with $200.

This is where practical considerations come to the fore. $200. It’s half the amount I’ve spent so far on review copies for What Burns Within and The Frailty of Flesh. With two books out this year, the $400 I’ve spent so far won’t be the end of those costs.

It’s enough money to put a half page ad in Crimespree Magazine.

It’s the cost of registering for Noircon or Bouchercon.

It’s almost half the cost of flying to the US to go to Noircon.

Almost enough to join two of the organizations eager to have me as a member…

Well, you get the idea. In every decision an author makes – from attending a convention to joining an organization to entering an award (if they have to pay themselves) to doing a book tour or creating promotional gizmos – has to be assessed based on anticipated return for invested cost.

Ultimately, I didn’t feel entering the Arthur Ellis Awards was a justifiable expense this year. Now, I realize some might take that as a slam on the award and its lack of significance. It isn’t really meant as such. If I could be nominated or win, I wouldn’t be complaining…

And that’s where a healthy dose of realism comes into the equation. Last year, at the award nominations announcement, the presenters raved about all the wonderful unpublished novels, so many they gave extra titles honourable mentions.

And then they lamented over the best first category and the appalling lack of quality submissions.

It irritated me to no end, for two reasons.

1. It undermines the achievement of every nominee who did make the list, because it’s like saying the eligible candidates were so shitty that these were the ones that didn’t suck quite as much, and
2. One of the books I had pegged to be nominated – and win – didn’t even make the list.

I mean, maybe that’s okay. Clearly Harcourt loved Dirty Sweet as much as I did – they’re only publishing it in the US this year.

But that, more than anything, persuaded me that I’d be throwing my money away on entering, because when it comes to Canada it really does seem to be more about tone and style than about quality writing.

In other words, dark is not in.

And simply put, even Suspicious Circumstances was probably too dark. My feelings on it are such that I didn’t enter any short stories this year either.

This year, I have my money on Sean Chercover. I hope I’m not jinxing him by saying it. And I truly would have been honoured to lose to Sean.

But the simple reality is, in the midst of dealing with things here, plans to move, and book promotion for the two titles coming out this year I had to be practical.

The nice thing about not being up for anything is I don’t have to go through any angst at all when the nominations are announced. I can just be sincerely happy for my deserving friends.

(And I’ve waited until after the deadline to enter so that nobody will try to persuade me to change my mind. It is the right decision.)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Coverage (& Major Congratulations!)

Yesterday, I found a snow-covered box on my front step. That’s UPS for you, but I at least have my cover flats for WHAT BURNS WITHIN. And I have to say, they’re gorgeous.

The front has raised lettering, which makes it look great. I wish I had a jpeg to show you what the back looks like, but I can give you the text:

“A toally mesmerizing narrative and a plot that burns off the page.”


“Never a dull moment. It’s a hard book to put down.”


One year ago, a brutal case almost destroyed three cops. Since then they’ve lost touch with one another, avoiding painful memories, content to go their own ways. Now Nolan is after a serial rapist. Hart is working on a string of arsons. And Tain has been assigned a series of child abductions, a case all too similar to that one. But when the body of one of the abduction victims is found at the site of one of the arsons, it starts to look like maybe these cases are connected after all…

“What Burns Within is a stunning book.”


“Ruttan is talented in the way that a natural musician is talented, making all the notes seem effortless.”


I should note a few things on the blurb front. They used SC blurbs, and the first two blurbs I put in for WBW, because of the timeframe in getting the cover ready. Fortunately for me, Ken had already read WBW and blurbed it, and this reviewer who'd liked SC had been pestering me for new material to read, so I'd let Brian Lindenmuth have a copy before there was a deal on WBW and he blurbed it as soon as I told him about the deal.

I'm sure by now most of you recognize his name around here. I say it not just because he's become a good friend since - you should read his reviews over at Mystery Bookspot (aka Fantasy Bookspot). His latest is of Craig McDonald's HEAD GAMES - my own review of HEAD GAMES will be up later this month in my usual places.

Getting back to the cover flats, there are a few things on the marketing plan that had my eyes popping out of my head, but I’ll be quiet about that for now. It’s probably too late for them to be changed, and they probably won’t have much of an impact on American booksellers.

Canadian booksellers might be left to wonder a bit, though… As long as none are choked. I do know the difference between the VPD and the RCMP, and I do know the difference between Vancouver and the GVA…

And now, it’s officially time to turn my attention to cover ideas for THE FRAILTY OF FLESH, so that thudding sound you hear is not someone knocking at the door or a cat locked in your closet – it’s just me as I’m pulling my hair out.

So I bring you a bit of press coverage. Super-huge thanks to Jack Ruttan for pointing me to this – once there, follow the link and watch.

This is why you should never stick your kids with a common name.

Major Congratulations!

The 2008 Edgar Nominees have been announced - major congratulations to:

Ken Bruen, nominated for PRIEST
Craig McDonald, nominated for HEAD GAMES
Derek Nikitas, nominated for PYRES

And I'm totally stoked to see WHO IS CONRAD HIRST? by Kevin Wignall nominated!

(Consider me confused - somehow, I thought Tana French was Irish. Apparently, she's American. Either that, or somebody messed up.)

But congratulations to all.

And since it’s Friday, how about some politically incorrect funnies? Thanks Brian. (You have to scroll down just a smidge for his bio.)


Hello and thank you for calling The State Mental Hospital.

Please select from the following options menu:

If you are obsessive-compulsive, press 1 repeatedly.

If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2 for you.

If you have multiple personalities, press 3, 4, 5 and 6.

If you are paranoid, we know who you are and what you want, stay on the line so we can trace your call.

If you are delusional, press 7 and your call will be forwarded to the Mother Ship.

If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press.

If you are manic-depressive, it doesn't matter which number you press, nothing will make you happy any way.

If you are dyslexic, press 9696969696969696.

If you are bipolar, please leave a message after the beep or before the beep or after the beep. Please wait for the beep.

If you have short-term memory loss, press 9. If you have short-term memory loss, press 9. If you have short-term memory loss, press 9.

If you have low self-esteem, please hang up our operators are too busy to talk with you.

If you are menopausal, put the gun down, hang up, turn on the fan, lie down and cry. You won't be crazy forever.

If you are blonde, don't press any buttons, you'll just mess it up.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Frailty of Flesh

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. ~ Matthew 26:41

As I wrap up my galley edits on WHAT BURNS WITHIN, I have to turn my attention to new tasks.

Specifically, my editor is working on cover copy for THE FRAILTY OF FLESH. I need to pass over any blurbs, and cover ideas. Yes, I am officially going to go and cry now.

Let me back this up a bit. For years I dreamed of being an author. Not because of the mega millions I’d earn or the glamorous lifestyle. Just because I loved writing and the written word. I actually thought it would be great, working from home, not needing to worry about fussing over your appearance. Heck, half the time I work in my pajamas. I love it.

And then, as I started to work on that dream, and started to find my way within crime fiction, there were moments when I sometimes dared to add another dream.

The thought that maybe, some day, the authors I looked up to would say you done good, kid.

Approval. Damn, I feel like I’m seven just saying it. It’s almost programmed within us from the womb. We start off wanting our parent’s approval. Then it goes to teachers, classmates, friends.


Many people live their whole lives to please someone else. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Those who don’t care at all are the workaholics and alcoholics and people who die alone with their money, because they’re totally self-absorbed.

Which has never been my problem. If I swing to one extreme, it’s always craving that approval. A big part of it comes from feeling like I never had the approval of my parents as a kid. That was compounded by always being compared to my older sister in school.

Never measuring up.

And my years within the church were spent listening to constant criticism, lectures about listening to that kind of music, reading those books, my tone of voice wasn’t suitably compassionate.

If you’re at all inclined to be a people-pleaser it’ll be the death of you. You either come to grips with a small list of people you actually should concentrate on caring about, or you drive yourself mental. Me, I never believed I deserved better than shit because that seemed like all I ever heard from everyone else.

But no matter how many times you’ve been hurt, how much disappointment you’ve had to work through, you can’t stop yourself from wanting endorsement, acceptance.

I’ve blogged about it a lot, at various points… but never quite like this.

I mentioned that secret desire, for approval from the authors I respected, right? Yeah, I did. In the past year, things were set in motion that gave me the opportunity to work on something with two different authors I admired.

And who knew the shitstorm that would unleash? I mean, after all, why would anyone want to work with me? Unproven. Yes, definitely new. Christ, she’s a woman. Must be blowing him. Scratch that, must be fucking him senseless – I mean, clearly he’s not thinking.

I heard it all. So I pulled the pin on one of the projects, because I knew I didn’t have a friendship with the person that could survive all the grief.

And because it would kill me to go through it again.

Turned my attention to doing my own thing. Wound up flat on my face as my marriage fell apart. Listened to those biting words of criticism, the things people say when they’re getting divorced, so ugly and cruel.

Felt like I’d come to the end of myself. Felt worthless.

I’ve been blessed coming through on the other side. I’ve had plenty of time to think about what’s important to me – and who’s important to me – and make my choices about the future.

Months back I would have laughed at the thought of feeling happy again. And you’ve got to know that just when you reach that point, that always seems to be when people start trying to pull you down again.

Like, for the record, Ken Bruen is one of my best friends, but he is not my boyfriend. He’s never been more than a friend to me – albeit one of my very best friends, family, someone I look up to and respect and adore. And never mind the horrid things you’re implying about Ken that are completely contrary to his character and value system (as well as my own) - my relationships are exclusive. My boyfriend is a bit possessive. Not in an exclusive “I saw you talk to a guy and you’re in trouble” kind of way… Just in an “I’m not sharing” way, and I don’t mind that at all.

I’m the same.

Here’s what I know about the experience of writing with someone I totally admire – they sure aren’t doing it to carry me. Nothing pushed me more.

And there’s nothing, on a professional level, that says more about what a person believes of your ability than someone who wants to work with you.

Most of the authors I admire are never going to blurb my books. Some, because I don’t have the guts to ask them. Others, because I don’t belong to the right crowd, and don’t kiss appropriate ass. Others still because they’ve decided they aren’t doing that anymore.

Mostly, though, because I lack the guts.

All I know for me is, I put myself into my writing in a very personal way, and passing work on to someone you admire is nerve-wracking. You’re the child again, looking for the done good kid.

And it’s funny, because there’s an underlying thread in THE FRAILTY OF FLESH that’s all about that.

I’m always going to know that someone I look up to, worship even, thought I had it in me to be a great author. And all I ever wanted to carry out of the experience… that stamp of approval… is something I already have. I don’t need to see the book published to have that.

Whatever anyone else wants to think, I don’t give a fuck.

The people who spread the rumours are small, petty, vile. They aren’t people I want to have anything to do with. Hell, they aren’t even people I know, and all I can say is, thank God for that.

Like I need more shit in my life.

For the record, my ex chose to end our marriage, and there was no other man in the scenario.

I could tell you who my boyfriend is, but what difference would that make? Even when I was still married and living on an entirely different continent people spread the rumours.

Everyone’s going to believe what they’re going to believe. I can’t change it. I also can’t deny it hurts.

They just shouldn’t confuse beliefs with truth. Bit like religion. Just because you believe anything doesn’t make it reality.

Add to that the fact that according to some, I haven’t grieved over my marriage long enough to move on with someone else. Lessons can only be learned after you’ve spent the appropriate amount of time being depressed. Someone check the calendar and tell me what almost eight years of marriage is worth so I can start ticking off the days.

I mean, Do you really know what you’re doing, Sandra?

Yes. Profound disappointment has a way of bringing everything into focus. I’m not putting anyone else on a timetable for healing. I’m not telling anyone else how to live their life. If a person had valid concerns about the type of person I was involved with and reasons why they might not be a suitable partner, that’s a concern to at least hear. Not an “I don’t like him” but something about their values, or lack thereof.

And the people who know are over the moon happy because they adore my boyfriend as much as I do.

But when the only concern is you just haven’t had enough time? X months aren’t enough. ”And time makes lovers feel like they have something real.”* It’s just a human standard for judging the validity of something, when nothing changes how I feel now.

Funny thing about a steady dose of criticism is that the approval of some suddenly isn’t all that important anymore.

"Nothing softeneth the arrogance of our nature like a mixture of some frailties; it is by them we are best told that we must not strike too hard upon others, because we ourselves do so often deserve blows; they pull our rage by the sleeve and whisper gentleness to us in our censures, even when they are rightly applied."**

ADVICE TO A DAUGHTER by Sir George Savile

* From a song by Culture Club.
** With thanks to that special someone, who supplied the quote, but had no idea what I'd use it for.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Word or Two About Bras

(With thanks to Uncle Charlie. Consider yourselves warned...)

A man walked into the ladies department of a Macy's and shyly walked up to the woman behind the counter and said, "I'd like to buy a bra for my wife."

"What type of bra?" asked the clerk.

"Type?" inquires the man. "There's more than one type?"

"Look around," said the saleslady, as she showed a sea of bras in every shape, size, color and material imaginable. "Actually, even with all of this variety, there are really only four types of bras to choose."

Relieved, the man asked about the types. The saleslady replied: "There are the Catholic, the Salvation Army, the Presbyterian, and the Baptist types. Which one would you prefer?"

Now totally befuddled, the man asked about the differences between them.

The Saleslady responded, "It is all really quite simple... "

The Catholic type supports the masses.
The Salvation Army type lifts the fallen,
The Presbyterian type keeps them staunch and upright, and
The Baptist makes mountains out of mole hills.

Have you ever wondered why A, B, C, D, DD, E, F, G, and H are the letters used to define bra sizes? If you have wondered why, but couldn't figure out what the letters stood for, it is about time you became informed!

(A} Almost Boobs...
{B} Barely there.
{C} Can't Complain!
{D} Dang!
{DD} Double dang!
{E} Enormous!
{F} Fake.
{G} Get a Reduction.
{H} Help, I've fallen and I can't get up !

The only thing they forgot was the German bra. Holtzemfromfloppen.

(Bet y'all've missed Uncle Charlie's second-hand contributions.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Interpreting Silence

No news is good news…

Except when it isn’t.

Imagine you send off an apology to someone and don’t hear back from them. Probably not a good sign. How many unanswered e-mails before it’s pretty clear the person isn’t speaking to you? And if you can see them online at a blog or their website, you know it isn’t because they’re incapacitated.

Silence. It can be beautiful. It can be terrifying. It can cause us to play mind games.

I had a terrible scare last night. Part of it is an issue of volume – too many pets in this house. When there’s practically a cat in every room upstairs, it’s easy to lose track. I’d fallen asleep and woke up around 10 pm, with a feeling like there was a weight on my heart and something was wrong.

I’d had that feeling before. Another story, not for the blog, but something definitely had been wrong then.

My check confirmed my fears. I was missing a cat. And as I began to look in all the places a cat could be trapped, I was trying to remember if it had been two days or three since I’d last opened this particular closet…

There he was. Eyes dim, the meow soft and quiet. But he still had the strength to eat, and drink, and lie on my bed and purr, and seems to be doing okay.

The problem with the closets is, they’re solid wooden doors. This particular closet is at the far end of the house, and had he been a loud cat I might have picked up on it earlier. As it was, I didn’t.

In reality, if it had been one of the more anti-social cats, I might not have noticed for another few days. Simon and Russel are temperamental, and go through prolonged “I’m not talking to you” phases.

I almost have to say thank goodness it was Rebus, my little pest who never goes more than one day of sulking when he’s in a mood, and who demands regular attention from me.

I’m awful for assuming the worst, and have been up throughout the night checking on him. Feeding him tuna and salmon. He seems to be doing great.

And I did a head count of the cats before I went to bed, just to be sure.

Funny that in so many other aspects of your life, you can’t do that. You can e-mail someone, and they don’t respond. E-mail again, comment on their blog… Nada. Is everything okay? How do you know?

At what point when all you’re met with is silence should you start to worry?

No easy answer to that one.

I’m guilty myself, of late, of not commenting on blogs when I’ve dropped by, being slower to respond to e-mails. Part of it was not being sure how I was going to handle some things post-divorce, feeling pressured to make decisions I wasn’t ready to make.

Sometimes, I put things on my blog so I don’t have to have the same conversations two dozen times.

The other part has been being busy. Extremely busy. And I do feel like shit if the tasks of the day pile up to the point where I’m not taking time for people, because ultimately, at the end of the day, our friends, our family – that’s what matters more than anything. Not brown-nosing to advance your career or executing all the right elements from your marketing plan or flocking around the new ‘it’ boy or girl on the blogosphere.

Starting next week, once my galley edits are done, I’m going to work harder, to make sure I drop by and catch up with friends and say hi. And Vincent, I haven’t forgotten about Balesly Green either. It may be another six weeks before I get to it, but it’s there.

No mind games. I know people are used to same-day e-mails from me most of the time, but I’m just really busy and easily distracted right now.

And sometimes, business is taking a back seat to those I love. Sometimes, an eight hour day of work is enough. I’m not calling it a new years resolution, either. I’m calling it a life change, making sure my priorities are in order. So, silence from me might be growing at times, but don’t take it personally.

Monday, January 14, 2008


It's now the last season of THE WIRE. My second post on the women of THE WIRE is up, but it feels as thin to me as the use of women within the scope of the show. Now that I've seen the second episode of season 5, I'm worried that Beadie's potential arc may fizzle and not amount to anything.

Season 5 discussion is underway, and in the past I've been reluctant to comment on my observations until I've seen every episode at least twice. I must admit, part of me is tempted to not watch the episodes every week now, and instead, wait until the season is over and then watch them in succession and render my verdict. The main reason is, as of right now, I'm fearing that the commentary I'd seen prior to the start of the season, is correct and the show's lost some of its spark. At this point, I can't see the purpose in shifting gears to the media focus of the last season, other than pure indulgence. I love seeing Meldrick (I mean Gus) but it's not enough to cover for the current weakness of that thread.

If you want to catch up and chip in on previous discussions, there's also one on the first four seasons of THE WIRE.

Someone feels they can sum up four seasons of THE WIRE in four minutes.

And for those who haven't watched them yet, the prequels:

Young Omar

Bunk & McNulty: A Love Story

Prop Joe

AND thoughts on last night's episode worth reading.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Thinking Ahead To Valentines For the Rest of You

Certain things are absolute certainties in life. Death. Taxes.

And disapproval.

Sooner or later, we all face that moment, when someone criticizes us, our decisions, our work, our relationships. Generally speaking, we’ve heard it since we were children, since the first time we let our parents down.

You’d think it would make it easier to deal with, but no. The more important a person is to you, the more their criticism stings.

But for those who have a hard time vocalizing their sincere disapproval, there is a site that supplies everything you’ll ever need. What you can’t say with flowers can be said with Despairwear.

I mean, I want this shirt.

Just a little something for men to think about.

They have something for everyone, including the person who’s stuck in a rut.

And if that one doesn’t appeal to you, try their take on consistency.

They know how to make you throw in the towel.

And they know just how I’ve felt about hope sometimes.

And I’ve definitely felt like there are times this sums up my life.

But when they say that their Bitter Sweets are ”Valentines for the rest of us” I’m glad it’s the truth. I know what I won’t be opening on Valentine's day.

There are three options for the Bitter Sweets.

"Dejected" sayings include:


"Dysfunctional" sayings include:


"Dumped" sayings include:


I wouldn't recommend them for anyone in a new relationship or this might be the result:

And if that didn’t completely cheer you up, try this for a little Sunday morning entertainment...

(For the video, blame Brian. I'll take responsibility for the rest.)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Of Endings And Beginnings

They prayed, and some clutched their arm rests so hard they were bent 60 degrees.

They thought it was the end.

The plane had 88 people on board en route from Victoria to Toronto. When they got in trouble, the pilots made an emergency landing in Calgary yesterday morning.

Nisha Gill believed she was looking at her two-year-old daughter for the last time during 15 seconds of terror Thursday morning as Air Canada Flight 190 plunged through the skies… shaken passengers spoke of how the jet plunged thousands of metres and then rolled sharply to the left and right - violently pitching people, dishes and drink carts about the cabin.

Tears running down his face and a fistful of red roses clutched in his hand, Geoff Norris of Toronto waited anxiously for his wife Anne to arrive at Pearson on Thursday night. He said his wife told him on the phone earlier from Calgary she was bruised, but not too badly, "but psychologically, very badly," after the harrowing flight.

We probably all know the saying, that when a horse bucks you off the thing to do is to get right back on, but I can imagine how terrified these people must have been as they prepared to deal with boarding another flight to make it to their final destination after their ordeal.

I’ve had a few of those moments, in the physical sense, myself. One was when I almost drowned, camping at Arrowhead, playing at the falls.

Swept into the falls.

I was ten. I still don’t swim alone.

Then, the car accident in Tunisia. Going up a sand dune – not part of the itinerary – with a couple in their 70s in front of us, us on a jump seat with no seat belts…

And feeling air as the ground went out from beneath us after we crested the top of the dune.

The impact of the nose against the dirt. You think sand is soft. Hard-packed sand, making it feel as though we’d hit rock.

And the dirt flying up around us, so it seemed as though we’d been sucked into a hole for a moment. The manual check, “Are you okay? Are you okay?” Reaching to help that elderly couple back into their seats.

Turning to see Kevin wasn’t breathing. I’ll admit, over the years there were a few moments I would have gladly throttled him, but that wasn’t one of them. I was hysterical.

But I’ve had to get into a lot of vehicles since. I had to get back in that vehicle that same day.

I suppose that’s the difference. Some things are optional. Others aren’t. I can selectively swim, but I need to be able to ride in cars.

So I had to face my fears.

This goes over to yesterday’s post. It may have been a bit sad, taken from a certain point of view, but really, it’s more about how I’ve felt rather than how I feel - at least where relationships are concerned.

The process of sending out the new book and waiting for feedback is nerve-wracking. There’s no two ways about it. This year is more crucial than ever before, with two books coming out, in close proximity.

And the opinions of those I respect really matter to me. I had to be selective with the double ARCs, and they have gone mostly to those interviewing or reviewing me, but also in a few cases to those I admire.

I’ll admit it – I’m a basket case. I think it’s true of all of us, just in different ways.

But when it comes to love and how I’m feeling, these days the word would be euphoric.

I didn’t mean for anyone to be worried about me, thinking that’s how I was doing now, in terms of my personal life. Yes, I’m getting a divorce.

Kevin and I are still friends, he’s still welcome to comment on my blog.

In working through everything and facing my fears, I ended up being blessed. I’ve mentioned the ‘b’ word a few times here already. There’s someone in my life. Exactly when I make who it is public is up to him at this point – not everyone wants to read about their life on a blog.

But in the same way that I’ve gone through the heartache and come through on the other side happier than ever, I hope people love the new books. So far, I’ve heard back from a few reviewers, and the response has been glowing.

Does it make me any less nervous about the next opinion?


The review that stays with you is always the most critical. A hundred can love you and the one hates you, and that’s the one you remember. Emotions overriding logic.

It’s one of those moments, when you’re facing the reality of getting back on the horse that bucked you off. You know, sooner or later, a bad review is coming. The only question is whether you treat it like a plane, take the option and get a bus ticket instead, or whether you treat it like a car and know you have to get over it and get back in the vehicle.

Although I have to admit, if I went through a flight like that, I’d be nervous too. I just happen to have flown numerous times, and know that 99% of the time, it’s great. The best flying moment I ever had was sitting in an ultralight, high over the lakes in Muskoka, suspended in air, gliding through the skies. You’re completely exposed, and if you crash you’re under no illusions about the outcome, because there’s nothing to protect you. But knowing the engine and wings are carrying you and trusting in that enables you to forget the fear and just revel in the experience.

I have a lot of friends who are somewhere on this journey, in the relationship department. My wish for all of them is that they reach the point where they’re as happy as I am now.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fears & Dreams, Risks & Rewards

Heart in a bottle

High on a shelf

Fragile but just out of reach

Cause you build a fortress

With the distance you keep

But when your heart aches

Doesn’t it cut deep?

There are times in our lives when it feels as though we’re stepping into blackness, uncertain if we’re at the edge of a cliff and about to take a fall or if we’re only moments away from sunrise. Sometimes, we experience this with the big things, and sometimes the reasons seem smaller, but they’re often no less significant.

Many years ago, when I was a bit more athletic than I am now, I took karate. I remember being told we had to execute a move perfectly 2000 times for it to become instinctive. You hear all sorts of promise-laden stats– six weeks to make or break a habit, 12 steps to happiness, etc. Nobody would put 2000 on a book cover. It sounds so discouraging.

Consider then, the heart that’s been broken, the person trying to learn to trust again. Consider how hard every step of that process is, because it is not instinctive. What’s more, the last time you found yourself face down in the dirt, bruised and broken.

Loving, trusting… they can be exhilarating experiences and they can terrify us more than almost anything else.

I’ve had reasons to think about all of that a lot this past year. I can see in the big picture, just how hard it is to open yourself up to the possibility of love again, because with that possibility comes the risk of being hurt.

We have a tradition in our family, to have Christmas crackers. 14 Years ago, however, I was with friends for Christmas, and they too had Christmas crackers. The ones at my sister’s house are filled with silly jokes and toys and paper crowns we have to wear. The ones at my friend’s house contained inspirational sayings. I’ve never forgotten the one that was in my cracker:

Without the sorrows of life

the joys would not exist.

On a smaller scale I go through a version of this every time my work goes out. Yes, every single time. With two books finding their way into the hands of authors and reviewers I admire across the globe, I’m a nervous wreck. This is the moment I bare my soul, in a manner of speaking, and hope they’ll love what I’ve produced. It’s the moment for someone to tell you whether or not your baby is ugly.

That’s what it can feel like, which is why we can be so sensitive about it. Everyone wants to be loved. And when you spend all this time, pouring your heart into your work, it becomes so personal to you.

I swear, cliché as it is, nothing really does describe it better than an emotional roller coaster. If you’re me you agonize over every little thing, you analyze every response and not just what’s said but what’s left unsaid.

It’s possible the only thing more painful is the torture we put ourselves through sometimes over love. And yet, deep down, we believe enough, we love what we’re doing enough, to press on. To write the next book and put ourselves out there again, for better or worse, hoping again that people will get what we’re doing.

And even after utter devastation, after finding our heart broken and facing the end of our dreams for the future, somewhere within us there’s strength to not only heal but to be able to see dawn on the horizon, with the promise of something different, wonderful, exhilarating.

I have to confess, I hate feeling disoriented. In the midst of packing right now, deciding what I need at hand and what I can live with in a box for months, I feel sometimes as though everything is spiraling beyond my control, half in fear that there will be a moment when everything will come out of the boxes and have a new home, because I can’t visualize that in my head. Like so many people, despite my experiences, I’m sometimes terrified of just the process of change. I just want it to be over, right away, so that I can start to feel anchored again. The agony now is in the waiting.

Nothing in life is without risk. Whether it’s going back to school to train for a better career or having a child or writing a book or falling in love, we sometimes have to just follow our heart.

And sometimes, the most important step is just being open to the possibility of something new in our lives.

Heart in a bottle

High on a shelf

Fragile but just out of reach

Cause you build a fortress

With the distance you keep

But when your heart aches

Doesn’t it cut deep?

Withered in sadness

And hurting inside

But feeling afraid to impose

So you’re an island

But you don’t have to be

Cause if you’re inclined

You can talk to me

You don’t have to suffer

Suffer in silence

You don’t have to suffer

Suffer in silence

Don’t you know that your

Heart can feel like an anchor

When you keep it all inside?

No, no, don't suffer in silence

Suffer in Silence by Susan Aglukark

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

And This Just In On the Naming Thing...

Linda L. Richards talks names in her guest post at Clea Simon's blog today. Very interesting, especially for those curious about why authors choose certain names for characters. Check it out!

The Name Game (which comes around to writing confessions)

Yesterday’s post, and subsequent comments, got me thinking about names. Once upon a time, when I was much younger and far more of a follower trying to fit in to be accepted instead of being myself, I thought I wanted to be called Sandy. I mean, almost all the popular girls at school had “eee” ending names – Tracy, Connie, Stacey, etc. Connect popular to cute and you start to get an impression of the names that translates to the physical.

Sandra was just so darned serious and boring.

For better or worse, so was I. I thought about trying to go by Sandy once I went to high school, but there was a very popular girl in the same grade who came in from a different school named Sandy. Blonde, too. And while not a total ditz, not the brightest bulb on the shelf. ‘Sandy’ was just never going to take. And so, I have always been Sandra – on occasion Sam.

It’s sort of been stuck in my head ever since that Sandy is a bit of a dumb blonde name, at least where I’m concerned. This was not helped at all by seeing Grease. I’ve known a great number of intelligent women who are neither blonde nor dumb called Sandy, but that’s what the name means to me when people call me that.

And it’s just not my name.

For as much as I didn’t like it as a child, I came to have a real appreciation for being Sandra. For one, it’s a very universal name. Europeans, Africans, Latinos… pretty well everywhere I’ve been, from Costa Rica to Germany to Tunisia to Bali, people have been able to manage my name.

Kevin, on the other hand, turned out to be a real burden for people in non-English speaking countries. Go figure.

The surname thing becomes a pain in the butt as well. For years I was – believe it or not – too shy and insecure to correct people who said my name wrong.

But if you want to know the honest truth, people calling me Sandy actually bugs me a lot more.

The reason is assumed familiarity. Pet names are what we give to friends, family, lovers. When someone calls someone by a variation on their name it says something to everyone around, that they have a connection to that person and to do that without permission is highly presumptive.

I mean, could you imagine someone walking up to Laura Lippman and calling her Laurie? I do find myself getting supremely choked sometimes - why do people just assume they can call me Sandy? Or that I’d want to be called that? It’s a notion I haven’t even entertained in over 20 years.

If an abbreviation is widely used, that changes things a bit, yet I still asked JD Rhoades if I could call him Dusty.

I have a confession to make: I sometimes use the name of a person who’s been a jerk to me as the name of a jerk in my stories. Not typically the victim, because if I don’t like someone I don’t want anyone else to feel sympathy for them.

See, I can be petty that way.

It doesn’t always hold true, though. Sometimes, the name just suits the character. To me, how a name fits a person is one of those almost mystical things it’s hard to explain. I think that names go through transitions in perception, and also, how we feel about a name is often affected by people we know.

I mean, can any American think ‘Hillary’ and not think Clinton?

Whenever I’m working on a new book or story, the naming is something that will take hours for me to process. In almost everything I’ve worked on, major characters have gone through a name transition.

What Burns Within
Ashlyn started off as Natalie. Another name I tried? Gina.

Suspicious Circumstances
Lara was once Tessa.

Lara was a particularly tough name to deal with, because of a comment Linda L. Richards made yesterday, about her middle name and the mispronunciations. How could I communicate to readers that it was LAYR-ah? Having a scene early on with someone who had trouble with the name so it could be said ‘Lara rhymes with Sara.’

Not Lahra.

A tricky thing for many people. Ian Rankin started having people refer to Siobhan as ‘Shiv’ (which drives her nuts, btw) to get people familiarized with the correct pronunciation. All I can say is, thank goodness he didn’t name her Roisin – I mean, I knew how to pronounce Siobhan, and I know how to pronounce Roisin, but few people do.

Without a pronunciation key in a book, names do tend to get ingrained, and sometimes they get programmed in wrong. In the comment trail yesterday I mentioned being embarrassed that I’d said my boyfriend’s surname wrong, although I have to be easy on myself. After all, this was the first time I was corrected on it.

It’ll be a problem if I keep saying it wrong. I’m just glad he told me so I can get it programmed in properly sooner, rather than later.

I bear all of this in mind when I’m writing. For example, it still surprises me that people aren’t sure if it’s ‘Sandra’ or ‘Sondra’. Honestly, that’s the one variation on my first name I don’t mind. Well, okay, not the only one. Because of the nature of the work I did in the past I had kids who couldn’t manage my name. One called me something closest to Anna, and another called me Sara. Neither bothered me, particularly considering the reasons – a triple consonant blend in the middle of the name is a mouthful, especially for a child with speech delays, and one of the kids couldn’t pronounce ‘S’ properly.

But, for the record, it’s Sandra.

In my reading, sometimes names have jumped out a lot. Part of the reason has been overuse of names that sound similar. I keep an alphabet list for first names and last names and try to limit multiple use of the same letter as a starting letter for names. I know it sounds silly, but when you’re reading a book that has 10 POV characters and there’s a Jen, Joan and June, you’re damn relieved the fourth woman’s called Betsy. Truth was, in Suspicious Circumstances I wanted to call the twins Megan and Mary – not an uncommon thing for people to use the same first letter for twins – but early readers balked. Mary became Susan.

(Oh, another pet peeve, and if you really want to piss me off you call me Susan. I mean, ha ha ha, you’re so funny, nobody’s ever thought of that joke before. Gag. It was old more than a decade ago.)

Ultimately, I think we’re all a bit sensitive about our names. Some people may never experience that, because their name is never shortened or altered or mispronounced.

Imagine if started calling James Oswald Jamie or Jimmy.
Or called Stuart MacBride Stewie.
Daniel Hatadi as Danny? Mark Billingham Marky?
Any takers on calling Patrick Shawn Bagley Pat? (I’m betting that’s where the ‘hitmen’ thing comes in…)

If you value your life you won’t call Val McDermid, well… I won’t even say it. (But I’ve always thought for her, Val must be short for Valiant.)

And can we imagine anyone daring to call The Pope of Galway, the wondrous Ken Bruen, Kenny?

A name either fits, or it doesn’t. So if you really don’t want to call me Sandra, please please please, go with Sam.

And Daniel, in the event I’m regularly called Sam, no, I will not change my surname to Spade. ;)