Friday, February 29, 2008

I Hope My Baby Isn't Ugly

You know the feeling. You’ve driven twenty minutes. You’re stuck at a light because the person in front of you hasn’t figured out it isn’t getting any greener, the drivers behind you are honking, you’re ten minutes late for your appointment, it feels like someone’s tightening a vise around your head…

And then you think you left the stove on. Or the iron. Or (heaven help you) a space heater. It doesn’t really matter what it is. Whatever it is, it shouldn’t be on. And you have to decide whether you’ll turn around and check, just to be safe, or keep going.

You can play the day’s events over in your mind a million times, and it isn’t going to help much. Why? Because so many of our actions are almost instinctive, second nature. How many times would you guess you’ve turned off the stove? Or the iron? So many, you’ve lost count. And when you try to recall whether or not you turned off the stove you can recall the action. What’s often less certain is whether or not you’re remembering this morning or some other morning.

I presently live out in the country, so I’m extremely paranoid about such things. It’s a thirty-five minute drive to the edge of the city, and if I’m running errands chances are it will be almost an hour for me to drive home from wherever I am. A few years ago, I had my office in the basement, so I regularly used a space heater. And I lost count of the number of times I left the house and had that nagging doubt… Did I turn it off?

For all the times I turned around and checked, only once had I actually left it on, but you better believe that every time I had a niggling doubt after that I turned my Rodeo around.

The problem is when you’re running late, when you’ve crossed some magical line that whispers back to the voice of doubt: it’s too late now. I’ve had those times when I’ve just had to swallow the doubt and hope I didn’t forgot to turn everything off.

Writers go through something similar to this all the time. We have thoughts that occur to us while we’re driving, in the shower, drifting off to sleep, enjoying a quiet dinner out with our partner… And we hope we’ll remember them later, when we’re at our desk. It’s an amazing thing when you have a sudden flash of inspiration, a light bulb moment. There’s nothing better than when you’re working on a manuscript and you have one of those at your desk.

Unfortunately, the curse of the creative process is that even when you aren’t working, your brain is still processing ideas. I remember this from reading ME AND MY LITTLE BRAIN as a kid. I was a big fan of The Great Brain series, and in this book, the Great Brain is off to school and his younger brother is trying to follow in his footsteps. He has a problem, and remembers what his older brother told him…

That if you think about it when you fall asleep you’ll often wake up with the answer.

As adults, we know there’s as much chance of waking up with a headache or feeling bone tired or setting your mind racing and never sleeping at all, but the general logic is sound: Our subconscious continues processing things even after our conscious brain has shifted gears. That’s why we suddenly blurt out stupid things in the middle of conversations that don’t have anything to do with the person we’re talking to, but connect to something we were doing three days ago.

Right now, I’m in the home stretch of editing THE FRAILTY OF FLESH. My job is to catch all the pesky typos that have managed to sneak through the first round, to tighten up the language, and to look for any inconsistencies in the story, or things that weren’t tied off. I keep plenty of paper handy. I keep a notepad in my purse in case something occurs to me when I’m not at home. I even keep paper and a pen by my bed, in case I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea - and yes, I’ve made notes in the dark many time. They’re only slightly less legible than my usual scrawl.

The problem is, you think about things so much you can actually think you made the changes, but didn’t. You’re juggling dozens of corrections, additions, alterations… And the mind plays tricks. It’s easy to think you’ve made them, and it’s easy enough to forget.

For FRAILTY, that isn’t such a critical problem right now. We’re a long way from final edits. What I’m actually doing right now is what my editor and I call a dust-up. He’s given me the green light on the manuscript, and as long as I don’t make any major changes to the storyline, I’m allowed to go over it on my own and look for all the things I want to strengthen, tighten, correct. It’s an extra layer of editing that increases the likelihood I’ll be completely satisfied with the final copy.

Well, for about five minutes anyway. I know of authors who take a red pen to their book after it has been published. I’m not quite that bad, but it really is amazing how long you can debate whether or not you should use ‘replied’ or ‘responded’ on page 227…

Right now, I have the advantage of time on my side with FRAILTY. However, within months that will be gone. I will reach a point where I have to hope I have caught every change and let the book go.

I imagine it’s like coming to terms with the fact that your baby has grown up and is moving away to attend university. You hope you’ve been a good parent, that you’ve taught them all the things they need to know to survive on their own…

As an author, you believe you’ve given the book your all. Now, you want that stamp of approval that says your hard work paid off.

You do not want to hear that your baby is ugly.

I found out last night one of the first reviews of WHAT BURNS WITHIN will be out next week. On the one hand, it’s nice to know the reviews are coming…

But that part of me that waits until I’m halfway to Calgary to wonder whether or not I turned off the iron is now obsessing about the book that’s out of my hands.

I’m trying to remind myself that it’s out of my control, a review is just a review… and since I review books myself I know reviews are at least partly subjective. However, the reviews are the first responses you get to your work, and it’s hard not to be nervous.

(None of which is helped by my partner offhandedly commenting about the fact that Tain - who is Native - was suddenly white for twenty pages in the middle of the book, or that fifty pages were missing from the ARC. Those of you wondering where we get our murderous impulses now understand! I really hate the fact that he has a perfect dead-pan delivery sometimes.)

The one good thing about this is that it motivates you to work even harder on the next book…

And the bad thing is, every time a reader tells you they’re starting your book you go through the same roller coaster of emotion and worry, because every reader is their own judge of whether or not your book succeeds.

No matter what the reviews say.

(For some reason, I felt inspired to add this... Enjoy.)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Tie-In Post

This post connects to a forthcoming post which will appear here about sense of place in fiction.

Me (at the ripe, old age of 18) with an East German Border Guard

The Berlin Wall, after the fall

Rio Fortuna Waterfall, Costa Rica

Rice Fields in Bali, Indonesia

Not the first time I've held hands with a monkey...

The monkey temple in Bali, Indonesia

Sunset in Tunisia

Along the BC coast, north of Vancouver

The beautiful BC coast

The sunset from my apartment in New West, over Coquitlam

Bonus points if you recognize this place...

Vancouver, from Stanley Park

At Stanley Park

The walking tails from Rocky Point Park (which are in THE FRAILTY OF FLESH, the follow-up to WHAT BURNS WITHIN, due out in November.

The walking trails from Rocky Point Park

Now, for some amusement with setting, check out Have You Ever Been To Scotland, Dag? and while you're there, congratulate Russel on his book deal with Five Leaves. From Publishers Marketplace:

Russel McLean's THE GOOD SON, introducing a troubled Scots PI, who is dragged into a world of lies, violence, long-held secrets, and murky criminal double-crosses while investigating an apparent suicide, to Ross Bradshaw at Five Leaves, for publication in Winter 2008/2009, by Allan Guthrie at Jenny Brown Associates.

Can you tell I'm excited about this one? This means an excellent book to look forward to this fall... along with THE FRAILTY OF FLESH, of course, but I'm more excited about Russel's book because I haven't read it yet.

This just in: Brian's review of CRIMSON ORGY is now online. He makes me want to read it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Celebratory Scotch

Today, it's all about Russel. He may wear bad hats.

(At Jon & Ruth Jordan's house, post Bouchercon 2006)

(At Bouchercon 2006)

He may hang out with some questionable characters. (Um, sorry Brett. You're the respectable one of the bunch, just in with the wrong crowd...)

(Russel Duh McLean, Yours Truly & Brett Battles)

But none of that stops him from being a damn fine writer. I've been waiting for weeks to shout it from the rooftops, and now the word is out on the street - CONGRATULATIONS RUSSEL! (on the book deal)

You Can't Have Your Cake And Eat It Too

First, happy birthday to Stuart MacBride, and his twin.*

Seems to be my week for sticking with themes, but this is just too good to pass up. Editors everywhere have stories about rude writers who flip out over rejections, or blatantly ignore the submission guidelines.

Clarkesworld: Of Course You Realize, This Means War

Banned some guy for responding to a rejection with a hopelessly generic "fuck you asshole."

That's about as much original thought as went into the story itself.

Update: After getting an autoresponse from the email about being closed to submissions, he sent this to my personal email address:

"Tell your fiction coward I said to go fuck himself. I am sure he has tried."

Well, after getting so personal, I Googled him. Turns out that author John Darling, who runs a writing/editing/computer business of some sort, and who lists his office number on the Internet as part of a local arts council directory also tried to license first world electronic rights to Clarkesworld for a story whose first world electronic rights were already expended:

The Book of Elijah was published as an Amazon Short at least as early as July 2007. (And yes, I did just buy the story to make sure that it was the same story he submitted to me under false pretenses on December 14 2007.)

Amusingly enough, John Darling's cover letter read, in part: "I have no problem with rejections. I have been writing and publishing short stories, articles, and have 3 books to my credit, for over 30 years so I have a lot of rejection slips. Still, acceptance is nicer."

Perhaps less amusing: be aware, anyone who might contract with John Darling of Ventura County for writing or creative services, or who may have a piece of fiction or non-fiction in a slushpile by this same author, that Darling tried to sell a previously published story as an original piece of fiction for which first world electronic rights were available.

And that isn't the end of the story. Click on the link for updates #2 and #3.

I know some of you are shaking your heads. Why would somebody do that? I know a few of you were baffled by my post the other day, trying to politely discourage writers from sending manuscripts to strangers for feedback (for their own protection, as well as the people on the receiving end).

Guys like John Darling prove the point: Not everyone can be trusted.

I've had someone try to sell me rights and try to sell the same rights elsewhere. I've told that story before, and that's why we insist on the release form. No release form means we will not review the submission.

But as much as I've tried to hint to writers, that editors talk and that you can get yourself a reputation, and nobody will want to work with you, some just don't get it.

If the Clarkesworld story doesn't prove the point, I don't know what does. And all you people out there bitching about rejections from me - especially the one who decided to publicly accuse us of bias online, because we rejected their story (which did NOT have the release sent with it) - just remember I've never named names online.

But I thank Nick Mamatas for doing so. Really, this kind of flagrant abuse and waste of editor's time needs to stop. I'm happy enough to take the warning.**

And on that note, John Scalzi declared yesterday 'international make up your own word day'.

Scalzi's contribution? Straternization: Hanging out socially with people not because you like them, but for their strategic benefits (i.e., helping you get ahead in work, getting you closer to that cute young thing, raising your social status in the lunchroom, etc). Usually doesn’t work nearly as well as people hope.

Indeed. And you have to invest in a lot of chapstick before you realize that it's about the work, not about kissing ass.

* Scroll down about 10 posts or so for it.

** A further update has been posted...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Separated at Birth

Stuart MacBride. A household name in the crime fiction community. Blogger extraordinaire. But after all these years, I didn't know that he has a twin.*

No wonder Stuart always seems to be in two places at once. Could be that I was dining with the doctor and not the pirate. Who's to say?

* Scroll about 10 down on the thread to see Stuart's twin.

And for anyone else needing visual stimulation this morning, check out the condiment packet gallery (thanks Norby) and modified movie posters you MUST see. (Thanks Brian.)

Oh, and for all who enjoyed Sarah Silverman fucking Matt Damon...

we now have this:

Or click here.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Unsolicited Advice… For Aspiring Authors Seeking Advice

(And writers dealing with them.)

Sooner or later, it begins. Along with the messages telling me how to enlarge my penis and buy cheap Canadian prescription drugs (which isn’t a problem, me being Canadian and living here and all), the irritating spam from authors who for some reason just assume I want to be on everyone’s mailers and the letters from Nigeria, you start to receive the letters from aspiring authors.

It didn’t start for me when I got a book deal. It started before that. And the more profile you have, the more e-mails you get from people, asking you to critique their work, discuss your publisher, refer them to your agent.

I know from having a distant relative in the music business that they can’t even touch someone’s stuff without it going through proper channels. Disputes over rights and accusations of theft are very serious. As a songwriter and an artist you have to protect yourself.

Both authors and aspiring writers need to protect themselves as well. We’re breeding a culture of people who seek instant validation through blogs by posting excerpts of their works in progress or whole short stories. It feels great when comment after comment expresses enthusiasm…

But it isn’t the same as being published and it also isn’t money in the bank. And often, it doesn’t translate into either. For Spinetingler, I won’t take general submissions of work that’s appeared elsewhere online. Why should I pay for a story people can read elsewhere for free?

People hold up the exceptions to the rule to justify it, but there are an awful lot of risks. For example, did you know I write my average first draft in six to eight weeks? And I already have an agent, and a publisher. My second book coming out this year was signed off on just on the basis of seeing the first draft.

If I was an unscrupulous person, I could steal an idea, write my own version of the story and have it sold in a matter of weeks.

Now, I’m far more interested in my own ideas and I have more than enough of them to keep me busy for years. But if you send an e-mail to someone you don’t know, with some of your work attached and ask for feedback there are several things you should consider:

1. Not everyone is honest. You just left yourself wide open to having an idea stolen.
2. It’s extremely presumptuous. You’re asking someone to take a lot of time to help you out when they don’t even know you. At least do them the courtesy of e-mailing first and asking them if they’ll look at your work.
3. You might not get good advice if you do get advice. (Just consider how many talented authors blurb awful books. Taste is subjective…)

There are ways to get critiques. They’re often auctioned off by charities and sometimes authors give critiques away as prizes.

And yes, sometimes there are authors/editors who offer a critique-for-fee service. Personally, this is the avenue I recommend.

Why? Because a transaction that involves money and getting a receipt proves this person has received this work, for one thing. You can send off your manuscript to any writer who might then snag a clever hook from it and sell it as their own and if you try to claim theft you won’t have a leg to stand on. How do you prove they received it, for one thing? Or that they read it? Besides, there’s no copyright on an idea or a plot line. Change the characters, setting and resolution and all you’ve got is broken dreams.

While I’d like to believe most authors would have the integrity not to steal, there have been enough examples of plagiarism in recent years to prove it happens.

The other thing about paying for a critique is that you can expect a certain level of feedback and have the right to expect it.

I will not critique work for someone I don’t know. I have critiquing partners. I have readers I turn to for input for my own work. I’m obligated to respond to my critiquing partners first, above anyone else.

And honestly, I just don’t have the time to do critiques for people for free.

Authors, you also need to protect yourself. Many authors have a clear statement with the contact information on their website, stating not to send manuscripts as they won’t be read.

While I understand the frustration involved in learning the business, and have tried to help many people who’ve asked me questions (not critiquing, but general information stuff) it’s time-consuming. In the past I’ve found some of those people also solicited information from dozens of others, so there’s a sense your advice might not even be read. And you’ve just taken 20 minutes out of your family time, your writing time, your reading time or your marketing time… to quite possibly be ignored.

It’s flattering when people ask your advice. It suggests they think you might know something about the business, have connections, or have an opinion worth listening to. But like all things (as much as there are great, sincere aspiring authors out there who would genuinely benefit and be very appreciative) there are also vultures out there who prey on the fact that they’re stroking your ego and inflating your sense of importance. They’ll take advantage of the fact that many people genuinely do want to be helpful.

So, when it’s announced you’ve signed with an agent, or have had some short stories published or have a book deal, you’ll probably get some of these letters. And you’ll have to decide if you’re going to ignore them (hey, there’s a chance the e-mail was lost in cyberspace, right?) or politely decline or give the person some help.

Whatever you do, there are risks to you as an author as well. People might hate me and write trash reviews on amazon… of course, I send out enough rejection letters via Spinetingler every year that I’ve got my quota for that covered. But you can’t be held hostage to unreasonable expectations and demands on your time – heavens, with what’s expected of me as an author (and a partner and editor) already I just don’t have hours left in the day for much else. Bottom line: my family comes first, then my own writing.

A man got to have a code – Omar

One of the things that THE WIRE has chronicled that is not commented on as often as other aspects – the characterization, the politics, the intricacies of the storylines - is the shift in the street philosophy. In season 1 we begin with the Barksdales, and they are a family unit. There’s a sense of belonging, of taking care of their own. Many of the deaths are felt by the crew. Little is casually dismissed when it comes to their numbers.

If things had been done in reverse, we wouldn’t have been all that happy to see the Barksdales go. If Marlo had predated Avon, we would have been happy to see the Barksdales working the streets.

Instead, one of the more subtle but genius things THE WIRE has chronicled has been the shift on the street. Those with some sense of family and loyalty, those who would step up to protect a relative (even when they screwed up), such as Avon and Prop Joe, are gone.

And in their stead a crew that’s essentially heartless. One that kills without reason or remorse. One that pulls out a gun first and doesn’t even bother with the questions later.

This season, we’ve seen the markers. The death of Butchie is one that Prop Joe honoured, ordering flowers, attending to those details and paying respects. But by the time Prop Joe has caught his own bullet there’s nobody left to show their respects to him.

And so it is that with episode 8, we’ve come to the ultimate disgrace. Before they’re even cold they’re forgotten, and so it is with Omar. Looking at his face in those final seconds, I was thinking about the depth of feeling in that character. Others, such as Cheese, would sell out their own blood to make a move up and not bat an eye. Blow Prop Joe off as being sentimental for still owning a house that was owned by one of their relatives – the first black man to own property in the neighbourhood. Cheese has no appreciation for how far they’ve come.

He has a sense of entitlement. It’s all really a game to him.

But the loyalties of a character like Omar ran deep. When Butchie died it lit a fire in him and he was not going to stop until he’d avenged him.

A man got to have a code. Omar had a code. He lived by it. He raised his gun to no citizen, and even in the end his ultimate downfall came because he perceived no threat from a child.

With others, we’ve been prepared. We’ve been allowed to mentally adjust before the mourning began. Wallace. D’Angelo. Stringer. Bodie. Even Prop Joe we saw coming episodes off.

This was not afforded to us in Omar’s final moments. He is snatched from us abruptly, and in a random fashion.

I am still disappointed by a season that I feel has meandered instead of resolving so many loose ends. It seems the resolution is being made that much more final by eliminating all the characters we’ve come to know and respect over the past four seasons, leaving us with nowhere to go.

And yet there were things within the characters we already knew that were worthy of exploration. I do believe Brian will delve into that at some point – as a Baltimore native he’s got his own opinions and makes a compelling case for an entirely different direction this season could have gone in, but I won’t steal his thunder. I'll just say that if David Simon isn't going to write it, maybe I will.

I will also say this. The thought of two more episodes – the last one being 90 minutes long – seems like a lot without Omar to look forward to.

I expect more in-depth conversation here, once I get my thoughts together.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Tragic Loss

Every morning I go over the news. Rarely does something come as close to home as the headline this morning, stating that a volunteer firefighter from Chestermere had been killed.

He wasn’t serving in the line of duty at the time of the accident that took his life. But the team of men and women he served with were faced with the heartwrenching task of trying to do what they’re trained to do, knowing that the life of one of their own was on the line. Kevin’s had moments like that here, just with a happier outcome at the time.

Since our local firefighters train and respond to calls with the team from Chestermere this was someone Kevin knew. It’s a shock to us all.

And a reminder that life is precious. That time is fleeting and you never know how much you have. Apologize to those you’ve hurt. Forgive those who’ve done you wrong. Hug your children and tell them you love them. Take a moment to tell your partner how you feel and show them you remember the little things they appreciate.

What’s important in this life is not how many blog hits you have or how popular your posts seem to be. Real love is not just treating someone like they're flawless but telling them when they're wrong... loving them in spite of their weaknesses and imperfections, not because they hide those things and pretend to be perfect. And what’s important is the people you love and the people who’ve stood by you through thick and thin - the ones who've been there for you day in and day out, in all the little moments, not just trying to ride off your glory or your achievements.

And I truly feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t understand that. May the loss of one remind us all of where our priorities should be.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Believability in Fiction

Maria and Lawrence have been expressing different opinions about Robert Crais’ THE WATCHMAN and part of their exchange has centered on the issue of believability and suspension of disbelief.

Quoting Maria:
I didn't have trouble with the suspension of disbelief because none of it is supposed to be terribly believable. For me, it was no different than a space story--lots of guns, lots of fighting and action, good guys against bad. Or no different than a completely made-up fantasy novel with a setting that has a lot of sword and sorcery.

Quoting Lawrence:
Why is it not supposed to be believable? It is not like Robert Crais set out to write a satirical take on the thriller novel, no this novel is pretentious in that sense. Sure, if we were dealing with a satire, than I would take everything with a healthy grain of salt, but since we're not I do take this novel serious. Likewise I also expect Robert Crais to be serious about his work, and not throw a mumble jumble of random coincidentally connected events in the gigantic mixer.

Quoting Maria
I probably said that poorly. Let me see how I can explain. I don't "believe" fiction--it's fiction. I don't find a guy having 12 karate belts any more or less believable than a guy who can win a sword fight that is 5'2" and has little practice against a trained warrior. But those types of things exist in these types of books. The underlying theme is somewhat the same--you have to be able to read a certain amount of it knowing that real life is set aside in order to concoct the story--whether that is "little guy finally comes out on top" or "there are heroes bigger than life out there willing to protect the vulnerabe innocent." That's partly why I referred to it as escapist fiction. The reality factor is much less so than in a "normal" thriller type where perhaps your belief is more grounded in more realistic events.

This exchange reminds me of the review criteria discussion I started last month.

Question: Should there be different reviewing criteria for the different subgenres? Within crime fiction, for example, some people do not feel any book classified a thriller needs to be realistic. Thriller protagonists are allowed to display superhero-like qualities - an ability to go for days without sleeping or eating, etc, and still defeat their adversaries.

Now, I do believe that ideally, we assess a book for what it’s trying to be, not what it obviously isn’t. I remember this from some responses to SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES, from people who said they hoped my next book would be darker, and hoped I didn’t mind them saying so. No, but I also didn’t take it as a serious criticism of SC. SC was always intended to be a mainstream book. After all, I didn’t want to write sex, didn’t want characters who swore and the nature of the characters I was dealing with had a bearing on the nature of the content I included in the story.

It’s the difference between my very first short story published online,Breaking The Christmas Curse (which I dread the thought of reading more than three years later) and more recent offerings such as Bull’s Eye and Childhood Dreams.

I’d be bored to tears writing the same thing all the time… but this is a tangent. The only point to make here is that a book can be criticized as a failure if it tries to be dark and spooky and isn’t. A book can’t be fairly criticized for not being dark and spooky if it’s trying to be something else.

It seems to me what’s at the root of Maria and Lawrence’s debate is a question of reader expectations, as well as reasonable expectations from any book. Consider my review of Queenpin which produced a similar question about question about believability.

Quoting MattD:
I have not read this book nor indeed much crime fiction, but the signals I'm picking up about this book -- based just on what you included in your review -- all make me think that it's not something that is meant to be believable. It looks like a book that is trying to have a dialog with the mid-20th century pulp fiction hardboilers -- from the cover to the title, the basic plot, even the 1950s prudishness when it comes to sexual description. It seems, in other words, to be thoroughly aware that it is fiction; playing with the tropes, narratives, and character archetypes of the genre's formative past; giving them a twist; and perhaps trying to say something thereby. I wonder if the lack of a name for the POV character and the use of apparently out-of-place details like "Mounties" aren't meant to contribute to that sense of fiction, to signal to the reader that it's not meant to be taken as real by making it impossible to do so. Those are the kinds of signals that, as a reader of speculative fiction, I'm used to having to decode in order to determine how to read a book. Is there any reason to take this book as attempting to be believable as mimetic fiction other than the fact that it is crime fiction?

There are certain books that scream from page one, “I’m just good fun, don’t try to take me seriously.” Within crime fiction there are whole subgenres that rely on suspension of disbelief. What springs to mind automatically is Canada’s love of the amateur sleuth story. Books that rely on idiotic police departments who, though employing all of their resources in investigating this most serious crime, are barely more than keystone cops and thank God we have Sally the baker or Timmy the dog-walker or Pastor Pete or Helen the hairdresser tripping over clues until they have that, “Gosh-darn-it-all” moment where suddenly they snap their fingers and know who-dunnit.

They are what they’re trying to be, Sandra. You said yourself you can’t fault a book for not being something it isn’t trying to be.

Actually, that is why I have a problem with some of these amateur sleuth books. I’ve read all of H. Mel Malton’s Polly Deacon books and thoroughly enjoyed them (Down in the Dumps, Cue The Dead Guy, Dead Cow in Aisle Three, One Large Coffin To Go). How does the puppet-maker get a pass while others have left me rolling my eyes and shaking my head, if not tossing the book against the wall?

Because some of them try to justify themselves to make the set-up plausible. There is a delicate balance here, because every book establishes its own level of believability. It is the job of the author to give signals to the reader to tell them where the book falls on the spectrum. If the author goes to great lengths to justify why we should accept that a hairdresser is investigating a murder, we subconsciously begin to expect there to be a certain level of believability to the story.

Even works that fall in fantasy and sci fi or that have paranormal elements face the believability issue. They establish a certain type of truth about how their society runs, of the mechanics, the laws, the environment, etc. To make a simple but extreme example, a critical element of The Lord of the Rings is the fact that nobody can have the ring without being corrupted by it. It is inherently evil, and from Galadriel to Elron to Gandalf to Frodo, none of them could dare hope to possess it and not be affected by it.

Imagine if Frodo had gotten to Mount Doom and then slipped the ring on his finger and said, “It’s okay Sam. I figured out how to control it.” Then he snaps his fingers and all Sauron and Saruman and all the forces of evil disappear and the earth is restored with grass and flowers and beautiful sunshine, gentle streams running through the land.

I mean… who could take that seriously? I’d feel cheated and irritated, and lose respect for the writer.

Part of the problem with fiction is that readers often pick up on the signals subconsciously, and we’re not always good at expressing why we interpret a book the way we do. Readers are individuals, and there are different things that stand out to different readers as sore spots. For example, my familiarity with firefighting procedures and arson investigation make it hard for me to suspend the level of belief required for many works that deal with arsons. Last year, I read a book by one author and watched a TV episode based off of a popular crime fiction series by another author (that I read) and both made me laugh. When efforts are made to present believable police procedurals that work within the confines of legalities and technicalities in all other aspects of the investigation, seeing obvious mistakes with arson investigations isn’t something you can dismiss. Even Homicide - arguably one of the best network TV shows ever – made mistakes with arson investigation. For one thing, people are not crawling all over the scene within hours of a huge fire, particularly people who are not arson investigators. Structural engineers must determine the safety of the building before anyone is allowed to go traipsing through the building… Not to mention the idiocy of swinging from charred beams and cops entering the scene without protective footwear and helmets. There are usually hotspots and flare-ups can occur hours after a fire is labeled “out”. There’s debris everywhere that can cut through typical footwear.

Where I live, not even the RCMP have full authority at the scene of a fire, even if it’s a suspected or confirmed arson. The arson investigator has the right to order them out and off the scene if they deem it unsafe, for any reason.

The bi-product of my knowledge about arson investigation is that I’ll be less forgiving for slight errors, or attempts to justify the lack of standard procedure in an investigation.

That does not mean that I even aim for every aspect of my own work to be realistic. There’s a difference between being realistic and being believable. The simple truth is, if those of us who write police procedurals adhered to the procedure 100% our books would be ten times as long from writing out all of the steps required to execute search warrants, etc. and the books would be incredibly dull and boring. More specifically, we’ve all seen movie after movie (or CSI) with police dogs in the US having an item of clothing held up to their nose so they can find a scent trail.

The RCMP do not train their dogs this way. They use no item of clothing or a personal belonging. The dogs are trained to seek out the strong scent trails. Someone who’s being chased, been kidnapped, fleeing a crime scene is going to sweat, and leave a stronger scent trail than someone who was just out for a walk. I did my research with the top trainer for the canine unit for the RCMP, so I know how it’s done.

However, over-exposure to a different approach means I have work to do to close the gap between what many people believe really happens, and the actual procedure we use.

As a writer, it’s a delicate balance. The question is, for you as a reader, what allows you to fully suspend disbelief? Is it a love of the characters that enables you to overlook an implausible storyline, or is the willingness – and advanced knowledge – that you’re sitting down to indulge in something meant to be completely silly and fun?

What makes you apply a standard of realism to your assessment of a book, and what makes you suspend disbelief and just enjoy the ride?

(I've posted part of this in the forum at MBS and I hope Maria, Lawrence and others chime in with their thoughts. Opinions wanted.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

How Many Pairs Of Eyes Does It Take To Correct A Typo?

Can you imagine a list of the top 10 ARCs? Authors everywhere are feeling the effects of shortness of breath. Some have broken out in a cold sweat.

It’s bad enough that we feel we’re exposing ourselves to the world. We know there’s this little disclaimer on the front – stating it’s not a final version – and we know there will be mistakes in it.

But we still wish it was perfect.

Now, I heard a little rumour, that a friend of mine was stressing about their ARCs because of the mistakes. And no matter what I say, I know they’re going to keep giving themselves grey hairs with the worry about how people will respond to their book.

I think I’ve got you topped, though. See, when I made up the double arcs the edits for What Burns Within weren’t done. I haven’t even seen one of the official ARCs for WBW, so I have no idea if it has the final edits either.

And for crying out loud, once I did the final edits I was left to wonder how many pairs of eyes it takes to correct a typo.

But wait! It gets better! See, I did a double ARC because it was cheaper overall. Some people wanted to review WBW. Some were looking at blurbing FRAILTY. Some were passing them around to book purchasers…

The version of FRAILTY? First draft.

Brian offhandedly mentioned it was missing pages 25 through 87, just to get me going. Authors, you’re with me on this one, aren’t you? What a terrible thing to do! We stress enough, thank you very much.

I’m sitting down to deal with the typo-laden first draft of FRAILTY now, and believe me, even Brian’s rotten joke doesn’t compare to the way I’m kicking my own backside.

Or the embarrassment, knowing people have actually read the damn thing.

You just have to remind yourself that the first draft is all about getting it down. There won’t be major changes, because my editor gave it the thumbs up and I have the green light to do the second version without notes.

Meanwhile, I’ll console myself with the initial feedback:

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.

"Brave, dark and utterly convincing, The Frailty Of Flesh is guaranteed to break the hardest of hearts. An absorbing read."

- Allan Guthrie, Theakston Award-Winning Author of HARD MAN

"The Frailty of Flesh is not only one of the best procedural thrillers I've read in a long time... but the ending knocked me right out of my seat. Ruttan captures the nature of crime in a way few thriller writers ever manage... this is vivid, impressive, gut-wrenching stuff."
- Russel D. McLean, Crime Scene Scotland

Now I’ll obsess that I don’t have female blurbers. Hmmm. Not sure what’s up with that.

Opinions, opinions

Any list of the smartest TV shows of all time that doesn’t have THE WIRE on it is just wrong – I don’t care whose opinion it is.

I’m indifferent to Hollywood’s worst screen couples (because I could care less, but not much less) and I’m not sure if I completely agree with all the picks for the best British albums… Wonder what Ian Rankin thinks of that collection. Duran Duran Rio? Wasn’t even the best Duran Duran album…

Speaking of opinions, it’s clear to me Cirie should go with the couples tonight on Survivor: Fans vs Favourites.

It’s simple. The alliance of four will take you out first, Cirie. But the couples already have a natural division. You’ll be able to carry to the final three effortlessly. And if you have an immunity idol, that’ll be the time to play it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Problem of Perception… And What It Means For One Crime Fiction Writer

“Maclean's annual How the World Sees Canada poll shows deep admiration for a country we don't seem to like so much ourselves. What gives?”

In my brief time on Rara-Avis, I recall someone posting about how there could never be such a thing as Canadian noir. I’ve heard the sentiments before:

We’re too nice.

Not much crime.

And when it comes to crime fiction, we seem content to embrace the way the rest of the world sees us.

Which is how, exactly?

“Maclean's, for the second year in a row, has asked Angus Reid Strategies to ask the world what it thinks of Canada. The pollster also asked 1,000 Canadians for a self-assessment. The results contain more than a few surprises. The world likes Canada, a lot: not the reality of Canada, perhaps, but the ideal of Canada, the idea of Canada.”

They surveyed people in China, Turkey, Israel, England, Russia, India, Italy and the United States.

The most appealing thing about Canada? 40% of Chinese, 55% of English and 68% of Italians cited “natural environment”.

Meanwhile, “quality of life” was the top selling point for 47% of Israelis, 48% of Americans and 51% of Turks – but quality of life was a term left in the eye of the beholder, with no clear definition.

“The highest approval for Canada's multi-ethnic nature came from the Turks and the Chinese, and only about one in 10 of them cited it.”

What’s least appealing? Israel, Turkey and Italy refer to our cold climate. 45% of Americans point the finger at high taxes. “Another perceived failing, for 13 per cent of Americans, is that Canada is too "U.S.-oriented." This perceived American domination was considered Canada's largest failing by Russians, and was the second or third-ranked Canadian flaw named by the British, Indians, Turks and Chinese.”

And 1 in 7 Turks think we’re boring.

But when it came to Canadian affairs, how did these countries rank? Who do you suppose knows the most about Canada? Barely more than 60 years ago we were considered British subjects here. We have a high number of Chinese and Indian immigrants. And we make fun of Americans for knowing nothing about Canada all the time…

And boy, are we wrong. For the questions about Canadian affairs, “Only the Americans passed, with a score of 57. An impressive 91 of Americans knew the Canadian dollar was worth more than the U.S. greenback at the time of the survey, and 86 per cent knew that same-sex marriage was legal in Canada - by far the highest international scores. Last in Canadian knowledge among the countries, with a score of just 17 per cent, is the United Kingdom.”

Sort of explains my memories of wandering around Hyde Park and having someone, upon discovering I was Canadian, say “Oh the colonies.” Anyone who starts in with that nonsense proves their age, I guess.

“Curiously, there is a huge upside to this blissful ignorance: to not know Canada, apparently, is to love it. "There is a lot of ignorance about Canada but there are also these positive perceptions, kind of like this halo of positive expectation," says Grenville. "We get the benefit of the doubt. They don't really know us but they're pretty sure we're nice," he says. "So we get away with a few things."

On the issue of the environment, for example, a majority of respondents in every country but the U.S. pegged Canada as a leader in fighting climate change, and in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, we are one of the worst per-capita emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. Fewer than 10 per cent of those from other countries, with the exception of the U.S., realized this. Canada coasts on a green image that is mostly illusion and delusion, says environmentalist David Suzuki. He points to a recent assessment by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development. It found that for 25 key environmental indicators, Canada ranked 28th out of 29 OECD countries. "Most Canadians are shocked to hear that," he says.

“Canadians also get credit (or the blame, depending on your point of view) for their military operations overseas - and for a few in which the country is not actually involved. A remarkable 93 per cent of Americans know Canada has troops on the ground in Afghanistan. (Only the British, 80 per cent, and Russians, 95 per cent, say either they don't know or don't think Canadian troops are deployed there.) Fewer than a third of respondents around the world know that Canada doesn't have a presence in Darfur. And only in one country - Turkey, with a substantial Muslim population - did a majority of respondents know Canada isn't in Iraq. In what may be the cheapest war Canada never fought, half of Americans think Canadian soldiers are shooting it out in Iraq. Reid finds that astonishing considering the abuse Canada took four years ago for not enlisting in U.S. President George W. Bush's so-called coalition of the willing.”

“A majority of American respondents (55 per cent) consider the Northwest Passage to be Canadian waters - making the U.S. the only country besides Canada(at 66 per cent)to believe this. By contrast, seven out of every 10 Russians consider the passage an international waterway, while the rest of the nations surveyed, not to put too fine a point on it, couldn't care less.”

Okay, okay, forgive me for quoting huge chunks of this article, but this is fascinating stuff. I’m often foaming at the mouth over how the media dispenses with reality and manipulates perception, and this type of survey proves the point. The words of a few politicians (about the Arctic, for example) get splashed across the newspapers and we assume it represents how Americans feel.

In fact, I think we often blame Americans for a lot of things that begin and end with the stupidity of a few key politicians.

How do the results stack up to Canadian responses?

“Canadians, however, have a host of misgivings about their country: its lack of independence from America's influence, the compromised integrity of its government systems, its limited impact on world affairs. Simply put, the world is in love with a country that doubts its own worth.”

“An astonishing three-quarters of Canadians disagreed with this statement: "Everyone, no matter who they are, is treated in the same way by the justice system in my country." There could be many reasons for this: numerous examples of wrongful convictions, dating back to Steven Truscott; Canada's role in facilitating the torture in Syria of Maher Arar; the inability of police and the courts to stem the rising tide of gang violence; the failure of the Air India bombing investigation to yield a single murder conviction. Only Russians (90 per cent) and Turks (80 per cent) have a harsher view of their justice systems.

“The opinion Canadians hold of the honesty of their institutions isn't much better. Half (48 per cent) call "corruption a big problem in my country." This bleak view may be coloured by recent memories of the sponsorship scandal that helped topple the federal Liberals.”

“Almost 70 per cent of Americans see Canada "as a global leader in working for human rights and peace in the world." Just 35 per cent of Canadians define themselves that way. Britain, Italy, India, Israel, Turkey and China all rate Canada's human rights performance higher than Canadians do themselves.”

Statistics have never been so fascinating to me at 7 am…. Or, I think, ever.

Just this morning, the top story was ”A Winnipeg man who sexually abused his daughter for more than seven years and called her his "sex kitten" has been sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison.”

Not even one year for every year he abused her. They call this justice? A parent is entrusted with the care of their child, and to sexually abuse your own daughter…

Then we’ve got a former cop refusing to testify and the kidnapping of two men in Calgary. A man is in critical condition after his home was broken into and he was severely beaten the real winners who abandoned their baby in the snow are in court and rural Manitoba grow-ups have the RCMP’s attention.

Let’s just hope the RCMP can actually follow through with pursuing convictions for any arrests.

That’s not nice, Sandra. Why would you say that?

”It was billed as a major drug bust, significant enough to put a crimp into southern Ontario's cocaine trade. A seven-month undercover sting that culminated in the July 2005 seizure of two kilos of coke, $144,000 in cash, a silencer-equipped .22-calibre pistol, and the arrest of four men alleged to have ties to the Hells Angels, Persian mob, and, as the press release put it, "traditional" organized crime.

“But this past Sept. 27, the accused - Trifu Margan, David Lawrence, Randy Singh, and supposed kingpin Sharame (Sean) Sherzady - walked out of a Burlington courthouse scot-free, without ever having to answer the charges. After months of delays, the Crown withdrew the case on the day their preliminary hearings were scheduled to begin because the chief witnesses - five RCMP officers who were at the centre of the investigation - were unavailable to testify. "Officers Claim Illness, Drug Charges Dropped," said the headline in a local paper. The prosecutor and various police agencies - the bust was the work of the elite Golden Horseshoe Combined Special Forces Enforcement Unit (CSFEU) - expressed disappointment. But no one seemed willing to address the reasons a bunch of battle-tested cops have been off the job on stress leave for close to 20 months, or ask why the Mounties appeared willing to let four accused mobsters walk rather than fix the problem.”

Back when I was first trying to get published, I’d long heard that I wouldn’t stand a chance of selling a Canadian-based series in the US. I couldn’t even sell it in Canada. The rejection letters I got didn’t go to writing – they went to the content. Publishers did not want to show that side of Canada. The same issues cropped up in the agent search. I wanted to try UK publishers but stopped short of submitting to my dream publisher because I couldn’t get an agent at the time (although they take non-agented submissions).

What I learned through the process was that the reality of Canada isn’t something the rest of the world sees clearly. We’re nice. We do what’s right. We don’t have a lot of crime. Surveys like the one reported on by Angus Reid here highlight the problem.

Meanwhile, I contrast that to the fact that a major RCMP investigation was compromised because of the ongoing problems within the RCMP.

I’ve always believed in crime fiction’s ability to make social commentary. I’ve always been very interested in social issues, and I see crime fiction as a natural forum for addressing them. Often safely. My threshold with true crime is limited by the knowledge of the reality – I can’t stomach reading too much about what someone really did to another person.

In crime fiction, the knowledge that it isn’t real (although it could be) gives me enough emotional distance to look at the repercussions of crime, to begin to address the issues.

While others believe there’s no place for politics in crime fiction, I see it as often the root of a lot of problems. The WIRE (season 5 discussion here) proves the point. Political maneuvering allows criminals to stay on the streets…

Just look at that article on the RCMP.

Okay, so I’ve proved my point here. There’s crime in Canada. The RCMP – while still a respected police force – has issues that need to be addressed.

What’s the problem? How do you market a series that touches on the less-than-perfect side of our national police force and tackles realistic crimes that haven’t been glossed over to a world that has unrealistic, idealistic, impressions of our country?

Way back when, some weren’t too happy about how Ian Rankin showed the less-than-savory-side of Edinburgh. Now? HIS novels have immortalised Edinburgh's dingy drinking dives and council estates and celebrated its historic landmarks – but now it is the city's turn to record a little bit of Ian Rankin for posterity. The author of the Inspector Rebus series has had his handprints sculpted into a piece of Caithness stone which sits in the courtyard of the City Chambers on the Royal Mile. The imprint acknowledges Rankin's status as the inaugural winner of the Edinburgh Award, an accolade set up to acknowledge who citizens see as the city's leading ambassador.

I won’t be the first to show the less-than-glowing side of Canada, or even the RCMP. The one hope is that the growing public awareness of the problems will help readers bridge the gap between our image and our reality.

I’m a firm believer that you don’t fix problems by denying their existence. Pretending everything’s fine is the equivalent of sticking your head in the sand on the beach as a hurricane is about to make landfall. You might not be able to see it, or really hear it, but it doesn’t mean it won’t kill you. Pointing out some of our problems isn’t about just tearing us down – it’s about saying we can be better than we are, and this is what we need to fix to make that happen.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Spiritual Sex

Because a night that ends with cries of "Oh My God" is something even pastors want their church members to have.

I decided to address the obvious lack of sex in JJ’s life yesterday because I felt it wouldn’t be good to wait. Some things require our immediate attention.

Seems I’m not the only one who thinks that way. A Florida pastor has challenged couples to have sex every day for a month. (Please note: some conditions apply. Unmarried couples have not been issued this challenge.)

It seems the randy Reverend issued the challenge as part of a challenge to tackle high divorce rates.

I certainly hope our minister will be reading from Song of Solomon all this month. Personally, I don’t find the “hair like a flock of goats” line to be very inspiring, but there’s some improvement as chapter 4 continues:

“Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
And your mouth is lovely…

Your two breasts are like two fawns,
Twins of a gazelle,
Which feed among the lilies.”

Song of Solomon 4: 3a, 5

Now guys, before you start writing that love letter, comparing her ass to truck tires and her breasts to ice cream sundaes, I do suggest you drop by PJ Parrish’s blog for the annual round-up of bad sex award-winners. Because sometimes, you really can’t say it as tastefully as Hallmark and should just admit you should leave it to the professionals.

But for those of you who’re finding some heat in your cheeks over the 30-day challenge, I want the spiritually-minded to know there are fun things for them to try too. In fact (thanks Norby) NPR just reported on Christian sex toys yesterday. No real difference between them and non-Christian sex toys, except the holy water lubricant I guess.

I’m glad they live their lives openly in front of Jesus because when I was at Bible school we were told when you achieve orgasm it’s as though God were standing in the back of the room applauding.

Which I always thought made God sound a bit perverted. Either that, or it was a real good line that pastor used on his wife. Wonder how Declan Burke explains to his wife that he’s given everyone in crime fiction The Big O.

Just remember, the boyfriend/girlfriend videos are here and if you’re still feeling insecure in the wake of reading the gushing prose of SOS remember sometimes words aren’t necessary.

I seriously need to blog about something different soon, because even I think that everything that’s popping into my mind to say now is inappropriate for my blog.

And that e-mail I got this morning from you – yes, you know who you are… - can’t imagine why you didn’t put that in the comments. ;)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sandra’s Mailbag

Dear Sandra:

After spending decades becoming a mystery novelist, I now find I want to write bodice-ripping romances of the sleasiest kind. What's happened to me?

Jersey Jack

Dear Jersey Jack,

This is a very serious condition. It’s clear that you have been devoting so much time to writing mysteries and promoting your work that you aren’t getting any. Remember, writing may be a safe outlet for your murderous impulses to keep you out of jail, but it really isn’t much of a substitute for great sex.

Fortunately, your affliction is nothing that some horizontal mambo won’t cure.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Ask Sandra

Now, before I begin dispensing advice to the masses, my first review of SAVAGE NIGHT by Allan Guthrie is up. This twisted little tale blew my socks off. I’d thought HARD MAN was visceral and intense, but Guthrie’s moved to a whole new class with his latest. For a short guy he stands head and shoulders above the rest of us. Jerk.

Whose favourite colour is pink…

Now, if Al was Shakespeare’s agent:

Al gets grilled

I’m off to look for an Al Guthrie piƱata.

Right. So now that we’ve established that, on to dispensing some serious advice for all of you still wondering what went wrong on Valentine’s Day.

First, for all of you girls out there.

How To Be The Perfect Girlfriend

It’s amazing they can address so many things in such a short span of time. Really impressive.

Now for the guys. And ladies, you’ll want to watch it too. Half of understanding the behaviour of the average guy is understanding the advice he’s getting.

How To Be The Perfect Boyfriend

Now, if you’d like me to help you with your problems, e-mail me with your personal questions (sandra @ and next week I’ll set you straight. Because telling everyone else how to live their life is so much more entertaining than dwelling on how I screw up my own.

And of course, any helpful relationship tips can be added in the comments. For those who haven't had enough of Al yet, don't forget Brian's got a great, new interview with him.

For those of you who don't want my advice, well, there's always Cookie Monster's take on things. Enjoy.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Everlasting Love

It’s never too soon to start planning for Valentine’s Day, and if you’re waking up without a smile on your face this morning, you might want to consider why.

Now, my Valentine’s was postponed, so none of this applies to me just yet. And instead of worrying about finding a table at a restaurant or anything else, while I was in the city last night my greatest stress was trying to find parking at Chinook Mall because – thanks to Roger Rhodes – there was a stampede as people ran in fear to pick up that one forgotten item… A card.

You see, Roger hosts The Rhodes Show in the afternoon on Country 105. Ah, there’s nothing quite like starting your morning with The Odd Squad, spending the bulk of the work day with Scott Philips and winding things up with Roger Rhodes. In fact, when I wrote Suspicious Circumstances I always had Country 105 on.

But I digress. You see, Roger was talking about how, for his wife, a card is an absolute must. He can make a candlelight dinner, send their daughter to the grandparents for the night… but if there’s no card…

So Roger was trying to understand this, and meanwhile every single person in Calgary who hadn’t bought a card was freaking out and ran to Chinook Mall to the Shoppers Drug Mart to get one, and one person was suffocated in the stampede…

Now, I didn’t get a card yesterday. Not a paper card. I did get an e-card, and unfortunately my web browser was being flakey, so while I was on the phone with Bunny I was having a laugh over the fact he’d sent me an empty box. Truly, I was amused, and eventually got the card up.

A paper card, though? That’s not something that’s going to malfunction. It won’t get lost in cyberspace as it takes the scenic tour to your loved one’s computer and picks up a bug in Singapore.

Why does the card matter so much to some people? I could soap box on communication theory, but it’s simple. Roger, the $46,000 you spent on dinner is just gone now. And within hours, there won’t be anything left of dinner either. The llama in the back yard that you dyed pink? It needs to be fed, poop needs to be scooped, and some day it will die.

A card is permanent, forever. It can be kept in a desk drawer, a little momento, a reminder of a special event, of a happy moment. Some people are a wee bit sentimental that way. I know I’ve accumulated all these knick-knacks, all these things that take me right to a place in time and bring back the memories.

And along with the memories come the emotions. Your spouse finds that memorable item and it brings a smile to their face as they think about how you arranged for an empty house, spent $46,000 making a candlelight dinner, dyed a llama pink and put it in the back yard, and bought her a card, and good chance you’re going to experience some of those residual benefits.

I mean, guys, here’s a tip: You’re always working toward the next time. How many of you can relate to moving a little closer, going in for a kiss and hearing some variation of I know it’s Saturday but on Monday you were inconsiderate and I’m just not happy with you right now? You know it’s true. The reason they say there’s no such thing as a woman scorned (well, other than a DJ scorned, as Roger proved earlier this week) is because when it comes to relationships most women have loooooooooong memories.

Now, I’m not much of a card person. But I do have ones here that have been given to me over the years. I wouldn’t want to get a card every week. Even every month. But when it’s not a common thing, it is special. And unlike e-mails that can be lost in a computer crash, or the text messages we’ve had to delete from our phones, you can keep that card, tack it to a bulletin board, put it in a photo album, keep it in the desk drawer…

Trust me, I’d rather have that card, but thanks to that woman who phoned in yesterday I bet the people at HallMark are already working on custom card suits.

I mean, if Bunny is going to wear something special on Valentine’s Day I want it to be wrapping paper, if you get what I’m saying. Forget that card costume, all you get to do is read that!

And while I wouldn’t limit romance to this one gesture, closing the tailgate of the truck when you’re being intimate is a good move.

For those of you who are a wee bit bitter this morning, courtesy of The Odd Squad this morning I was made aware of Relationship Obit, where you can go to put the nail in the coffin, or in some cases, drive the stake through the heart of the one you’re kicking to the curb.

For those of you who are brave, care to share your best and worst Valentine’s memories? Since I know who all my readers are if you don’t share I’ll know you’re a chicken. ;)

One thing I learned? To never dedicate Little Bitty to the man you love. He'll never get past the title.

Once I finally managed to get into the mall I found the new Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, with a new story by Russel D. McLean - the whole reason to buy it.

And then, on a display table, I found Burial Ground - John's latest book. So it was worth it to drop by Chapters last night, even if it took half my life to get a parking spot.


What takes three hours to warm up and cools off in a minute?

A woman.

(Courtesy of the man who called the radio yesterday)

Did you hear about the man who crossed the widest desert, who climbed the highest mountain and swam the biggest ocean for the woman he loved?

She divorced him. He was never home.

And getting off the lovey stuff, thanks to Norby


As a trucker stops for a red light, a blonde catches up. She jumps out of her car, runs up to his truck, and knocks on the door.

The trucker lowers the window, and she says "Hi, my name is Heather and you are losing some of your load."

The trucker ignores her and proceeds down the street. When the truck stops for another red light, the girl catches up again. She jumps out of her car, runs up and knocks on the door.

Again, the trucker lowers the window. As if they've never spoken, the blonde says brightly, "Hi my name is Heather, and you are losing some of your load!"

Shaking his head, the trucker ignores her again and continues down the street.

At the third red light, the same thing happens again.

All out of breath, the blonde gets out of her car, runs up, knocks on the truck door. The trucker rolls down the window. Again she says "Hi, my name is Heather, and you are losing some of your load!"

When the light turns green the trucker revs up and races to the next light.

When he stops this time, he hurriedly gets out of the truck, and runs back to the blonde.

He knocks on her window, and after she lowers it, he says...
"Hi, my name is Kevin, it's winter in Pittsburgh and I'm driving the SALT TRUCK!"

And if you need your fix of Valentine’s stories and didn’t get it yesterday, Patti has the links to all those Bloody Valentine’s tales.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Playing Politics Over Crime

On Monday I blogged about Mayerthorpe and the murders of four RCMP officers.

Today, I’m reminded of why I cheered when the Liberal government was defeated.

Politics. Too much fucking politics. What else would you expect from politicians? you might wonder. And that’s when I have to shrug and admit some defeat. I mean, we now expect our governments to rob us blind and leave us on the hook to pay for it.

Oh, yeah, that was the Liberals, wasn’t it? Yes, yes, the reasons I cheered are all coming back to me… Those fuckers ever want my vote they can damn well stand up and use their money to pay the people of this country back.

I mean, make a fucking gesture. Admit you’re thieves and have the balls to say that what you did was wrong.

But no. Instead, the Liberals have now proven they don’t have a fucking backbone either. Must have lost track of that along with their morals.

Assuming they ever had either.

And this week – of all weeks – is the week to show they aren’t taking crime seriously?

”Mayerthorpe” became the most-watched Canadian drama of 2008, holding its own against the Grammy Awards.

To quote: The broadcast followed a poll released the same week by CTV and The Strategic Counsel indicating that nationally, three in four people surveyed believe the Canadian justice system is too lenient on repeat offenders, with a full 50 percent saying the justice system is "much too lenient."

You know, I’m not going to sit here and nitpick over the particulars of the bill. The point is, it takes months for the average bill to pass through parliament, if not years. I used to wonder why governments never seemed to get anything done, but then I was given an assignment when I was studying journalism.

MP profile.

I have no idea how I got the guy I did. Pig farmer from Saskatchewan turned politician. Ray Funk. What I do remember was his efforts to table a private member’s bill… the entry explains how it died on the table…

As so many bills do when the government dissolves.

And then the process starts all over again, if at all.

You know, if that’s how we ran businesses they’d all be bankrupt. But our government can fail to address things and it can take literally years for them to ever get back on the debate list, if ever.

What about the fact that the people of this country elected the Conservatives? Sure, they only have a minority government.

But they won more than the Liberals did. Which ought to tell the Liberals something.

And in the same week that Mayerthorpe hits the small screen and we have a full 50 percent of respondents to a poll saying our justice system is “much too lenient”, the Liberals walk out over a vote on the Conservative crime bill.

I mean, is it too goddamn much to ask these people to stand for something? Debate the motion, to endorse it or to vote against it?

I have more respect for the NDP, who stayed in that room and did their job and yes, voted against the crime bill.

But they had the balls to stand for something.

What did the vote do? Essentially, nothing. It was a ploy to get the Senate to move faster on the bill. The Liberals maintain the Senate hasn’t had enough time since returning from Christmas break to analyze the bill.

Well, how much fucking time do you need to do something out here in the real world?

What a joke.

And, like, why do I give a fuck about the Senate? It isn’t as though I elect them. They’re just political puppets, left over from past administrations.

Say what you will about Alberta, about our attempts at two-tiered health care, about our love of guns and hatred of Kyoto…

At least we made an effort to send an – oh my God! – elected representative to the Senate.

I mean, let the people of this country have some say in who makes the decisions for us?

Or, in the case of the Liberals, I guess that would be who robs us blind.

And then walks off the job.

(Don’t think I’m letting the Conservatives off the hook for everything they do. I’m watching the Afghanistan issue closely, and any backing down on supporting our troops and our mission there will not impress me in the slightest. We can decide to send hundreds and thousands of soldiers over there, but the moment one gets hurt we start questioning the mission. And what does that say to the soldiers who did risk their lives, or were injured? What does that say to the people who waited and worried while their husband/father/son/daughter served our country? It says their work isn’t for something this country believes in… just playing politics with people’s lives. We do not pull out because someone is killed. We pull out because our mission is fulfilled, or upon assessment it's concluded it can never be successful. What an incredible dishonour to their sacrifice, and to their service.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Everything Is Somewhere Else

Pimp My Words is an article I wrote about marketing pressures on authors.

Glad I took out stock in Sandra Ruttan voodoo dolls a while ago. At least I’m making money from something…

Speaking of money…

(Don’t click on the link yet.) Unasked for advice about authors and money.

Why am I linking to this?

Well, some of you may work through the dross to find the gold. Simply put, much of this isn’t a news flash for anyone –writer or otherwise. The idea that a woman will grow up to marry rich has been around for centuries, and we continue to foster the throwback by handing girls copies of Cinderella and Snow White – some Prince Charming is always going to show up to rescue us. Equality means that now, some men have that dream too. And sometimes it's a Prince and sometimes it's a Princess, but I digress.

It’s a ludicrous stereotype to suggest all these wannabe writers sit around for hours drinking, or just want to sit around drinking and feeling sophisticated.

And I can say plenty more. But if you’re bad with money, or if you want to console yourself with why you shouldn’t quit your day job, you might want to read it.

Now, I do try to make it clear if there’ll be a problem behind following a link. If you disagree with the post or any part of it, don’t say so in the comments. Opinion that doesn’t follow in the form of falling down and declaring the $164,000 income writer a genius for telling me why I shouldn’t try earning that from my own writing is reason to be assaulted. And the blame there does NOT go to the blogger, but since that was my experience on the thread my first time commenting there will be my last. I truly would be better off working at Wal-Mart than spending time on some things. Whether I earn $16,000 or $160,000 I'm never going to tell you what to do, or presume you've idealized the writing life.

(Because we all know that in my time at home I'm getting a manicure and a daily massage and never do any real work.)

And since I want to get back to the bottle with my name on it… Which would be a water bottle to accompany me while I try to move my fat ass through my daily exercise routine...

Sandra Seamans gives her take on what every good ezine should do and Valashain’s review of Ender’s Game is pure entertainment, all on its own. Forget the book, read the review.

Finally, a little something, because Bunny doesn’t think I’ve ever mentioned TALKING TO AMERICANS before.

I think Bunny suppressed the experience. Here’s a short one.

If you want the long version, including the woody, go here.

And to prove we don't just make fun of Americans...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mayerthorpe: The Failings of Canadian Justice

Billed as “an account of the events leading up to the RCMP massacre in Alberta in March, 2005” wikipedia had already updated files yesterday to reflect the airing of the TV movie ‘Mayerthorpe’ last night.

March 3, 2005. It should have been like any other day in a small, rural community in Alberta. Winter waning, spring on its way. Kids playing hockey, school plays, the routine interactions with friends, family and neighbours.

Safe communities. This is Canada, after all. We don’t have the same kind of gun and drug problems the US has. No, no, we’re too nice for serious crime…


James Roszko had faced 44 criminal charges in his life. He was 46 years old. He was a known pedophile, possessed illegal weapons. Believed to have threatened witnesses, ten people committed perjury or failed to testify against him in court, resulting in acquittals on serious offenses.

He’d served just 32 months in prison in his lifetime, despite his history.

Despite being known to rape boys.

The incident began on March 2. Bailiffs were attempting to repossess a truck and Roszko fled in the vehicle after releasing his dogs. RCMP officers were called in to provide assistance. With a warrant for seizure in place they entered the property and discovered a chop shop and grow-op, providing them with enough evidence for a further warrant.

And they began cataloguing and removing the evidence. Roszko was now a wanted man, known to be armed and dangerous.

The farm was monitored overnight by a small group of RCMP officers. However, their numbers were insufficient to completely secure a sprawling 200 hectare farm in rural Alberta.

They were unaware that Roszko had abandoned the truck and returned to the property.

He had a semi-automatic assault rifle in his possession, along with other weapons.

Four constables, the youngest 25 years old, the oldest 32. One engaged, planning a wedding. Another with a young son, wife expecting another child.

They entered the Quonset.

Roszko opened fire, killing all four of them. Officers outside the Quonset were also shot at, and returned fire. Roszko withdrew inside the Quonset and ultimately took his own life.

I watched the movie on TV last night. For those who saw it, you saw a lot of Sandra territory. Filmed in Irricana and Cochrane, it was filmed in the community that neighbours mine, and the community where I was married. There’s something unsettling about seeing places I know well used as the backdrop for telling this story…

Something that reminds you that it could happen anywhere.

The article in The Toronto Star reminds us that the movie hasn’t tried to probe any potential failings of the RCMP or to assign responsibility for what happened.

It’s simply an accounting of the events that led up to the deaths of four young men who stood on guard for this country, for their community.

We always try to find the good in tragedy. The Marijuana Party had just backed the Liberals in an attempt to push a decriminalization bill through Parliament. The bill was shelved, the Liberals defeated and the Conservatives were opposed to decriminalization.

But what else has changed?

A New Brunswick woman who burned and dismembered the body of her newborn baby will serve two months of house arrest as part of a 14-month conditional sentence handed down Friday by a judge.

14 months. Two months house arrest.

A mother's worst fears were realized last week when a judge granted custody of her son to his father who is a registered sex offender.

I love my country. I am proud to be Canadian.

But I’m not quite so proud when I see news stories like these. It is a dishonour to the sacrifice of these four men, and so many others who risk their lives every day to serve and protect. We place the rights of criminals ahead of victims. We fail to give our officers the back-up and resources they need in order to give them the greatest chance of coming back from serious calls alive.

Just ask the families of those young men on solo patrol, shot and killed.

Although part of me felt uneasy about the initial plans for a TV movie about Mayerthorpe – felt it could sensationalize a tragedy in a way that rang hollow, as though it was only about ratings – I felt the movie pieced together the events and the background of Roszko in a compelling way that enabled viewers to understand what had happened.

And the ultimate senselessness of it all.

I was already writing about the RCMP before Mayerthorpe. I had actually done research with officers stationed in Bowden, where Roszko went to jail (again, not far from where I live).

One of the officers who gave me background told me they’d been on the team responding after the shooting. The words were few but the feelings ran deep.

A wound that will never truly heal.

As far as I’m concerned the RCMP and our soldiers are national heroes we take for granted. As a country, as citizens, we owe them such a debt of gratitude that can never be properly repaid, for the risks they take and the sacrifices they make. I write about the RCMP and I don’t present them as perfect, but that isn’t because I don’t respect them. It’s because I feel that so often, we fail our police by not providing them with adequate resources in order to perform their jobs safely. The result is frustration, mistakes…

The kinds of things that contributed to what happened in Mayerthorpe.

I won’t blame the RCMP for it. I will blame our government. As a society we need to say that enough is enough. It’s unacceptable for known criminals to get off on technicalities. It’s unacceptable that we can’t provide adequate protection to witnesses so that they feel safe testifying.

It’s unacceptable that officers be sent on serious calls while riding solo.

We need to demand that our laws change to protect those who take the risk every day to make our communities safer for us.

Then, and only then, will we really be able to find the good in the tragedy of what happened almost three years ago in a community not so different from this one, not so far north of here.

(Photo taken Canada Day in Kananaskis four years ago. My nephew Athaniel and niece Arriel pose with an RCMP officer.)