Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Crimerant has been eating my responses to comments on the post I made yesterday, and now I'm several comments behind. I'm going to post my reply here, below. Maybe someone well be able to comment there and post a link so that they don't think I'm ignoring them.

First, it's somewhat ironic that today there's discussion about the sentencing of another juvenile hinging on how much of a factor her childhood misfortunes will be when she's sentenced for her part in the planned kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of a 13-year-old girl. Another Canadian case, by the way.

Some of what we've been talking about at Crimerant speaks to the issue. At what point has a person squandered their first chance? What kind of punishment is going to act as a real deterrent? You'll probably need to read the comment thread for this to make sense.

My Crimerant comment mini-rant... No easy answers for the problems in our society.

I tried a few more times to get on and comment yesterday, but the internet goblins must have been hungry...

Now I'll try to remember it all, catch up on the new comments, and not make this a mile long.

Terri and Fiz, one can only hope that the law will continue to change and that in the future, the Lori Drews of the world will be held accountable.

I wonder if this is the flip side of the coin PJ tossed earlier: would the response have been different if Lori Drew had been a teenager instead of an adult? Perhaps then action would have been taken, as it was in the case of Dawn-Marie Wesley (although I should point out that's a Canadian case).

Is it just me, or does anyone else find it scarier? Teens assaulting adults... To me, that shows fearlessness, absolutely no barrier to their behaviour. It used to be that the presence of an adult was a restraint, holding teens back from their wilder impulses. Not anymore.

The thought of adults bullying teenagers is sickening, and also far more disturbing to me. Any adult bullying kids needs serious help.

Chris, thank you.

KimPossible, sorry to hear you went through that as well. I was born in '71, so you're right, we weren't so far apart. Melissa said "that age just sucks." It does! I've told my niece that I didn't enjoy high school much, and she was surprised because everyone says how great it is. I told her some of what happened to me in high school (she's 13) in part because I think society hypes up the high school experience, and then when it isn't completely wonderful, it's harder on kids. Was I the only person who thought, "And these are the best years of my life?" Thankfully, they weren't, but I wonder how much that kind of thinking factors in when teens with depression commit suicide.

TxMichelle, it sounds like you've also drawn from your own experience to talk to your kids. As I'm now moving into stepmom terrain, I'm more nervous than ever about all the school issues.

Compassrose raises the question of whether or not juvie will help, or if the anger will just simmer. This ties to Terri's comment yesterday, about what's driving the anger in our society, and goes on to what Melissa's talking about, about the YouTube beating case and appropriate punishment.

I heard a theory the other day, that part of what's contributing to the aggression in our society is our lack of physical activity. It used to be we worked in the fields, we scrubbed our clothes by hand, etc. The more modern conveniences we get, the less active we are. The person speculated that all that pent up energy is surfacing through rage.

I'm still processing that theory, but I do find it interesting that despite washing machines and dishwashers, we have less time than ever. All these modern conveniences were supposed to make our lives better, more enjoyable. Yet we're living on fast food, eating on the way to work. We have road rage. Many parents do less with their kids instead of more. Speaking generally, we have no sense of family and no sense of community.

Four years ago, I moved out to a small village, in commuting distance to the city. We thought it would be a positive place to live. People have told us to leave, we don't belong. The 45% of the population here that commutes is resented by locals. I'm glad I'm leaving.

I wrote a feature for my publisher's website
about the first few pages in my new book. They were inspired by a true story. My mother and I were talking about how back then, people were more trusting. Today, I'd be nervous about picking up a child, even to take them to a police station. It used to be parents told kids if they went lost to go to an adult. Then it became woman. Now, it's 'preferably a woman with children'.

I'm not willing to pin it all on lack of physical activity, but I think that's one spoke in the wheel. It's chemicals in our foods instead of nutrients. It's the fact that kids can't run and play freely like they used to. I grew up with woods behind my house, no fence around our yard, and we used to build forts in the woods for hours. Now, you can't let your kids out of your sight.

We have lawsuits over the most ridiculous things, so some schools have stopped doing field trips. And back to those busy parents who're eating breakfast in the minivan in the morning... How much quality time do kids get with their parents?

All of these things - and more - are contributing to the problems. I'm a huge fan of the tv show THE WIRE, and if you watch it - particularly season 4 - you get a lot of insight into how kids end up on the streets and angry.

I've heard it said that if kids have just one adult they feel comfortable talking to, it reduces the chances of them committing suicide significantly. If that's the case, then imagine all the other positive benefits. Being loved, feeling a sense of security... these things need to come from home in order to give kids the anchor they need in their teen years.

Sadly, we can talk about the potential contributing factors all day, and it isn't going to change anything. We do need tougher sentences for youth. In behavioural psychology we covered all the different theories, but the one that stuck as the best approach was logical consequences. In my limited experience from working with kids, what I see is that most are moving between two houses, and there's little communication between those environments. Punishments don't carry over. Mom grounds Junior and says he can't play the X-Box. Junior goes to Dad's the next night, and he wants to have fun during his two days, not fight, so he lets Junior stay up until midnight, watch South Park, play the Wii and do pretty much whatever else he wants. Too many kids aren't being parented.

Increasingly, teachers are powerless to deal with discipline issues as well. The burden is now falling to the courts, and it's happening too late to be as effective as it could be. When I was in public school, you got sent to the principal's office, you got lines, you got detention, you missed recess, and for most of us that was a deterrent. Now, it doesn't seem like schools can do anything. I know that I've banned kids from field trips because of bad behaviour, and had to fight over it.

As a child, if I broke a friend's toy, I had to pay from my allowance to replace it. I learned to respect others and their belongings. Again, generally speaking, kids don't seem to be learning those lessons now, and we're left with putting the greater good ahead of the individual. The only other thing I can see giving a delinquent is community service, but in the case of Nakita McDaniels, I wouldn't trust her to be in the community unsupervised. She forfeited that right, and I'm glad the judge locked her up.

What these kids really need when they're locked up is therapy and a process that helps them reconnect to society. Unfortunately, I'm not sure the resources are in place for that everywhere.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Triple Your Pleasure

It's party time at On Life & Other Inconveniences as we celebrate great new books hitting the shelves today. Tom Piccirilli and Barbara Fister are my special guests for a three-way book launch! Cool, huh? We're book launch triplets. Before we crack open the champagne and 70s disco music (so Tom feels more at home*) I weaseled a little bit of information out of Barbara and Tom.

First up: Barbara Fister A moderator for the wondrous list, 4MA, Barbara works in a library and has the nickname Barfly. Really, the keg I ordered is just for her... (Okay, seriously, I have no idea how she got the nickname, but I wish I had a cool nickname like that!)

Your new book is called IN THE WIND. Where did the idea for the title come from?

Well, it’s a Dylan reference tied to the fact the story is about a Vietnam War-era crime, and a reference to the setting (the Windy City), and slang for being a fugitive, which is the status of the character in the book who my narrator is helping, a woman who is being hunted now for the murder of an FBI agent 35 years ago. Also, I seem to have a prepositional phrase thing going on with my titles . . .

What's the hardest thing for you about writing? What's the easiest?

I need a lot of time these days for ideas to ripen, for the shape and feeling of a story to emerge. I don’t know if it’s because I am a more critical reader, so have higher standards than when I first started to write fiction, or if I’m just slowing down. At the moment, revisions may be the easiest part because I have an editor who is very good at putting her finger on things she feels need work, and I kind of enjoy renovating manuscripts.

What's the one thing you most want readers to take from the experience of reading IN THE WIND?

I hope they enjoy the ride while having something engaging to think about. It’s quite a political story, but also one with a strong emotional component.

What do Barbara Fister and Anni Koskinen have in common? What things are opposite about Anni and Barbara?

I hope I have some of the moral fiber that Anni has, and her sense of justice. But she’s braver than I am, and she’s spent ten years as a cop in a very rough part of town, while I’m a librarian and am too soft-hearted to even scold the students when they act up. I had a pleasant, safe childhood in a university town, but she’s a mixed-race woman who was abandoned by her mother and grew up in foster care trying to look after an autistic brother. I think we’d get along, though, wimp that I am.

As a native of Wisconsin and a current resident of Minnesota, why Chicago?

The short answer is that I live in a very small town, and I’d rather live in a very big city, so I do it vicariously. Chicago is in many ways the quintessential American city. It’s diverse and has over 200 distinct neighborhoods, including pockets of terrible poverty. There’s certainly no shortage of crime to go around. But it is nevertheless amazingly friendly. I’ve spent a fair amount of time there and just fell in love with the place.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Now, Tom Piccirilli. Tom hangs his hat primarily at The Big Adios, when he isn't busy writing horror and crime fiction novels.

Where did the idea for the title to THE COLD SPOT come from?

I'm an emotional guy, and of course most of my protagonists, no matter what their backgrounds, are as well. But I wanted my protagonist in this one, Chase, to have a place where he could go inside himself where all the frustration and fear and pain is cooled down so that he can put on an icy demeanor and get the task at hand done. In this case, it's about getting revenge on a group of diamond heisters who've done some very bad things, and so he has to tap into a very dark portion of himself to help him keep after them.

THE COLD SPOT marks the launch of a new series. What do you like most about the idea of continuing with Chase in future books?

There's a great deal of backstory between my young thief Chase and his career criminal grandfather. There's a deep well there that I can return to again and again, and I can keep plying the action and the painful personal history between them.

You've written in different genres. Does that help keep you on your toes as an author, keep you from coasting? What do you like most about switching genres?

It's not so much about keeping me on my toes as it is about allowing me to become a part of the literature that I enjoy and admire so much. I read all kinds of fiction, all across the board, from SF to high fantasy to horror to thrillers, so it only makes sense that I'd want to somehow impress myself upon the history of those various fields. I want to take the elments that make up those other genres and distill them through my own style, themes, and voice to see if I can manage to make some small mark on those different types of fiction.

You've had numerous books published over the years. I'm going to ask an evil question... which is your personal favorite and why?

I think I have two. THE DEAD LETTERS and THE COLD SPOT, and I think they're my favorites for the same reason. They each have very forward-driving front stories but also have a lot of depth were personal themes are concerned. They're my most mature works, meaning I was stretching myself quite a bit to talk about matters that are very important to me, and yet I think they're both very fun books. I managed to say what I wanted to say about the world and not get in my own way while doing it.

With all the experience you have with the book business, do you get nervous when a new book is coming out?

No, not at all. If I was going on major book tours or showing up on Oprah, it would be a whole different thing. But as it is, I just look forward to reader reaction and hope the books keep selling.

Now, it's a three-way book launch because (as most of you know) today also marks the official release of my new book.

I don't think anyone needs to hear more from me...

I mean, if you're desperate, there's the latest in-depth interrogation by Damien Seaman and there's the first grilling I got from him.

January Magazine ran a nice profile (that's mercifully much shorter) and WHAT BURNS WITHIN was put through the Page 69 Test.

For anyone curious about the opening scene to WBW, Dorchester ran a piece that includes the scene, and the true story that inspired the scene.

I've collected together all the great reviews that have come in so far at my website.

And today, I'm on the Oprah of the blogs... CRIMERANT, where award-winning authors Gregg Olsen and M. William Phelps tackle the latest in true crime. My own part of the story will be familiar to some, but it connects to the context of what I'm talking about, and it's probably the most extensive account of the incident I've ever given online, plus there's a hint about what readers have to look forward to in WHAT BURNS WITHIN's follow-up, THE FRAILTY OF FLESH, due out in November. You can check it out here.

Or carry on with the partying, and don't forget to congratulate Tom and Barbara! My thanks to them for joining me here, 'cos I'll be honest, sitting here just talking about my own book wouldn't be nearly as much fun. When you're trying to get a book deal you just dream about getting published, and never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I'd be sharing an online book launch party with two such talented and amazing people.

Cue Classic Party Music...

(Not always a fan of amateur takes on classic songs, but this one has some pretty good shots.)

And one of my favourites, as I'm a huge Peanuts fan.

* Just kidding. I think.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Cyber-Tracking and 123 meme

I was delighted to note that yesterday, out of the latest 100 visitors as of the time I checked, 6 had gone to look at Dorchester's website while only two had gone to read about masturbation.

Maybe I'm attracting a better class of readers these days.

Okay, seriously, there are a few new things out in cyberspace that may be of interest. First, Brian modifies the rules to do the 123 meme I tagged him with for the novella he's reading and Barbara Fister and Amra Pajalic also chimed in, so my rate of return came in a bit higher than I thought.

While I'm at it, I promised to redo the meme myself, because I was caught with it when I was at my sister's.

I've done step 5, so again, steps 1-4:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open it to page 123
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.

The nearest book: PAYING FOR IT by Tony Black

The fifth sentence: I shook my head.

The next three sentences: Don't know why, had seen this all a million times before. Somehow, today, things seemed that little bit more annoying. This place was riding on my nerves.

And dang, wish I could finish off the page, because the next few lines made me laugh. You'll just have to get your own copy if you want to know what's said.

A little while back, I shared the link to Damien Seaman's interview with me at Pulp Pusher. He actually did one monster interview (pressing on to almost three hours on the phone) and split the goods in two. Now, you can read the other half of our exchange at Noir Originals.

And there will be something else tomorrow - I'll be guest blogging at Crimerant to mark the "official" shipping date of the book (although I know it's already available). I'll post the link here when the post is up.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Problem Solving, Animal Attacks & Raising Kids, etc.

When Bunny texted me the photo of my box of author copies I called him and asked how they looked.

He said the box got pretty banged up so a couple were bent up a bit.

Which wasn't what I meant at all. How did they look inside?

I don't think he thumbed through all 39 books that arrived, but the ones he looked at were fine.

Now, there are certain things that will strike fear in the heart of any author. An impending Kirkus review. Their editor being fired months before their publication date. A copycat photo on the cover that will be picked on at The Rap Sheet.

And the biggie... A printing problem.

I've heard absolute horror stories about printing problems. I heard one story that involved a defective cover, resulting in the recall of a whole print run... and the author was dropped because they didn't qualify the returns.

So, when you hear that there's been a printing problem you reach for a paper bag to help you breathe.

It turns out, as far as we can tell, Norby got the one, lonely copy with a printing problem. My editor checked all the copies at the office. My author copies (as many as Bunny checked) seem to be fine. Randy's reading the book and didn't notice chapter 1 was all screwed up, so it's looking good.

The great thing is, Norby knows me, so she let me know right away. I followed up with the team at Dorchester, and resident marketing goddess Erin offered to replace the copy for Norby. How sweet is that?! And the advantage is, the faulty copy will be given to the printers, so they can see if they can pinpoint what went wrong and make sure it doesn't happen again.

Problem solved.

And in San Francisco, the problem of Pierre the Penguin's swimlessness has been solved with the creation of a wetsuit specially designed for him. Apparently he's not getting a matching surfboard, though.

Animal Attacks

Last week, I was flipping channels and ended up listening to some commentary on THE VIEW. It was then that I learned about the parents who'd turned their 18-year-old son over to police when they discovered chemicals needed to build bombs and a journal detailing plans to blow up his high school.

Joy Behar kept talking about aren't there warning signs with these kids? She did mention animal attacks.

It got me wondering: how many times has a dog been euthanized for suddenly displaying aggression and trying to bite someone, when in reality it was defending itself against a kid who was starting to cross the line? (Not to be confused with animals that attack, but you can read about The Revenge of the Killer Duck by following the link.)

I don't know if Joy is a parent or not, but I am completely confident in saying this: most parents want to believe the best about their kids. I mean, come on. How many are shocked when their teenage sweetie gets pregnant (uh, Mrs. Spears is coming to mind at the moment) or they find out they've been skipping school or something?

I can actually understand that moment of shock, discovering those things, and the automatic voice in your head that says, "Not my baby. This must just have been a way of venting, that's all. He wouldn't actually do this." Probably because I've seen the responses of parents when I've had to address discipline issues in the past.

I know my child. My child would never do that.

Ah, see, that's why we filmed them today, so you can see for yourself...

We see warning signs with people all the time and don't intervene because we don't know what to do, and we want to believe the best. Those parents did what was probably the hardest thing they've ever had to do in their life... it's really not that easy.

Kids become teenagers, and they're like aliens. Uncommunicative, convinced their parents don't understand. Many parents don't build positive relationships and foster open communication in the formative years - which is critical - and by the time kids are teenagers it's too late. They don't have the habit of talking to their parents, don't feel they can, and hell, the parents think this is normal. Sadly, it is, but it shouldn't be.

(Thanks Norby)

And if you want your kids to talk to you, you have to talk to them.

Yeah, yeah, the non-parent is dispensing parenting advice. I've worked with enough children over the years, and have seen the differences in how staff interact with kids, and why some kids open up to some staff and not others. My ex-husband always said I should forget the past, but my own philosophy is that we don't learn from it unless we process it. I've talked bluntly with my niece about some things that happened to me in high school. I'm okay with admitting my own mistakes, or stupid things I did in my youth... and then saying that I just hope she doesn't have to go through that.

Because that's the point, isn't it? Parents often come down hard on their own kids because they don't want them to make the same mistakes they made when they were their age. Responding with judgment and scorn isn't going to make kids want to talk to you. You have to be human enough, and vulnerable enough, to try to understand what's going on with them, and cut them some slack because - after all - they're only human and not one of us on this planet is perfect.

Although I suspect that the parents of four teenagers charged after a stolen pickup crashed in Bracebridge aren't too happy today...

On a totally different note, there's a nice feature on author Sujata Massey in the Baltimore Sun.


I almost don't want to mention this, because I don't want my mini-rant associated with a moment of tragic loss that will haunt a family for a lifetime. None of what I've said is about them. Sadly, I'm aware of the side-effects of anti-depressants, and I might draw small consolation if I believed this tragedy would influence some change in how people given such medications are monitored. A Carlton University student was laid to rest yesterday, believed to have committed suicide because of the side-effects of the prescription she was given. It's been on my mind a lot. My heart goes out to the family, which I'm sure is no comfort to them in this difficult time, and everything I say here sounds cliche. Does it sound any better to say I've shed my tears for you from afar?

Probably not.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Yeah, It's Kind of Cool

They're here.

Well, to be technical, they're there. In Maryland, with the boyfriend. He sent me the photo after he opened the box (which was unnecessary, because the box had been ripped open in shipping, with one of my author copies being liberated along the way).

Still, it feels good to know they're there.

Then, total weirdness... I drop by my publisher's excellent website (truly, one of the best out there for selling books - I mean, you can actually find what you're looking for!) and find my book on the front page.

Now that's cool.

Dorchester is also way ahead of the game when it comes to author profiles on the site. Yesterday, I linked to the author snapshot in January Magazine, done by the wondrous Linda L. Richards. I mentioned the personal inspiration behind the opening scene of the book. At Dorchester's site, you can read a bit more about that, and also read that opening scene.

Okay, enough about me. If you want to get your knickers in a twist today, you can join the fray at Gawker, dissecting the poster for the new Batman movie and why it's bringing 9/11 to mind for some.

And if you'd just like to read about a new book not written by me, let me direct you to Steve Mosby, who has his first review in for his latest, Cry For Help. I'd also like to point out that Tom Piccirilli's latest, The Cold Spot and In The Wind by Barbara Fister come out the same day as my book, so I feel confident assuring you there will be something new and excellent to read on store shelves next week, because I've already read and reviewed Tom's book, and I'm dying to get my hands on Barbara's.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Because I'm Concerned About Your Health

Study finds masturbation may prevent prostate cancer.

Apparently, if you're a woman, there are presently no known fringe health benefits.

This public service announcement brought to you by Whoopi Goldberg, leading the campaign for smokers' casinos.

Fridays: The Books You Have To Read

Patti Abbott had the wonderful idea of talking up the books that might have been forgotten over the years. We all know the blockbusters, the big hits, but every year there are gems that don't catch on in the mainstream, and it's a shame, because they're incredible books that deserve to reach a wider audience.

Honestly, it was hard to know who to write about. There were so many options, especially since I read a lot of books that don't have US deals yet, and it's tragic. However, I ultimately decided the book I wanted to talk about today that shouldn't be overlooked is...

James Reasoner's DUST DEVILS

James Reasoner is the real deal, with dozens upon dozens of titles to his name. DUST DEVILS earned starred reviews in both Publishers Weekly and Booklist, and that comes as no surprise to me.

Set the scene: You know those hot summer days, the ones when it's quiet, but not a calm quiet? The ones when you can sense trouble is on the horizon, just waiting to be unleashed? That's the way it feels when Toby goes to the farmhouse, looking for a job. He's determined, and he's set his sights on this particular place.

Why that farm? Well, that's the first twist in a story that shows how an expert weaves an intricate tale so skillfully you don't always see the twists coming. They sneak up on you, and with every new revelation you're drawn deeper into the story, turning the pages because you have to know what happened. This is a short book that packs a hell of a lot in its 152 pages and is worth every moment you'll spend reading it, and then some, so what are you waiting for? Order your copy today.

Patti recruited an impressive list on contributors to start. You should make a point of dropping by Patti's, Bill Crider's, Bo Fexler's, Anthony Neil Smith's, Sandra Scoppettone's, Patrick Shawn Bagley's, Josephine Damian's, the Random Acts of Kindness blog, Travis Erwin's, Lisa Kenney's, and Brian Lindenmuth's, for all the other book recommendations.

It's my understanding that now, I have to tag someone, who will make a post like this next Friday. This time, I'm going to tag John Scalzi, because this is an idea worth spreading on to other parts of the blogosphere, and hopefully, it will find its way into other genres as well, highlighting their gems that deserve to reach a wider audience. And I think I'm 1 for 5 off my tag list from earlier in the week, so my rate of return can't get much worse anyway.

And for those interested, January Magazine has me in their Author Snapshot this week, with a photo I've never let anyone see before.

Which makes it sound special, but it really isn't.

And now, back to packing and general insanity.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Could 'The Wire' Be Misogynistic?

I'm quoted in the Maclean's magazine article of the same title, which is available to read online. The source is a set of posts I started, about the female characters on the show. I got side-tracked (with the divorce and the book and book edits and all that other stuff) and have been planning to finish the other seasons.

I'm not sure if I should be awed or depressed to be cited as a critic to what is my favourite television show, and arguably the best show of all time. I do, however, think that there's an argument to be made, that female characters were not as fully explored as they could have been. I know that Brian (see link to forum) had been planning to present an argument about why season 5 should have dealt with the foster care system, and there's a lot of incredible and shocking material there to explore.

I have been watching season 5 again (bless pvr) and it has improved on me with the second viewing, but I still feel seasons 1, 2 and 4 were the strongest. That said, even a weak season 5 blows the socks off anything on network television.

And for the person who wants to fill David Simon's shoes and do more of Baltimore, at least there's plenty of ground left to cover. Heck, I'd been thinking that, despite my forthcoming move there, that David and Laura had the city wrapped up and I'd stick with my terrain - Canada.

Now, I might be tempted to reconsider.

The Ones With Power To Hurt You

The people we've been closest to in our lives know just what to say to devastate us. It doesn't matter if logic even reveals what they've twisted, or omitted from the relay of examples, that distorts reality - sometimes, when you're going through a lot of stuff you're too emotionally raw to distance yourself.

The truth is, much of what we do in life involves risk. I remember as a child a profound sense of disappointment with people. I felt alienated at home (which I've explained before and don't need to rehash) and I never really seemed to find my group that I fit in with. Friends came, and friends went. People were fickle. I understood that as a child. Recess would be better spent reading, because books didn't let you down.

I don't really think of myself as a happy child.

I guess it's a stronger person than me that gets to the point where they don't care about the approval of their closest family and friends. Do you have any idea how many people have told me I'm crazy, trying to write a novel and get published? Actually, if you're an author, odds are you can relate.

It stings, because that's your dream. I know the parenting instinct is to shelter your child from pain, to not want them to have to experience disappointment... But what if you end up being the person who destroys their dream instead, so they just associate you with your lack of belief in them? We're not always rational or able to distance ourselves from hurt enough to look at things objectively.

You have to be careful how you dispense criticisms, or concerns, to those you care about. Whether it's going to college, taking a job, moving in with someone special or getting married, it all involves a certain amount of risk. Unless you're going to work for the family business where you have a cushy, secure job, there are no guarantees in anything.

What I think we all want is the support that tells us that when we climb out on the limb, if it breaks, they're going to pick us up and dust us off... Instead of pointing a finger and saying I told you so.

I feel like there are a lot of people in my life right now just waiting to say I told you so.

What it tells me is that if I end up face down in the dirt this time, I'll be picking up the pieces on my own. This isn't about my parents, but I'm thinking of someone else - someone I've never met but have a connection to - who can probably appreciate exactly what I'm saying. The judgment and disapproval of a parent who doesn't support your dreams for the future can be a devastating thing, and it can make you build a wall around yourself and shut that person out.

We all want our friends and family to be happy for us, don't we? I'm tired of the spiel about whether or not relationships will last. There's no guarantee. Some people stay married for thirty years or more, every day miserable, admitting readily they don't love their spouse. Is that noble? Is that what we should strive for? That all that matters is the absolute proof that something will last forever?

I'm sorry - life doesn't provide those guarantees. Funny how, after eight years of marriage, you can hear people say I always knew it wouldn't last. You know, if it had lasted two months, heck, even just two years, that might be a fair shot. When it comes from people who themselves haven't been married eight years yet, well... watch yourselves.

We all want to protect those we care about from being hurt, and that's a noble thing, but the best thing you can do for a person is to be there without judgment, to let them know you'll help them pick up the pieces if they take a fall.

Give Up

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

We Interrupt This Meme... bring you Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Yes, that's right: Peter Rozovsky hit me with the latest meme and I have been caught at the playroom, with the closest books to me being Walter The Farting Dog and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

Neither have 123 pages.

Not even together.

And I refuse to use my own book, which I'm working off of for promo stuff at the moment, so I am amending the meme just a wee bit.

Before I get to the meme, I do have some things to mention.

Damon does ComicCon.

Marshal Zeringue has plugged Damien Seaman's first interview with me. He's mentioned WHAT BURNS WITHIN in new books and
mentioned this on Campaign For The American Reader.

And ultimately, he put WHAT BURNS WITHIN through the
Page 69 Test. You can follow the link for an excerpt, and to see how it stacked up.

Montreal advances to round two of the Stanley Cup finals, but after fans took to the streets in celebration and burned police cars and damaged businesses, one has to wonder: what would they have done if Montreal had lost?

Now, back to the meme. Here's the way it's supposed to work:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open it to page 123
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you (and I understand that etiquette calls for you to avoid "tagging" someone else who has already been sent the meme, if possible).

So, I'm going to give you the stunning intro to Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett.

We were all sitting around the big kitchen table. It was Saturday morning. Pancake morning. Mom was squeezing oranges for juice. Hentry and I were betting on how many pancakes we could eat. And Grandpa was doing the flipping.

Seconds later, something flew through the air headed toward the kitchen ceiling... and landed right on Henry.

(Eee, gads, what could it be? I can't believe you're going to leave me in suspense like that Sandra! This is turning into a real nail-biter...)

And on to Walter The Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray.

"Well, he smells awful," said their mother. "I think you'd better give him a bath."

Mother walked in and said, "He still smells awful."

And that's when they got the first clue. The tell-tale bubbles in the water.

"He's probably just a little nervous," said Mother, hopefully. "His stomach must be upset."

But Walter's stomach wasn't upset. Walter's stomach was fine. He felt perfectly normal. He just farted a lot.

(I promise to post a "proper" page 123 thing when I get back to my books.)

Now, I do have to tag five people, and try not to re-tag people who've already been tagged, so I'm going to tag: Brian Lindenmuth, Amra Pajalic, Barbara Fister, Vincent Holland-Keen, (who probably thinks I was abducted by aliens several months ago) and MG Tarquini.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Where There's Trouble, There's Barbara Fister ;)

Okay, right off, I'm joking. However, I have been meaning to link to Barbara's article, What If You Ran Your Bookstore Like A Library? for a while. Some of you may recall that I quoted Barbara in the article I wrote on author marketing.

I think Barbara and I are pretty like-minded about the problems with author marketing and the increasingly pushy approach that's being employed and endorsed by authors on blogs, forums and discussion lists.

However... I'm going to play devil's advocate here for a moment. (Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater here - read on when your blood pressure goes down...) Do readers have any responsibility for the bad behaviour of authors?

Okay, I don't really think so. In fact, going over Barbara's article, there are several great suggestions for encouraging the purchase of new books - including the 20% discount off the next purchase. But this is what I got thinking about over the weekend.

It used to be that publishers would take 6, 7, 8, 9 books to nurture an author, to give them a chance to break through and have their backlist catch on. I mean, think of Ian Rankin. Book 8 in the Rebus series explodes. He wins awards and gains international recognition. And - joy oh bliss - his publisher has 7 books already published forming a backlist that's suddenly in hot demand. They're making tons of money off the breakthrough book and the backlist, and to date he's sold more than 17 million books worldwide.

Truth is, anyone in business knows you have to invest a certain number of years before you can expect to turn a profit. My brother-in-law runs his own business, my ex-husband used to. Different businesses, but similar philosophies. Don't really expect to be out of the red in the first three or four years. Sometimes longer. You have start-up costs, and more promotion involved early on in order to make people aware of you. Once name recognition and word of mouth kick in, then your costs level while demand increases (hopefully). My parents own their own business - that's definitely how I observed it working. Referrals alone drove a hefty percentage of work.

Increasingly, however, publishers aren't willing to put the investment in with newer authors and take the time for them to grow. While it's true nobody knows for certain what will sell, it's also true that failing to market the books almost completely ensures they won't sell. And that's a growing problem.

Publishers blame uncertainty in the industry. They blame declining book sales... in essence, they're blaming readers for not buying more books. Is that fair?

Well, I can talk out of both sides of my mouth here. For one thing, I love libraries, and used to work in one. But I'm a book addict, and I prefer to own my own copies. Other things - online book exchange places - don't resonate with me at all. I'd never sign on or get with that. Doesn't make it right or wrong, just totally not my thing.

I like new books. I love owning books. I love being able to refer to my favourites. I never want to be in a house with nothing to read when the power is out. I spend all day writing on a screen... I don't want to spend my evening reading from one.

So, publishers blame readers (without using those exact words). And readers blame publishers, for the rising prices, lack of promotional benefits with purchasing books, poor editing, photoshopped art. And who can blame them? If you're going to spend money, you want to spend money on a quality product and know you're getting value for your dollar.

Who really is to blame? It doesn't really matter, does it? After a while, it's like a feud or vendetta, the "he said, she said" scenarios where so many sins have been added to the first offense nobody can keep track anymore. The reality is, it's a vicious cycle, and the choices made by each side (for lack of a better term) cause the gap to widen and fuel the fire.

The fantasy/sci fi/horror community has had a lot of success with limited edition collectible books, some selling for over $100 per copy. Original art. Signed by the author. Beautiful work, all-round, and they sell out in a snap. Why? Quality product. We have a tendency to thumb our noses at those genres because they don't have the market share mystery enjoys, and yet they're wiping the floor with us with these beautiful books, and with promotion. There's no such thing as a mystery pioneer giving away free podcast downloads of their novel - fantasy & sci fi has been doing this for years. If we stopped looking down our noses, we might learn a thing or two from them.

This leads to what got me thinking about this, though. Lack of book sales=lack of publisher support to build a backlist=more authors desperate to sell well early on to stay published=all kinds of irritating and obnoxious promotional tactics under the sun employed by desperate authors afraid of being dropped by their publisher.

All I know for me is, I buy books. I buy a lot of books. I'm not responsible for the decline in book sales that's resulting in trimming from publishers, which is affecting the quality of art, editing and ultimately feeding the over-the-top terrorizing authors engage in in the name of promotion.

But how do we break the cycle?

I think Barbara is actually heading in the right direction. We can't blame libraries. They're to us what radio is to music, and believe me, I know first-hand musicians love radio. They get a lot of exposure via radio. And it doesn't matter how many times I've heard a song for free - if I really like it I have to get the CD for myself.

We need to find ways to foster a strong reading culture, and a strong book-loving culture. That's where our energy should be invested, as opposed to promotional gimmicks.

Here's one thing I've learned with the new book: nothing I do (other than writing the best book I can) can compete with bookstore real estate. That's why I've been encouraging people who are considering purchasing the book online to consider Barnes & Noble instead of Amazon. I'm getting good real estate in some B&N stores to coincide with my release. And let's face it - nothing in the world is going to trump the sales advantage from good product placement.

Likewise, there's little you can do to compensate for poor product placement, or a failure to get your book stocked in stores. A lot of authors are spinning their wheels working books that have an automatic limited potential, because they don't have the distribution needed to sell more than a few hundred copies.

People have money for their fancy coffees and eating out and movies and all sorts of other things. It isn't that people can't afford books (some can't, this is true, some are on fixed incomes - I'm talking generally here) but it's that people don't see the value in what they're getting.

That's what we have to show them. And I believe that if we can find ways to nurture a strong reading culture, we'll all see the long-term benefits. No, the problem in the book business isn't with readers not buying enough books...

It's that we've failed to listen to our customers to make sure we're meeting their needs and adapt to remain commercially viable without compromising quality. Just today, there's another discussion on 4MA about poor book editing, and you can hardly drop by The Rap Sheet and not see a recent post about copycat book covers. As long as the publishing business is feeding this kind of negativity, it's signing its own death warrant.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Free Speech, Thin Skins

A few days ago, I mentioned the latest internet brouhaha, over an author who threatened a reader who wrote a review.

I linked to Tess Gerritsen's blog, because that was my primary source of information. I have not gone over to the original site, or read further details about this case, or the alleged lengthy string of comments that continue to be posted against some authors over this.

Why? Because garbage like this is prevalent on the internet, and life has enough worries of its own without letting myself get dragged into another losing battle. Yes, losing battle. At the end of the day, nobody wins from these conflicts. People only get hurt on both sides and are left with hurt feelings and frustrations they can't work out.

I don't say it lightly. I've been in my share of scraps online. I'll certainly stand my ground on a lot of things, but more often than ever before, I've been able to walk away from conflicts. The reason isn't because I don't care. I think part of it is that I've been so overwhelmed with my own personal situation that I just don't have the energy for it, and ultimately, this has been a very good thing, because it's enabled me to let go of a lot of stuff that really isn't that important to me, personally.

Now, despite the fact that I haven't been blog-hopping much lately, I did take the time to comment over at Tess's blog on this topic. It was never about disagreeing with Tess so much as standing with the reviewer who'd been threatened. I have a thin skin when it comes to certain bullying behaviour, and what the author in question did goes way beyond inappropriate, in my opinion. Now, it's not a community I spend time in, or an author I read, so I haven't felt the need to go further than to offer my thoughts at Tess's blog and here.

Today, I learned that Tess has been attacked over her original post, and has subsequently decided to stop blogging. I'm saddened by this news, because I think Tess is one of the most genuine author bloggers out there. Agree or disagree, her posts have always resonated with honesty and a transparency that's lacking, particularly as more authors move to spit-and-polish artificial blogs designed to sell.

I also don't think that not blogging is going to solve this problem.

The real root of it is that so many (myself included at times) jump to conclusions without all the facts and then lash out and cast judgment before giving a person a chance to explain themselves. It's almost like people are hungry for the next big scandal. Dig in there, get all the dirt, take sides, gossip via e-mail.

Don't concern yourself with truth.

Now, personally, I couldn't really get with a black humour moment over what the original offending author did, because I have a real issue with bullies and with anyone who threatens children. End of story. My first thought was that I couldn't believe this author had behaved in such a way, and then that they should be ashamed of themselves, and hopefully charged.

I lack a sense of humour, but on this one, I'll offer no apology for that shortcoming.

However, that doesn't mean that I don't respect Tess's right to make her post and look at different aspects of the situation. Honestly, maybe if I'd published as many books as Tess has and gone through all the amazon reviews and such that she's endured over the years, I might have found the notion of having amazon reviews removed of more immediate interest.

And the truth is, how much can we emotionally invest in all these battles? They're tiresome. Truly wearying.

I didn't bring this up on my blog because I wanted to pile on - I didn't mention the original author by name. I just vented some of my disgust with the type of behaviour we're starting to see, and I wanted to stand in support of the reader who wrote the review.

I mean, for crying out loud, every other day it seems we're reading about declining review space or authors bemoaning the lack of reviews. If a reader takes the time to post reviews on amazon after reading your book, be happy. Be thankful someone read your work and actually invested the time and energy to share their views.

We started with one situation where an author bullied and threatened a reader, and ultimately, another author was badgered to the point they felt they needed to withdraw from blogging. I haven't read the posts, so I can't say if that was the intention or not, but this isn't a solution. I understand there are a lot of strong feelings on this topic, but we do need to remember that a person has the right to free speech.

And as a Canadian, can I be just bold enough to point out that thousands of men and women have died to preserve that right for Americans, and right now thousands more are risking their lives every day? What a disservice we do to their sacrifice when we pressure people until they feel they can't be honest.

Tess wasn't being a bully. She just chose to look at different aspects of the situation and avoid attacking the original author. I can understand that.

After all, there have been enough conflicts online for us all to find times when we're just too weary of the bickering to want to get involved. The difference here is that the first author threatened a reader, and their family. Tess admitted maybe she could have phrased things differently.

The first author committed a crime. Fair enough to be upset about that, but where Tess is concerned, I say let the first person who hasn't worded something poorly or said something offhandedly that they've later regretted cast the first stone.

Remember what they say about people who live in glass houses.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"It's a Guy Thing"

In the years I spent working in education, I worked with literally hundreds of children. I've worked with children with autism, children with fetal alcohol syndrome, sotos syndrome, brain damage... Kids with behavioural problems (a bulemic five-year-girl, a boy the same age with oppositional defiance disorder). Boys with ADD. Girls in recovery from sexual abuse... and boys in recovery from sexual abuse.

I've worked with toddlers, with pre-school children. I worked in a kindergarten, and I did my practicum for college at the grade 1 level. And I've worked with kids 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 years old.

The point is, I've had experience with a wide range of children. There is a tendency to judge a woman my age who doesn't have kids of their own, to assume I don't like kids, or to think that I'm incapable of handling them. And for those that don't know my background and just take me at face value (woman in 30's with no child) they think I might be able to handle a girl, but that I'd be out of my depth with a boy.

Really, I've heard it all at one point or another. The point of mentioning that is only to make it clear that people make assumptions on multiple levels about other people. If someone's fat they must overeat, not that they have a medical condition or that they put their back out and gained weight during the inactive period. If someone's skinny they must be fit - often not true either.

One thing I have learned from working with kids is that boys and girls, in general, are wired differently. Playing to percentages, in any given afternoon with preschool children, there's a fair chance a boy will go streaking through the room. I'm not saying it's a daily thing, but once every few weeks fits with some of my past experience. I used to aid a child with special needs in a preschool environment, and the boys in her group loved to run naked.

But I never once saw a girl do the same thing, in all the months I was there.

Put out different toys, and you know which ones are going to appeal to the girls, and which ones will appeal more to the boys. Some will appeal to both, and there are always exceptions... but we are wired differently.

I'll confess that every time I see some jerk in a truck (common around here) who thinks the rules of the road don't apply, who doesn't stop at stop signs (they seem to be optional in this village) and revs the engine to make a lot of noise as they blaze by going 80 in a 30 zone (the whole village is a 30 zone) I just figure they're compensating for what we might call their natural shortcomings.

Fair? Unfair? It is kind of sexist of me, but then we have situations like the bad crash in Calgary last week, single vehicle, two men in their 20s killed when thrown from the vehicle, speed and alcohol factors in the crash... Closed a whole road for several hours, it was that bad. Too many guys who think they're on their personal racetrack, getting scraped off the sidewalk later. It's tragic. (And playing to percentages again, how many women do we see doing this?)

The question is whether or not we'll rise to become more than our gender.

You see, as a child I may have been a tomboy, but I wasn't really sporty. I learned sports later. I'd still say now that I'm not terribly sports-oriented, but I had one job years ago where I ran with a pack of boys, 9-12 years of age, and they liked high energy stuff. None of the other staff (all female) wanted to deal with these boys...

So I took them under my wing. We played floor hockey and soccer. Dodgeball and played with scooters. We went sledding and skating. In the few hours in the afternoon that we had to do activities, I burned more calories than I could consume just keeping up with them.

Where's all this going? What's the point? My boyfriend sent me a link to a great article today, about a father who was determined to be more than his gender, and learn to do his daughter's hair. Now, it's funny, because my boyfriend has been basically a single dad for some time, and he definitely hasn't mastered the art of doing his daughter's hair...

But like the author of this article, he strives to be more than just the traditional dad to both of his children. I love the fact that the kids play with their toys in his bedroom in the morning, and leave their stuff scattered around on the floor. I have a photo of him with shamrock garland wrapped around his hair, courtesy of his daughter, in preparation for St. Patrick's Day. That speaks to me of the level of comfort that they have with their dad, and that's a great thing.

And for those of us who play the percentages and make assumptions, next time we see a man out with his children on the weekend, that might not just be dad's day out. More and more dads are assuming the full-time, or an equal share of, the parenting role and the winners are their kids, because in an ideal situation, kids will have a strong relationship with both parents.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Lessons For Authors From American Idol & Survivor

I'm not much of a reality TV watcher, although I've been following Survivor this past season, and my sister's family religiously watches American Idol, so while I've been staying with them I've been getting a full dose of the show.

And it got me thinking. Tonight, I watched as Kristy Lee Cook was voted off the show. Simon hadn't had high praise for either of the bottom two. He'd called Kristy's performance whiny and said that Brooke's was like ordering a hamburger and getting a bun with no meat. Ouch.

Here's where authors and singers are alike: scrutiny is part of our reality. While you have to work hard, hone your craft, learn the business to make it in music or in publishing, all you need is a mouth and a willingness to state your opinion to be a critic. You can go on amazon and rank our books and albums, or on forums and blogs and share your views with all who'll listen.

And here's where authors and singers are different: authors don't have to stand on a stage and get that kind of criticism thrown in their face, and take it publicly.

I'm starting to think that authors should be required to watch American Idol and Survivor. Really. Every time you think about throwing yourself a pity party because you got a bad amazon review, start thinking about how harsh it would be to stand on a stage and be criticized in front of millions.

I'm not saying that I think it's easy to get bad reviews. In fact, I know it sucks. But what I am saying is that if we put it in perspective, we can at least appreciate that it could be worse. We can take our lumps in the privacy of our own home 99% of the time, and don't have to put on a brave face when we feel like crying.

Another thing I've learned from American Idol: opinions are subjective. Okay, I didn't learn it from the show, but it's been drilled home. Look at Jason's performance. Randy was not down with it this week, but Paula and Simon loved it. (And how often does that happen? Randy's giving the thumbs down while Simon's giving compliments?) In fact, with most of the contestants there was a difference of opinion. Syesha is a great example. She was fantastic this week, absolutely impressive if you ask me... but Simon didn't think so.

Then I think about Survivor, and last week's tribal council. I think about what Alexis said about Eliza's social game, and there's a lot to take from that. Not everyone finds it easy to gel with large groups. Some players who may be strong and smart end up being eliminated early because they can't navigate the political waters or form alliances with the right people.

What does that have to do with the bad review author blues? It goes back to that point, that opinions are subjective. We all have different personalities, different tastes. If you're like me, you've had a moment when you've just seen someone and known instantly you'll get along, or that you won't. We connect to people in different ways.

It's the same with art. Music and writing... these are things that can be taken on two levels. I can appreciate that some contestants on American Idol can sing, and sing incredibly well, but their style isn't to my taste. I can respect their technical ability, but I won't be out buying their album. I'm not saying they can't sing; I'm saying what they sing and how they sing it isn't a style I prefer.

Does that sting? Yes. As an author, I appreciate that it stings, but we do have to come to terms with that.

I know as a reader, I wouldn't want someone stripping me of my right to like what I like, and I have to afford the same courtesy to others.

Now, amazon reviews are something that's been done to death. I don't want to go see my page filled with nasty one star reviews. I'll admit that... but I also trust in the intelligence of the majority of readers. If those nasty reviews are filled with personal jabs or unsubstantiated criticisms like "it sucks" and "can't write to save her life" or things of that nature, most readers will see them for what they are.

And in my experience, most people I know want to make up their own mind about books, and don't trust in the random comments of a stranger online to decide what they will and will not buy.

For those of you who haven't heard already, an author went to war with a reviewer on Amazon. I learned via Tess's blog, which gives more of the details about the situation. It gelled with what I'd already been thinking about during American Idol, because I think the author went way too far. Essentially, the author assaulted that individual's right to have an opinion.

Like I already said, I'm not going to say it doesn't hurt. It's one thing to vent on your blog and say you feel a review comes off as a personal attack. Let your readers decide for themselves, and if they agree you will have their full support.

But I don't care what this person said in their review - bringing their children into it is not acceptable. I've written about internet bullying before, but this is a particularly disturbing case to me. It seems as though this author has made what I'd consider to be threats, and if I was that reviewer I might consider my legal options.

After all, if a review really is "abuse" why not file a civil suit against the reviewer?

Unless, of course, you know the truth that the rest of us can plainly see - you're a bully, using legitimate disappointment to justify extremely inappropriate behaviour.

(Now watch me get my first bad review tomorrow after posting this, so I have to eat some crow. Meanwhile, if you want to read the latest wonderful review, check out Lenore Howard's take on Fresh Fiction.)

Your Mistake, You Suck It Up

When I was a child - maybe 7 or 8 - we were visiting family friends. My sister was the same age as their daughter, and I was feeling excluded. I found a way to get their attention, but bending the needle on the record player they were using.

I got in trouble, and I faced a serious consequence. I had to pay to have the needle fixed. It was a critical lesson for me to learn at that age. The fact that they were ignoring me and wouldn't play with me wasn't an acceptable excuse, and if you damage something that belongs to another person, you take responsibility for it. I believe it cost me $8, which back then seemed like a lot of money, and I'm sure it was to a child my age.

The weight of the consequence drove the lesson home.

These days, all too often, people don't take responsibility for their actions. On the one hand, sometimes I can understand mitigating circumstances. On the other, I've worked with too many children over the years to know that automatically going to the excuses is a good thing. It isn't. There's a real lack of respect and common courtesy being bred amongst an alarmingly high percentage of youth today, and I do believe part of the reason is because of the lack of consequences.

They aren't being taught that respect. They see it everywhere in society.

Now, I had my first baby-sitting gigs at the age of 11, and my first newspaper column at 13, and I also had my first job at the age of 13. I was a cashier in a store, and I made $3.15 per hour. Back then, I didn't handle closing out my till at the end of the day, and I was oblivious to the idea of being short. It wasn't until I moved on to other jobs that I started to deal with that, and learned I had to account for all the money in there, or missing from there.

Fast forward a few years, and I was working at Canadian Tire. Someone bought a swing set for their kids. In fact, they had a huge order, cartloads of stuff. This was pre-scanner days, or early scanner days, I guess. No hand-held things for you to move around and get the awkward stuff - you had to key in all those numbers. I was all too familiar with this, because I worked in receiving as well as cash during my CT days, so I'd spend a few days a week labeling products and getting them out to the store, and a few weeks getting them out of the store.

Anyway, I missed an item. The swing set.

Because I knew who'd purchased it, I was able to call them and explain my error. I still remember the guy on the phone saying, "And if we don't come in and pay, you'll have to pay for it." Yes. But he didn't torture me for long. He automatically said, "I'll be in this afternoon."

Such purchases were often handled by floor staff who read out the product numbers to us, but that doesn't matter. End of the day, I'm responsible for what's in my till, and what isn't.

Now, what exactly is the point of all this personal history? I hate service bills. Absolutely hate them. Don't mistake me - my credit is clean - but I do have an issue with some services that work on billing systems.

For example, let's start with the energy provider here - not Enmax, I don't live in the city. The other one is who I deal with. A few years ago, I went on the monthly budget plan, which meant my bill should be the same every month - annual year's usage averaged out. Now, after two years of living in the same house, being billed monthly, you'd think they'd have a fairly decent idea of our energy usage. Seems reasonable to me.

It took forever for the bills to level off. Being told they'd be the same every month, it was a frustration to me that they still went up and down. Finally, they seemed to hold the same amount, for about three months, and then I opened a bill for over $1000. I can't remember the exact amount. I think it was about $1200.

Our monthly bill average had been under $200. Bear in mind, I'd been paying it every month too.

I blew a gasket. I called them up and asked what was going on. After all, I pointed out, we hadn't cut a hole in our house to let all the heat out.

Their response. "We made a mistake with your billing going back eight months."

You know what I would have liked to say to them? Well, yeah, you probably know.

My ex used to work in billing for different phone companies (not all in Alberta, and one of them was a US company, actually, so no assumptions about which ones). The only reason I mention it is that I'm aware of the fact that these companies often neglect to bill people for months - I know it from someone who was hired to create programs to clean up the problems.

So, switch gears. In the past two weeks, friends have told me a story about one of those phone companies, not billing them for several months. All of a sudden they get a bill for four figures. Ouch. What I want to know is, if the company can decide not to bill for six months on a monthly service, why do they think they can come after you for it later? And why do they think you should have to pay immediately?

In fact, they paid the bill, and the phone provider still cut off their service because they considered the account bad.

Yesterday, I again heard another story about bad billing, and this one had a kicker of a consequence to it. I happen to know for a fact that the company (who shall remain nameless, although I certainly don't plan to shop with them again myself and am glad I canceled my card with them a few years ago) sent bills for several months that said amount owing: 0.00 and in the space where you put in the amount to pay they put DO NOT PAY.

I saw the bills myself. No, not mine, but I had seen them.

They put a black mark on the person's credit report, saying they hadn't paid their bill for several months.

You know, if you let someone walk out of a store with merchandise they haven't paid for, and they attempted to pay for it, it's your mistake. If they come back and pay (if you even notice and ask them) then you're lucky.

If not, you suck it up. If I go through a check-out and notice when I get home I wasn't charged for something, sometimes I go back. And sometimes, it's a place too far away to make a special trip.

Ultimately, it isn't my fault. I did try to pay for it, I didn't try to steal it.

But these services that bill monthly seem to think they don't have to be accountable. In my opinion, it's one thing if a mistake happens for a month or two, but to go back six, eight, twelve months and try to collect because you screwed up?

And while I'm at it, what the hell is it with people who make bills due on the 1st or 2nd, knowing so many people get paid on that day? I've resisted internet banking or telephone banking to this point, which means that it takes a few days for payments to be processed. I know some people get paid every other week, but a very high number get paid on the 1st and 15th. Why is it these services don't ask for the best billing date for you so you can pay it for the 4th, instead of making you try to pay it for the 2nd? Heaven help you if the 2nd is a Sunday and you have it budgeted from your first of the month pay.

Fortunately, I haven't had too many real problems along the way, but there are a lot of families and individuals out there, scraping by. People are busy. We also fall victim to memory - I can remember paying several bills on several occasions, but was it this month or last month that I remember, or nine months ago? It all blurs eventually. It isn't surprising that in families where spouses share responsibilities for bills that missed billing might not get noticed right away.

So why am I not cutting the same slack to the companies? Billing is someone's job. Do your job. I know sometimes software sucks and there are mistakes on the other side (and I'm prepared for a potential earful from my boyfriend, who deals with balancing the books for a company) but I'm not talking about individuals taking responsibility. I'm talking about the companies. Give your employees what they need to do their job properly instead of being too cheap to fix problems you know about.

There's no excuse for an energy company to not be able to bill a house properly for several months, or a department store. And if they screw up and do come to you with a mistake, they should offer options to work out a payment schedule so they don't cripple people with a four-figure bill and expect them to pay it immediately. If it took you six months to figure it out, you should offer at least six months to the customer to sort it out.

Suck it up.

That's all I have to say.

(Today is 'Share your billing horror stories' day. Or just something I needed to get off my chest because it annoys me.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

You Know What They Say About The Word "ASSUME", Right?

When you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME. It can be easy to dish criticism about websites not updated or volunteer projects that seem to be behind schedule, when sometimes, the first thought shouldn't be that the volunteer is lazy, but rather than they're overwhelmed, facing a personal crisis, etc.

In fact, more often than not, I find that to be the case.

Now, spin this in a different direction. When I saw that a boy had inflated 213 balloons with his nose to try to gain a world record, half of me thought kids will be kids and the other half wondered if some day, he'd be embarrassed to be known for doing such a juvenile thing.

Then, I looked through the headlines, realized a volunteer at a church I have attended (not as a member, but a regular guest) has been charged with sexual assault. Puts it in perspective, doesn't it? What would you rather be known for?

There is part of me that is reserving judgment until the outcome of the trial. The timing of this news is a bit eerie, because it is two weeks until WHAT BURNS WITHIN comes out, and the interview on Pulp Pusher (which was done months ago) includes a question and some commentary that speaks directly to this: DS: Besides the police and fire departments, the book has a lot to say about social institutions such as social services, girl guides and the church. Was this intentional?

SR: It’s hard to say on everything. You don’t realise you’re doing it until you’ve done it.

Using the church group was more deliberate, as the youth pastor is automatically a suspect because he’s male. Writing about the church you bring in aspects of forgiveness. I had a church background – and have since left, by the way. But I saw cases of pastors accused of sexual impropriety. The accusations destroyed their careers. Something like that can devastate a life.

Here's to more kids being kids, and less heart-wrenching news, because the number of alleged victims certainly suggests this volunteer wasn't being appropriate... and no matter what comes out in the wash now - even if he is innocent - this will forever taint his life, and it isn't just about his life: the victims in this case will be scarred by how this affects them for years to come.

And with a court case in the works, it will be a long time before the journey to healing fully begins.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Best Author Moments...

There's little that, for me, tops the experience of having someone else get what you're trying to do with your work. That's why the best reward is always the reader who tells you how much they like your books. Some will chase after awards and bestseller lists, and those things are nice, but I didn't start writing to win awards. I started writing to tell stories I hoped readers would embrace.

And that's why I've found myself somewhat speechless since reading the latest review of WHAT BURNS WITHIN. To quote:

"Sandra Ruttan has gone to war under a banner of honesty, bringing an integrity to the genre that results in a bleakly depicted but ultimately compassionate, fascinating and meticulously researched police procedural that dares to say that we – as a community, city, society or culture – are entitled to believe we can become better people." – Declan Burke

The full review really nails the book down.

(I'm still in the midst of moving hell, and I'm only at the computer sporadically, but am trying to catch up...)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

What Do You Mean I Have To Wait A Millisecond?

My apologies for being a bit out of touch... again. I have sporadic e-mail at the moment. That means there's a list of things I need to send off, but they've been delayed a wee bit.

I'll be sure to let you know when I can resume something comparable to normal service, but for the moment I am just trying to stay on top of the e-mail and (hopefully) will catch up on a number of things later this week.

And if you want to laugh at me, click and scroll down a bit for a photo of our recent record-breaking snowfall.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Hot Topics Light My Fire

Curt Purcell offers up A Positive Account of Genre Fiction, which is presently generating some thoughtful comments. It's one of the most in-depth articles I've seen on the genre vs literature debate, and to be honest, I'm still processing it. For us in mystery, it's one of those topics that can get old fast, because we've been around the block with it so many times, but this is well worth the read.

Now, I don't wade into the genre vs literature debate in the first big interview to accompany the release of WHAT BURNS WITHIN, but I say plenty of other things that might get me into hot water. In fact, this interview was so extensive that a second part to it will run soon at Noir Originals.

And since there's more than enough to chew on elsewhere, I'll leave you to it.

Monday, April 07, 2008

my apologies for the frailty of flesh

There are times in your life that things are so bad all the cliches actually start making sense. Spinning out of control. Don't know which end is up. Emotional roller coaster.

And when you're there, the only thing you seem to know with certainty is just how messed up everything is.

Right now, I'm displaced. Sort of homeless, and I feel overwhelmed by the awareness that I don't have an anchor. I'm sitting here, listening to Russ Taff's WINDS OF CHANGE...

Well, I've seen my chances come and go
And come back round again
But everytime they took me by surprise
There was a day I used to want
the things I did not have
But it's never better on the other side.
Well, I've never gone so far that I've
forgotten my way home
The best things always bring you back again
over and over

The Hands of Time
Go Round and Round
They don't slow down when you lose your way
At every turn
The things you learn
You wear them proud like you wear your name
And as you go
On Down that road
Don't let the dust get in your eyes
It blows in the winds of change.

Hunger is no stranger
I've sat with him before
And everything I've done has not been good
As I've tried to make my stand
I've had to learn to fall
And maybe I've seen more than I should
But I've never gone so far that I've
Forgotten my way home
The best things always bring you back again

Sort of a psychological anchor, because when my life spirals I find myself listening to the music of my formative years, stuff a solid twenty years old, stuff that was on my (ahem) record player and in my tape deck when I was figuring out who I was and what I wanted in my life.

And not everything in my life has turned out the way I wanted.

I always feel a sense of responsibility to readers here, to be honest, and to be available. I'm sorry that I haven't been able to respond to all comments lately. I'm also sorry that I'm behind on e-mails and general correspondence, and I do need to update my website, because if you need to contact me now you should use sandraruttan.spinetinglermag at gmail dot com (remove the words and replace with symbols where appropriate).

I can't fully explain everything going on right now. The only thing I can tell you at this time is that I'm safe. That's really all that matters, but I do feel disoriented, and a bit lost. There is never a time when more is expected of you than in the weeks leading up to your book's release, and right now I have this overwhelming fear that I'm letting everyone down. I'm just trying to tread water and get the essentials done. Many of the things I thought were going to happen for the promotion of this book have fallen by the wayside, some with canceled interviews, some with things I just haven't gotten to yet. It's such a personal disappointment, because I've worked so hard for WHAT BURNS WITHIN, and for THE FRAILTY OF FLESH... and believe me, right now, I can relate to the hell I put my characters through in THE FRAILTY OF FLESH.

But more later. For now, I have things to smile about. I've got the new Deric Ruttan album on now (and wow, here's a ringing endorsement of a blog post not written by a third cousin) and I have the image of the book cover for THE FRAILTY OF FLESH on my computer, thanks to Erin @ Dorchester, who is the marketing goddess.

And for the people like you, reading, for Erin, who've worked so hard for me, I'm going to get the things done that I need to get done to make sure that I get those things I'm behind on done. (Wow, that made no sense at all. In other words, I'm going to be working hard to catch up.)

And I'm not sure why it's changing the colours, but it seems to be inverting the cover or something in the upload. Hmmm, weird... Ah, managed to fix it...

Friday, April 04, 2008

Reviews, Mistakes in Reviews & Free Books

In the midst of another discussion about reviewing I found myself facing another response to my new book.

"Promising talent Ruttan sets her gritty new detective series in Vancouver. It has a hard-edged feel and intriguing characters. ...this is a good start to an intriguing series." --Romantic Times Book Reviews

I haven't seen the full review. It's a nice endorsement... even if yet again, technically incorrect because my series is NOT set in Vancouver. However, you won't see me writing reviewers to argue the point. It's funny, because just yesterday I was telling someone about the one encounter I had on my recent trip to the US. When I told the guy I was from Canada he said, "It's pretty down there, isn't it?" And yes, he really did ask me if we had cities. Now, not one other person I met displayed such a lack of knowledge. In fact, most knew a fair bit about Canada... But I just can't seem to convey the difference between Vancouver and the Greater Vancouver Area.

How did I try to get this across in the book?

Craig felt the icy stare on him when he pushed the Bruce Cockburn CD into the player but he ignored it. It was as certain as death and taxes: Whatever he liked Lori Price would loathe.

Either that, or she derived some perverse pleasure from being difficult, which he had to admit was a distinct possibility.

Bruce sang about screaming police cars, drunks, tunnels and bike paths while Craig drove through his own beat. His RCMP detachment covered Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody, three of the twelve cities that, in conjunction with a few villages and municipalities, formed the Greater Vancouver Area, or GVA.

This part of the city suited him. Vancouver felt pressed in, coast on one side, the Fraser River to the south and Burrard Inlet to the north, with more condos than trees and more people per square inch on an average day than shoppers in the mall on Christmas Eve. At least, that’s how it felt. The entire GVA was caught in the pre-Olympic boom, with skyrocketing housing prices and construction everywhere. Every vacant lot was being eyed for development. The Tri-Cities, as Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody were known, were no exception, but they had redeeming qualities, with the provincial parks hemming the north side, offering easy access to Burke Mountain to the northeast. Port Moody was a haven within the urban sprawl, hemmed by the Burrard Inlet but serving as the gateway to Buntzen Lake and Belcarra Provincial Park, miles of wilderness with hiking trails and waterways to satisfy kayakers and hikers alike. Coquitlam itself was a city, no question, but it was one that nestled against the backdrop of Mother Nature. It wasn’t unusual for hikers to encounter bears on the trails at Rocky Point, or even the odd cougar, and the number of coyote attacks on pets and people alike had risen in recent years.*

It kind of drives me mental, perhaps more than it should. I remember a guest being at my house, in Ontario, years ago. He was on the phone, and clearly was asked where he was. He said, "I'm in Toronto." Toronto my ass. Gravenhurst is a solid two hour drive north of Toronto. It isn't even in the Greater Toronto Area. I was 19 at the time, and we'd only had a McDonalds there for two years and it was a thirty minute drive on the Trans Canada Highway to the nearest shopping mall. There are whole cities, such as Barrie and Orillia, in between Gravenhurst and Toronto. It's like someone who's in Edinburgh saying they're in Aberdeen.

So, my apologies to those in Vancouver, who do know the difference, and are bound to see the series labeled as a Vancouver series time and time and time again. Please remember the thoughts expressed in the quote above are Craig Nolan's, and not my own. I like Vancouver (and I think he exaggerates a bit about the condos and trees).

But, just to be technical, there isn't a point in time in either book one or two of the series that any events actually happen in Vancouver.

I'm still very pleased for the nice comments about the book, though.

I've also said my bit on the reviewing front. As much as it's nice for me to say I got another good response to the book, I fear most people just don't take most reviews seriously. I must say, I can understand volunteer reviewers abandoning bad books, but I do expect professional reviewers to wade through and give an assessment.

I also think if you have no concept of what someone dislikes you'll never really know if you trust their recommendations.

And I also think people love negative reviews. Come on, we used to watch Siskel and Ebert to watch those two go at it! There was no enjoyment in seeing them mutually gush over a movie, but when they disagreed sparks flew! If book reviewers invested such passion into talking about books I believe it would inspire more people to read those books, to see who they side with.

But I'm used to being ignored when I comment (and ultimately, some of these discussions are so pointless because it isn't as though anything is going to change) so I'm not even going to bother saying more. Brian prompted about as much of a response as I'm likely to give on the subject... and for those that care, this is part of the reason I'm reviewing at MBS these days. (Speaking of which, I need to finish my review of Tom Piccirilli's THE COLD SPOT...)

Since I was just talking about Brian, I have to give him another plug: he discovered a number of free books available via pdf download. AFRICAN PSYCHO was a book that both Brian and I positively reviewed last year, and there are others on the list people might want to check out.

And speaking of free books...
I am going to have some author copies to give away. However, in the midst of moving and changing e-mail addresses and all that jazz, I'm worried that I might lose track of info. But check back for a contest here in the next few weeks.

* Quote not from final edited version, but close enough.