Friday, May 30, 2008

Parenting 101

A few things I learned in my first full week as a parent.

1. There really isn't much you can do to comfort a screaming wet naked boy.
2. Sometimes, stairs aren't stairs.
3. Apparently, it isn't just a woman's prerogative to change her mind.

And yes, I can cook more than kraft dinner.

There's another review that's hit the internet for WHAT BURNS WITHIN. The unfortunate thing about these narrow doorways is that I already had trouble getting my butt through them, and now my head's getting stuck as well.

Seriously, I'm thrilled by the response to the new series thus far. But I'm even more thrilled about the fact that the kids are coming home tonight, and as of this weekend, it's the beginning of the big month of birthdays. We have parties to plan!

Have a great weekend everyone. Oh, and if you have any parenting tips for me, the comments are open.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Books vs Movies

Lists will always be controversial, and a list of 25 movies that are better than the book is sure to have at least a few people disagreeing.

The movies?

The Godfather
Jurassic Park
The Return of the King
What Dreams May Come
The Namesake
The Shawshank Redemption
The Princess Bride
Blade Runner
Forrest Gump
The Shining
The Hunt For Red October
Jackie Brown
About A Boy
Brokeback Mountain
The Children of Men
Field of Dreams
The Silence of the Lambs
Gone With The Wind
Fight Club
A Clockwork Orange
No Country For Old Men
The Birds

Uh... nobody tell the author of Brokeback Mountain. Have a feeling that wouldn't go over well.

I'm one of those people that thinks books are generally better than the movies. Looking over this list, I have to admit that I've read and seen The Return of the King, but that's the only one. And I can see the arguments both ways.

Geesh, it could get uncomfortable sitting on this fence.

Opinions? Other examples? I'm racking my brains, trying to think if there are other examples where I genuinely believe the film is better than the book, but of course I'm drawing a blank at the moment.

I wonder if Reel Fanatic will chime in? That could be interesting.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Political Values (Art & Censorship)

Do morals have any place in politics?

Seems a silly question on the surface. We'd all like to think presidents will be noble, but nobody wants to think about Bill Clinton running around the White House for four years with nothing to do, right? Whatever else he did in eight years in office, there's one main thing (or should that be person?) I remember...

I'm getting to the point where I'm not sure morals have any place in politics. First off, politicians are, well, politicians. It's all about currying favour. Some parties are deep in the pockets of big business, so their policies favour those companies. We've all heard the shots taken, record gas prices and Bush is from Texas. I was recently told that the reason infrastructure for public transit wasn't built instead of extensive roads was because of lobbying from the car manufacturers decades back. We're all paying for that one now, aren't we? After all, countries like Canada and much of the United States, it's pretty hard to function without a car unless you live right in the city. I had a taste of that recently, when I tried to go to the mall with my mom, niece and nephew. We asked the bus driver about times for the connecting bus and he said it didn't run that time of day. As in, from 9 am until 3 pm. WTF? On a week day? I mean, I could understand if it had been a Sunday, maybe.

Okay, minor side-rant there. You may not know this, but in Canada the ruling Conservative party is trying to pass a bill that would "deny tax credits to filmmakers on the basis of gratuitous violence and sexually explicit content."

The fact that an evangelist is trying to take credit for that move galvanizes my personal opposition to the bill. To quote:

"We're thankful that someone's finally listening," he said yesterday. "It's fitting with conservative values, and I think that's why Canadians voted for a Conservative government."

NO. Not this Canadian. I can get down with fiscal conservatism any day of the week, but electing a government based on values? You can toss that out right off with the Liberals, because they've been in so many scandals we all know they're as hypocritical as the worst of the tv evangelists. Stronach, amongst others, walking across the floor when it suited their purposes tells me they don't even have a strong commitment to their own party, never mind adherence to some set of morals the party allegedly represents. Call me jaded, call me a cynic, but that's not why I vote for any party.

And I don't want politicians making moral judgments for me either.

This is the kind of thing I can be on the fence about. I can certainly understand not wanting to give tax credits for pornography, but there's a slippery slope. Who decides what's graphic? Who decides what's explicit?

Now, this has blown up into a minor controversy, after a parliamentary staffer was fired.

Tory MPs are denying they ever planned to watch the film “Young People Fucking” even though several of their names appeared on an RSVP list for an Ottawa viewing Thursday night.

The movie has fuelled censorship debate around a Conservative bill that would deny tax credits to productions deemed “contrary to public policy” by the government.

Okay, so "Young People Fucking" is a bit on the nose as far as titles go, but there are classic books (some of which are taught in high school) that have titles that are often considered to be laden with sexual innuendo. THE MOUNTAIN AND THE VALLEY is about what, exactly? After all these years, what I remember is him forcing himself on his friend in the woods, and later she dies and he blames himself. There's Margaret Laurence's STONE ANGEL, with Hagar describing her first sexual encounter as a potential massacre, and reading Laurence in school led me to read THIS SIDE JORDAN, and that has some disturbing sex in it.

Who decides these are classics and that something else isn't, just because the form or the language isn't necessarily to our taste?

Truth is, I think a lot of politicians might benefit from viewing "Young People Fucking." We talk about generation gaps, and sometimes, I think the reason absolutely ridiculous bills get passed while other serious issues are never tackled is because a) the politicians are in someone's pockets, and b) they're out of touch. Maybe if we want more young people to get involved in politics and social policy, we need to reach them on their level. I mean, it's just a movie. I'm not suggesting attendance at an orgy or anything.

And really, if your mind is so weak that seeing a film will corrupt you, you'd better not watch any tv commercials. Isn't that the argument used when people sue McDonalds for making them fat?

Much as he did many things that he had to apologize for, and shot off his mouth inappropriately on occasion, I think I'm tempted to say the politician I have the most respect for is Ralph Klein. You want political controversy? Klein dished it out in spades. During a charity roast on November 9, 2006 Klein made a lewd joke at the expense of former Conservative Member of Parliament Belinda Stronach: "I wasn't surprised that she crossed over to the Liberals. I don't think she ever did have a Conservative bone in her body. Well, maybe one." (Referring to Peter MacKay, her former boyfriend, who is a member of the Conservative Party of Canada.) Klein refused to apologize for the remark stating that "a roast is a roast is a roast is a roast", while his spokesman pointed out that "Ms. Stronach roasted the premier two years ago and made remarks about his weight, his clothing and even his flatulence". Wikipedia really only has a smattering of stuff from his lengthy career, but it definitely gives you the idea. I admire the fact that he took shots at Harper over what he believed to be broken promises. He didn't hide behind Conservative party lines and cut the PM a break.

Most of all, I admire the fact that he was elected saying he was going to eliminate Alberta's provincial debt, and that's exactly what he did. A politician who does what they say they're going to do? Now, that's a politician who gets a bit of respect from me. No, he shouldn't have sworn at a homeless man in Calgary and told him to get a job, but nobody's perfect. We all knew who Klein was, and never tried to be something he wasn't.

I'm glad at least one Tory MP wasn't phased by the idea of one of their staff going to see "Young People Fucking," acknowledging that Canada still is, in fact, a free country.

Let's hope that the Conservatives are with it enough to realize those freedoms also extend to art.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Yesterday, we were downtown Baltimore, fighting against the stream of traffic headed to the baseball game, so that I could stock at Barnes and Noble.

On the way back, we saw a church bulletin board:

Induces a wry smile, doesn't it? Or, if you happen to be a Red Sox fan it probably provokes a different response. We all know what they say about opinions. Everyone has one, which doesn't always make them right or wrong, but it's certainly nice when the opinions match our own, or give our work the thumbs up. I got an e-mail this morning, informing me that Fresh Fiction has selected WHAT BURNS WITHIN as their Fresh Pick today.


It's always nice to get an endorsement, but it's even nicer when it comes from people you don't know, you've never had contact with, who are giving a nod to your work because they genuinely like it. It's one of the most sincere compliments you'll receive.

That said, my stomach is in knots every time I hear of an impending review. I'm glad I've been so busy this time around, because it's distracted me from the waiting and worrying. However, I'm happy to report that I have internet at the house now, am getting my computer set up slowly but surely, and can find my way around the kitchen now.

The other morning, I even spent some time in bed reading.

Sure signs that life is starting to approach something that passes for normal. Hopefully, that means I'll be around here more often too.

Since I've been signing stock at Barnes and Noble stores in Maryland, you can now get your hands on a signed copy in Owings Mills, Towson and Baltimore. If you can't get to Maryland, you have one more day to enter for your chance to win a signed copy.


(With thanks to Jen for this one.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Free Me

If you hop on over to Declan Burke's blog, you can enter for your chance to win a signed copy of WHAT BURNS WITHIN.

There aren't too many signed copies kicking around, although I did sign stock at Barnes and Noble in Owings Mills or somewhere around there today.

Still no internet at home, by the way. Insanely busy, working on catching up, hoping for something closer to normal in the next week. But being a realist - or is that pessimist? - maybe I should say in the next month...

Happy Memorial Day weekend everyone. Safe travels.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


You can never underestimate the value of a good cover.

I've seen horrific covers. Atrocious. Okay, I'll admit it... one of my least favourite covers ever was the hardover for Marcus Sakey's debut, THE BLADE ITSELF. However, it is eye-catching.

On the other hand, I love the cover for his follow-up, AT THE CITY'S EDGE.

(Now, I'm still not on my own computer, and still with limited internet, so I don't have downloaded pictures I can plaster here to show examples, but I'm providing links if you're interested.)

Arguments will always run both ways. Some people like my book cover. Others don't.

It really doesn't bother me. I kept my mental focus on one thing with the cover: the spine. I wanted a spine blurb, because I figured all the real estate I could bank on in the bookstore was the width of a spine. There isn't a lot you can do with the spine of your book, but if the lettering is big so that it's easy to read, and there's good contrast with the colours, that all helps. The spine blurb was the nice final touch.

As it turned out, the team at Dorchester worked hard and got me fantastic placement in Barnes and Noble. However, in Canada, the books were being shelved generally... other than in the airport bookstore, where they were already on a table. When I signed stock a lot were moved to tables, but you can't bank on that.

All that said, I remember discussions about THE CHAMELEON'S SHADOW by Minette Walters. I'm sorry, I think that image is god-awful and ugly. I'm giving it the same credit I gave THE BLADE ITSELF, though: it stands out. It may look different in physical form, but we now also market our books online, and images are going to be almost as important as what the book looks like in physical form.

Next time you're in the mystery section of a book store, look around. Take note of how many dark covers and dark spines there are. There was a trend for a while, toward the white covers, but you'll notice a low percentage of covers that are colourful. And the ones that are stand out from the crowd.

The red flame wrapped around on the spine was one of the other things I wanted - some colour that could help the book stand out a bit.

I know there's a trend to talk about copy-cat covers, but here's the thing: there's no database of photo images that are being used by publishers worldwide with an inventory to check against. People end up having similar plot ideas or storylines without any collusion, all on their own, so why can't different artists come up with similar visual images without realizing it? It happens. Okay, when it happens within the same publishing house, rant on. But when it's happening across oceans, at different companies, well, it's not laziness, is it?

I understand we want original cover art. I get it. But I also get that the publishing business is taking a lot of blows. I know book sales in Canada have been hit hard by the strong Canadian dollar. If we want to push for better art, original art, we have to invest in it financially, and most people aren't willing to pay more for books. So who's to blame for cover problems? Nobody and everybody. We all have to shoulder some of the responsibility if we want to point fingers.

In other words, I don't have a solution to throw at publishing companies for how to ensure we don't end up with any cover similarities. It would involve investing more in the art department, allowing for more man hours to designing the covers, and it would mean creating some sort of database with shared info between all the publishing houses...

It ain't gonna happen.

I know when I'm trying to come up with a book title I google it and I put it in amazon and do a search, but it's hard. I've had titles I liked, and nobody else was using, and six months later something pops up.

Is there any way to avoid that? Not unless you're psychic, as far as I can tell.

One of my favourite covers is for Steve Mosby's THE 50/50 KILLER. I also love the subtle genius of the cover for his new one, CRY FOR HELP.

There are definitely other cover things I think are overdone, or ugly as sin, but it's just my opinion. I'm not slagging Marcus or Minette... just saying those covers don't do it for me. It's not personal. A Leisure (Dorchester) title with a cover I love? THE CONCRETE MAZE by Steven Torres.

And my boyfriend doesn't like it.

Well, he has great taste with most things...

What about you guys? Covers you love? Ones you hate? What's important to you? Does it influence your decision to buy a book? Or are you tired of the cover chats?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Maybe We Should Call This Self Smattering?

So I got tagged by seanachi,* my cover's been burned, and there are a few more book-related things to mention.

The cover:

Nick Mamatas gives the WHAT BURNS WITHIN cover the thumbs down.

The book, shelved in Bush International Airport, courtesy of Marsha.

Well, what can I say? Considering some of the atrocious covers I've seen - I mean, truly atrocious - I was happy they kept it simple. Nick will probably hate the cover for THE FRAILTY OF FLESH but here's the good news! His opinion probably can't get much worse, right?

I remember huge cover debates over other books, and the chain stores play a big part in determining what happens with the cover. One of my friends ended up with a cover B&N didn't like, and that does affect orders. Publishers will pull a book and redo the cover if they have the time if B&N gives it the thumbs down, so it feels like you go through hurdle after hurdle in the cover game.

Truly, the only thing I'm wondering is if Nick finds my blog entertaining in a how wacked can one chick be? kind of way.

The book:

I'm behind in mentioning that there is another review of WBW out there, at Lesa's Book Critiques. Regulars - and even odd individuals who stop by frequently - will begin to understand why I've groaned over the Vancouver/Greater Vancouver Area confusion.

If you want commentary, go to Lesa's. If you want a laugh, go to Nick's.

The tag:

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags 5-6 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read the player’s blog.
4. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.

A Meme about Various Things

What were you doing ten years ago?

Just finishing up my in school practicum for my education career.

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?

Pick up a U-haul, pick up some furniture that was purchased earlier this week, help a friend move the furniture, buy groceries, family dinner...

What are some snacks you enjoy?

Peanut Butter Cups. Peanut Butter Ice Cream. Ice Cream in general. Chips and french onion dip. Popcorn.

What would you do if you were a billionaire?

Buy a house, sponsor abandoned animals, create a writer retreat, support grants for writers with tons of talent who just haven't quite broken through financially with big book deals yet, sponsor the Make A Wish Foundation and at least one organization that helps abused women...

And get a pool boy.

What are five places where you have lived?

Gravenhurst, Ontario. Belleville, Ontario. New Westminster, British Columbia. Calgary, Alberta. Ballincollig, Ireland.

What are five jobs you have had?

Cashier. Baker. Cook. Secretary. Educational Program Facilitator.

What were the last five books you read?

The whole divorce/readjustment thing has messed with my reading, so I'm still working on Tony Black's Paying For It, Linda L. Richards' Death Was The Other Woman (And truly, it isn't because the books aren't holding me - it's just that have a hard time reading when I'm unsettled. I've been reading more this week, if that means anything.) I have Russel D. McLean's The Good Son on deck, and I know I just read The Cold Spot by Tom Piccirilli, and Savage Night by Allan Guthrie...

What are five web sites you visit daily (in no particular order)?

Mystery Bookspot/Fantasy Bookspot
GMail Log-In
The Rap Sheet

Tag 5 People

Barfly, Brian, Chris, Patrick, Patti
... with my apologies. :)

The cnfusion

Why does the new website layout I'm working on look perfect in one browser and all screwed up in Internet Exploder? I think it's IE, and maybe I should start the petition to convert all to Safari.

The warning

I won't have steady internet for the next few days. Please be patient with me. If you e-mail and I don't answer, there's still a chance I think you're insane, beneath me, or irritating as hell, but in reality it's probably just because I don't have internet access yet.

* congrats on the adorable puppy you're adopting

Friday, May 16, 2008

Canadian Crime Produces Question Of The Day

Lee Breen is behind bars in New Brunswick for failing to pay a fine because he was riding a skateboard in the provincial capital.

He didn't pay the fine, issued in 2007, and a judge recently raised the amount to $100, or gave Breen the option of spending five days in jail.

Breen chose jail.

"I won't pay because I believe I'm following the Fredericton Green Matters campaign in finding alternative transportation with my skateboard," he said yesterday at a rally in support of him at city hall.

"If I pay the fine, I would be admitting I was doing something wrong."

I must admit, I have some mixed feelings about this story. I mean, there are far more serious crimes happening in Canada that need to be addressed. This is a serious waste of time and resources.

On the other hand, with liberty comes abuse. We've all had an experience - be it a terrible neighbour who keeps us awake at night or someone in the neighbourhood who piles the junkers all over their lawn, there isn't one of us who hasn't been annoyed by behaviour that can sometimes get out of control.

I personally have a bit of an issue with bicycles. I know they're green. I know they're exercise. I've also been hit by a car while riding one, as a child, and I wasn't breaking any laws or doing anything reckless. But it drives me nuts when I have to go downtown Calgary and bike couriers are whipping all over the place, because they don't follow the rules of the road. It also drives me nuts that bicyclists act like cars one minute and run up on sidewalks or use crosswalks the next.

And, to make matters worse, I was hit by a bicyclist when I was running up a hill on a walking path. I was knocked unconscious.

Part of me wants tougher laws to govern how bicyclists use roads and sidewalks. Part of me wants a licensing system, because they operate on the roads but have no legal liability that can easily be applied in an incident, and they should, because there are bicyclists who are at fault in accidents.

But really, want I really want is infrastructure so that people can ride bicycles safely, walk safely and drive safely. It's when you put them all together and the rules change from one mode of transportation to another that you have problems.

Skateboarders are often looked down on. Unfortunately, the few who abuse the activity and don't show courtesy for others give all a bad name. The reality is, I've seen businessmen using motorized scooters, so why not skateboards?

Accidents can and do happen on bicyles and in cars, and even when people are walking. Therefore, I'm left wondering if this is discrimination. I can understand a rule about toboggans - after all, they can easily get out of control and few have brakes.

Consider me on the fence, leaning toward the side of supporting Mr. Breen. I do think putting him in jail is ridiculous. Couldn't he have been ordered to do community service instead? What do you guys think? Was the judge right, or do you think Mr. Breen is fighting the good fight?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Carnival of the Criminal Minds #16

Just remember folks, all rides are free with your park pass. Which is also free. But don't worry - we'll make up for it with the price of cotton candy.

Yes, it's time for another Carnival of the Criminal Minds, started by our fearless lion-tamer, Barbara Fister. One of the challenges of hosting the 16th Carnival is making sure that there are a few new rides to hop on, and that the same terrain isn't being covered time and time again. I've tried to look for things worth mentioning that aren't always picked up on first time around by the crime community, as well as some of my personal favourites.

The Carnival has moved here from Germany, where Bernd Kochanowski hosted it at Internationale Krimis. Bernd threw out an interesting question last time: Which older post would you like to see in a blog museum?

Great question. I'll make a note of a few posts I think are worthy contenders. First, let's get this show on the road!

Trapeze Artists

There's no better place to start than with a mystery/crime fiction primer that's already generating a bit of debate in the affiliated forum. Lists can be debated endlessly, and we'll never all agree. Bernd mentioned Brian's article on black crime fiction authors at Carnival 15 and Brian's back this time with another thoughtful piece. I've already pointed out to him some oversights. Missing anyone you consider essential to the list? Be sure to chime in - he provides a link where you can egg his house, or you can always drop by his blog.

The newest must-read blog for fans of police procedurals and those who write them is Lee Lofland's The Graveyard Shift. If you haven't been reading it you should be.

Josephine Damien is a smart and sassy tell-it-like-she-sees-it type, and her posts are both insightful and brutally honest.

Going back to controversy, Richard Morgan has a bit of an idealistic view of the crime fiction community, and uses it as a club to beat Fantasy over the head with. Author Steve Mosby - whose blog is on my list of regular reads - chimes in with some thoughts, Nick Matmatas doesn't hold back with his opinion and the topic is still being widely discussed.
For my part, I feel a bit embarrassed by the whole mess, and may it give us all some pause, because we have enough squabbles on our side of the genre line to keep the wrestling fans entertained. If you check out post one of that forum thread, you'll also get the links to posts by Iain Rowan and Ali Karim on the subject.

Genre labeling is the topic that won't die, and Chabon and Ford weigh in on why the tags don't matter.

Haunted House

It's hard to categorize author Eileen Cook's witty blog, but this post has crime-writer inspiration potential, and definitely falls under the creepy category. Eileen is one of those authors that loves crime fiction, writes outside the genre, and hangs out with everyone, and she's a lot of fun.

The second post for the Haunted House category is the first one I'll mention that I think belonds in a blog museum, and it comes to us from Anne Frasier. Back in 2006, Anne posed the question, Are writers broken? and there are 52 comments on the post. It was thought-provoking, linked to all over the blogs, and has stayed with me all this time.

And I'll add that if there's a graveyard of blogs out there, Anne's is unfortunately probably going six feet under permanently. It's a sad thing when you see a wonderful blogger close up shop, although I certainly understand the time constraints, and also the frustrations that prompted Anne's departure from blogging. Honest, heart-felt, refreshing - that was Anne's contribution to the blogs, but in the end the politics were just too much.

I miss you, Anne.

Ferris Wheel

These are the things that go round and round, on a cycle. The new Heliotrope is out, and in the past they've scooped exclusive excerpts from books by Ken Bruen and others.

Meanwhile, Pulp Pusher remains one of the best new additions to crime zines to come up in quite some time. Push Daddy manages to keep a steady stream of new features on the site, and has had some wonderful interviews, articles and short stories featured there.

Al Guthrie is one of those guys that puts his head down and gets his work done, and has built up quite an archive with Noir Originals, publishing interviews, articles, reviews and fiction. Indulge in the recent interview with Tom Piccirilli and much, much more.

I Love A Mystery has their latest newsletter up, and that's worth checking out.

Moving to print, it's pretty cool to see the Crimedogs on the cover of the new Crimespree Magazine. Jon and Ruth Jordan always have great stuff packed between the covers of Crimespree, and I can't wait to catch up with the new issue.

Roller Coasters

They ride the highs and lows and share openly with their readers. These are the blogs of real authors, ones who step out from their solitude from time to time to share with us random thoughts and things that are going on in their world, both good and bad.

PJ Parrish - open with the emotions of writing, the fears that even award-winning authors struggle with, and hot topics as well, the annual Bad Sex Awards posts are worthy contenders for that blog museum, and not to be missed.

It's hard to know how to reference group author blogs, because every contributor has much that could be mentioned, and I'm a huge fan of the team at First Offenders... but Jeff Shelby's post, You, My Friend, Are A Huge Jackass is a classic.

Another author who doesn't blog nearly enough is Russel D. McLean. You never know what he'll post about, which is part of what keeps it interesting.

Cotton Candy

I was drawn into the blogging world by the evil Stuart MacBride (who claims he's just misunderstood) and have always loved his blog. Nobody whines... er, rants... like Stuart, and to prove the point, I must offer a link to another blog post worthy of that museum. Without Thinking requires a full spurt alert. Don't drink while reading. Simply one of the funniest blog rants ever.

Food Court

Some sites provide regular reviews, insightful commentary and posts relevant to what's happening within the genre and beyond, and I do like to keep tabs on them. Some of my most trusted review bloggers and commentators are:

Lesa Holstine, who authors Lesa's Book Critiques.

Karen Chisholm maintains the wonderful Australian Crime Fiction site, which also hosts the monthly chat for the great mystery list, 4MA.

Peter Rozovsky is the author of Detectives Beyond Borders, and routinely offers up insightful commentary and thought-provoking posts with tough questions. A must read blog.

Crime Scene Scotland is one of my favourite review sites, and although the additions are sporadic, they're insightful reviews that manage to give you a good introduction to the book without giving anything away.

There are others that could be mentioned such as Shots, The Rap Sheet, Independent Crime, Confessions, etc. They have their fingers on the pulse of the community, and can be found (along with many other superb blogs) via Graham Powell's Crimespot.

You Spin Me Right Round Baby, Right Round (Okay, so it's a musical reference, but they play music at Carnivals, right?)

I wanted to include an assortment of things that wouldn't usually be found at the Carnival. The following is food for thought, the wacky and wild, and general interest stuff worthy of note.*

"I would like to see a few things change in the future. I would like to see less hyperbole and angst about so-called "mainstream" forays into the "ghetto" of genre. I would like to see all writers make a better effort to see the work of their fellows with eyes unfettered by received ideas as conveyed through whatever label has been slapped on a particular book or author. If we wrote fiction the way we talk about genre and mainstream most of the time, we would all be hacks, our prose full of the most crass and belabored cliches. Yet we persist in outdated, dangerous generalizations, and allow them to color our perceptions of reality. We refuse to engage with the individual in front of us, to communicate, and instead create badly-made fictions about them."

Moving right along...

"Homo sapiens is a bizarre literary ape -- one that, outside of working and sleeping, may well spend most of its remaining hours lost in landscapes of make-believe. Across the breadth of human history, across the wide mosaic of world cultures, there has never been a society in which people don't devote great gobs of time to seeing, creating, and hearing fictions -- from folktales to film, from theater to television. Stories represent our biggest and most preciously varied repository of information about human nature. Without a robust study of literature there can be no adequate reckoning of the human condition -- no full understanding of art, culture, psychology, or even of biology. As Binghamton University biologist David Sloan Wilson says, "the natural history of our species" is written in love poems, adventure stories, fables, myths, tales, and novels."

Of course, that post has prompted some responses already.

At One Sentence you get a stripped down version of Post Secrets, where people tell a story in a sentence. Amongst the contributions:

"On Mother's Day, I remember when my mother told me that if she had known about abortion in 1946 I wouldn't be here."

"She often cries while watching him sleep, hands clasped on his chest, reminding her again of his sister's tiny corpse."

An interesting challenge for near-future crime fiction writers from the Freakonomics blog.

And the truly wild quick list:

Oi, Yorick! - The Skinhead Hamlet

Youtube Shakespeare

Photographs from an abandoned police station in Detroit

Victorian era post-mortem photos

Enough to make a grown book buyer cry.

Dickapedia - a Wiki of people who are complete dicks.

And finally, the Sartorialist caught "Mr. Noir" walking down the street and took his picture.

The Real Party...

...will be in Baltimore this October and Ruth Jordan has started a blog where authors have contributed their Bouchercon memories and people talk about the history and importance of Bouchercon. It's well worth checking out, and it's also essential to be in Baltimore this October. If you haven't registered yet, what are you waiting for?

Well, okay, I have to send my form in too, as soon as I can. As it happens, I'm in Maryland at the moment, not working on my own computer, which is part of the reason I cheated with a few of my links. I'm on a different browser, on a PC instead of a Mac and just trying to remember all my passwords. That's why I don't have pictures - I can't download them on this computer. I'm sure that as soon as I press publish, I'll remember something else I had fully intended to link to, but this is still a big Carnival. We've covered a lot of ground, and I hope you've found something new and interesting amongst the links.

From Patti Abbott's blog to Crimerant, Chris Holm's blog to Lyman's, I wanted to talk about all the places I try to drop by at least sporadically, but at some point you have to pack up the tents and pass the torch. It's my pleasure to do so with a nod to another wonderful author and blogger, Martin Edwards. Martin has reviewed for Spinetingler a bit in the past, and is one of the nicest guys you'll meet at a convention. His blog is Do You Write Under Your Own Name - and I think I need to add it to my blog links. I'm so far behind. But he's on the ball, and will be hosting the 17th Carnival from the UK. I can't wait.

* With thanks to Bunny

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Does An Admission Equal Guilt?

I may never eat at Tim Hortons again.

Overreacting? Being melodramatic? I don't know. What I do know is, I would have been fired many times over if the places I'd worked over the years were as anal as a Tim Hortons in London, Ontario.

Before I get to the details, think yourself, as a customer. How many times have you been given a free sample of something in a store where you're a regular customer? I can't get away from these people at the mall, wanting me to try lotions and perfumes, and I don't even shop there regularly. I actually grumble about it at Costco, because they take up so much space at the ends of aisles with those tables, and there's always congestion there.

And those are just two examples from last weekend. If I was to create a list of places I've been given a free sample, this would be twice as long as a usual post, and you'd be here half the day.

What's the point?

A single London mother of four is out of her Tim Hortons job, fired for giving away one of the 16-cent blobs of fried dough to a tot who came in with a regular customer. "I have been fired for giving a baby a Timbit," Nicole Lilliman, 27, said yesterday.

A Timbit. costs 16 cents. You know, when I worked at Gravenhurst Bakery, they used to give samples away, and the owner would throw in extras for regular customers. They understood something about customer loyalty. Heck, they always gave staff courtesy stuff - they were very generous, and I loved working for them. I stayed until the owners sold the business.

Same goes for many other places I've worked. This is a strategy writers have been adopting and modifying - free short stories online, free downloads, free samples of work so that people know the product. Neil Gaiman shows us how it's done After making his latest available for free download online, he reported:

68,000 unique visitors to the book pages of American Gods

3,000,000 book pages viewed in aggregate

And that the weekly book sales of American Gods have apparently gone up by 300%, rather than tumbling into the abyss. (Which is -- the rise, not the tumble -- what I thought would happen. Or at least, what I devoutly hoped would happen.)

What really gets me about this Tim Hortons story is, this was a regular customer, and it was an act of kindness. I know that we have to make sure people don't abuse privileges. Sadly, we always have to think worst case scenario.

Giving food away free is against the rules, said Tim Hortons district manager Nicole Mitchell.

"Employees aren't allowed to give out free products and that's the bottom line," she said. "She gave out free product and it doesn't matter if it is a Timbit or a coffee or a doughnut or 10 sandwiches or what."

Another thing that bothers me about this is the fact that Tim Hortons is apparently saying there have been other problems with this employee, but the woman maintains nothing is written up and she's unaware of other issues.

You fire someone over 16 cents without any warnings? Come on.

Tell me how many employees haven't come back 30 seconds late from a break? By Ontario minimum wage standards, employees earn $0.0243 per second. In fact, it only takes 6.58 seconds to earn 16 cents.

Which manager hasn't stepped outside for a smoke that took longer than that, while they were still on the clock? That's stealing time.

Add in that employees don't get paid to the second, and in most retail/food service places I've worked over the years, you end up staying just a bit late here and there and never get paid for your time. In fact, my last position, in the educational field, involved working countless overtime hours. I clocked overtime every week, and I'd been hired initially to work part-time. However, they wouldn't pay you out, they banked hours, so you never got the time and a half that you're supposed to be paid for overtime.

And they wouldn't let you use your banked hours because they didn't have enough staff in place to cover you.

I'm not going to get on a soap box about life being fair, because it isn't, but this incident smells bad. Okay, maybe the woman who was fired wasn't a stellar employee - I really don't know - but I do know this is no reason to fire someone. Even a warning would seem harsh to me.

It was an act of generosity, an act that inspires good will and loyalty on the part of a regular customer. And I'm willing to bet that the firing of this employee may just inspire that regular customer to reconsider at least which Tim Hortons she gets her coffee from in the future.

In particular, note what the manager said:

"Employees aren't allowed to give out free products and that's the bottom line," (Mitchell) said. "She gave out free product and it doesn't matter if it is a Timbit or a coffee or a doughnut or 10 sandwiches or what."

Nicole Lilliman responded to the news that she was fired, saying "I was crying. I was like, 'I'm a single mom with four kids and you are going to put this on my record?' You should bring all the staff in here and fire them all and yourselves, too. People give out Timbits to dogs in the drive-through all the time."

Mitchell responded to that in the article:

The Timbits given to pets, Mitchell added, are usually "day-old and recycled."

Um... didn't she just say that it didn't matter what someone gave away, employees aren't allowed to give away free products?

Pot... kettle.

Since I'm not a coffee drinker, Tim Hortons' appeal for me is in the donuts, and there are other places to get those if I must have them. I'm one of those petty shoppers. I've made a few complaints about staff over the years, when there's been a real problem. I've banned stores from my shopping routine, or products, because of bad service. That said, I've dealt with staff myself as a supervisor and sometimes, you have to step back and look at the big picture. If the rules have to be pretty firm because of the staff volume, then spell it out and give a warning, but firing someone over 16 cents, without any other incident written up against them on their record, is ludicrous.

If this was the US, I'd say a lawsuit was coming.

Justice here will be another employer calling Lilliman and giving her a chance. I certainly know if I had a fussy baby in my arms and someone did me a small act of kindness to help get the baby settled, I'd appreciate it.

And I know from being around women with fussy babies that as a customer in proximity (ever been on a flight with a screamer?) I'd appreciate the gesture too.

In fact, I'll pay the 16 cents myself. Come on Tim Hortons. If I pay for the Timbit will you give this woman her job back?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"If ye break faith with us who die"

Every day, thousands of men and women risk their lives serving others. Firefighters enter burning buildings and breathe in toxic smoke. Police patrol and respond to calls, never knowing exactly what's waiting for them when they get there. Doctors and nurses risk infection - think of the SARS scare.

And paramedics are on the front lines when there's an emergency. Their intervention often makes the difference between life and death for those in need.

Every single day, men and women we don't even know put the service of others first. When the unthinkable happens they're there to help others. They're there for us.

Some are paid for their services. Others volunteer. All are heroes.

Today, mourning comes home to the city of Calgary. Flags are flying at half mast in recognition of the sacrific of paramedic Michael Starker. Calgary born and raised, Starker served the people of this city every day in his career.

He was also a reservist, and volunteered for a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He served with a field ambulance, and yesterday while on foot patrol he was killed during a Taliban ambush.

He was a man with a heart of gold, a man who brought out the best in everyone, EMS Chief Tom Sampson said during a news conference. "He was one of those guys who would stand up when you needed someone to stand up."

Starker was 36... same age as me.

Sometimes, I think we take so much for granted now. Every time a soldier falls, people rise up to question what we're doing in Afghanistan anyway. It risks being insulting, inferring that the sacrifice of these lives was worthless, pointless, unnecessary.

We need only think back a few years, to the tragedy of 9/11 to remember what the Taliban was once capable of. Men and women from this country chose to go to fight an enemy that would kill civilians without declaring war, a threat without honour.

Men and women from this country chose to go to Afghanistan so that we didn't have to be afraid the next time we thought about getting on a plane. So that people working at trade centers didn't have to be afraid to go to work in the morning.

I traveled to North Africa in the wake of 9/11 and saw things I hadn't seen ever in my prior journeys. The level of security was astounding, yet reassuring. Nobody complained about extra screenings.

Everyone understood the goal was to keep us all safe.

I also traveled to the UK in the wake of the London bombings, and I remember when I got on a bus in London with a suitcase and the looks I got. I can't be angry, or dismissive. These people had their sense of security taken away from them. They lived with the fear that when they went to work in the morning, someone might try to kill them.

We're more sympathetic when the threat is real to us. The problem is, Afghanistan is a long way away, and many people can't see the good that's being done there. It's easy to reduce the situation to thinking "people shouldn't be dying, what are they doing there anyway?" when you don't have to worry about mines buried on the side of your streets, or deal with the reality of armed Taliban turning up on your property.

I'm not pro war, but I am a realist. There are times that people have had to take up arms in order to defend others. I'm thankful that if I'm the victim of a crime I can call the police, and that if I have a car accident paramedics will respond to the scene to make sure I'm okay.

And I'm thankful that I enjoy the privilege of living in a free country, where I can choose my religion, where I can vote, where I can walk down the street without fearing for my life.

I'm thankful for the service of others. They take risks - and some make the ultimate sacrifice - so that I can enjoy all the liberties that too often, I take for granted. Sometimes, hearing about people like Michael Starker reminds me of how much I take for granted, how ungrateful I can be.

If you don't agree with the mission in Afghanistan, I respect your right. As to the politicians, I only ask that you show the families of the fallen, and those who mourn this loss, the decency of a few days to heal instead of using their grief as a platform for your political posturing.

And whatever your position on this mission, I hope you'll take a moment to think about the sacrifices people have made over the years, so that we could enjoy even the liberty of reading a blog like this one.

Today, it seems fitting to quote famous words penned by another Canadian, physician and Lieutenant John McRae, after he witnessed the death of his friend on the battlefield in World War 1.

In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

(On a personal note, WBW is now in Calgary bookstores. I signed stock in Chapters Crowfoot yesterday, and will be dropping by Chapters Shaughnessy this morning.)

Monday, May 05, 2008

58 Days and Counting

ONLINE by Brad Paisley gave me a good laugh. Shatner is priceless. Check it out!

Speaking of things to check out, there's another review for WHAT BURNS WITHIN at Australian Crime Fiction, if you're interested.

Now, before I return to packing madness, I must confess that yesterday, I got my hair cut. And while I held captive, I heard something on the radio that actually made me a bit sad I won't be here for Stampede this year. We know there are many reasons cited for attending Stampede... the cowboys, the cowgirls, the parade. And so, I bring you, the top reasons to attend the Calgary Stampede this July:

#11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 Nashville North
Free concerts every night of Stampede. This year, the line-up includes:
Charlie Major, Aaron Lines, Aaron Pritchett, Emerson Drive, Gord Bamford, Johnny Reid, Kim Mitchell, Mark Chestnutt

I confess, I own music by almost everyone on this list, and now I'm listening to the beautiful Thank You by Johnny Reid, which... if I had a song for Bunny... this would be the one.
If I only had, two words left to say to you.
With my last breath I'd confess the truth to you.
You've never left my side, even when I fell behind.
Thank you, Thank you for the life you've given me.
Thank you for sharing all your love and all your dreams.
Thank you for every tear of happiness I've cried.
Thank you for laying down beside me here tonight.
When I close my eyes, I say a prayer for one more day with you.
And when I wake, I embrace the one who pulls me though.
Who pulls me through the storm when I can't go on.
Thank you, thank-you for the life you've given me.
Thank you for sharin' all your love and your dreams.
Thank you, for every tear of happiness I've cried.
Thank you for layin' down beside me here tonight.

(Defying that whole stereotype about country music and depression. Maybe it's the Scottish influence of Glasgow-born, Canadian-raised Reid?)

#3 Free Food! Stampede is unlike anything I've experienced anywhere. Every morning there are dozens of free pancake breakfasts, some places have free barbecue lunches, and others fire up the grill for dinner... but the biggie are the breakfasts. You can't forget to check out the annual Chinook pancake breakfast, which usually features free country music performances (and it's something of a tradition for Paul Brandt to take the stage).

#2 Friday July 11
Natasha Bedingfield brings A POCKET FULL OF SUNSHINE to the Coca Cola Stage, and you know what that means - it's free with Stampede gate admission! You can't go wrong with concerts at Nashville North or the Coca Cola stage.

And, #1 Saturday July 12
A double-header at the Coca Cola Stage - free! - with Deric Ruttan opening up for Dierks Bentley! It's almost a certainty the two will take the stage together for their duet, Good Time...

... and chances are good they'll team up for at least one of the many award-winning songs they've co-written. My money is on this one:

And for those of you willing to fork out the money for a Saddledome show, don't forget The Judds are coming. But that's probably sold out already.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Very Cool

Peter Rozovsky, of Detectives Beyond Borders, kicks off Noir at the Bar with a special reading by Duane Swierczynski, followed by live music. Swierczywonderboy's career is skyrocketing, and with good reason. I think the only thing left now is for someone to immortalize him as Swierczywonderboy in a comic book.

The bar thing is a very cool idea. If you'll be in the Philly area June 1, you'll definitely want to check it out, so head over to Detectives Beyond Borders for all the details.

On a personal note, I've been hearing reports of my book being displayed in Barnes & Noble, up front, with the new releases. Now, I have evidence (thanks to Angie, and I cropped the photo 'cos I wasn't sure she wanted to be plastered all over the internet as Vanna to my book).

All I can say is, only your publisher's marketing department can give you the advantage of that kind of real estate in a book store. I'm so grateful to have them behind me, supporting the book, and Barnes & Noble has been just wonderful.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Fridays: The Books You Have To Read, part 2/Survivor

Last week, Patti Abbott kicked off her wonderful idea of talking up the books that might have been forgotten over the years, and I was happy to chime in about James Reasoner's DUST DEVILS.

We were supposed to tag someone to continue this, and hopefully make it a weekly thing. Brian didn't tag anyone, as he plans to chime in again this week. His reading habits are so eclectic and to the edges that he discovers a lot of books that should connect with a wider audience. I tagged John Scalzi, in the hopes that this endeavor would expand beyond crime fiction and start to reach other genres as well... But I knew it was a long shot that it would get picked up.

I also thought I'd throw my 2 cents in again this week. I'm always vocal with my recommendations and heartily endorse the books I like, so most of the ones I thought of mentioning will come as no surprise to regular readers, and my love of The 50/50 Killer is no secret.

I know Steve. He owes me dinner, actually. He's great fun at a quiz and at a convention in general, one of the most low-key guys you'll hang out with. I don't even know if he does panels, because I've never seen him on one. His fourth book is due out this month, and he's somehow slipped under the radar... Probably in part because no US publisher has been smart enough to give this man a deal south of the border yet. When I leave Canada, one of the things I'll really miss is the easy access to Orion's books, and I'll be ordering in Steve's work (and Ian Rankin's) from Canada.

The 50/50 Killer is one of the most chilling books I've read in a long time. I believe it was Jon Jordan who said the book got under his skin and made him uncomfortable, and that's why it has such an impact. It asks that horrid question - would you die for the one you love? - and takes it to a whole new level. It also looks at the things that tear us apart, destroy us, the relationships we give power in our lives. It's a dark, relentless thriller, the kind where you have to turn the pages to find out what happens next, although you're not 100% sure you want to know.

So what are you waiting for? Go get your copy now, if you haven't already!


Last night's episode was pretty intense. First, you think James will be removed for medical reasons. Then you think he's going to be okay. Then he's removed... and back later for Tribal Council with an IV drip?!

Meanwhile, the focus shifts within the remaining tribe members, and Amanda surfaces as the biggest threat in the minds of the remaining women. (Now, I wonder if any of them have really thought about the fact that she made it to the final three last time and didn't win, because the jury didn't think she was strategic, just that she'd coasted? Just because she's great, it doesn't mean the jury will give her the money. If the jury this time was like the jury last time, they'd give it to Parvati, because she's been manipulating all along.)

But back to Amanda's dilemma. I like Amanda, and I didn't want to see her go. The tension over the hidden immunity idol... damn. There's been a lot of blind-siding at tribal councils this season, from what I've seen, but nothing tops the move Amanda made last night.

That could very well win her the game, if she can stay in it through the next two tribal councils. Brilliantly played.

And, if you're looking for some Friday entertainment, this is great.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Writers Wanted

Spinetingler is going to start paying for some non-fiction articles, and the pay will be higher for non-fiction than for fiction.

Sounds great, right?

Well, on the surface, it is. Beneath the surface, I have a budget to work with, and now I have the dilemma of deciding who to approach, or how to choose what we're going to run.

I already have a backlog of stories that haven't been reviewed. Jack Getze has joined the team on a regular basis - either because he just loved his guest editor stint, or he's a sucker for punishment... I'm not sure which - and that's a huge help. I wasn't sure I'd recover from losing three editors to general life insanity last year, but we're staying afloat, thanks to James and Jack.

Why is it every good thing comes with complications? I'm off to muddle though this dilemma some more, and see if I can work something out.