Friday, June 27, 2008


Last night, I went to an advance screening of WANTED and I've posted some thoughts about it on the relocated blog. If you're in need of a good, post-Matrix action flick, this might work for you.

Karin Slaughter's remarks in an interview about gender and violence prompt a few thoughts of my own, and you can read them here, as well as find the link to the whole interview with Karin.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Selling Snake Oil To Readers?

Is it possible that market manipulation is contributing to the decline in reading? After mulling over some remarks made recently on the internet by different authors, that's the question I'm wrestling with today at my relocated blog.

Because One Move Wasn't Enough...

This blog is moving to effective immediately.

It's going to take me a bit of time to get the links in the sidebar set up. I imagine it will take a bit of time for others to update their links, so I'll still do teasers here for the new blog, but I have disabled commenting here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Clarifying a Point: critiquing the book vs attacking the author

In the comment trail on Bill Crider's blog, I say in my comment that the problem with Lee Goldberg's critique on SEVERANCE PACKAGE is that it comes off as personal. I want to explain why I said that.

The fine line I've learned to tread as a reviewer is separating the author from the book. That means when you write a review, you discuss the book and whether or not it holds together on its own merits. The minute you start saying things like:

a. I expect more from this author,
b. This author can do better,
c. This author is wasting their talent,

etc., you run the risk of making the review be about the author instead of the book.

Now, some of you may wonder, if you're reviewing the author's book, aren't you automatically leveling any criticisms made at the author?

Yes... but in a professional capacity. Think about it from a parenting perspective. Child tosses dirty clothes on floor and under bed instead of in the laundry hamper. Parent says, "Dirty clothes need to go in the laundry hamper. If the dirty clothes aren't in the laundry hamper, there's no gold star on the chore sheet."

Other parent says, "You know better than to throw your clothes on the floor and I'm disappointed in you."

Both are criticisms but one has incorporated personal criticism about the child into it. The first one says these are the rules and in order to get a gold star the rules must be followed. Since the rules weren't followed there's no gold star.

The other one tells a child they've let their parent down.

It is a risk to ever step across the line and make comments about the author. They may be correct. They may be fair. They may be meant with the best of intentions, but the moment it stops being about just the book it provokes a defensive response from people who feel differently and care about the person involved.

This is why forum fights over American Idol contestants get heated, it's why people end up in fights on forums.

As I said, I don't think Lee was intending to attack Duane. It came off badly, because whenever you make comments that go beyond the book there's a high probability that no matter how careful you are, some will take offense.

Is There Any Such Thing As A Bad Book?

Bill Crider recently posted about Duane Swierczynski's latest book, SEVERANCE PACKAGE.

I'm going to preface this by saying that this book is on the shelves here, Brian's already read it and is working on a review (he's never met Duane), and I like Duane. Anything else you might feel the need to know on a personal level has probably already been said, in the comment trail of the post Bill made about Duane's book.

It's actually the comment trail that I'm wanting to talk about here. I was alerted to the post because someone made comments that are actually about me, although I'm not mentioned by name. I'm not bothered by it at all. I didn't want to get into the thick of it when the discussion was hot and heavy, but have chimed in now.

What weighs on my mind is the argument over a person's right to trash a book, and who gives anyone the right to decide what's important or substantive. It ties into something I said recently to someone else, and that's that I'm not convinced there's any such thing as a bad book.

Okay, okay, I've certainly tossed a few books against walls and formed opinions about some books I've called bad. But I'm talking about universal bad. THE DaVINCI CODE is a favourite by many to pick on, but can I really say it's a bad book? Well, no, because I haven't read it so I wouldn't know one way or the other anyway, but TDC got a lot of people who normally don't read much to pick up a book. It reached the fringe occasional readers. Can I really complain about any book that gets people to read?

I'm not sure I can. I mean, there are books I don't like... This is true of everyone, I'm sure. And it can be argued that some books aren't well written, so there might be a reason they'd be bad to use in an English class, but ultimately the process of reading is valuable. I don't want to get into religion or any kind of propaganda or anything - let's not skew this into something else, but keep it to general comments on fiction.

However, Lee Goldberg's comments on SEVERANCE PACKAGE hit on a nerve with a lot of readers:

It's obvious that that Duane is a wonderfully imaginative, highly skilled writer...but, in my opinion, he's skating on flash alone...he's taking the easy way and not using his considerable talent to its full potential. He could be writing great books...noir classics...but instead he's going for gimmicks, in-jokes, and fights. It's as if in every scene he's trying to impress his friends, as if he's saying "hey, look at this guys, isn't this cool?" instead of trying to create characters and tell a compelling story. It made reading the book frustrating...I kept asking myself why is he wasting himself on this when he could be writing something with substance and staying power? This would have worked much better as a comic book...which it, essentially, is (the cover and the artwork interspersed throughout the book make that comparison inevitable).

You can read all the fall-out yourself. I've also weighed in, and not done so lightly.

Truth is, I very well could have just posted Charlie Stella's comments on my blog yesterday and let them serve for what I really wanted to say:

If bad writing is being published/well reviewed and/or honored because bloggers/reviewers have influence, don’t kid yourself, the buying/reading public will be able discern the good from the bad over the long haul. All fame (in whatever form it comes and however it comes) is truly fleeting (or some of the published/well reviewed and/or honored wouldn’t have taken such hard falls). More importantly, who cares what (or who) “they” promote (whether in the form of authors, reviews and/or awards)? In the end, it’s always the same number of people paying attention (count them). You (the anonymous) just might find some valuable relief in avoiding offending all the cliques out there. Life is way too short to go through with that (apparently constant) level of apprehension. What the fuck good is “your career” unless it’s yours?

Amen. At the end of the day, readers decide what's worth being published. If a book doesn't sell, all the positive endorsements on blogs in the world don't mean squat.

The thing is, not everyone is trying to use popularity and kissing ass to gain themselves blurbs and plugs. Some people are just genuinely nice guys who get along with everyone, and who write good books.

To me, Duane's one of those guys. I can only speak for myself, so don't hold him guilty for sharing any sentiments here. If you can't stand me don't dump Duane as a friend over what I think of him. I think he's a great guy. I think he's extremely talented. I think he's easy-going and generally, gets along with most people (I'm not aware of him having issues with anyone). If the fact that Duane is likable makes him cliquey to some, that's unfortunate, because I'm nowhere near the cliques and definitely not Miss Popularity and have enjoyed an afternoon laughing my ass off with Duane in the bar at B'con, and if he was really that cliquey, I doubt he would have hung out with me.

I like Duane, and I don't really get along with Lee Goldberg (who I've never met, and doubt I ever will) but I do stand behind my comments over there. It's only the volume of experience I have, seeing Lee say something again and again and again that's offended people, and ultimately what he once said to Sandra Scoppettone months back that make me think Lee often comes of critical when he actually means to be encouraging.

But it just goes to show that opinions are wide and varied and ultimately subjective. Sometimes, you have to learn to let the criticism slide, and that's a simple reality for those of us who write. I'm not saying it's easy to do, but between amazon comments and mainstream reviews, you never know what people will say and they're under no obligation to molly-coddle you.

One other side note: to me, the fact that authors who don't normally participate on the blogging community felt the need to not only read the discussion, but to comment and to stand behind their endorsement of the book speaks volumes. It's the proof of the awareness that the backscratching exists, and that many endorsements are meaningless. The most meaningful bit of praise you'll ever get for your work will come from readers, not authors, as nice as it is to be liked by writers you admire. I'm in the process of making the list for who will get a copy of THE FRAILTY OF FLESH, as I'm getting arcs soon, and I must confess there aren't many authors on the list at this point. I can't think of many who'd be willing and have time. So many have non-blurbing policies, or only blurb upon request of their agent/publisher, I can't keep it straight, and I've become so skeptical about the whole process. This whole year has been a lesson for me about some who pander to cliques and take sides.

And I'd rather be on a whole different playing field than deal with all of that.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lessons from Lehane, Celebrity Author?

When the arc of Lehane's new book, THE GIVEN DAY, arrived in the mail, there was no doubt in my mind that Brian would read it first. I've been swamped with a) edits, b) writing the next book, and c) kids (never mind other life issues I won't bore you with) and it's really hampered my reading.

However, I couldn't resist opening it and reading a bit. Didn't manage the whole prologue with the kids underfoot, though.

The prologue is 29 pages.

We were talking about it, and I offhandedly (but not seriously) wondered if it was Lehane's response to those who refuse to read prologues. I realize THE GIVEN DAY is a very long book, but I'd have to think that skipping a prologue that's 29 pages long would mean that you'd miss some important information for the story.

When Brian got to chapter 1, he mentioned my comment about the prologue and then said, "You know Elmore Leonard's rules of writing?"

Of course. Why was he bringing it up?

The first line of chapter 1? Weather.

I doubt Lehane consciously chose to write a 29-page prologue, or start chapter 1 by breaking one of Elmore's rules, but to me it's fitting that Lehane would do exactly what he wants with his book instead of trying to pander to readers' or writers' expectations. I have the impression that Lehane is true to the work first and foremost, be damned what others think about it. What will be interesting to me is how readers respond - whether they let the prologue go for a writer like Lehane, or hold firm to their "skip the prologue" policy.

Lehane is a giant. People have been anticipating this new book for a long time. There are people who've expressed jealousy that we have an advance copy. It isn't something I'll get to talk to him about, though. Last year, I supported an attempt to get an interview with Dennis Lehane. I knew from the outset that the chances were next to none. Out of all the interviews we've run, I consider the Pelecanos interview to be the biggie, because it isn't easy to get to interview authors like Lehane or Pelecanos unless you've got a successful print publication, and even then it isn't that easy.

Lehane doesn't have to work the promotional trail the same way that other authors do. Authors like Lehane, Pelecanos, Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin... you go to their websites and can't e-mail them, they don't participate on their own author forums, they don't blog. A few newsletters per year and whatever official interviews they chose to do are how fans connect and get new information. I've tried to get interviews with Lehane and Connelly and had no response in either case. (I've never met Lehane but have met Michael Connelly a few times, and have also met George Pelecanos. Not that either of them would remember me.) I've never asked Ian, although I did set him up for an online interview that will be out soon. I did have an experience with Ian a few years ago that made me smile, though, when he gave me heck for going to Edinburgh and not giving him a call.

Uh, how exactly do you get in touch with someone who doesn't have an e-mail address? In fact, I have his phone number now and I'm pretty sure it isn't listed...

I can actually say Ian's pretty approachable. One of the major differences with these authors is that they came up at a different time. In the late 80s when Ian was penning the first Rebus book people didn't have websites, blogs, forums and all of those things. I think of authors like Ian, Pelecanos, Connelly and Lehane, and I think of authors who wrote in solitude, who fed off the solitude, and who either didn't need, or learned to function without, constant immediate validation for their work. Ian, for years off in France putting his head down and just writing.

It's almost a foreign concept for newer authors, and it has me wondering what this means in the long term for readers, authors and books.

There are still a lot of readers who do not want to know anything about the authors. Selling off of personality is becoming more and more of a reality as things change within publishing and book selling, and most new authors are afraid to not do everything they can to build a profile for their work. Gone are the days of nurturing authors through 6, 7, 8, 9 books to build a backlist. Authors risk being dropped after book 1 or 2 if the initial sales aren't strong. Agents often encourage us to attend multiple conventions, to blog, to do a newsletter (have you seen how well that's gone on my website? I mean, why do you need a newsletter if you blog regularly?) to do blog tours, etc. etc. etc.

It's no wonder many authors will approach ezines and ask to be interviewed. I'm stunned by the guts it takes to do that, because I really hate approaching people, especially for favours. However, I understand how important it is to raise a profile. I've achieved that, in large part, through Spinetingler and I'm comfortable with that because it's raised the profile of dozens of others as well. It isn't just about me.

That isn't true for every zine out there, or for everyone on blogs. Most are entirely, or almost entirely, self-serving for the person behind them. This is where I can tie this in with yesterday's post: there are definitely publications that will take a story off of the author's name above the quality of the story. It isn't always about the writing. Some people will pick stories because the writer has a certain amount of selling power. It's a reality. In the same way that publishers have to think, at some point, about the bottom line and breaking even, magazines have that pressure and if ezines want to build a readership and get advertising revenue, they have to concern themselves with numbers.

Spinetingler's move to Mystery Bookspot will probably increase readership dramatically. Bookspot currently sees about 45,000 unique visitors monthly, with the numbers on a steady upward trend for the past two years. And the best thing is that the reader community is wider there, because of the multi-genre Bookspot philosophy. The online crime fiction community preaches to the choir, the hard-core readers who follow this genre often exclusively, but places like Bookspot reach out to those who read across the genres. Writers featured there will reach readers who don't follow the online crime fiction mainstream, and get missed by the standard promotional efforts.

But isn't it sad we even have to think about that?

I've maintained all along that I became an author because I love writing, I love books - not because I wanted to be a marketing guru. If I wanted to be a marketing genius, I'd go work in marketing. And I am concerned about the potential implications for books that are sold off of fame instead of writing, authors who spend so much time promoting that they spend little time honing their craft writing.

Will Smith was just on TV, talking about the difference between talent and skill. He said he doesn't consider himself very talented, but he has a ridiculous work ethic. He's been quoted saying that while the other guy is sleeping, he's working. While the other guy is eating, he's working. While the other guy is making love, well, he's making love, but he's working very hard at it. He laughs about that, but he says that talent is what you're born with but skill is what you develop by discipline honing your craft. Obviously, hard work has paid off for him, because his movies have grossed over 4 billion at the box office.

As Brian and I talked about authors like Lehane versus the authors coming up today, we found ourselves wondering if the demand for accessibility is going to change the writing business even further. Most authors have some limited online presence, or means of being contacted. Even best-selling authors have taken up blogging - Sara Paretsky is on The Outfit, Tess Gerritsen maintained her own blog for a long time before giving it up.

Is the day of the total introvert author with a private life a thing of the past? And should it be?

Our conversation eventually led to a discussion about whether or not an MFA is going to be a requirement for authors in the future. I can only say I hope not. Nothing wrong with getting one if you want one, but to be an author takes the discipline to sit down and write and write and write, and to go days/weeks/months at a time, living in that world, creating it, developing the story and characters and bringing a fresh story to readers. That isn't something you can learn to do from a text or a class. Those are starting points - being able to be an author takes the kind of dedication to developing your skill that Will Smith was talking about. And that means putting your head down and working.

I've been toying with the idea of giving up the blog, because I am concerned by the push for celebrity. Any author who seeks validation through blogging is putting the emphasis on the wrong things. My experience with Dorchester has taught me the difference between what a publisher can do for you that you can never do for yourself, by getting my book on end caps, wall displays and prime real estate in Barnes and Noble. Even now, two months after the release, I went to Barnes and Noble in White Marsh and found the books turned face out on the shelf.

That's going to do more to generate sales than any amount of blogging I can do.

Which brings me back to writers like Lehane and Pelecanos, and Connelly and Ian Rankin. They've risen to a level of profile and have a level of publisher support behind them that enables them to step away from the public spotlight and concentrate on writing. They don't have to worry that people will forget them if they don't blog every day.

I'm not jealous. They came up at a different time, and they all went through tough times on the road to their success. It didn't happen overnight with the snap of a finger. And that's what really concerns me about the idea of celebrity authors. People want success now.

Most want it without putting in the hard work first.

People are going to rush to stores to pick up Lehane's book because of the reputation he's built for himself, of quality writing and compelling storytelling, not because he's a good blogger. Same with new offerings from Pelecanos and Rankin and Connelly and many others.

I really want talk about my work to be about the work. I want to be reviewed/interviewed and commented on based on the quality of the writing, not my personality. Sure, I'll say myself if someone is entertaining on a panel I'm more likely to read their book (for heaven's sake, don't ever be nothing more than a walking advertisement for your book) but if a nice person writes a bad book I'm still not going to read it. We all want our work to be appreciated on some level, but one of the things that bothers me about the backscratching philosophy that's pushed hard on many online sites is that it's about exchanging favours, not plugging books sincerely. God, it's no wonder when I turn in reviews or the odd blurb that I do that so many authors say, "Do you really think so?"

We never know if the compliments are just about getting a return endorsement. Hell, you just wait. Everyone will be commenting on the new Lehane because of the vicarious publicity - leeching off his success. I'm almost tempted not to read it until next year. Fortunately, Brian will do the review from the house, so that's off my shoulders. I mean, I love putting out a great review on a book I've thoroughly enjoyed, because I'm a natural cheerleader for what I love. I just never want it to be confused with kissing ass.

As I've faced my own struggles, particularly with being snubbed by some author because of a negative review I wrote, I've had to think carefully about my career and how much of myself I'm willing to sacrifice for success.

These days, I think of authors like Lehane, and okay, maybe I am a bit jealous. Only because I wish I was at a point where I could step off the stage and not be involved in the community as much. I have so many great friends in it, and love them to bits, but it's the large percentage of people who will try to curry favour so that their story gets accepted in the ezine, or their book gets reviewed, or they get interviewed... the people who live on a one-way street, and as long as everything goes their way they're happy, but they will not lift a finger for someone else, just move on to the next promotional opportunity for themselves, they drive me nuts.

The backscratching climate is guilty of fueling the push for celebrity authors. You know, I just want to read a great book because it's a great book, not because it's the best book that's been written by the author that plays the best political game so that people like them. So, while I would have loved to run (an interview)* with Dennis Lehane because I find him interesting as a person, I'm glad there are authors that are a little less accessible out there, ones that still put the emphasis on craft.

Not popularity contests.

(Speaking of getting a look before something is released, Brian won tickets for WANTED for an advance screening Thursday night. Ummm. James McAvoy.)

* ooops - meant to say interview instead of review originally

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hijacking Comments (or Best Said By Nick Mamatas and Jeff Vandermeer)

Yesterday, Brian and I went to a fundraiser for the Humane Society. He was bent over, scrounging through boxes of used books. (We bought a signed hardcover of Laura Lippman's latest, and since the proceeds were going to support dogs up for adoption, I didn't think she'd mind... as much. There were some beautiful dogs there, but I digress.)

As Brian was bent over, a woman came up to him and said he should be careful about bending over like that because she just might grab his backside. Now, she looked about 83 and walked with a cane, so when Brian's boss's partner mentioned someone was hitting on my boyfriend, I wasn't too worried about it. And, as one would guess, this charming lady wasn't heartbroken by being let down. It was expected.

However, rejection is often far more complex, and personal, and usually provokes a strong emotional response.

Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, yaddi yadda. We've all been there, but until it's your story on the chopping block, you never know how you'll take it when your work doesn't make it into a publication.

Every now and again, I deal with someone who ultimately makes me ban them from Spinetingler. It's a surprisingly short list at this stage of the game, considering how long we've been running for. However, I've already pulled back from doing all I hoped to do with the ezine when it started, and that's probably part of the reason.

As a writer, I swore we were going to be fair to writers. Simultaneous submissions were blown by someone who sold first-time publication rights to us and someone else and put us in legal hot water. I find out someone submitted simultaneously, they're on my list. (So, in other words, for the person who recently withdrew a submission by explaining it was being published elsewhere, that really wasn't a good idea.)

And we have never promised editorial feedback on stories. If you ever get editorial feedback, thank your lucky stars and be happy you got more than a form letter.

Because the truth is, form letters are what you'll get 75% of the time. Maybe more. However, I get tired of trying to explain this to people. As much as I understand how frustrating it can be to get a rejection, and to get a form letter, there are some basic things every writer has to come to grips with in the submission process, and Nick Mamatas has already said it so well, I'm just going to quote him.

1. I don't want good stories. I want stories of a certain type. If all I wanted to do was publish good stories, I'd not bother with slush or any of that stuff, but just take a story from the Chekhov archive and paste it up. All the stories in that archive are better than anything I've ever published, or written. I could choose stories from that archive at random and wildly exceed the mission to "just choose good stories" better than every SF/F/H editor ever, combined. Hell, I could publish "Araby" every single month and every single month Clarkesworld would feature THE GREATEST SHORT STORY EVER WRITTEN IN ENGLISH.

Wouldn't you look at a magazine if each month the single best story ever written was in it?

I don't want good stories. I want good stories of a certain length. I'm not going to publish a novella on an online venue, even if other editors think that sort of thing is a good idea. I'm not going to publish a story that takes the form of four interconnected haiku, even if other editors think that sort of thing is a good idea. I'm not going to publish these types of stories regardless of their quality.

I don't want good stories. I want good stories that have certain plots and themes. I do not want any stories, for example, about a woman stitching a stillborn child's corpse to a fish's tail, or about a post-Singularity being who is lonely or of a Filipino goblin writing a letter to another member of the local Communist Party...I've already run those stories. Even if the stories I receive with those plots in the future are BETTER than the ones I've already published, I don't want them. I want something else.

Crystal clear? Okay, let me spell it out, in case you haven't gone over and read Nick's full post already. Sometimes, rejections aren't based on writing quality, they're based on taste. It doesn't necessarily mean you suck as a writer if someone passes on your work. It may very well be that you offered them strawberry shortcake when they were in the mood for apple crumble.

Now, there's a bit of back story to this one, and you might want to just read the whole post, but in a nutshell, this is about the rejection of a story that Nick thought was really good, but it still got rejected with comments. After the writer e-mailed to argue a point, this is what happened.

2. Because the writing in the story was good, I just wrote this back:

There's no good reason to argue with a rejection letter, and normally we ban people who do so. You may feel free to discard our responses unread if you're unwilling to accept specific criticism, as the subject line makes our decision on the story clear.

Further, if you are going to be insulted, you should be sure that what you think was said was in the text. We did not say that you only presented one side of [phenom] or that you didn't understand it, just that you didn't take the time to explore the dual nature of it, and you did not do so. Yes, it is a judgement call -- as far as Clarkesworld is concerned, the judgment is 100% ours to make.

At this point, one would think that a clever man would get the hint and not respond again. Nope — and this guy even slept on it — he wrote this morning: "I took [the line quoted above], quite frankly, as talking down to me, and I saw no reason not to challenge it..." and "...I do not challenge your authority as editor of Clarkesworld. It's your magazine. But similarly, the story is my story, and I see no reason not to defend it when I believe it's been unduly attacked."

Well, now he knows one reason why he shouldn't do so.


I am now much less likely to give second chances as well. If we hit 30 bans by 1/1/09, I am going to 100% form letters.

Now, I understand how frustrating it is to get a 'no'. After all, I've gone through the process of trying to get an agent, trying to get a publisher, trying to get a new publisher. I've been rejected along the way too. I've had comments I agreed with, ones I thought were reasonable although a matter of opinion, and ones I thought were downright hysterical and laughably wrong.

I don't get into arguments with those editors.

Right now, I've got a story that's been in limbo for ages, I'm not sure if it's going into the anthology I put it in for or not, and I'm definitely not stressing about it. I guess I'll find out this fall. I would think I would have found out sooner, as I would expect to sign a contract for it, but what do I know? Well, if there's one thing I know as an editor, it's not to nag editors. It never wins you friends. I'll bide my time, wait and see. Sure, I'd like to promote the anthology if I'm in it, but I figure I'll find out... when I find out. If I'm in it and can promo it then, I will. If it's too late to incorporate it with other promo stuff I'm doing, well, it'll at least get the online push.

Now, for those that want the nutshell version of what's going on at Spinetingler these days, I'll try to make sense of the complicated process of dealing with submissions.

Fact #1. Any of our readers have the ability to outright reject a work and they are not required to explain their reasons to me.

This means that I may not always know why a story has been passed on. If I don't know, and I'm the one sending out the rejection letter, I can't tell you.

Think this is unreasonable? I have a few readers I work with (not all are named on the site, because they have requested it, or because they've had to take time away for personal reasons, so there's no guarantee about who sees what) and I've worked with them long enough to learn to trust them.

The volume of submissions dictates that we sometimes have to make tough decisions. And I don't have time to write up six dozen individual rejection letters in one sitting. If the day comes when nobody will submit to us because I don't do that, well, I'll be damn glad to take the time I give to the ezine and use it for my own stuff. No sweat off my back.

Or, in other words, I won't ever be bullied to change this procedure. I'll pull the plug on the ezine first, 'cos I don't have the time, and the way it is (as with so many things) there are a lot of people who want your help and promotion when it suits them, to get an interview, or a story published or a review, but not all are so willing to pitch in and help out when you need it. I appreciate my volunteers and I protect them.

Fact #2. If you get feedback on the story with editorial comments, thank your lucky stars.

Because I don't usually send it out anymore. It ends up resulting in a lot of extra correspondence as people want comments clarified, or argue points. And I'm already where Nick is approaching - at form letters. I'm trying to streamline this to keep Spinetingler going.

All of the editors are volunteers, but they're also all people with a lot of experience in the publishing world. They've worked in journalism, had books published, had a lot of short fiction published, have worked as editors elsewhere. If I didn't trust their feedback, I wouldn't have them on my team.

If someone's on the fence about a story, or two readers read the same story and come back with wildly different views, then I will make a final decision.

Sometimes, a story is close for one reader and we invite the person to submit it again (and in these cases, provide editorial feedback) but when it comes back in it's read by a different reader. That person has the right to call it like they see it. And they may not provide a reason for the rejection.

Fact #3. I've been turning over more editorial control to Jack Getze.

Jack is our new editor, and he also reads submissions. Sometimes, he reads them after they've been screened, sometimes he reads them raw. He works directly with the writers on changes in the stories now, and ultimately, at the end of the day, even if everyone else likes a story if Jack doesn't, he will not be forced to take it on. I don't work that way. So, if a writer is difficult to work with, if the story isn't something Jack feels fits with the rest of the issue... it gets a pass.

As we say in this house a lot, sometimes, that's just the way the cookie crumbles.

I don't think I'll ever put out an issue where there's universal agreement about how fantastic every story is. Nick has hit a lot of points on the head, and just for good measure, I'm going to toss up a link to another post he did, about endings.

If you're really serious about writing, and being published, you'll read what Nick has to say with an open mind. That means all of these posts. If you won't take it from me because you're choked that your story got rejected by Spinetingler, at least acknowledge that most editors feel the same way about writers who argue, about giving feedback (and the risks of time waste by giving feedback with rejections) and about basic writing issues. In a lazy moment I'm sure I've said I'm looking for great stories, but Nick is damn right - I'm looking for certain types of stories, of specific lengths.

Here's another way to think about it, and this applies for authors dealing with negative reviews as well: some actions will get you remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Check out Brian's post on 'Possible Rules For Handling A Reviewer' because they all apply to writers dealing with editors as well.

One other thing you should read: Jeff Vandermeer's post 'The Difference Between Compromise And Input'.

FYI, I've never had a disagreement with my editor. There have been things he's pointed out in editing that we've had differing opinions on, but we've always discussed various options and perspectives until we reach agreement where we both feel pleased about the result.

Or, as Jeff put it in his post:

I’ve always benefitted from a good editor who shares my vision for a book and, through his or her suggestions–either developmental or on the chapter/paragraph level–has made sure the vision on my head is actually on the page. Because, eventually, the text becomes white noise. Your gaze cannot get a grip on the page. Sometimes this is true even after you’ve had time to reflect. A good editor, even just with questions about the narrative or characters, can allow you to re-imagine and revisit the text in useful ways. I can’t ever remember getting an editorial suggestion I thought was given in a spirit of making something more commercial. Maybe I’ve just been lucky.

If you want to be a professional writer, you have to act like one, instead of whining like a child.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Two Sides Of The Coin

(Or: Let Me See If I Can Confuse You About Politics, & Kung Fu Panda)

As far as political moves go, this is an interesting one. The Prime Minister of Canada has given Muskoka a $300,000,000 gift: a resort in Huntsville has been named to host the 2010 G8 summit.

Those who understand Canadian politics will know that a) the current government is a minority government and can be toppled at any time, and b) in general, Ontario is leery of the Conservative Party, which actually was the merging of the Canadian Alliance (which used to be the Reform Party) with the Progressive Conservatives... if you're confused, it's okay. In general, what it means is that a western-based party merged with a dying party to try to be more acceptable to Canadian voters all across the country.

The Liberal Party has long run its campaigns by trying to incite fear in the population - that a Conservative government would result new policies against gay marriage, etc. That having a Prime Minister from Western Canada is a big, bad, scary idea because... I don't know why. Some sort of east-west thing. By electing a minority Conservative government the Liberals were taken out of power, but the Conservatives weren't given a free pass. They can't do whatever they want. The great thing about minority governments is that it makes them cautious, and the politicians actually listen to the people, because if public opinion sways in favour of an election (or against whoever leads the minority government) the opposition parties will make sure that they get a non-confidence vote through in parliament and then the government will be dissolved and an election will be called.

As long as the ruling party is keeping the majority of Canadians happy, or at least not sufficient upsetting them, they get to form the government.

Stephen Harper became the Prime Minister in January 2006. As Wikipedia says, most minority governments last less than two years, so the fact that the Conservatives have remained in power for 2.5 years is quite an achievement.

Truth is, there is constant speculation about another election, and to be honest, I don't think anyone will want an election in the early part of 2010, because of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Now, cottage country will be hosting the G8 in the summer. Harper has just handed Ontario a lovely gift, and more specifically, Muskoka, and it couldn't have come at a better time. With the strong Canadian dollar and the lagging US economy, tourism has been hard hit in Canada, and regions like Mukoka make their bread and butter off of nothing but tourism. Sure, there are cottagers from Toronto and other parts of Ontario, but with the strong Canadian dollar it's also tempting to take that trip to France or Italy or wherever, because it's more affordable.

We can't have government handouts for every little thing that comes along, but Harper has found a way to offer a location for the G8 that can be secured in much the same way Kananaskis was in 2002, preventing demonstrations and the kind of unrest that has plagues other G8 summits.

Whatever else you want to say about him, Harper is pretty smart. This pretty much ensures that an election will fall between November 2008- 2009.

Which means that Harper is actually determining when his government will return to the polls, instead of being at the mercy of the opposition parties.

Like I said, smart.

Not as sensational as the US presidential election. If you want it all in a nutshell, Scalzi's done a better recap than I've seen anywhere. And if that leaves you in any doubt about where Scalzi stands, he clarifies here.

For the record, nobody wants to read my rant about the racial slurs Fox has tossed out at Michelle Obama. And if you want me to put it in a nutshell, it's that kind of behaviour that gives fuel to the fire for non-Americans who think Americans are narrow-minded. I don't believe this kind of behaviour represents the majority of Americans, and it's sad to me that the extremely poor judgment and bigotry of a few paints the rest of the country in a poor light.

And if that still isn't clear for anyone, you don't ever say that kind of shit around me.

Kung Fu Panda

I'd give this movie an A. Sure, it has a lot of the traditional hallmarks of the quest, and parallels can be drawn to Star Wars and Harry Potter and half a zillion other movies, but there were several things about this movie that made it work extremely well. One was the fact that they didn't overplay it. The story was told in a tight fashion, and if a hint was dropped, it was dropped once instead of beating you over the head with the obvious. As far as kids' movies go, it's one of the better ones I've seen in a while. No heavy reliance on potty humour and pop culture references to make cheap laughs. Lovable Po wrestles with his own insecurities and fears while dealing with the initial rejection from the very people he's idolized.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Long and Short of It: Help Wanted

The new Spinetingler is up, and is a tribute to Tribe that incorporates short fiction that first appeared on Flashing in the Gutters with new flash pieces and short-short stories.

Appropriately, Tribe has just granted Mystery Bookspot, the site that adopted Spinetingler and does the layout/design/uploading and technical support for the issues, permission to host an archive of the stories that appeared on Flashing in the Gutters.

This is where you come in. If you have a blog, or the means, spread the word. We will not post flash pieces without permission of the writer. Any of you who remember Tribe's wonderful site can imagine what a time-consuming project this will be already, but trying to find a way to contact each individual writer will be next to impossible.

If you wrote a story and want it in the archive, e-mail us. If you wrote a story and don't want it in the archive, e-mail us. That will keep us from spending time contacting you later. I imagine that somewhere along the way we'll post a list of names of people we're trying to contact or have not heard from as a last ditch effort to incorporate those stories. For now, we're relying on people spreading the word.

My thanks to The Rap Sheet for already posting all the details. Contact information is posted there.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bouchercon News Worth Repeating

At Central Crime Zone Jon Jordan reported on a group that is, essentially, harassing authors planning to attend Bouchercon this fall by spreading incorrect information that the convention has been cancelled.

A more extensive explanation can be found on the Bouchercon blog,provided by Ruth Jordan.

In my experience, legitimate strikes involve picket lines with employees off the job. I have recently been to the Sheraton, to park there while downtown, and there is no picket line to cross. My impression is that everything is running smoothly at the Sheraton. Although I do not need to stay there for the convention, I have no cause for concern for those who will be staying there, or for the success of the convention. It seems clear to me that if there is a problem with the convention, it will be because of the harassment of the members of this group.

I mean, they're calling people up and telling them the convention is cancelled? Oh, I almost hope they decide to phone me...

Anyway, Bouchercon is on, and it's less than four months away, so if you haven't booked yet, you should.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Too Little Too Late?

I doubt anything gets me more upset than people who abuse or neglect children, and when the people who fail children are the very people hired (or expected... ie parents) to care for them it sends me into a rage.

My own experience in school is no secret, and I'm not going to dredge that up, but it helps explain why I felt my blood pressure spike when I saw this story this morning:

A Grade 1 student was cornered in the washroom of his school and whipped with belts by two boys seven years his senior, an attack the school's principal chose not to report to police...

On a day when Canadian headlines include mention of a teen arrested for bear-spraying a cop while resisting arrest, a 14-year-old girl questioned about a series of arsons and a 13-year-old boy who's plead guilty for a high speed chase isn't it time people woke up to the reality that "kids" aren't all innocent?

I have absolutely no idea what possessed this principal to think that the confinement and assault of a six-year-old child in her school, by two 13-year-olds wasn't worth mentioning. Insanity? Idiocy? Indifference? They didn't even tell the parents. Let me tell you something: There is no teacher or principal on the planet who wants to find themselves on the other side of that kind of decision about my kids. If I found out that one of them had been assaulted on school property and we weren't even informed - and no disciplinary action was taken against the people who assaulted them - you better believe I wouldn't stop short of seeking their dismissal.

This principal should be fired.

There should never, ever be a time that a child is afraid to go to school, or that parents become aware that those who are entrusted with the care of their child have ignored something as serious as the child's assault.

I'm willing to concede that I'm a bit of a safety nut on the legal stuff. Years of ingrained awareness of liability issues when you're working with kids will do that to you. I don't tolerate any kind of shit, and when I was a supervisor I was a nightmare to anyone who slacked on incident reports. Parents who don't apply sunscreen. How many times have I seen that over the years? Hell, that is part of my morning routine every single morning before school. Parents who let young kids ride without booster seats or in the front seat. I worked with one of those, and when a parent just finds it easier to pop their four-year-old in the front seat so he won't whine on a five-minute drive, I wonder what else they let go when it's convenient.

I'm all for daycares that have live video streaming for parents, because it protects kids and it protects care staff.

In fact, I've been asked numerous times over the years if I have any advice for someone looking for a care center or school for their child, and my #1 thing is this: go and visit the center for a few hours. Don't settle for a quick tour. If a center isn't okay with you dropping in for a visit, or staying and watching the group as they go through transitions and do different parts of their program, you have to wonder why. I'm dead serious about this. It's easy for even bad room staff to put on a smile and a good show for a few minutes as the tour groups go through, but where you're going to get the real measurement of a room is when they slip into routine, when kids start changing activities - the busiest and most chaotic time in any room. You'll get the real room temperature then.

For me, there's simply no way that someone who is a school principal should be left in their position if they don't consider an act of assault against a young child - any child - on the property to be worth taking disciplinary action over or notifying the parents of. It's no wonder kids don't think there are any consequences for their actions anymore. Apparently, at least one principal thinks there shouldn't be.

I'm personally finding it harder to take right now, because yesterday marked an historic event in Canada. Long overdue, the Canadian government offered an apology for a course of action taken by previous governments beginning in the 1870s.

The government's "assimilation" policy ripped roughly 150,000 children from their homes and communities and placed them in far-away boarding schools.

"The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage and language," Harper said in the Commons.

Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine brought many to tears when he called the apology "the achievement of the impossible."

"Finally we have heard Canada say it is sorry," he said.

Fontaine said the apology officially strips away a policy of "white supremacy." The assimilation process impoverished not just the aboriginal population, but the character of our country as a whole.

It took almost 140 years for someone to stand up and officially say that the policy of removing Natives from their homes and sending them to church-run residential schools, where many were abused, was wrong.

...for Michael Cachagee, president of the National Residential School Survivors' Society, there is very little that can be said to ever make up for the loss of his childhood.

"It is going to be a very emotional event -- traumatic and dramatic," predicts Cachagee, 68. "If it lacks sincerity, if it's simply an apology and it has no meaning, it's just business as usual and nothing has changed."

Cachagee was just 4 when they took him away from his mother, loading him and his two brothers on a horse-drawn sled that carried him away from his home in Chapleau.

Over the next 12 years, he was shunted between three different residential schools within a 965 km radius, as part of the Canadian goverment's plan to forcibly assimilate our native population.

It seems madness now, looking back. They must have seen themselves as well-meaning enough, politicians who believed that immersing the young in European customs, education and church would rid them of their "savage" culture and bring the First Nations into step with Canadian ways.

So it was that they justified to themselves the virtual kidnapping of children from their parents, their communities and their very identities. By 1931, there were 80 schools across the country with the last closing in 1996.

Cachagee never had a choice -- he had to leave home just as his mother and grandmother had before him.

At his first school, he was fondled by a female supervisor. "If you complained, she put you in a tub of boiling hot water," he recalls.

Those were horrors he had to learn to take in stride. "As a child, it's amazing how you shut down and adjust. That's what got me through. You become dead emotionally."

The memories are stark and haunt him still -- the shock of bright electricity when he first arrived, the institutional smell, the lack of sorrow when a student would die -- and so many did. "No one cried, no one mourned for them," he recalls. "They'd just put them in a box."

Canada, so proud of itself for being such a nice nation while we've turned our blind eyes away from the abuse we inflicted on thousands of people for over a century. Is there anyone out there who doesn't get how shameful this is? Why yes, apparently one principal of a Catholic school in the York region doesn't think the abuse of any child is too serious.

With the outright indifference of even those entrusted to care for our children, well, is it any wonder the cycle of abuse goes on and on and on?

Excuse me while I go track down a picture of this principal and attach it to a punching bag for my morning workout. Maybe tomorrow I'll spout off about why insurance companies are okay covering ritilin but not okay covering treatments for autism.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

No Easy Answers

Public expectation was that a filmed interview with convicted killer Paul Bernardo would be restricted in attempts to prevent the video from being leaked online.

Instead, the judge ruled that the tapes could be released to the public. Hours after the landmark ruling, excerpts as much as ten minutes long (the entire interview is approximately half an hour) have already appeared on YouTube and the full interview can be watched on, one of Canada's national news sites.

The purpose of the interview was to question Bernardo about Elizabeth Bain, who disappeared in June 1990. Despite the arrest and conviction of Robert Baltovich - Bain's boyfriend - he has since been granted a new trial and suspicions linger that Bernardo was actually responsible, although in the past he has not confessed to Bain's murder.

Setting aside the reason for the interview, this controversial ruling is sure to stir up strong feelings amongst Canadians who remember the abduction of Kristen French, and the discovery of Leslie Mahaffy's body, dismembered and encased in concrete and submerged in Lake Gibson. Although I was twenty at the time, all young women were encouraged to be cautious, not to be out too late at night, not to be alone. Vigilant investigators followed up on every reported lead in their attempts to catch the killers of French and Mahaffy - I remember the day they came to my house. It was an experience that proved the extent of the impact of these abductions and murders, because friends pointed fingers at friends. It taught me something about how quickly trust erodes in the face of fear.

Undoubtedly, there is a lingering public fascination with Bernardo, and his ex-wife Karla Homolka, who participated in the crimes. Homolka cut a deal and testified against Bernardo, and her release from prison turned her into a pseudo-celebrity, with the media keeping tabs on her activities and reporting them to the nation. She has since given birth to a boy, remarried and left the country.

The public curiosity is understandable. When we discover the beautiful, young couple living next door have been responsible for three murders - including the murder of Homolka's own sister - and multiple sexual assaults, there are two typical reactions. One is to plug our ears and pretend it didn't happen, and the other is to try to understand why this happened. I can only say that I feel conflicted over the decision to release this video to the public, for a number of reasons. After checking the records, Baltovich has already been found not guilty at his second trial, earlier this year, but there will be a lingering doubt that the suspicions centered on Bernardo contaminated public opinion and provided reasonable doubt without actually offering any concrete answers.

There will always be the question of whether or not public interest in killers contributes to more violence.

Now I will be famous.

Those were the words of the teenager responsible for eight murders in a mall shooting spree in Omaha last December. Public fascination with killers - particularly serial killers - elevates them to that pseudo-celebrity status Homolka experienced upon her release, and send the wrong message to fragile minds, those on the verge of committing their own crimes who believe they'll gain a type of immortality through the fame that comes from their crimes.

Of course, we haven't even touched on how it must be for the families of the victims, who deal with the ongoing discussions of these crimes and the people responsible. This blog post may make me guilty of contributing to that as well.

We crime fiction writers are often accused of drawing inspiration from true cases purely for entertainment and personal profit. I disagree. There may be some who have those motivations, but I prefer using the forum of fiction to address issues so that they aren't clouded by the "situational ethics" factor - that responses aren't based on individuals but on proper policy.

Right or wrong, the Bernardo tape is out there for public consumption. Will you watch it? Do you think it was the right choice?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Weighing in on the Publisher Debate

The excellent Pari Noskin Taichert wrote a post yesterday, posing the question, Do Publishers Matter? The people best able to answer this question are the ones who've had more than one publisher, and I would say yes, absolutely.

Pari has touched on some of the reasons why publishers matter more and more to authors, and the significance is actually stemming from the actions of writer organizations and conventions. Most organizations have a list of approved publishers, and anyone being published by another publisher not on the list isn't always eligible for membership. On the one hand, a superficial response is, "At least I'm saving $600 a year on membership dues" (which isn't far off, if you join every organization out there) but it does matter to many authors. Increasingly, writer organizations are doing more and more to promote authors (interestingly enough, as some maintain publishers are doing less and less, but that's a debate for another day) and if you're unable to participate as a member you miss out on that promotion.

Authors from unapproved publishers will also find themselves unable to participate on panels at many of the mystery conventions. The most extreme version of this is Harrogate Crime Festival, where participation on panels is by invitation only. In the wake of the success of Left Coast Crime 2006, held in the UK, organizers formed Crimefest, which does have the more common open panel option that allows registering authors to be on panels. (Word has it that in the wake of the success of their recent convention, organizers have decided to make Crimefest an annual event, proving that a wider range of authors on panels did not curtail the success of their first convention.)

Conventions and organizations are peripheral reasons. More importantly, we're all aware of the distribution issues that are increasingly important for authors to consider. I did research on every publisher my manuscript was sent to last year at this time, when I was in the shopping phase for What Burns Within. I wanted to see if the publishers were consistently able to place books on bookstore shelves, and that's not as clear and obvious as one might think, particularly when you're checking store shelves in Canada.

The issue of distribution is probably the single biggest reason publishers matter. They have the ability to get your book into stores, and with internet sales only accounting for 10-15% of total book sales, the importance of having your book in stores can't be stressed enough. Think you'll get books in on consignment and that all will be okay? Consider the challenges involved in visiting and stocking stores yourself, how much time you're taking away from writing, and the fact that you won't recoup your investment in gas and time through sales.

In my own experience, I've had a book come out from a completely unknown publisher, and one come out from a reputable, established NY Publisher - the same publisher of the popular Hard Case Crime books, in fact. These are the two extremes. Although I never paid to have my first book published what I ultimately learned was that the people who'd started the company didn't have enough experience with publishing, knowledge of the industry or resources to do much more than get a book listed with online sales sites, something even self-published authors can do on their own. I have avoided delving into all the specifics of my own issues with them publicly, but I will stress the importance of communicating with authors from these upstart publishers wherever possible - and listening to them. In my experience, you'll write a book that will go largely unnoticed, will not have the ability to reach many readers, and you'll carry the burden of your promotion, as well as babysitting the publisher over the terms of the contract, which reminds me that I have an unpleasant e-mail to write this week.

My experience with Dorchester is night and day different. For one thing, although I had a very short turnaround time for publication from the offer of a contract (the offer came end of last July, and the book shipped April 29, SC had the feel of being rushed out, while WBW didn't have that same feel. I could expand at length on the difference in editing, in cover design, as well as distribution, but the primary thing I'd like to mention is the difference in promotion. With SC, only once did I walk into a bookstore and see my book on shelves.

With WBW, I've had the treat of seeing it on display tables at the Calgary airport, of having friends send in photos of the book on the wall displays in airports in the US, and seeing it on the New In Paperback displays with my own eyes in Barnes and Noble. Dorchester's marketing goddess has achieved more for the book than I ever could have on my own, and right now, my career plan is all about building a readership, and they've enabled me to get out there where readers can find me.

There's another thing that Pari touched on in her post, about the self-published people able to get their work out faster. They might see that as a plus, but I think people should really reconsider that. I don't see it as a plus. It takes time to nurture a work, and it's important that you take the time to make sure everything is done properly. That includes the lead-in time to get review copies out and drum up buzz about the book so that people are anticipating it. People won't pick up books they haven't heard of and can't find in stores unless something brings them to it, but we all know that shelf life in stores is limited. You want those sales happening in the first few months after release, so waiting for buzz to follow release may mean the book isn't on shelves when people go to look for it.

Rushing books risks getting bad art, compromises the editing process, and curtails the ability to do a thorough pre-release marketing plan. You should never rush something as important as your book.

I'd like to note that, while I wouldn't recommend some publishers, that doesn't necessarily make the policy of writer organizations a good one. One of my concerns with some of the stipulations is that some organizations require the publisher to have released a certain number of books prior to being approved as a recognized publisher. What this means is that it's more challenging for legitimate new publishers to qualify, and as some of us have speculated on the push to produce more and more knock-offs of successful books and to limit the scope of what gets published it is more important than ever that small presses rise up to fill the gaps and diversify the content of what's published. The criteria that some organizations use is unrealistic and too broad to eliminate true vanity presses while allowing the leeway for new publishers to be recognized.

The reasons publishers matter come from within (promotion, distribution) and from without (organizations, conventions). More could be said, but the only thing I'd like to address is what it means to me as a reader. As I began to receive more and more review copies, I eventually learned there were some publishers who produced work I didn't want to read. A variety of reasons contributed to this, including the purchase of final copies that had typesetting problems and a level of mistakes that was frustrating. I'll admit I've never, ever, returned a purchased book to the store, even if there's been a problem with it. This may be the result of growing up in a small town and always buying books during visits to the city, and not being readily able to return books, but I definitely don't want to order something off of amazon (which I sometimes did while living in Canada because the publisher didn't have distribution in Canada) and have to return it.

I've also learned that some publishers do a better job with editing, and I know certain editors who produce work that I prefer. Jon Wood springs to mind as a favourite from the UK, and the more I know about the industry, the more these things matter to me as a reader. That may not be true for all readers, but generally what happens is that if there are major problems in a book the readers associate them with the author. I remember a conversation about a friend's book, which had some typesetting problems in it, and comments from others about how they could never remember the publisher's name, but they connected it to the author.

And that's another reason, again, why it should matter to authors. Mistakes happen, technology isn't foolproof, but what we all want is for our books to come out and look great and be well received. The smoothest road to a positive experience as an author and a career is dealing with publishers who are professionals on every level. That doesn't mean you don't go with a small press. It just means you do your homework and make sure the publisher you're considering signing with is able to do the best for your work.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Internet Buffet

John McFetridge's article from Quill and Quire gets picked up and plugged online via the Utne reader. I knew John had mentioned me in the original article (thanks John!) and that's been picked up in Utne's condensed version.

Steve Mosby recently had his fourth book come out in the UK, but it's his third book, The 50/50 Killer that's the subject of a "post mortem" article written by Brian Lindenmuth, which you can find here. If you've read 50/50 Killer, you should read Brian's article. He may just change your mind about what really happened in the book... And if you follow the article to the comments section, Steve Mosby responds.

Ruth Jordan has a round-up of new books to read, in case any of you are in danger of a dwindling tbr pile.

Spinetingler gets spanked for the indignity of offering $25 payment for short stories. Thankfully, someone else on there wasn't only interested in jumping to the negative and firing away with criticism, by aptly pointing out that most crime fiction ezine markets don't pay at all - not Plots With Guns, not Demolition, not Pulp Pusher... I think The Thrilling Detective pays $10. And for the record, some print markets don't pay either. In fact, to date, the only short story I've been paid for is the one that ran in Spinetingler's anthology and you don't hear me whining about it, do you? I'm not knocking any other ezine for not paying, because I know what it is to take money out of my pocket to pay the writers in Spinetingler - there isn't anywhere near enough advertising revenue. The moral of the story is, if you don't pay at all, you don't get on their radar to criticize you, and if you try to offer a little something you've put yourself in the line of fire, but that's okay. I really just shouldn't read this stuff, 'cos it makes me feel like being selfish with my time and money and avoiding the headaches and not doing an ezine at all anymore.

Thankfully, that feeling passes. The head guru at MBS tells me Spinetingler will probably be out later this week. I saw the pdf a couple days ago and it looks phenomenal.

Passing Gas

With gas prices in the US at a record average of $4.02 a gallon, and a lingering war that was supposed to stabilize oil access instead of contributing to a supply shortage, one wonders what could possibly make the situation worse.

How about knowing that there's oil that the government isn't buying?

In 2006, the U.S. was practically begging Canada to ramp up its oil sands production.

Old news, right? Well, no. As the author of this article explains:

Just two years ago (when oil was less than half of today's price of $108 per barrel), U.S. officials were asking the Canadian government to increase their oil sands production by fivefold.

That comes out to about five million barrels per day.

If anyone has a better way of phrasing the U.S.'s desire for Canadian heavy oil, I'm all ears. It's clear we were looking to switch our Middle East oil addiction with Canadian oil sands.

Now here's the $64,000 question: Why would news that is over two years old be of any consequence?

The fact is that production from oil sands has been increasing. Although it's not even close to the desired five million barrels per day, production from the Alberta oil sands is projected to be just under three million barrels per day by 2015....

The point?

The U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act, signed last December, could be a roadblock for the oil sands. Section 526 of the legislation prohibits the U.S. government from obtaining transportation fuels with higher life cycle greenhouse emissions than conventional petroleum.

Yes, you guessed it: that blocks the purchase of oil from the oil sands.

Alberta's premier has the daunting task - in the wake of an oil sands environmental issue - of trying to sell the U.S. on taking product from the oil sands.

"Stelmach should be back home cleaning up the oil industry, rather than running around Washington as an oil salesman," said Liz Butler, organizing director for ForestEthics, a Canada-U.S. organization.

"The U.S. does not want Canada's dirty oil."

Um, really? Well, what does Stelmach have to say to that?

Mr. Stelmach told an energy forum although the myth about the oil sands project has gained some traction south of the border, it would be foolish to restrict the project now.

"There are ongoing attempts in some quarters of this country to slow down or even stop oil sands development. Those attempts don't reflect reality and they don't make sense," he said.

"Even worse, they could serve to jeopardize this country's energy security at a time when Asian markets are clamouring for oil."

The comments have been drummed up as a threat (do business with us or else) and (of course) opposition parties are lashing out and criticizing.

As a long-time resident of Alberta, I could certainly give my own spin on this. I disagree that Alberta puts the concerns of citizens and the environment ahead of energy production - as someone who was forced to sell their mineral rights, I have first-hand experience with that. We were given one offer for drilling the natural gas reserves, and told to accept it or they'd apply to the EUB and force the sale....

Which the company did. In that case, someone else decides that you don't get to make decisions about what you own, forget about environmental concerns, and trying to get anyone to listen was a waste of time. That damn energy company came to town with a slide show and plan that included putting a well in town, in front of someone's house. I have a high level of animosity towards them, to this day.

However, the reality is, with soaring gas prices and people desperate for more access to oil, I do find it surprising that it would even be suggested that anyone turn away 1.25 million barrels of oil per day.

I'm cautious about saying I'm not an environmentalist. I recycle, I believe in the three Rs. I care about the environment. Where I draw the line is in balance - sometimes, there has to be give and take. We can think only about the environment now, but we also have to think long-term. If the markets tumble, economies collapse, if a different part of the world has all the resources and ability to use them and we find our part of the world regressing because of a lack of access to resources, we'll be vulnerable. WWII wasn't good for the environment or business, unless you manufactured military goods, I guess. There's already a bit of a crisis in the U.S. with the highest foreclosure rate since The Great Depression. Seeing people lose their homes, their livelihood, their ability to provide for their families and their hopes and dreams isn't helpful either. When that happens, you think they care about the environment? They only care about survival.

Let's look at the long-term impact of soaring oil prices. Outrageous gas prices. People unable to afford to get to work, or bringing home less and less from their paycheque, compounded by rising costs of all products in stores. In Canada, the postal service has added a fuel surcharge. So people are taking home less, spending more. Hence, losing homes, struggling to get by. Companies going out of business because they can't stay afloat. More foreclosures. Fewer people buying cars, flying on planes, so car manufacturers going out of business, car salesmen struggling, real estate agents unable to move houses. It's a cycle. I'm not saying it's good or right, but part of the backbone of our society is built on oil. We can't just snap our fingers and eliminate that dependence. What we need is a long-term plan. Right now, we need oil, and we need to fund development of products that will lessen our dependence so that we have long-term stability.

A healthy environment stems from a healthy society as a whole. The U.S. needs it. Right now, it needs oil. And hey, if California doesn't want it, fine. Sell it to other parts of the country that do. Or does everyone really think it's better for Canada to sell it to China, or the latest country Canada's signed a free trade agreement with, Columbia? Hell, why are gas prices so high in Canada when Canada produces its own oil (is it really the world's second largest oil reserve, as stated in the one article? Then why should we ever be at the mercy of the middle east?) and is in a position to sell it elsewhere? Imagine if Canada decided to keep its resources for itself...

The truth about the oil sands is to be found somewhere between Stelmach's endorsement and the criticism of the environmental groups. Truth is, I'm not sure how countries that didn't support Kyoto can even start pointing fingers over greenhouse gases. There are a lot of businesses that do a lot of environmental damage, and in many cases do more damage than the oil sands. The attention on the oil sands is good for ensuring that environmental concerns will be addressed, and I'm all for that, though I feel outright rejecting the oil at such a critical economic time as this is baffling.

After all, how much oil is coming into the country with the price of human blood coating the barrel?

And as much as I'm concerned about the environment, nothing tops the cost of human lives.

Anyone else for regulation instead of rejection? Can't we find a way to make this work, for both countries and the benefit of the average person, just trying to get by?

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Rescue Dawn

RESCUE DAWN, starring Christian Bale, ultimately gets my vote as a movie I wanted to be better than it was, although I did enjoy watching it.

All of the ingredients were there for a compelling story. Based on a true story, RESCUE DAWN takes us to 1965 and a highly classified airstrike over Laos. Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) is shot down and ultimately captured and taken prisoner. He is tortured in heinous ways - tied spread eagle to stakes, hung from his feet while tied to an ant hill, dragged, and that's not all - and is finally taken to a prison camp in Vietnam where he meets up with other prisoners, some of whom have been captive for over two years. Dengler faces the challenges of new types of torture, dealing with the almost-broken minds of his fellow prisoners, and trying to persuade them to join him in an escape attempt.

A strong supporting cast (Steve Zahn for one - The Object of My Affection, You've Got Mail, Stuart Little 2 etc. etc. etc.) should have rounded out the movie to make it a sure hit, but the criticism I have of the movie falls to the (gasp) writing. On the one hand, I can applaud movies that aren't Hollywood-ized, that don't try to fit into the conventional structures and manipulate readers. On the other hand, viewers need reasons to care and be engaged. What this movie lacked was enough of a beginning introduction to the character of Dengler to fully engage our sympathies early on. Ultimately, I was invested in his struggle and challenges, but this grew after he was taken captive and tortured. Even the torture wasn't overplayed. Again, there's something great about a movie not overdramatizing things, but the tightly controlled emotions made it harder to really connect to the characters. Again, with the supporting cast, we didn't get enough time to really develop our connections to each individual one and understand their motivations and thought processes all of the time.

That said, Christian Bale is one of my favourite actors. He's an actor capable of playing a good guy and making you root for him, and he's capable of playing a conflicted character, and also a bad guy. He has tremendous range, and has chosen to go a more interesting path than some actors, who just try to churn out blockbuster after blockbuster. I have had an appreciation for his skill since Swing Kids, and he was brilliant in American Psycho, and I really want to see 3:10 to Yuma.

Although I haven't thought about it at length, he strikes me as an actor who could play the character 'Craig' if my book series was ever converted to film. He can cover both sides of the complexity of Craig Nolan, which comes out more in book 2, THE FRAILTY OF FLESH.

Back to the subject at hand, all in all I liked Rescue Dawn, but it did have a few hiccups, some rough transitions, and what I'd call distant filming (more wide shots that distanced you emotionally from the characters somehow) that didn't serve it well.

(And on another note, there's another WBW review that's online now. I've really been blessed with the strong, positive feedback for the book, and my thanks to all who took the time to read it and review it. I'm glad you liked it.)

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Headline Commentary

8-foot statue of Jesus stolen off cross in Detroit
- Don't worry. He's coming back again.

Mounties to charge 6 after busting Montreal coke ring
- Spoiler for the next John McFetridge novel.

Virgin marriage ruling shocks France
- Still no word on whether or not the groom was/remains a virgin, though.

Dogs going postal at nearly twice the normal rate
- How does a dog hold a gun?

Man rigged shower to shock wife.
- Good thing for her that he's a crappy electrician.

Red wine may curb effects of aging.
- Don't forget: so will dying young.

Some days, all the news prompts from me is a bit of sarcasm.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Darkness and Light

I need feedback from readers. Do you prefer darker books, or ones with a bit of optimism? In a series, if you love the characters, does an extremely dark book put you off or only make you want the next book more?

I can't elaborate too much on why I'm asking, only to say it involves something I'm doing, my editor, and a box of Kleenex. As I've been mulling over my dilemma, I've been thinking about very popular series books. Rankin's Black and Blue is one of, if not the darkest Rebus book, and it was the break-out book of the series. Heck, pick any book in Val McDermid's Wire In The Blood series. Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor books run from dark to darker still.

My favourite Jackie Leven album is Creatures of Light and Darkness... And my favourite Mark Billingham book is probably still The Burning Girl, which has a rather grim ending as well. I'd argue that if you think about Laura Lippman's To The Power of Three, there isn't much to be optimistic about at the end. The Fever Kill by Tom Piccirilli. Hard Man and Savage Night by Allan Guthrie. The 50/50 Killer by Steve Mosby. Stuart MacBride's Cold Granite - hell, Broken Skin doesn't end on a particularly cheery note, does it?

I think the majority of my favourite books are quite dark.

So, what do you guys think? What do you prefer? What books are most memorable for you? Why?

(And on the birthday front, I was spoiled with a gift certificate, a gorgeous travel mug, specialty tea, an Annie Lennox CD and Cornelia Read's The Crazy School, which I'd looked for when I was visiting the US earlier this year. I'm looking forward catching up with this series.)

Monday, June 02, 2008

Twisting Knickers

The new issue of Clarkesworld is out, and with it the fuel for controversial debate, in the form of a non-fiction article titled Cheer Up Emo Kid: Being Depressed (or gay) Is Not All In Your Genes.

Moving right along...

What the heck is it with Tim Hortons, anyway? It wasn't all that long ago that I vented about the firing of one employee over a 16 cent Timbit - and not only was she rehired, but it turned out she'd worked there for three years and never been written up before - but now a ten-year-old case has been dredged up again, with a legal ruling.

It may have gone in Tim Hortons' favour this time, but what stood out to me was the last paragraph of the story:

Last month a Toronto businesswoman complained she was scolded by a Tim Hortons employee at the King and Victoria Sts. franchise for buying a homeless woman breakfast.


Really, do I want someone lecturing me over my purchases? It's sort of the reverse equivalent to people who take out all their pent-up angst against a store when they get to the cashier to pay for their purchases. I was behind one of those recently. After a few minutes of verbal harassment, the cashier finally tried to defend the store by pointing a few things out. The complainer was having none of that, so the cashier just rushed to finished, and did say, "Have a nice day."

The complainer responded, "I will when I get out of this place."

I'm not going to say I've never had a thing or two to say to a cashier, but generally when there's been something specific there that's prompted it.

I'm beginning to wonder if our forum-blogging-spout-your-opinions-to-the-masses culture is having an impact, inspiring people to think that they not only can but should offer up strong opinions freely to strangers, and customers. What happened to the good ol' days, when you could go to the store and be left alone? When you could buy something without being pestered to complete ten customer satisfaction surveys? When I didn't have to give my postal - er, um zip - code every time I wanted to buy something?

It's the two sides of the coin. Free speech is a wonderful thing, and it's something I believe in, but I still think there's a time and place for it. This brings me right around to the lively dinner conversation last night. Sunday family dinners are the norm with my partner's family, and since today is my birthday we were having a bit of a party.

Which turned into a debate about the Dixie Chicks and that whole old mess.

I can defend the right to say anything, but I agree there may be consequences. If my partner goes on a forum or blog and gets in a fight with reviewers, there won't be any long-term repercussions. If I do it, a few dozen reviewers will take a pass on my next book.

It's the way it is. I know I avoid reviewing people I've had public conflict with, so that if my review isn't primarily positive I don't put my own credibility at question with people speculating that I allowed personal feelings to colour my judgment. Now, if I was a paid newspaper reviewer, I would.

But then again, if I was a paid reviewer, I wouldn't blog about reviewing at all. I'd want more personal distance than I currently have.

Like I said though, that's just me.

Now, that's a bit of a detour from the point, but one of the things last night's discussion made me think about is the fact that we're all ambassadors. People who are celebrities carry more weight in that respect, because more people are watching them, and their platform is bigger. I'm a fly on the wall by comparison, but I still think you have to be careful about dishing criticisms about your own country publicly, or about another country.

Which has me wondering why it is that a Toronto Star columnist has weighed in on the US presidential race, with a strong opinion about who would bring real change.

Seriously, I lost respect for Michael Moore when he came to Canada and lobbied against certain political parties, telling us how to vote. He doesn't live in Canada, he doesn't have to deal with the multiple issues that feed into an election and the decisions individual voters are making. And I'm not sorry to say that an election is about more than government funding for the film industry. My feeling was, "Get out of my country and shut your fucking mouth."

Kind of goes to my general feeling that if you don't vote, you don't really have the right to complain.

Which ties into why I feel more comfortable making political commentary about Canada than the US. Okay, maybe after I've lived here a while, I'll feel differently. Maybe not. All I know is, I have far more experience and understanding with what it is to live in Canada, and Canadian issues. Until you've walked a mile, don't cast stones.

The US is often picked on internationally. It's common practice to beat up on Americans. My experience living in Europe was that many Americans wore Canadian flags so that they wouldn't hear the criticisms. Canadians are always praised as being nice, while Americans are rude.

Now, go back to the stories about Tim Hortons, and consider the public relations nightmares that company has had to deal with. They aren't coming off quite as nice as the traditional image of Canadians, and as a major Canadian company, well, it doesn't reflect well on us, does it?

It's a nice thing that the response when people find out I'm Canadian is to say that Canadians are so nice, friendly. However, I'm really tired of the US-bashing. My own experience is that everywhere I go, people are so nice. When I'm outside neighbours wave. They talk to you. When I'm in the store, people chat. If people block you in an aisle, they quickly move and apologize.

In fact, my experiences here make me think that Americans are extremely nice.

I guess it's all about your point of view. But I still don't feel I have the right to weigh in the US presidential race.

Now, the question of whether or not being gay is in your genes.... Nah, I'm steering clear of that one as well.

(Oh, and the winners of free signed copies of What Burns Within have been determined - we're actually giving away five copies, so Fiona, Keith, Joshua, Bob and Daniel Hatadi can look forward to getting a signed copy in the mail.)

Sunday, June 01, 2008

School as an 'In' Club

Melissa Barton said she is considering legal action after her son's kindergarten teacher led his classmates to vote him out of class.

After each classmate was allowed to say what they didn't like about Barton's 5-year-old son, Alex, his Morningside Elementary teacher Wendy Portillo said they were going to take a vote, Barton said.

By a 14 to 2 margin, the students voted Alex — who is in the process of being diagnosed with autism — out of the class.

Since when did attendance at school rely on a popularity contest?

I'm going to stop myself long enough to say I definitely understand the frustrations of dealing with a difficult child. I'm not saying Alex Barton is difficult - for one thing, not even anecdotal evidence has been offered that proves that he was causing serious problems in the class - but I worked with a child who was later removed from kindergarten. The reason? He was one of those cusp children, and had the option of starting kindergarten at the age of 4. He wasn't emotionally ready. I couldn't say I was surprised, because he was violent and aggressive (I witnessed him kicking his pregnant mother in the stomach, as well as several assaults against peers) and his parents couldn't acknowledge there was an issue. The school had an out, as cusp children could be "held back" with the recommendation of the admin that he needed another year before starting kindergarten.

I'm not saying it's right or wrong in that case. What I am saying is, he wasn't expelled, he was deferred. And it was handled through proper channels, with the administration.

I'll even admit that, while I miss many of the children I've worked with over the years, I did not miss that particular child at all. But really, I didn't miss the parents. With their support and cooperation, he would have made more progress, but when the parents will not discipline their child at all, well, they've made your job a thousand times harder.

However, reading this news story this morning made my blood boil. School isn't a democracy - if it was, we'd have students voting teachers out, or for no homework, or to abolish school rules. Second of all, turning to the children of a kindergarten class - children five and six years of age - to render this kind of judgment against another child is emotional abusive. The abuse is not just against Alex, but also against every child in that room. They were used by the adult who has been charged with the responsibility of educating them. What they've been taught is that they can take out anyone they want. What happens next year when there's a student who isn't popular? Will they also be denied the opportunity to attend school?

If a child is presenting significant problems in class, there are options. You go through administrative channels. First of all, given the pending diagnosis for Alex, the teacher should have sought additional support staff to assist with this child. Second of all, if a child is causing significant disruption and the teacher can't get additional support, there are administrative channels to go through to address the problem, and it's something that should have been handled behind closed doors, with the parent called in to discuss strategies and options.

No way in the world should a child be traumatized by being publicly shamed in front of a class and then booted out. I mean, because his classmates say he's "disgusting" and "annoying"? You know, I've known some teachers who were disgusting and annoying in my day. Heck, when I went to school, there were some very poor kids. The kids who relied on hand-me-down clothes being handed down to them. Ragamuffin hair, always a bit grubby. I told a story here once, of visiting my public school after I went to high school, and asking to borrow a hairbrush from a girl who sort of fit in the above category. I'm not sure now if she really was that poor, or grubby, but she was teased a lot. She was one year younger than me, and sometimes we had a mixed class, so I was pretty familiar with the harassment.

When she passed me her brush, I got a paper towel to hold it. Thing was, I had pink eye, and although I was being treated, I was still being careful. She didn't know that, and she started to cry.

Imagine thinking people disliked you so much they'd use a paper towel to handle what you'd touched.

How awful is that?

People who've worked with me in the past know I can be a hard ass. I'm pretty strict. Hell, just ask Daniel Hatadi. I'm a you-piss-me-off-cross-the-line-I-kick-your-ass type, even when it comes to online forums. However, in the parenting dynamic, I'm the soft touch of the two of us. That doesn't mean I'm not disciplining or saying no, but on a lot of things I'm pretty relaxed. Life, after all, is full of enough disappointments all on its own. I don't need to say no on all the little things just to prove that I can say no. Want to use the crazy straws to drink left-over cereal milk? Sure, why not? No big deal.

I'm actually astonished that no disciplinary action has been taken against the teacher in this case. A class full of children have been taught that it's okay to discriminate against a child with special needs. They've been taught they some people are hopeless and should be removed. How far does that go? In a child's mind, will they think that applies everywhere? Does this sow the seed, contribute to even one of them growing up to think that these people who are 'disgusting' and 'annoying' should be removed from society too? School is supposed to be safe, and it's a place for children to go to learn. The teacher has the responsibility to teach them, and in kindergarten a big part of what you're learning is about is socially appropriate behaviour. This teacher has a responsibility to teach Alex as well as every other child, and if there were persisting problems with him it's fair to say that the teacher holds some responsibility for failing to teach him, or get him the extra support in class he may have needed.

I have two words for Alex Barton's parents. Civil lawsuit. This was the blatant humiliation of a child, and that's simply unacceptable.