Monday, August 31, 2009

The First Line: "Who's there?"

By Steve Weddle

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

You really don’t have any choice but to keep reading, do you?
In this space on Saturday, Scott wrote about using normalcy to bring the reader into the writing. The idea of having the reader identify with the main character in the book is crucial. “That could be me” is a powerful way to pull folks in. But they have to want to keep reading. They have to want to find out what happens next. And that’s part of what sells books, too. The first line.

Hunter S. Thompson’s FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS pulls you in and won’t let you go until you’re a trembling heap of shakes and day-old vomit 200 pages later.

Gobs of stuff goes into getting you to buy a book. From ads on the sides of buses to blurbs to appearances on radio shows, the machine works to sell the book. But if someone picks up the book in the store and the first line is “My name is Arthur Gordon Pym,” then folks might just pick up their lattes and move along to another book.

“Blood. It was everywhere.” That’s how J.T. Ellison’s JUDAS KISS opens. Gonna keep reading? Damn straight. Whose blood? Why? All those questions in your head. You need them answered. And that’s what the book is – an answer to questions not asked on the first page.

Here’s another opener famous in the crime fiction circles: “I turned the Chrysler onto the Florida Turnpike with Rollo Kramer’s headless body in the trunk, and all the time I’m thinking I should’ve put some plastic down.” You pick that up in your local bookstore, slap down $7, and you’re walking right out with the book with your thumb still holding your spot so you can read the rest when you get to your car. That’s Victor Gischler’s GUN MONKEYS, by the way.

How about this one? “I was leaning against the bar in a speakeasy on Fifty-second Street, waiting for Nora to finish her Christmas shopping, when a girl got up from the table where she had been sitting with three other people and came over to me.” Now, Mr. Hammett’s opening to THE THIN MAN has much in common with the openings I’ve mentioned (or the other way around, if you prefer). Like the Gischler opener, this one uses a proper name and a piece of geography to ground you. Like the Ellison, this one leaves you asking questions. What does the girl want? Who are the other people at the table? Did Nora get me anything for Christmas and, if so, how big is the bottle?

Remember how scary ALIEN was when you didn’t know what the monster looked like? The old “There’s something out there” that makes movies scary? That’s the kind of uncertainty that makes all of this work, I think. The monster we don’t know, the one out there that wants to get in here. And that’s what reading is, after all: a search for certainty, for answers we haven’t even learned to ask yet.

As Scott wrote on Saturday, we need to identify with the main character—we need the details from that life to be able to match them up with our lives. The main character is a salesman at Sears? I’ve been to Sears. She went to college at Vassar? My wife’s uncle taught at Vassar after the operation. Whatever the character, Scott argued, having the details helps readers connect.

Agreed. So what do you do with that connection, that string between main character and the reader? You know that thing where you tie one end of the string to your tooth and the other to the doorknob and then slam the door? Yeah, don’t do that. It frickin hurts like a mofo and it never works. I just thought I’d mention that.

As for the connection between character and reader? When a writer makes that connection, readers follow. But that connection has to be made on the first page, sometimes in the first line. And once connected, the reader has to have a reason to follow. You want to find out why something happened or what is going to happen next. I just finished TRUST NO ONE by Gregg Hurwitz, a book that keeps moving because the reader wants to find out what’s going on, why these things are happening and what it all means.

We read because we want answers, because we want to know what happens to these characters. Some of the best books have answers that lead to more questions.

You’re 10 chapters in and, even though you know who the bad guy is, you have no idea why he’s doing what he’s doing. It doesn’t make sense. So you keep reading. But you wouldn’t have started if the first line hadn’t been: “Nathan Morris was already late for his dental appointment in Hicksville when he decided to strangle the waitress.”

Sunday, August 30, 2009

All That Jazz

by Mike Knowles

Sometimes when I am reading a book and I come across a song being played in a scene, I get an urge to stop what I am doing and play the song. I usually go to Youtube and find what the writer put in the book and sit back with my eyes closed listening to the song. For a few minutes, I feel like there is some kind of connection between me and the song that wasn’t there before.

When I first read McFetridge’s Dirty Sweet, I was at my computer all the time listening to different classic rock songs that I forgot I knew the words to. It felt different listening to bands like T-Rex and thinking of what was happening in the crime novel I was reading. What felt different was the genre of music. Usually, I don’t find a lot of rock in crime novels. Usually, I find Jazz.

Michael Connoly’s Harry Bosch loved Jazz, Dan Simmons’ Joe Kurtz was into it, Barry Eisler’s John Rain went to jazz clubs when he wasn’t killing people, even Andrew Vachss’ Burke was a Jazz aficionado. Every time I read one of these books, I came across cops and criminals all into the same thing: Jazz.

I took breaks from reading all of those authors to listen to the music they wrote about, and I liked it. Hearing the music brought me deeper into the book; it was even cool to listen to while reading. But a while back, I decided to go deeper. I had to know why the music was showing up in crime novels over and over again. I had to understand Jazz. I put the Jazz stations on the satellite preset in my car, and I took severe advantage of the public library borrowing all the jazz I could find. I began listening to the music hard and it wasn’t until I began hearing the live tracks that I began to understand why the music was showing up in the books I was reading. I found a link between writing and Jazz. explains Jazz as a kind of music in which improvisation is typically an important part. In most jazz performances, players play solos which they make up on the spot, which requires considerable skill.

Musicians changing the songs that came before them with their own unique takes on the tune. How much different is that than writing crime fiction? There are regular themes that most crime stories center around like theft, revenge, justice, etc. These are all ideas that have been around forever. What makes the themes new, what makes them stand out as something interesting, is the different individual changes each writer brings to the page. The unique improvisations that make a story about something you have read about before suddenly different and original.

When I write a story, I get the characters in my head and an idea about what is going to happen and I start writing. I don’t nail down anything, most of it happens on the fly. It is by no means a perfect harmonious process, there are times I have to stop what I am doing because I have written myself into a corner. But most of the time, the best things I come up with, the things I think are clever, happen while I am writing without a plan.

I haven’t completely understood Jazz yet. I don’t think anyone can break it down into a definition. Jazz isn’t something that can be contained. It is about taking risks, about challenging the old with the new. And just when you think you know it, it surprises you by becoming something else. I think Jazz shows up in crime fiction over and over again because writers are after the same thing: to change the old by turning it on its head and showing a different side of an old idea. We improvise, and alter, generating new ideas that will one day themselves be changed. Jazz and writing are similar animals that refuse to remain caged. They find each other like stray dogs who share a mutual desire to find new places to roam and explore.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

George Pelecanos and Stephen King are Brothers

by Scott D. Parker

What, you say? How can one of the masters of modern horror and a master of modern crime fiction be related? King's a lad from Maine while Greek-American Pelecanos was born and bred in our nation's capital. As far as I know, they've never met. One writes about monsters, ghouls, and things that go bump in the night. The other writes about the city, other types of monsters, and gunshots that sound in the night.

Aha! That must be it, you are now thinking. Both men write about evil. King's evil things are often supernatural although there are enough real-life evil-doers (Annie from Misery, anyone?) to fill a Pelecanos crime novel. Pelecanos for his part fills his books with characters that some of us view as evil and fictional (how about Wayne from The Way Home?) and others of us know as real and misunderstood. That's all true and I don't discount it.

Instead, however, I am going to focus on something else: the normalcy in their writings. Fiction, in general, is make believe. You know you are reading a story because you're sitting at home, on your couch, reading. If you like to read science fiction or romances set in the Middle Ages, the veneer of normalcy is non-existent. How can any of us relate to an astronaut meeting an alien for the first time? We can't. Even horror fiction, King's specialty. I mean really? Demonic clowns, possessed dogs, little girls that can make fire? C'mon. That stuff Just Doesn't Happen.

The beauty of King's stories, and what makes them so terrifying, is in the ordinary. One of his underrated gifts is the ability to conjure a world that we know and can understand. Before King, many authors would write the following type of sentence: "Hank sat on his porch, drinking a cold beverage, listening to the ballgame on the radio when the creature emerged from the edge of the woods." Yeah, that's scary. King, however, would write something like this: "Hank sat on his porch drinking a Bud listening to the Red Sox game on the radio when the creature that would have made Lovecraft proud emerged from the edge of the woods." By naming names and being specific with his prose, King grounded his characters squarely in the real world. His readers could easily see themselves in this real world. Thus, when things all went downhill, the reader could relate to the characters as they battled Pennywise (or whatever) and ask themselves if they'd do the same thing. It was the normalness in King's world that made the supernatural that much more terrifying.

As I read Pelecanos's latest novel, The Way Home, I realized that he writes the same way King does. In crime stories, there's a veneer of normalcy but it's often thin and breaks down easily. If Raymond Chandler is right about the detective hero, that he's the one who must go down the mean streets, how many of us would recognize what's it truly like to *live* in those mean streets? Sure, we like to watch from afar but how few of us can actually relate to that kind of existence?

The Flynn family in The Way Home is a normal family, folks to whom we can relate. The son, Chris, spent time in juvenile prison and finds life on the outside not easy. His father, Thomas, considers himself a failure but he's trying to make his business work for his family and his employees. For the bulk of the book, Pelecanos gives us back stories and slice-of-life vignettes. For awhile there, I started to wonder if I was reading a crime story or a piece of general fiction. However, this normalcy is threatened as soon as the bad guys are introduced. Having painted a world we can understand, the presence of evil disturbs us and makes us feel the grown sense of dread. The normalcy is so natural, we ask ourselves "What would I do?" Frankly, it made the book.

Sure, it's fun to read the exploits of government agents, detectives, dazzling heroines, or rumpled archaeologists. It gets our blood pumping and our heart racing and palms sweaty. It's why we read books (or go to movies). But there's a little something extra you get when you can enter a world, recognize it, and then be terrified by something out of the ordinary. Stephen King and George Pelecanos are two modern storytellers who can create believable worlds and introduce evil. That makes them brothers.

Who are some of your favorite authors who can do the same?

Friday, August 28, 2009

"Dear Sir Or Madam, Won't You Read My Book?"

By Russel D McLean

I’ve been trying to remember when I reached the point of no return.

One of the most difficult questions I’ve been asked – second only perhaps to “where do you get your ideas?” – is “Why did you want to become a writer?”

The best answer I’ve come up with so far is that I figured it was indoor work with no heavy lifting.

And I admit, that’s part of the appeal.

But it’s a tough question, because for me creating fiction always just been something I did. When I was a kid, playing with army figures and all the rest of it, I have distinct memories of creating narratives and characters. Somewhere my mum probably still has a copy of the “diary” they made us keep in primary school where I wrote week long serials which had clear beginnings, middles and ends and absolutely no basis in reality.

I have always loved stories. Becoming a writer, immersing myself in fiction completely, was probably a natural step.

That’s the best reason I can think of as to why I pursued this gig.

When I was younger, my dad made some money selling short stories that were broadcast on radio 4. What always struck me as strange was the idea that they paid people to make stuff up, to do what I was always doing inside my head; creating fanciful narratives that I knew weren’t true but that I wanted to believe in.

When I hit thirteen or so, I remember reading in Doctor Who Magazine about the “New Adventures” series of Doctor Who novels and how they encouraged submissions from new writers.

At sixteen I worked out how you submit to publishers. The internet – still in its early days, I guess, as a medium for mass communication – helped here. I remember making frequent trips to a cyber-café in Edinburgh very specifically to find Virgin Publishing’s submission guidelines. I learned very quickly that you do not type “Virgin Submission Guidelines” into an internet search engine.

I was also devouring the script columns of J Michael Straczynski in Writer’s Digest, to which my dad then had a subscription, and realising that, wow, people were getting paid good money to make things up. And I figure if they could do it, maybe I had a crack. I didn’t have too many other useful skills and although I was figuring on acting as a career I was never the type to be willingly up front and centre. Being a writer seemed a good way to be creative and still not have to “perform” in front of a crowd. I could sit in the background and take the focus off me. Writing is the perfect career, I reckon, for the extroverted introvert. You get to show off and still retain your privacy.

The point of no return came when I was seventeen. Virgin were no longer doing The New Adventures. My submission was returned unread with a note that said they could not pursue the series any longer due to licensing problems with the Dr Who brand. But they were about to start their own line of SF novels, so, ya know, feel free to submit for that. Took me about a year, I reckon to write the 80k novel, THE STARS OF TOMORRROW, first in a planned trilogy that really borrowed far too heavily from Babylon 5 (with some Star Trek style temporal anomalies thrown in for good measure). But that novel earned me my first positive rejection letter. My first rejection letter ever. It was a form with ticks and comments, but what it told me was this:

I had the voice of a published author.
I could create coherent characters.
My plotting was logical and consistent.


I borrowed far too heavily from established themes and ideas (ie, Straczynski coulda probably sued me for plagiarism)
I relied too much on coincidence to move the story and characters forward.

As far as rejections letters go, it was beautiful. That they didn’t hate it was good enough for me. I figured, I’m young, I got time to get better. I also never told ‘em my age. When I first started submitting, I never did that, because I didn’t want anyone to go easy on me. The writing, I knew even then, had to speak for itself.

So, yeah, that letter was my tipping point. If it hadn’t been for that letter I might not have kept going. Had my first letter been like one I later received, my manuscript sent return postage covered in angry crayon scrawls with a wee note at the bottom of the title page saying, “As you can see, my kids didn’t like it either” or the one that said, “Your work reminds me a little of Ernie Wise and that little play what he wrote” I probably wouldn’t have kept fighting to improve my work and to grow as a writer.

That was the moment when I knew I wanted to be a writer, when I was seventeen. When I realised that it was possible to make what seemed like a daydream become something real if I just put in the hard work and paid attention to constructive criticism (and only later would I learn to ignore the mean spirited stuff). And if I could do that, then maybe I really could achieve the dream of indoor work with no heavy lifting.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Emotional Readers

I've been watching the Little League World Series. I always tune in every year and watch a few innings here or there. The play isn't great, but it's fun to watch. The thing that sticks with me, though, is the end of the games.

The kids jumping up and down, excited to win.

And, of course, the kids on the losing side crying.

Now the cynic in me says these kids have watched enough TV to know how to get on a SportsCenter highlight. But my heart says most of these emotions are true. They feel right.

And, to me, that's the key part in writing a novel. Getting to the true emotions of the characters.

You can't write how you think they're going to feel. You can't have someone crying just because they SHOULD cry in that situation. A good reader isn't going to buy that. It's going to take them right out of the book.

No, you have to figure who you character really is. And once you figure that out, you can figure out how he or she is going to react in certain situations.

And if you bear down to a real emotion, if you get your reader to believe that's how your character is really going to react, it's going to make a story even stronger.

You can write a sad story and people don't have to cry, if that's who the characters are. You can write a happy story without having the characters jump up and down.

And, if you do it right, you might get your reader to cry.

Or jump up and down.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Writing for TV

by John McFetridge

Okay, a while ago I said it was a bad idea to write a screenplay because after all that work you’re left with a document that has little value on its own. Very few movies are made from original screenplays and once the screenplay has made the rounds there’s nothing left. Even if it’s a low budget indie, it’ll still take a lot of people to turn into a movie whereas a manuscript can keep going to smaller and smaller publishers or you can even publish it yourself or just put it on a blog for almost no money.

Now I’m going to tell you why writing a TV spec script is a good idea even though there isn’t any market for it at all.

I love writing for television. I’ve only done it once and I may very well never do it again, but it was a great experience and I’m very grateful to have had it. I’m a social guy, I like collaborating. The one thing about novels that I don’t like is how solitary the whole process is. TV writing is teamwork.

Plus, a lot of the best writing being done these days is for TV. I can’t find many novels as satisfying as The Sopranos or The Wire or even Mad Men (actually that’s less true these days as more and more really good novels are published. There aren’t very many private eyes on TV and very few TV shows feature the bad guys as the main character the way I like. But still...)

So, you may want to write for TV. And, if you’re going to try and do that, you’re going to have to write a spec script. That is, a script for a show that’s already on the air. You do this to show you can write other people’s characters and use an already established structure (I like to say structure rather than formula – one of my co-writers on The Bridge said that writing for TV was like writing Haiku – very structured. You could also say it’s like writing dirty limericks, but that’s not as classy).

But you can’t write a spec script for the show you want to write for. They can’t read it. Who knows, they may have a similar storyline in the pipeline already. On The Bridge we had dozens of stories we didn’t get to in the first season. We did get spec scripts submitted. They were for Law and Order:SVU or Flashpoint, things like that.

Back when I applied to the Prime Time TV Writing Program at the Canadian Film Centre my spec script was for NYPD Blue. It was challenging and I didn’t get it right, but it did give me a much better understanding of the show and started me on the road to learning to write TV (I still have a lot of road to cover).

Once you get on a TV show the process is also highly structured and this guy recently wrote terrific series of blog entries explaining it all. No need to reinvent the wheel, this is the internet afterall, so I’ll just link to it.

TV writing part one: Setting the Table.

Part Two: The Outline.

Part Three: The First Draft.

Part Four: The Second Draft.

Part Five: Production White and Beyond.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

KILLING MUM and SLAMMER by Allan Guthrie

By Jay Stringer

If there were such thing as a sacred cow in an Allan Guthrie book, it would be set on fire and, quite possibly, raped. There is no holding back, no boundaries that won’t be crossed.

If we take a look back at his output so far, we see a writer who takes the story wherever it needs to go, and who puts ever more trust in his reader. He has taken that trust even further with his latest novel, SLAMMER. The story revolves around Nicholas Glass, a young prison officer who is treading water in a job that's dragging him under. His loyalties become compromised after some of the inmates find his weak spot, and from there it's only a matter of time before things start to get messy. Very messy.

I mentioned the trust that Guthrie put in his reader. It feels like a rare thing. With each book he has played with narration, with the truth being filtered through the voices of his characters. Particularly with his previous two, HARD MAN and SAVAGE NIGHT, where we have been given large casts and multiple narrators. Each voice is giving you their side of the story, and we are trusted to read between the lines. SLAMMER pushes that trust to a new level, maybe as far as it can go. The story is narrated from deep within the head of a single character, blurring first and third person narration, and the story we are being told may not be an entirely accurate reading of the events. If you can't trust the storyteller, who can you trust? It's an interesting device, one that manages to challenge and entertain at the same time.

Hot on the heels of SLAMMER comes the novella KILLING MUM, another twisted domestic epic.

Carlos doesn’t kill people for a living. Not really. He arranges for other people to do it, which is different. The story starts when he is hired to kill a woman named Valerie Anderson and mailed a bundle of cash to pay for it. Valerie is Carlos’ mother, which means he needs to have a real think before arranging the killing.
Who would order the hit, and why? He can only see two suspects, and he’s related to both of them. In fact, he’s married to one of them.

It’s deliciously fucked. Sick and twisted in all the right ways.

You just know this isn’t going to end neatly, but would you want it to? And again, Guthrie is willing to put faith in his reader, some facts are held back because they are not relevant, and because we should be allowed to decide some things for ourselves.

The story is a coda of sorts to SAVAGE NIGHT. It helps to have read that first, but it doesn't really matter because, at 96 pages, this is a good taster of Allan's work. The fact that it carried over some unfinished business from a previous story is perhaps a hint at a larger theme. In all of his books we see where violence starts, but not where it ends. There is rarely such a thing as finished business.

The book is part of the Crime express series from Five Leaves Press. If you're a fetishist like me, you can't help but love these small editions, with their French flaps. You could do much worse than checking out other books in their series, such as the equally great GUN from Ray Banks. They also publish some fella named Russel D McLean. That's a lot of Scottish talent for a midlands based publisher!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Go, Go, Go: The Art of Writing Without Art

By Steve Weddle

Last week, Merlin Mann was back on MacBreak Weekly, over on the network. He’s a bright guy with a book called Inbox Zero coming out next year. He was talking about Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg, which sounded like the kind of book everyone has read or should read. But this was standard fare. He mentioned a writing tool that caught me by surprise.

Have you ever heard of the AlphaSmart? I’d seen them advertised in writing magazines, but hadn’t paid them much attention. I don’t need another device. With a Palm Treo, iPod Touch, Palm T|X and a laptop within easy reach, I’m never without a way to create text. Heck, I could probably find a pencil and paper around here somewhere if it really came down to it. So when Merlin recommended the AlphaSmart Neo, I really didn’t see the point. Until he mentioned that by dropping about a hundred bucks on one of these used babies, I could kick my internal editor in the nards. Ok, here’s the deal. This little “keyboarding device” is really just a portable keyboard with a screen that can carry four lines of text.

On the computer, I use full page when I can and Track Changes in Word running down the side. I like to have a big screen where I can see what I just wrote. I like to have the bottom third of the screen blank, to let me know I have room to write. The idea of four not-wide lines filled with text doesn’t seem to be a good idea.

Oh, I haven’t gotten to the good part. Sorry. The AlphaSmart Neo has a mode where you can learn to type, according to Merlin. You just type. There ain’t no backspace. You have to keep going forward. No corrections. No re-thinking what you just wrote. That little voice in your head that tells you to go back and correct the mis-typing you’ve done? Gone. The voice that says you should have put the hero in a blue shirt instead of a black one? Gone. You just run, with no pausing. So you write quickly. Most of us agree that getting the stuff down the first time is the tough part, that the editing and revising is easier. Don’t we? Well, this is an amazing tool for that. Also, there’s no Internet. So there’s no temptation to stray after you’ve reached the end of a chapter. ME: “Phew. That was a tough chapter to write. I think I’ll take a few minutes and check my email.” The AlphaSmart Neo in typing teaching mode is sort of a hardware version of the Write Or Die site that punishes you when you stop writing.

Of course, some folks use the old pen and paper method. For me, this makes a good first draft or brainstorming option. I can get my ideas down and know that don’t have to be perfect. Heck, if my hand is acting up, there’s very little chance I can read my own writing anyway, but at least I’m getting the ideas down. When I write by hand I write quickly and with no forgiveness. I misspell words. I write the most banal, clichéd things. Sometimes I get the wrong character doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. And this is fine. When I start to type up this writing, I can fix it. At that point, I’m typing and editing, not writing. I’ve done the really tough thing, the actual writing.

The cool thing about that MacBreak Weekly show where they were talking about writing? It’s a tech show, about Apple products. And they had the same problems writing that crime novelists have. All writers share the same problem: the writing.

If the techies like Merlin Mann have figured out a way to work around the first-draft editor by hacking a cheap word processor, then maybe we should steal their idea. Heck, we’re crime writers. We know how.

Question of the day:

What tips or tricks do you have for getting that first draft down?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Could it really not be all about me?

by Mike Knowles

I’m a teacher so I have a good deal going in terms of my vacation time. I spend every break from work getting in as many hours of writing as I can. It is a delicate balance managing work with the neglect of my spouse. With all of this time on my hands, I was surprised to find that I had a lot of trouble choosing a blog topic this week. All of the trouble came from what I have been working on lately.

I have been writing something new, a stand alone, for most of the summer. I feel like the longer amounts of time spent writing everyday help me get better at my craft, but there are areas that I focus on even when I am not writing. Something I work on everyday is dialogue. Since getting published I listen closer to everyone talking, I watch more reality cop shows, I analyze text that feels authentic. Basically, I’m learning any way I can.

I think my dialogue writing is getting better, but it is breeding problems. The book I’m writing now centers around a real SOB. With each bad thing that comes out of his mouth, and there are some doozies, I feel a little stab in the back of my mind. Is it too much? Have I gone too far? I burn calories worrying that dialogue that I write will not come off as authentic. What if the way I perceive dialogue, and the way I reproduce it in my writing is not in synch with the way the audience will receive it? I don’t want to be a middle class white kid who comes off as ignorant, sexist, or racist.

I think the conundrum of dialogue lies in the skill of the writer. If the writing is good, the characters are well defined and believable. People will love the dialogue for the realism it brings. Ken Bruen and Jason Starr are great at this in the books they wrote for Hard Case Crime. The books shift from characters of different sexes, races, and cultures seamlessly. Everything each character says, even the profane things, feels natural. Conversely, if the writing is garbage the characters dialogue can, at times, come across more as the author’s feelings instead of the characters. Think of Kevin Smith’s Dogma, the dialogue in that movie came off more as one man’s beef with Religion than a movie about two fallen angels trying to get back into heaven.

I thought about dialogue all week and I came to a conclusion. In the end, you have to remember that it’s not about you. You aren’t in the book. You need to take yourself out of the story and let the characters say whatever they want. They would never censor themselves because that is not natural to any characters existence. Worrying about how your dialogue will sound to a third party only makes you hold back, and holding back is the start of taking the story out of your hands and making it someone else’s book.

So I took the gloves off this week and let the characters go. If down the road you hate the book, it wasn't my fault the characters did it.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Writing is a Muscle

By Scott D. Parker

Summer’s almost over and, with it, I sometimes suffer a feeling of loss, of things promised but not fulfilled. Do you get that way? It’s easy to remember back in our school days the eager anticipation of summer. Most of us left school in May and we didn’t have to go back till friggin’ September. Three whole months to do whatever we wanted. The list started growing in the last days of May and it seemed like we had limitless time to do everything.

I haven’t had a true summer in over fifteen years but I’ve never lost the Summer State of Mind. There are just certain things you should do only in the months of June, July, and August. Big giant popcorn films at the theaters belong in the summer. Same goes for blockbuster books like Jeff Abbott’s Trust Me or the adventures of Gabriel Hunt. There’s certain music (old Chicago, Springsteen, Hendrix, Alejandro Escovedo) that sounds better when blasted out of your car speakers as you fly down the highway, windows open, arm extended into the wind. Certain foods soak up the summer heat and taste better when it’s hot, especially when taken directly off the grill and into your mouth, juices dripping down your chin. There’s just a certain “summer” feeling that permeates in the air during the middle of the year that you don’t get at any other time. It’s tangible and, yet, ephemeral. You feel where I’m coming from?

Good. Because for the longest time, I considered writing to be like that: ephemeral, atmospheric, mystical, muse-driven, zen-like, all touchy-feely. I easily envisioned myself *having* written stories, a overflowing portfolio of pastiches, short stories, and always, a novel in progress.

Ah, the ease of the summer state of mind. Ah, the ease of calling yourself a writer. Then the reality: I ain’t got a friggin’ portfolio. And I realized why a few weeks ago: I don’t have the writing habit. I did, once, when I wrote my first novel and then on into my second. I had a clear plan, well-focused, a goal on the horizon.

This summer, I didn’t. I achieved none of the writing goals I set for myself. These past three weeks, as my frustration level rose, I started questioning myself. I started analyzing my life, my habits, my focus. I realized that I have some bad habits that impede my writing life. I’ve got an entire list of things that are obstacles to my writing life and I’ll write about them in future columns here and on my crime blog.

One idea that’s so fundamental and so simple in its vision that I never saw it is this: Writing is a Muscle. All muscles have to be exercised or they will atrophy. I have allowed my writing (not my imagination for I’ve been writing stories in my head the entire time) to atrophy. And there’s only one way to tone the muscles: exercise.

Like a lot of people, I rarely exercise. I sit on my ass all day in front of a computer then, at home, I watch TV, movies, or read. I’ll also log on at night as well. I’m lazy. My exercising muscles atrophied. One night, when our local pool was closed, I made a decision: I’ll start running. I did and I ran two miles. Next night, two more. That was three weeks ago. I haven’t run every day but I’ve run regularly. I’ve already achieved that wonderful internal feeling of *missing* the run on the days off.

Now I’m applying that mentality to my writing. I’ve started writing again (listen to me: I sound like I’m in an AA meeting) and I’ve tied it to my running. I'll expound more on the how at another time. Suffice it to say, I've started to exercise the body muscles and the writing muscles. Together, they’ll take me where I want to go: published and healthy enough for that book tour.

Are there things you tie your writing habit to in order to keep you moving the cursor forward? How do you get back on the writing wagon when you’ve fallen off?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Not The Same... and Decidedly Different

By Russel D McLean

Christopher Brookmyre’s latest novel is not a crime novel.

The Scots author has become known not just for his acerbic (and occasionally offensive, to those of a delicate nature) humour but for crafting the kind of crime novels “Agatha Christie might have written if she’d been off her tits on manky crack” – this according to Time Out.

However, Dame Agatha would not have touched this latest novel with a barge pole (mind you, given Brookmyre’s potty mouth, she may have had some difficulty with the rest of his output, too) and some people will be surprised to discover that Pandaemonium features a bunch of Glasgow School kids facing off against Demons from what is possibly the depths of hell. In amongst all this carnage of course, Brookmyre inserts an argument about organised religion and how it can all go so horribly, horribly wrong.

It’s a brilliant book. It moves like, well, a bat out of hell, and it’s screamingly funny and no one else could have written it bar Brookmyre.

But it’s also a risky book.

Because what he’s done is switch genre completely. I mean, there is no crime here. At the day job, we have to put it in the crime section, but I’d be much happier putting it in horror. Its not a predictable Brookmyre book. Oh, sure, its his book. It has his obsessions and his voice and his idiosyncracies, but its not the kind of book we’ve come to expect from him. He’s turned the tables on his readers, and he’s having a ball doing it.

A lot of writers these days are pigeonholed by genre considerations. People believe that they want “the same but different” and get nervous when a writer does something unexpected. Like we don’t trust our writers to be unpredictable, even though so many of them are at their best when they are.

In a recent interview with the Rap Sheet’s Ali Karim, John Connolly says the following:

my publishers have adopted a very hands-off approach to what I do, and I’ve been permitted to experiment through books like Nocturnes, The Book of Lost Things and, later this year, The Gates. That’s come at a cost, though, in that the sales of the Parker books would probably be higher if I was producing one of them every year instead of exploring other avenues with every second book. “The same, but slightly different” is the way to top the bestseller lists. So exploring different genres doesn’t help, but I’m comfortable with the balance that I’ve achieved.

The thing that his “experiments” are often among his best books (Although his most recent Charlie Parker, The Lovers, is an incredible and wonderful novel) and allow him to surprise his readers. Which is what all writers should aspire to, I think. And all readers should desire, as well.

A lot of people complain about how their once favourite writers are churning out the same stuff over and over. I think we, the readers, have to take the blame for this as much as anyone for not standing up and saying that although we love what we read before, we loved it because it was unexpected, because it was fresh and what we really want is the same experience – the feeling of not knowing how a novel is going to go, of being carried away by its vision – rather than the same damn book.

As audiences, we have started to believe that somehow if we are surprised or taken out of our comfort zone, this is a bad thing. But I would say that if we can just allow ourselves to open up to the possibility of being surprised, of accepting new and different things even from authors we think know, then perhaps we might just start to remember why we loved reading in the first place.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


By Dave White

I'm a big fan of Rutgers basketball. I'm an alumni, I have season tickets, and I love college basketball. Three years ago, RU hired a coach (Fred Hill) with local ties, a lot of good will going forth, and a great ability to recruit. In those 3 years he hasn't won a lick. Players transfer in and out, assistant coaches are hired and shuffled around. The team does not win. Fans are irate and want Hill out of town. Academic scores on the team have gone up. Players who once got away with anything are now disciplined. Tuesday a player was kicked off the team for a violation of rules. Somehow, to these fans, the player who violated the rule is not in the wrong. Hill is. Because he doesn't win.

It's pile on time now.

I am also a fan of Spider-man. A year and a half ago, Marvel Comics completely revamped the Spider-man universe, separating him from his wife of 20 (real life) years through magic. As if it never happened. Since then, the Spidey series has gotten strong in terms of storytelling. There are a ton of mysteries in the series that are extremely compelling. Does that matter to the fans of the marriage? No, they're irate. If they're not reading about a married Spider-man, they're not reading Spider-man. They'll complain about every flaw in the story. They'll complain how each story could still be told with the marriage. Even if it's a good story, they'll admit they enjoyed it, but at the same time it sucked because Spider-man wasn't married.

It's pile on time now.

What does this have to do with crime fiction?

A lot and a little, I suppose. There are a lot of bad reviews out there. More than good reviews. That's fine, if the reviews are critical and give reasons. But a lot of bad reviews just give reason for people to spit venom. It is so easy to hate.


Is it because we don't view coaches, writers, directors, or any kind of entertainers as real people?

Or is it because it's always easier to verbalize our dislike? I can come up with 1,000 reasons not to like something. Specific reasons. But it's hard for me to back up why I like something.

I enjoy a lot of things, but often when I do I can only spout out cliches. Edge of my seat. Page turner. But when I don't like something...

Take MAD MEN for instance. When the series premiered, I watched the first episode and hated it. I thought it was too self-aware. There were too many jokes about being in the sixties: whether it was pregnant women smoking, kids playing with plastic dust covers over their face, or the worst one of all... "It's not like we have some machine that will copy for us." It was easy to point out reason when I disliked it.

It wasn't until I picked up the DVDs later on when I became intrigued. I gave the show three episodes and it really started to grow on me. I became intrigued in the characters. I wanted to know more about them. Don Draper was a mystery to me. And I wanted to solve that mystery.

But I could really put the reasons I started to like the show into words. I knew I liked it... I knew I kept watching, but if someone were to ask me why, I wouldn't really be able to say why.

Then I discovered Alan Sepinwall's blog. He writes for the NEWARK STAR LEDGER. And his thoughts on Mad Men were compelling. He was being specific as to why he liked it. Why the show was brilliant. He put into words what I wanted to say about the show.

That's what a good critic does.

Anyone can say why they hate something. Anyone can pile on the hate when things go bad.

A good critic can acknowledge the bad. (Sepinwall, for instance, talks a lot about the jokes I hated.)

A good critic can acknowledge that, and still show you why there's good in what you're watching or reading.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


by John McFetridge

When we started this blog we said it would be okay for us to do some self-promotion here.


Now if someone could just figure out how to promote a book.

It seems these days people are trying just about everything. Last year I downloaded a free version of the book Beautiful Children by Charles Bock as a promotion from the publisher. A great book, but I haven't seen another one from that author so he still hasn't made a sale to me as a result of the free give-away.

There was an article in the paper today about Margaret Atwood promoting her new novel with a book tour that will include actors and original music performed live at the events. Sounds like fun, but the article didn't really say anything about the book, The Year of the Flood, which I understand is a sequel of sorts to Oryx and Crake (which I liked a lot). That could be a great publicity-generating promotion, but it's not really something many of us could do.

My Canadian publisher is small and doesn't have much money so there's little promotion beyond sending out review copies and hoping for the best. When my first book came out we had a launch party in my neighbourhood which was really just so I could show all the folks I knew from the schoolyard where I dropped off my kids that I really was going home to "work" during the day. It was a good party, but it wasn't really book promotion.

Because I sometimes like to play around on the computer, I've tried my hand at book trailers:

I think I'm getting better, but I don't think it's realy helping to promote the books very much. I think people who read books aren't fooled by some flashy graphics (if I had those, I mean). So, I try to go against the advice and actually put a lot of words into my trailers. I think people who like to read books are okay with a lot of words. Marketing departments may disagree with me, but I'm stubborn.

So, I have a book coming out in September in Canada (February in the USA) and I'm trying to think of ways to do some promotion.

Give it away free like Beautiful Children?

Stage events like Margaret Atwood?

Blog tours?


Any ideas?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Simple Art Of Truth

By Jay Stringer

This piece has appeared a couple of times now in different forms. It's something of an evolving essay, as each time i return to the point i fail to quite make it.

Obviously i have to think about writing all the time; the craft, the approach, the groupies. Okay, not the groupies.

But I've been thinking out loud for awhile now about social fiction, and my need for fiction that feels true. And it keeps me returning to the old Chandler essay "The Simple Art of Murder." Much of what he write seems outdated, and dismissive of the fact that a great writer can make just about any approach work. But there is a grain of truth in it that i just can't shake, the simple art of truth, if you will.

I'm drawn to trying to decide what kind of a writer i am, whether I'm a realist or a fantasist. I keep coming back to the idea that there shouldn't be too much of a difference between the two. Whether it's a real world or a fake one, it's the job of the writer to make that world feel real.

Now, Chandler seems to have taken a back seat over the last few years. Hammett gets more and more praise, which is great. But there seems to be a need in all walks of fandom to praise one thing by slapping another. You can only like band A if you hate band B. And so it is with crime. You can like Chandler or Hammett. But you can't like both.

That's not really my style though. I don't see the need to choose one over the other, as they're very different writers. It would be like choosing between Steinbeck and Bukowski, or Springsteen and Westerberg. If i had to come up with some simplistic explanation, I'd say the reader in me prefers Chandler and the writer in me prefers Hammett.

In Chandlers essay, he makes certain statements that can be questioned, when taken out of context. He starts with the assertion that 'fiction in any form has always intended to be realistic', which could be taken to town by any well thought out argument, if that was all it was saying.

He gives a great deal of time to attacking the works of certain British crime authors, who's characters and plot existed only to make the crime make sense. The essay rings with such truth, and such passion for the art, that my head is alive with it.

Here's a bit that i like;

“..things being equal, which they never are, a more powerful theme will provoke a more powerful performance. Yet some very dull books have been written about God, and some very fine ones about how to make a living and stay fairly honest.”

Here's another;

“There are no vital and significant forms of art; there is only art, and precious little of that.”

I'm not going to quote the whole thing at you in chunks. At least not tonight.

The world Chandler lived in and the one we live in are very different. The basic day to day facts of our lives would be the things of speculative fiction to him. But there are things that haven't changed, and will never change, and they are the things that are truest to his essay, to fiction, and to life.

When he said that Hammett 'gave murder back to people who did it for a reason' , he was touching a truth greater than crime fiction. We live in a world that has rules. We may not like or understand the rules, but we recognise them.

I'm not saying good fiction is only that which takes place on some gritty crime ridden streets. I'm not saying that all. I'm saying we live in a world that has a certain dna, certain walls and rules. So for anything to have a feeling of truth to it, fiction has to take place in a world that recognises this.

By this rule, fantasy is okay. It can still, and should still, be intended to be realistic.
Dragons? cool, okay. Dwarves? Magic? Knock yourselves out.
But the story takes place in a world. That world has to seem real. It has to have rules, walls and consequences. No cheap tricks.
No characters doing things for no reason, or things that don't make sense.

To paraphrase Chandler, which i am ashamed to be doing, he took issue with a certain style of crime writing. One where the sole function of the characters and the plot was to revolve around the crime. Some bizarre, meticulously planned, and overly detailed theft or murder. Something that is only believable because the story exists to make it believable.

Crime fiction should contain characters. That should be the starting point as it should be with every fiction. The crime should grow naturally out them, out of what it is they want to achieve and the simplest way to achieve it.

So with fantasy fiction, the spells, the magic, whatever the drug of choice, should grow out of the characters, and the resolution of any situation should grow out of the characters and their understanding of the world around them. Not whatever magic potion the writer needs to get everyone from z-a for the start of the next chapter.

Film students have a term for it.
In their slavish devotion to French cinema, they call it verisimilitude. It means feeling of truth, and basically amounts to the simple principle; be true to your audience, your characters, and the world they each live in.

Don't cheat, because it cheapens the work. Don't be lazy, because it cheapens the writer.
Art has to have a basic feeling of truth to it, even a totally fictional world needs to feel like one in which we could plant our feet on solid ground. And the people in it -be they humans or small furry things from the planet thangar- need to feel like people we can understand, people who have motives and blood running through them.

Without that feeling of truth, that 'realism', what is the point? And where is the art?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Do authors who Facebook ruin their crime books?

By Steve Weddle

With authors on Twitter and Facebook, what chance would a hermit writer like Salinger have starting out today? Or Pynchon?

Salinger’s books hit the shelves in the 50s and 60s, while most folks consider Pynchon a 60s and 70s writer. One humongous difference is that Pynchon is still publishing books. His “Inherent Vice” just came out, to pretty good reviews and even more publicity. And he’s not on the Twitters or the Facebooks. How do you get good publicity if you don’t have a Twitter account?

Salinger might very well be on the Twitters, under some goofy assumed name, of course, holed up in his Cornish bunker. Remember that story about the school kids who interviewed him for their school paper and he had them to his house and they spun records or whatever? (Kids, ask your grandparents.) For the most part, Salinger has told the world not to bother him. Then, the more the world finds out about him, the more we realize he’s bothered enough without our help. Heck, we all are. How much do you really want to know about your favorite crime author?

So you’ve just finished a book with each of the deadly sins well represented, including the burning of an orphanage and the raping of mid-sized farm animals and you want to sit down to coffee with the author? Really? What kind of freak are you? You want to see this dude’s Twitter stream? (Is it just me, or does ‘Twitter stream’ sound like where you’re supposed to hold that pregnancy test?)

And when you do find out about the author, is it like that Ferlinghetti poem about a girl you meet and learn too much about: “Only the next day/she has bad teeth/and really hates/poetry”?

What happens when it turns out your favorite crime writer is as dull as the rest of us, that he has three kids, two mortgages and a wife he doesn’t even cheat on? In an interview he’s asked where his ideas come from. Rather than make up some nonsensical answer like a character in his books would, he tells the truth. “Well, I was watching my Season Two DVDs of ‘Matlock’ when I got to thinking about this triple homicide I’d seen on the True Crime Network. So one Tuesday when I was helping out at the PTA bake sale, I asked Sheriff Barnes – we’re the tenors in the St. Bart’s choir – for any ideas. So that’s how I ended up naming one of the victims ‘Cupcake.’”

If writers ever had any sort of rock star quality, do Twitter and Facebook kill it? Who is the biggest name in fiction right now? Whoever it is, I don’t want him/her mad at me, so let’s make someone up. Jerri Fakename does not have a Twitter account or a Facebook page. You have to go to the publisher’s site to find her Web presence, a Flash-heavy site that the publisher pays for. Fakename writes books. That’s it. She does interviews via email through her publisher, which means she doesn’t do interviews. She certainly does not update her status. In fact, her assistant has set up a Twitter account in her name. “Jerri is up early to write today. Drafts look super.” Followers 23,467 & Following 7. So Fakename comes to a town within a couple of hours of you to give a “reading/signing.” You take some friends and drive up, wait in line for her to sign the hardback. It’s so exciting, an event. You got to see Jerri Fakename read from her novel. Wow.

Then there’s this guy who teaches a couple of classes at a small college and makes some cash on the side editing technical manuals. His Twitter account is @Jeff_Hines1960. He twatted about a movie last week that you’d also seen. (That sounds weird, too. Is it “twittered” or “tweetered”? Whatever.) You ask what he thought about it, just kinda goofin around. The dude responds and asks what you thought. Heck, the dude responds to just about everyone. He’s following pretty much the same 2,000 people who are following him. He even follows the spammers and makes jokes about them. He has a blog and last Friday complained about how tough it is to get good seafood where he lives, which everyone knows is a little town just outside Wichita. You go to his reading and buy a copy of the trade paperback because that’s the way his books come out. He recognizes your username when you introduce yourself. He even tells you he thought about what you said about that movie and that you were probably right.

That’s the good version. And it doesn’t matter that you don’t think Jeff Hines is as bright a star as Jerri Fakename. Maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe it doesn’t matter that Fakename is a rock star and Jeff Hines is like a friend of your mom’s who has a book or two out. But what happens when you find out a little more about that author?
What happens when, like the author who gets his ideas from “Matlock” re-runs and PTA bake sales, you find out that one of your favorite authors isn’t cool? Fakename is glamorous. She’s going on the Today Show next week. You’ve got the DVR set already.

But what if you learn more about the author? Does it matter when you find out that the guy who writes your favorite hero is not heroic? That the creator of the toughest, meanest, biggest, most athletic badass in all of crime fiction is a 700-pound hermaphrodite with a substantial lisp and an incontinence problem? That the writing process is “I just read a bunch of novels by other people I like and then put them all together in my head and write”?

When I was a kid falling in love with the Glass family, would it have mattered to know some of the weird stuff about Salinger?

What if you’re looking on the Facebook page of your favorite novelist and find out she’s a flaming liberal who only writes crime fiction to shine a light on the perils of handgun ownership? Or that he’s trying to hurry the new novel out so that he can fund his lifelong dream and finally afford those calf and pectoral implants?

“News” floated around recently that Thomas Pynchon unhermitted himself to record the voice-over for the book trailer to his new book. Um, big deal. Let me know when he’s coming to the Barnes and Noble near me. I’d like to know what he thought about that latest Star Trek movie. If he thought it was anything other than crap on a stick, then I’m done with him.


Today's Questions:

Are Twitter and Facebook good for authors?

Do you want to know more about the authors you love?

Does it help you as a writer if your readers know more about you?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Men Your Mother Warned You About

By Mike Knowles

This summer I embarked on a pilgrimage. It was nothing new and nothing spiritual (at least to no one but me). For the last few years, I have celebrated every summer and every Christmas with 100 Bullets. It has nothing to do with shooting, I set everything I am reading aside on the first day of my vacation and begin reading Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s masterpiece cover to cover. Reading 100 Bullets is my It’s a Wonderful Life but instead of angels saving businessmen, I get Minutemen and the Trust killing one another off in a violent race to be the last one standing. This summer was the best pilgrimage yet because the series ended a few months back and I finally got to read the whole run from beginning to end. I was able to find things I had missed and fell in love all over again. Finishing the series as a whole for the first time got me thinking. There are no white hats in the books. None. Everyone is mean, violent, and unapologetic. 100 Bullets also got me thinking about all of the other characters I have loved in books. Almost every single one was bad man, not steal your lunch money bad, but rather steal your lunch money and leave you in a shallow grave in Mexico bad. Parker was bad, Mike Hammer was on the right side of the law but clearly a sociopath, Joe Kurtz was bad, John Rain was bad, etc.

These books are huge sellers, so it can’t just be me who is into the bad guy. What is it about the bad guy that people love so much?

I know I write about criminals because I find them inherently more interesting and complex than any other type of character. A reader has few ways to anticipate a characters next move if they use a different moral compass, or no moral compass at all. A situation as normal as drinks in a bar can turn into something insane when a maniac is at the wheel. Think of the movie Casino. Whenever I think of that movie, I think of Nicky (Joe Pesci) repeatedly stabbing the guy at the bar over an argument about a pen. The scene was terrifying the first time I saw it because I never saw it coming. DeNiro’s character, Sam, watches the scene frozen and explains his friend to the audience.

“While I was trying to figure out why the guy was saying what he was saying, Nicky just hit him. No matter how big a guy might be, Nicky would take him on. You beat Nicky with fists, he comes back with a bat. You beat him with a knife, he comes back with a gun. And if you beat him with a gun, you better kill him because he'll be coming back and back until one of you is dead."

Nicky was an animal, but I never hated him in the movie. It seemed like it was his nature to be a violent sociopath. It fit him like it fits a tiger to be a killer. There is something predatory about villains and there is something supremely cool about watching a predator hunt and survive. I think people watch animal documentaries for the same reason they read crime fiction. People enjoy being along for the hunt. Watching animals take what they want to survive at the expense of others. There is something primal and interesting about something that lives by its own rules and thrives because of it. And I think that is what draws readers by the millions to the bad guy.

In real life people hate bad guys. Bernie Madoff is not on a poster in some kids room, no one rocks a Hitler stache, but for some reason if you put a character in a book who breaks the law I will read it and probably root for the black hat the whole time.

In case you never saw Casino. (If that is why you click this you have homework this weekend).

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Woodstock as Facebook

I had not seen my first birthday when Woodstock started forty years ago today. However, that 1969 music festival's shadow has extended to my generation. For us, Live Aid (1985) was like our Woodstock. Granted, only people in London and Philadelphia got to see the concerts in person but millions of us around the world gave up a day to plop in front of a television and watch act after act. It was fantastic even though my dad asked for (and was given) the keys to my 1973 Dodge Dart. He was mad at me but he got over it. I got my keys back, .

As the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock occurs today, Saturday, 15 August, we will all be inundated with tributes and remembrances. A good one appeared in last Sunday’s New York Times. “Moment of Muddy Grace - The Enduring Appeal of Woodstock,” by JohnParales , is one man’s thoughts on attending the concert back in 1969 and what Woodstock has meant in the decades since. The Times also has slide shows andpodcasts. Check’em out if you’ve got a mind to.

One particular passage in Parales’ story is this quote:
When the hippie subculture surfaced en masse at Woodstock, two years after the Summer of Love, it was still largely self-invented and isolated. There were pockets of freaks in cities and handfuls of them in smaller towns, nearly all feeling like outsiders. For many people at the festival, just seeing and joining that gigantic crowd was more of a revelation than anything that happened onstage. It proved that they were not some negligible minority but members of a larger culture — or, to use that sweetly dated term, a counterculture.
As I write this post, I'm watching the "Woodstock" movie (1970) for the first time. It's a little surreal to see scenes I've heard about for years. In the segment juxtaposing the skinny dipping youth and the angry older generation, a young girl swimming echoes the same sentiments. "You realize you're not the only one in your city doing the same things," she says.

I’m old enough to remember the days when Entertainment Tonight and Rolling Stone were the only outlets for news about music and events. On the book publicity front, a few additional outlets existed--newspaper book reviews primarily--but not many. Word-of-mouth was the primary communication means: one guy loans another his new album featuring a new band; a gal loans her friend a book by a new, favorite author; new movies were foretold by trailers in movie theaters. One by one, groups formed and, even amid these various groups, longed a question: are we alone?

Parales’ comment about Woodstock is so simple it’s meaning is easy to miss. Woodstock was like a giant Facebook fan page. For the kids who thought they were alone in their musical and cultural tastes could point to Woodstock and say, “Yeah, I’m part of that.” The movie acted as further evidence. The youth and the older generation could watch what went on in New York forty years ago this weekend and learn from it. The youth could get some affirmation that they were not alone. The older generation could look upon it and, possibly, realize it ain't all bad. The presence of Woodstock must have been like a ton of bricks coming off common shoulders.

The Internet has fundamentally altered the landscape. Crime fiction fans or devoted followers of a particular band's music merely have to log on and discover a place on the Internet to find folks who like the same things. We have Facebook where anyone can make a fan site for any sub-sub-sub genre they like: quilters who love jazz; cat fanatics who love math; or any political sub-group you can think of. Loners and other kids (and adults, too) on the fringes of society have a place to commune with others. We know we can find solace online with other like-minded individuals. It’s reassuring if not still isolating. And we can still be naked, at home, if we want to be.

Woodstock as Facebook. I don’t think it’s that far of a stretch. Do you?

Friday, August 14, 2009

"I know at least, oh, about 127 words... and I still prefer..."

By Russel D McLean

In my best Channel 4 announcers voice, I’m going to tell you that there may be discussion of bad language and worse language here. But since its going to be prevalent, I’ll star it out for the weak of heart.

And to get you in the mood, Billy Connolly isn’t going to star out his swearing. And he encapsulates, far better than I, some very similar theories about bad language:

One of the things I never get is people who complain about bad language in crime novels. It is the one complaint I get about my books, these people going, “Oh, I liked the characters and I liked the action and all that, but did the drug dealers and murderers have to swear?” Oh, f*** off, he hinted.

I like my crime fiction at the street level. I don’t have time for people who artificially elevate their characters, try and make them smarter or more erudite than they would be (and the reverse is true, nothing more patronising than trying to make someone sound tougher than they are). I’m writing – a good deal of the time – about people who were not educated at the best schools or who didn’t from the best homes. My central character isn’t an alcoholic, but I guess he’s got a lot of pent up rage. And, yes, like me, this rage manifests itself in the occasional use of language that might make a sailor blush.

The argument against swearing (in adult novels – novels for adults, in case you didn’t hear me the first time) tends to come threefold:

1) There are better words.

No there aren’t. Swearing, as the esteemed Mr Billy Connolly says, is a language all of itself. There is no English equivalent for “F*** off. Because those two tiny wee words say it all. You are in no doubt of what is being communicated. And, yes, there really is a huge difference between, “leave me alone” and “f*** off” that comes down to intent. “Leave me alone” is weak and half-hearted. Its almost like, “I don’t care if you do or you don’t go away.” Where, “F*** off,” is forceful and definitive in the way it looks and the way it sounds. You are left in no doubt as to intention. It’s the difference between a half-hearted push to the chest and a smack in the pus*.

2) No one talks like that.

The other day, I crossed the road, had some guy behind me say, as I moved at an angle so I could get to my work quicker, “Walk in a straight line, ya c***.” Listening to people on the street, in everyday situations (why writers really should spend some time working in retail or in a job where they interact with the general public) some of them use these words as an endearment, as punctuation. So, sorry, but people do talk like that.

Do I?

No. Not usually. But I do swear. When I get angry or annoyed to extreme degrees.

Or when I want to make a joke of it. Because, yes, swearing can be funny. Its not big and its not clever, but sometimes, employed in the right way, it can make milk shoot our yer nose.

3) It makes me uncomfortable.

Have you ever considered that that is the point? At a late point in the debut novel, two hard men refer to a dead woman as a “c***”. I debated over using the word there and at other points in the novel. But I kept it in because, well, it said everything about these characters and who they were and what their attitudes were. And yes, it makes the reader uncomfortable, but the word in comparison with these guy’s actions? It pales into insignificance. Oh, and yes, it crops up in the second novel, but not so often because the characters involved aren’t the same (in fact I believe the swear count is lower just because of the different types of people that McNee is investigating).

I have no problem with crime novels where there is no swearing of course. I do not believe Steve Hockensmith’s rip-roaringly funny Old Red/Big Red novels have much cussin’ in ‘em (at least, not Deadwood style) but in context, they don’t need the language. And if I was writing in a context where I didn’t think swearing was going to say a lot about the characters, I wouldn’t use it. Innapropriate or innefective swearing is as bad a crime as a avoiding it altogether. Swear words, like any other words, must be used at the correct time and to have the correct effect. Writers don't just pluck 'em out of thin air. They always have a justification for them. Even if its one you don't neccasarily agree with.

And it may interest fact fans to note that at least one regular and recurring character in the universe of J. McNee does not swear, or least no worse than a damn or a bloody.

When I think about it, too, if you looked at some movie scripts, dear God, they’d make me look temperate. Scarface? The Depaahted? But people don’t get their heads (quite so) twisted over these because a) its acceptable in movies, perhaps because when hearing an actor deliver a swear, its over quicker and sometimes you just don’t notice when you’re hearing rhythm and unable to go back over what you just observed and b) somehow they believe that books should aspire to some mythical “higher level” of art than movies, an argument I’ll get back into another time.

I’m constantly amazed by how words have the power to shock. In an age where corruption is a daily fact of life, where we voyeuristically watch observe eejits 24 hours a day on our TV screens, where our role models are vacuous, talentless, money-grabbing attention seekers who are on a path to self destruction and where programs like The Apprentice teach us that to succeed we have to make other people take the blame for our mistakes, we are still seriously shocked by four letter words? Like they’re the cause of all this corruption and decadence and idiocy? Ask me, its more likely the other way round.

And in case you think I have no morals, I don’t swear in front of children. Because I don’t think children need to know these words. That can wait till they get older and realise what disappointment and anger truly are. Because swearing is, I think, a metaphor for that kind of anger – the best signifier of pain and hopelessness and outright frustration with the universe.

Oh, you bet your f****n’ ass.

*Apologies to Dave White, who hates footnotes, but I think one is Scottish slang and might need explaining to some of our international audience. Rough translation is, a punch in the face.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wishing on a Star

By Dave White

There are days I wish I was Spenser. I wish I could drink a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee, eat a doughnut, run five miles, shoot a bad guy, drink some beer, snap off a joke or two, and then make a gourmet dinner.

There are days I wish I was James Bond. Traveling the globe, shooting at bad guys, getting every available women, and again with the jokes. (The movie Bond, anyway. Fleming's Bond was rarely funny... and when he tried to be... he still wasn't.)

I've been thinking a lot about my favorite characters lately, in movies, books and TV, and there seems to be a common theme that runs through them. Indiana Jones, Spenser, Bond... they're all typically the same person, gruff, tough, funny, confident. They're not the everyman. They're the ideal man. They're the code hero, not the Hemingway hero. They get up.

When I sit down to look at my characters, very few of them have this thread going through them. They're not happy people, usually. And when they are happy, that happiness is taken from them in a flash.

My characters are a bit more realistic, I suppose, but I'm not sure they have the staying power of Bond or Spenser or Jones. They don't often stick with you months after you put the book down. My characters are dark heroes. They do their job, but they're never better for it.

I tend to like both types of characters... but I write about what I think I do well. I'm not sure I could come up with a Bond type character. The never lose your cool kind of guy. I don't see much tension there.

But these are the types of characters people love. These are the characters I'm drawn to over and over and over again. I still read Spenser... I still see every Bond book. I can't even bring myself to hate Crystal Skull.


Probably because it's what we can't be. And it what we want to be. So they watch this characters and imagine they'll have the same witty line, the same grin, the same cool under pressure.

It strikes me, that when you look at these popular heroes... the code heroes...They stick out because we, the audience, is the Hemingway hero. We're, in a way, jealous that these guys can keep getting up and up and up.

Deep down, we know we'll stay down.

So, dear reader, what's appealing to you about the code heroes? And why do we still enjoy reading about the Hemingway hero at times too?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


by John McFetridge

(I'm on vacation with my family. Sorry this is late. I wrote it in time, I just didn't get it posted in time. My fault).

You can find inspiration in real life or you can find inspriration in art – both are equally valid. – Michel Basilieres, author of Black Bird.

A little while ago in a post on The Rap Sheet William Landy wrote about the terrific novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins. He wrote about Higgins, a lawyer, listening to hours of wiretaps and reading thousands of pages of police reports – hearing what would become the characters in his books in their own voices.

Also a little while ago in a blog post, Matt Rees wrote about studying literature at Oxford Unversity, “and then I read Dashiell Hammett.”

So, one gets inpriration from real life and one from art – both equally valid.

As a Canadian I tend to find inspiration in a mix of both – we Canadians are the products of, well, pretty much every other culture in the world. It hasn’t distilled into a single culture yet but it’s still young.

As the blurbs on my books say, I attended a murder trial when I was twelve years old. My older brother, an RCMP officer was giving testimony. What I really remember from the day was that the two defendants were laughing and joking. These were two guys, career criminals, who had kidnapped a young boy and in the botched ransom exchange killed two police officers. And they just weren’t taking the trial seriously.

When I talked to my brother about it afterwards he said, “Well, they know they’re spending the rest of their lives in prison, that’s just their final ‘fuck you’ to the rest of us.” I hadn’t really seen that attitude from murderers in the movies or on TV so this attitude stuck with me. And I’ve seen that kind of childish defiance a lot since.

Also in that trial I saw the matter-of-fact approach of the cops. My brother testified about finding the wallet of one of the victim’s near the crime scene when he was one of the cops searching the area.

(the weird thing is I also remember the testimony of the lab guy explaining in detail about how the particular make up of mud that was found in the defendants’ boots could only have come from three feet deep in the exact area where the victims’ bodies were buried, but it has never ocurred to me to use forensics as a factor in fiction. Oh well....)

Those attitudes more than any specific actions are what I’ve used as inpsiration for my writing.

And a lot of real-life events. My wife sends me some of those, “weird criminal” stories from newspapers she finds online. Not the ripped from the headlines page one stuff, that’s usually so odd and out there it’s unbeliveable. More stuff like, Mykal Carberry, 13, was arrested in Hyannis, Mass., in March and charged with arranging for the murder of his 16-year-old half-brother, Jordan, so that, according to police, he could take Jordan's place atop the family's prosperous Cape Cod cocaine distribution ring. (The boss's job was open following the boys' father's recent imprisonment.) [Tampa Tribune-AP, 3-2-09].

But I also get a lot of inspiration from art.

As an angry teenage boy I used to spend a lot of time talking about things I didn’t like. Movies that were, “total crap,” and TV shows that, “sucked bigtime.” And music, oh man, so much music was just awful. We could talk about crappy music for hours. Now I really only like to spend time reading, watching and talking about stuff that’s good. Sometimes I do sit through a movie that isn’t very good and when it’s over I try and pull a few good things from it – pretty much the opposite of what my teenage self would have done.

At a recent family get-together, my brother-in-law, a drama professor, actor, director and writer said he’s constantly hearing conversations and “correcting” them in his head, finding better ways for things to be said, putting the emphasis in different places and so on. Me, when I overhear conversations (and I try to do it all the time) I try to remember them so I can get my writing more the way people actually talk – even if that means it’s sometimes “wrong” with the emphasis in the wrong place.

It’s really just a matter of taste, whichever one you prefer. Inspiration comes from everywhere, then it’s up to us to turn it into something.

Where do you find most of your inspiration?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hometown Blues

By Jay Stringer

Mike’s piece from sunday -and my own ramblings over at my site- have set me thinking about location.

It seems more and more as I get older, I need stories with a string sense of place. I need the setting to be almost as important as the characters. In fact, it needs to BE a character.
It wasn’t always like this. I loved SCI FI and fantasy for a long time, but they seem to have lost their grip over the last decade, largely due to lacking that sense of place.

In the books I read, it’s vital. New York was the most important character in the Matt Scudder books. Writers like Al Guthrie, Scott Phillips and Ray Banks have managed to give enough of a voice to the settings of their work that you find yourself looking past the main characters and seeing a real world in the background.

And, of course, it doesn’t have to be a place that I know. Russel’s book THE GOOD SON is set in a city I’ve never visited in my life, but he put in enough solid groundwork to make it feel like a real place. And once it feels like a real place, then crazy shit can happen.

I think this comes from my need to have some kind of social element in my fiction, and these days crime is where you find the social writers.

This need isn’t just limited to books, though. If you look through my record collection you see it dominated by people who’ve managed to give voice to specific locales; whether it is Paul Westerberg’s tales of unrequited love on the skyway, The Hold Steady’s bar room drama’s of the mid west, Springsteen’s mythic New Jersey, or Strummer’s apocalyptic London.

My brain, and my tastes, somehow seem to be able to swallow a story much more comfortably if it takes place SOMEWHERE. Hell, in the Indiana Jones films, I’m the guy paying extra attention to the little animated maps, so I know where this particular horse chase is going down.

I mention all of this because I’ve found it vital to my writing, as well. A few times I’ve tried writing stories that don’t mention place, which can be set anywhere the reader wants. And I fail every time. It robs the characters of an accent, or a dialect, and it makes the rules of the world a little too flexible. I like writing about the area I grew up in, and perhaps exploring it a little through fiction. I’ve lived in Glasgow for three years now, and still don’t feel comfortable writing stories set here, because it somehow doesn’t feel like I can give the place a real voice yet.

I took a trip back to my hometown at the weekend, and did a lot of thinking. One thing that struck me is that it’s an area that has no fictional tradition in the modern market. It had a huge impact on music, and has a rich history for any novelist who wants to look at, say, the pub bombings, the unions or the gun crime. And yet there is no voice in print. With Mike's recent post in mind, I wonder if this is a good thing –that I have fresh territory to make my own- or a bad thing –that I want to give voice to a region that publishers might not be interested in?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Barnes & Noble expects increase in community, eBook sales

Willy Wonka: But Charlie, don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted.
Charlie Bucket: What happened?
Willy Wonka: He lived happily ever after.

By Steve Weddle

Maybe using Willy Wonka to kick off a crime fiction blog post is enough to get me beaten up outside at recess, but I’ve been beaten up a few times before. Things don’t always go my way. Recently, though, all the stars aligned and I was floating up like Charlie and Grandpa, drunk on the fizzy-lifting drink. Or so I thought.

You see, I need coffee. To exist, I mean. Not like, “I need to feel loved” or “I need to know there’s a reason to live” or bunk like that. Lacking that stuff won’t kill me. No coffee will. They’ll find me curled up like one of those slimy little rodents on the Discovery Channel when they get the night-vision camera inside a groundhog’s nest.

I also need books. Not just to read, either. To read, of course. But also to pile up, to fall over off the piano. To stand in growing towers, my future laid out for me. To line the bookshelves, sporadically organized, my past on display. And the current read, set cockeyed in the middle of the coffee table, waiting for me.
And then I need Wi-Fi, preferably free. Occasionally I need food, something containing chocolate. Something whose name has the words “triple” and/or “dark” prominently displayed. I need a place to write. I need access to a toilet.
Of course I have other needs. Family. Home. Work. Stuff like that. Maybe even someone to walk by me wearing a suit and tie with a button-down shirt so that I have a focal point for all my anger.

Recently the coffee, books, free Wi-Fi, a place to write, food, toilet – these things all came together, thanks to Barnes and Noble, which decided to move all of their stores, nearly 800, to free Wi-Fi.

On July 28, B&N switched from charging $3.95 for a whole two hours of access to the in-store Wi-Fi (via AT&T) to giving it away.

So there I was. The guy who suddenly had everything, standing in my local Barnes and Noble, walking up and down the aisles while connected to free Wi-Fi.

In a press release, Barnes and Noble’s CEO said it’s all about community: “By providing no-fee Wi-Fi access, we are not only meeting our customers’ needs, but extending the sense of community that has always been in our stores.”

The community stuff I get. It’s a press release. It’s about community and saving the puppies. I wonder about the needs of the customers.

In the release, Barnes and Noble points out that shoppers can “download free Barnes & Noble Apps giving them access to the world’s largest eBookstore with over 700,000 eBooks.” Great news. Just last night I was sitting on my couch, surfing the Web when I realized I wanted to read the latest “Chicken Soup for the Crime Writer’s Soul.”

So I shut the house down, got into my car and drove the 28 minutes to Barnes and Noble, found a parking spot, walked into the store, fired up my iPod Touch, loaded the Barnes and Noble Bookstore Application, then realized I needed to have loaded the Barnes and Noble eReader App, then downloaded the book. Of course, you can’t read a book without a good cup of coffee. So I drove home and brewed a pot.

I suppose I don’t understand who is going to download an eBook in the Barnes and Noble Store. I don’t need the store for this. Am I supposed to walk up and down the aisles, pick up each of the 17 various Monk mysteries, decide which one I want and then download it? Then I go sit in the Starbucks with a Triple Grande Latte and start reading my iPod Touch? Alright, that doesn’t sound too bad. Just kinda weird and unlikely.

So I was in the Barnes and Noble a few nights ago. I love that store and have probably spent $500 on books there this summer alone (the ink-on-paper kind). I like the small, indie stores with the one dude behind the counter and the three people throughout the store, too. But the huge B&N is a different kind of experience. When I was there this week, a guy was giving a reading. Self-help stuff. Under normal circumstances, I would have stayed for the reading. I sort of think of it as my civic duty as a certified holder of a triple-digit IQ to heckle those folks. (Seriously, you want to charge $28 to take folk tales and various public domain stuff and show me how I can apply it to my life? Yeah, I can see how that one about the fox and the chicken and raft really helped you appreciate your co-workers and land the Tompkins account. You’d better be signing those books with an “IOU $28.” Jerk.)

I walked past the guy without even a threat of violence because I’m a nice guy. I was there to enjoy the free Wi-Fi in the bookstore. But I wasn’t enjoying it. I was supposed to download eBooks? No. Doesn’t make sense. You don’t go to a bookstore to download eBooks any more than you go to a record store to download mp3s. I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth (ever tried to clean horse-spit out of a Grizzly Adams beard?) but I just couldn’t understand what I was supposed to do with the free Wi-Fi. Sit in the café in the middle of the bookstore, open up my laptop and play Mafia Wars on Facebook?

What is the purpose of the free Wi-Fi? The statement from Barnes and Noble suggests the Wi-Fi is to create community and allow for the downloading of eBooks. I’ve been to many coffee shops with free Wi-Fi. They don’t promote community. You go in, get your 8 oz coffee to last you 3 hours, then plop down and open your laptop. You think it’s about community? Free Wi-Fi in Barnes and Noble is about “extending the sense of community”? Fine. Try something for me, then. Find someone surfing the Web. Sit down next to the person and, in the interest of “community,” ask the person, “So, whatcha doin? What site is that? Are those pictures of Vanessa Hudgens there?” Go ahead. The first aid station is in the back of the store, by the way.

So how did I use the free Wi-Fi the other day? On the day when, like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, I suddenly had everything I'd ever wanted? Well, I searched the iTunes Music Store and downloaded a couple of versions of “My Sweet Lord” that my lovely bride had wanted earlier in the day. I had both songs in seconds, much faster than I would have had on my connection at home. Thanks, Barnes and Noble. That kind of speed must cost you a fortune.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Making Stuff Up In The Great White North

by Mike Knowles

Koan: If a Canadian writes a crime novel set in Canada, does anyone read it but his mother?

I would have to say that I have been lucky in terms of publishing. I wrote my first book over the span of a year or so and typed it while I taught summer school (and don’t go scratching your head about how I did both at once. I can do plenty of things at the same time just like you can read this blog and simultaneously wonder who I am). I submitted the book to two publishers who accepted on-line submissions and one said yes. I got a three book deal out of a really raw manuscript and the ball started rolling.

Soon after manuscript acceptance, began the process. The book first got bent over by an editor and pounded into something better than I had first handed in. Then, the publisher printed a bunch of Advance Copies. I got two of them when I went to my first conference and I gave one away within ten minutes to Quentin Jardine who dazzled me with praise, and that magical glint in his eyes, and promised to write about it on his blog. I read that man’s blog for months, but there was never a write up. My wife tried to console me with, “I know he said he’d write, but maybe he just didn’t like your book that way.”

I didn’t let the literary one night stand with Quentin slow me down. I contacted as many authors as I could and got them to agree to read an advance of my book in hopes of providing me with a blurb to put on the cover. There were an unbelievable number of cool writers out there who were willing to take the time to read something by someone they had never met. I am in debt to writers like these and I don’t ever think I will be able to pay them back.

So Victor Gischler, Allan Guthrie, Thomas Perry, and John McFetridge all gave me positive blurbs (you’d think all that name dropping would make the page scroll down on its own). I was on a high. People I respected, hell loved, thought I was doing something right. Then came the reviews in newspapers and magazines. I thought with the huge star power on the cover I would get Barbra Walters knocking on my door – I got a few local, one national, and two from the States. It wasn’t Barbara, but it was great to have anyone read the book. Luckily, all the reviews were pretty much positive. And this dear friends is where our ride ends. I got good blurbs, positive reviews, and that was about it. There was no offers to buy the book rights, no fantastic sales, just a book available everywhere with nothing to show but two Amazon reviews (I’ll deal with them next week).

Now I know what you are thinking. You think I’m being unrealistic. Tons of people write books that end up sitting on shelves or fading into the background of used bookstores. There is nothing special about a book not making it to the big time. I totally agree with you and I am fine with the idea of writing books that aspire to one day reach the heights of cult status. But I learned something interesting a few weeks ago. My agent, yes I got one; he is Scottish and he loves me for me not like Quentin Jardine who says he will write but never does. My agent told me that a book he was shopping around for me was denied because it was, and get ready, too Canadian. I thought the book was good (I’m too humble to say awesome), my agent thought it was good (he’s not humble, he says the book is awesome), the publisher we submitted it to thought it was good, but they told us that they already had a Canadian on the roster and they thought another would be just too many. Two Canadians are too many? I was shocked. Could it be my citizenship that was holding me back. Could I be the next Spillane if I just set my books an hour away in Buffalo?

The reason this comment floored me, I think, was because I found it so ridiculous. Reading fiction is pure escapism plain and simple. No one reads books about the mundane things that take place in their own lives. Books like that are called diaries and they are usually only interesting to your mother or your little sister. I write crime fiction in which people fight, steal, kill, and do all kinds of other bad things. It is the same kind of bad things that take place in American and European crime novels. Does geography change the potential interest in a murder or a theft? Does it make a novel suddenly unpalatable? I would argue no because I generally read books that aren’t about where I’m from and I find them interesting. I’ve read crime from America, Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Russia. Egypt, and Japan. The locations in all of these books is itself an entity in the story which changes characters, motivations, and laws into something different. It is these differences that often make the books I read fresh and entertaining.

Or could the problem be me? Do I have the stink of a Canadian on me? Are there too many aboots, eh’s, and hockey references in the book for an American audience to understand what I am trying to say?

And riddle me this: if setting a book in Canada is such an issue how does science fiction work at all. Would I have been better off setting the book on Mars and giving everyone lazer guns so that they could commit space crime? And would the science fiction suddenly become less publishable if the space ship were Canadian?

This blog is supposed to cover seven people’s thoughts on reading, writing, publication and modern media. My thoughts this week as I wait to find out the fate of my unpublished book revolve around the publication process. Most people are probably unaware that there is more to getting published than just writing a good book. You have to also get past the publishing bouncers who have a strict guest list in mind. If something about you is not on the list, you won’t cross that velvet rope. I’m not saying you will never get published, this is just the experience of one guy, but the bigger markets might be out of bounds for some right away. It just seems like a shame that something good could be shot down not on its merits, but rather on its components. It would be like opting out of dining at a four star restaurant because it happens to be Italian food in favour of a McDonalds because it’s more American.

I wonder how many good books I missed over the years because they didn’t fit the mould. How many times was a new idea shot down in favour of another big city private detective with a sassy mouth and skeletons in the closet, or a cop going mano-a-psycho with a devilish serial killer?

I think more people should make more of an effort to buy their books like they buy their fruit. Buy local, check out home-grown authors as often as you can. And every now and again try out something new from a far off place and see if you found something you like. It worked out well for me and papaya.

Of course, this could all be complete nonsense. The whole “too Canadian” thing could be completely fabricated by my agent as a way to let me down without hurting my feelings.

If you are one of those skip to the end of a blog kind of people, or you are just trying to get to someone else’s blog, here’s the gist:

1. Canadians are people too. We’re not that different than you. If you came to Canada we would invite you into our igloo’s with open arms.

2. Quentin Jardine is a heartbreaker.

3. Good is good. It shouldn’t matter where you’re from or where you set a book if it reads well that should be all that matters.

4. If a Canadian writes a book more people will know than his mother. She will tell at least three friends.