Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Countdown Begins

Second last day at work – oh wow! The feeling is just so strange. This morning was ‘THE LAST TIME I’LL BE ON THE GO TRAIN!!!!!!!!!!” My retirement party is tonight, and I am so excited. Last night I went to an executive meeting of Sisters In Crime, Toronto Chapter, and they presented me with a card and a gift certificate to a bookstore (natch!). Very nice.

In preparation for my cross-country trip, I’ve got camping and tourist guides and maps from all the provinces I’ll be driving through and I’ve been pouring over them working out my route. Unfortunately the route won’t be all that complicated. My house closes on May 15th and I have to be in Nelson by May 22nd for my first house sit. So that gives me 7 days to drive half way across the country. I know that for our European readers that might sound like a lot, but you can pretty much count on five full days of driving flat out to get from Oakville, Ontario to Nelson, BC with only one driver. Oh, well I’ll have other opportunities to take a more leisurely trip. High on my list of things to do another time is go to Churchill, Manitoba in October 2008 to see the polar bears.

I’ve been reading a stack of books on traveling across Canada. Starting Out in the Afternoon, by Jill Frayne, The Canada Trip by Charles Gordon, Timbit Nation by John Stackhouse, Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw by Will Ferguson. I have an idea for a book just niggling at the back of my mind; I’ll take notes along the way and see if anything comes of it. You never know.

Tomorrow I’m heading off to New York State for a murder mystery weekend at the Keuka Lake Wine Trail in the Finger Lakes district. I am going to be the guest writer at Keuka Springs Winery (Charles will be at Barrington Cellars). A great way to start my retirement and the rest of my life, I think.

By the time we get to B.C. my dog, Shenzi, will be one of the few dogs in the world to have peed on a tree in every province in Canada. Pretty impressive, eh? Ten years ago two of my children and I drove out to Newfoundland with Shenzi.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Disconnect

I had an interesting conversation with a reader -- or should I say potential reader -- at a store this past week. The manager introduced me to the woman as an author whose books she might be interested in.

The first words out of the woman's mouth were, "Is there any swearing in your books?"

Having fielded this sort of question before, I answered, "No more than is necessary for the point I'm trying to make."

"And how much is that?"

"You'll have to read it and find out."

"Well, I don't think I'll read it. I don't like swearing. It makes me uncomfortable."

"But you like reading murder mysteries."

"It's the only thing I read."

I didn't want to upset the very nice bookstore manager, and I certainly don't like to embarrass anyone, but I wanted to smack this woman upside her head and scream right in her face, "You don't like swearing but you DO like reading about people whose lives are ended by violence? Don't you see that there's something wrong here?"

This is not the first time I've had this experience, but there was something sanctimonious in this woman's expression that made me want to verbally wipe it off her face in a violent manner.

To my mind, there's something wrong with people like this. I can see someone saying that they don't like books that are nothing but swear words. I would agree. I've read some and I didn't like them, not because of the swearing per se, but because it just got plain tedious after a while.

I've also run into the same thing with the bit of sex that sometimes occurs in my books. _Cemetery of the Nameless_ has a scene towards the end that's pretty graphic, but it really has to be for the story to make any sense. I had the following conversation with another reader about it.

"Oh, I didn't much like your book. Too much sex in it."

"I'm sorry to hear that. It really only had that bit at the end."

"That's where I stopped reading."

"Well, it had to be graphic like that because of the story. I found it very hard to write, but it's necessary to the story."

"I understood that, but I don't like reading about anything to do with sex. That always causes me to put a book down. It shouldn't be in books."

"I guess the murder at the beginning was a bit much for you. I'm surprised you read past that."

"Oh that sort of thing doesn't bother me."

You could have knocked me over with a feather.

This reader went on to say that she's very religious and that sex such as I described is very wrong.

"But stabbing someone after slitting their throat isn't?" I asked.

"Of course it's wrong!"

"But you don't mind reading about that while you don't like reading about sex? What if I had put in a scene with my two married protagonists making love? Would you have read that?"

"No."

"Why not? It's normal."

"Because reading about that kind of thing is repugnant."

She actually used that word. Repugnant. Normal sex between a married couple is repugnant, but slitting someone's throat isn't?

What is wrong with our society if people have this view? You can graphically disembowel someone on screen in a movie and get a PG13 rating. But show a person's backside, breasts, or (horrors) two people making love, and alarm bells go off and the rating goes up to R.

My sister once said to me, "There's too much swearing in your books."

There did happen to be a fair bit of swearing in that book, not overdone, my editor and I felt, but what was necessary because of the characters. Big tough guys wouldn't say, "Oh shucks!" Would they?

She didn't say anything about my story, whether she thought it was good, bad or indifferent, just that it had "too much swearing".

So being the good brother that I am, the very first thing in my next book was a one-word exclamation by my protagonist, "Shit!"

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mash it up

I wish I could type while listening to music. I’ve read that Stephen King cranks his stereo up to eleven when he’s writing, and a copywriter I know listens to wide range of stuff while cranking out brilliant ads. But I have to have it quiet when I write. I don’t want to say I have a short attention span, it’s just that my mind clicks into the strangest directions and then my imagination takes off and before you know it I’m only not typing but forgetting to do other things. Like exhale.

If I could write and type at the same time, there’s a song I’d know I’d play the hell out of. It’s a mash-up by Legion of Doom called Crazy as She Goes and anyone who’s ridden in my car the past month certainly knows I’m a fan.

Now a mash-up is when an artist takes two or more different songs and blends them together in a cool new way. There are millions of examples out there and for me the best ones pull together totally unexpected songs. Bandleader Lee Press-on of Lee Press-on and the Nails recently mashed-up a Beatles tune and a song by the German band Kraftwerk. The Legion of Doom mash-up slams together last summer’s big hit Crazy by Gnarls Barkley with Grandmaster Flash’s classic The Message and the Raconteurs’ Steady as She Goes. Much fun.

So why am I telling you this?

Imagine a different kind of mash-up.

The Maltese Falcon mashed-up with a Westlake Dortmunder caper.

Agatha Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery and Bob Morris’ Bermuda Schwartz.

G.K. Chseterton’s The Innocence of Father Brown and Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Empty House with George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman. (Oh wait, that’s been done. See Flashman and the Tiger.)

So, what would I mash-up one of my books with?

Relative Danger with Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad.

Out of Order with Kal Ho Naa Ho. (Okay, it’s a movie, but that just means that they’d have to make OoO into a movie, too.)

Noble Lies (coming in October 2007) with The Tesseract by Alex Garland. Or Kicking Dogs by Collin Piprell.

Okay, somebody get busy and mash these up for me.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Back to the Past

Vicki here...

As I might have mentioned here before, I’m retiring at the end of the month. Only 16 more work days, but who’s counting, eh? As part of cleaning up my office, I’m taking all my personal files off the work computer. I came across some journals that I wrote back in 1999 as part of the creative writing course I was taking. Creative writing teachers generally believe that the writing process has to be constantly encouraged, so they have the students writing in a journal every day. What good it does, I can’t really say as those are the only times in my life that I have ever kept a journal. Anyway, I read about how I was taking the course called “Crafting the Novel” because the novel I was trying to write ‘lurched from major scene to major scene with no down points’. Sounds like a good reason to be taking a course, it’s probably a problem for lots of beginners – how to make the story flow when you’re just excited about getting all the thrilling parts out of your head and down on paper. Hopefully I learned some things in those classes.

That book was Whiteout, my first attempt at a full length novel (I had written short stories and children’s stories before). Whiteout was eventually published (sorta) by an e-publishing company. For a few months e-pub was looking to be the next big thing in publishing. It quickly sank almost without a trace. But the company that published Whiteout did also produce a few POD books, so I have copies of my initial opus to reminisce over. It had a very nice cover – all red and black and white and very moody. The publisher soon went out of business – the fate of all too many publishers – and Whiteout languished out of print, fondly remembered only by the contents of my bottom drawer. Until this week when it was resurrected. It is going to be published by Worldwide Library (an imprint of Harlequin). They only publish works that have been published before and distribute only to book clubs (i.e. not retail). I’m very pleased about this, as it will be nice to see Whiteout get a larger audience. And its money for no work as they’re taking the book as is. Nice, eh?

There is a new space on the web that looks like a great place for readers to spend some leisure time in. It’s called the Habitual Reader (http://www.habitualreader.com/). Right now they have a feature on me in which I discuss why I am a habitual reader and also give my top ten list. Check it out if you have some time.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

It's March already??

Barbara here at last, having missed a couple of Mondays (I know, it's Tuesday). I can't believe it's March, and judging from the weather outside, which is -19 C. with a windchill factor around -30, neither does Mother Nature.

February has been an exciting month. Trips to Montreal and Hamilton for readings, and most exciting of all, the Politics and the Pen Gala Dinner, where the who's who of politicians, diplomats, lobbyists and business people gather for a charity dinner at the Chateau Laurier in celebration of writers and the Writers' Trust. There were 500 people there, including 50 invited guest authors, of which I was privileged to be one this year. Normally the Prime Minister attends, but this year Stephen Harper did not. His wife did, along with much of his cabinet and many other MPs. I spent the evening trying to recognize people, had a chance to talk to Irwin Cotler, Silken Laumann, the American Ambassador, who was at my table, and variety of media types and other authors. My first experience at a political schmoozefest, and boy, you could smell the pursuit of power.

Meanwhile on the writing front, the latest Inspector Green novel, Dream Chasers, is in final rewrites and waiting for my police officer consultant to come back from Mexico so he can weed out the police gaffs. The publisher is hard at work on the cover, and that's always an exciting but nail-biting experience. The release date is likely this September.

I'll be taking more own trip to southern shores in a couple of weeks when I head off to Costa Rica for a few days in the Cloud Forest and a few on a Pacific beach. I planned the trip entirely from guide books rather than a pre-packaged tour, so I hope it all works out. I'm going to take lots of good books to read while I lie around in the hammock on the beach, including Vincent Lam's Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures and for light reading (hah!) David Hewson's Sacred Cut. I might also take along a pad of paper in case the writing muse comes to visit. But I may be too busy exploring to give it a single thought.

That's it for now.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Local Knowledge

I stopped by Toronto’s Sleuth of Baker Street yesterday. It’s 180 miles from my home but technically speaking it’s still my local mystery bookstore. Co-owners Marian Misters and J.D. Singh have created an amazing space for book lovers, complete with a cozy fireplace and just about every mystery you’d ever want to read, from the classics to books so new the ink’s still wet.

I first met J.D. at the Toronto Bouchercon and, along with some folks from Poisoned Pen Press, we ended up shooting pool at the Elephant and Castle, a ersatz English Pub on King Street. A good time, as they say, was had by all. I bump into J.D. at conventions now and then, most recently at Magna Cum Murder, but no matter how long between chats he always remembers what I like to read and he’s ready with some recommendations that are invariably spot on. And that’s what makes a local, independent bookseller so important and why you should shop there.

Now before Messrs. Barnes & Noble pull my books from their shelves I want to be clear what I mean. The Big Stores are wonderful in their own way, offering me a whole sections of books I might not encounter anywhere else and when it comes to wandering around aimlessly on a rainy Sunday, there are few places I’d rather go. It was on serendipitous outing at one of the Big Stores that I found Courtesans & Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Greece by James Davidson, Off the Map: The Curious Histories of Place-Names by Derek Nelson and The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen. These are wonderful books and I would have never encountered them if it weren’t for B&N. But when it comes to mysteries, I’m a bit more selective.

If you have a mystery bookstore close to home – and remember, I call a three-hour drive close to home – you know what I’m talking about. And I guess it’s true for other specialty bookstores and the rare general-stock independents that are left. It’s just different at these bookstores. But you knew that and again I write a blog that states the obvious.

So what did I J.D. recommend? A lot more than I bought, but I did leave with Steve Hockensmith’s Homes on the Range and Zoë Sharp’s First Drop. Given who recommended them, I’m sure I’ll love them both.