Friday, 23 February 2018

BIG CHANGES IN LITTLE BURRITTS

For those of you who follow this blog on a regular basis (and I'm very grateful to both of you!) you'll remember that I do all of my writing these days in a rented basement office in the Burritt's Rapids Community Hall.

This little village is located on an island in the Rideau Canal system a kilometre upstream from Lock 17, south of Ottawa, our nation's capital. It's a remarkably quiet, friendly place, just perfect for me to spend the day focusing on what I love to do--write crime fiction.

Parks Canada is now in the process of repairing and restoring the swing bridge connecting the island to the south shore. The bridge has been there since 1897 and is still operated by hand. During the summer I often walk down from the community hall to the bridge on my lunch break to watch the boats pass by. It's remarkable in the 21st century to watch a Parks Canada employee (usually a summer student) cranking like crazy to swing the bridge out of the way of oncoming water traffic.

I took the above photo a couple of days ago as the work crew was preparing to remove the bridge and take it away to the place where it will be restored. As you can see on the far right, a temporary walkway has been built across the water. I took the photo from a parking area that will be maintained for the use of those who need to access the island from the south (e.g., residents!) and choose to park and walk. School buses also pick up and drop off kids here while the bridge is out of commission.

For more information about this fascinating project, check out this link.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT ON HEARTBREAK HOTEL

Now that I've been writing reviews for the New York Journal of Books for a while, some of my money quotes, the punch line of the review, have been showing up on the paperback editions of the books. 

For example, the mass market edition of The Nowhere Man: An Orphan X Novel by Gregg Hurwitz (Minotaur Books) included my statement that "The Nowhere Man is a good ride down a toboggan run of nonstop action and intrigue." The quote's also included on his website. While I also pointed out what I thought were flaws in the novel, I really did think it was a well-plotted story, and I was pleased to see my money quote included in the softcover edition.

The paperback of Heartbreak Hotel by Jonathan Kellerman (Ballantyne Books) recently hit the book rack in my local grocery store, and lo and behold, there was a money quote from the New York Journal of Books on the back cover. I used my cellphone to snap a photo of it (above).

I wrote the NYJB review for this novel, but unfortunately I didn't write these words. It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but I eventually discovered that the quote is actually from a 2015 NYJB review of Motive, an earlier Kellerman novel reviewed by someone else.

While the use of the quote suggests that the NYJB is telling you Heartbreak Hotel demonstrates how Kellerman "has mastered the art of lean, evocative prose" and that it proves this series "grows stronger with each volume," let me set the record straight. In my opinion, this novel was poorly written, with terrible metaphors and an overall lack of interest in good prose. As far as growing the series stronger with this volume, I concluded that Kellerman mailed this one in and exerted no effort to write a novel that would attract new readers.

You can read my review here.

I don't want to be the kind of book critic who trashes everything in sight. I've written very positive reviews of other novels for NYJB, but Heartbreak Hotel struck a nerve. It was a crappy book that was written, edited, and published with almost palpable cynicism in the belief that Kellerman's faithful followers will consume whatever they churn out and love it, regardless of how poor a product it is.

I don't have a problem with Ballantyne using someone else's money quote from an earlier Kellerman novel to puff a novel I panned. Happens all the time. No big deal. I just want to set the record straight, here and now. I repeat: Kellerman's prose in Heartbreak Hotel is lardy and off-putting, and this volume wouldn't encourage any new reader to bother spending five seconds looking up earlier installments in the series.

There. Now that's off my chest.


Monday, 1 January 2018

AS 2018 ARRIVES...

Let me be blunt: 2017 was a very difficult year for me. An argument could be made that 2016 was even worse, but as improvements go, 2017 didn't really make the grade.

It was a year in which I found myself under siege from multiple directions. Without going into specifics I'll just say that these things are not unique to me and are confronted by many, many other people at certain points in their lives, but as constant, ongoing, unsolvable problems they exert a daily, hourly pressure that is very difficult to stand up to over the long haul.

As 2018 arrives, I thought it might be important for me to use The Overnight Bestseller to say something about it. Colleagues mentioned to me during the past year that I haven't been effectively using social media. I seldom post on Facebook, my Twitter tweets and retweets are minimal, at best, and I haven't properly maintained this blog.

Guilty as charged. Additionally, while I've been going to my little office in Burritt's Rapids almost every day, and I was able to finish another March and Walker manuscript, the work has been slow and less productive than I'd prefer. My brain is like a boat with a thousand remoras attached to the hull below the waterline. I'm moving forward, but much more slowly than I should.

Traditionally I use the break between Christmas and the New Year to assess how I've been doing and to develop a strategy to improve personally and professionally during the next twelve months. This year, I'm not doing that.

The problems I'm dealing with are not solvable. Not by me, that's for sure, and not at this stage of my life. What I'm doing instead is making myself a series of promises. I want to share them with you, because if I make them public then I'm committed to them, aren't I?

I promise I'm not going to let the stress turn me into a different person. I promise I'm going to get even better at compartmentalizing my emotions into whatever packages of time I can manage--an hour, six hours, maybe even an entire day--in which I can feel upbeat, inspired, happy. I promise I will continue to be the person who's there when I'm needed, and that the breaks I need away from it all will be short (see the previous promise).

Finally, I promise you that over this past year my writing, although slow, has never been better, and that in 2018 I'm going to write an even better story than I did in 2017.

It gives me a goal to work toward. (I can't completely abandon all my old habits, can I?) I'll let you know as the year unfolds how I make out with it.

Thanks for reading this.


Monday, 18 December 2017

REVIEWING AUSTRALIAN CRIME FICTION

Soho Crime's mandate is to publish "atmospheric crime fiction set all over the world." Their author list includes the likes of Colin Cotterill, whose novels are set in 1970s Laos, Martin Lίmon, whose series features American army investigators in South Korea in the same time period, and Henry Chang, whose contemporary crime novels are set in New York City's Chinatown.

I've had pretty good luck exploring Soho Crime's titles as a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books, and that luck held when I selected Australian Garry Disher's Signal Loss for review.

I must confess I hadn't heard of Disher before, despite the fact he's published 40 books to date, but I enjoyed reading Signal LossHere's why I liked it.

Our challenge as readers is to find new writers with new voices and new perspectives. Many of the old familiar bestsellers have written themselves out, and their new publications are often not worth buying. Thankfully, Soho Crime is opening up our horizons and bringing us new names to try out.






Monday, 27 November 2017

FRANKENSTEIN TURNS 200

New Year's Day 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley. It appeared on that day in in 1818 in a limited edition of 500 copies and received decidedly mixed reviews.

Now, Reel Art Press (R|A|P) has published an incredible volume by Gothic expert Christopher Frayling to commemorate the monster's 200th birthday.

Frayling provides critical insight into the genesis of the story, and as a special treat to readers the second half of the book is an extravaganza of archival photographs, poster art, and much more.

Kudos to RAP editor Tony Nourmand and book designer Joakim Olsson for producing another remarkable volume.

Read my review in the New York Journal of Books here.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

BOUCHERCON 2017: HOME AT LAST!

Bouchercon, the world mystery convention that took place this year in Toronto, is now in the books. I'm home after a five-hour ride on the train on Sunday, a milk run that stopped at almost every town in eastern Ontario along the way including Belleville, Kingston, Brockville, and Smiths Falls. When the train finally reached my destination a few minutes before midnight, I swear that my entire body was a vessel of pain. Oh well, that's what I get for travelling economy.

This was my first time at a Bouchercon, and I thought it was a terrific experience. Thanks go out to Helen Nelson and Janet Costello, co-chairs, who organized a great convention.

Thanks as well to the remarkable Alison Bruce, executive director of the Crime Writers of Canada, who worked incredibly hard to make this a successful event for the CWC and its individual author members such as myself. I just don't know where she gets the energy. Also, my thanks to Cathy Ace, CWC chair, for putting us in the spotlight so effectively.

If you've been following my blog during the convention, you'll know what I mean when I say that it was a great opportunity for me to sit down with fellow crime fiction authors and chew the fat. (If you haven't been following, shame on you. Go back and read them and don't be such an uncaring churl!)

I should definitely mention CWC colleagues from Ottawa, including Barbara Fradkin, Brenda Chapman, Linda Wiken/Erica Chase, Mary Jane Maffini/Victoria Abbott (ah-choo), Mike Martin, and Robin (R.J.) Harlick. It was a pleasure to see you all again and catch up on stuff. And don't worry, Mary Jane, I didn't catch your cold.

Best of all, it was an incredible opportunity to meet readers and fans of crime fiction in its various forms. To the folks from Wisconsin, Nevada, California, and Scotland, among other places, it was a pleasure to listen to you talk about your lives and passion for the mystery genre, and I appreciate your interest in hearing about my work. I wish you all safe travels home.

Finally, to my fellow Canadians who attended and supported this country's authors from Louise Penny all the way down to Michael J. McCann -- we do it best, don't we?

Saturday, 14 October 2017

BOUCHERCON 2017, DAY THREE!

Day Three at Bouchercon 2017 was a very busy day for me. It started early, as I volunteered at the Crime Writers of Canada table at 8:30 a.m. to spend an hour enticing people to sign up for our newsletter and/or become a member.

The CWC was sponsoring coffee and treats in the refreshment area today, and at 10:30 a.m. I was one of several CWC authors sitting at a table chatting with fans attracted by the lovely pastries. I had a fascinating conversation with a retired couple from Mountain View, California. He was a retired NASA aerospace engineer who worked with their wind tunnel technology. When he was done telling me about his career, I told him frankly that what I do pales in comparison to what he's done. Mind-blowing stuff.

At 1:30 I was back at the CWC table signing up more readers, and at 2:30 I caught a bit of a very interesting panel discussion including Louise Penny, Mark Pryor, Heather Young and Laura McHugh on their "hidden pasts." Very entertaining.

On the way out of the hotel for a mid-afternoon break I saw Colin Cotterill and his wife sitting in the lobby, and he very graciously signed my copy of The Rat Catchers' Olympics. (Read my New York Journal of Books review here.) 

He told me he is a dog-lover and currently has seven, all street dogs he's rescued (he lives in Chumphon, Thailand). He told me he has started up a program to help stray "temple dogs," called WatDog2. They spay females, provide veterinary services, and so on. He has set up a PayPal link with the vet he uses, and they could use a little help. Colin explains the whole thing and provides the PayPal link in his website diary - you really should read this.

At 5:30 pm I was back at the CWC table for another hour-long stint. I should mention the table was managed by Alison Bruce, who's absolutely tireless. It exhausts me just thinking about how much stuff she does for the CWC.

Tonight there's live music down in the ballroom, and I think I'll slide down and give it a listen.

Tomorrow's getaway day, so I'll give you a wrap-up of the convention on Monday.

Catch you on the flip side.