If I gotta go to prison, please send me to Quebec

Seems there's been another walkaway from a prison north of Montreal. This time the escapee is a convicted murderer who appears to have grown impatient waiting for his next unescorted leave, so he slipped out an unlocked window in his cell sometime in the middle of the night.

According to an unnamed source in the Toronto Sun, "It seems to be an spontaneous act."

What I'm wondering is, how many times has this dude slipped out in the middle of the night to visit his girlfriend and made it back in time for the next headcount? I mean, he's getting close to the end of his sentence, he gets unescorted day passes, why rock the boat? Heck, maybe if they'd just waited a while, he'd have popped back in the window in time for breakfast. Maybe he just, y'know, fell asleep after satisfying his spontaneous midnight urges. It happens.

Over the last little while, we've had Hells Angels employ helicopters for two high-profile escapes (and ridiculously inept capture{C}{cke_protected_1}son the part of the escapees). Another biker walked away from this same joint less than a year ago, only to die of suicide on the outside. (No comment.)

Not that I'm headed there anytime soon. I mean, I write my criminal thoughts on the page so I don't get sent to prison. But should it come to pass... please send me to a prison in Quebec. It seems even the simplest minds can find their way out.

Noir at the Bar T.O. August 20, 2014

Wednesday night in the city, it's summer and muggy. Under the shadow of bank towers, on a side street you've never noticed, laughter spills out a second floor window. Someone shouts something obscene and it's quiet again. You've found Noir at the Bar.

We've got a special summer lineup including multi-award-winning Melodie Campbell (how's that Derringer doing? — The Goddaughter's Revenge) and J. Kent Messum whose Bait has been racking up recognition since long before he won the Crime Writers of Canada Best First Novel award.

Julia Madeleine (No One To Hear You Scream) — the Atomic Cherry Tattooist herself (you read that right) — can be counted on to lay some colourful dark on us.

Mike Knowles, with four Wilson Mysteries under his wing, is coming up from Hamilton, and Ryan Aldred brings a Costa Rican beach tale from Prince Edward County.

My co-host Tanis Mallow (watch for her twisted bit of dark in the upcoming Bouchercon Murder on the Beach Anthology) and I will help keep the reading between the lines.

Noir at the Bar is gritty crime fiction, read in a bar, with plenty of time between short readings to socialize with the authors. Plus, PJ O'Brien serves some mean pub fare. Hit up the Facebook event page and let us know you're coming!


Giving away ARCs

Congrats to Mary Jo Sterns of Toronto who won the first Advance Reader Copy in my mailing list subscriber giveaway!

Thanks to everyone who's signed up so far. I've got two more ARCs for the newsletter list to be drawn on August 13th and September 3rd. (Sign up top right of this page.)

Meanwhile, Down & Out Books has provided three more ARCs for a U.S. and Canada giveaway via Goodreads. Open until August 6th here:

Want one? The numbers are in your favour right about now. We'll do a couple more of those before publication September 8th, but hey, it's a free lottery, right?

 

Be careful what you call your novel

Last night, ARCs of Stinking Rich arrived. I had a glass of Martell and slept like a baby. This morning, ARCs arrived again.

Seems the first batch went astray. So far astray, in fact, that my publisher followed up with the shipper and they reshipped the order. Yesterday.

See, the first order had gone missing and was more than a week overdue. When it showed up last night, it looked like this:

I'm not used to getting ARCs delivered. In fact, this was the first time I've seen my novel in print. With a cover and everything. For all I know, this is how ARCs are supposed to look when they are left unattended on your front porch. For a few hours. At night.

Except the second box (the replacement ARCs) didn't include the bag. And the delivery guy even rang the doorbell.

25 days for the first box to arrive. About 24 hours for the second. My curiosity was piqued.

I took another look a the first box. It had an extra mailing label. One from Zurich. Yeah, the one in Switzerland.

All I can figure is some dude in the warehouse saw Stinking Rich on the shipping label and decided to send it straight to my Swiss Bank Account. Yeah, 'cause I'm a writer. I need one of those apparently.

Bottom line, I've got a few extra ARCs. Guess I'll be giving some away! Sign up for my newsletter (top right on this page) for a chance to win one in each of July, August, and September.

I promise to mail it direct.


What I'm working on

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Lisa de Nikolits tagged me with four questions making the rounds on authors' blogs. As my recent dearth of posts will indicate, I haven't had a ton of time for blogging, but when Lisa asks for something...? Well, her 10,000-watt smile makes it pretty hard to say no. Besides, this may be what it takes to get me back on the blog. You can find Lisa at Goodreads here, and my answers below.


 
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Next up, I've tagged Melissa Yuan-Innes, a prolific multi-genre author who somehow manages to squeeze ER doctoring into an uber-packed life. And here's her post on the tour.



As for me...

What am I working on?

I’m doing the second rewrite of Ka-boom, sequel to my novel Stinking Rich. In it, a favorite secondary character from the first novel becomes the protagonist in a story about a bible camp gone bad. I sketched much of the plot line at novella length a couple years ago, which has given the characters plenty of time to percolate and take up residence in my mind. As with Stinking Rich, most of them are a bit wacko, others flat-out deranged. It’s time to wring them out onto the page—before they make me bonkers, too.

How does my work differ from others in the same genre?

I write crime fiction laced with black comedy, told largely from the point of view of the criminals. My protagonist is often a good person who does bad things, as opposed to someone living a criminalized life per se. Some readers have confessed they found themselves torn between rooting for the protagonist and hoping the antagonist came out okay as well. I’ll take that!

Why do I write what I do?

I write to entertain. I’m the kind of guy who reads local papers for the small stories, the petty crimes, the folks who win—or lose?—the Darwin Awards. I like to get into the heads of those people and imagine what drives them. I don’t think they get up in the morning and say, “I wonder what stupidity I’ll engage in today.” And yet, they do. As for my own mistakes, I laugh at them the loudest, pray they never make the news, and fob the odd one off on my less fortunate characters.

How does my writing process work?

At first draft and for early revisions, I write blind. By that, I mean I start from a vague idea about a place, a person, an event, and I let one thought follow the next pretty unfiltered. After that, it’s all about honing. If I discover on a rewrite that two characters work better together in a different relationship, I’ll peel them apart and put them back together. If a plot twist doesn’t seem plausible, I’ll find another way to get the story where it wants to go.

As far as daily routine, I’m working on it. My fingers find the keyboard pretty much every day, but I do most of my rewriting long-hand on a working copy of the manuscript. I edit best standing up with music on loud. Alternately, I dial it down and read everything out loud, listening for cadence, verisimilitude in dialogue, and active voice. I’ve never enjoyed work more.

Pics from Noir@Bar Toronto

Things have been stacked pretty deep in the week and a bit since Tanis Mallow and I hosted the first Noir at the Bar in Toronto since 2009. (More on all that later.) Still, we've got a clutch of pictures from the event, and I wanted to get a few up, so here they go. (Photos by Hailey Mallow and Deb Jones.)

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We were thrilled at the lineup we pulled together for our first go. From left, Owen Laukkanen, Frank De Blase, Tanis Mallow, Terrence McCauley, Hilary Davidson, me, John McFetridge, Jill Edmondson, and Howard Shrier. Missing from this group shot was Andrew Pyper (pictured reading below -- and isn't PJ O'Brien Irish Pub a gem?).

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 We bookended the night with readings by N@BTO veterans McFetridge (Black Rock)and Shrier (Miss Montreal). Unpack that sentence a bit. Two ex-Montrealers reading books about Montreal in Toronto at Noir at the Bar Toronto while on the television downstairs, a room full of Leafs fans were watching the Habs go down to the Bruins in Game 5 of a series they ultimately won to face the Rangers in a conference final. Oh, and did I mention we had three New Yorkers reading as well? Like I said, things have been stacked pretty deep the last week or so. I don't write nights when the Habs are in the finals. I don't iron shirts either. Wasn't this supposed to be a post about hockey?

Clearly, I'm prone to confusion, which this next photo from our introductions demonstrates well enough. ("To my right, no my other right.")

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In true Noir at the Bar fashion, the event was bolstered by out-of-towners. Our New Yorkers were McCauley, De Blase, and Davidson. 

Laukkanen scored extra points for distance, flying—you read that right, rail fans—all the way from Vancouver.

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Mallow made sure anyone looking for true grit was not left wanting when she gave us some of her inimitable darkness.

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And as if the packed bar weren't hot enough, Edmondson treated us to a #NSFW romp through the sheets, er pages, of crime fiction sleuths. (You can read that here, on Kevin Burton Smith's Thrilling Detective blog.)

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On a personal note, the evening was the first time I read from Stinking Rich in public. It got a laugh or two, which kinda made my night.

Looking forward to doing this all again later this summer. I can see how easy it would be to get hooked on N@B. With all due nods to Peter Rosovsky, Todd Robinson, Eric Beetner, Jedidiah Ayres, Joe Clifford, Tom Pitts, Scott Montgomery and so many others who've got this groove going. Yeah, I'm packing my bags.

Noir at the Bar

Photo: Tanis Mallow

Counting down to next week's Noir at the Bar Toronto, and loving how it's taking shape.

After catching a glimpse at Bouchercon last September, Tanis Mallow and I were convinced Toronto needed its own N@B. Given the raft of crime fiction authors in town, we knew we'd find six gritty voices pretty easy. In no time, our endeavour became fraught with the same considerations as picking a team for a game of road hockey. Only no one drops out after the first period to let the other kids play. As the line-up took shape, out-of-town authors threw their hats in the ring. For our first shot at this, I gotta say it's looking pretty strong. Bonus: we've got a great list of authors to invite out next game.

Next, we needed a venue. Sending a couple writers on a search for the right bar is a sure way to slow things down. Eventually we found The Fireplace Lounge above PJ O'Brien Irish Pub. With plenty of booths and dark wood and...well, it's Irish. 'Nuff said.

Over the next bunch of weeks, there was a bookseller to engage, a Twitter feed to set up, the Facebook page, a poster, an evite—you get the picture (by the way, that knife up there ain't Photoshopped—kudos, Tanis). Hats off to guys like Todd Robinson and Eric Beetner who make it look like a breeze in New York and LA.

Bottom line, if we weren't in this for the long haul, it would have been nuts to take it on.

Thing is, at the end of the day, this is all about a bunch of readers and writers getting together in a bar every few months for a little gritty fiction. What could be simpler than that?

If you're curious how it turns out or maybe looking for the next one, "like" our Facebook page, and we'll keep you in the loop.

 

 

 

 

Would Mark Twain thrive today?

I could start this riff by confessing how much of Mark Twain's oeuvre I have yet to read. Given the limb I'm about to go out on, that might even be wise. But without claiming any particular expertise in his writing nor in depth knowledge of Samuel Clemens's life, I feel compelled to convey an impression I have of his character. More to the point, how that character might react were he to find himself launched into today's publishing world.

My admiration of Twain's work spurred me to write in my teens and early twenties. His short stories and essays, especially. But over the decades since, it is more the stories about the man that have struck me.

Here's a guy who worked wherever he could make a buck, on riverboats, as a miner, writing along the way, lecturing, doing stand-up comedy (before it was called that), investing in publishing, failing repeatedly, and never halting his production of this, that, and another piece of written work.

He wrote travel, tall tales, novels, novellas, poetry, autobiographical truths and untruths. He hustled himself on stage, had his work sold door-to-door like brushes. He tried anything to put himself in front of readers and earn a living. After declaring bankruptcy later in life, he toured the world as a speaker to earn enough to pay back his creditors even though he had no obligation to do so.

What I wonder is this: how would a guy like Mark Twain react to today's sea change in the world of publishing? Would he bemoan being expected to market his own work? Would he complain about paltry advances? Would he blame publishers or retailers or greedy readers for wanting his work for pennies on the dollar?

Probably.

Can you imagine Twain on Twitter?

He'd lash out with style, I imagine. He'd skewer them all. Then he'd bust his ass figuring out how to make the upheaval work in his favour. He'd be traditionally publishing, self-publishing, and have a finger in three different kickstarters at once.

A man who pens his autobiography well into his final years, but insists it not be published until after his death, isn't a man afraid of effort. Or of trying something new.

Twain spent his life crafting ways to deliver his thinking, his opinions, and his wit to an audience he clearly loved. I'm convinced he would have thrived in today's publishing environment. Not only by his words, but by his work and his entrepreneurial creativity as well.

What do you think? Would Twain be wailing at the darkness or would he light yet another candle? And what other literary greats would thrive in today's crazy strategic inflection point?

 

Writers' advice to their younger selves

Three Toronto authors tossed a few pearls at The Spoke Club last night. Bitterly cold outside, but the room was packed anyway.

Michael Winter, Stacey May Fowles, and Brian Francis were the panel for Open Book Toronto's Literary Salon. With Becky Toyne moderating, any sense of the dread panel rhythm (question-answer-counterpoint-thud) disappeared quickly. She redirected her own questions and got the authors opened up, baring bits of not-so-lonely soul to an audience of (mostly) newbie writers.

The theme was Advice for My Younger Self. Being one of the older guys in the audience, I took notes.

When to write? Winter locks himself in a cold room every morning, with the oddest companion (more on that later). For Fowles, it's a 15-hour showerless Saturday binge. Francis writes on the subway, again at lunch, wherever he can, because it's what he wants to do, who he wants to be.

A confessed curmudgeon, Winter shared his rules. Like, open your novel at the last page, not the first page, when you sit down to write. Finish the damn thing, and then go back to edit page one. Fowles takes the opposite approach, rewriting as she writes until she reaches the last line. Francis urged everyone to give ourselves permission to write absolute garbage in our first drafts.

As the panel wrapped up, Winter opened Fowles's book and read the last line. It was as if he was having a look to see whether it required more attention, given Fowles's progessive approach to her craft. She caught him doing it and he pronounced it, "a good last line."

But the best line of the night came early, when Winter explained his rational for writing from a computer hived off from the Internet. He described two rooms, one with a puppy and the other with a dog three days dead. Everyone would rather be in the room with the loving puppy. The Internet is a puppy, he said. But, the dead dog's your novel. Lock yourself in there and work on it.

Time to light another stick of incense. What with the garbage, the dead dog, and the shower I surely need, my garret's smelling foul.

If you'd like to read more of their pearls, check out Descant Magazine's post here.

"Pitch Perfect" on Out of the Gutter

Next month, Toronto Writers Co-op holds its sixth annual literary cabaret, and I needed something suitably short to read. The cabaret pairs each author with a musician. Ideally, the accompanist interacts with the story, affecting its delivery.

This year, my dear friend Mike Fitzgerald offered to join me on stage, playing a new instrument called Xth Sense which uses the performer's muscle sounds to produce music. While he soldered that into shape, I wrote a music-inspired piece called "Pitch Perfect".

I'd wanted to land something on Out of the Gutter since last year, and this piece seemed the right shade of dark. Happily, Joe Clifford and Tom Pitts agreed.

You can read it here.

When we get a video of the performance, I'll let you hear how cool Mike's work sounds on-stage.

Bouchercon Blast

Pretty sure I can't blog about Bouchercon without coming off all giddy and fan-boy, but here goes anyway.

I was a Bouchercon virgin until last week. Now, I'm hooked. Who wouldn't be? On the way to Albany, I tweeted a Robin Spano article where she advised kids to just go for it at camp. Adults could feel just as intimidated, I said, heading to a conference of their peers.

Well, that ain't gonna last when it's a crime fiction conference. Especially not if you travel with a wingman like the inimitable Tanis Mallow. (Thanks, pal. You really made it for me.)

When Steve Steinbock urged me to "consider Bouchercon" last year, I knew it came from the heart. "Just go, if you can," he said.

Now it's been three days since it ended and I'm still a-buzz. Pretty sure the bourbon's worn off and I'm well-versed in caffeine, so that's not it. It's just a bundle of memories fighting for attention as they layer into my worn-out brain. Memories like...

Hard to find these in Canada....stealing Glock bullet casings from the firing range at the State Trooper Academy during Julia Pomeroy's tour. (Then fessing up and getting permission from our armed tour guide.)

...being called on-stage by Terrence McCauley to read from Todd Robinson's legendary Thuglit with like zero minutes notice. (And loving it.)

...meeting Erica Ruth Neubauer when we crashed Eric Campbell's Down&Out dinner and knowing immediately why Ruth and Jon Jordan would have her write reviews for Crimespree. Talk about an interesting background for someone in crime fiction.

...having Les Edgerton say he caught me crying as I read "The Hunt" on video.

...learning how incredibly funny Frank de Blase really is.

...imagining what would happen if Jack Getze's fuse gets lit one day.

...hearing Ed Kurtz go on about...

Those eyes....or rather...

...when he said...

...shit, it's all XXX-rated.

...being surprised when Tanis told me Ron Earl Phillips, Chris Irvin, Jen Conley, and Erik Arneson were meeting face-to-face for the first time! (Shotgun Honey runs so smooth it didn't seem possible.)

...seeing Sean Chercover in the wee hours again and again and again...

...seeing Absolutely Kate pretty much everywhere!

...hearing Andre Frieden's first-person take on North Korea.

...being convinced by Josh Stallings I can wear a Tommy Bahama shirt on Yonge Street. In Toronto. In February.

...getting all political (or not) late at night with Anonymous-9.

...hugging Cara Brookins just 'cause her energy's great.

...catching the very end of D.J. McIntosh's 3:00 a.m. interview.

...having Owen Laukkanen mention my manuscript during his panel. Man, Owen, how big is your heart?

...holding up the bar with Johnny Shaw and Glenn Gray long past last call.

...talking ghosts with Andrew Pyper.

...missing coffee with Charles Salzberg just so I can head to NYC and buy him a drink later this year.

...being told I need sleep by C.J. Carpenter. (Yeah, we're talking dark circles here.)

...and hearing Stacia Decker share her desire for an unbroken string of Bouchercons. And already knowing what she means.

'Cause I'll be in Long Beach next November, and counting the words until then. Thanks everyone for a truly special few days and for welcoming me into the cabal.

 

Reading "The Hunt"

John Miller puts on a terrific series of interviews as part of Exchanging Notes. They're insightful, occasionally irreverent, and always worth a listen. As a member of the Toronto Writers' Co-operative, I had an opportunity to read "The Hunt" as part of the warm-up act when John interviewed Douglas Gibson, considered by many to be a rock star of Canadian publishing.

The story wrote itself pretty much verbatim on a walk in the woods near my home. It was raining, but the tree cover in the ravine kept me dry, and I recorded the tale into my phone, as it came to me. It's a bit dark and is one of my personal favorites. At the reading, my own emotions caught me off guard when I hit the last couple pages, which made the experience all the more satisfying.

I'll be reading "The Ride" in the same venue a couple weeks from now and "Lucky for Me" at the library in The Junction in November. Check my events page for my next outing.

Joao and the cow

There's often a whiff of natural justice when a crime writer employs animals—wild or domestic—in a character's demise. Whether it's a gator scripted by Carl Hiaasen or a pig of Tim Dorsey's, the fauna are behaving as they should. The victims, not so much.

So why is it that in real life, it's the seemingly innocent who get flattened by random beasts?

Take poor Joao Maria de Souza. Lying there in his bed, next to his wife, fast asleep, and a cow falls through his roof.

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Now, I am not bereft of feeling for this man's family, and from the look of his roof (the one with the cow-sized hole in it) he probably worked hard for everything he had. I'm sure he deserved a good night's sleep much as anybody.

But you gotta know this guy wound up with one of best bar stories in heaven. I can hear him now, "Yeah, really. Saint Peter couldn't believe it either."

Animals tend to show up a fair bit in my own fiction, and they're not always friendly. Or hungry. What they are, most of the time, is oblivious to the intentions of the human world they inhabit. They're just animals, doing what seems right to them at the moment.

Like "Rickie's Pig", or Hiaasen's gator, or just a squirrel looking for a warm place to sleep.

Or a cow out for a walk on some guy's roof.

 

THE HARD BOUNCE by Todd Robinson

Reading THE HARD BOUNCE is like perching yourself on the corner stool in an unfamiliar bar filled with habitués coughing up taut one-liners. To your right is the storyteller. He's got your ear and he's not letting go until his tale is done. You keep buying his drinks 'cause the story's that damn good. To your left, running down the wood to the door that swings open every chapter or two, are his pals (and worse) who chime in with colour commentary whenever the urge hits.

Your narrator is Boo Malone, a bouncer with a little extra on the ball, a healthy dose of insecurity, and an angry streak that blots out superficial pain. He tells the story straight. He has doubts when he and his partner get hired to find a runaway, but cash is king and how hard can it be to ferret out a rich kid among the street punks that hang near The Cellar? After all, Boston's "got a class line as sharp as a glass scalpel and wider than a sorority pledge's legs."

When the trail leads to a particularly brutal brand of sexual exploitation, you get as angry as Boo and nothing he metes out is going to feel wrong. Bad, yes, but hardly wrong.

THE HARD BOUNCE is a harshly good read. The nasty bits are never gratuitous and they're more than fodder for your vigilante bone. Todd Robinson peels back the curtain on multiple netherworlds and graces each with characters true to their ilk. Boo's own background allows him to reveal the humanity in even the worst of the scum he encounters. You raise a glass, offer a toast of good riddance, and read on.

The non-stop barroom humor is the perfect foil for the violence in Boo's story. In the middle of a brawl, he and his partner trade barbs about their masculinity and compare notes on the impact of homemade stun guns vs. getting hoofed in the gonads.

Like any good storyteller, Boo has you lapping it up, bitter bits and all, believing every word. He foreshadows some twists and delivers others like a sucker punch to the gut. He pulls back from the fire and sheds a tear with you, then wipes his nose, makes you laugh, and says, "And then there was Twitch." And you wanna know. You just gotta know what happens next.

This is not a run and chase 'em thriller. Sure, the movie they make from it will be edge-of-your-seat worthy. But what Robinson does is so much better than that. He tells his complex tale in the laconic voice of a man whose personal rage is held in by thick skin and scars. He lets his listener share in the bighearted tough guy reaction to the pain and detritis that surrounds him. It's hard to imagine how a different narrator could spin so dark a story with more empathy.

Boo, I mean Robinson, holds your ear right to the end. And leaves you thinking you you'll have to stop by this bar next time you're in town, buy him a few drinks, and ask what new story he's got to tell.

Got up on Shotgun Honey

 

Shotgun Honey offers up sharp objects three times a week. At 700-words or less, the stories are beyond compressed. They're tight, taught, honed, and hammered home.

 

Today, they ran one of mine, "Rickie's Pig". Puts me (and the hog) in good company.

And if that little ditty makes you crave a little more bacon, there's always this true life tale from a few months back.

Admittedly, I've got a thing for animals. Not pets. Just beasts with wrinkly skin, scales, fur and such.

Murder Most Mayoral

Writing crime fiction in a place like Toronto the Good gets harder every day. How the hell's a guy supposed to compete with the headlines?

Guess it's a good thing a lot of my work is set in the country.

For my take on how local politics has inspired crime fiction before the current municipal train wreck, have a peek at my article on Toronto Standard.

As for what I think of crime, punishment, and youthful misbehaviour, there's this bit about an old pal of mine.

Apolitically yours...