Guest Post by Amy Shojai: Fighting Dog Fighting

The old saw about never killing the dogno matter what else your readers will stomachis one that kicks off many a twisted story. When I invited Amy Shojaia pet advocate, no lessto guest blog here, the last thing I expected was a piece about dog fighting. Thankfully, she kept the gory bits off the page. You won't want to google them, either.  

DOGFIGHTING, PIT BULLS & LAWS HELPING KIDS

Amy Shojai author pic

As an author I wear a couple of different hats, and am a certified animal behavior consultant and pet advocate. As such, my mission is to use my work and words to educate pet lovers to empower them to make informed decisions for their animal companions. I do this in my nonfiction prescriptive books, and through entertaining thrillers with pet-centric themes. I knew that my most recent book SHOW AND TELL would include dogfighting, but didn’t want to focus so much on the horror as on the problems of this crime. And shine a light on how law enforcement now takes dogfighting more seriously.

The notorious Vick dogfighting case spurred public outcry about this horrendous animal abuse crime. It's surprising to me that was the first time ever that dogs were treated not only as evidencebut also as victims.

It's not just the fighting dogs that are victims. Other animals such as cats, small animals like rabbits and even puppies may be used to train the dogs to fight. Yes, that’s incorporated in the SHOW AND TELL plot, but I never read (or write) on-stage “kill the dog” scenes—that’s a furry line I refuse to cross in my writing. My animal behaviorist hero and her service dog Shadow would never forgive me (and I couldn’t forgive myself!). While I know many folks abhor the idea of dogfighting, and rightly so, y’all may not be aware of how law enforcement and the court system sees this.

Law enforcement now considers dogfighting and cockfighting a venue that also typically involves illegal drugs and guns, and as such, reports of dogfights no longer are relegated to the local animal control/cruelty division as in the past.

DOGFIGHTING AND THE LAW

In May 2013 I had the opportunity to visit the Crime Museum in Washington, DC (which sadly has since closed last fall). I spoke with Dr. Randall Lockwood, senior vice president of ASPCA Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects, about new initiatives in dealing with dog fighting, and visited the Dog Fighting Exhibit. Much of the fighting paraphernalia displayed there ended up in SHOW AND TELL, including the canine “rape stand.” *shudder*

Since 2008, it has been a federal felony to sponsor, exhibit, buy, sell, deliver, possess, train or transport an animal for participation in an animal fighting venture. This crime is punishable by a term of imprisonment of five years and a fine of $250,000.

But until recently, being a spectator at a dog fight was only a misdemeanor in 24 states. In many states spectators must pay a small fine with no jail time. Meanwhile, what horrors have they exposed their kids to, and modeled as "normal" behaviorcruelty to animals. And again, yes, one of my characters in SHOW AND TELL was brought up in a culture in which dogfights were “normal.”

With help from animal advocacy groups including the ASPCA, The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which was included in the final 2014 Farm Bill, makes it a federal felony to knowingly bring a minor under the age of 16 to a dogfight or cockfight, punishable by up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and a federal misdemeanor to knowingly attend a fight as a spectator, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. 

My mystery writing colleagues are well versed in all things FBI and even know about CODISCombined DNA Index Systemused to help track criminals in real life. The authors learn about CSI and evidence, police procedures and more to ensure the stories are as real as possible. Today, forensic science used in real life to catch bad guys for crimes against people has also been made available for furry victims. Yes, veterinary CSI uses many of the same scientific bells and whistles, and I say it's about time!

VETERINARY CSI

To combat the crime of dogfights, the Missouri Humane Society, the ASPCA, the Louisiana SPCA and the University of California-Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory collaborated to establish the first ever database. Canine CODIS  helps identify the bad guys involved in the dog fight industry by tracking doggy DNA. Can you see my virtual tail wagging!

When writing thrillers, authors want to offer vicarious chills and spills in a roller coaster ride along the way, and a ticking clock increases the stakes and tension. A real life ticking clock measures living heartbeats that can be saved by supporting change and championing the innocent victims--dogs and childrenand stamping out the specter that labels Pit Bulls as villains when it's the two-legged criminals that are the real evil. I hope that SHOW AND TELL helps shine a virtual spotlight on both the true villains and real heroes in this canine and human tragedy. 

 

Here's where you can find Amy Shojai

on Facebook and Twitter

 
amy shojai cover show and tell

 

 

 

 

"Skinny's Beach" in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

Skinny's Beach in EQMM.jpg

My short story "Skinny's Beach" is in this month's Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. This one is special to me because it's set on the white sand of Constance Bay—the beach I grew up on. That's probably what led Janet Hutchings, EQMM's editor to say, "What impresses me most about Rob’s work is his keen sense of place; his settings play almost as important a role in his fiction as his characters do."

This particular place—the best swim spot on a beach that stretches about 7 kilometres around a bay on the Ottawa River—is fixed in my mind like no other. The memories are many and they are deep. So it's kinda like cheating when I describe it. I don't have to make anything up. Just copy and paste what's in my mind.

Of course, the lesson in that is to learn how to deeply observe, capture, and translate other places—ones I don't know so well—as completely and with as much care. Given the feedback I've had from readers of this particular piece, it's certainly worth working on.

 

Interview with Todd Robinson, Chief Editor of Thuglit

I've got a Jackson on my wall, framed with the cover of Thuglit Issue 3. It's the first twenty bucks I earned writing fiction. So it should come as no surprise that I jumped at the chance when Ed Aymar, editor of The Thrill Begins asked me if I'd interview Todd Robinson, the man behind one of the most important venues for both new and established authors of hard-edged short stories about crime. Here's the piece which originally ran earlier this month.

Recent Thuglit covers pretty much tell you what's inside.

 

Thuglit’s name says it all. Tough stories written by strong voices. It’s got a reputation as a home for tales that scratch the underbelly, probe dark channels, and confront themes the meek and tender would best avoid. But more than that, it’s a place for good story-telling. Publisher and chief editor Todd Robinson and his crew have a knack for identifying promising new voices and slipping them between the covers with some of today’s top crime novelists who keep bringing the grit.

As markets for short crime fiction go, Thuglit’s steadfast delivery of “eight punches to the gut, six times a year” is a track record only the most committed anthologists can claim. The work involved in reviewing, selecting, editing, proofing, and delivering a top-notch product is hardly a part-time job, yet Robinson, aka Big Daddy Thug, never misses an issue.

With a work ethic that would put anyone to shame, he somehow found time to share his thoughts about how hard that work is and whether or not it pays off. (Hint: his answer is impassioned.) He also offers no-holds-barred advice on what not to submit—his own no-bullshit rule.

A lot of crime fiction is dark. Tell us about the particular flavor you’re curating.

I’m just trying to curate whatever the hell is good. A mistake that writers make over and over is when they tell me they’re working on a “Thuglit story.” They’ve already failed. The best story you can write is what we want. Period. Because we have looser restrictions on graphic violence, language and sexuality doesn’t mean that it’s a requirement. A lot of writers treat that freedom like a kid who just learned how to swear. Just write a great goddamn story.

Given the audience you’re building and your commitment to being “always open to submissions,” you must be inundated. How do new voices keep breaking through?

We’re buried. Submissions are all I read nowadays. As far as “new voices” are concerned, I believe that there are two answers, both for why the newer writers fail or why they succeed, and they’re both in relation to tropes.

The failures come from writers who think they know what the genre is about, and think that because it’s genre, that the same-old same-old approach works. It’s 2016, and I still get “Detective-at-desk-drinking-whiskey-dame-with-legs-walks-in” stories. These are clearly writers who are stuck in a time-warp, never having read a book published after 1957 and have never seen Terriers or The Wire. And that’s fine. We all dig what we dig.  Now, can that archetype be made fresh? Maybe. I haven’t seen it more than a couple times in over eleven years of submissions. (Note: That is NOT a fucking invitation to send me your “Detective-at-desk-drinking-whiskey-dame-with-legs-walks-in” story.)

But that also tells me that they’ve never picked up an issue of Thuglit and looked at the stuff we do. And that pisses me off. I once got roundly criticized by a writer for not publishing enough stories by women. I pointed out that about fifteen percent of the stories we publish are by women writers while women account for only five percent of submissions. The criticism then turned to the “masculine nature and tone” of the mag frightening off women readers and writers.

Then I asked the woman if she’d ever read the magazine before. Want to guess what the answer was?

I don’t give a blue fuck if the writer is a transgender Klingon with a Furry fetish. If the story is good enough, we run it. But that’s the shit I have to deal with.

NOW, despite my earlier rant, I think a lot of reasons that new writers succeed is because they HAVEN’T read too much of the genre. They don’t know what the supposed rules and tropes are, so they don’t feel beholden to them, subconsciously or otherwise. Their take on a crime story is purely organic, and coming solely from their own writerly imaginings and not locked into genre archetypes. (Note: There ARE no genre rules.) But being a crime fiction magazine, your story should have a crime in it. Just sayin.’

It’s a tough balance.

Is there any consideration, thematic or otherwise, that goes into each issue beyond the best eight stories you got that month?

Nope.

Thuglit’s submission guidelines [read ’em, they’re great] are about as clear-cut as they come. Have you ever had to send someone over to explain them?

Ugh. I’m through with berating people who are too goddamn stupid to read submissions guidelines.

You once told me something like, “It doesn’t have to be gritty. It just has to be a good story.” What’s a good story?

Who the hell knows? I could point out two dozen stories that I think are fantastic, and I’ll have a different reason for why on each one.

You were first to publish a long list of authors who’ve gone on to rock the crime fiction world. Must make you proud. Care to gush?

The list is too long to gush about any more. But yeah, I have immense pride when any writer who has passed through our doors makes their way onto a bookshelf. It’s no secret that I’ve had a really hard time in the publishing world. Any time I can step up and help a great writer avoid the pratfalls and mistakes I’ve made, I figure I’m removing one more mark on my “Going to Hell” ledger.

It’s a thick ledger.

Your role as an editor combined with your experience writing both short stories and novels gives you a particular perspective on what works in short vs. long form. Some authors say they “can only” write one or the other. What advice would you have for a self-described novelist who wants to try their hand at short crime fiction?

Chuck it in the Fuck-It Bucket. Write whatever you want. Just care about what you’re writing. Care about who you’re writing for. But most of all, care for the people you’re writing about.

Like every great property, Thuglit’s got an origin story. Can you tell it?

I just got sick of nobody publishing the kind of fiction I liked to write. It’s also the fiction that I like reading. We are fucked in the head, publishing-wise, in this country. Major publishers have no balls whatsoever to work with something new, even if they’re passionate about it. They fear marketing departments that don’t want to work to find new audiences, but instead just want to lazily keep the old gears running. It takes work to build a new machine. But then again, if I had any idea how to market a goddamn thing, I’d be selling more copies of my own shit. But again, I’m not in marketing, and am probably talking out my ass…again.

After launching in 2005, you published until 2010 and then re-launched in September 2012 with a solid run since then. What brought you back? Given you’ve doubled your pay rate for stories, it must be working. Do you know why?

Nope. We are an absolute failure as of right now. Not gonna lie. We were a free online mag originally. In 2012, on-demand publishing and e-books were a viable platform, and I figured if we could make a little money, we can actually pay the writers (which they wholeheartedly deserve) and maybe make the effort worth our own time.

So we re-opened the mag as an e-book at $0.99, the lowest allowable price, in an effort to regain our old audience. We peaked at 4% of our prior (free) readership after two years, when I raised the price to $1.99 and increased the pay rate accordingly. Our sales haven’t stopped dropping since. Issue 20 was our lowest-selling issue to date. Keep in mind, two of our competitor magazines closed their doors in 2015. Our submissions doubled, our sales continue to sink.

Problem is, we’re in a cheaper-is better-society. There’s a lot of free content online that’s dumped out there without the kind of dedication that we have to a quality product for both the people writing the stories and those reading it. There’s some wonderfully curated stuff online, as well. After our initial run, I figured that we’d built up enough of a rep for what we do, won enough awards, to be able to ask for less than a goddamn coffee for it.

I was wrong.

But as a society, we’d rather sift through a turd buffet with the off-chance that there might be shrimp buried in it than pay two bucks for a meal that’s been presented with care at a restaurant that has a history of doing so.

Suck on THAT metaphor.

And finally, a lot of writers complain about a lack of paying markets, but ask them when was the last time they read one—fuck that, bought one just to support the market. It’s no different than paying a couple extra dollars for a book at an independent bookstore because you want one to stay in your neighborhood.

I’d lay down that most are going to look at their shoes and reply with something that sounds like, “Hurr-dee-durr.”

Remember that part where I said that I wasn’t going to lie? Clock is ticking.

You’ve got Rough Trade, the sequel to The Hard Bounce, coming out from Polis Books this August. Every sixty days you pump out another issue of Thuglit like clockwork. You’re a force behind Noir at the Bar in NYC, and you crack wiser than most on social media. Where the hell do you find the energy?

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…huh?

You forgot that I also have a six-year old who goes to school an hour away from where we live, and I work in a bar 40 hours a week.

My current workload is killing me. And that is literal. I don’t sleep enough, and my fat-ass 43-year-old body is starting to suffer for it. Something needs to be cut off the schedule, and without some kind of miracle where we can triple our paying readership to just 9% of where we were when we were free…

Well, Thuglit isn’t making it to 2017, and that’s just a cold fact, kids. You heard it here first.

*Stunned silence.*

Buried in that sentence was something about a miracle. Wanna be a part of it? Check out Issue 21. Or take a look at the line-up in Cruel Yule or pretty much any issue over the past three years. You’re gonna see authors you know. Maybe your name will make it to the cover before this year is out.

Better yet, read The Hard Bounce and pre-order Rough Trade.  You won’t regret it.

Crime fiction conferences

Over the past couple years, I’ve been a bit of a conference junkie and, in the process, learned how welcoming the crime fiction community is to new participants.

This week, in my column on The Thrill Begins, I'm talking cons with Jon Jordan of Crimespree Magazine and Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee fame. The list of conferences we discussed grew longer than any editor would allow, so I'm dropping the list here, leading with the ones I've attended.

This is a simple (and short) list for convenience. Others (like Criminal Element, here) do a better job of describing the conferences.

If there are others I should add, send me a comment and I'll be happy to.

Bouchercon

Thrillerfest

Murder & Mayhem in Milwaukee

Limestone Genre

Left Coast Crime

New England Crime Bake

Malice Domestic

Killer Nashville

Crimefest

Men of Mystery

Sleuthfest

NoirCon

 

Getting to the Point

Canadian Wildlife editor Cooper Langford gave me an opportunity to visit the southernmost tip of mainland Canada when he sent me to Point Pelee to write a feature on our best-known bird sanctuary. The story behind the park and the evidence it provides of the positive influence humans can have on an environment became the heart of my piece. But it's Neil Ever Osborne's photography that's going to make people want to visit.

Habitat is subjective. Every species has its preference and thrives or dies based on how it relates to its surroundings. Humans are hardly the only ones to tend toward domination, but when it comes to altering a landscape, we can be pretty effective if we put our minds to it. Until I visited southern Ontario’s Point Pelee National Park last summer, that knowledge had always left me with a sour taste. I enjoy architecture and a well-tended garden as much as the next guy, but my favourite environments have always bent toward nature unspoilt.

Still, there’s nothing like a bonfire. On a beach. Shared with good friends. And in southwest Ontario in the 1950s and 1960s, there was no better place for a beach party than the Point. With people loading in from the surrounding communities like Leamington, or making the drive from Windsor and Detroit, you had to show up early if you wanted one of 6,000 parking spaces. No worry though; back then there was roadside parking aplenty for big-fendered cars all down the beak-shaped point to its sandy tip. Carry your cooler stuffed with stubbies to the water’s edge, lay a heavy wool blanket on the sand, thumb the dial on your transistor radio, and you were ready for a date with nature. If you could call it that.

I grew up visiting national parks around Ontario and across the county, but though Point Pelee was never more than a few hours’ drive from where I’ve lived, I didn’t get there until this fall. In its heyday, it probably wouldn’t have made my family’s list. For us, parks meant wilderness preserved — or at least conserved — for light human use, with or without campgrounds, in as natural a state as possible.

Despite having been established for conservation as early as 1918, as national parks went, Point Pelee didn’t fit that profile a half century ago. It was getting trampled underfoot — practically loved to death.

~

Before this year, the main thing I knew about Point Pelee — other than it’s as far south as Canada’s mainland reaches — came from the news item I’d see each spring about birds stopping there en masse while migrating northward. At a rib shack in Leamington the night before my visit, I asked the owner why we didn’t hear so much about birds in the fall. Surely they had to get back somehow. “Good question,” he said. “Birds are a spring thing. In the fall, people are all about the monarchs. Thick as a black cloud, sometimes.”

In other words, nature was being defined by the humans observing it. A different season, a different take. Too conveniently packaged, I thought. What I didn’t realize was the degree to which continual dramatic change, augmented by human intervention, defines the wilderness that is Point Pelee.

Fifty years ago, Pelee was home to 300 cottages, dozens of massive stone fireplaces, family farms, three hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Of all that, only the DeLaurier homestead remains standing. Pretty much all human-made structures were removed or destroyed when Parks Canada shifted the Point from recreational use and adopted a naturalizing mandate in the early 1970s. Today, to take the trail behind the DeLaurier family dwelling and barn is to immerse yourself in vegetation so dense it feels tropical. The boardwalk cuts through forest to savannah to wetland, and at times the plant life becomes as oppressive as the walls of an English garden hedge maze. Much as I tried, I couldn’t picture the apple orchards and vegetable farming that stood here a half century ago.

But our hand remains in evidence, and there’s more going on here than nature allowed to run wild after the humans were kicked out. Where the trail behind the DeLaurier homestead opens onto a wetland, it’s the remnants of an irrigation canal, dredged by a farmer in the 1800s; the abandoned agricultural waterway is ideal new habitat for wetland species, some of which wouldn’t fare as well in the cattail marsh at the north end of the park. And where the invasive European common reed chokes out diversity, park staff push back — restoring nature and giving endangered species a better shot at survival.

We’re part of the balancing act. Nature has a way of periodically clearing huge swaths of land for regeneration — with forest fires and ice scours, pestilence and extreme climatic events. Without human intervention, any one of these could take a serious bite out of biodiversity in the Point.

If it weren’t for the intensive agricultural activity surrounding the park, perhaps the ebb and flow of nature could be allowed to take its course. Preservation could involve less of an assist. As it stands, however, crop lands press tight against Pelee’s northern boundary, and almost 95 per cent of native forest cover has been stripped from Essex County. It’s hard to imagine a more compelling reason for active habitat management within a 15-square-kilometre park, a narrowing slice of land jutting into Lake Erie, whose climate zone has no Canadian equal. And so staff use controlled burns, cormorant and deer culls, native species planting, and other tools to create and maintain a greater variety of habitats than might otherwise persist in such tight confines.

~

In the cattail marsh, the reeds them-selves convey never-ending change, filling my entire field of vision with a dynamic tableau. Waving in a light breeze, they bend and ripple, a tapestry of ochre and olive, giving way to smoky greys and chocolate brown. Sand and wind and water and fire in constant dance. Nothing static. Nature doesn’t work that way.

It looks like a monoculture until I stop to look closer. Between the stalks, a state of quiet turmoil where smaller plants grab footholds and then erupt along the boardwalk, opportunistically glomming onto a space created by humans not unlike meadow species that thrive alongside rural highways.

The same plays out on the edges of channels cut through the cattails to allow visitors and Parks Canada ecologists to navigate to the ponds that cover the north-eastern section of the park. In one clearing, a turtle has found a log that could never have reached that spot were it not for the cleared channel; it would have been caught up in the reeds closer to shore. Sunning itself a half kilometre from dry land, on a piece of wood that didn’t belong, the turtle doesn’t appear to mind the human interference that resulted in its perch.

~

By the time I make my way to the tip of the park, the serenity that is Point Pelee has taken hold. A kettle of turkey vultures ride hot air thermals, seeking altitude to continue their migration. Eight birds circle five or 10 metres above the trees, while a couple flap below them. Three more soar 50 metres higher and, far above those, another is barely a smudge in the sky.

Competing currents down the east and west coasts of Point Pelee continually shape and build and erase the sand spit tickling the 42nd parallel. It seems only natural that a sliver of land continually evolving under pressure by human and natural causes should culminate in so impermanent a space. The tip can change in shape and size in the space of a few hours.

Today, under brilliant sun with a light breeze, the eastern side is a frenzy of whitecaps on slate grey water. The same lake, hardly 10 metres to the west is deceptively calm, flat and the colour of manganese. Where the two currents push together, whitecaps criss-cross, bringing sand off the lake bottom, lifting and dropping it in the constant churn.

Point Pelee has shifted my point of reference for national parks. Nature’s constant state of flux can no more create an unchanging ecosystem than human intervention can result in structures that are permanent on an ecological scale. We’re a part of nature, not separate from it. And while humans may be about as invasive a species as imaginable, there’s much we can do to remedy our own historical impact. Even more, we can — and in Point Pelee, we do — contribute to other species’ ability to thrive.

Originally published in Canadian Wildlife, November/December 2015.

Disappearing Act

Seems I let it happen. Drifting away from even sporadic blog posts. Hibernation. Sloth. Call it whatever. Thing is, I didn't think I'd let it happen so easily.

I've been out and about on a few other sites, busy writing, rewriting, and getting my sea legs after launching Stinking Rich. And then there's been teaching at George Brown College, a couple Noir at the Bar Torontos. No shortage of excuses. None of them particularly good, but they're real.

Solution? This utterly self-indulgent post to relaunch more regular musings. But wait, hasn't that been done to death, too? You know, where the blogger drops in and rambles a bit about nothing at all, promises to come back soon, then...oh, nevermind.

There's a far better way to relaunch a quieted blog: invite a better blogger to guest post. And so I've done. Melissa Olson works harder than most and still found time to answer a few questions. Her post is up next. Meanwhile, here's a picture of me with her at Mystery To Me bookstore in Madison, WI, where we were hosted by Joanne Berg (who's on the right).

A chat with Amber Love on Vodka O'Clock

Last October, I met Amber Love at a reading in New Jersey, at [words] of Maplewood. She asked Tommy Pluck, Tracey Landau, and me some great questions during our author discussion. Later, I learned she was host of Vodka O'Clock. I'd heard of her podcast and was buzzed when she agreed to interview me.

Amber's interviewing style is warm and conversational. Before I knew it, she had me riffing about religion, dead dogs, and the cuddly side of crime writing.

Here's a taste:

“A lot of what I write, when the violence happens, you’re supposed to get a chuckle out of it.”

Amber Love: When it comes to character development, Rob says he creates them organically. He doesn’t have character worksheets, instead opting to load up the history and personality within the story which may be deleted later.

“I find if I’ve sketched out a whole bunch of things about a character and then I go to write them, I’m just not as curious about them. My favorite moments in writing are when I get to channel and watch what’s happening.”

Amber Love: There’s one story he’s working on where he engaged in conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to his door for a year and a half.

As for what got said once we were talking religion? Well, you can listen to the full interview here, on Amber's site.

Interview on TV Cogeco Kingston

Kingston, ON is featured in Stinking Rich as the hometown of Buzz Meckler, self-appointed super hero, and the temporary home of Danny Grant, while incarcerated. So it was only natural that I kick off my recent books 'n boots tour there.

It certainly helps that my brother, Curtis, is one helluva talented video producer and lives in town. Here's the interview segment he put together for K-Town Source, one of the shows he's created. It features appearances by Liz Strange and Ryan Aldred, both of whom came out to promote their own work and help me kick off my tour.

Been blog-hopping of late

I've been quiet here on the blog while out on the Stinking Rich book tour. But I've popped up on a couple other blogs and I thought I'd best list some here.

In no particular order...

This week I've been involved in a lively round table about revisions with a group of authors at ITW.

 

 

And talking about the work involved in a book tour on Chip MacGregor's blog.

Up on Carol Balawyder's blog, I shared the story of how I got published.

At The Big Thrill, I was skillfully interviewed by Azam Gill. He got me thinking about where some of my ideas come from, in ways I hadn't considered until asked.

There's more to come...a number of places I've been invited and will land in November. And more than a few posts I'd like to make here about these couple months on the road.

Heck of a launch

Driving to the Toronto launch of Stinking Rich last night, I tried to stop running a mental count of just who might actually show up, and scribbled notes for my preamble at stop lights. This being Toronto, we encountered so much construction, I could have written a short story behind the wheel.

From the moment we pulled up at the Irish Embassy Pub, I was overwhelmed. Two dear friends I had no right to expect there were hanging on the sidewalk. I introduced them to each other and they helped me carry boxes inside, stack some books, and rig a banner with duct tape. (Never leave home without it.)

Over the next hour, the bar filled with people from every corner of my lifethe Toronto Writers Coop, writing circles, neighbours, former work colleagues, and a good number I was meeting for the first time.

Jill Edmondson (of Sasha Jackson fame) had the presence of mind to chuck me out of the way when (awaiting my darling teenage children) I'd taken to selling my own books. Thanks, Jill!

My good friend and phenomenal writer Howard Shrier delivered the warmest intro a guy could ask for. I'd called him and let him know that with my agent in Oregon and my publisher Down & Out Books in Florida, it was like I was like the bride-to-be without a father to walk her down the aisle, and would he do the honours.

I expected a quick blurb and a microphone hand-off. Instead, Howard delivered the best author intro riff about crime fiction I've had the pleasure to watch. Monster vote of thanks to the man. His writing is even better than his stage presence. Check him out.

These pics? Huge thanks to Tanis Mallow for working the camera. There's a whack more on Facebook here.


And thanks to everyone who showed up to watch me stand on my hind legs and share a bit of Stinking Rich. One helluva lot more fun than I expected. Yep. It was a heck of a launch.


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 captureson 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

Lisa de Nikolits.jpg

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.


 
Melissa Yuan-Innes.jpg

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.

Write up on Noir at the Bar

Great to see this N@B write up by Brian Baker in the Town Crier. It's getting serious legs around North America. Vancouver will have its first one next Tuesday.

Wherever you're at, look it up. It's a great way to spend a couple hours in a bar and listen to people tell dark tales. And there's some readings, too.

Here's what Mr. Baker had to say.

Hilary Davidson reads at N@BTO May 8, 2014

 

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.)

n@b2014may-group.jpg

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?).

n@b2014may-pyper2.jpg
n@b2014may-mcfetridge.jpg
n@b2014may-shrier.jpg

 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.")

n@b2014may-hosts.jpg

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

n@b2014may-mccauley2.jpg
n@b2014maydeblasefist.jpg
n@b2014may-davidson2.jpg

 

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

n@b2014may-laukkanen.jpg
n@b2014may-mallow.jpg

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

n@b2014may-edmondson.jpg

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.)

n@b2014may-brunet.jpg

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.