Monday, September 23, 2013

the mail I get...

I love getting packages in the mail, don't you? Look, it's the box of heads I ordered.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Touring Toronto via story

The new book, Old Flames, Burned Hands, is the first novel set in my own hometown. I was reluctant to do this at first because I’m often conflicted about Toronto. I love and despise it with equal measure. Most days, it’s just a tedious bore with its never-ending condo construction, clogged streets and pathological need to pat itself on the back for being a ‘world class city’. And let’s not even mention our crack-smoking, drama-hungry mayor.

However, taking another look at this place through storytelling reminded me of all the weird, cool and interesting things I love about it. Working those elements into the story turned out to be a fun way to take a second look at uptight old Hogtown. So here's a weird tour of town by way of the story.

The main character, Tilda Parish is a musician and the story opens here at the El Mocambo. 

The story travels to other clubs too, like the Cameron House

Look closer and you can see the distinctive ants crawling up the building. 

And of course The Horseshoe:

I had meant for the 'Shoe to play a bigger part of the story because my wife worked here and we spent a lot of time seeing bands play. It's not the place where we first met but it's one of the places where I fell hard for her. Alas, it plays a bit part.

Cherry Street plays a significant part in Tilda's story. This is the bascule bridge over the ship channel where the car accident happens.

Cherry Street ends at Cherry Beach, a great spot to get away from the drone of the city. It's also infamous for something called the 'Cherry Beach Express'. According to local lore, this is where the cops take perps to meet out a little rough justice off the books. This is the spot where Tilda burns her guitar.

Trinity Bellwoods and Dufferin Grove are two huge parks where we take the kids. Bellwoods used to be kinda slummy but is now party-central for the 20-something hipster crowd.

Bellwoods is also the starting point for the zombie walk. The kids and I attended this amazing zombie wedding there in 2011.

Kensington Market is another key locale that Tilda frequents.

The market is adjacent to Chinatown. The alleys behind Chinatown is where Tilda's old flame calls home.

the Detour bar
inside The Boat
The Porthole is a fictional bar where Tilda plays her last show but it's a mash-up of the Detour on Baldwin and The Boat on Augusta Ave.

The University of Toronto (which is right downtown and kitty-corner to the market) figures into the climax. Sort of my alma. Sort of because I never graduated, just kinda goofed off then drifted away. It's a beautiful campus though... it has a network of old steam tunnels beneath it...

...and during the course of the story, Knox College goes up in flames.

Then there's this, the building in the roundabout at 1 Spadina Crescent. Worlds clash for our heroes on the rooftop of this gorgeous, soot-stained building.

Not only is this Gothic beauty part of the university but it also houses the Ontario division of the Eye Bank of Canada. Originally it was Knox College but later became barracks during WW1 and then a military hospital. Amelia Earhart worked here as a nurse's aide in 1918. A tragic history surrounds the place now after an art professor was stabbed to death here in 2001. The murder remains unsolved to this day. Eight years later, a woman who was reportedly 'ghost-hunting' in the building fell to her death from the rooftop.

I pass this building every day, often admiring its imposing facade as the road snakes around it. Funny the things you take for granted without ever seeing its true nature or history.

So, all of that brings us round to the new work. September 10 is the release date for....

Here's the hook: Struggling to balance an unstable music career with her obligations as a wife and mom, Tilda Parish’s life becomes  complicated by the mysterious return of an old boyfriend. One who died almost twenty years ago...

I'm giving away 6 paperback copies via Goodreads, You can enter here or click the button under the banner.

But if you have an ereader and ask really nicely, I'll happily send email you the ebook version.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

New cover art!

Okay, I've struggled with book covers in the past but this time, I got it figured out. Two steps here:

1. Find a brilliant piece of artwork that is eye-catching and right for the story.

2. Pay artist for use of said artwork.

Brilliant huh? Only took me this long to figure it out. Anyhow, take a look at this....

Pretty cool, no? Now all I have to do is desecrate this with ugly text.

The artist in question is Cristina Otero, one very talented photographer/illustrator from Spain. You can see more of her stuff on Facebook and Deviantart.

The new book, Old Flames, Burned Hands, will be released early September.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

Just a quick update on the home front. The first draft of the new work is finished and a hard copy printed off. It’s been sitting and marinating in the cupboard for two weeks while I try to forget all about it. I’ll crack it open soon and attack it with my red pen. This one feels a little different and I’m a wee bit worried about what I’ll find when I go back into it. The story’s a little outside my comfort zone. While there’s a strong horror element to it, it’s mostly a romance story. It’s also the first book I’ve set in my own hometown, which felt strange for some reason. I tend to love and despise Toronto in equal measure, so that might explain the trepidation. Fingers crossed the MS is not the steaming pile of dung my gut is telling me it is. We’ll see.

In the downtime I’ve been busy turning the Bad Wolf books into paperbacks, which, despite the frustrations, was fun. The process was made a hell of a lot easier thanks to Joel Friedlander, otherwise known as The BookDesigner. Joel recently came out with a set of templates to format print-ready interiors using MS Word. The first book I formatted into a paperback was Killing Down the Roman Line and that, because of my ignorance, was a pain in the ass. Thanks to Joel, the template I bought made the whole process easy and (gasp!) fun. Hands down, this was the best money I’ve spent and if you’re planning on turning your ebook into a paperback, I highly recommend using one of Joel’s templates.

Also during this down-phase of forgetting the new book, I’ve been brainstorming ideas for a third and final book in the Bad Wolf Chronicles. The second book, Pale Wolf, continues to sell pretty well and that leaves me amazed. It’s not a storm of sales, more of a steady and consistent trickle but every time I check my KDP dashboard and see a few more sales, I’m tickled pink and humbled like pie. So, once the new book is finished and released (hopefully this summer), it will be time to dive back into the world of ex-homicide detectives and ferocious werewolves.

Is summertime a bad season to release a new book? It’s clearly the best season for big popcorn movies (like Iron Man 3, which I’m dying to see) but does that work for books too? Autumn seems to be the season for literary fiction and Christmas is always a hot book season no matter what genre but what about summer? Are readers looking for ‘beach reads’ or are books not on their radar as everyone shrugs off the winter gear to enjoy the warm weather? Personally, I like to pick at least one big ‘beach read’ to devour during the summer months. This year it’s a toss-up between Stephen King’s IT and Peter Straub’s Ghost Story.

I’ll probably watch my favourite summertime movie too. Is there anything better than cozying up with Jaws on the Fourth of July? And I’m not even a Yanky.

What about you? Do you have a big brick of a paperback you’re looking forward to greasing the pages with sunscreen and sand?

I also wanted to brag about my beautiful wife, seeing as this is Mother’s day. No breakfast in bed today as the missus headed out early to tackle Tough Mudder. This is a brutal obstacle course marathon designed to maim and kill participants with such lovely obstacles as Arctic Enema and Electoshock Therapy. Oy! How awesome is my missus? I’ll take the brats out to find something nice for desert and when my bride is brought home on a stretcher, we’ll order some sushi and bandage her wounds.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Exploiting history for fun and profit

How often have you seen the term “Based on a true story”? It costs nothing to slap that onto the front of a book or movie when, in reality, the barest shred of truth is in the narrative. Heck, if the Amityville Horror can use that claim, anyone can. Still, I had a few qualms when it came to writing a book based not only on true events but the gruesome massacre of an entire family.

Would someone be offended by what I wrote? Am I just exploiting someone else’s tragedy for fun and profit? Curious, I went looking for accusations of exploiting tragedies in pop culture.

First thoughts ran to that old TV titan Law & Order, where the plots were routinely ‘ripped from the headlines’ to run their cops and lawyers through their paces. Although the writers were addressing bigger social issues raised by headline crime, the show was routinely accused of cutting too close to source material such as the Nicole Simpson murder, the Eliot Spitzer scandal and the Menendez brothers. Some victims of crimes recognized their own story on Law & Order and sued the show but the producers were shielded behind that handy disclaimer that this ‘is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental’. Interesting sidebar to Canucks; no less than three separate episodes invoked the crimes of Paul Bernado and Karla Homolka.

In the world of fiction, the first incident that sprang to mind was the brouhaha raised around James Frey’s admission that he had embellished his bestselling, Oprah-approved memoir, A Million Little Pieces. Although Frey was exploiting his own misery for gain, it was Oprah Winfrey who felt exploited and called Frey to the carpet for a public admonition on her show.

Seems small potatoes now, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t embellish their own stories? What is a writer if not a crafty liar? Jenny Rough, writing on the subject for Writer’s Digest cut to the core with a timely question. “Why do memoirists say truth is stranger than fiction, while novelists say fiction brings out greater truths?”

Maybe it comes down to the ability of the writer to transcend the tragic catalyst for their story. Irish-Canuck author Emma Donoghue’s novel Room was inspired by a modern-day horror story but the book ended up a finalist for the 2009 Man Booker Prize. Like the rest of us, Donoghue sat gobsmacked at the crimes of Josef Fritzl who locked his daughter, Elizabeth, in a basement for 24 years, raped her repeatedly and fathered her seven children – three of whom he imprisoned with her.

“A lot of people made out I was writing this sinister, money-making book to exploit the grief of victims,” she told The Guardian. “I was thinking, it's not like that, but no one will know until they read it." Rather than the sordid details of the crime, it was the human consequences that drew Donoghue in. "To say Room is based on the Fritzl case is too strong," she explained. "I'd say it was triggered by it. The newspaper reports of Felix Fritzl [Elisabeth's son], aged five, emerging into a world he didn't know about, put the idea into my head. That notion of the wide-eyed child emerging into the world like a Martian coming to Earth: it seized me."

Framing the story through the POV of a five-year old boy trapped inside the prison, Donoghue removed any semblance to the real life horror story of Josef Fritzl, allowing her to craft the story she wanted to tell. "My conscience wasn't troubled," she says. "I knew that by sticking to the child's-eye perspective there'd be nothing voyeuristic about it.” Donoghue had her writerly sights aimed at something bigger than the tabloid headlines of the true story; the relationship between parent and child. “The idea was to focus on the primal drama of parenthood: the way from moment to moment you swing from comforter to tormentor, just as kids simultaneously light up our lives and drive us nuts.”

Lionel Shriver came to a similar conclusion about We Need to Talk about Kevin, her stunning novel about a detached mother whose son commits a Colombine-like school massacre. “I had already begun the book when the headlines from Denver hit - overshadowing the raft of similar shootings that led up to it,” she wrote in The Guardian. “Nevertheless, I imagined that the commercial "hook" would be its school-massacre climax. Post-publication, I discovered that, if anything, this element was a turn-off. Numerous readers have shared their initial reluctance to muck into this sickening subject matter, and I don't blame them. Instead it's the subject of parenthood that's proven the hook.”

Art Spiegelman took huge risks re-imagining the Holocaust for his graphic novel Maus, but the story was spurred by his father’s experience as an actual survivor of the camps. His risk garnered him a Pulitzer prize. Contrast that to Yann Martel, former literary golden boy for The Life of Pi, who was ripped a new one by critics for exploiting the Holocaust in his 2010 novel Beatrice & Virgil. The problem? He wasn’t Jewish. Martel chafed at being unqualified to write on the subject of the largest mass murder in human history. Bluntly told that he had no business writing about the subject, Martel responded "The tragedy of the Holocaust wasn't exclusively Jewish. It was non-Jews who did it. It was an act of two groups, so it's not just for Jews to be expert on the Holocaust.”

Author Lynn Crosbie was all but tarred and feathered when she published Paul’s Case, a work of fiction based on the infamous killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. One newspaper columnist threatened to scratch her eyes out, another sued her and a radio host gave out the address of her publisher, encouraging his listeners to ‘express their outrage’ in person. Crosbie rejected the charge of sensationalism.“I degrade Bernardo and Homolka so completely in the book that neither of them emerge in any way unscathed,” she stated. “They're very much reduced, I think, rather than made mythic.” Interestingly, Crosbie’s next novel was also based on a true crime. Dorothy L’Amour is written as a memoir by Dorothy Stratten, a Playboy Playmate murdered by her lover in 1980. And the accusations of exploitation and sensationalism this time? Zip. Hardly a peep.

Maybe it’s simply a matter of obscurity or the appropriate passage of time. In my own case, time helped. The events that inspired Killing Down the Roman Line occurred over a century ago in a small Ontario town. Still, leery of offending any descendants of that tragedy the principal names and set the story in a fictional town.

More than that was the story. I wasn’t writing non-fiction and didn’t want to be shackled by history. Fictionalizing the story allowed me to follow the narrative and dramatize the themes I wanted to explore. So far, there hasn’t been any outcries of exploitation but it’s still early days yet.

“Writers,” Emma Donoghue told the Guardian, “should be applauded for their ability to make things up."

Too right.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day... your book sucks! (Or How to deal with negative reviews)

This Valentine’s Day, cupid nailed my heart with a bad review that actually got under my skin. I’ve had bad reviews before but these never really bothered me. Working in film toughened my hide from such things and I prided myself on my ability to shrug off scathing remarks and harsh criticisms. It’s all part of the business. If you release work into the world, whether it’s a book or a film or whatever, then the world is entitled to its opinion of it. And their opinions, even the mean-spirited ones, aren’t wrong.

Pride goes before a fall, as they say, and I found myself bristling at the review that popped up this February 14th. Fortunately I had the wherewithal to walk away and do nothing about it.

Because the truth is, you can never respond to a negative review without coming off like a poor sport. No matter how witty your response or intelligent your counter-argument may be, you the writer, will come across as a crybaby who can’t take the heat. Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, Joseph Heller... hell, even Shakespeare sounded like a pouty spoilsport when he complained about his critics. It’s simply a fight you can’t win in the moment. We’ve all seen those jaw-dropping flameouts when an author engages the critic to his/her eternal embarrassment. You don’t want to go there.

The only response is utter silence. If your work is good, you will win in the end because readers will keep finding your book and another old adage comes into play; living well is the best revenge.

But here’s a little secret to temper that scathing review and irksome little one-star rating they left you. Poor reviews, at least on Amazon and other bookselling sites, don’t really matter all that much. Neither do the really good reviews. Well, they don’t hurt but when it comes to reviews, quantity wins out over quality.

It’s validation, plain and simple. That little bracketed number next to your book title that displays the quantity of reviews is more important than the quality of the reviews it represents.


Because it shows how many times your work has been bought and reviewed. It was validated that number of times by readers who, not only bought and read your book, but took the time to write a few words about it. The higher the number, the more times it’s been validated by readers with their cash and their time.

Take your typical Amazon customer, browsing through the books looking for something good to read. Two books have caught their eye; yours and mine. Both have interesting covers and compelling descriptions that match this reader’s tastes. What’s the deciding factor in choosing your book over mine? The number of reviews it has. That little number tells the potential reader that your book has been validated by that many previous readers. If your book has 50 reviews and mine has only 6, well that’s an easy choice to make, isn't it? 50 people read your book and took the time to say something about it. The measly six reviews of my book means that it’s still an unknown quantity and your book is the safer bet.

In most things, quality always better than sheer quantity but not here. The next time someone rips your book with a poor rating and scorching review, step away and know that the uptick in the numerical value in little brackets beside your title just helped validate the book it scorched.

You win. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Is there ever a good reason NOT to post a picture of Debbie Harry?