Tuesday, September 19, 2017

What's on the shelf by RM Greenaway

Q: If you were kitting out a holiday cottage (vacation rental) what would you put on the bookshelf for rainy days?

A: My new E-reader.

When I ask people if they read books on e-readers, their reaction is pretty clear: ugh!

I felt the same to a degree. Another modern convenience that seems to speed up and depersonalize life. You can't feel where you are in the book (beginning, middle, end), you can't commune with the author quite so well, and so on... There's also remuneration; does the author get as much for an e-book as a hard copy? I'm not clear on the economics, but I'm sure it's considerably less.

On the other hand, maybe ten people who wouldn't have been able or willing to spend the money on that author's hard copy will take a chance with the more affordable e-book, which brings the added value of  more readers.

Having an e-reader myself for a couple of months, I don't find it as loathsome as I expected. I think accepting the e-book into my heart is key. I can still commune with the author - it’s the words, not the paper after all, though books are beautiful as objects. With my e-reader, the type gets larger as my eyes get tired -- no more #@*$ reading glasses! It's got a velvety case which is nice to the touch, and in the night its screen is like a little glow-worm. This coming winter I won't freeze my hands trying to hold a paperback open in bed -- I don't know how many times a book has dropped on my face, knocking my reading glasses askew and losing my place -- but instead will just reach out a finger now and then and flick to the next page.

Also I don't have to find space on my many, many overcrowded bookshelves. And I can make notes, too, right on the page, which is coming in handier than I thought. Yes, with a paperback I could take notes on a separate notepad, but will I? Like reading instruction manuals -- no.

There are more benefits. When I head off to my holiday cottage I can pack light, yet stock the shelves with all my past, current, and future reading thrills, AND have room left for a whiskey decanter and a couple of glasses.

For sentimental reasons I might take a few musty, dog-eared Ed McBains though.

Back to the real question, what will I read in my getaway cabin? Lots of Nordic crime! I haven't really explored this niche until assigned to moderate a panel at the upcoming Bouchercon called "Northern Crimes", and I thought OMG, I better start reading, fast. I'm not a fast reader, but I'm now on the fifth of the five panelists, and they're all so excellent.

I'm reading
Kelley Armstrong (Canada)
Caro Ramsay (Scotland)
Antti Tuomainen (Finland)
Alex Gray (Scotland)
Ragnar Jonasson (Iceland).

For some reason, I seem to identify with books in which the weather is miserable -- dreich in fact -- and the landscape forbidding. Maybe being born in Britain did it.

Anyway, I'm happy to report I love these writers' work and look forward to meeting and talking with them in person. There are so many other books out there to read that it's daunting, but I feel like this moderating challenge has got me out of my reading comfort zone (aka rut), and I'm glad of that.

If you're at Bouchercon in Toronto on October 14 at 1 pm, I hope you can attend. Let's talk books!

Monday, September 18, 2017

I've Got My Books to Keep Me Warm

Q: If you were kitting out a holiday cottage (vacation rental) what would you put on the bookshelf for rainy days?

- from Susan

Having spent some lovely vacation days from Cape Cod to Kauai sitting in houses staring out at the rain, I have either been grateful or frustrated at how various hosts have answered this question. Dog-eared, spat-upon paperback copies of baseball players’ or golfers’ memoirs, outdated Farmers’ Almanacs, paperbacks with covers that show half-naked women with long wavy hair I can only dream about exhaling on the exposed abs of half-dressed men who also have long curly hair I can only dream about….

Here’s a dream bookshelf, in no particular order since what I want to read at any moment changes with my mood:

Angelica’s Smile, Andrea Camilleri
Persuasion, Jane Austen
The Golden Spiders, Rex Stout
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
Indemnity Only, Sara Paretsky
Farleigh Field, Rhys Bowen
Cooked, Michael Pollan
Salvador, Joan Didion
Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
The Severn Dials Mystery, Agatha Christie
Tripwire, Lee Child
The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger (for especially stormy days)
Through a Glass Darkly, Donna Leon

A baker’s dozen, enough to distract me from quite a few rainy days, although I expect if it were my holiday cottage the library would grow quickly. I’d have to update it every Memorial Day and would probably hit a bookstore in the resort town anyway. There can never be too many books – never!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Bullet The Blue Sky


Thinking of innovations, from the sundial to the online emoji generator, what would you most like to un-invent?

This is going to sound strange coming from a writer who fills his pages with bullets, but I would un-invent any and all handgun innovations since the six-shot revolver. The issue of gun violence and homicides is near to my heart, after losing several members of my immediate and extended family to the bullet, easily fired from the gun of someone who needed not look into the whites of their eyes before doing the deed. My personal philosophy is the end of the body liberates the consciousness of the decedent from the burden of the illusion of onerous existence. The killer, however, doesn't take a life but instead adds a life to their walking karmic debt, and their own challenges are multiplied by the grief of their crime. Perhaps these are the philosophical constructs of a man who has seen far too many guns and gun violence in the first third of his life, but they work for me. They help me focus through the haze of terror in the form of constitutional rights.

Sometimes karmic satisfaction occurs immediately, as with "Don't Take Your Guns To Town" in JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE (Gutter Books, September 2017.) A semi-automatic weapon is given as a purchase reward by a twistedly well-intentioned dealer at a gun show in Mike Pence's Indiana, a stone's throw from Chicago, where assault weapons were banned as far back as the year 1992. That gun is a creation of the intent to spread death, and death comes with cosmic balance, as its custodian comes to realize with gruesome clarity. When so many bullets can hurl through the air with such a generous and forgiving trigger and loading mechanism, it doesn't really matter where they go. Until it does. Then it matters plenty.

More often, guns and the crimes committed with firearms reverberate suffering through the communities they're brought inside, as in my story "Straight Fire," a contribution to the anthology KILLING MALMON (Down & Out Books, October 2017.) In it, to accomplish the task set forth by editors Kate and Dan Malmon of Crimespree Magazine, fictional Danny Gardner kills Dan Malmon simply by bringing him along to share the best barbecue available east of the Dan Ryan Expressway. Much of violence narratives in American crime fiction books and entertainment cast black folk as killers and/or immediate victims. No one ever wonders where the bullets that don't make it into the departed go, and what they do, and what lives they mar. Whereas "Don't Take Your Guns To Town" plays it straight and grim, here my trademark gallows humor is on full display. It just irks me that folks care far too deeply about guns when it's the bullets that violate the flesh, but then in America, we are inured to death, unlike, say, taxes.

I'm a frequent user of HeyJackass.com, which tracks crime statistics in the greater Chicagoland area with an emphasis on gun violence, policing and all related political activities. It offers some commentary yet provides graphical analysis of the truth of Chicago's problem with such stark accuracy, none is really necessary, or rather it serves as its own commentary, because only the most anti-black of folks can look at images such as these, shrug their shoulders and behave as if it isn't their problem:



Photo: S.W. Lauden
This past weekend, I read an abbreviated version of "Don't Take Your Guns To Town" to an audience at The Frog Spot, which is operated by The Friends of the Los Angeles River. I mentioned that several of white America's issues could have been foreseen in the mirror image of their occurrence in the black community. The economic disenfranchisement of the working-class white voter the Dems and Bernie Sanders covet so openly? It happened as soon as the early nineties when Bill Clinton was in office. It just happened to the black working-class voter, so no one noticed. The opioid epidemic that plagues poor white communities looks identical to the scourge of crack cocaine that decimated African American communities in the eighties and nineties. So when one looks at the data for exponentially increased gun violence in Chicago, perhaps this problem warrants consideration as an American affliction, rather than exclusively a black one, if for no other purpose than preemption.

Why would I un-invent any gun that was innovated after, say, the double-action revolver? I understand the vast utilitarian necessity for firearms. I don't shy away from their benefit to society. It's just that when I sit in grief over my hometown and its issues with gun violence, the truth rings in my mind: Chicago is less violent in the current era than in previous decades, even with Bubba Clinton's mandate of weapons sweeps for public housing and assistance benefits. What is vastly different, however, is the statistic of gun homicides. Fewer people are getting shot, but more folks are dying. Better guns, cheaper ammunition. Put anyone on the mound at Wrigley Field with unlimited swings at the plate and, eventually, they'll hit a home run, even off John Lackey on his best day. This is the scourge that's ruining the place my people called home for generations. It's just too goddamn easy to send thirty bullets into the air before the innate sense of guilt and grief has a chance to take over. The self-accusing spirit in mankind just isn't fast enough. Not for a "Nina with that thirty.*"

We can still have our crime fiction stories. We can still go hunting. Sure, action movies will take a big hit, and Call Of Duty will be a far less kinetic video gaming experience, but if we make everyone have to pull a trigger as many times as they want someone dead, feel the physical effort to get the hammer back each time, to reload the barrel with the focus required, and to aim at discreet targets, we can return gun homicides back to the providence of time. The enemy of rage is time for time is the window where guilt and shame crawl in. This could mean the difference between a murder of the heart and a murder that makes it in the news.

* 9MM Semiautomatic Handgun with a 30-shot magazine for those who prefer to color outside the lines.


For those interested in the works to which I'm referring, check out these titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.

- dg

Works By Danny Gardner


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Un-inventing the Wheel

Thinking of innovations, from the sundial to the online emoji generator, what would you most like to un-invent?

DISCLAIMER: I love Canada, Canadians, hockey, soccer, babies, puppies and kittens, etc.

This was a tough topic. Oh, I suppose I could be glib and list all the things I hate. Things that many other people enjoy. But I don’t like to rain on other people’s parades. Actually, now that I think of it, I hate parades and wish they’d never been invented. But other than that, why spoil the enjoyment folks get out of things like, say, country music? Even though I dislike it and wish it could be wiped off the face of the earth, I wouldn’t want to do that. Who am I to judge? And don’t get me started on soccer. Who invented
that stupid sport? They might just as well have filled the goal from top to bottom with reinforced concrete for all the scoring that goes on. And hockey’s no better. Who wants to watch a bunch of toothless Canadians dressed like Michelin Men slap a little rubber puck around an ice skating rink? But it would be crass to ruin the joy that so many idiots derive from the game. And while we’re on the subject of Canada, what the hell is up with the metric system? Come on! How are we supposed to figure out how many inches are in a kilogram? It’s too hard! And who thought it would be a good
idea to invent children? Ungrateful little monsters. And if I see one more cute puppy or kitten I’m going to lose it. Booze? Are you kidding me? What about hot water heaters and roofs on houses? Those should be banned and uninvented immediately. A bracing cold shower in the morning and cold rain on your head the rest of the day, that’s what I’m talking about. And did we really need the wheel? How has that contributed to our civilization?

But I’m not going to fall into the trap of trying to wow the Internet—another POS invention, by the way—with my oh-so-clever wit. I’m not going to say anything about Hawaiian shirts, rolling suitcases, televisions, penicillin, vaccines, umbrellas, sliced bread, the cotton gin, Amazon, Jell-O, the alphabet, airbags, the comb, and shoelaces. No, I’m simply not going to do it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Like candy for the writer

by Dietrich Kalteis

Thinking of innovations, from the sundial to the online emoji generator, what would you most like to un-invent?

I can’t imagine anyone wanting to un-invent any of the great inventions that have been real game-changers for mankind: the phone, autos, airplanes, modern medicines, the printing press, and so on. Of course, we’ve also seen an explosion of lesser inventions over the past few decades designed to make our lives better. Thinking back, did we really need Hair in a Can, Ford Pintos and Hula Chairs? And there were inventions that nobody seemed to want in the first place, like New Coke, picnic pants and pizza scissors. Or ones that failed from the get-go like fish-flavored water for pets, rush-hour reading glasses and the cigarette umbrella. And some we might even be afraid to try: horny goat weed anyone?

Okay, some inventions have been brilliant, and there have been some we could do without, but all of them can be like candy to the writer. I love researching and finding something I can use to spice up a scene and make it more convincing or humorous. A TV remote in the hands of a channel surfer could be funny, and we’ve all sat next to one of these people, so we can relate. Or, put a cell phone in the hands of a call zombie who texts while driving or walking, looking down and tapping the little buttons.

Sometimes I catch things in the news, and I think hey, I can use that. Adding some gadget or invention can help make a scene more interesting or convincing. For instance, I read about this innovation from the fifties called a Spiegelantenna, an option for the vintage Porsche 356. It was a car aerial built into a sideview mirror. My character Karl Morgen from Ride the Lightning had to have one for his own car. It wasn’t a big deal, but it lent a touch of realism. For Zero Avenue, I researched and found a pink pepper-spray gun my female protagonist Frankie del Rey kept tucked in her handbag. And I gave her friend Arnie a Pinto Cruising Wagon with the wild stripes and the horrid round bubble windows on the sides.

When I saw a news clip about drug cartels building high-tech subs in the mangrove swamps of the Amazon a couple of years back, it gave me the spark for my novel Triggerfish. After watching the clip I did more research and found that the parts for these narco subs were being carried overland to secret jungle locations where they were constructed under slave-like conditions. Equipped with sonar, ballast, these small subs are built to defy infra-red detection and could travel underwater virtually undetected, with a belly full of cocaine. At the time of my research, one captured cartel sub was reported to be able to reach distances of over two thousand miles without needing to refuel. I checked and found that was more or less the distance between the top end of Mexico and Canada, and I had the start of my story.

While working on House of Blazes, set during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, I came upon a news story about a California couple who found some old rusting cans poking from the ground on a property they owned in 2013. Unearthing the cans, they discovered 1,427 gold coins. While there was much speculation how ten million dollars’ worth of gold coins got there, historians and experts couldn’t agree and were left scratching their heads. They did agree that the coins had been there a very long time and were minted at the San Francisco Mint between the 1880s and the 1890s. I was already well into the first draft of my novel when I came upon the article, and since I don’t plot out my stories beforehand, I made a few changes and created my own spin to how the gold coins ended up on that couple’s property over a hundred years later. That news gem gave me a twist to the story that I never would have been able to dream up on my own. 

So thank you to all those inventions — the good, the bad, the ugly — from Red Dye No. 2, to Agent Orange to Ron Popeil’s Pocket Fisherman — any of which can give an inventive writer a spark of an idea or enough ammunition to add a punch of realism or a touch of humor to the stories they’re working on.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Nothing like a good rant

By R.J. Harlick

Thinking of innovations, from the sundial to the online emoji generator, what would you most like to un-invent?

I know you are all going to squawk, shake your heads and tell me I am out of my mind, but there is one piece of technology I wish had never been invented. The SMART PHONE. That’s right, you heard me correctly. I can’t stand them or more particularly I can’t stand what they are doing to us.

When the cell phone or more correctly the mobile phone first came onto the market, I was reluctant to own one, because I didn’t want it deciding when I should be on the phone, like when I was driving, walking or any other activity not conducive to phone conversation. I knew if I heard its ring I wouldn’t be able to resist answering it. So I remained cell phoneless and limited my phone calls to my home and office phones.

Then the smart phone arrived with the appearance of the iPhone and changed everyone into phone zombies. Now most of you would say the smart phone has improved your life immeasurably, so much so that you can’t get along without it. And that I see is the problem.

Yes, there are many times when a smart phone’s capabilities are needed, but there are also many times when it is not. Nonetheless people still remain glued to their phones, necks bent, heads down, peering intently at the tiny screen, terrified they might miss out on something, like the latest twitter from Trump. You’ve all seen photos of people waiting at a bus stop, heads down, eyes focused on their phones, fingers clicking, totally oblivious to an accident unfolding in front of them. People seem to forget that there is a lot more happening around them than happens on their phone. 

I am currently vacationing in Ogunquit, Maine, at one of my favourite beaches, and was enjoying a walk with my husband last evening along the famed Marginal Way. Stopping to admire the ocean view, we sat down on a bench. On the neighbouring bench sat a woman too absorbed in her phone to notice the view. I asked myself why she’d even bothered to come.

Then there are the many times I have had the pleasure or not of listening in on phone conversations, because for some reason, most cell phone users feel they have to raise their voice to be heard. Unfortunately, not only does the person on the other end of the line get to hear her or his words, but so does everyone else.

Or what about restaurants? How many times have you seen people sitting at a table, clicking away on their phones, totally ignoring the person across from them. It’s almost as if the phone has become a good excuse not to talk to other people face-to-face. It’s more fun to text them.

I could go on with endless examples of the way smartphones are alienating people, isolating them in their own technological bubble, but I imagine you already know most of them, so I will stop my ranting.

As for whether I own a smart phone, you don’t need to be a brain surgeon to come up with the answer. But it’s not for the reason you would think. Nope. I don’t have a smart phone, because I love technology too much. I know if I had one, I would never put it down. I would become just as addicted as everyone else, right down to the bent neck.