Wednesday, 11 July 2018

BREAKING THE SILENCE

This post is about breaking the silence.

This is not about crime fiction or books or creative insights. This is about a personal situation that is crushing my family, a trap from which we cannot escape. This could be long enough to fill a book, because there's so much that could be told, but I don't have the heart to write that particular book.

My adult son is an alcoholic. He suffers from severe chronic depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other problems which I don't think have been properly diagnosed. He self-harms. He has anti-depressants and sleeping aids that he doesn't take, preferring to self-medicate with alcohol. A great deal of alcohol.

He has no history of traumatic events in his past, just four years of horrible grade school teachers who systematically destroyed his self-confidence because they didn't like boys and didn't like pupils who preferred to draw pictures rather than excel at math or science. When he finally got out of there and went to high school, puberty hit. The biochemical changes that swept his body were like the final straw.

Like so many other people with mental health issues, he has trouble holding a job. He has trouble with personal relationships, and has extreme difficulty letting go when they fail. He's single. He wants to live on his own, and we want him to, but he struggles to function in basic day-to-day situations.

What have we done as parents to try to help him? Everything we can think of. See, here's the crux of the thing. If we wash our hands of him, tell him to sink or swim on his own, grow up and be an adult, he will fail. Alone, without support, he will lose his job, lose his apartment, end up on the street and perhaps take his own life. It's come close a few times. This is not a situation where a little failure is a good thing. Failure for him is disastrous for all of us, and possibly fatal.

We love him very much, so we stick with him. We stay by the phone all the time. Literally, 24/7/365. We talk to him every day, often several times a day. When he's drinking, the calls can come in the middle of the night and last for several hours. Once, he was walking in the Ottawa cemetery at 3 am and called me from there. When he called again at 5, he was at the police station after having been mugged and nearly knifed. Only one of so many, many nights of deeply upsetting calls.

We blew our savings a few summers ago on a 30-day rehab stint that failed miserably. We're deeply in debt because we have to help him pay the rent and buy groceries, not to mention the cellphones that have been lost/damaged/destroyed. His cellphone is his only link to us, so it's essential. You've probably noticed how expensive they can be.

Whatever money he makes ends up being spent on alcohol. We're retired, on a fixed income. Money's scarce. I don't sell enough books anymore to pay the printing costs, let alone contribute to the family budget. And since most of my time is spent either with him or stressed to the gills about him, I'm not exactly churning out the new titles right now.

If you think we're enabling him and should stop, you have no idea what it's like to live this way for 11 years with no sign of a recovery. You have no idea what it's like to sit all weekend in a crappy apartment with someone you deeply love and watch them drool down the front of their T-shirt and rave about the latest lost love, hour after hour, saying the same things over and over again. Someone you love. Someone you raised from an infant to a little boy to a young man, to this.

I've taken him to the hospital. I've taken him to the Royal Ottawa Mental Hospital. Multiple times. No one seems to be prepared to deal with this situation. The Royal has a walk-in addiction treatment program that's available from 8 am to 11 am, Monday to Friday, excluding stat holidays. I live an hour away from the city. Try to get an alcoholic in distress or in a deep funk into the car and through traffic to a hospital in the morning, on a weekday only, before they lock the doors at 10:50 am.

Are you kidding me?

He refuses even to talk about another rehab stint, because he hated the previous one so much. Alcoholics Anonymous is not an option. He did AA as part of the rehab, and it's not for him. He's not a practicing Christian, and he balks at the idea he has no control, that only God can decide if he will recover. The Blue Book is filled with stuff about businessmen and housewives from the mid-20th century. It's not relevant to his life. I support him in this. AA is badly out of date and unresponsive to today's young people. Don't hate on me if you're a big AA supporter. I'm glad that you are. It's just that it's done nothing for us.

Right now he's on a five-day drunk. He's abandoned a contract assignment that was supposed to pay his rent this summer. I don't know where this is going. I've lived with this for so long now, for so many years now, that the stress is almost unbearable. I don't know how to get through tonight. Tomorrow night will probably be the same, all over again.

While my wife sits with him on the phone right now, I'm here at the keyboard doing the only thing I know how to do. Write.

Breaking the silence.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018, 10:58 pm

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

DOING THE DELTA MAPLE SYRUP FESTIVAL

This weekend Lynn and I signed books at the Delta Maple Syrup Festival, an event we've never appeared at before. It was a fun two-day celebration of a delicious Canadian product, and I can still smell the aroma of pancakes and sausages on the griddle.

Delta is a small village on County Road 42 in Leeds County, part of the municipality of Rideau Lakes, Ontario. It's close to Lyndhurst, where I've signed books at the annual Turkey Fair for the past several Septembers. Once you've done a few events in an area, people become more familiar with your face and your wares. They nod as they pass the table, but don't stop.

On Saturday, one very nice woman did stop, and when I asked if she liked mysteries, she told me she'd read all of mine. When would the next one be coming out?

This is always a welcome question, because it's reassuring to know that people like your stuff and look forward to more.

But she went on to astonish me by saying that she and a friend had gone on a "Sorrow Lake" day trip last fall. Using the novel (and Burn Country as well, I think) as a travelogue guide map, they drove around Front of Yonge Township and the surrounding area finding all the places I'd mentioned. Ballycanoe Road, Athens, the Wiltsetown Road, Delta. Only the lake baffled them. They'd ruled out Charleston Lake, and when I told her that location-wise it was based on Graham Lake, she nodded knowingly.

"We thought it might be," she said.

Dear reader, you might not realize how important this kind of thing is to an author's self-confidence, but let me assure you, this was much-needed encouragement for me. That this person and her friend thought enough of my stories to jump in the car and head off to find the places where the action took place, really meant a lot.

Thanks so much, ma'am. And get ready for a tour along the Thousand Islands Parkway sometime this fall!

Monday, 16 April 2018

FLIPPING THE SWITCH ON INSTAGRAM

Some time ago I created an Instagram account to explore its possibilities but never actually got around to using it. A few days ago, I decided it was time to flip the switch on this powerful social medium and see what I could do with it.

Instagram currently has more than 800 million users, with more than 500 million using it every day.* While Facebook still has over a billion daily users, despite its troubles, Instagram is obviously a medium on the rise.

How do Instagram's users profile out, compared to the guy pictured above? Last year, 59% were 18 to 29 years old. (Snapchat's key demographic, on the other hand, falls into the 12- to 17-year-old range.)** As well, a majority of Instagram users are female.

Admittedly, my primary interest in using Instagram is to promote my books. Given these numbers, it seems like it might not be a perfect fit. Females under the age of 29 tend not to be avid readers of crime fiction.

However, we must remember that Instagram's growing like a weed, particularly among older users (ahem), and that females in general are consistently the largest audience for crime fiction. So, the numbers need not daunt.

Here's the thing, though. Instagram is an image- and video-driven medium. No long posts (like this one), for example. How to draw attention to my work, then, in a visually creative way?

Instagram strikes me as an effective medium to promote the author, above and beyond the books. As I add to my posts, expect to see photos and short videos related to the office in which I write, the little island on the Rideau Canal where it's situated, shots of me reading the latest book slated for review in the New York Journal of Books, and pics that relate to what I'm currently writing about in the March and Walker Crime Novel series.

Stuff that will give you a daily glimpse of the author at work, his highs and lows, and the world in which he diligently travails, perfecting his craft (!).

If this sounds even vaguely interesting, follow me on Instagram at michaelj.mccann2149 and let me know what you think!


*Source: Instagram
** Source: Smart Insights


Saturday, 17 March 2018

MARCH PROMISES

While February is the shortest month, I often find it's the longest. I'm tired of winter; I'm desperate for green things and warm sunshine, and I can't wait any longer for spring.

March, when it arrives, is filled with promises of things to come. There are warm spells; the snow recedes or even disappears; and spring seems definitely to be just around the corner.

In my neck of the woods, though, the snow disappeared only to return over the past week with a vengeance. This morning the wind seems to be blowing directly from the Arctic Circle onto my poor, shivering self. Winter reasserts its will with grim determination.

The forecast for next week calls for more of the same, but I look at the calendar and remind myself that it is, after all, March. April is coming. It can't stay winter forever.

Can it?

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK

I don't usually read books about true crime. I prefer crime fiction, since I'm in the fiction business, but I made an exception recently to review I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK by Michelle McNamara, and I'm very glad I did.

McNamara was a true crime blogger and journalist who spent every free hour of her time sifting through information about a serial rapist and murderer who committed numerous offences in California during the late 1970s and early 1980s. He had been connected not only to the crimes of the East Area Rapist but also the Original Night Stalker and perhaps the Ransacker as well.

The author used her blog to communicate with fellow amateur investigators, she kept in touch with detectives investigating the various series of crimes, and worked with other journalists. The search for this sexual predator was, as the subtitle suggests, an obsession.

When she passed away in her sleep unexpectedly in 2016 at the age of 46, she was in the process of writing this book. The manuscript was completed and prepared for publication by two friends who were also involved in her research. It's a remarkable book by a remarkable woman who passed away too soon.

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

Friday, 23 February 2018

BIG CHANGES IN LITTLE BURRITTS

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT ON HEARTBREAK HOTEL

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

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

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

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

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

You can read my review here.

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

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

There. Now that's off my chest.