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.


Monday, 1 January 2018

AS 2018 ARRIVES...

Let me be blunt: 2017 was a very difficult year for me. An argument could be made that 2016 was even worse, but as improvements go, 2017 didn't really make the grade.

It was a year in which I found myself under siege from multiple directions. Without going into specifics I'll just say that these things are not unique to me and are confronted by many, many other people at certain points in their lives, but as constant, ongoing, unsolvable problems they exert a daily, hourly pressure that is very difficult to stand up to over the long haul.

As 2018 arrives, I thought it might be important for me to use The Overnight Bestseller to say something about it. Colleagues mentioned to me during the past year that I haven't been effectively using social media. I seldom post on Facebook, my Twitter tweets and retweets are minimal, at best, and I haven't properly maintained this blog.

Guilty as charged. Additionally, while I've been going to my little office in Burritt's Rapids almost every day, and I was able to finish another March and Walker manuscript, the work has been slow and less productive than I'd prefer. My brain is like a boat with a thousand remoras attached to the hull below the waterline. I'm moving forward, but much more slowly than I should.

Traditionally I use the break between Christmas and the New Year to assess how I've been doing and to develop a strategy to improve personally and professionally during the next twelve months. This year, I'm not doing that.

The problems I'm dealing with are not solvable. Not by me, that's for sure, and not at this stage of my life. What I'm doing instead is making myself a series of promises. I want to share them with you, because if I make them public then I'm committed to them, aren't I?

I promise I'm not going to let the stress turn me into a different person. I promise I'm going to get even better at compartmentalizing my emotions into whatever packages of time I can manage--an hour, six hours, maybe even an entire day--in which I can feel upbeat, inspired, happy. I promise I will continue to be the person who's there when I'm needed, and that the breaks I need away from it all will be short (see the previous promise).

Finally, I promise you that over this past year my writing, although slow, has never been better, and that in 2018 I'm going to write an even better story than I did in 2017.

It gives me a goal to work toward. (I can't completely abandon all my old habits, can I?) I'll let you know as the year unfolds how I make out with it.

Thanks for reading this.