Monday, 24 June 2013

Some Assembly Required

Now that summer is officially here, I must admit that one of its more dubious aspects is the need to assemble “things” in order to: (a) enjoy the season or (b) keep from having your yard condemned under various noxious weeds regulations. We're less than a week into summer, and so far I've had to assemble a screen house to keep out homicidal mosquitoes; a “garage in a box” (cute name) because my previous one caved in last winter; a gas-powered grass trimmer; and a pressure washer. (Actually, my wife assembled the pressure washer, but I gave her advice, which should count for something.) I did not have to assemble, but still have nightmares about having assembled my gas barbecue. I also have not assembled a metal tool shed that I bought ten years ago because I gave up trying to figure out the instructions.

Having learned the hard way, I offer this advice to those brave souls who plan to assemble anything with more than four parts:

  • The term “instruction guide” is a misnomer. These guides are written in barely recognizable English by people who wish to torture, not help you. They are so cheerful about it too, using such nonsensical terms as “easy to assemble”. The diagrams are particularly unhelpful, because there are so many arrows, labels, and parts that you would need an advanced degree in engineering to understand them. Do the best you can, but trial and error may play the biggest role in your success.
  • Do not assume that when you have parts left over, the manufacturer was being generous and gave you spares.
  • Do not assume that a manufacturer includes “accessories” needed for the successful operation of the machine should you be lucky enough to put it together.
  • Do not pick a windy day to put up a screen house.
  • Do not involve loved ones in your assembly attempts.
  • A square is not a rhomboid.

And by the way, have a great summer. . .

Monday, 17 June 2013

And the Edgar Goes To...

You've probably read by now that Dennis Lehane is the winner of the 2013 Edgar Award for his novel Live by Night. It is the second of Lehane's historical crime novels (the first being The Given Day, which has a few of the same characters) and is set in the Prohibition era. The novel chronicles the (mis)adventures of Joe Coughlin, the outlaw son of a police officer. Lehane moves from his traditional Boston setting to Tampa, Florida, for most of the novel's exploits.

Lehane's novels have consistently been favored by Hollywood film-makers: Mystic River, Gone, Baby, Gone, and Shutter Island have all been made into movies. So it's not surprising that when Live by Night was released, it precipitated a bidding war for film rights. (Lehane sardonically commented that Hollywood started the bidding before it even read the book.) The film is currently in pre-production and is being directed by Ben Affleck, who also directed the film version of Gone, Baby, Gone starring his brother Casey. Both Ben Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio, who was the lead actor in Shutter Island, are producers of the current project. Incidentally, Lehane is also writing the screenplay for a movie based on John D. MacDonald's novel The Deep Blue Goodbye, and starring DiCaprio as Travis McGee.

For a novel that earned its author his first Edgar Award in 18 years of writing, Live by Night has received mixed reviews. If you're interested, see the NPR review at and the New York Times review at

But if you're a fan of Lehane's clipped dialogue and noir themes, you can judge for yourself.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Crime Fiction Grab Bag No. 10

It's time to reach into the crime fiction grab bag to see what's newly published or coming shortly.

Bruce DeSilva, the winner of the 2011 Edgar Award for best first novel (Rogue Island), has written a follow-up novel entitled Cliff Walk, which once again features the protagonist Liam Mulligan, who is an old-school investigative reporter at a dying Providence newspaper. It is billed as a hard-boiled mystery, and Mulligan investigates corruption, kickbacks, and the sex industry in Rhode Island.

Award-winning author Loren D. Estleman has written a biographical novel entitled The Confessions of Al Capone. It is billed as a well-researched and intimate portrait of the legendary Scarface and his inner circle after his release from prison in 1941. Capone was suffering from the neurological effects of untreated syphilis and, aside from his occasional periods of lucidity, spent his last years ranting and rambling as he awaited his own death.

Bill Pronzini has written another in his “Nameless Detective” series entitled Nemesis. The detective must work to clear Jake Runyon and save the agency's reputation after they become the target of a vicious legal vendetta.

Kevin Egan has created a thriller entitled Midnight involving a conspiracy to temporarily conceal the death of a New York County Courthouse judge.

On the Canadian crime fiction front, see Margaret Cannon's reviews in The Globe and Mail at

And on the other side of the Atlantic, see reviews of recent crime fiction in The Telegraph at This issue contains an interview with Mark Billingham on his latest novel, The Dying Hours, as well as an article on William McIlvanney, the Scottish novelist generally regarded as "the father of tartan noir".

Monday, 3 June 2013

An Interesting Set of Statistics

I'm always interested in stats relating to independent authors, and I recently came across a summary of the 2012 Taleist survey of self-published authors in a blog entitled Publishing a Book Is an Adventure. Here are some of the stats I found most interesting:



 Less than 10% of those surveyed reported making enough money to live from their earnings. More than half the respondents earned less than $500, and a quarter of them did not recoup their initial investment.


Of those who were able to make a living from their writing, two-thirds are women who spent 69% more time writing than those outside the top earners' group. 
Thirty-two per cent of the top earners tried and failed to get a traditional publishing deal before self-publishing. Those authors who went straight to self-publication without submitting their work to a traditional publisher earned 2.5 times more than those who submitted it and were rejected. 
Those who spent the least time marketing made the most money. (Which makes sense when you consider that time spent marketing is time spent away from writing.)

Top earners had four times as many reviews for their most recent book than authors outside this group. One of the most effective tactics—submitting books to Amazon top reviewers—resulted in 25% more reviews.

Finally, romance writers earned more than science fiction, fantasy, and literary fiction writers.

These statistics indicate that (if anyone actually thought this) self-publishing is obviously not the road to riches. However, I found one of the most encouraging statistics to be that 90% of those surveyed said they would continue to self-publish. This, to me, suggests that the ability to reach an audience is more important to indie authors than the money aspect. Of course, in an ideal world, an author could have both...

To access the list of Amazon top reviewers, see (A caveat: many aren't responding to inquiries because of backlogs.)

To access the list of Kindle top reviewers, see (Note that you can only contact ONE reviewer at a time, and many are not currently accepting requests because of backlogs.)