Rick's Blog for 2003

The entries on the page start chronologically at the bottom and read up. It covers all of 2003 (obviously) and it was a little thinner than I wanted it to be. One thing that doesn't impress me with a lot of websites is that they don't update things. Ever been to a website that no one has worked on for several years? That's not what I want these Blogs to be, and yet, I fell into that trap a lot in 2003. On the other hand, things were pretty damn depressing at several turns and I hate writing when I'm feeling really negative. Still, here it is if you're interested. Enjoy.

January 26, 2003: It's been a long time since I've made an entry here. "I'm certain that everyone is dying to find out what's been going on," he said with tongue firmly planted in cheek. The Christmas holidays are best forgotten for various reasons which are not particularly cogent to this diary -- and are certainly best forgotten. Suffice it to say that everyone survived.

I wish that I had something positive to say about the publication of my next novel, but the whole thing is stalled at this point somewhere at M&S. With the Spring 2003 catalog in full production, it's not hard to see why. Still, it's very frustrating not to know what's going on. Right now, it's particularly important to be able to say when Cemetery of Lost Names is going to be published because I'm travelling (by train!) to Montreal to be interviewed at the end of next week to tape a couple of interviews for a show on Mystery Ink, Global Television's cable channel dedicated to the mystery genre. It would be a real shame not to able to say what is coming next. I certainly won't be getting a better promotional opportunity in the foreseeable future. One of the interviews will be on The Lark Ascending, which is the story that precedes Cemetery. If I pitch that story well and then give a good teaser for the new book, I might actually generate some interest in it. Who knows? The interview might even be broadcast close to the time of Cemetery's release? Wouldn't that be nice...

There have been a few changes around the site -- with a lot more to come, as time permits. On the main page (lower righthand corner, is a bio I'm in the process of putting together about an amazing, relatively unknown guitarist I had the pleasure of hearing many times when I was a lad. Check out The Linc Chamberland Project. This is an ongoing project which will evolve as I interview various people who knew Linc, studied with him or played in his band, the Orchids, or on other projects he was involved with. I'll post a notice whenever it's been updated.

The design of the site will be changing (probably quite radically) since I think I can now do a lot better with my increasing design/web skills. The site will be organized slightly differently, too, so it's easier to read and navigate through. It's also my hope that the overall design will be a lot more sophisticated-looking. Part of this is due to the fact that I've been working on two other website projects that have really stretched and challenged my abilities. Neither is up for viewing yet, but if you would like to see the opening animations for the parked sites, check out winexpress.ca & eye-to-eye.ca.

February 15, 2003: I vowed that I'd be better keeping up with this in 2003. So far I haven't done all that well (been busy with other projects, want to do more music, yada, yada).

The trip to Montreal was terrific and I really enjoyed myself. The interesting thing about the train ride was the 2 16-year-olds who sat across from me. They were typical of the age group: voluable, fidgety, more junk than you'd need for a round-the-world junket, but basically nice, middle-class kids on their way to Montreal for a weekend visit with the aunt and grandmother of one. That's what their parents thought. As we crossed over onto the Island of Montreal, they started whipping out all these false IDs. Each had a fake Ontario driver's license, one also had one for Alberta, as well as a U of Alberta student card, all saying that they were old enough to partake in drinking.

In my naivete, I'd always thought that these things were hard to forge. I mean, not every kid has a machine that makes credit cards and can put on the necessary holographic designs, yet the little I saw of them as they showed them to each other, they looked pretty damned convincing. My question is this: these girls are just average. I'm certain they don't run with the fast crowds yet they managed to get some pretty sophisticated false ID complete with their pictures on the plastic. It must be pretty damned easy to get hold of this kind of thing.

Okay, okay... I know I'm supposed to talk about author-type things not the depredation of our young. Truth be told, there's not much to say. I'm waiting for the contract for my next novel and working on the new one in the meantime. And I AM taking more time for music. I've been practising horn and B3, so there! Oh yeah, one important thing: I found out that the correct translation for Friedhof der Namenlosen is Cemetery of the Nameless. I thought about that for a bit. My pidgeon translation wasn't that far off and had a nice cadence to it, but Hilary (my agentary voice of reason) said that the correct translation makes more sense considering my plot. She's right, of course, so the novel will henceforth be known as Cemetery of the Nameless. There, now aren't you more curious about it?

June 5, 2003: I should know better by now than to make new year's resolutions! The date below this entry is a bit embarrassing. I do have an excuse already if you'd like to hear it...

]A lot has happened in the past four months, some of it good, but unfortunately, a great deal rather bad. No, make that downright bad. My fourth novel got stalled in my publisher's pipeline for several months while we waited for them to tender the contract, with the end result being that after accepting the book around the turning of the year, they have decided to cut back on their mystery line, and (you guessed it) I didn't figure in their plans anymore. I will admit that I was pretty down for a few weeks -- primarily since I'd waited so long and worked so hard to get a contract with a firm of that stature. The long and short if it is that their decision was purely financial. "Mysteries don't make money."

This was initially a little hard to take since I'd done everything I could (and spent a good deal of money) to promote Shooting Straight, and for all my efforts (and M&S's), the sales were rather disappointing. The main problem stemmed from the lack of reviews here in Canada. There were only four and that's pretty depressing. There are a lot of reasons this sort of thing is happening (convergance of media ownership, cutbacks in book coverage, etc.) and it had nothing to do with the quality of the book. M&S's sales staff did a terrific job getting it into the stores, but if no one knows about a book through reviews or other media coverage, the truth is, you just ain't going to sell very many. I could understand M&S's position -- up to a point.

My big problem was that everyone at M&S who read Cemetery of the Nameless felt that it's a really outstanding book. Pat Kennedy, my editor there, fought really hard for the book and for me, something for which I'll be eternally grateful to her. The end result was that, like many authors before me, I got turfed because of the numbers game. The really big blow came only recently, though, when I discovered that someone had boobed on the copyright date, putting 2001 instead of 2002. This goes a long way in revealing why the book was reviewed so little. Most places don't review old books. It's one of those things that can go wrong. Who would think of proofreading the copyright page?

Eventually, it came to me that the only way to deal with this setback was to do two things: get the ms out again and see if I could drum up some extra sales for Shooting Straight since I didn't want it to go gently into that good night, as it were. Kit and her friends deserve better than that! So I came up with Operation Promo, sort of a chain letter approach to selling books, the idea being I would try to get people I know (especially those who have read the book) to recommend it to friend, relatives, co-workers, anyone who might be enticed to buy it. I am also willing to sell books to anyone who wants one at my cost (a BIG discount) and also offer a money-back guarantee if they really don't like it.

Time will tell if this will work. If you're reading this, please help. Buy a book. They make excellent gifts that are perfect for summer reading. I want to let M&S know what they've taken a pass on. A book is more than a bunch of pages. If the author is committed to promoting his book as I've been, that should be taken into consideration. If I had known from the outset that it had to sell a certain number of copies, I would have made damn sure that it had. Strike a blow for the little guy! Order Shooting Straight right now!

October 3, 2003: "Gee, Blechta, where the hell have you been all this time?" That's a fair question, considering the fact that I haven't updated this page in just about 4 months. I'd like to be able to promise that I will do better, but I've done that before. I certainly will try...

By now you will know about the complete (well, nearly complete) redesign of the website. It was done for two reasons: I wanted the "production values" to look more professional and it needed to be easier to navigate. It also doesn't hurt to have a fresh coat of paint on things from time to time, does it? It's been a lot of work and there are still a few pages to fix up and other pages to design, but it's largely complete. It took far longer than I thought it would and I hope you agree with me that it's worth it.

In the interval since my last entry, I also designed a website for a friend which took up way more time than I would have expected (visit winexpress.ca) and will take more still before it's really complete. That's also a partial reason why this page has languished. I only have so much time to spend on things like this. Another thing I've have been doing is a fair bit of research into the possibility of writing a biography of Linc Chamberland, a very great, though relatively unknown guitarist. That has meant going out and talking to a lot of people. It's been very enjoyable, and while I haven't committed myself to actually doing the project, it's looking more and more like this is a story that has to be told. Check out the Linc Chamberland Project for more info, and listen to a few tunes.

So where does the writing stand? Well, we're still waiting to hear back from a publisher who seems to be quite interested in Cemetery of the Nameless. At this moment Tory and Rocky have a few more hoops to jump through before a contract is (hopefully) tendered. I guess we'll all have to be patient for a few more days.In the meantime, it's kind of hard to get my head into the next book again after all the time off. However, the past few days, I've begun beavering away at it. The good thing is that I'm really excited about the direction that the book is taking which makes it easier to sit down at the end of a long day and spend a long evening typing. Yes, it will still have some of the humor my readers seem to like, but the new novel is also a bit grittier -- and not in the "hardboiled" sense, either. It's just that the protagonist has a bit of a dark side. Not that he's a "downer" sort of character. It's his past, you see, and in that lies the subtext of the plot. You'll be kept informed as to the novel's progress.

I can't sign off without mentioning a very nice person who returned my journal (which contained a number of very important notes) which I'd stupidly left in the seat back of a plane after a trip from Cincinnati to Sarasota, FL. I thought it was gone forever when the airline hadn't found it after two weeks. About 5 weeks after the fateful flight, the journal showed up on my doorstep! Wow! Talk about thankful. It's so great to know that someone would go to all that trouble. However, I then I did another really stupid thing. After mailing off a note and a book to say thank you to the person for her kindness, I didn't keep her address! I can't believe it! Somebody should kick me in the butt a few times for this one! So Katie, if you ever read this, please, please, PLEASE send me an e-mail. (Note from 2006: Katie did get in touch. I sent her a copy of Shooting Straight and eventually mentioned her in the acknowledgements of Cemetery of the Nameless. Thanks again, Katie!)

October 11, 2003: Well, "Operation: Promo" is up and running, although I haven't sent out all the e-mails I want because my ISP has anti-spam programs which seem to think that what I'm trying to do needs suppressing. At least that's my theory as to why I can't get all the e-mails to go out. So how's the promotion going? I don't know for sure. I have been contacted by some people who want books and I know of several people who have passed my e-mail on, and that's something I'm REALLY grateful for, but have no way of knowing whether people are ordering online and how many recipients of the e-mail are passing it on. I had very mixed feelings about going through this whole exercise since it was kind of admitting defeat. No author likes admitting that he's been dumped by a publisher. I still have hopes that the publisher who is now seriously considering Cemetery of the Nameless will tender a contract. My agent and I figured that would have happened by now, but things have gotten stalled and we both know how slow the publishing industry can be at times. Maybe next week...

Those of you who have checked the listing for Shooting Straight on the Amazon sites in the US and Canada (and also on my Review Page) have probably noticed the really awful review that somebody submitted. You've also probably noticed that the same review was uploaded from both New York City and Montreal (good trick unless you live in both places and the person is obviously from the US since no Canadian would ever refer to the city as Montreal, Canada). Now my darling wife says I should let all this go, but I can't. The "story behind the story" is that I'm pretty sure it's someone who has it in for me due to the fact that he thinks I "done him wrong". This was his way of taking revenge. All I did was warn some people that an auction item on eBay might not be all it was cracked up to be. I felt strongly that people I know wouldn't be taken for a ride by not knowing the whole story about the item. (I didn't accuse the seller of being dishonest, either, since he might be unaware of the reasons why the item in question wasn't operating up to snuff). The seller contacted me, accusing me of trying to scuttle his sale, which I wasn't. I just told perspective buyers to ask a few questions about the item. I guess it didn't sell (although my e-mail comments about the the item didn't have very wide distribution), because the next thing I knew, the book review appeared. The review is rather comical since the writer couldn't even manage to spell my name correctly, but the fact that I believe it was motivated by revenge still rankles months later -- and makes me rather sad. Why am I being so coy about giving specifics? Because I'm certain the person involved would try to sue, since he's already proven his colors. Would I make a comment on something I see on eBay again, knowing where it could lead? You bet! And that's the first and probably the last time I will comment on a review...

October 19, 2003: There have been a few updates to the site this week. Check out the Linc Chamberland Page and look for the link to the new Orchids Scrapbook. I didn't want to add the scrapbook to the nav bar for several reasons, mostly because it would be a pain since I didn't use a template page when I did the recent site update. That way, it would only be a few clicks to change the nav bar on every page. Don't ask me why I didn't. It seems pretty dumb now.

There have been a lot more hits to the site since I sent out my Operation: Promo e-mail and I'd like to thank everyone who has stopped by and especially thank those who have passed the e-mail on. There haven't been that many requests for books that have come to us, though, which is a bit disappointing, considering how many people have visited the site. I'm just hoping that they've decided to buy online. I won't know if that's the case for several months, though, since publishers only send out royalty statements every 6 months. If you have ordered online, my very special thanks. I sincerely appreciate your support and hope you enjoy the book!

We had dinner with some old friends from Montreal last night who are in town for a convention. Their daughter now lives in Toronto and they passed their copy of Shooting Straight to her. Guess where she lives? About a block from where Kit Mason does. When Fleur started reading the book, she sort of freaked out when she realized that fact. The building doesn't really exist, of course. I just sort of used something of the flavor of the neighborhood when I wrote it. I've also heard from a reader who visited Toronto on business and spent some down time trying to find the various locations in the story. She wound up at the Bow & Arrow pub for dinner and had a great time. (The Babes, disappointingly, weren't there that night.) It's gratifying when that happens since it means I've done my job as a storyteller.

I hope anyone reading this will notice that I'm sticking to my vow to be more diligent about making weekly entries!

November 2, 2003: I have a very good excuse for last week. We were in NY for the celebration of my wife's uncle's 75th birthday. It's kind of nuts to drive 1000 miles over three days to attend a birthday party, but Joe is a very special person and we just couldn't NOT go.

Last week I got some disappointing news that a publisher who seemed pretty keen on taking Cemetery of the Nameless had decided to take a pass. This happens all the time in the book biz, but it still is very discouraging. It sometimes takes a lot of tries to find a place where the book "fits" and whether a publisher takes something on is a very subjective process at the very least. I still have a lot of faith in the story and take heart at the fact that M&S had already accepted it before they decided to do a slice and dice on their mystery line. Hell, Tom Clancy had something like 30 rejections (some quite bad, from what I understand) before he found a home for Hunt for Red October. It's my fondest hope to make everyone who passed on Cemetery to really regret it someday. Onward!

November 15, 2003: A lot has been happening since I last did an entry (don't remind me that it was two weeks ago!). I may not have a new novel coming out for the foreseeable future, but I do have a book coming out in 2004! Well, me and and a bunch of my cohorts in the Crime Writers of Canada. You see, the CWC put out a cookbook in 1996 called Dishes to Die For and it sold quite well over the years. Last year at the CWC AGM in Ottawa, it was discussed, and I said I was willing to spearhead it again (I'd been one of two who worked on the first). It's now come to pass, and the tome will be launched next June at BookExpo here in Toronto. Maybe it will help get that novel sold for me, as well.

On that front, Cemetery is going to another publisher for consideration and I hope that this one is a good fit and that the deal finally comes to fruition. (The firm is a really good one and I like the people I would be working with. I should have gone with them in the first place!) So much about selling a novel is based on very subjective things and the deal is affected most by the biases of the person who reads the submitted manuscripts -- otherwise publishers would only put out massive blockbuster best sellers, wouldn't they? The first hoop a manuscript has to jump through is the reader at whatever publisher it is sent to. I had a rejection recently from a large publisher and in between all the nice comments about my writing, etc. was one about the plot that made it instantly obvious that the reader totally did not understand the motivation behind one of the two main characters and had no understanding of/sympathy for the mileau in which that character operates. Now obviously, part of that is my fault for not "putting the case" well enough when I wrote the story, but also part of the problem is due to the reader having no understanding of or experience with the world I was describing. Quite simply, she didn't believe it. If she were just a mystery reader who'd picked up the book at a store or library, she would put it down and tell people she didn't like it. In this case, her lack of understanding probably swung the book deal to a thumbs down. And that's the way it goes...

December 2, 2003: Well, the recipes for the CWC cookbook are coming in, but not in the flood I'd imagined. It's been said in the past by some wag or other that "trying to organize writers to do anything is a like herding cats". Since the holidays are coming up fast, the response will probably remain a little sluggish. In some ways that's good since I haven't completely finished the design yet. (Part of that is on tap for later tonight.)

Working on the manuscript for Cemetery two weeks ago made me understand a little more of what it is about writing that captivates me so much. Part of it is the creation of one's own world. The characters in my books are always the most important (and fascinating) thing for me. I get all nostalgic as a story draws to a close, realizing that we're all going to go our separate ways very soon. I could overcome that particular difficulty if I wrote a series, but other than the odd guest appearance of a character from one book showing up in another, I don't think a series is something I really want to do. I did reuse Victoria Morgan and her husband from Book 2 in Book 4, but that was almost by accident. The main character was originally supposed to be a composer/university professor. For some reason that scenario didn't want to work, and then Tory stood up at the back of the room one day and called out, "Use me! Use me!" In tossing that idea around, it seemed to be worth considering.

I should have known better because Tory was up to her old tricks and didn't cooperate almost from the beginning. This novel went through so many major re-writes that I don't think anyone looking at the first draft would recognize the plot. It's certainly a stronger book now, but did it ever change direction from my original concept!

I recently thought of something that would be very interesting to try sometime: write the same book twice. Now I don't mean exactly the same, just the same sort of major plot device (like in the case of Cemetery, a missing Beethoven manuscript). Populate the story with completely different characters, set it in a different place, and let each story develop on its own merits. I wonder how different they would be?

December 30, 2003: With the holidays partly through, I've finally found the time to get to this little job. First off, Happy Holidays to everyone, no matter what you believe in or celebrate. Even if you don't celebrate, take a bow because you made it through another year!

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the novel I'm working on. After having to work much too hard on Cemetery to get it completed to the point where I'm happy with it (this state is subject to change without notice), I have wanted to get this new project much more tightly plotted than has been my habit in the past. I think it's very valuable to just "let the story happen", and my feeling is that if I were to get something too tightly plotted (to where I could actually write a chapter by chapter summary), the serendipitous occurances and discoveries that can happen when one is "writing blind" would not take place so easily. On the other hand, I have a tendency to go to the opposite extreme which means I can send my characters travelling up too many blind alleys. I think I'm now at the point with the new novel where I've reached a comfortable median in that I know what should be happening to a great extent, but I only know at what point each thing is supposed to happen and only roughly how the story is going to get to those points. I'll keep you all informed as to whether I'm successful with this new approach or whether the whole project gets knocked into a cocked hat within a chapter or two of starting again...

You haven't had enough yet? Then you'll have to go to Rick's 2002 Blog.

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