Wednesday, March 27, 2013

the dirt, for what it's worth

I watched North By Northwest, the Hitchcock version, recently and was reminded how I love traveling by train. So me and the four-year-old packed up a gunny sack, strapped on our bindles and tramped on down to the U.S. of A. to visit my newlywed brother.
It wasn't all stealing pies off windowsills, but, man, there's something about America by rail that dusts off all those Tom Waits/Jack Kerouac fantasies from adolescence. Those tin roof shacks with neon signs, redbrick buildings half torn down, "Bikini Expresso" stands just off the highway. Pure Americana.
I'll be one of several guest readers at a launch Thursday night for Mariner Janes's debut collection of poetry, The Monument Cycles. I don't know Mariner or his work that well, but I was very impressed with he had to say in this interview the UBC Thunderbird. I also really enjoyed the poem he reads on that page, "The Ambassador".

If you'd like to attend the reading--also appearing: Aaron Golbeck, Neil Benson, and Danielle LaFrance--shoot me an email at the address over there and I'll send you the deets.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

101 songs I would name a crime novel after...

...selected as they have appeared on my shuffled playlist. 
  1. Crooked Piece of Time
  2. Call Out the Lions
  3. That's How Things Get Done
  4. Ambulance Across the Street
  5. Sorry You're Sick
  6. Forensic Shimmy
  7. Blue Eyes
  8. I Know What I Know
  9. Second Hand News
  10. Small Thief 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Rap Game Georges Simenon

Laukkanen, whose debut novel The Professionals was blurbed by no less than former Simon & Simon writer and author of the comic (as in comedy, not the other kind) crime classic Metzger's Dog Thomas Perry, might be on to something. I dunno.

What I do know, though, is that I like crime novels named after pop songs. And I'm using pop in its most catholic meaning, here, encompassing rock, rap, jazz, country, whatever. Songs people can be expected to know. The point is, as I illustrated in this week's prairie dog magazine, there's no fun in making references that no one gets.

All of my hypothetical novels are named after pop songs. My vaguely autobiographical Bildungsroman is named after a Superchunk song, but not that one. My existential private eye book is named after a John Prine song. And my historical thriller about the secret conspiracy that led to the selection of Moose Jaw as the site of the 1937 World's Fair is named after a line I misheard in a Katy Perry video.

There's a surplus of crime novels named after Tom Waits songs, which is fine and good. And there are probably even more named after Warren Zevon songs, but I wouldn't recognize any of them. Crime writers seem to love Warren Zevon, what can I say?
This would be a good place to say that this blog, A Bulldozer With a Wrecking Ball Attached, was named after, well, not quite a rap lyric, but a line from a rap track. I don't know what I was thinking when I set up a blog. It was 2006 and that was just what you did. I was listening to Ghostface Killah's Fishscale, which had just come out, and when I got to the part of the form where it asks you what you want to call your blog, I was like, dude, come on, just once, I want to name a blog after a rap lyric. So I did.

Curiously, 2006 was pretty much when I stopped listening to rap, or hip hop, or most things, really. I stopped being a music writer, that's all. I stopped keeping up with music outside my immediate interest and turned the curiosity, the appetite, toward other things. Life, politics, books, I don't know. I didn't write anything for anyone but myself from September, 2006 until the spring of 2009. That was when this blog was really humming, you know? One hundred and ten posts in 2007, 172 in 2008. Not all of it was great writing, most of it wasn't. Then things shifted again. My appetite focused on something new and I started writing for other people more, writing here less*. I lost my standing as one of America's Top Bloggers. The point is, I haven't listened to a lot of rap since 2006. Unless someone put it in front of me, I didn't hear it. I don't actively seek out new music the way I used to. So I'm not necessarily THE GUY to talk about great rap lyrics to use for the title of your next crime thriller. I'm not even the guy to help you find all the comic book references in mid-2000s rap.

I'm more likely to name my crime novels after country songs, because that's kinda sorta the kind crime stories I write. I mean, they're not exactly rural, and they're not about country singers, but I think, thematically, the kind of story I like to write is closer to a country song than any other type of song. They way I write, my philosophy on genre, is a different story. But what I am I telling you for? You know what I'm talking about.

*The recent increase in activity on this old beast of a blog does indeed correlate with a recent decrease in writing for other people.

This one's for free

People have been writing for no money for as long as there's been no money to write for. Here are a few reasons I will sometimes write for free.

  • I like and/or believe in the outlet I'm writing for free for
  • There are fringe benefits to writing the story, eg: motorcycle pants, cruise tickets, lunch
  • Writing the piece will open a door previously closed to me, eg: Poland
  • I owe someone a favour
  • I want someone to like me
  • It's fun
  • There's room to experiment and/or play
  • There's a chance to settle a score
  • There's a chance the outlet not paying me will someday be able to pay me
  • The editor constantly apologizes for not paying me
  • I am bad with deadlines and like the idea of shrugging off an assignment I sought out, "Well, it's not like they're paying me!"

You gotta figure it out for yourself when it's worth it to write or work or play for free. I can't tell you that.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Stompin' Tom, yep

I wrote this for prairie dog in 2001:

When last I spoke with Richard Meltzer, rock crit's anti-hero, author of some really great books like, THE AESTHETICS OF ROCK, A WHORE JUST LIKE THE REST, and HOLES: A BOOK NOT ENTIRELY ABOUT GOLF, he asked me about Stompin' Tom Connors. It seems that while Meltzer-who now lives in Portland, Oregon, where he writes mostly about getting older-lived in New York during the early 70s, he made frequent trips to nearby Montreal just to see Dr Stompin' Tom (in 1996, Connors received an honourary Doctorate of Laws from St. Thomas University in Fredricton, New Brunswick). "We thought he was the wildest thing going," Meltzer remembered fondly. "Is he still active?" I was pleased to him that Stompin' Tom was not only still active, but that he's been enjoying quite the renaissance of late. Meltzer was intrigued to hear that Connors has penned two memoirs, BEFORE THE FAME, chronicling his childhood in Skinners Pond, PEI and his early days spent hitch-hiking with nothing more than a flat-top guitar, and the recent STOMPIN' TOM AND THE CONNORS TONE, where Stompin' Tom sets the record straight on his rise to fame and the disillusionment with the Canadian music industry that led him to return all of his Juno awards in 1979. Meltzer further marvelled at Connors' unyielding orneriness when it came to protecting and valuing Canadian culture. "Well, he's a hell of a custodian," Meltzer laughed. Meltzer then went on to opine on how, like blues artists such as T-Model Ford and R.L. Burnside, by staying true to himself and true to his music, Stompin' Tom is a helluva lot more of a genuine Rock & Roller than ninety per cent of the acts who actual claim perform Rock & Roll music. "It's a big monster, Rock," he said wearily, "And it exists for certain pre-ordained reasons that were not part of the package once. Part of what it's there for is to make people stupid. To make people cease to resist. It's crowd control." But you know, and I know, and hell, even Richard Meltzer knows that Stompin' Tom Connors, who was recently in the headlines again, demanding to be removed from the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame due to what he considers the association's lack of support for true Canadian culture, is about something quite the opposite.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: find out etc.

People who write crime fiction: stop telling us that cop work or P.I. work or coffee-serving work isn't as glamorous and action-packed as it is in the movies.
"Oh, it's not as exciting as James Garner makes it look on TV," said the character in the book that is on the verge of getting slammed shut and never opened again. "All I need is a pair of sunglasses, and I'd be a real David Caruso."
The worst, though, is when some jackass writer makes this big deal in the first or second chapter about how his cop character isn't some action hero you see on the big screen and then fills the rest of his stupid, asinine, bestselling, piece of crap novel with the worst cop show clich├ęs. That's the worst.
Like, say you're writing a book about some normal everyday people who get caught up in criminal events which spin out of control, howzabout don't fill their mouths with the kind of argot Elmore Leonard invents for his career criminals. Howzabout you don't fill their mouths with stuff you got from reading Richard Price--or more likely, watching The Wire.

Howzabout you give me something in your novel I couldn't get from Wikipedia? George V. Higgins, in his really good On Writing (which is where I got the photo of text at the top of this post), says, "You cannot write well without data." If you're getting all of your data from second and third hand sources, and it's, y'know, obvious, well, you might find your book well-reviewed and get blurbs from people I admire, and maybe get rich and not have to spend your weekends pushing a mop, but, you, sir, in the inimitable words of TLC, won't get no love from me.

People know what they're getting into when they read a novel. They understand the compact of fiction. Even the most realism-heavy story needs to use the craft of fiction; compression, selection, flashback, metaphor, you get the idea. Unless you have very good reasons for doing so--and there are lots of them, but you gotta have at least one--don't pull them out of the story with your smug, knowing wink.