Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Interview with noir/crime author Julia Madeleine

One thing I've learned about the writing community as I've taken this journey to publication is that it's filled with some very cool, interesting people. The stories of some of these authors would rival the stories in their books, and over the past couple of years I have made connections and struck up friendships with people I would never have imagined.

One of those people is noir/crime author Julia Madeleine. A tattoo artist from north of the border, Madeleine owns a small business with her husband, and in her down time writes some of the most dark and disturbing fiction you will find this side of your trusty Edgar Allan Poe collection.

Julia Madeleine was a finalist for a 2011 Derringer Award this past spring, and her second novel, NO ONE TO HEAR YOU SCREAM, is available now. She has very bravely agreed to join me for an interview, despite my well-known penchant for putting authors through the ringer. Or at least asking them a few questions.

You are the Canadian daughter of Irish immigrant parents, and the plot of NO ONE TO HEAR YOU SCREAM is driven by Irish expatriate gang member Rory Madden. How much of your real-life upbringing is reflected in your work?

As a kid I heard (and overheard) a great deal about the Troubles in Belfast from my parents, and Grandparents when they visited from Ireland. So that, and listening to my parents Irish lingo all my life, making my bad guy from over there was quite instinctive I think. I’d wanted to make the antagonist a foreigner and what better foreigner than one you’re familiar with. At least the Irish part. Unfortunately there were no actual gang members in my family or I’d have moved in with them and taken over their sofa while writing this manuscript.

Your first book, SCARLET ROSE, was published by Black Heart Books in 2008. How long have you known you wanted to write crime fiction, and what prompted you to finally try?

You know I never set out to try and write in that thriller/crime-fiction genre. In my teens and my early twenties I was into horror; Anne Rice, Stephen King, Koontz. I wrote a lot of supernatural type stories at the time. Then in college my tastes in fiction evolved. When I got the idea for Scarlet Rose, about fifteen years ago, I was more into reading literary fiction. Yet here I was creating these really dark characters and writing about murders. I just didn’t realize it was crime fiction until much later when someone actually pointed it out to me.

There are some outstanding female crime fiction writers, but as a woman writing in this field, you are definitely in the minority. Who are some of the writers you consider role models?

My writing role models are not so much in the crime fiction genre. I’m sure my greatest influences have been Mary Gaitskill, Heather O’Neill, Janet Fitch, Evelyn Lau, Joyce Carol Oates. Wow, those are all women. Ok, well I did read a lot of Poe and King growing up. So I’m sure they’ve been an influence on me as they have with a lot of writers.

What is your favorite part of the writing process? What is your least-favorite?

Creating the story, when ideas just flow with ease. That’s really exciting. My least favourite aspect of writing would be reading and re-reading the same passages over and over looking for type-os. It’s maddening. I have nightmares about misspelled words hiding in my sentences. I swear they crop overnight like weeds.

Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what would be a couple of typical songs you might have playing in the background while penning stories of murder and mayhem?

I listen to classical music when I write because it’s unobtrusive. I love the cello and in particular Yo-Yo Ma. He’s an amazing musician. I also love listening to Andrea Bocelli. It sets the perfect mood for me.

As a 2011 Derringer Award Finalist for excellence in short mystery fiction, you obviously write a mean short story. Which gives you greater satisfaction, writing novels or short stories?

Short stories are like instant gratification. I really enjoy writing flash fiction. It appeals to my short attention span. But I think writing novel length manuscripts are far more rewarding. I enjoy character development and it’s difficult to get deep into a character in a short piece the way you can with full length novels. Sometimes I like writing short stories as a distraction from working on my manuscript because, quite frankly, it’s a hell of a lot of work. Having said that, the manuscript I’m currently working on is all consuming and it’s got me really fired up so I’m trying hard not to take any time away from it to write short stories. But those flash pieces are like chocolate brownies when you’re on a diet; hard to resist.

What’s next in the pipeline for Julia Madeleine?

This would be the manuscript that’s got me all fired up like nothing else I’ve written. Recently I had this crazy dream—a nightmare that woke me up in the middle of the night. My first thought was, wow that would make a great story! And then my next thought was no, it’s way too scary for me to write. Like Silence Of The Lambs scary. When I told my husband about the dream, he said it was such a great idea I’d be crazy not to write it. So with a little push from him, I’m now writing that story and it’s scaring the hell out of me. So much so that one afternoon I spotted the same kind of vehicle that the bad guy in my story drives around in, parked outside my work and I actually gasped. My husband laughs at me. But it’s cool when I tell people the premise and they get these physical reactions of revulsion, it’s like a compass that shows me I’m on the right track. I’m having a lot of fun with it.

Hypothetical situation #1: You are marooned on a desert island but before your ship sinks, you’re allowed to grab one book of your choosing. What book would that be?

A thesaurus. I couldn’t live without one.

Hypothetical situation #2: You are given a choice by the Gods of Publishing. Your books can either bring you tremendous monetary wealth or they can be universally acclaimed as outstanding by the critics. Which do you choose, and why?

I’d definitely choose wealth over fame. While receiving critical acclaim would of course be fantastic and I would certainly be honoured if my writing ever received awards, greatness in the publishing industry has never been my ambition. Farley Mowat, who’s an icon of Canadian literature, recently said in an interview that he’s given up writing to paint houses because there’s more money in it. He’s 89. And he said he figures he can make more money painting three houses a year than if he wrote three best sellers. Now, while I do find that statement astonishing given the success some authors are having with eBooks., it’s an interesting example of how being an award winning author (he’s received the Governor General’s Award and a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame), doesn’t necessarily equate with book sales. Maybe Farley Mowat would have had more monetary success writing crime fiction.

So, yeah, give me the money. Because when I’m 89 I plan on chilling on a cruise ship sucking back Margaritas while Speedo-wearing Pool Boy dances for me between foot massages. The only paint brush I’ll be picking up will be to polish my nails.

What are you reading right now? What’s next on your “To Be Read” list?

Currently I’m reading Diane Fanning’s true crime book Mommy’s Little Girl, about the Caylee Anthony case. I’ve also just started reading Frank Duffy’s Mountains Of Smoke and it’s awesome. And I’m just about to start reading Jenn Ashworth’s new book Cold Light. I read her debut A Kind Of Intimacy last year and loved it. I’d like to read more Andrew Vachss. I just recently discovered him and I really like his style. I’ve also got Final Vector on my to-read list.

Thanks for taking the time to visit A Thrill a Minute. Any last words of wisdom you’d like to share with my thousands hundreds dozens handful of readers?

Thanks for having me, Allan. I’d like everyone to know what a great writer and a really cool guy you are.

I'd like to point out, I didn't ask beg Julia for that compliment at the end of the interview and I don't have any evidence of some deep, dark secret from her past that I threatened to go public with. She's just that nice. Or that warped, I'll leave it up to you to decide.
I'm in the middle of reading NO ONE TO HEAR YOU SCREAM right now, and I will be posting a review when I've finished, but it's fair to say that Julia Madeleine has crafted a pulse-pounding book, with multi-layered characters and non-stop suspense. It's well worth your time and money.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Shame on you, Saint Anselm College

My oldest child will be a college graduate soon.

Notice anything a little off about the above statement, aside from your very astute observation that I couldn't possibly be old enough to have fathered a college graduate?

Let me help you out. Most, if not all, colleges and universities hold their commencements prior to June. Saint Anselm College, the school my daughter has attended for the last four years, held their commencement exercises on May 21.

Why has my daughter not graduated yet? She fell three credits shy of the 120 required for graduation. That's one class, to you and me. One class over the course of four years.

Stefanie has already enrolled in a night class at St. A's to complete that requirement and will be an official college graduate in less than five weeks.

So, why the title of this post, you ask?

My daughter Stefanie was not permitted to attend the commencement exercises, unless she wanted to go as an observer. She was not permitted to walk across the stage and have her hard work over the last four years acknowledged; she was not permitted to wear a cap and gown; she was not permitted to share a very special moment with her friends and classmates. Nothing.

I know what you're thinking. "Well, she didn't complete the requirements. Why should she receive acknowledgement for something she hasn't accomplished yet?"

Here's why.

My child got pregnant during her junior year in high school. I know, her fault. Agreed. You learn from it and move on. She had the baby during her senior year, earned grades placing her on the honor roll the semester she delivered her baby, missed just two weeks of school after having the baby, returned to high school and graduated on time, with her class.

She started as a Freshman at St. Anselm College in the fall of 2007, living at home, raising a baby. While other students were deciding what color to paint their dorm rooms, Stefanie was changing diapers.

While other students were going out partying on Friday night, "unwinding" after their tough week of watching soap operas and hanging out and every so often going to class, Stefanie was staying up all night with a sick baby, taking her temperature or rubbing a tiny runny nose or rocking her to sleep.

While other students hung out in their dorm room or strolled across the campus to the coffee shop or went to concerts, Stefanie went to class and then rushed straight to work or straight home to care for her child, studying whenever she could, during naps or playtime.

In my mind it's an amazingly impressive accomplishment that this young single mother came as close as she did to graduating on time, with her class, given all that was on her plate, especially since she was taking a very difficult science major.

Saint Anselm College had every right to exclude my child from the graduation. After all, they set the requirements and she didn't quite meet them. But they missed a real opportunity to celebrate a student who has overcome tremendous odds to achieve success in a non-traditional way.

They didn't have to hand her a diploma during commencement; that would have been completely understandable. After all, she hasn't earned it. Yet. But to refuse her the chance to celebrate with her class when she has overcome so much in the last four years I believe to be small-minded and petty in the extreme.

Over the last couple of months Stefanie received countless "graduation" things in the mail, all of which were thrown in the trash because they didn't apply to her. Cap and gown measurements and order forms, commencement invitation forms, all kinds of things were sent to her in preparation for a graduation that she was not permitted to take part.

The fact that these things showed up in the mail at all was a stark testament to a college administration that didn't care enough about one of their students to simply take her name off the mailing list.

But my child never complained once; she did what she always does. She kept her head up and continued marching forward, thereby making herself the best kind of role model for her child, who is now four years old and smart as a whip.

Interestingly, on the Saint Anselm College website, they claim one of the foundations of campus life to be "The Benedictine Catholic tradition of nurturing human understanding through liberal education..." You'll have to pardon me if I question whether anyone in the school's administration really understands those words.

So there you have it. Shame on you, Saint Anselm College, for applying the rules so rigidly and indiscriminately that you failed to recognize grit and spirit and hard work when it was right there in front of your closed and uncaring eyes.

And by the way, all those cards and letters you keep sending me, asking for donations so you can continue your "mission" of educating the minds of young adults? You can forget about getting anything more from me. I would drive down the road throwing hundred dollar bills out my open window before I would give you another red cent.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's the end of the world as we know it

It's not like we haven't gone through this before, right? If you've been alive any amount of time at all, surely you can recall passing signs plastered on lampposts, etc, warning you that you'd better get your shit together, because the end of the world was nigh, which, near as I can tell, means RIGHT FREAKING NOW!

So Harold Camping is just another in a long line of folks throwing a date for the End of the World out there, just to see if it sticks. Of course, the world is not going to end, just like it didn't the other four times he predicted it. I feel sort of bad for the guy. It obviously means a lot to him, and at age 89, you have to figure he's running out of chances.

But here's the thing: There is nothing new about people warning everyone else the world is about to end. Sure, in this age of instant communication, those doomsday pronouncers might be able to make a bigger splash a lot quicker than they could before, but it's been going on just about forever.

For example, around the year 90 AD Saint Clement 1 predicted the world would end basically at any moment. He was wrong, obviously, but his miscue didn't stop him from achieving sainthood, so what the hell did he care?

In the year 365, some guy named Hilary of Poitiers, no relation to Sidney Poitier as far as we know, got a wild hair and decided the world would end sometime in that year. Sorry, Hilary. You'd think the guy would have kept a low profile with a name as girlie as Hilary, but some people have no shame.

Both Sextus Julius Africanus and Hippolytus predicted the world would end in the year 500, presumably because of the roundness of the number. There was no Internet, no television and no Angry Birds, so these people had little else to do than sit around trying to outdo one another in their apocalyptic predictions, apparently.

An eclipse was spotted in the year 968 and interpreted by German Emperor Otto II as presaging the end of the world. There must have been other eclipses - I'm only 51 and I've lived through lots of eclipses - but for some reason this one freaked out Otto enough to lose all sense of perspective. See my above theory regarding the Internet, TV and Angry Birds.

In the year 992, reports out of Germany that three suns and three moons were fighting above the earth led many to believe the end of times was upon them. Obviously, someone was smoking something mighty powerful in Germany between 968 and 992.

In 1179, John of Toledo analyzed the planetary alignments and determined the end was to come in 1186. I've never been to Toledo, but I'm guessing this must have seemed an eternity to poor John.

Pope Innocent III added 666 years to the date of the founding of Islam, leading him to the conclusion the world would end in 1284, and leading everyone else to the conclusion that he should maybe have picked a different name.

Melchior Hoffman predicted Jesus would return a millenium and a half after his execution, which of course would be in the year 1533. No explanation why he would pick a millenium and a half, other than it was during his lifetime. Unfortunately for Melchior, lots of people took exception to his prediction and he was placed under arrest, where he died in a German jail. There's that German connection again.

In Russia, a group called the "Old Believers" were convinced the world would end in 1669. 20,000 of them burned themselves to death between 1669 and 1690 to protect themselves from the antichrist. The rest should have died of embarrassment - if I had made it through 1669 okay, I would have been celebrating, not setting myself on fire.

William Miller, founder of the Millerite movement, initially predicted Jesus' return on March 21, 1843. When William was left hanging, he did some quick recalculating and determined the real date of the return would be October 22, 1844. He was once again disappointed, as were all the people who had sold all their property and quit their jobs in preparation for the second coming.

Mother Shipton, an 18th century mystic, unleashed on the world the following poetical gem: "The world to an end shall come, in eighteen hundred and eighty-one." She would have made a lousy rapper, and was apparently no better as a mystic.

Jehovah's Witnesses named 1914 as the start of Armageddon. When the year came and went with no discernible changes, they decided 1914 was the year Jesus began his rule invisibly. Which, if you're a believer, is already the case, isn't it?

In 1919, meteorologist Albert Porta predicted that six planets would align in such a way as to make a magnetic current which would force the sun to explode, engulfing the earth in flames on December 17. I'm guessing Albert was a lot of fun at parties. Also, he probably did his Christmas shopping late that year.

This is by no means a complete list of all the end times predicitions we've had to suffer through; adding all of Harold Camping's alone to this list would take a while. And I don't mean to poke fun at anyone's beliefs; if you're bound and determined that six o'clock tonight will mark the beginning of the end, have at it.

Just don't come back to me next year with a new, updated prediction.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sometimes, you CAN judge a book by its cover

Interesting post by Joelle Charbonneau at Do Some Damage today. In it, she wonders about the effectiveness of cover art for e-books. What's the point, she wonders?

With physical books, the covers provide a very specific purpose - to draw the reader in, to make her curious about the book, to get her to open it up and skim through the pages, with the ultimate goal, of course, being to interest her enough to make a sale.

But with ebooks, there are no readers wandering through the bookstore, pulling your book out and examining the cover. There's no physical book at all!

It's a really good question, and one I wondered about myself for quite a while. My answer is a long one, though, so I thought instead of writing an endless comment at Do Some Damage, I would write a post on the subject myself.

You may or may not know the history of my debut thriller, FINAL VECTOR. I originally signed with the publisher, Medallion Press, for a mass-market paperback edition of the book. A few months after signing the contract, however, and almost a year before the book's release, Medallion bowed to the new realities of the publishing world and eliminated mass-market paperbacks entirely, choosing instead to publish ebook editions of those books slated for MMPB.

This gives me an interesting perspective, because although FINAL VECTOR was released this past February as an ebook, the cover art was designed to be placed atop a paperback book.

And it's a damned good cover, I think. I've gotten literally dozens of compliments on it, and although I had nothing to do with it beyond providing some ideas, I believe it represents the book well.

That's the point. Although you will not find a single copy of FINAL VECTOR in your local bookstore, the cover still matters, for a couple of very important reasons:

1) First impressions still matter, whether the book is inked onto dead trees or transmitted through the Interwebs to your handy dandy reading device. Whether the reader finds out about FINAL VECTOR through the "Readers who bought (X) also bought" feature at Amazon, or through a review they read, or a blog post, or whatever, they will still form a powerful first impression when they see the cover art.

A cover that appears sloppily designed or unimaginative or generic will likely not invite the reader to check out the book further, and will leave certain negative impressions foremost in their minds, both about the book and the author.

On the other hand, cover art that is interesting or entertaining or different may just convince the reader to pursue the book further, maybe check out an excerpt, which is exactly what I'm going for as an author, particularly an author most people have probably not heard of.

2) Ideally, the cover should give a potential reader some idea of what she's getting herself into when she downloads the ebook.

The design for my upcoming release from StoneHouse Ink, THE LONELY MILE, captures the feeling of the book perfectly, and in several different ways. In the book, a divorced father faces what might just be every dad's worst nightmare: His own teenage daughter is kidnapped by a sociopathic killer, and he's responsible.

The cover is meant to evoke a feeling of brooding, of darkness, of a man facing a gathering storm alone. Check it out, and tell me if you aren't left with that exact impression.

Same thing for the cover of my September horror novella release from Delirium Books, DARKNESS FALLS. The plot revolves around a big old farmhouse whose owner went insane twenty years ago and savagely murdered the main character's entire family while he was at school. My protagonist's name is Tyler Beckman, but the star of the novella is really the house - it stands at the heart of the entire story and drives the plot.

So when the folks at Delirium asked for my input on the cover art, I immediately thought of a creaky farmhouse, dark and disturbing, with ghostly-looking windows and an overgrown yard. My goal was to draw the potential reader's attention and at the same time try to pass along a little taste of what the book is all about.

So that's my answer, Joelle: Yes, the cover of an ebook is absolutely as critical to the book's success as the cover of a mass-market paperback, trade paperback, or hardcover offering. You can write prose like a master, but if the outside of your book turns people off to the point they're not willing to try it, no one will ever know.