Sunday, December 20, 2009

Santa in a Red Dress - Live!

ECW Press recorded the readings at their Lit Party a couple of weeks ago and here's me reading the short story, Santa in a Red Dress that's in the December issue of Driven Magazine.

I've done a few of these readings the last few years so you'd think I'd be getting better at it, but no. Still just stare at the page and read.

The other ECW authors who read were really good and you can see them all here:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Judge slapped for bias in pot case

He's right, but does that matter?

This is the kind of story that makes the background for my books. While sentencing a man convicted of running a marijuana grow op, the judge rejected a federal prosecutor's argument that a jail term was necessary to discourage people from getting involved in the drug trade.

"What's your basis for saying that?" the judge pressed. "Because nobody has been deterred. People have been going to jail for drug offences for – for a couple of generations now and the drug – the drug plague is worse than it ever was."

Allen questioned why, when a form of sentencing "doesn't work," he would try it again and again.

"Isn't that a form of insanity?" he asked.

And then the judge said what I've been writing about for three books now:

All society is really doing by prohibiting the production and consumption of marijuana is "giving the Hells Angels several billion dollars worth of income every year," Allen said.

Of course, I try to just present the criminal world as I see it. I try hard not to moralize or make my books too didactic. I have no answers to the "drug plague" as the judge called it, but if he's right about this part:

... the chances of a Dutch teen smoking marijuana – which is available at their local coffee shop – are substantially lower than the likelihood of an American teenager using the drug, he said.

It might be worth looking into.

A few years ago a teenager told me that he and his friends smoked dope because it was easier to get for them than beer. This kid claimed it was because stores that sold beer and alcohol (privately owned or government owned - I've lived in places with each system and there's little difference) didn't want to risk the fine and the criminal charge for selling to them but the drug dealer they bought from was already committing a criminal offense, so he didn't care.

To me there's no doubt that the drug trade supplies organized crime with a huge amount of capital and like all capitalists they reinvest that money and try to 'grow' their business into other areas.

And for now, it's all material for me.

And there's no shortage of material.

The Toronto Star article about the judge is here.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Santa in a Red Dress

Driven Magazine's December issue is now available online and includes my short story, Santa in a Red Dress.

There's also a really good interview with Stephen King about his new novel Under the Dome and a whole bunch of cool gift ideas.

The whole issue is available as a .pdf here.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Suspicious Canadians

This was sent to me by my good friend, Adrian McKinty.*

Very funny.

* I've never atually met Adrian, but I follow his very well-written, thought-provoking and entertainingly opinionated blog and I highly recommend his novels, the most recent of which is Fifty Grand.

Apparently Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top gives people his business card that has only his name and, "Friend of Eric Clapton," printed on it. I was thinking I'd like cards with my name and, "Friend of ___," but thanks to this interweb thing it would have to list an awful lot of people, suspicious or not.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Flash Fiction Challenge

The flash fiction gang (Patti Abbott, Gerald So and Aldo Calcagno) are running another Flash Fiction Challenge, this time it's called, Wal-Mart: I Love You and my contribution is up on Do Some Damage, along with stories from Steve Weddle and Jay Stringer.

The People of Wal-Mart website was the inspiration, and I certainly used it for my story.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New Short Story

On Thursday, November 12th I was very pleased to be a part of the ECW Press-Fine Print Fall Lit Party in Toronto.

My excellent editor, Michael Holmes, introduced the five writers and we each read a little from our latest works.

Richard Rosenbaum read his introduction from the anthology he edited, Can'tLit: Fearless Fiction from Broken Pencil Magazine which was great. He said out loud all those things we think about boring, conservative Canadian literature, the kind of stuff that pretends to be deep but really just reinforces the soft liberal world view of middle-class Canadians.

Damian Rogers read poems from her collection, Paper Radio. In his introduction Michael said that sometimes as writers grow older they can be embarrassed about their earlier writing (sometimes!?! the best thing that can happen to a young writer is not getting published) but that's not something Damian will ever have to worry about, and based on the poems she read, he's right. A poem about a roller rink in Windsor? Great stuff.

Mark Sinnett read from his novel, The Carnivores (which I bought after the reading), a great scene that took place during the buildup to Hurricane Hazel which hit Toronto in 1954. It was form the point of view of a young cop working that night and while I liked everything he read, his description of people on the roof of the Gladstone Hotel thowing beer bottles into the river flowing down Queen Street, and, "The fact that instead of smashing they simply bobbed west seemed to strike them as miraculous," sold me. I'm only halfway through the book and it is terrific.

The final reader of the evening was Sky Gilbert. He read a few poems from his latest collection, A Nice Place to Visit. Sky and I have some very different memories of Costa Rica. His poems were funny - laugh out loud funny - and then heartbreaking. A real pro.

I decided not to read from Swap and instead read an entire short story that will be in Driven Magazine later this month. I said in my introduction that I really like Driven, it's a glossy "men's magazine" that usually has a car or a celebrity on the cover that also has fiction. Of course, as I said, it usually has fiction from a big-name, award winning, bestselling author. So, I was thrilled when the editor called me and asked me if I could write a story for the mag. After I said sure, he admitted that they had a big-name, award winning, bestselling author lined up but he dropped out at the last minute, so could I write it over the weekend? Um, ah, yeah, sure. Then he said, "Oh, and could you call it Santa in a Red Dress?"

For now I'll post the openingof the story. After it comes out in the magazine (November 23rd) I'll post the whole thing:

JT had been with the Saints of Hell going on two years, since almost the day he got back from Afghanistan, moving up from hangaround to prospect, still doing the shit work till he could get his patch. Like this: driving two days to Moncton to meet a guy who’d picked up 80 kilos of coke offshore.

Just before dawn, the freighter Sharon David, carrying low-sulphur coal from Maracaibo, Venezuela, to Sydney, Nova Scotia, passed by a mile off the coast, and one of the Filipino crew members tossed an oil drum overboard. At sun-up, a lobster fisherman named Jerry McNeil and his brother-in-law followed the GPS signal to the drum and pulled it onboard.

They had the drum open and the coke in three hockey bags before they even got back to shore. Later that day, Jerry drove almost four hours from Port Dufferin to the Magnetic Hill Motel in Moncton, parked his pickup in front of room number six and went to the coffee shop. Ten minutes later, JT came out of room number nine, took the hockey bags, 60 pounds apiece, and left a backpack with 40 grand in cash—enough to get Jerry through one more season, maybe even another, the price of lobsters didn’t go down as much as the price of fuel goes up.

JT drove back to Toronto, 15 hours in a brand-new Camaro, 300 horsepower and a Boston Acoustics stereo. On the Trans-Can through New Brunswick he saw a few signs for the US border: twelve miles, nine miles, always so close, and he thought how the coke he was carrying would bring almost twice as much wholesale in Canada, over 40 grand a kilo, because the market was so tightly controlled. Of course, the retail price in Canada was less than in the US, maybe 50 bucks a gram instead of 70 or 75, because the Saints sold to anybody and let them fight it out on the street. But that wasn’t his problem.

Getting the patch, that was his problem. Once JT had that, he’d never have to touch the product again...

Thursday, November 05, 2009

What a Great Idea!

An article in the Toronto Star today told the story of Catherine Raine and her mission to visit - and write about on her blog - every one of the 99 branches of the city of Toronto Public Library system.

The article is here and Catherine's blog is here. It's really good.

Now, Toronto has all the problems of any big city but the library system is fantastic. My family and I use the library all the time. Our local is Beaches Branch:

The building was renovated a few years ago and it's terrific, right on Kew Gardens Park, a great place to do some research or just sit and read a book.

But the thing that makes the Toronto Library system so good is that I can go online and order any book (or CD or DVD) in the whole system and have it delivered to my local branch.

I grew up in a small, mostly english town in Quebec called Greenfield Park and the library was an old house on Chruchill Street. It had narrow, rickety stairs and the science fiction books I loved were shelved in what was the attic. Isaac Asimov should know how many fears I had to overcome to go get those books by myself.

Now, Greenfield Park has been incorporated into the city of Longueil and has a very nice library branch. It's still on Churchill, across the street from the old haunted house.

So, what's library system in your town like?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Two Readings in One Week

On Tuesday, November 10th, I'll be at the Princess Theatre in Waterloo at 7:00 pm as the opening act for Robert Rotenberg and my pal, international bestseller, Linwood Barclay.

Robert Rotenberg is a good guy, too, and his first novel Old City Hall received some great reviews.

Tickets are ten bucks but you can get in free if you buy Linwood's new book, Fear the Worst.

The event is being put on by Words Worth Books in Waterloo and they've put up a good website with info here.

Then on Thursday, November 12th, I'm very happy to be part of the ECW Press Fall Lit Party.

It's at Supermarket, 268 Augusta Avenue (in the heart of Kensington Market) and starts at 7:30.

Also reading will be Sky Gilbert, Damien Rogers, Richard Rosenbaum and Mark Sinnett.

It'll be a lot of fun.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Everybody Knows - the paperback

I have a post up at the Do Some Damage blog to day about Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere's roundabout trip to paperback - which comes out this week.

And I want to thank everyone for all their support for that book, and for all my books. You're all fantastic.

It's here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Is He Vince?

So, my co-writer Dannis Koromilas and I are adapting Dirty Sweet into a screenplay.

So far so good.

We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but it's good to be optimistic (at least for me, makes those days where we have to cut out so many of my beautifully crafted scenes easier) so we're talking about our ideal cast.

And I'd like to know if people think that guy - Russell Peters - would make a good Vince.

If the movie gets made it's likely Russell will be in it somwhere. In Hollywoodspeak, Dannis has a "relationship" with him.

I think he'd make a terrific Vince.

One thing we really noticed breaking down the novel for the screenplay is that Vince doesn't do all that much, he mostly watches other people do stuff. He reacts.

When you watch Russell perform, a lot of his act is interacting with the audience - reacting to what people say. He's very good at it. He's one of those guys who can express an awful lot with very few words and a raised eyebrow.

So, what do yo think. Is he Vince?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Interview and Review

An interview I did a few weeks ago with my own publisher is up on their website now:[catpath]/john_mcfetridge_interview

An interview with your own publisher has to be the very definition of softball questions, but it is kind of fun.

Also this week, Scene magazine in London, Ontario reviewd Swap. There's no link, but I'm happy to post the whole thing here:

Following on the heels of the well-received 2008 release, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Canadian author John McFetridge returns to the gritty streets of Toronto with his newest novel, Swap. When a husband and wife are murdered in their car on a busy downtown onramp, their unusual deaths spark an investigation leading police into the darkest recesses of the city’s criminal underworld. All of a sudden Toronto the Good isn’t looking so good anymore, and in McFetridge’s vision, the multicultural metropolis seems to assume a personality all its own - brooding, worldly, corrupt. Typical demonstrations of underworld power are passé here, and biker gangs consisting of well-groomed men driving European sports cars or Hummers roam streets filled with peeler bars and massage parlors. On the other side of the tracks, the cops are in disarray – having been the subject of a recent internal affairs probe - and rifts have started to fracture the force. Detectives Price and McKeon find themselves following the finest thread of a lead in the married couple’s murder case to an exclusive Toronto swinger’s club, where their investigation really starts to pick-up steam. McFetridge’s readership will recognize some of the shady characters from his earlier book here – Richard, Nugs, J.T. - but that knowledge is hardly required to appreciate the story. The magic of the writer’s electric prose lies in his sense of pacing and his ability to create plausible dialogue between characters. McFetridge doesn’t judge their actions; he lays bare their motivations, and benefi ts from all the tantalizing narrative possibilities he finds there. Come to think of it, so do we. ~ Chris Morgan.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Two Reviews - one good, one bad

Last week the Winnipeg Free Press ran a negative review of Swap:

Torontonian John McFetridge shook the manicured trees of Hogtown complacency with last year's gritty cops-and-bikers saga, Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere. But he seems to have lost his GPS in Swap (ECW Press, 240 pages, $25), a grimy sequel that seems designed only to set off another round of "oh-we-bad" titters among the overreaching Big Smoke glitterati.

The corps of ethnically hued cops is back, but this time they're little more than aw-shucks narrators on the sidelines of a greasy show that's all about the bad guys.

McFetridge strives for whorehouse/grow op-in-the-burbs shock value, but it all just seems like a low-rent Sopranos episode, full of suburban mob angst and endless reminiscing about gang warfare past.

An unrelieved dumpster-dive into Canada's criminal underclass, Swap is just too earnestly exploitive, a sleazy travelogue for dirtbags

I think it's good to get some bad reviews. In this case it's tempered by the fact the reviewer also didn't like the new Dexter or the new Kathy Reich (full reviews here), but also I think I tried to write a book that didn't please everyone. If the book is going to be something that some people really like, it's also going to be something that some people really don't like.

Of course, that review is also tempered by a starred review in Canada's book magazine, Quill and Quire:

In Swap, John McFetridge gives readers an in-depth look into the world of organized crime in the form of outlaw biker gangs, and the difficulties law enforcement faces trying to quash them...The tension is palpable and the reader waits for the one spark that will ignite a bloody turf war...Swap’s dialogue displays much of [Elmore] Leonard’s sparkle, and the novel’s terse, staccato prose evokes [Ken] Bruen. But Swap is more than just the sum of its influences. It grabs you by the throat and squeezes until you agree to read just one page, just one more page.

You gotta take the bad with the good, right?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Street Performers

Do you like them?


You're walking down the street minding your own business and suddenly some guy is in your face juggling a bowling ball, a rubber chicken and a cross-country ski - is that fun?

Well, yes, sometimes it is. I've seen some great buskers. Some of the best musicians I've seen in my life have been playing in the subway or on the sidewalk ignored by almost everyone (and often by me).

This year at the CNE in Toronto we watched a guy try and do a routine that involved laying down on a bed of glass while someone stood on a bed of nails on his chest. I say "try" but actually the routine was good - it was just going on at the same time the planes were practising for the air show so everyone in the audince kept looking up to the sky.

All this is by way of explanation, of excuse, for how I got myself into a street performer's act in Dublin.

Normally if a busker asked me for help I'd run away. But here I was walking down Grafton street in Dublin with a video camera in my hand and I stopped to watch a guy set up his act. I kept the camera running. The act started. The guy was enthusiastic and funny but the audience was deadpan.

I started to feel for him. I was thinking about that poor guy at the Ex.

The next thing I know the guy on Grafton Street, Figo he calls himself - is standing in front of me asking to borrow my jacket. And to make it worse, he'd already asked another guy who refused. I could see this guy's act slipping away and I felt for him. I've given readings in front of two people, I know what it's like when the audience just isn't interested.

So I hand him my jacket.

And good luck to him, I think.

But the next thing I know, he's pulling me out in front of the audience.

Wait a minute, this isn't what I signed up for. My jacket, okay. I didn't even mind that he was joking how he might set it on fire while he did his trick with the cigarette (he was making it disappear, saying it would only take about five minutes as he smoked it. He also said he didn't actually smoke, that was just for his act - he was up to about thirty acts a day) but there was no way I'd go out there in front of the crowd.

But I do like to see a big crowd when I do a reading.

So maybe this busker and I were sort of in it together. I couldn't very well ruin his act, he's some guy trying to make a living.

The next thing I know I'm handing my video camera to a woman beside me and I'm in front of the crowd.

Maybe I don't like a big crowd for a reading. Maybe that intimiate connection between a writer and a single reader is the way to go.

Or maybe I should dress up in red tights and make cigarettes disappear.

Maybe not.

But Figo made the cigarette disappear and didn't even burn my jacket.

Great, now I can get off stage.

Oh wait, what's this? Now he's blowing up a balloon and saying he's going to swallow it. Good for him, I'll just get my camera back and film that, might even put it up on YouTube, the guy is pretty entertaining and what's this?

Now he wants me to walk around in front of the audience holding the balloon.

Did I mention the Bobby hat?

Then I probabkly also forgot to mention he's asked me to walk around looking as "butch" as I can.

The really sad thing, now that I see this picture, is that's exactly what I'm trying to do.

Before he swallowed the balloon, though, he put a rubber glove over his head and blew it up.

The rubber glove, I mean, not his head.

But really, he's just getting warmed up.

The big finale involves Figo laying down on a bed of broken glass.

And me standing on his chest.

Now it really feels like that poor guy at the Ex who couldn't get anyone's attention. I can't give up on Figo now.

As he's setting it up he asks me how much I weigh and I think does Ireland use that weird "so many stone" meaasurement because I have no dea how many stone I am and if I say ____ pounds will anyone get it and then I realize I'm not going to put a number on it, so I just say, "Too much."

He's a good performer, he can work a crowd and Figo goes with that. Makes a bunch of jokes that good Canadian diet and pats my stomach.

So here I am in front of a big crowd of people showing off my fat stomach.

Figo and I are no longer in this together. I am going to put my full weight (however many freakin' stone it is) on him. Oh yeah, baby.

He gets a kid out of the audience to help me balance.

He tells the sudience if they don't each put at least five Euro in his hat he'll go back to his old job of selling drugs to children and the kid who's supposed to help me balance says, "Can I have some."

This is the same kid who, when Figo said not to worry, he wasn't going to burn my jacket yelled, "Burn it."

Now I'm going to stomp on Figo and then punch this smarmy kid in the face.

But I can actually hear the glass crunching as I step on this guy. His face is red and he's tensed up every muscle in his body.

This is actually pretty cool, this guy is really trying to entertain this crowd.

And the kid manages to keep my huge body weight steady for ten seconds, so good on him, too.

Now I'm actually excited to be a part of the act.

The audience does a big countdown from 10 and when they get to, "Zero!!!" I step off.

Figo jumps up to accept the appluase and I see chunks of glass stuck to his back.

He's right, I think, that deserves five Euro.

Figo tells me it's only like two bucks.

All in all a pleasant afternoon in Dublin.

Though I can't help but think Peter Rozovsky comes to Ireland and he sees the hurling final, a once in a lifetime exciting game, and I get to stand on a man's chest.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Globe and Mail Review

It's always stressful waiting for reviews of a new book - or really just wondering if you'll even get any reviews.

I've been very fortunate with my books to have received generally very good reviews.

I must admit I've been surprised that Margaret Cannon of the Globe and Mail has been so supportive. I guess I've always felt that she usually favours more traditional mysteries with a central detective, lots of suspects, clues and a resolution. But the fact that I don't really have any of those things in my books doesn't seem to bother her.

Here's her review of Swap:

If you're interested in learning about the backside of Toronto the Good, Swap is a great place to begin. Drugs, guns, gangs and just plain nastiness hide in the suburbs, just outside the shiny city centre. For Vernard McGetty, a Detroit homeboy in search of lucrative partnerships, Toronto's biker gangs are a perfect fit. They deliver the dope, he delivers the guns. Of course, he's a bit mystified by bikers who ignore their Harleys in order to drive SUVs, but who cares about appearances?

While Get is planning his get, Toronto detectives Price and McKeon have a pair of dead bodies on their hands. The couple are Mr. and Mrs. Clean, not so much as a traffic ticket. Someone sailed by and shot them as their car headed up a freeway ramp. Who knows what company these nice family folk may have been keeping?

McFetridge has his difficulties keeping the plot moving, and some of the dialogue owes a bit to Quentin Tarantino, but this is a slick little story.

Pretty good, I think.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

In Stores Now

In Canada.

The official publication date is September 1st, but I was in my local bookstore yeterday and there was Swap.

It sort of feels like it's been snuck into stores in some kind of stealth operation. No reviews yet, but there is a fantastic blurb on the back from Ken Bruen:

"Swap is a stunning leap forward from an already fine author. This is John channelling Elmore Leonard at the height of his game and with dialogue Tarantino would kill for. A plot that moves lik Pulp Fiction but with a nice Canadian slant that keeps it fresh and different. John's creation of the African-American characters is like Sallis at his finest. With a wicked sense of humour that is irresistible, Swap moves Canadian mystery right to the top."

There's also a nice blurb on the back from Adrian McKinty and one from Tom Piccirilli.

Of course, I had a lot of help writing this book (and everthing else I've ever written) and I don't do those thank-yous in the books because I'll either leave people out or they'll be dozens of pages long but in this case I do want to make a special thank you to Patti Abbott for reading the manuscript and helping me with the Detroit references. I never would have come up with, "... a big house in Grosse Pointe, six bedrooms, a fucking library and a Sub-Zero on the patio in the backyard."

By the way, while I was in the bookstore I bought a first novel by Eugene Meese called A Magpie's Smile because Margaret Cannon gave it a good review in the Globe and Mail and it's set in Calgary in the late 70's and I lived in Calgary then. The wild west. It was booming then with tens of thousands of people moving in every month and I was one of them. I'm looking forward to the book.

And, one more time, here's the trailer for Swap.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Bridge in the paper

This morning I woke up to see my boss on the front page of the Toronto Star. That can be a good thing or a bad thing. In this case it was very good.

Craig Bromell is the Executive Producer and Creative Consultant on the TV show, The Bridge. It's really his show, based on his experiences as a Toronto cop and then as head of the police union.

The article is straitforward enough, but then the comments start. Right away you can see how polarizing a guy Craig was in Toronto. Great fodder for a TV show.

In the pilot episode the character based on Craig, Frank Leo, says, "All I ever wanted to be was a cop." When he sees the way cops are treated by the brass and the politicians, the way cops are always guilty until proven innocent and the way their own bosses will sell out the cop on the street - the ones in the line of fire - for cheap political gain, it becomes too much for him and he gets elected pesident of the union.

At that point the brass go after him hard, one deputy chief telling him, "Whenever the public sees a corrupt, out of control cop, they'll see your face."

So now the guy who only ever wanted to be a good cop becomes the poster boy for bad cops.

Quite the internal conflict for a main character. Lots of emotional stuff to deal with. It's the kind of show that may take a few episodes to really find its footing so it's great that CTV and CBS are fully committed.

The Toronto Star article is here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Creative Writing Classes

About twenty-five years ago I enrolled at Concordia University for English Lit and History. (a few years before that I'd tried a year of economics and, well, it didn't work out.)

I knew I wanted to write but I was unsure about creative writing classes. Can you learn to write, or do you just have to do it and hope you have "talent?" Concordia had a creative writing program and it seemed good, so I took some classes.

At the time, and for years after, I really didn't think the classes had much effect on me. Garry Geddes, a poet and now non-fiction writer, taught the short story class I took. He had us read our stories out loud. Only years later did I realize what a valuable tool this was for understanding how important voice is in fiction.

In the intervening years I've realized that I learned an awful lot in those creative writng classes. I don't know if the other people in those classes needed to learn as much as I did, but a few of them are very good writers today.

Michel Basilieres was the guy who told me about the Concordia program. His novel Black Bird, published by Knopf won the in Canada First Novel Award in 2004 and was nominated for the Steven Leacock Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book.

Tess Fragoulis was in that class with Garry and was probably the most fully-formed writer at the time. Her story collection, Stories to Hide From Your Mother, was published in 1997 and her first novel Ariadne's Dream (sex, drugs, Greek mythology) was published in 2001.

There was also a guy in that class named David McGimpsey who understood poetry more than anyone else in the program. I mean he understood poetry the way I understood hockey. And he frustrated the poetry profs by using that understanding to write epic poems about Gilligan's Island and baseball. David has published a few books, still in the "literary-pop culture" world. Sitcom is very good but my favourite is still Hamburger Valley California.

And now comes word that another person from that same class, Lisa Pasold, has her first novel coming out in three weeks. Lisa has published a couple of very good poetry collections, Weave and A Bad Year for Journalits and I've been looking forward to this novel ever since she let me read the manuscript earlier this year.

Rats of Las Vegas is about... you know what, she has a petty good book trailer explaining it:

And there's more info on her webpage.

So, I would say that maybe the gestation period for creative writing classes can be quite a while, but it's a good idea to study your craft.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mad Men week

It seems everywhere I look this week I see articles about Mad Men. Which is good, it's nice to see such a smart, well-written TV show getting so much press.

A lot of it seems to be the same, though, gushing fan stuff, so I was glad to pick up Jesse McLean's book, Kings of Madison Avenue.

Part episode guide, part history lesson and all fun, the book is an in-depth look at the show by someone who clearly loves it but isn't afraid to critisize it as well.

Of course, I don't get AMC so I'll have to wait until the third season gets released on DVD, but it seems worth the wait. It was nice of AMC to put last season's finale on their website to refresh everyone's memories.

Monday, August 03, 2009

New Blog

A little while ago I was asked if I'd liked to contribute to one of those group blogs like Muderati (which I really like) and I said, "yes," before I thought about it.

Now, I'm not too sure what I'm going to have to contribute (though the TV show gig has provided a lot of ideas for rants) but my day is going to be Wednesday.

The blog went live today with a post from Steve Weddle. The rest of the team is Jay Stringer, Dave White, Russell McLean, Scott Parker and Mike Knowles.

Looks like a lot of fun. You can find it at:

Saturday, July 25, 2009

One Week

My friend Alan Taylor came up with this challenge:

In the course of the next week, everything you ingest intellectually, books, TV, radio, film, magazines, papers, music will be written down.

Sounds cool, so I'm doing it. Started last night. I watched TV (I have a feeling this activity will show up more than I want it to). I saw the comedy/mystery show Castle which is good solid light entertainment and then the Dateline show about America's addiction to oil.

So far today I read the paper and bunch of blogs and I'm listening to classic rock on the radio. It's the 1969 weekend, to commemorate Woodstock, I guess, so there's been a lot of music from that year and from bands that were at Woodstock.

Okay, for one week:

Monday, July 20, 2009


Author Rafe McGregor interviewed me a couple of weeks ago and has the results up on his blog today.

Please check out Rafe's website where you can download (for free!) two audio short stories; The Long Man (featuring Sherlock Holmes) and Blue Mail a contemporary noir thriller.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Swap - catalogue copy

It's impossible to write a synopsis. Well, maybe it's just impossible to write a synopsis for your own work. You never focus on the right things, you over-explain the wrong parts or talk about the wrong characters.

Or maybe that's just me.

So the good folks at ECW wrote this fine synopsis which appears in their catalogue:

Detectives Price and McKeon are called to the scene — a husband and wife found slumped in their car, parked sideways on a busy downtown on-ramp, a bullet in each of their heads. That's what's in the papers, and that's all the public sees. Toronto the Good, with occasional specks of random badness.

But behind that disposable headline, Toronto's shadow city sprawls outwards, a grasping and vicious economy of drugs, guns, sex, and gold bullion. And that shadow city feels just like home for Get — a Detroit boy, project-raised, ex-army, Iraq and Afghanistan, only signed up for the business opportunities, plenty of them over there. Now he's back, and he's been sent up here by his family to sell guns to Toronto's fast-rising biker gangs, maybe even see about a partnership.

The man Get needs to talk to is Nugs, leader of the Saints of Hell. Nugs is overseeing unprecedented progress, taking the club national, uniting bikers coast-to-coast (by force if necessary), pushing back against the Italians, and introducing a veneer of respectability. Beards trimmed to goatees, golf shirts instead of leather jackets, and SUVs replacing the bikes. And now the cops can't tell the difference between bikers and bankers.

Detectives Price and McKeon? All they can do is watch and grimace and drink, and sweep up the detritus left in crime's wake — dead hookers, cops corrupted and discarded, anyone else too slow and weak to keep up, or too stupid not to get out of the way. This is Toronto's shadow city, and you won't recognize it.

That's pretty much what the book is about.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Inside Flap

ECW asked me to pull a 200 word section out of Swap/Let it Ride to put on the inside flap. "Should be more or less self-contained, and emblematic of the whole book."

Well, that' a bit of a challenge. So, I offered these three possibles. Which one do you think they should use?


"With gold you don’t have to worry about exchange

“But gold, it can go down.”

Sunitha sat up on the bed, cross-legged, right beside
Get, looking right at him. “And it can go up. It could be a
thousand bucks an ounce in a few months. It could be two
grand an ounce next year.”

“Or it could be shit.”

“No, honey, it’ll always be gold.”

Get took a drag, let out the smoke, and dropped the butt
in the coffee cup. He took his time turning back to look at
her and she waited, knowing he was interested. She
nodded, yeah, looking at him, he never even looked at her
tits, just looked right at her and said, “And you want it.”

“Yeah, don’t you?”

“You talking about stealing from these guys?”

“Yeah, why, you got a problem with that?”

He laughed. “Not if you think you can get away with it.”

“That’s the beauty of gold, you get it, you can take it

“Once you have it.”

She said, right, yeah, that’s the thing. “Once you have it.”

“And you don’t know where it is.”

“They don’t exactly advertise.”

“No,” Get said, “I don’t expect they do.”

Then Sunitha said, “But I bet you could find out,” and
Get laughed. She slapped his chest, harder than she
expected, but he didn’t budge, and she said, “This isn’t

“No? You don’t think so? Coming up with a plan to
steal a few million bucks worth of gold from guys whose
official motto is, what is it again? Oh yeah, ‘Three people
can keep a secret if two of them are dead.’ They have a
special club in the club, you have to kill somebody to get
into. You don’t think that’s a funny idea?”

She looked right at him and said, “Not if you get away
with it.”


The on-ramp to the Gardiner Expressway was closed; a
fire truck, an ambulance, and a cop car blocking the way,
and uniformed men and women from all of them standing
around smoking.

McKeon popped the siren a couple times and flashed
the headlights to clear a path in the traffic and pulled
right up to the ramp on Lake Shore, under the expressway.
One of the uniformed cops, a guy in his fifties, said,
“McKeon, you’re going to love this.”

She was already out of the car walking towards the
scene saying, “I am?”

The uniform, Dixon, said oh yeah, this is a good one.

“Guy was driving up the ramp, see?” The car, a brand-
new Dodge 300 with the big front grille and the little
windows making it look like a thirties gangster car, had
gotten halfway up the ramp, stopped, and rolled back,
turning sharply so its back end was against the left side
and its front end against the right, blocking the road.
Dixon said, “And pow, somebody shoots him in the

Closer now, McKeon and Price could see the passenger
window covered in blood splatter and the driver’s head
flopped onto the steering wheel.

McKeon saw the woman’s body, waist up on the
passenger seat, the rest of her on the floor, like she was
kneeling and slid off, as Dixon was saying, “Then they
popped the chick.”

Price said, “Holy shit.”

Dixon was laughing. “You know it, detective.”

McKeon walked around to where the driver’s side
door was open and said, “His pants are down.”

“And,” Dixon said, “get a load of her outfit, love the
fishnets. Getting a little road head, eh, couldn’t wait to get
to the room.”

Another uniform cop standing beside the car, younger
than Dixon but otherwise looked just the same, said, “Or
getting his money’s worth on the way.”

McKeon said to Price, “Great.”


“Okay, and how much do you think gets spent on
them in Toronto?”

“You mean all drugs? Pot and coke and X and stuff?”
and she said, yeah.

Garry said, “More than gets spent on movie tickets,
that’s for sure.”

“You really think so?”

“Come on, what do you think the average pothead
spends a week? Hundred bucks? You talking the whole
GTA, Hamilton to Oshawa?”


“Okay, that’s like four million people, maybe closer to
five, you go all the way up to Barrie, Guelph, all that? All
the potheads, anywhere from fifteen years old to fifty,
fifty-five, say it’s one in twenty.”

“Five per cent. You think that many?”

“How many people you know smoke dope?”

“How many do I know don’t?”

“Say it’s only one per cent, one dope smoker in a
hundred, that’s still like, fifty thousand.”

Kristina said, “Shit.”

“Times a hundred bucks a week, what’s that, like, five
hundred grand?”

“Try five million.”

“Hey,” Garry said, “that’s why you’re the money and
I’m the art. Then, you’ve got to add the partiers, the cokeheads
— I can’t believe people are still doing coke —”

“Are they?”

“Oh my God, get out more. And crack and X and
meth, you want to count all the speed at the casinos?”

“I’m trying to figure out how much money gets spent
on illegal activities a week.”

“Activities? You want to include hookers, escorts,
massage parlours?”

“Shylocks, are they still around?”

“Every club I’ve ever been in, and they are legion, had
a ‘partner,’” Garry actually making the air quotes, “came
in with the money.”

“So, it’s big.”

Garry said, “Honey, no city in the world could operate
without it. Nothing would get done. I thought the only
reason you were in the movie biz was to launder money.”

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Let It Ride cover - first draft

This is the first pass at a cover for my next book, Let It Ride (Swap in Canada).

I like it. The main thing we're talking about is the image of the guy. It's an ensemble story and there are some strong women in the book, too. Plus, I just like the idea of a woman on the cover.

Here's the opening of the book:

Chapter One

Coming off the Ambassador Bridge into Canada,
Vernard pulled up to the customs booth, the sign saying it
was the longest international suspension bridge in the
world. The tunnel would’ve been faster, but there was no
way he was going underground, underwater, gave him the
willies, worse than all those caves in Afghanistan.

The Canadian customs guy looked at him and Vernard
nodded, serious, seeing the guy’s Glock, thinking, shit,
these guys just started carrying guns a couple months ago,
probably couldn’t get it out of his holster. Fucking Canada.

The guy asked him all the questions, how long he was
staying, was he an American citizen, carrying any firearms?
Vernard showed him his driver’s licence and his
Armed Forces id, blue for retired—honourable discharge,
Sergeant Vernard McGetty. Said, “Not any more.”

“What’s the purpose of your trip?”

Vernard said it was a vacation. “I’m going to the film festival.”

The guy said, oh yeah, and it’s not business?

Vernard said, yeah, “I’m Jamie Foxx.”

The guy actually laughed and said have a nice trip,
waving him through, twenty-eight-year-old black guy from
Detroit driving a brand-new Mercedes ml370 suv, leather
interior and twelve-speaker surround on his way to
Toronto to meet with some bikers, sell them a truckload of
Uncle Sam’s guns and set up a pipeline for their coke and
weed back to Detroit, stepping up to the big leagues.

Fucking Canada.

Looking back he saw the U.S. customs guys just
waving people through, too; cars and vans and campers
and trucks. Fucking trucks, must be thousands a day,
going back and forth, couldn’t check them all. Couldn’t
check two per cent of them.

Shit, Vernard was thinking, turning up his system loud,
Little Walter finding his Key to the Highway, it’s easier to
cross this border into another country than it is to cross
Mack Ave into Grosse Pointe.

Through Windsor it was all Taco Bells and KFC and
Burger King, didn’t seem like another country at all
except for the place selling Cuban coffee, Vernard thinking,
right, that’s not the only thing from Cuba in there.

Outside of Windsor this part of Canada was flat and
bleak, farms, gas stations, fast-food places, and lots of
traffic. Vernard was surprised there could be this much
open space so close to Detroit, a foreign goddamn country,
and you’d never know it was there.

Four-hour drive, Detroit to Toronto, six lanes of steady
traffic going in both directions.

An hour in Vernard pulled into a gas station. Filled up
and parked in the back behind the Wendy’s with all the
trucks, shit, looked like hundreds of them all lined up. He
went inside and saw the guy he wanted sitting there eating
a cheeseburger and drinking a shake.

“You keep this up, you might get fat.”

The guy, three hundred pounds at least, his whole face
smiled, shaking his big bald black head, standing up and
saying, “Fucking Get, man, they let you in this motherfucking
country?” They hugged, backslapping, and sat
down across from each other in the little plastic seats.

“Saw your cousin on the news, man.”

The big guy, once Corporal Duane Thomkins, now just
Tommy K, looked off into the distance. “She so fine, all the
reporters want to talk to her, all dressed up in her fatigues.”
Vernard, sliding easy now back to being just Get, said,
“They knew what she was sending home, man, blow they
muthafucking minds.”

“You know it.” Tommy laughed out loud. Then he
said, “Eat up, man, next stop is all Mickey Dees.”

“I’ll wait till I get there.”

They walked out back to the truck lot behind the
restaurant, stopping to look at Get’s new car, Tommy
saying, “Motherfucking German-ass piece of shit, man.
Drive American.”

“What do you drive?”

“Fucking Peterbilt, man, 370, air ride, mp3, dvd, got a
satellite map, goddamn double bed. Look at these sorry-ass
motherfuckers; Volvos, Swedish fucking bullshit, Hino,
what the fuck kind of rice paddy piece of shit is Hino?”

Get said, “You’re loyal, Tommy, patriotic. That’s cool.”

They got to Tommy’s red Peterbilt hooked to a fiftythree-
foot trailer and he opened the door, saying,

“Fucking right I’m patriotic, man. Where’d we be without
Uncle Sam?” Climbed into the sleeper and came out with
a dark green duffle bag.

Get didn’t even look in the bag, he just hucked it over
his shoulder feeling the weight, nodding, yeah. “We’d be
some sorry-ass niggers.”

Tommy said, “No hassle at the border?”

“Guy was happy to see me,” Get said. “But you never
know, next time they could tear my car apart.”

“Shine that fucking Maglite up your ass.”

Get said, oh man, don’t even joke.

Tommy smiled again, that full of life-is-good enthusiasm,
and said, “Don’t sweat it, a million trucks a day, they
can’t look at every one. You got somebody crosses here
every week,” and winked. Then he said, “There’s only one

“Yeah?” Anybody else Get would have given a hard
time, matter of respect, but not Tommy. Get was the boss,
but Tommy would never really be an employee. “Guess I
just have to shoot the motherfuckers one at a time.”

Tommy said, yeah, make every shot count.

Get said, “You going to Toronto?”

“The Big Smoke?”


Tommy laughed. “Assholes call it that, looking for a
name, be cool, play with the big boys.”

Get hefted the bag, said, they playing with the big boys

“They don’t even know it. Naw, man, I’m going to
Montreal. Some fine French chicks there. And the food,
shit, food alone’s worth the drive. You should come.”

“Maybe next time.”

“You say that, man, but you all business, never take a
break. You still that skinny-ass nigger on the bike.”

“Yeah, but the Army made a man out of me.”

Tommy laughed and gave him a hug, saying, “You
fucking funny, you know it. Shit. Your mama be proud.”

“Thanks man.”

“Don’t have to thank me,” Tommy said. “You paying

Get said, yeah, but you’re worth it.

Tommy got into his rig and started it up, saying,

“Every penny.” He blew the air horn on his way out, and

Get walked back to his car, his German-ass suv.

Three hours to Toronto, see what it’s like, this Big
Smoke, wants to play with the big boys. Meet with these
bikers think they’re running the show, sell them this
weaponry, see if they really can deliver the meth and X
and coke and the tons of weed they say they can.

Get felt good, ready to really step up, make some
changes in the Motor City, make his mama proud.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Back to Books


We're getting close to the end of shooting the first season of The Bridge and I'm starting to think about writing books again.

Swap will be out in Canada in September from ECW Press and in the USA from St. Martins in April, as Let It Ride.

I'm now working on the next one, which I'm hoping will be called Tumbling Dice in both countries.

Here's how it starts:




The High had been back together and on the road for a couple of months playing mostly casinos when the lead singer, Clifford Moore, got the idea to start robbing them. Not the casinos so much, the shylocks working them.

    It was two in the morning, they'd played the Northern Lights Theatre at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee, nostalgia show with Grand Funk and Eddie Money, and Cliff was in a minivan in the parking lot getting a blowjob. Out the van window he saw the bass player, Barry Nemeth, walking between parked cars, looking around like somebody might be following him and putting a wad of cash in his jacket pocket. Cliff said, "What the fuck," and the soccer mom looked up at him and said, you don't like it, and Cliff said, no, it's good, honey, "Really good, I'm almost there." When he finished he signed another autograph, the mom saying the first time she saw The High was in Madison, must have been seventy-eight or seventy-nine, her and her friends still in high school sneaking into the show at the University of Wisconsin. She said, "It was you guys and Styx, remember? I had a crush on you ever since."

    Cliff caught up to Barry standing outside the tour bus having a smoke and asked him about the money, when did he have time to get into the casino, and Barry said, no, he didn't win it, he stole it.

    Cliff said, "You mugged somebody," and Barry said, fuck no, "The money's from a shylock. Come on," and got on the bus. Cliff started to follow, felt a hand on his arm and looked around to see two very hot chicks, had to be teenagers, but maybe legal, looked exactly the same; long blonde hair, tight jeans, low cut tees, like twins, same serious look on their faces and he said, "Hey ladies, looking for some fun?"

    One of the girls said, "No, we're looking for our Mom, she was talking to you before."

    Ritchie came up then, squeezed between the girls, shaking his head at Cliff, saying, "At least they're not looking for their grandma," and Cliff said, "Fuck you."

    On the bus Cliff walked past Ritchie and sat down beside Barry, saying, "What're you talking about, shylocks?"

    They were settled in then, heading to Niagara Falls, going to open for the Doobie Brothers and Barry said, "You know, loan sharks working the casinos."

    Cliff said, "They work for the casinos?" and Barry said, no, "They don't work for the casinos, they work at them. They cash cheques."

"We don't get paid by cheque," Cliff said, "it's direct deposit."

"They buy jewellery, cars, whatever. Usually the same guy sells the speed and meth."

"So how'd you get the money?"

"This guy, I sold him a microphone," and Cliff said, shit, "Now you have no mike," and Barry said it was one of Grand Funk's, "So the drummer doesn't sing back-up, so what?"

Ritchie walked down the aisle then, going into the bathroom right behind Barry and Cliff and Dale, the drummer, sitting across the aisle beside his wife Jackie said, "You take one of your monster dumps in there, you fucking hot bag it," and Jackie said, "Dale, please."

She looked across the aisle at Cliff and Barry and said, "What is it happens to you guys, you get on the road and you're teenagers again?"

Cliff said, "Again?" pointing at Dale, saying, "He ever poke you as much as that PS2," and Jackie rolled her eyes and looked away. She and Dale married nearly twenty years, she was the only wife left on the bus. Dale said, "Do not stink up this fucking bus, there's bags in there."

Now Cliff was whispering but nobody was listening anyway, saying, "They fired a roadie, it was you? How much you get?"

Barry said he got two hundred for the mike, five hundred for the Stratocaster he lifted from Eddie Money – guy never played it anyway -- and a hundred and fifty for the back-up singer's leather boots back at the Northern Lights Casino in Minnesota. Cliff said, shit, "That chick was so pissed off, man, that was a catfight, she went after the black one hard."

Cliff was looking right at Barry now and he said, "All this time we haven't seen each other, it's like I don't even know you anymore."

Barry said, yeah.

Cliff said, "They always have the cash to pay you, just like that?"

"Shit, these guys are mobile fucking pawn shops, they buy anything. They buy cars, it's all cash, people take it right back into the casino."

"Full service business."

Barry said, you know it. "This guy tonight, he probably had twenty, thirty grand on him. I'd like to get my hands on that," and Cliff said, what do you want to do, sell them the bus? But that's when he had the idea.

Ritchie came out of the bathroom, dropped a plastic grocery bag in the aisle between Cliff and Jackie and said, "Here, you want it so bad," and kept going back to his seat behind the driver.

Jackie said, "Oh for Christ sake," making a face like he dropped it in her lap and Dale reached past her, grabbed the bag, opened the window and threw it out in one motion, saying, "I'm not riding in a stinking bus."

Cliff said to Barry, "Twenty grand? You think so?"

"Remember that hockey player's brother, guy on the Red Wings, got picked up at the casino in Detroit, loan sharking?"

Cliff said, yeah, vaguely, he remembered something about betting on games, too, wasn't the brother a goalie? "Wasn't he tied to the Saints of Hell, the motorcycle gang?"

"Probably. Gotta be tied to somebody to work the casino. They picked him up, it was on the news, him and his girlfriend, had forty-five grand in cash on them, a pile of jewellery they'd bought, government cheques they cashed."

Cliff said, shit.

Barry said if they could get their hands on a big money item it would make the tour worthwhile and Cliff said, "This whole reunion thing was your idea, you think I wanted to get back on the fucking bus, ride with these assholes?"

Barry said, no, "You wanted to keep selling yuppies half million dollar fucking bungalows in Toronto, bust your hump seven days a week, suck up to everybody in sight, hoping they don't do the deal with their brother-in-law."

Cliff didn't say anything but he thought, yeah, the real estate was getting tough. Tough to get a listing, tough to keep a client, working eighteen hour days, always on call, working every minute of long weekends. He was ready when Barry called with this idea of putting The High back together, heading out on the road.

Cliff said, "Maybe you don't have to sell them anything," and Barry said, what do you mean? Cliff said he had an idea, but wait a minute and he went in the bathroom.

There was a plastic bag full of other plastic bags in the little sink and Cliff got one out and stretched it over the toilet seat thinking it was just like all the dog owners in his neighbourhood back home, always carrying bags, always ready to pick up the shit. Won't give the homeless guy in front of the Tim Hortons a dime for the newspaper he's trying to sell, but they get on their knees to pick up dog shit.

He started to undo his belt and thought, no, really just need to take a leak, this is just nerves, butterflies, but bad ones, worse than getting up on stage ever felt, and then realized, well, you start thinking about ripping off connected guys in casinos, it's got to give you some nerves.

Gives you a rush, too, though. Cliff pulled the bag off the toilet and started pissing, thinking, yeah, add twenty grand to what they were getting for a night on stage, putting the band back together starts to look like a great idea.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Short Stories

Today I was in a bookstore and I picked up these three books. It was only at the cash that I saw the similarities and the theme I was working with. It seemed like a punchline. What we have here is....

... the midlife crisis of a guy with a short attention span.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Half the writing team of The Bridge - Dannis Koromilas, me and Peter Mohan.

Clearly craft services is doing a top notch job on this show.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Bridge - Anytown North America

There's an article in the New York Times today about Canadian TV shows in the US and about "The Bridge" it says, While members of the Strategic Response Unit on “Flashpoint” sport Canadian flags on their jackets, “The Bridge” seems to be moving toward a more generic sense of place. “Cops are the same in Italy, Canada, Spain,” said the show’s star, Aaron Douglas, best known as Galen Tyrol in “Battlestar Galactica.” “I’m playing it like Anytown, U.S.A.”

The article is here.

In my novels the Toronto setting is very important. The way the city has emerged over the last twenty years as the biggest in the country and the financial centre affects the way the people interact. Those changes to Toronto's character (and the change to my hometown of Montreal over the same time - all those head offices and people moving from Montreal to Toronto, "Bill 101 or the 401" and all that, not to mention the move of organized crime from Montreal to Toronto) are, I hope, deeply ingrained in the novels.

But "The Bridge" has different themes that aren't as dependent on setting. The stories that inspire the show are from all over North America, the challenges for the citizens and the police are, as Aaron Douglas says, pretty much the same all over the world.

Setting is an important consideration in a novel or a TV show and it's more than just a patriotic stance. If you look closely, "The Bridge" takes place in Toronto, but it could take place in any big city in 2009.

My novels could only take place the way they do in Toronto.

I think these are the right choices for both "The Bridge" and my novels.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

More from The Bridge

Publicity is starting to heat up for The Bridge. Here's an interview with the star, Aaron Douglas:

I particularly like the part around 2:08 when he talks about how good the scripts are ;)

Of course, the credit for that really has to go to showrunner Alan Difiore and co-exec producer/writer Peter Mohan (as well as the other writers Tracey Forbes, Graeme Manson and Dannis Koromilas). I'm learning an awful lot from all of them.

Also, exec producer Craig Brommell keeps us honest and never lets us take the easy way out. We've only started to scratch the surface of his experiences as both a cop and the president of the union, but maybe more important is the attitude he brings.

It's very exciting as the show comes together. The cast really is good, Aaron Douglas is terrific as the beat cop-turned union president and the rest of the cast is excellent as well.

Aaron is right, I think, there's a lot of stuff here that hasn't been in previous cop shows. There are a lot of conscessions to the limitations of the real world - people can't do everything they want. Budgets are tight, manpower is limited, priorities have to be set - which all means some very tough decisions have to be made - usually on the fly.

July 9th, 10:00 pm.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Swap/Let It Ride

The new book will be called Swap in Canada and Let It Ride in the USA.

This is what the Canadian cover will look like:

I like it, it's really starting to look like a series. Well, in Canada, anyway.

Swap comes out in Canada in September (should be right around the time the epsiode of The Bridge that I wrote will be shown) and Let It Ride will be out in the USA in early 2010.

The artwork for the USA edition should be ready in about a month.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Reading at the TPL - Northern District

As part of the Keep Toronto Reading Lit Lunch program, I'll be reading at the Northern District branch of the Toronto Public Library, 40 Orchard View Boulevard on Thursday, April 30th at 12:30.

View Larger Map

If I can find three pages in a row from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere without too much sex, violence and profanity I'll read that. Otherwise I guess I'll be reading my kids' homework assignments.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Bridge - trailer

Here's the promo trailer for the TV show I'm working on, The Bridge.

This is what they give for the show synopsis:

It is the role of the police to protect society - but who is there to protect them? The police union has become powerless against the politically-motivated police department and street cop Frank Leo (Aaron Douglas) is sick of it. By popular vote Frank becomes president of the 8000 strong police union but makes many powerful enemies in the department along the way.

Inspired by the insights of a former police union head, The Bridge lays bare Frank's struggles - he not only battles criminals on the street but sometimes his own bosses and police force corruption, in order to protect his fellow officers and ultimately society.

That pretty much says it. It really looks like it's going to be a great show.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Lush Life and Google Street View

Richard Price's Lush Life is a fantastic novel for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is its incredible sense of place. The whole book pretty much takes place within a few blocks of New York's Lower East Side.

Now, I've never been to the Lower East Side and the book gave a complete feel of the place, but I was still a little curious to see the area, so I looked up one of the addresses given in the book, 27 Eldridge, on Google Maps and then hit the street view.

Google Street View has been controversial and I really don't know what to make of it, but it was very cool to spend a few minutes, "walking around," in Lush Life. It looks exactly the way the novel feels:

View Larger Map

So, what do you think? Is this something you're likely to try? Do you ever have a desire to see even more of a place you read about?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Writing episodic TV is like writing Haiku

Two weeks into my new job as the most junior story editor on the TV show The Bridge (premiering July 9th on CTV and CBS at 10:00 pm), one of the more experienced writers said, "Writing TV is like writing Haiku, you have to fit everything into the structure," and I thought, yeah, that's right, people don't complain that Haiku is too formulaic.

Then he said you could also use dirty limericks as the example, but that's not as classy.

The writers' room is a very funny place and a fun place to be.

It's quite different than writing novels. When I write a novel I start with a couple of characters I think would be interesting to follow and I follow them. I have a vague idea where they might take me, but most of the story emerges from the writing. I'm never sure exactly how the novel will end or even who will emerge as the main character. In Dirty Sweet there's an unnamed, low-level biker in one scene and he doesn't say anything, he's background. In Everybody Knows This is Nowhere he gets named J.T. and has some lines and some scenes. He's pretty much a main character in Swap. This was certainly no clever plan I had worked out in advance.

But the whole season of The Bridge (11 episodes actually, the pilot has already been filmed and is going to run as the first two episodes) is getting worked out in note form on a big whiteboard across an entire wall of the writers' room. All six story editors contribute to the outlines of every episode and the head writer (the Showrunner, in TV-speak) is the final word. Then each writer is assigned one or two of these detailed outlines and writes them up as scripts.

The speed at which all this happens is also making my head spin. I'd fallen into a schedule that worked around my kids' school schedule. They start school in September and I start writing a book. For the past couple of years I've been able to finish by June when they finished school.

We started outlining this TV show two weeks ago and the first episode we're working on will air July 23rd. When the producer told us this, I said, "July 23rd, 2010, right?" I was only half kidding. Filming starts in April.

So, everything has to fit. It has to be like Haiku.

Looks good so far.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Noir at the Bar T.O. style

I'm very excited to announce Noir at the Bar Toronto featuring Howard Shrier and Sean Chercover. Peter Rozovsky will be asking very tough, insightful questions (if his Noir at the Bar in Philadelphia with me and Declan is any indication).

Tuesday, March 10th at Scotland Yard Pub,56 The Esplanade, one block east of Yonge Street and one block south of Front Street.

7:30 pm.

Should be fun.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Bridge picked up by CBS

The TV show I'm going to start working on next week, The Bridge, has been picked up by CBS for broadcast in the USA, probably in the fall of '09.

A website called TV, eh has all the info.

I like this description of the show:

Written by five-time Gemini Award winner and six-time nominee Alan Di Fiore (DA VINCI’S INQUEST, THE LIFE, THE HANDLER), THE BRIDGE peels away the veneer of a big-city police force to reveal the political machinations underneath. After the rank and file unanimously vote street cop Frank Leo (BATTLESTAR GALLACTICA’S Aaron Douglas) into office as union head, he begins his quest to put street cops first and clean up the force from the ground up. But the old boys’ network running the police force and the city’s self-serving politicians are not about to sit idly by while a former street cop makes up his own rules. Frank walks a thin blue line as he battles wiretaps and a concerted campaign to bring him down, letting nothing stop him from fulfilling his unwavering vow that when cops are in trouble, he will be there.

Gemini Awards are the Canadian version of the Emmy Awards. Five-time winner, Alan Di Fiore. I'm looking forward to learning from him.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Flash Fiction Challenge: Pass It On

The challenge from Patti Abbott, Gerald So and the Mystery Dawg as explained by Patti:

Write the first paragraph of a story, send it to me by January 20th. I will stir the pot and send it back out to another writer. Write a 750 (or so) word story using it.

There's a list of all of today's stories on Patti's blog here.

Here's the story I wrote:

Cozy Noir


John McFetridge

The first time George Heartwell e-mailed the writer, Margaret Roberts, on June 22nd, he suffered all morning. He re-read the letter over and over and wished to hell he hadn't ever done such a stupid thing. Christ, what was she going to think?

Well, she was going to think she was being blackmailed, sure, but what would she think of the writing?

“There are cameras everywhere, Margaret, in phones, in pens, in computers - some even look like cameras. There was one on the eleventh floor of the Lord Baltimore Radisson at Bouchercon.”

He wanted it to be the fewest words possible, noir style, none of that purple prose like her cozies. Her bestselling-around-the-world cozies.

Now here it was almost winter and George was driving highway 21, looking for the entrance to a closed provincial park for his meeting with Margaret. They’d gone back and forth for months, she’d answered his email with a simple, “What do you want?”

That surprised him, he’d expected a denial or some excuses, some convoluted story about it being a misunderstanding, how there was nothing going on really, but she got right to the point. Not very cozie-like at all.

She must’ve read his hardboiled flash fiction online.

Back then George’d wanted to get her help with agents and publishers but she pointed out their writing didn’t really have anything in common, people would suspect something was going on between them if she started showing his work around – her husband would find that suspicious for sure.

So he settled for money and Margaret asked him to meet her at the Ipperwash Provincial Park on Lake Huron. It had been closed since a group of Native protestors took it over claiming it was on native lane – it probably was for all George knew – and Margaret and her husband lived in an old farmhouse somewhere nearby.

He’d expected more trouble getting into the park but he just drove in like Margaret told him in her email. Typical Canada, there was a sign that said, “Closed,” but no locked gate or anything. He drove a few miles through the woods until he came to the Park Store, the building boarded up and falling apart. The parking lot was surrounded by trees, the perfect location for a drop. Well, not perfect like it would have been in one of George’s books, some back alley all gritty and dark, or a massage parlour.

George parked and waited. He had a copy of Margaret`s latest book with him and he thumbed through it. The author photo was pretty good, she looked great for a woman a little over fifty and he liked the first page; a woman walking her dogs comes across a guy who committed suicide in his car, attatched a vacuum hose to the exhaust pipe with tape and ran it through the trunk.

Everyone bought the suicice except the woman walking her dogs. George couldn’t believe these cozies, amateur sleuths, the woman was a professional dog walker and now she’s investigating a homicide. Who buys this crap?

He was well into the book when a dog barked and he almost had a heart attack.

There was Margaret Roberts, walking out of the woods behind two dogs, a big German Sheperd and some small fluffy thing. Maybe that photo wasn’t retouched, she looked good.

George got out of his car and said, hey. Margaret nodded at him, said, hello, as she was opening the black bag she had over her shoulder. It was the bag from Bouchercon, the Charmed to Death logo in white, the bracelet with the little charms, the skull and the gun and the switchblade.

She took out a thermos and asked George if he’d like some tea. He said no and Margaret said, “How about a little Bushmills then?”

“Sure, why not.”

Margaret poured a little into the thermos lid and handed it to George. He drank and coughed a little and said, “Very good.” Then he said, “Do you have my money?”

“Get right to the point why don’t you?”

George drank the rest of the Bushmills and Margaret poured him some more, saying, “Don’t you think it’s beautiful out here?

George said, “I guess,” and Margaret said, “Not like one of your hardboiled stories, of course, but like a cozie.”


“I suppose people get blackmailed in hardboiled stories all the time?”

George said, yeah they do. He couldn’t believe this chick, hadn’t she ever read Hammet? Or even Robert B. Parker?

“People sometimes get blackmailed in cozies,” Margaret said. “But do you know what happens more often?” She was looking right at him now but going out of focus, saying, that’s right, “They get poisoned.”

George’s knees started to give way and he was falling over, his face hitting the gravel hard but he was already numb.

He could see Margaret getting something out of the black Charmed to Death bag, a vacuum cleaner hose and a roll of tape.

She said, “Not everyone gets published George, it’s no reason to kill yourself.”



Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Bridge

Recently at a discussion panel of true crime writers, one of the questions asked was, "Have you ever been threatened by any of the people you've written about?"

Most of the writers on the panel had written books about some really dangerous people; serial killers, hitmen, bikers and high ranking organized crime figures.

But the guy who answered the question said, "The only time I've ever been scared or threatened was by cops." The others all agreed. These experienced, award-winning journalists-turned-authors had all at some point been scared by police.

Which brings me to my new job. I've been hired as one of the writers on a new CTV cop show, The Bridge. The show is based on a cop who was head of the police union in Toronto, the self-professed, "most powerful cop in the country." The show was apparently pitched as, "What if Tony Soprano was a cop?" In this case he's a cop who helps other cops, gets them out of trouble and stands up for them to the brass.

Which could make for some very cool and controversial storylines.

Especially if cops are the scariest people those journalists have ever dealt with.


Saturday, January 31, 2009

Locations Map

A little while ago on CrimeSpace we had a discussion about using Google Maps for research.

It got me thinking, so I made up a Google Map with the locations from Dirty Sweet, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and even some from Swap marked.

Another thing about the map that I find cool is that if you view it in photo mode you can see hundreds of pictures that other people have taken and uploaded. Many of the photos are a little more "tourist board," than my books, but they do give a feel for Toronto.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Future of Publishing

Over at his blog, Jason Pinter is running a series on the future of publishing.

He asked people for suggestions and mine is one of the ones up today. I said that all versions of a book should be available at the same time; hardcover, trade, mass market, e-book, audio - whatever the customer wants.

It looks like it should be a good discussion.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Free e-book

Some of the links to flash fictions over there --> weren't working anymore, so I put up a link to the whole e-book.

There is still a raging debate among writers giving away their work for free and I can see both sides of it, but I finally came to realize that there is a very good crime fiction community online and writing and sharing stories is one of the best things about it. I wanted to do what I could to support the great 'zines people were putting so much effort into like Spinetingler, MuzzleFlash, Powder Burn Flash, Hard Luck Stories, Demolition Magazine, Shred of Evidence, A Twist of Noir and also the flash challenges put together by Patti Abbott, Gerald So and the Mystery Dawg.

So that's where all these stories first appeared.

There are also a few interviews, stuff I did with Peter Rozovsky at Detectives Beyond Border, Declan Burke at Crime Always Pays and Linda L. Richards at January Magazine.

I'm thinking about including some of these stories and flash fictions in the paperback versions of my novels, kind of like the "bonus tracks" on CDs.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Go With Me and The Murder Stone

Last October on the way from Toronto to Baltimore for Bouchercon, Declan Burke and I stopped in Brattleboro, Vermont and spent a very pleasant couple hours in Mystery on Main Street bookstore with the owner, David, and a few friends. It's a great place.

As we were leaving I looked at the table of 'local authors,' and asked David to recommend a book. He mentioned a few and I bought, Go With Me by Castle Freeman Jr. I think I chose it because the 'about the author' said Castle Freeman, "Has been a regular essayist for the Old Farmer's Almanac," and I've never seen that on a novel.

On the weekend I finally got around to reading the book and it's fantastic. The flap says:

The Vermont hill country is the stark, vivid setting for this gripping and entertaining story of bold determination. The local villain, Blackway, is making life hellish for Lillian, a young woman from parts elsewhere. Her boyfriend has fled the state in fear, and local law enforcement can do nothing to protect her. She resolves, however, to stand her ground, and to fight back. A pair of unlikely allies – Lester, a crafty old-timer, and Nate, a powerful but naive youth – join her cause, understanding that there is no point in taking up the challenge unless you’re willing to “go through.” In this modern-day drama, a kind of Greek chorus – wry, witty, digressive; obsessively, amusingly reminiscent; skeptical, opinionated, and not always entirely sober – enriches the telling of this unforgettable tale as the reader follows the threesome’s progress on their dangerous, suspenseful quest.

Which is all true, but the incredible writing style adds so much. Direct, clear, not a wasted word. The book's only 160 pages and there's more insight into the characters than in most books four times the length.

One of the old guys, Whizzer, tells a story about some loggers who disappeared one winter. They were from Quebec and knew how to live in the woods, so it must have been foul play, but they were never found.

That passage got me thinking about another book I read recently that mentioned guys from Quebec working in the woods, Louise Penny's The Murder Stone, the fourth Inspecter Gamache mystery. A much different book, I'd say that Louise Penny's novels are very much traditional small village murder mysteries, "cozies," set in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, but they're also completely modern because of the completely modern characters.

The opening of The Murder Stone describes the Manoir Bellechasse, built more than a hundred years ago by the robber barons of Montreal, Boston and New York. Well, as it says, "They didn't actually dirty their own hands. What clung to them was something else entirely. No, these men hired men with names like Zoétique, Télesphore and Honoré to hack down the massive and ancient forests."

The locations of these two books are only seperated by a few hundred miles, but also by an international border and some very different cultures. The writing styles here are very different, too, but I found them both to be fantastic.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Graham Powell has been kind enough to list this blog on CrimeSpot (thanks Graham!), so I think I should try something a little more than self-promotion.

This year I'm the vice-president of the Crime Writers of Canada. I like the organization, it's small but it's coast to coast in Canada and a pretty diverse bunch; from international bestsellers Linwood Barclay, Louise Penny, Giles Blunt and Peter Robinson to "pre-published" members.

We hold our Annual General Meeting at the Bloody Words Convention which this year will be in Ottawa from June 5th to 7th.

The CWC represent crime writers at events like BookExpo and Word on the Street, we publish a catalogue of member's books, send out a newsletter and notices of member's book launches and readings and organize the Arthur Ellis Awards for crime writing in Canada.

So far in my vice-presidency all I've managed to do is talk to the folks at Sony about a discount on their e-reader for our members (right now it looks good, more info to follow).

My question now is, what do people look for in writers' organizations? What should we be doing at the Crime Writers of Canada to better serve our members and maybe even to get more members?

Of course, this wouldn't be my blog without a little self-promotion, so I'll just say that yesterday Thomas Dunne Books agreed to publish Swap in the USA in early 2010. I'll have more on that soon.