Sunday, October 30, 2011

Festival Island

One of the best parts of the Vancouver International Writers Festival, besides the fact I got to hang with some great writers, is that everything takes place on Granville Island. Located in the middle of the City of Vancouver, Granville Island is a hip and happening place, full of shops, restaurants and wondrous views of Vancouver. Just seeing the lights of the city reflected off the water at night is worth the trip on its own.

But having everything you need within walking distance is fantastic. Instead of jumping in a van to travel to another part of the city for your events, you only have to walk a few minutes. Writer Central of the VIWF is the Granville Island Hotel. On the eastern corner of this triangle shaped island, the Granville Island Hotel is one of those little boutique hotels, only about 3 stories tall, with a brew pub in the middle. The restaurant is called Dockside and as it names suggests, it had a fantastic view of the dockside. There's also a uptown style lounge with the same view. But most of the writers didn't hang out much at these restaurants. Literary festivals always have a hospitality suite with free booze and snacks. Open after 8 pm, it was the place to hang with writers of all kinds. The beer was from the Sea Dog Microbrewery and while the Amber Ale was excellent, I fell in love with the Dark Lager. I'll look for both at my local beer store, which has over 800 varieties of beer.

During the day, there were plenty of other restaurants and lounges, all, as I said, within walking distance of the hotel. We ate a couple of times at Bridges, an upscale place that mostly served seafood. And since this is Vancouver, the seafood was excellent. Bridges also served beer from the Granville Island Brewery. The IPA went perfect with some rock fish. For the rest of the time, we headed to the Public Market. Plenty of food options there from fresh veggies and fruit to hot meal. My fave was Al A Mode, which had pies of all kinds, savoury and sweet; and the salmon burger. Can't visit the Public Market without having the salmon burger.

When I was at events and hanging with writers during the day, my family hung out at the Kids' Market, a open air building full of shops with toys, puppets, clothes, etc. for kids. You can spend loads of money there if you want, but just window shopping is fine. And if you want to get off the island, grab one of the bathtub ferries and either walk downtown or along the seawall. Stanley Park is about a half hour away.

Hope I'm invited back to VIWF cause I had a great time.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Brunch and Dead Bodies

I had two events at the Vancouver International Writers Festival. The first one, I've talked about, the crime event. The second, the Sunday Brunch, was called the Festival's premiere event by artistic director Hal Lake. I was expecting tough crime talk at my first event and a more genteel atmosphere at the Brunch. I thought my reading of Chapter 1 of Fall From Grace, was going to be creepy read, with talk of a dead body and all.

I was completely wrong. The event opened up with the sweet Gayla Reid reading from her new book, Come From Afar. Set around the Spanish Civil War, her reading was full of powerful images of war and loss, and love. Very strong stuff for brunch. Second up was Nicole Lundrigan. I was big fan of her novel Thaw and was keen to hear her read. She is also a very nice and sweet mother of three. But her reading, about a guy in Newfoundland obsessed with boys, was very creepy, and gave me shivers.

I was third, the only dude in the group, and I walked onstage with a glass of mimosa in hand, trying to perpetuate the hard-nosed crime writer stereotype. I had some fun with it and read Chapter 1. A great response from the crowd (the festival sold out of Fall From Grace) but I was a bit disappointed that my dead body scene wasn't the creepiest bit read that day. Anita Rau Badami read next and her section had more than one dead body in it. Fellow Edmontononian Marina Endicott and Australian Cate Kennedy wrapped up the brunch. I've heard Marina read so much from her new book that I've almost heard the whole thing. And Cate, I just met her the night before and there is just something great about Australian writers; they are just so down to earth people that you feel like you've known them all your life.

Like I said, sold out of books but I was completely surprised that the Sunday Brunch event had more talk about death and dead bodies than the Crime Time one.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Crime Time and Marauding Vikings

The Crime Time event at the Vancouver International Writers Festival was fantastic. I sat onstage with four great crime writers: Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson, Stuart MacBride and Denise Mina. Ian, Stuart and Denise are all from Scotland and since my family is partly comes from the Shetland Islands, I wondered out loud in the green room before the event, if I could be considered Scottish. Nope, said the three Scots firmly. "Just a bunch of marauding Vikings," said world-wide bestseller, Ian Rankin.

Onstage, the banter continued as the four of us talked about writing, crime fiction, etc. There were 450 or more people in the audience, and as we were introduced, I felt a bit nervous. As per usual for this size of crowd, we could only see the first three rows. The rest were in darkness but you could feel their presence. So for a moment, I worried I would mess up. But as soon as my turn came to speak first, I slipped into my onstage ex-punk rock drummer, now bigtime writer mode and had fun. Peter Robinson did a fantastic job as the moderator, keeping us on track and asking some fantastic questions. Denise was brilliant and hilarious poking fun at Ian for not reading Tolstoy while also jabbing Stuart for living in Aberdeen. Stuart was also quite funny and erudite jabbing back. Ian was a little more deadpan, but still had a lot to say about the place of crime fiction in the world of the novel. It seems that if Ian Rankin wants to learn about a culture, I mean really learn about a culture, he reads its crime fiction first. Excellent point. Lots of stuff was also said and though I was initially concerned about my place on the panel, I held my own and made a lot of new fans, even including those who shared the stage with me.

Here's a photo of me, Peter and Stuart after the event. No picture of me with Denise or with Ian but they were very busy signing books and talking to fans.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Poking the elephant

How was my appearance at the Crime Time event at the Vancouver International Festival of Authors? According to this blog, I guess I poked an elephant.

Actually, it was a lot of fun, a group of great writers (Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, Stuart Macbride, Peter Robinson and myself) talking about writing, crime fiction, some weird UK celebrity named Katy Price and how Ian Rankin hasn't read Anna Karenina. Neither have I for that matter.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Opening Act

Sometime in the late 90s, I was the drummer of a punk rock band in Edmonton. We had a decent following and made a bit of a name for ourselves locally. One summer, we were asked to open for the Suicide Machines, a major label punk band from Detroit. This was going to be a huge show locally because the Suicide Machines were touring with the Mad Caddies, a California ska band on Fat Wreck.

I recall there were about 500 people jammed into the venue, The Rev. The temperature outside was around 34 degrees C and it was even hotter inside because the AC was busted. Just standing at the bar was enough to make you sweat, so imagine what it was like behind my drums, underneath all those lights, with the heat of the crowd in front of us. Since I was in my late 30s at the time, I was probably the oldest person in the room. The other two guys in the band, Mark and Stacey, were younger than me but also in their early 30s. I knew there were some in the crowd who didn't like us, who thought we were posers because we were so much older than the average punk. Of course, many didn't realize that because of our age, we had been in punk rock bands for almost 20 years.

But we didn't care. And the heat didn't stop us. Mark hit the guitar intro for our first and then Stacey and I jumped it. We had another guitarist at the time, but he had to work that week out of town and couldn't make it. But no matter, the three of us had been playing together for almost 5 years so we were pretty tight. One of my greatest musical memories was that moment right after our first song. I hit my both my crash cymbals, and a half second later, a huge roar came up from the crowd. I waited for a couple of second, soaking the sound in, and then counted in our next song. The whole 40 minute set was like that. Big cheers after each song.

I tore my drums done pretty quickly to make room for the Caddies and then dashed through the crowd to get some fresh air. Like I said, it was about 34 C outside but it felt so much cooler. A bunch of other folks were out there, cooling off and having a smoke, and they all commented on how great our set was. A couple of folks who had hated us or at least questioned our "punk cred" prior to that show told me later that they changed their minds about our band because of that night. Two years later, Mark and I ran into the guys from the Suicide Machines at the Warped Tour and recognized us from that show. But by then, the band had broken up and we were already onto different things.

I'm writing about that night over a decade ago because in a couple of days, I'll be at the Vancouver Writers Festival. I have two events but the big one is the Crime Time Panel October 21 with Ian Rankin, Stuart McBride and Denise Mina, with Peter Robinson moderating. These are big names in crime fiction, Ian Rankin being the biggest one; he's responsible for more than 10 percent of all crime fiction books sold in the UK. He's also supposed to be a nice guy and like me, is an old punk rock musician. Almost 500 tickets have been sold for our panel. So like that Suicide Machines set long ago, I know most of the people at the Crime Time event this Friday will not be there to see me. Most of them have never heard of me. But like that Suicide Machines show, I won't sit back and let the big bands get all the applause; I'll make sure they won't forget me.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Is There Too Much Sharing?

When I first became a "Big Time Writer" I was told by many that I should establish a blog and start writing about myself. "Talk about your likes, your dislikes, the things that happen in your life, the good and the bad," I was told. "Discuss your family in detail, introduce them, along with photos to the people who read your blog, share as much as you can about yourself so people, hopefully your fans, can connect with you."

And as I read other blogs and heard some other writers talk about their blogs, I noticed that there was a lot of sharing going on. People had photos of their kids, their pets, their cars. They opened up completely about their lives, their emotions and their mental and physical states. They shared their joys when something great happened, their grief when something bad and everything in between. It seemed there was a lot of sharing going on.

I thought about following that route, to be open about everything in my life, but it just didn't seem right. It's not that I'm not open to sharing my emotions and all that, but I'm pretty selective about who I share those things with. I'm not the kind of guy who walks up to a perfect stranger and talk about my most private moments or thoughts. Only a few people get that. At the same time, I'm pretty gregarious to strangers and do like to joke with people and tell stories, especially to an audience of readers. Not to brag, but I've done some interesting things in my life - punk rock drummer, semi-professional clown, journalist, etc., - so it's nice to share those kind of stories. Along with stories of writing, life on the road as a writer, traveling, food, beer, etc.

But there's a boundary between my public persona and my private one. And I do my best not to cross it too much. Personally, I think there is too much sharing going on, too much information about people that I don't really need or want to know. And there are times when it crosses too far for me, when people start sharing almost everything about their family members, especially their kids. Soon, it becomes some version of The Truman Show in which many children nowadays have hugely public lives because of the sharing from their parents, and these kids have no idea it's going on. I know when I was a kid, if my parents did that to me, I'd be mighty pissed off once I got older.

So I've said this before and I'm going to say it again: if you're looking for a lot of personal sharing from me in this blog, you ain't going to get it. I'll talk about things (especially more these days), about my writing, about certain trips I'm planning on taking, certain foods or beers that I enjoy, stuff like that. But that's about it. The rest is off limits

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Traveling to Vancouver, Book Promo tied with family trip

In a week, I'll be jetting off the Vancouver for the International Writers' Festival.

It's going to be a great time cause we'll be staying at the Granville Island Hotel which I've heard is fantastic place from my Edmonton writing friend, Thomas Trofimuk. Maybe I might even get a few travel stories out of the trip.

I'm also scheduled for two great events, both of them already sold out so I'll be out there promoting Fall From Grace in front of some big crowds.

The first event is Friday, Oct. 21 at 10 am. It's a major event called Crime Time. Little ole me will be on a panel with three Scottish writers, Denise Mina, Stuart MacBride and... wait for it... Ian Rankin! Holy cow. Those first two are great writer in their own right but Rankin is the bestselling mystery writer in the UK. A friend who works in a local bookstore has asked me to get Mr. Rankin's signature so it's nice that I'll be able to help a local supporter of books in Edmonton. It even gets better because acting as moderator is Peter Robinson, writer of the bestselling and award-winning Inspector Banks series. I'll do my best to hold my own in this crowd of great writers and hopefully most folks already have books by the other writers and will decide to buy mine.

A couple of days later, I'll be part of another great event, the Sunday Brunch. This may be a more genteel event with a bit a cantaloupe at the end, but it's still going to be a lot of fun. I'm the only male writer in the group so maybe I'll garner some extra book sales from that, who knows. But I'll get to meet Nicole Lundrigan and tell her in person how I loved her book, Thaw. And then buy here new one, Glass Boys and get her to sign it. And I'll also get to share the stage with Marina Endicott, another Edmonton writer who has been shortlisted for the GG for fiction. I like Marina, she's a great writer and a great person.

And even though I'll be hanging with my family for part of the trip, I'll do my best to also hang with writers. Russell Banks will also be there and I remember having drinks with him, and other writers like Garth Nix and Joan London, two nights in a row in Calgary at Wordfest several years ago. I wonder if he'll remember me.

I'll also be updated this blog more because of the festival and will include photos.

Friday, October 7, 2011

I know I should be writing my third Leo Desroches novel, even though my publisher hasn't bought it. But I've had this idea for another mystery novel for several years and have to get it out. It's set in World War 2 in a POW Camp near Lethbridge in southern Alberta. Canada had a bunch of these camps, the biggest ones in southern Alberta, holding over 10,000 German prisoners. In my research I found a photo of the camp with Lethbridge in the distance, and the camp is almost the same size of the city. Incredible. And since the camp was so big, the Canadians let the Germans run it themselves under their own military structure. Anyway, the story is about German prisoners being murdered, mostly for being traitors. One of the POWs, who is head of security in the camp, realizes that some of the victims weren't really traitors and were killed for other reason. So he has to find the killer without pissing off the Nazi leaders of the camp and being branded a traitor himself. Finished Chapter 1 and surprised myself but creating a sidekick. Anyway, I'll be working on that and hope to get at least half of it done before the end of January, when I plan to take a tropical holiday with my family. I work fast.