Friday, December 22, 2006

Thank You For Crimespot

When Graham Powell came up with the idea for Crimespot, it was one of those ideas that you made you jump and say, "Yes, count me in!"

The plan was to "round up crime and mystery fiction blogs from all over the Internet and summarize them in an easy-to-read format."

He launched the service on Friday, January 20, 2006. Aside from a few computer related ups and downs, it's been a rock solid method for quickly sifting through everyone's favourite crime blogs, and a first port of call for many writers and readers alike.

The amazing thing is that Graham put together the service and kept it running for a whole year out of his own pocket and time.

On behalf of all crime bloggers and readers out there, I'd like to say thank you, Graham. Your efforts are very much appreciated.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Uncle Dan

Let me try that again: Uncle Dan.

That's what you can call me from now on. All because this little fella that goes by the last name of Ortado was born to my sister Laura and her husband Michael at 5.40pm on Monday 18 December, 2006.

I suppose this means I'll have to make sure I can get him good, clean drugs, weapons that are untraceable, and computers that are virus free.

That's what uncles do, right?


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Standouts Of The Year: 2006

Much like the effect of a good thick ale on the brain cells, the holiday season is winding down my writing. The novel is moving along at the rate of paragraphs a day and I haven't posted in a whole week.

My writing may have slowed down but my reading has picked up. Something I started doing early last year is keeping track of every book I read. Seeing all the titles in a list helps me to pick what type of book I feel like reading next.

Last year I read a total of 22 books, but this year I made a more concerted effort to raise that figure. Regular reading has probably improved my reading speed as well and the total of 38 books this year attests to that.

Plenty of those books were well written and worthy of praise, but some gelled with me more than the others. I can put myself back into their worlds with the simple reminder of a character's name or a scene or title.

And here they are.


Although I prefer Temple's Jack Irish novels, there's something about this one that resonates. I can picture myself in Port Munro as Detective Senior Sergeant Joe Cashin, living with two dogs and working on my property, trying to resurrect one of its buildings. Temple's spare prose perfectly captures the laconic rhythm of speech and mood from the smaller parts of Australia.


As an aspiring crime writer, it's dangerous for me to read Bruen's work, but I make sure to savour it at regular intervals. This Jack Taylor novel had a better mix of humour and hardness than THE GUARDS. The ending absolutely blew me away. Luckily I have quite a few Bruen novels to catch up with before I get to the stage where I have to wait to read more. I want to be Bruen when I grow up.


Willeford's writing style is something I haven't seen anywhere else. He gets into my head, feeding off my thoughts, presenting the story of four Miami boys getting into serious trouble in a way that makes me feel part of the action. And that title. Just try to tell me you've heard one better.


Tribe slapped me upside the head to make sure I got off my arse and rescued this from a teetering pile of books-in-waiting. Tribe was right, Kubrick was right ("Probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered."), and Thompson was right on the money with this cold piece of work.


Hard Case Crime's cunningly disguised Charles Ardai wrote this spot-on example of how a PI novel can still work in our day and age. Holding the little paperback and smelling its pages while reading was a modern retro joy. And the story was so good I wrote a one sentence summary of each scene so I could see how the whole thing flowed.

Malcolm Gladwell: THE TIPPING POINT

Some great ideas in this, although I'd come across many of them in James Gleick's CHAOS. Here they're transplanted onto people and marketing in clear prose in a small book. Since I've read it, I can't help classifying people as Mavens or Collectors ... read the book and you'll understand.


While some of the internal monologue is repetitive, the whole idea and execution of Dexter, the good-guy serial killer is just plain fun. And now there's a TV series of the show that's even better.


This is the book that inspired me to include the supernatural in my next novel. As the story progresses it becomes more and more uncomfortable and eerie, with a noir sensibility throughout. With one book I've become a Sara Gran fan for life. I'll get crucified for this, but I think it's even better than her following novel, DOPE.


I've written my own review of this already, so I won't repeat any of that here. But I will say that it's the very real emotional impact of this book that has made it stick with me.

Charlie Huston: ALREADY DEAD

Finished this one only last week and it's one of the few books that had me moving through at least fifty pages without being aware of time or hunger. The combination of vampire and PI novel is something that completely tickles my fancy. But then, I am half Romanian. The sequel for this one is out very soon so my credit card is ramped up and ready to go.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Is Your Mobile Bugging You?

What better way to return to my normally NaNo-free scheduled blogging than to link to something someone else has written.

Gary Hughes has an article up over at his Gotcha blog filled with potential plot fodder for a techno-thriller, if that's your kind of bag. If it isn't, you're probably paranoid and want to know more about it anyway.

"Counter-surveillance consultant and former US government electronic intelligence officer James Atkinson told CNET that software, which would remotely activate a phone’s microphone and turn it into a bug, could be downloaded on to a mobile without the owner being aware. “They can be remotely accessed and made to transmit room audio all the time,” he said. “You can do that without having physical access to the phone."

Friday, December 01, 2006


Thank Goat it's over.

But I'm not stopping.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

NaNoWriMo: The Interview

The power of the internet is fickle and indiscriminate, so much so that even failure can bring fame. Less than a week before the end of NaNoWriMo, and I've already been interviewed.

You can read the roasting put together by the deft keyboard fingers of Sean Lindsay, over at 101 Reasons To Stop Writing. He sucked me in by calling me ruggedly handsome (I think he saw the picture of a robot mailbox) and then put up my answers to his questions unedited.

In honour of him finding out my darkest and worst kept secret (the one about my Danny Hawaii series only having one story), I've now updated my biography and removed the offending evidence from my entire website.

That oughta show him.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

NaNoWriMo: The Final Week Begins

Last weekend I had the quite sensible plan of catching up on the 5K I needed to get back on target. Saturday went alright--I wrote a few hundred extra words, but on Sunday I didn't even fulfill the day's minimum quota. I just stopped writing. And I haven't written a word since.

The reason? I'm writing a novel, not trying to hit a word target. The whole NaNoWriMo thing was something that both Stephen and I were using to get our arses moving on our WIPs. That's why I had no qualms about using words I'd written before November (which aren't part of my NaNo-count). And that's why I've spent the last few days plotting out the next few chapters.

The thing about me and plotting is that I need time to percolate my ideas. I'll always end up with something better when it's had at least a few days of tweaking. The slow process of sprinkling the plot with details helps make it richer.

My last week is going to be a leisurely stroll. I'll be dropping my pace down to something more reasonable and I'll be taking days off. Even if I only hit 35K by the end of the month, that will still be 35K of a novel that I probably wouldn't have written for another few months.

If there's one thing I've learned about this whole process, it's that I can write faster than I thought. But that doesn't mean I have to.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Review: Tom Waits - Orphans

Once every few years, along comes an album that I rush out to buy, regardless of any current gambling or international-scale drug debts. I need to own the original packaging, hold the physical artwork in my hands, and if I'm lucky enough to have liner notes to read, I'll pore over them with a jeweler's eyepiece until I go blind in one eye.

This weekend, one of those albums came along.

At $AUD84.95, it's a hefty tug on the old purse strings, but it's worth every single cent. The deluxe edition of Tom Waits' Orphans comes in its own CD-sized hardcover book, with the pages consisting of lyrics on a ye-olde worlde background and a pseudo photo album. At the back are the three CDs. Yes, three.

They're called, in order, Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards. The Brawlers are junkhouse, roadhouse, bang-them-over-the-head-with-a-house raunchy blues and gospel numbers as only Tom Waits can do them. The Bawlers are yank on your heart strings ballads, and the Bastards are a psychotic menagerie of aural experiments and spoken word pieces whose parents were never fully legit.

Right off the bat, the first four songs on Brawlers are ones I've never heard before. They got me jumping up and standing on my chair, banging my head against the wall in glee. Tracks on this CD include a Ramones tribute, a song from the movie Dead Man Walking, and a new version of a track that Tom did with his old buddy, Chuck E. Weiss. Anyone remember the song Chuck E's In Love by Rickie Lee Jones?

When Tom does soppy, he can pull a tear from a gland-less eyeball with a single full-throated moan, and when he does it he'll call the song something like Little Drop Of Poison. Which came from the Shrek 2 soundtrack of all places. I vaguely remember a scene with a drunken horse on the piano in a bar. I'm guessing that was supposed to be Tom.

The last CD is Bastards, and this is where I've had a couple of disappointments. I know, someone's bound to hit me with a brick for saying that Tom is capable of wrong, but I'm not too happy about the overdubbed harmonica on a few of these, or the muffling of the banjo courtesy of Primus in On The Road, a song about Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady. But the spoken word pieces over musical soundscapes are eery and effective, especially when mixed with older recordings of Tom, before he drank shoe polish strained through bread.

One last track I'll mention from Bastards is Dog Door, a wild, crunchy scratched-falsetto number that almost resembles the kind of R'n'B a zombified version of Tom would holler. I hesitate to use the words R'n'B and Tom in the same sentence, but the production values behind this track are firmly in the now. Sonically inspiring stuff.

Something that struck me about the album, and this is only after a full day of listening, is that Tom Waits won't be making music forever. I don't know if it was the lack of alcohol talking, but he ain't getting any younger, and this almost feels like a career retrospective.

But as Tom might say, there's nothing wrong with me that a hundred dollars won't fix.

For further illuminating reading, leg it on over to the Tom Waits Supplement, a very handy research tool for the history of all the tracks on Orphans.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

NaNoWriMo: An Excerpt

Even I'm starting to be more than a little disturbed by the last post. In the interest of moving on from it, here's a silly little snippet of a scene I wrote today:

They walk over to the table in the corner, Jules hanging back a little as he watches Louise move with apparent purpose.

She sits next to the man with the pipe and says in an exaggerated English accent, “Hello Martin or Edward, or whatever your name might be. Would you happen to know a Reggie Cooper, someone that frequents this fine drinking establishment?” She flicks her hair behind her shoulders and looks directly at the man.

“Would you mind love? I’m trying to study the form,” he says, his accent completely unlike Louise’s affected one. He picks the newspaper up from the table and shakes it out, blocking his face from view.

Louise pulls the top edge of the paper down with one finger. “Reggie? Cooper? You sure you don’t know him?”

“If I did know him, I wouldn’t be arsed telling the likes of you. Now rack off. Race is about to start.” He puts his hand up to his ear and that’s when Jules notices a white cable trailing down the side of the man’s tweed jacket, disappearing into the pocket.

The old man at the bar chuckles and coughs.

Louise ignores this, stands up and says, “That went well.” She points to the other side of the room at a man with a football jumper, tilts her head, cracking her neck as if she’s about to start a fight.

“I might just try again.”

Friday, November 17, 2006

U For Uncanny

Hey, the blog can't be totally about NaNoWriMo.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

NaNoWriMo: Half Way There

Fifteen days into it, I've made it past the 20K word mark, but I'm falling behind target. At 1667 words per day, by the end of last night I should have reached half way, or 25K words. Didn't quite get there, but hopefully I'll be able to catch up this weekend, which is blissfully free of familial birthday ceremonies.

What have I learned so far?

  • Writing at this pace is isolating. I'm using up almost all of my lunch hour by making sure I only spend five minutes microwaving food and eating it. People in my office went for a $5 steak lunch yesterday and I had to say no. Thinking about it now makes my mouth water: I could really use a steak and I'm probably lacking in iron and protein.
  • It's also tiring. I've been getting into odd sleeping habits like two hour naps when I get home. My sleep is fitful because I often spend the hour before lying on the couch or in bed coming up with new plot points.
  • Speaking of plotting, I can safely say that my first fortnight's worth of writing went far more smoothly than the rest is shaping up to be. This is because I'd spent a few months cooking up the beginning and had good notes on the first part of the novel, roughly fifty pages. This whole process is panning out much the same as it did with my first novel, where I knew what would happen at the beginning and the end and very little idea about the whole middle chunk.
  • In two weeks I have produced over 20,000 words, roughly 80 pages. That's almost a third of an entire novel. In two weeks. And it seems to be of better quality than previous efforts. I suppose I've learned a lot about writing over the last two years and that certainly helps. Also having been through the process before, I'm aware of some of my work habits and where they lead.
  • I'm still excited about this novel. Some of the scenes I've written are pushing me to new limits: I've been experimenting with dreamlike sequences set in the past, seen by my main character, Jules Nolan, through the eyes of someone living in 1910s Australia. I'm using techniques I've come across in thrillers--techniques I've shunned in the past--and I'm using them with good reason: they suit the story.
  • Music has helped get me into character for particular scenes. It's really helped me to maintain the voice I want for the writing. I'm shooting for prose that has a deadening feel. Words that remove the smile from your face. I desperately hope this novel will inspire feelings of dread and I think that after the revision process, there's a good chance it will.
P.J. Parrish is going to be putting my novel's current opening through the wringer as part of her Booky Noise series. I'm fully expecting to cringe at some of my mistakes, but I'm also hoping to learn something. I've never had feedback on a novel at this early a stage, so it should be interesting and eye opening.

When it comes around, I'll post about it here. Feel free to join in and tell me exactly what parts of my head are up my arse.

Now, back to 'bum on chair, fingers on keyboard'.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Concrete Maze by Steven Torres

Steven Torres was kind enough to send me a pre-ARC of his upcoming novel, THE CONCRETE MAZE, due out by Dorchester Publishing in July 2007. He did this after taking a look at one of my short stories. This is how nice Steven is: after he does you a favour, all he asks is that you allow him to do you another.

He may be nice, but the subject matter of THE CONCRETE MAZE isn't. More and more, it seems to be the novel that everyone wanted him to write. Darker and more concentrated than his PRECINCT PUERTO RICO series, the new novel is set in the Bronx, New York. Like his other books, it still revolves around a Puerto Rican community, but in this case it centers on a single family.

Seen through the eyes of young Marc Ramos, it starts off as a search for his cousin, led by ex-Vietnam uncle, Tio Luis ('Tio' means 'uncle'). Marc is dragged along, losing plenty of sleep, as Tio Luis searches for his daughter Jasmine, who it seems has got herself mixed up with the wrong crowd. Not a hard thing to do in the Bronx.

I told you the novel was darker, so don't be surprised when things turn from frustrating to tragic as the novel progresses. Without spoiling it for you, a particular scene about half way through had me physically choking up with emotion. I can't think of a novel that's made me feel this strongly in a long time.

Issues of racism and prostitution underpin the story, but at its core, the novel is about family.

Torres has an innate grasp of what it is to be part of a family. The loyalty and determination of the main characters, the nurturing mothers, the extension of cousins, aunties and uncles, all of this is easy to relate to. Especially if, like me, you have grown up in a European family. The values seem the same, and while this novel gave me a better appreciation of Puerto Rican culture, Steven's talent here is to make it universal.

Steven worries that he wrote one of his other novels, MISSING IN PRECINCT PUERTO RICO, with anger, and that this may not be the best way to get a message across. If that novel is his angry one, I can't wait to read it.

That scene will stay with me for a long time.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

NaNoWriMo: Music

I've been building playlists to keep me company through the month of November, and I thought I'd share a few select tracks. I gave myself a limit of one song per artist because I am nothing without some form of denial.


Rage Against The Machine: War Within A Breath
P.J. Harvey: Me-Jane
The Black Keys: Just Got To Be
Gogol Bordello: Not A Crime
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings: Got A Thing On My Mind

RATM and Gogol Bordello are great songs for the shower, although you have to watch out not to bang the shower head. Sharon Jones never fails to make me move my ass. Usually that means a trip to get more coffee, but hey, at least it's movement.


Portishead: Elysium
Radiohead: Remyxomatosis (Cristian Vogel Remix)
Martina Topley-Bird: Too Tough To Die
Tom Waits: Make It Rain
Skip James: Devil Got My Woman

Elysium is the song that sets the mood I'm trying to achieve for the entire novel, while Devil Got My Woman helps me get all old-timey for my 'dream sequences' set in the past.


The Kinks: This Time Tomorrow
Las Pesadillas: Everybody Died But Me
Mouse On Mars: Papa, Antoine
Moloko: Being Is Bewildering
The Finn Brothers: Gentle Hum

When you've got a billion ideas swirling around in your brain, there's nothing like some chill-out tunes to slow down the pace. Papa, Antoine's the clear winner for me: It's like the closing hours of a Tiki bar on a space station.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

NaNoWriMo: The Drug Wars

Working full time and doing my best to fit in the requisite amount of NaNo-writing per day is leaving me a little worse for wear. Generally, I'm a terrible sleeper so this isn't so much of an issue, but when I'm trying to think carefully about a number of things at once, after already spending the whole day doing the same ... I need help.

The kind of help only drugs can give.

Here are my drug-related tips for anyone crazy enough to spend a month writing their arse off:

  • Whiskey: Only to be used in short bursts, and only if the dreaded Inner Editor is stronger than usual. The drop in inhibitions and judgement is offset by the danger of falling asleep at the computer.
  • Coffee: For most, this will be the poison of choice. Whether cafe style, plunger or instant, the caffeine hit is sure to get the synapses firing on overtime, if only for a short burst. And that's where the problem with coffee lies: for me, the ups-and-downs are too erratic. Best used to simply wake up with every day.
  • Coke: Ah, the good old Dynamic Ribbon of sugar and cocaine. Doesn't work quite like that these days, but the sugar gives you just enough energy while you wait for the caffeine to hit. Vanilla Coke is my favourite, because I'm a sucker for anything that I'm told is 'intriguing.' For the amount you have to drink to get the brain chugging, the sheer quantity of sugar will immediately bring about total weight gain. Best not to use too often, like I do.
  • Pepsi Max: The most useful competitor to Coke, this version of Pepsi supposedly has maximum taste without the sugar. The taste of anything using artificial sweeteners is questionable at best, but the amount of caffeine in this drink is eminently useful for late-night writing sessions. All this, without the weight gain.
  • Red Bull: I've picked this as the leader of the energy drinks because it's the most well known. Like V and Columbian Cola, this can give serious jitters, leaving you awake and non-functional as writer for long after consumption. Best drunk at nightclubs if you can't afford anything illegal.
If you read the list in detail, the clear winner is Pepsi Max. I tested it last night when I was feeling particularly tired and it gave me the writing boost I needed to stay on target. I'd be worried about drinking it on a constant basis, due to the artificial sweeteners, but overall, it gets the NaNo-ThumbsUp from me.

Monday, November 06, 2006

NaNoWriMo: Procrastination


April 2006, Coogee Beach, Sydney, Australia: the venue for a water balloon fight that broke a world record. 2,849 participants threw 55,000 water balloons.

I was one of them. Got seriously soaked. Loved it.

Now, back to work.

P.S: Happy 60th birthday to my mum, and best of luck to Stuart MacBride on this day of dread.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

NaNoWriMo: Statistics

This post was only going to include the image above, but what kind of procrastinator could I call myself if that was all I wrote?

82,052,496. That's how many words NaNoWriters have produced in just three days. There are about 70,000 entrants this year, but that figure won't be settled until the very end I suppose. That makes for an average of 1172 words per person.

Which makes me wonder about the number of words produced by the human race per day. How many millions are we talking about? I have no idea, but if NaNo'ers are spitting out a rough 25 million a day, the mind starts to go a little haywire just trying to imagine it.

So many words most of us will not be able to read in our lifetime. No wonder the publishing industry is so tough to break into and stay in. Really gives me much more of an appreciation for marketing, and a realisation of its necessity.

One other statistic I'll bore you with before finding other, less public, ways of procrastinating is the NaNo counter broken down into genres. In the lead at 17 million, almost twice the closest competitor, the top genre for this year's NaNoWriMo is ...


Who woulda thunk it?

Friday, November 03, 2006

NaNoWriMo: I am NOT cheating!

(Cue music of self-justification)

Day three lunch and I'm on target once again. How I reached it, though, has now become slightly more complicated.

See, before Stephen Blackmoore challenged me to this wacky carnival race of words, I'd already been planning my second novel, and I'd also written about 5000 words as a test run. My plan for NaNoWriMo was to continue from there, only counting completely new words.

Instead, I rewrote the beginning from scratch with renamed and reworked characters, and a different ordering of scenes. The counter on the main page of this blog shows how many of these new words I've written.

Now we get to the self-justification.

Last night I reached a scene that I knew I'd already written and didn't want to throw away. It took an hour and a half to incorporate this old version of the story into the new one, rewriting so it would fit. The next scene I wrote from scratch with an all-new character, then the same thing happened again.

So I cheated. For the second time.

In total, I added about 3000 words to my NaNo-novel. 3000 words I wrote before November. But there's nothing to worry about here, move along people, no trouble at all. This guy is not a criminal.

My promise to everyone out there in NaNo-land is that whenever I update my counter, I will mentally subtract those 3000 extra words.

Trust me. I know what I'm doing.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

NaNoWriMo: The First Day

2033 words in one day, while still working a full time job. It's a definite record for me, as I don't think I've ever hit over 1500, even on a weekend. A good day is generally around the 500 word mark for me.

To hit the target I microwaved some pasta for lunch and wolfed it, then spent a good fifty minutes getting down around 700 words. Another three hours or so at home brought me up to the 2000 mark, and I even had time to read a few pages of PALE IMMORTAL before my eyes went blurry and I absolutely had to sleep.

The amazing thing about this is that those words are similar in quality to my usual first drafts. It's good to know that a certain amount of focus and fear can create this kind of output.

One tip I have so far is to make sure you have a number of pre-built names for characters, including spares. If you have a list of names that you know will suit your story, it's very easy to pick one and keep the words moving forward.

The NaNo philosophy doesn't recommend you doing any sort of revision, but that's too much of a habit for me and I've already gone back and fixed mistakes and tweaked for flow. It's a risky manuever, but I've put up a longer excerpt on my NaNo profile page. Here's the non-flash version, which isn't as pretty but loads a lot faster.

Can I do another 2000 today? We'll see.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Midnight ticked over last night and I was unfortunately still awake. For Australians doing NaNoWriMo, we started off anything from ten to sixteen hours ahead of the largest proportion (I have no figures on this, but I'm probably not wrong) of NaNoWriMo'ers: the Merkins. Whoops, I meant The Americans.

I wrote a couple of quick paragraphs so that my mind wouldn't start buzzing with ideas designed to keep me awake. Going against all NaNoAdvice-O, I will now share with you the opening two paragraphs from my 'masterpiece-in-the-making':


Jules Nolan turns the steering wheel and reaches down to press a button, never taking his eyes from the road. The window separating the driver’s cab from the rear of the limousine slides down, silencing the couple arguing in the back. Jules lets out a breath. They’d been at it for the last ten minutes and the words had melded together to become a constant flow of nothing.

He blinks at the high beam of a car passing on the other side of William Street. The limousine dips into the road. Jules turns his head a fraction to catch a glimpse of a lone hooker dressed in scraps of leopard print fabric and fishnets, standing under the fluorescent lights of an all night convenience store.

And so begins this crazy month of 1667 words per day. Good luck to us all and may the caffeine be with you.

Monday, October 30, 2006

NaNoWriMo Planning & Plotting

Coming up with story ideas can burn some serious calories. During the last week I've dedicated my lunches and evenings to concentrated bouts of brainstorming which have often resulted in cracking headaches. An accompanying bottle of Tooheys Extra Dry Platinum can also be blamed, but firing all my synapses at once is an intense experience.

Hemingway said that a writer should guard his writing carefully, but I'll break his rule and share some of my work so far.

Character names I've come up with include: Jules Nolan, Walter Fitch, Mick Riley, Reggie Cooper, Louise Cooper, Anaru 'Ernie' Tominga, Edward De Gracy, Frank Dalton, and Patrick Ellis. I have trouble imagining a character without a suitable name attached, but once it is, I have a feel for them without even describing what they look like.

This next novel of mine is much more serious and far more ambitious than my previous effort (which I do plan to finish one of these days, if only for the experience). I have some broad plot points with a few scenes sorted out, but I'm crossing my fingers in the possibly mistaken hope that my story is somewhat modular. The reason is that there are two stories running in parallel: one set around 1910, the other in the present day, in Sydney and Melbourne. The scenes in the past are semi-flashbacks that the main character (Jules Nolan) experiences through the viewpoint of someone from the past (Patrick Ellis).

The link between the two timelines is a supernatural one, and I'm going to work very hard to make sure it's an integral part of the story. I've only written some flash fiction that used supernatural elements in the past, so that part of my novel is going to be quite a challenge. I can't say I've read a lot of horror in my time, but I think I have enough of an understanding of the use of fear to pull it off.

The plot will still revolve around crime as I'm drawing inspiration from the underworld 'wars' of Melbourne in the late 90s, as well as an exhibition of police photographs from early 20th century Sydney.

If for some strange reason you don't know what NaNoWriMo is, pop over here to find out. If you don't like clicking, I'll give it to you right now: the goal is to write 50,000 words in one month, the month being November 2006. I've installed a counter in the sidebar where you can track my progress, and I'll possibly post up excerpts that you can read by clicking on the thermometer. Writing involves a fair amount of procrastination, so expect semi-regular reports on my efforts.

Wish me luck!

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Meaning Of Life

It could lie somewhere in this article:

From The Australian:

JAMES Gleeson believes that art is society's strongest link between the past, the present and the future.

And to ensure the grand tradition of Australian art continues well into the 21st century, the painter is putting all of his money - $16 million of it - where his mouth is.

In what is by far the biggest monetary donation received by the Art Gallery of NSW in its 104-year history, Gleeson has pledged his entire estate to the Sydney landmark.

"I thought about it quite seriously for a long time, and I decided that it was the logical thing for me to do," said the 91-year-old, who is considered Australia's pre-eminent surrealist painter.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Whole Novel In One Month?

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

If you think that sounds crazy, you're right. It is. But so am I. I'm also susceptible to dares of the 'what are you, a yellow-bellied coward?' type. When Stephen Blackmoore challenged me to join this insane collection of writing maniacs, I raged internally against the idea for a couple of days, but then he put up a bottle of 12 yr old Springbank.

I couldn't say no to that.

Since I'm only five thousand words into a novel, I've decided to make it my project for this wild gig. But don't worry, I won't include what I've already written.

If you're interested in tracking my progress through November, here's my NaNoWriMo profile. I'll probably throw up a word counter on this blog too, but hey, if I link to the profile it makes this whole damn ballgame real.

NaNoWriMo. It's so crazy, it just might work.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Twanging In The Gutters

Thanks to Tribe, the snazziest suit-wearer in the crime fiction world, we can now enjoy the fruits of his latest project: Twanging In The Gutters.

For the last two weeks of October, Flashing In The Gutters will only be publishing stories that have something to do with a country song. With authors like Lori G. Armstrong, Patrick Shawn Bagley, Patricia Abbott, Stephen Blackmoore, Margaret B. Davidson, and myself, you're sure to be in for a helluva party.

So grab a big old bottle of corn liquor, take your laptop out on the porch and suck down a gallon of all them tasty words.

My story, JESSE'S LUCKY KNIFE, is based on the song called The Dying Crapshooter's Blues by Blind Willie McTell (as pictured above). It's more of a country blues song than plain country, but hell, life is chaos out on the range.

Hope y'all enjoy it now, cuss n' tarnation dang nab it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Catch Up

Haven't been posting much here of late. Looking back over the last few months, the frequency of my posts has been erratic, with plenty of week-long breaks. I'm well overdue for a decent ramble.

So. What have I been doing?

The new job is taking up a fair amount of mental processing power. I'm still on a learning curve but enjoying it greatly and muchly. It's good to stretch my programming muscles again. I'm afraid that's all I can really go into here. It is the gambling industry after all, and if I tell you much more I shall have to kill you.

My passion for computer games has been resurrected thanks to the Xbox 360. I've been racing exotic cars, riding horses across medieval lands and, most importantly, killing zombies. Truckloads of them. Entire shopping malls full of them. Lots of good, clean, bloody gruesome fun. Which might explain the following.

I seem to be continually exposed of late to the ominous and looming presence of those little people called 'children'. Went to my first first birthday (two firsts in a row, what an achievement!) and spent it lazing around with a bunch of adults that were, well, tired a lot. The kids weren't, and they pranced and frollicked around in the sun, finding entertainment in the shape of balls, cupcakes, grass, each other. And I swear to my dying day that the birthday boy is an actual zombie. The eyes, the shambling, the strangely high pitched groans ...

Work, the threat of kids, computer games. None of these has been enough to stop me writing. Lunchtime is proving to be nicely productive and I'm finding my second novel taking shape slowly but surely under my calloused fingers. I hit five thousand words yesterday and that's not including the few thousand worth of notes. But I promised not to do a wordcount report this time, so I'll leave it at that.

I've also polished off a story called BUDDHA BEHIND BARS which is probably the most spiritual piece of crime fiction I've ever attempted, based on a snippet of a paragraph from a book called DESTRUCTIVE EMOTIONS. The book is an account of a series of talks between the Dalai Lama, philosophers, neuropsychologists, and a swath of other brainy types. It's a serious attempt by some of the world's greatest minds to come up with ways of improving life, and from what I have read, it seems that it was a success. The plan is to send this one off to Murdaland, if they'll have me, indeed if they'll have anyone (where did the submission guidelines page go?).

Another piece of flash fiction is percolating in my hard drive, waiting for the right moment to fire it off to Tribe's Flashing In The Gutters Country Extravaganza. We'll see how that one goes, then.

Me eyes is gettin' tired now and I must be off to sleepy-na-na-land.

Please do enjoy my latest post of rambling goodness. May I wake up tomorrow morning and not be embarrassed at the crapness of it.


EDIT: A murder of crows told me that the Murdaland website is on the verge of an update, which will include the submission guidelines. May I never be accused of slander.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Inside The Mind

Everyone on the 'upper' side of the crime blogosphere has been drinking, spanking, and snorkeling their merry way through Bouchercon, so I haven't had much to say lately, other than to repeat under my breath, over and over again, "Why couldn't I go to Bouchercon? Why, why, why?"

This obsessional trait does not bode well for my future sanity, especially in terms of the potential for violent, explosive crime. I say this because of a recent posting in an Australian newspaper's crime blog that goes by the catchy name of Gotcha. It's an excellent true crime blog run by Gary Hughes, a long time crime journo based in Melbourne, where most of the action is in Oz.

But back to my worries.

The post in question includes a list of attributes of serial killers put together by a Professor Paul Mullen, who is the director of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health. The list is referenced in relation to the latest headline serial killer, Charles Carl Roberts, the man responsible for the Amish school massacre.

But the really worrying thing is how many writers this list describes.

Here it is then:

• Male.
• Under 40 years of age.
• Socially isolated without intimate or close relationships.
• Unemployed, or in casual or marginal work.
• Bullied and/or isolated as a child.
• Fascinated with weapons and usually a collector of guns.
• Have no history antisocial, criminal, and specifically interpersonal violence.
• Have no prior contact with the mental health services or a diagnosis of serious mental disorder.
• Make no threats, or overt or covert statements that they intend to commit a massacre.
• Have no significant history of substance abuse.
• Show rigidity and/or marked obsessional traits.
• Are suspicious and may have think they have been persecuted.
• Have a tendency to resentment with intrusive ruminations about previous experiences of humiliation and injury.
• Prone to daydreaming, particularly about acts of individual, and usually murderous, heroism and of revenge against a rejecting and uncaring world.
• Have narcissistic and grandiose traits, which emerge in a profound sense of entitlement and over-weaning self-righteousness.
• Intend to kill as many people as possible then to die among their victims.
• Adopt an existing script for murder suicide that they have acquired from reading about or seeing it in news and dramas.

Try reading the list from the perspective of a writer and you'll see that most of us are constantly on the verge of blowing our stacks.

Must remember to have a social life. Must remember to stop daydreaming. Must remember to build a history of interpersonal violence.

No wait, that's a story I was thinking about. That's not reality.

Must remember the difference between reality and fantasy.

Must stop this obsessive need to remember a list of things I must do.

Monday, September 25, 2006

World Peace

Damn it. I was supposed to post something really silly today. Instead I wrote this half-baked 'Save The World' poem in a fit of self-righteousness, prompted by the complete lack of media coverage for the International Day Of Peace, which I also happened to ignore.


I don't care what your religion is
As long as you
Never kill another human being

I don't care what your beliefs are
As long as you
Don't impose them on others

I don't care if you're offended
As long as you
Know you are no more important than anyone else

I don't care who you are
Come have a beer with me

Friday, September 22, 2006

How To Save The World

Religion, politics and war are all prominent topics pervading the world's media and our thoughts at this point in history. I have some strong opinions on all of these, which basically amounts to a wish that all three did not exist. But focusing on a wish like that is ignoring the reality of the problems in our world.

Today I tried three times to write a coherent explanation of my thoughts and feelings on these subjects and couldn't come up with anything that expressed the truth of what is inside me. It was almost as if an answer to everything was hiding in a corner of my mind and all I had to do was take the correct mental route to let it out into the world.

But it didn't happen and I gave up. It's all just too complicated.

So instead I'll share with you a little ditty, courtesy of Zen Stories To Tell Your Neighbors.

It might be what I was really looking for.


A Tibetan story tells of a meditation student who, while meditating in his room, believed he saw a spider descending in front of him. Each day the menacing creature returned, growing larger and larger each time. So frightened was the student, that he went to his teacher to report his dilemma. He said he planned to place a knife in his lap during meditation, so when the spider appeared he would kill it. The teacher advised him against this plan. Instead, he suggested, bring a piece of chalk to meditation, and when the spider appeared, mark an "X" on its belly. Then report back.

The student returned to his meditation. When the spider again appeared, he resisted the urge to attack it, and instead did just what the master suggested. When he later reported back to the master, the teacher told him to lift up his shirt and look at his own belly. There was the "X".

I'm interested to see what thoughts this story triggers. Share away if you feel an inkling to. I promise to write something far sillier in my next post.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Danny Hawaii 'Live' On Thrilling Detective

3 billion years in the making, Danny Hawaii's debut adventure is up and at them in the latest issue of Thrilling Detective.

Read BREAKING IN and a slew of other fine PI material from the likes of Sarah Weinman, Kim Harrington, Russel McLean, and D.H. Reddall.

One of these days, I might even finish Mr. Hawaii's first novel.

But only if you ring in NOW, for the amazing low price of $1999.95!

Yes, you too can grab hold of the whole set of Danny Hawaii's misadventures in the ancient land of Rockabilly-nesia. Dance with the immortal Hula girls! Mix beats with the masters of funk and roll! Shamble your way through the fields with the local zombie hordes!

*needle scratches across record*

EDIT: If you're feeling a little ornery, try out the Redneck version of Danny Hawaii's debut, courtesy of the Dialectizer.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Are You Serious?

How serious a person are you? Do you spend a large part of your day stirring up trouble, streaking past office workers in your birthday suit, or playing practical jokes on innocent victims involving poo?

This is something I've been pondering lately. No, not poo, but how serious my writing is and how serious I want it to be.

After starting off a short story that will most likely become a new novel, my writing has taken a more serious tone. At first it was something I resisted, but more and more I have felt the pull away from humour.

It was the last story I wrote that really set me off in this new direction. I'm sure it will take forever to get out there into the publishing world, so I won't talk about it in too much detail, but suffice it to say that it's a story about meditation in prison. The nature of the subject matter called for it to be a serious story, and any humour in there is to lighten the somewhat heavy load.

The surprising thing about this story is that it has given me more satisfaction than anything else I have ever written.

On only a moment's reflection, it's easy to see why: the story actually meant something. There is a purpose to it other than pure entertainment. Usually, that would be enough for me, and in fact most of the time I prefer pure entertainment. I want to escape from the real world into one that doesn't necessarily teach me something about life, but simply shows me a good time.

So the next novel I'm working on is going to follow a similar path. It will definitely take a more serious direction, and I'm hoping that along the way I can find something deeper in it.

After that, it's back to making fart jokes.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Hardcover vs. Paperback

I don't like hardcover books.

I don't like the feel of them in my hands, can't be bothered carting them around, and I'm not a fan of the smell that builds up on them over the years. Yes, I know I'm contradicting something I've said before, but so be it. The mark of being human is the ability to have contradictory thoughts without exploding.

My attitude to hardcovers is the result of the publishing industry in Australia and my childhood.

I'll tackle the publishing side first.

In this fine sunburnt country, hardcover books aren't that common in bookstores. At least not in terms of current fiction releases. Our market is simply not big enough to warrant the printing of large quantities of hardcovers, except in the more high profile novels like the Harry Potter series and anything by Matthew O'Reilly. And even these are often sold at very narrow margins by the bigger retailers.

Newspapers in Australia are also quite happy to review books in paperbook form, although this is usually in the larger C-format or trade paperback size. So there's nothing stopping Australian authors getting the same kind of promotion for paperbacks that authors overseas get for hardcovers.

As a result of this, most of the books I'm exposed to are paperbacks, so I've learned to relate the smell of them to the purchase of a shiny new story, filled with the promise of many nights of curled-up-in-bed reading bliss. And that's why I love the smell of a new paperback, reeking of binding glue and whatever the hell makes the cover smell so sharp.

My name is Daniel and I am a paperback addict.

Which wins for you, hardcover or paperback?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A New Novel Begins

Danny Hawaii's non-epic, non-saga of lack of love and betrayal has been sidelined for a couple of months now. I've filled that novel-writing void with the final polishing of a short story I have high hopes for, which probably won't see the light of day for about half a year.

But it hasn't been enough.

I don't plan to completely kill Danny off, especially since (any day now) he'll be making his official entry into the world of crime fiction (ANY DAY NOW). But having spent two years working on my first novel while learning to write--and perfecting my abilities at procrastination--I feel a need to stretch my writing muscles in a different direction.

Those couple of months of Danny Hawaii-sidelining have opened my mind up to be filled with new creative obsessions, inspired in equal parts by my trip to the City Of Shadows exhibition last year, and my recent reading of a true crime book about the underworld wars in Melbourne called LEADBELLY. Add to the mix a tasty sampling of Sara Gran's COME CLOSER and various excellent short stories over at Spinetingler Magazine, and the melting pot has started to boil.

So what are we looking at here? What's Daniel Hatadi's latest idea for a novel?

Without giving too much of the game away, it's looking like a cross between Donnie Brasco and Donnie Darko, Australian-style. It won't be about time-travel or bunny rabbits, it'll be more along the lines of crime bosses, drug-coated nightclubs and disturbing voices in the head.

I'm going to spend the next month trialling my ideas in the form of a short story and, if all goes according to plan, this will be the beginning of the novel. The first five hundred words are already humming away in my laptop, eagerly awaiting the return of my fingers.

Today marks this new beginning and so does this post. A step backward, a step forward, it's all part of the dance that is writing.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

PALE IMMORTAL by Anne Frasier

I am seriously psyched to read this, so that's why I'm part of the PIMP SQUAD for Anne Frasier's new vampire extravaganza of a novel, PALE IMMORTAL, which comes out today.

Read the first two chapters and learn more at the book's chilling blog:

Here's a detailed synopsis to whet your appetite:

Welcome to Tuonela, a sleepy Wisconsin town haunted by events of 100 years ago, when a man who may have been a vampire slaughtered the town's citizens and drank their blood. Now, another murderer is killing the most vulnerable...and draining their bodies of blood.

Evan Stroud lives in darkness. The pale prisoner of a strange disease that prevents him from ever seeing the light of day, he lives in tragic solitude, taunted for being a "vampire." When troubled teenager Graham Stroud appears on Evan's doorstep, claiming to be his long-lost son, Evan's uneasy solitude is shattered. Having escaped Tuonela's mysterious pull for several years, Rachel Burton is now back in town, filling in as coroner. Even as she seeks to identify the killer, and uncover the source of the evil that seems to pervade the town, she is drawn to Evan by a power she's helpless to understand or resist....

As Graham is pulled deeper and deeper into Tuonela's depraved, vampire-obsessed underworld, Rachel and Evan team up to save him. But the force they are fighting is both powerful and elusive...and willing to take them to the very mouth of hell.

And a music video:

I'm going to find a way to get hold of this book, even if it means flying half way across the globe. Or at the very least, getting someone else to fly for me. Like, you know, the U.S. Postal service. Yeah, they'll do.

Lastly, this will probably ruin my future writing career, but here's my pimp name:

Your Pimp Name Is...

Prince Mystery

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Spam Poetry

Found this at the bottom of an email telling me how I could become my own employer and earn $30 per product shipped. Interesting word choice and rhythm.

bloody-hearted rubber latex Paleo-amerind
pulse-jet engine step turn poplar-covered
field ash nail-headed red-fleshed
guard ship hill station hand-filled
chicken gumbo quasi-grave carriage bow
gold-studded up-bow sign storm-boding
fairy godmother ivory cutter printing-in
vine fretter north-countriness saddle cutter

It speaks for itself, doesn't it?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

PI School Part V: The Dropout

Okay, I don't know what I was thinking with that last post. Time to get back to some familiar territory.

Today's focus is on what it feels like to be a PI-school dropout. For background on this intensely personal (i.e plastered all over the Internet) subject, please refresh yourself by looking back at the previous entries in my PI School series:

Finished? Great. Thanks for sticking it through.

Now that you're back I can explain the full truth.


Yes, it's true. Night after night of rocking up to the class, heavy books in hand, bicycle chained to a bench out the front of the campus building, I eventually broke down.

Not exactly a nervous breakdown, more a realisation of 'what's the point?' I mean, I only ever enrolled to get some background info on what it was like to be a private investigator. And since my character is a PI-in-training, you could call it a little method acting on my part. But hey, this is fiction, not film, and I don't have to spend weeks studying Johnny Depp's mannerisms in Fear & Loathing to come up with some background. But that's not the only reason I dropped out.

It was the silence that got to me.

Maybe the nature of the PI is such that the people attracted to the profession are those of the private kind. Reserved, quiet, aloof. Observers rather than active participants in life. Sure, one of them had tattoos on his arm that he'd designed himself, and a couple of the youngest were a little more than entertaining during the class, but ultimately, a private bunch.

I found myself feeling very alone. Add to this the tedious drawing of traffic diagrams, the need to remember by rote the various government Acts, and one night after work I just decided not to go. Thought I'd make it the next week, after all, I wasn't missing out on much.

Next week came around and my schedule told me there was a two week break. Great. I could collect my thoughts, look through the PI textbooks, and recharge my batteries. Two weeks passed.

And I never went back.

My name is Daniel Hatadi and I am a PI-school dropout.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Marketing Versus Art

Marketing: A Case Of Diminishing Returns And Cycles

"Hey, these Mars Bars sure are tasty. I'd like four hundred please."

Thirty later ...

"I don't want to see another Mars Bar for as long as I live."

A decade later ...

"Mars Bars are back!"

Art: An Endless Search For Perfection

"Can I have a bite of that Mars Bar?"

A pause.

"Not bad, but I've already moved on. It doesn't mean anything to me anymore."

Another pause.

"What's that in your other hand? A Snickers? Can I have a bite?"

Monday, August 28, 2006

Do You Believe?

Thanks to the wonders of free cable television, I accidentally watched an episode of Star Trek: Voyager last night.

For those less geeky types that may not know, the premise of Voyager centres around a spaceship that is catapulted to the other end of the galaxy. The main point of each episode is trying to get the crew home. Remember this, it's important.

The episode I watched last night was about a civil war within the Q Continuum, a race of omnipotent, interdimensional beings. For whatever reason, one of them, known only as Q, decides that the only way to stop the war is to plant his omnipotent seed in the vessel that is Captain Janeway.

Who wouldn't? Look at that smile, that stance, that hair.

The scene was played out in fantastical fashion, with Janeway viewing the activities through the device of an American civil war era translation, due to her (and our) limited intellect as bipedal beings. This, I could handle. After all, it is science fiction and we are talking about interdimensional beings who all have the same name. But then I lost my belief in the story entirely. Q propositions Janeway again, this time with the promise of returning her crew to Earth.

Returning her crew to earth. The goal of the whole series.

All Janeway has to do is give birth to the child of an omnipotent being and her crew will be returned to their homes. One hundred people rejoined with their families before they all grow old and die. I think it's a pretty worthy sacrifice. But no, Janeway has moral issues. She says they'll do it through hard work instead of a quick fix. I wonder what the crew would have said if they found out? I'm thinking mutiny would be well on the cards.

This is where the story mechanics show their gears. Obviously if Janeway takes Q up on the offer, the series is over. It's no longer Voyager. It's Star Trek: Stay At Home. Isn't quite as catchy.

The rest of the episode was a joke. Another member of the Q Continuum, this time a hot redhead, is stranded onboard Voyager and somehow stripped of her powers. Yet she is still smart enough to help the crew bend the laws of astrophysics to enter the Continuum itself, decked out in full Civil War regalia. A gunfight ensues, and Janeway and Q are rescued from the firing squad.

Janeway then passes on more of her superior morals by convincing Q to get with the hot redhead and give birth to a baby Q. They copulate right in front of Janeway, ET style, by touching glowing fingers.

I turned the TV off before the credits rolled.

Anyone else had an experience with a book or movie where the suspension of disbelief was broken?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Variation On A Desk

Snagged this little doohickey meme from Christa M. Miller, but I decided to do my own version of it. A simpler version.

Instructions: show three of the most interesting items on your desk.

Even this presented a problem for me. See, I use a laptop at home nowadays, and since our dining table decided to take over the living room, the upstairs bedroom that was my work area is now used for other, more evil activities.

Which leaves me without a desk.

Luckily, I have a day job, which includes a desk. If I told you the details of what was on it, I could very easily have private investigators follow me around for weeks as part of an elongated background check.

Enough with the chit-chat. On to the ITEMS (spoken in booming voice).


Yes, I am a geek. But, like, black's a really cool colour, okay?

Now, your turn.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Anne Frasier started up an interesting discussion on the brokenness of writers and whether death has had anything to do with it.

This is roughly the comment I left on her blog:

If I have any fascination with death, it's because of the taboo surrounding it.

When someone dies we are supposed to be extremely careful about everything we say, even if it happened on the other side of the globe and we have absolutely no connection with the events. We're not supposed to talk about death, for fear that even the mention of it may bring bad luck. In some cultures, widows wear black for the rest of their lives and never remarry.

All of this gets the rebel in me fired up.

Death is part of life. It seems absolutely absurd to ignore it or brush the subject under the carpet.

I want to be able to joke about death. I want to imagine what life would be like if my loved ones die, or what it would be like for them if I die.

Death comes to us all, so I believe I have the right to explore the subject in any way I see fit, so I can come to terms with death in my own way.

When I die, I don't want to take up land that could be used for something better. Compact me into a brick and use it as a foundation stone for a building. Don't dare cremate me and pollute the atmosphere. Dispose of my body in an enviromentally friendly way, because I don't really care what happens to it. I'm no longer there.

When I die, I want people to dance to John Lee Hooker singing Boom, Boom, as loud as the sound system can go.

My death is mine, let me deal with it as I please.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Hatadi Shot In The Mag


It's certainly the month of Hatadi and I'm grateful to be the one sharing this with all of you, mostly because I get to refer to myself in the third person.

I'll cut to the chase: Shots Magazine UK, a fine crime establishment, has joined the ranks of Crimespree and allowed my name to grace its pages.

Head on over to the Short Story section and read my contribution, DOLLARS & SENSE, as well as fine new crime by Steven Torres and others.

On top of all this mayhem, if all goes well, it won't be long until my PI-in-training, Danny Hawaii, makes his fictional debut, somewhere, sometime, soon.

Where and when for this thing? You'll just have to keep checking back here until it happens.

Diabolical of me, isn't it?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hatadi On A Crimespree


The current issue of Crimespree Magazine has allowed me to grace its hallowed pages with an article called IS THE P.I. DEAD? More a plea than a piece of well-researched non fiction, it was inspired by my obsession with the fictional world of the private investigator.

Spinetingler's own Sandra Ruttan also makes her Crimespree debut in the very same issue. If she weren't Canadian, female, with fine red curly locks of hair and a completely different name we would be ... exactly the same. The mind boggles.

If you haven't subscribed to Crimespree and you're a fan of crime fiction, you're missing out.

Remedy this at:

Thursday, July 27, 2006

PI School Part IV: Surveillance

It's been a little longer in between these posts, but hopefully y'all are still comin' back. If you don't know what I'm talking about, scroll down some more and catch up.

The main point that Mr. Biggs hammered home into our tired brains for two weeks straight was that successful surveillance is all about preparation.

Scout out the area you're going to work in, try to become familiar with it, but more importantly get a feel for the clothing worn in the area. You want to make sure to wear clothes that help you blend in. If you're going to tail someone for a few days, especially if it involves travel interstate, you'll also want a change of clothes. Or two.

Ladies and men alike will need an empty bottle or container, one which can be sealed. A thirty second toilet trip in the bushes is enough to lose a target completely.

Make a checklist of things to pack into your car or have on your person.

These can include: still camera, video camera, microphone, notebook, sunglasses, cap, jacket, water bottles (to be used for drinking, and when empty, 'refilled'), maps (you don't want to risk getting lost in an unfamiliar area), a mobile phone (keep in contact with a fellow PI or the client), loose change and notes (handy for road tolls or buses and trains), and a spare tank of petrol (you may be on the road for a long time).

As you can see, preparation means covering all bases, even the ones you haven't thought of. Make a checklist and avoid getting burnt.

Some other tips on surveillance:

Never make eye contact. Simple one, but without practice, difficult. Ladies can use the old compact mirror trick while applying makeup and men can use all kinds of objects for reflections. Nothing beats just kind of looking around, though.

What to do if you get made: drop out of the surveillance immediately. Walk on in the same direction and don't look back. If you have another person working with you, tell them. If the target is suspicious, they may try using a dead stop to fool you into a reaction. Don't fall for it. Keep walking. If your car is parked nearby and you have a change of clothes, take advantage of this and see if you can recapture the target at a known location.

If the target enters a shop or a pub, follow them in unless you know for certain there is only the one exit. Even then, following them in can make you part of the furniture. If they see the same guy waiting for them around every corner, they'll catch on all too soon.

Speaking of corners, take them quickly. Usually you keep a good distance from a target, but if they turn a corner it's best to rush forward and slow down just before you turn. If you let them get too far ahead, it's possible for them to disappear into a shop or take another turn out of sight.

That almost brings us to the end of this series on my experiences at PI school. Tune in soon to find out why I never finished the course in PI School Part V: The Dropout.

Monday, July 17, 2006

PI School Part III: The Law

I originally planned on writing this up in three parts, but it's looking more like five, so you'll have to wait a few more days to find out why I dropped out of PI school.

Monday nights were the PI side of the course, but every Wednesday night I joined the group of bleary-eyed PI-hopefuls on the 6th floor of Building G to learn all about the law.

This wasn't the light mentions of useful parts of government acts that Jim Biggs gave us, this was a miniature law school taught to us by a $300 an hour solicitor who for some reason moonlighted as a TAFE teacher.

With curly, straw-coloured hair, a white-collared blue shirt and a wide red tie, this ex truck driver tried his best to hammer home the details of torts, civil and criminal law, negligence, damages, the statute of limitations, and so on.

What he spent more time doing was looking at the girls in the class across the hall (he always made sure to leave the door open), repeatedly making bad jokes about his wife (who was also a solicitor), and reminding us of the small cases he wouldn't take because he could get $300 an hour elsewhere.

He paced up and down the room, breaking off into tangents and eventually asking the class to help him return to the original subject. He rarely made eye contact, and seemed to take great pleasure in disagreeing with the females in the room.

I'm painting him in a bad light, but most of the time he was fairly entertaining, and some of the case work he discussed was truly fascinating. Some of it was heart wrenching, as he was involved in various rape cases. That was when we saw the truly human side of him and he let down his boisterous courtroom front.

You'll notice that I'm carefully avoiding the details of these classes because I have to confess to finding the study of the law a very dull subject. I also don't want to get sued for slander. As a consequence, the notes I took had more to do with the possibility of creating a slimy lawyer character in a story some day, rather than the ins and outs of individual cases.

The main point that came across from those Wednesday nights was that a lawyer's job is really just a logical puzzle: based on a case, how can we find a section of the law that will get the most for the client?

It would be easy to become dispassionate about the process, after spending eighty hour weeks studying previous cases to find a useful precedent or come up with a plan of attack. Someone has to do it, and as far as I can tell, the system mostly works.

Someone has to do it, but I'm glad it's not me.

Next up, Part IV: Surveillance.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

PI School Part II: The Stories

The most important thing I learned about being a private investigator is that the gathering of evidence has to be within the limits of the law.

A fictional hardboiled PI is happy to beat up, blackmail, or hold to ransom anyone necessary while working on a case. But the real-world PI is not an enforcer of the law, merely an assistant. The PI's job is to tail a suspect and catch them in the act, while paying attention to the relevant government Acts. Like the Listening Devices Act and the Privacy Act.

Here are a couple of stories where they come into play.

Story I: The Travelling PI

Jim Biggs has been a private investigator for decades and has built up a number of friendships in the business. When a PI buddy in Victoria asked for some help, Jim was happy to oblige, but only as a favour: he couldn't legally charge for the job, his license was only for NSW. But this ended up being an advantage.

The Victorian PI was having trouble catching a worker's compensation dodger. The suspect knew who the PI was, and so avoided heavy lifting in public, but that didn't stop an outsider from kicking up some trouble.

With NSW license plates on his car, Jim looked the part of a perfect tourist. He parked near a spot where the suspect was laying down some bricks, building a wall. Hard work for someone with a bad back.

Here's where the law comes in: you can't take someone's photo and use it as evidence without permission.

Being a tourist, Jim asked the suspect for a photo, who posed for it with a grin. Six months later, that grin was wiped off his face when Jim walked into the courtroom. The suspect pointed at Jim and said one word:


Story II: Sacked By A Chain

This time round, Jim was hired to help stop workplace theft in a small company. The company held weekly BBQ and beer events for its employees, but for the last few weeks the cases of beer had gone missing. They were stored in a small brick shed in the middle of the company's courtyard, hidden from the street.

Jim planted a listening device inside the doorway to the shed. The door was locked up tight with a chain and padlock as was usual. Parked across the street from the company's main building, Jim sat with headphones on and waited. Why? Well, the Listening Act tells us that you can't record a conversation and use it in court without the permission of all parties involved.

Sometime close to midnight, Jim heard the chain on the shed's door rattle. He called the company manager and they rushed over to the courtyard where they found a couple of the employees breaking in with a pair of bolt cutters. The employees confessed to stealing the beer and both of them got the sack.

The dodgy duo never spoke a word. The only sound recorded was the rattle of the chain.

Stay tuned for one more round of PI shenanigans in PI School Part III: The Law.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

PI School Part I: The First Night

As some of you may know, I enrolled in 'PI school' last year. Sara Gran innocently asked me to tell her all about it, so I thought I'd write up a multi-part post here. I have written some of this in a previous incarnation of my blog, but since that's not around any more, I thought it was time for a new and improved version.

Investigative Services Certificate III is the course that every aspiring private investigator in the state of NSW must complete to become a fully licensed PI. I can't say I had it in mind to complete the course, I'd even tried cajoling the head of the faculty into letting me pick and choose subjects. That ended up being far too complicated, so I simply enrolled in one semester (half a year) of the two semester course.

The Monday night class was filled with tired people of all ages, doing the course for interest or because they were thinking about a career in the police force. The teacher was Jim Biggs, a private investigator that has run a large agency for twenty years. Before that he was in the police force, and before that I'm sure Australia didn't have television. In his unobtrusive brown cardigan, he had that Brylcreemed Aussie politeness of older folks. It's a combination of excusing yourself when you cough and peppering conversation with the word 'bastard'.

He kicked the class off by telling us that being a private investigator was nothing like it is on TV. Jim used to watch shows like Magnum, PI, complaining his way through them, but the pain came to be too much and he stopped watching altogether.

Before we had the chance to get excited about the idea, he laid down the ground rules: no guns, no red Ferraris.

If you're not a cop in Australia, you have to have a pretty damn good reason to have a gun license. You need to do a course in security and you'd have to regularly escort VIPs or large amounts of cash before you'd even apply.

A bright red, flashy car is another big mistake. If you're trying to tail someone with an exotic vehicle, it's pretty easy for them to spot you in the rear vision mirror at every turn. Something like a ten year old monkey shit brown Corolla is a far better choice.

Getting down to business, Jim told us how he could get hold of the textbook for the course in a large shipment from Queensland at a special price. We couldn't hold it against him if he made a little profit. After all, he was risking the cash up front.

Quickly changing the subject, he took us through the Commercial Agents and Private Inquiry Agents Act (1963), and filled the dead air with anecdotes from his life as a PI.

Come back for some of these in Part II: The Stories, coming to a blog near you.

Right near you.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Almost Perfect Crime

To slowly reintroduce myself to the blogging world I thought I'd cheat by posting someone else's writing.

Still, it's a cracker of a yarn.


A Coroner’s inquest is due to get underway today into the 15-year-old murder of a man whose body was buried in someone else’s grave in what one detective described as almost the perfect crime.

Rocco Andrew Iaria disappeared in September 1991, just before he was due to go to trail on charges of being involved in a theft of up to $700,000 from a wealthy Victorian tomato farmer.

In February 1998 gravediggers at Pine Lodge near Shepparton reopened a woman’s grave in preparation for the funeral of her husband, who was to be buried with her. In the grave, on top of the woman’s coffin, they found another body sprinkled with lime and wrapped in black plastic.

It was Rocky Iaria. He had been killed with a shotgun blast to the head.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Even Longer Between

I'm still alive. Still here. Just not in a blogging mood of late. Call it a short-term blogging holiday.

Pull up a pina colada and lay back. Stretch your legs. There's no rush.

Regular blogging will return when the mood hits.

This community message brought to you by unsolicited advertising in general.

P.S: Speaking of holidays, Happy Independence Day to all those Americanites out there in crime blogging land!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Week Between Posts

This is terrible. Just terrible.

I've had absolutely nothing to post about for a whole week.

So now, in point form to keep it from creating too much boredom, I bring you my week of nothing:

  • Read Reed Farrell Coleman's WALKING THE PERFECT SQUARE and Harold Schecter's DEVIANT. Loved them both. Without lubrication.
  • Finished the single player campaign of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter. An unwieldy title, but a brilliant game.
  • Obsessed over the imaginary purchase of a Samsung 32" LCD TV.
  • Received the new battery for my Powerbook laptop. So now I don't have to keep this thing plugged in to power all day.
  • Watched more Big Brother than I care to admit.
  • Ate far too many packets of Nong Shim noodles and drank too much vanilla Coke.
  • Realised I knew more about the plot of Neighbours than I care to admit.
  • Spent hours in bookshops without spending a cent. I already have way too many books to read.
  • Bought two books anyway. Finished Deviant and am making my way slowly through Leadbelly, an account of the underworld wars in Melbourne over the last decade or so.
  • After a whole week of thinking about my next post, I ended up with this.

Stay tuned for more exciting snippets of life Down In The Hole.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Thought For The Day

Paraphrased from Dwight Swain's TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER:

There is no universal formula. No mystic secret. No Supersonic Plot Computer. It's enough to plunge a man to the depths of despair, not to mention frustration. Yet there's another way to look at the dilemma, and that way may just point to salvation.

Consider: Do you really want to succeed just because you possess a magic secret?

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

When To Start Again?

This novel that I call LOVING THE LAW (or HAWAII IN BLOOM, or SOMETHING CHEAP), has been following me around for the last year and a half.

It's gone through a number of changes, most of which have been the removal of several organs and limbs, followed by an appropriate redecoration of body parts to suit. Right now I'm struggling with the question of when to throw away the whole damn thing and start again with a nice fresh corpse.

The train track of thought that tells me to keep going is powered by one theory: I'm probably just getting bored.

Watching a movie takes a couple of hours unless you have the extended edition DVD. Reading a book can take a few weeks or a couple of days if you have more time.

Writing a book takes years. Or months if you have nimble fingers.

And all that time is spent hanging out with the same people. People with silly names like Danny Hawaii, Frank Wilder, and Roger Thornberg. On top of that, I'm planning on this being a series. I may have to spend the rest of my life with these fools.

The Debut Daggers helped spur me on to come up with a better beginning and a more coherent plotline, and the last month has seen me attempting to put my new plans into motion. But I keep having days where I stare at the same sentences and think, "BORING."

I'm going to give myself a few days to come up with some notes that make me love my characters again. Then I'm going to spend a few solid weeks rewriting scenes with this more evolved knowledge.

And then, I dunno. I have a few ideas floating around for other novels, one of which has been occupying the anals (a little different to annals) of my mind for the past few days, threatening to take over.

But I'm going to see if I can fight the bastard off. If it's strong enough to defeat me, then I will bow to its will and let it take me where it must.

Or I'll just finish this damn fucking novel.

Don't I sound mean when I swear?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Australian Television At Its Best

Throwing up videos on this blog is not the usual state of affairs. For one thing, it really scratches my throat. This was too good to pass up, though.

Sunrise is the most popular morning show on Aussie telly and its hosts have become household names. Imagine their surprise when a guest feels the need to pass a message on to his girlfriend.

Watch the video, then head over to The Chaser, the 'newspaper' the guest works for, and you'll understand how the whole thing may have come to pass.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Crime Writing Workshop: Reflections

Now that I've had a few days to absorb the lessons I learned at the workshop, I thought it would be a good idea to detail a couple of the more interesting ones.

I'll start off by saying that I don't think there was any single concept that I hadn't read about in one of my millions of books on writing. And before you lay into me about being more addicted to learning about writing than actually writing, well, don't. I loves me writing. And me reading. So it only makes good sense that I would love reading about writing too.

Camera angles:

In this age of visual entertainment, with lowered attention spans and increased visual cortexes, as writers we should pay at least some attention to the use of filmic techniques in our writing. Long pans for establishing shots, extreme closeups during emotionally intense situations, cutting from scene to scene.

Marele said that one of the more common mistakes she finds in rookie writing is the use of a single camera angle throughout the novel. It can get to be claustrophobic. The reader has to be able to breathe and rest at points, something which ties in to the whole pace of the novel.

Sound and Theme:

Probably not a technique you would use a lot, but this is something I had never come across before. I've known for some time that the sound of words can have a big influence on the readability and believability of writing, but I'd never thought to connect the sound of the writing to the subject.

One example from my notes is this little snippet from THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF HARRY LAVENDER: "The hi-tech heart spasming out of control."

Say it out loud and you'll see that the rhythm and sound of the words relates to the subject. A subtle technique, but I think even the most casual reader would be unconsciously affected.


Bet that heading makes you think I'm going to write about the importance and power of endings in the structure of crime novels.


Just trying to end the post.