North Noir Defined

What is North Noir?” In short, it’s a distinctly Canadian crime series, aka Canuck Noir.

The North element refers to how the world sees Canada – as the North; e.g., the Great White North or the True North (strong and free). The novels are set in the northern Bruce Peninsula, Ontario. The victims are contemporary Canadian icons. While they may be famous, they’re also down-to-earth. Good Canadian sorts. But not too good to die. The police procedural work is typically Canadian. There are no extended car chases, helicopter missions, or gun battles. No over-the-top Hollywood clichés. Those things rarely happen here.

The Noir element refers to a tradition of crime writing linked to film noir, to movies such as The Maltese Falcon, which was first a novel. Noir fiction doesn’t dwell on characters’ feelings. Similarly, in the North Noir series, the protagonist, Detective Eva Naslund, is not sentimental, although she is intuitive.

The crime/mystery genre turns on whodunit puzzles. Readers expect to be both challenged and entertained. With the Naslund novels, I deliver more than puzzles and blood and guts. I always embed – very deeply (no preaching) – an existential conundrum in my novels. The majority of murders hinge on money. In a word, greed. In my current work-in-progress (the second North Noir novel), the main murderee is killed because of his renunciation of money, his anti-greed. Readers get a baffling puzzle, and, if they’re looking, they’ll find a deeply buried ethical message. For me, all novels – even whodunits – should have an existential core.

Lexicography: What Can You Write with 50 Words? … Web 3.0

For many years, I worked in IT and wrote web-based software – mostly middleware – using various programming languages, among them Java and .NET. “OK, AMP, but what’s that got to do with writing fiction or Web 3.0?” Patience, Grasshopper.

Most computer languages have no more than 100 keywords or ‘reserved’ words, and fifty or so main ones, such as if, then, for, etc. I used those fifty words over and over again. In essence, the world was reduced to fifty words.

How would that work with human language? Fifty words in English? Not a good thing. Are fifty computer keywords really enough? You’d think the paucity of computer lexicons would render the IT world flat and colourless. It could, and it did – from the 1950s to the 1980s. Think mainframes and keypunch cards.

Then came the UX (User eXperience) Revolution: user-friendly interfaces and web browsers. Next came smartphones and apps. Consider what’s been created with a fifty-word base: Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. Of course, you could say that IT has pauperized the world, reduced it to two-dimensional screens, to a virtual realm, to a hell of trolls. Yeah, there IS all that. But there is much more. For instance, there’s blog space. You and I are ‘talking’ now. Well, I imagine you talking with me. That’s how I think of it.

Let’s do a very cursory comparison of a human language and a computer language. When learning a new human language, say English, if you master 1000 words you’re well on your way – not to being a poet, but to being functionally literate. Conversely, Shakespeare used over 21,000 words (and is credited with coining 1,800 of them). The Oxford English Dictionary contains about 200,000 entries. When learning to program in C++, you master less than fifty keywords. Only fifty! It’s amazing what a CPU can do with fifty keywords.

Think of human culture as a whole. Human languages have spawned millions of books. Computer languages have spawned millions of URLs. I’m not suggesting we can compare human lexicons to computer lexicons. It’d be like comparing a book to a byte. So, let’s move on. At the moment, Web 3.0 is in its infancy. It will use the same fifty keywords. Can you expect them to accurately mirror the real world? No. But coders will keep trying.

PS: To all the code warriors and IT professionals out there: You’re right, you use thousands of variables and elements, not fifty. But I’m referring to reserved words. Look what you’ve done with them. Billions of humans are glued to their phones. Hehe. Which brings new meaning to the old maxim: “Words are powerful.”

Playing the E-Promotion Game

There’s a fine line between promotion and flaming, between enticing people to look at something and harassing them. The e-promotion world is huge. Here’s a look at one small country: the author/publishing nation. Caveat: This post may only appeal authors. However, if you’re interested in e-promotion – be it for books, services, or anything else – read on.

The Game. “You’re an author now,” my publisher said. “Enlarge your social media footprint.”

Size twelve wasn’t good enough. Size twenty-four was the ticket. So, I wrote blog posts. I sent broadcast emails. I facebooked, linkedin, tweeted, and instagrammed. I was a hamster on the promo wheel. But who was caught on a bigger wheel? The people who knew me. For example, those who’d been online friends for years, back when I barely posted anything. Suddenly I was posting a river. “What the #*&?! This guy is foaming at the pen.” Sorry about that. And thank you for navigating the river.

Let’s leave aside tweets and I-grams and focus on blogging. When you publish blog posts, you are given the option of connecting to readers via the main social media dragons of the day (such as fb and LinkedIn). The dragons ask to use your email contacts to generate more traffic.

Sounds good, so you let them. They then ingest all the email addresses you’ve ever sent email to or received email from. The dragons blast every contact, even people who don’t remember you or emailed you ten years ago. Your contacts get burned. But your publisher gets happy. So somebody wins. Hey, maybe some of your contacts win too. They like what your site delivers. Good news. If enough of them are happy, there’s a win-win.

I’m no social media guru. However, I have a few simple tips about blogging. ONE: When the dragons ask to use your email contacts, uncheck ‘All’ and manually select the contacts you want. TWO: Pick the right time to publish your posts. I chose the weekend (I don’t want to blast people during the work week). THREE: Keep your posts short; most of mine are under 300 words (be good to your readers – they’re time-pressed).

PS: In my case – that of a fiction writer – blogging has been the most effective e-promotion tool. Instagram and Facebook send the most readers to my blog.

What is it about the Crime/Mystery Genre?

Why do so many people read crime/mystery fiction? Why do so many watch crime/mystery creations? Think contemporary cozies, historical ones, true crime, CSI spinoffs, law and order procedurals, etc. I’m not complaining. I love it, but one side of me is mystified. Why the interest?

I’d say the number of crime/mystery novels published annually is second only to that of romance novels. Why are crime/mystery stories such a big part of our current cultural milieu? People must get something out of the genre. Of course, there’s the voyeur element. “Look, he’s bloodier than buffalo guts.” “Hey, her head’s half there. That incision looks like shark teeth.” 

I know why I like writing crime fiction. I enjoy the push to tell a tale, to put plot first and prose style second. Currently, I don’t enjoy writing magical realism or literary fiction. See my blog on deserting James Joyce and going to the dark side.

I’m not a psychologist or mind reader. However, I’m going to take a stab at answering why people find murder mysteries so fascinating. Violent unexpected death is horrendous. People cannot or do not want to face it directly. One way of handling murder, one way of coming to terms with the worst of all human crimes, is to watch someone solve it. “Look, they caught the bastard.”

Perhaps crime fiction is soothing. It conquers evil, and somehow puts the world in a positive light. Good guys win, bad guys go to jail. On the flip side, I could be barking up the wrong tree. Maybe people just want blood and guts.